Poster of the Week- Carrie (1976)

Poster of the Week- Carrie (1976)

 

New feature! Every week I’ll be presenting one of my favourite film posters. I actually think of film art as art in it’s own right. I’m sure visitors to this website feel the same way.

This first poster is the iconic UK poster for Brian De Palma’s classic horror movie Carrie from 1976.

The UK quad poster was actually censored as it was felt that the shot of Carrie covered in pigs blood would be too graphic for the general public of the day. And hence why said pic of her was actually presented in negative.

CarriePosterNegative

The uncensored poster resplendent with the original pic is shown below.

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But there was another poster that was made depicting a note from Carrie that warned people who had seen the film from warning their friends about some of the scares the film held so that the film wouldn’t be ruined by word of mouth.

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An iconic film with iconic imagery, Carrie is a classic on every level imaginable.

Soundtrack of the Week: Prom Night (1980)

Soundtrack of the Week: Prom Night (1980)

Every week I’ll be recommending one of my favourite soundtracks and why I like them. Hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more, buy the album or dig it out of your collection if you already have it so that you bask in it’s glory again.

This week is the turn of the Paul Zaza/Carl Zittrer soundtrack for the 1980 Canxploitation slasher movie, Prom Night.

PromNightSoundtrack

Whilst the film should have been a feeble Halloween/Saturday Night Fever/Carrie hybrid, it proved to be so much more. Great moments of terror, tension and genuine grittiness are punctuated by disco scenes (disco certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to this film!) leading up to the prom, great moments of character development and an introspection that is way too nuanced for other slasher fare of the day.

This is all perfectly manifested in the music on this soundtrack too. Firstly though I have an admission to make- I didn’t even know this soundtrack existed remastered on CD and expanded with extra tracks not included on the original vinyl LP. When I heard that some of the tracks were for pieces of music not used in the original film I thought, ‘Oh no! Filler!’ How wrong I was! The extra songs greatly embellish and expand upon the general vibe of the film.

The tracklisting works very well indeed. Theres the sturm und drang of the music used to underpin the terror scenes (the brilliant piece which accompanies the killer calling each of his future victims is here), the joyous disco songs (my life is better for knowing that there is a song titled ‘Love Me Til I Die’ in a disco inspired slasher movie) that are featured also find their way onto the CD along with others that weren’t used which are just as fantastic.

Prom Night

Just as Synapse’s Blu Ray of the film helped to resurrect the film with a flawless restoration and a whole plethora of extras, this soundtrack contributes to this resurrection with Prom Night ready to rightfully takes it’s place amongst the vanguard of the slasher movement. Yes, it’s not as good as The Undisputed Champion of this subgenre (Halloween, in case you were wondering) but it’s at the forefront of the B+ movies which followed in it’s wake.

Prom Night the soundtrack is available on Perseverance Records.

A Warning From History #19842020

A Warning From History #19842020

When I hear people say that 1984 is happening in 2020 I take it literally.

Not only is George Orwell’s novel replaying in front of our eyes but the actual year of 1984 was when the moral panic regarding the so-called Video Nasties here in the UK occurred. I thought we had learnt from that. Apparently not. Feel free to watch this documentary as a reminder.

VideoNasties

Gone With The Wind, Little Britain, The Inbetweeners, Fawlty Towers…in the age of streaming services it’s shocking that content can be withdrawn/deplatformed/erased/censored at the push of a button. How about these companies let viewers decide if something is acceptable or not, whether it is genuinely offensive or not and if it is whether we can learn from it if it is. We could also assess whether certain moral guardians are just being oversensitive. Or maybe if certain streaming services are just withdrawing their products to garner a little extra publicity.

Worrying times.VideoNasties2

 

 

Review- The Night Visitor (1971) ****

Review- The Night Visitor (1971) ****

This Swedish thriller was long thought to be lost. I’m glad it’s now newly discovered and released on Blu ray.

NightVisitorFrenchPoster

It tells the tale of a mental institution resident who is thought to have escaped to take revenge on the people involved in his case who forced him to plead insanity. But if he escaped, how did he do it as it seems impossible? Also, doesn’t returning back to the asylum after he has committed the crime just as impossible?

Max Von Sydow plays Salem, the criminal in question and is (predictably) brilliant in the lead. In fact, all of the actors are fantastic with great support from acting heavyweights such as Liv Ullman and Trevor Howard. Theres even a small supporting role by Gretchen Franklin- Ethel Skinner (from 1980’s episodes of EastEnders) herself! No sign of her Willie though (but there is a parrot).

NightVisitorMax

The locales are gorgeous and provide a very picturesque backdrop to the film’s events whether it be the large imposing monolith of the institution or the gorgeous snow-laden villages that Salem escapes to.

The ending is unexpected and completely from left-field. No wonder the film ends with Salem laughing at the absurdity of it.

A low key delight.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Dracula (1958) *****

Review- Dracula (1958) *****

I have a long history with this film as I seem to remember it being shown on daytime TV here in the UK in the early 80’s. The thinking probably went along the lines of ‘We have such extreme horror movies now and so it will be safe to show this old 1950’s horror film which couldn’t possibly be seen as being scary anymore!’ I then saw the film as part of a double-bill of Hammer Horror films that were shown every Thursday night on Tyne Tees Television. I got to see most of Hammer’s films during this period as every week there was a new double-bill of two more of the studio’s back catalogue.

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This film, to me, is the definitive Dracula. Freddie Francis’ sweeping direction is perfect when paired with the opulent and beautiful set designs that are just as sweeping. The iconography and more gruesome elements of the narrative that made the Dracula myth more explicit, shocking and graphic were also placed centre stage on the screen for the first time- the fangs, the blood (which I would have thought was imperative to the legend but was often excluded at that point in time for obvious reasons) that appears to be redder than red (and because of this reminds me of Dawn of the Dead), the searing burn marks left by a crucifix being used against a vampire, the ending that leaves nothing to the imagination.

The pace at which the film gallops along at leaves the audience with a feeling of there being no filler padding out the film. Every scene feels essential. The film has no flab whatsoever.

But it’s the casting that is the most innovative and interesting thing about this film. Cushing as Van Helsing is amazing but it’s (unsurprisingly) Christopher Lee as Dracula who impresses. He imbues the role with the authority and menace required but also with something that up until that point hadn’t been fully explored on screen before- sexuality. Dracula has always been a sexy character and Lee’s performance fully exploits and utilises this. There is a seduction and intimacy regarding the ritual he employs to bite his victim’s neck. His vampire gains access to his victims because of his brooding good looks and his aura of the exotic and unknown. He oozes sex appeal just as later the blood of his victims will ooze out of their veins. In fact, there is an impression of his female victims preparing for his visit with baited breath as they lie panting and ready on their beds for him to enter their quarters with a swoosh of his cape. He arrives out of nowhere and in secretive fashion a bit like a much more sinister but no less sexual and stylish version of the Milk Tray man.

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The brooding sexuality of Dracula

Add to this the fact that the film just flows effortlessly and an ending that is still one of the finest climaxes to a horror film ever. It contains special effects that have aged very well indeed and are still a thing of beauty.

When all of these components are added together you have the perfect rendering of the Dracula legend and possibly Hammer’s greatest film.

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Now that’s how you open a film!

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Monkey Shines

MonkeyShines

When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.

This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.

A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.

The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.

9. The Stepfather

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Henry Morrison is a chameleon like serial killer who assumes an identity, invades a chosen family and then decimates it. We see him change his identity, leave the family home within which hes killed all of the family members (their bodies are still strewn around) and go off to repeat the whole process again.

He picks a widow with a teenaged daughter and worms his way in again.

The Stepfather felt like it was part of a new trend in horror- films that were polished, brilliantly made but very, very violent. It feels so raw and brutal that it makes for uncomfortable viewing especially when you find out that the film is based on a true story. John List had killed his family, cleaned up the murder scene (their house), told neighbours that his family were going away for a while and then vanished. He had even cut himself out of all of the family photographs. Brian Garfield based The Stepfather on this true life case.

There is deft direction, great performances all round but especially from Terry O’Quinn as the central character. And what a performance! It’s one of the most unnerved, deranged and fucked up turns I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, it’s up there with Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. It’s that crazy! Also, watch for all of the nuances to his performance and his OCD obsession with everything being ordered and regimented.

Theres also something deeply disturbing about seeing these violent acts being carried out in a home that is so perfect that it looks like it’s from the world of advertising.

This relatively low-key film’s reputation has snowballed over the years and is now regarded as a cult classic.

The Stepfather’s director went on to make a film even more controversial- The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin.

8. The Stuff

TheStuff

A white goo is found to be bubbling out of the ground by workers. It’s found to be edible, sweet and highly addictive. The yoghurt like substance is then branded as The Stuff, sold and marketed. It sells like hot cakes as it’s sweet, highly addictive and, most importantly, has no calories! But, unfortunately, The Stuff is actually a living, toxic and parasitic organism that turns it’s consumers into zombies before eating them from the inside.

Because of The Stuff and it’s success, sales of ice cream are affected to such an extent that former FBI agent David ‘Mo’ Rutherford is hired by confectionary industry insider Charles Hobbs to find out exactly what The Stuff is and how it’s success can be sabotaged. Rutherford also teams up with a young boy called Jason who sees that The Stuff is actually alive and the dangerous addictive effects it can have. I love the part of the film where Jason becomes to a one-man army against The Stuff, attacking displays in local supermarkets and smashing glass freezers that contain the product.

This film is not just a really effective horror film but is also very humorous and also a very perceptive satire on advertising, consumerism and even the military (Paul Sorvino stars as a retired Colonel who leads a squad to battle the zombies and destroy the product using brute force). Its very telling that when the workers discover the goo bubbling up from the ground they instinctively want to taste it.

I love the adverts we see for The Stuff as well as it’s logo and packaging. The film is so perceptive and accurate that it feels like this could actually happen! Dollars and pounds are more important to corporations and capitalism over humanity and safety.

A great film from the great Larry Cohen.

7. Intruder

Intruder

A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.

What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?

This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.

This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.

There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.

Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.

6. Cujo

Cujo

Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.

A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.

The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.

But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.

There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.

It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.

Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.

When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.

5. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter

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When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)

Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.

What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.

We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout  when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.

We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.

Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).

The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.

After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.

But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.

4. The Evil Dead

EvilDead

Young friends persevere to make a horror film, get it finished and then get it distributed. Their new distributor has a hand in the new Cannes Film Festival and shows the film there. Stephen King just happens to see the film, raves about it and suddenly the movie starts to garner press and accolades. King’s endorsement was used in the film’s advertising and helped to get the film distributed worldwide.

But whilst everything was going well, a moral panic in the UK deems the film as ‘obscene’ (even though lead protestor and busybody Mary Whitehouse admits to never having seen the film (!) as she ‘didn’t need to’) which led to it being banned. The fact that it received an X rating in the US (the kiss of death of most cinemas now wouldn’t show it and most newspapers wouldn’t carry ads for the film) didn’t help matters either.

So, is The Evil Dead the most depraved, ugly and vile film ever made? Of course not. I first saw the film quite by chance. The film had been banned on video in the UK but one of my older brother’s friends was the daughter of the owner of one of our local video shops. During the ‘Video Nasties’ furore video shop owners were sent lists of films that had just been banned and instructed where to send these films back to. My friend’s father knew that a lot of business owners weren’t complying with this and more importantly, this wilful non compliance wasn’t being followed up on or leading to more serious repercussions later on. So, he didn’t send the films back and instead she brought The Evil Dead to our house when I was about 9 years old. And look at me! It did me no harm whatsoever…

The thing that struck me the most about the film was it’s comic book humour, cine literacy and the sheer innovation to make things work even though the filmmakers had a tiny budget.

Yes the film is still scary and brutal (the woods rape scene is very close to the edge still and feels out of place in the film. Sam Raimi the director said he wouldn’t include it if he was making the film today). But it’s also very funny and surreal in equal part. An example- when one of the characters is stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, the blood doesn’t splatter or gush out as would happen in real life. It pours out like a tap has been switched on resplendent with a sound effect of water being poured for good measure. The film disorientates and leaves the audience feeling dazed and confused but in a very novel way. This is especially evident in the latter part of the film which finds the last man standing, Ash on his own, his mind playing tricks on him through fear and disbelief. But the situation he finds himself in is also to blame with the ancient evil that has been unleashed completely changing the logic of his known world and making it a dark and lethal place. Check out the surreal sequence in which blood starts pouring out of every place it can pour out of within the cabin, including into the inside of lightbulbs! As Stephen King said when he sang the film’s praises, The Evil Dead made him look at films and what a film can convey in a completely different way.

If this was a comic (and theres plenty of comic-book devices within the movie) it would most probably be an EC Comic- fantastical, exaggerated and ghoulish all at once.

Originality, innovation and subversion are why The Evil Dead is my favourite movie of 1981.

3. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

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I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.

Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believeable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.

The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to it’s advantage.

Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8 year old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.

2. The Fog

TheFog

One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.

And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.

It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.

Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).

The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.

All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.

1 Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

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I first heard of this film in 1991 when Malcolm McLaren reviewed it on a Channel 4 arts show. I thought Mr McLaren would act all edgy and say that the film was very tame and didn’t affect him at all. How wrong I was! He said that he had seen the film 3 days previously to review it and hadn’t slept since! It had scared the shit out of him and that it was like he had watched a documentary rather than an actual motion picture. As soon as I heard him say this I knew I had to see this film (although with a title like this I was bound to see it anyway).

The film was released on video in the UK after being massively cut by the BBFC but it still remained a harrowing, powerful piece of work, the likes of which hadn’t been seen by film audiences before. It really was like we had fly on the wall access to serial killer Henry and his prison pal Otis (based on the real life Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who were actually a couple in reality but not within the parameters of this film) as Henry coerces (not that he needs much coercion) Otis into killing and passes down his wisdom to him regarding topics such as Modus Operandi and not getting caught. Henry also outlines some of his philosophy regarding what murder is like (‘It’s always the same and it’s always different’).

The film is peppered with unexpected intervals whereby we’ll suddenly see one of Henry’s victims just after he has killed them- the woman slumped on a toilet, her top pulled down to show her breasts, suspenders and stockings also on view with a broken bottle protruding from her maimed, mutilated bloody mouth. Or the Mom and Pop in a general store both shot dead. Or the dead naked woman’s body floating face down in a lake. These intervals are also accompanied by their respective screams. We also see other clues as to Henry’s crimes. The hitchhiker he picks up who is clutching an acoustic guitar in a case which Henry later brings into the kitchen where Otis and Becky (Otis’ sister who comes to stay with them) are sat. When asked where he got it from he just says he ‘picked it up’. Theres also the scene later on in the film where he offers to take Becky out for a steak dinner as he has a new Visa card he wants to try out. ‘You have a Visa card?!’ Becky laughs to which he responds ‘Who do you think you’re associating with?!’ It’s not explicitly stated where Henry has received this credit card from but it can be reasonably guessed.

We even get to see the stalking of a woman Henry has seen in a shopping mall car park, as he follows her to her suburban home. On seeing that her partner meets her to unpack her shopping, he drives away. But on being instructed to keep the canister of bug spray from his former job by his boss, he uses this prop to go to the woman’s house on a later occasion and finish what he had hoped to do earlier. We don’t see the murder but we get to see the aftermath. As cartoons play on a TV screen, we see her dead on the couch, a length of cord around her throat, cigarette burns on her chest.

And then there are the murders that take place on screen. These include the homosexual guy who stops for Henry and Otis’ (fake) car breakdown, the sleazy and sarcastic (but very funny) TV salesman who finds a TV actually being brought down on his head screen-first (‘Plug it in’ Henry tells Otis, providing the film with a scene of gallows humour. This sick and unintentional comedy peppers the film just like the bloody intervals revealing Henry’s victims do. More on this bleak humour later), the pair of prostitutes they have rented with Henry breaking both of their necks to the astonishment and dismay of Otis.

And then there is the home invasion scene that was and still is the bane of many film classification boards the world over and one of the most notorious scenes in the history of film. Henry and Otis break into a home whilst the family are enjoying an otherwise quiet night in. Otis is seen fondling a woman sat on his lap but whilst she is desperately try to get away, Otis holds her arms behind her back so that she can’t. Henry is seen kicking her male partner who is tied up, has a bag over his head and is on the floor at Henry’s feet. Henry is also filming the whole incident on a camcorder taken from the TV salesman they killed earlier. As all of this is going on, the front door suddenly opens and a ten year old boy walks in, sees whats going on and makes a bolt for the door again to notify someone. He doesn’t make it though as Henry beats him to it, tackles him to the floor and breaks his neck. Otis breaks the neck of the woman on his lap and is just about to sexually abuse her further when Henry tells him not to. We then see that the action is actually being watched by both men on their TV whilst they sit on a couch in their apartment. They are watching the incident for pleasure.

Becky is coming to stay with them as she is running away from her abusive husband. During her stay with her brother and Henry, she will slowly fall for Henry. She will also reveal details of her own backstory over a game of cards with him- the abuse she received at the hands of her father, the fact that she only got into a relationship with her violent husband Leroy so that she could escape her Dad. Otis had previously mentioned to Becky that he had met Henry in the jug and that Henry was there for killing his Mama. He also demands that Becky doesn’t mention it to Henry which, of course, she does. Henry tells her about it, how his mother was a whore, how she’d make him sometimes wear a dress and watch as her and her male friends had sex and then after the deed they would sit and laugh at him. The fact that he gets the method he used to kill his Mama wrong says so much. Henry also details other aspects of his upbringing- his father who was a great man before he lost his legs, the bicycles that his father gave him and his brother that were too big but were sold before he had time to grow to be able to use it properly, the brother who had ‘bone disorder’ and was deformed.

The film isn’t the quagmire of depravity that the film’s reputation suggests. There is some great black comedy within the film with the ‘Plug it in’ scene highlighted earlier being one of them. One such happens when Henry breaks the necks of two prostitutes in quick succession. On seeing Henry killing for the first time and not even knowing that he was capable of something like that, Otis’ face changes to one of disbelief of almost comic proportions with him almost looking into the camera at the audience and breaking the fourth wall. It bizarrely provides a laugh for the audience in the bleakest of situations. In fact, Otis is also a great source of humour in other scenes in the film. On picking Becky up from the airport, she has a huge suitcase and a paper bag with her belongings in them. Otis chooses the paper bag to carry and leaves her to struggle with the suitcase.  On driving to his apartment, he asks her about her husband Leroy. When she gets upset and says she doesn’t want to talk about him anymore he agrees and asks if shes hungry and wants something to eat. There’s then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.

Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.

A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.

The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.

I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).

A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1989

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1989

There’s a video for this list here.

10. Beware! Children At Play

BewareChildrenAtPlay

A Troma movie that pushes the boundaries- even for Troma!

Children are disappearing in a small town in America. Rather than being abducted they are in fact being recruited to join a religious cult which practices cannibalism.

This is Children of the Corn on steroids. I first learnt of this movie when I saw the trailer and my mouth dropped open. Apparently Lloyd Kaufman said that it was this trailer that was shown before a screening of Tromeo and Juliet at the Cannes Film Festival (!) and caused most of the audience to leave!

This film is so taboo because it depicts children not only carrying out numerous crimes such as murder but also the town’s adults killing them for their actions. Cue numerous scenes of children being shot, killed with pitchforks etc. Remember to repeat to yourself whilst watching this- ‘It’s only a movie! It’s only a movie!…’

Tasteless, irreverent and controversial. But still just a film. Moral guardians and virtue signallers- get over yourselves and go and watch Dumbo for the thousandth time, dullards.

9. The Church

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In centuries gone by a group of Satanists are slaughtered, their bodies buried and a huge church built on top of the bodies to try to eradicate the evil.

The film then fast forwards to the present day (well, 1989) as we see Evan a librarian starting at the church on the first day of his job. Weird, seemingly supernatural things start to happen at the church. A first day in a new job is bad enough without a battle between good and evil being thrown in as well.

This film is a Goth’s dream come true (although no self-respecting person would have been a Goth after 1987). A slowly creeping sense of dread, a location sent from Heaven (no pun intended), a great cast and an amazing soundtrack. Also, VERY disturbing kills and horrific looking demons. The makeup and special effects for this film are amazing.

This was originally intended to be the third entry in the Demons series of films but was then conceived by director Michele Soavi to be a separate entity that would be more sophisticated than Demons 1&2. It is too, although I love the sleazy splendour of those films.

8. The Horror Show

TheHorrorShow

I read about this in Fangoria and Gorezone in the late 80’s and it looked so demented and gory that I didn’t know if it would actually be released in the UK. But, quelle horreur, it was released and uncut as House 3, part of the House franchise.

On being fried in the electric chair, serial killer Max aka Meat Cleaver Max promises revenge on the cop who sent him there, Lucas McCarthy. Max means it too after making a pact with the Devil which means that he can wreak havoc from beyond the grave.

Two of cult cinema’s biggest icons Brion James and Lance Hendriksen star as Max and Lucas making this unmissable entertainment. The effects have to be seen to be believed. They pushed the boundaries regarding how far they could go in those days when it came to taste and decency. The effects are gross which is music to the ears of any discerning horrorhound. There’s also a depraved and sick sense of humour at play within the movie which makes it even more likeable.

This film has nothing to do with the House series of movies but was just given that moniker in the UK so that more people would rent the movie. It was actually released as a stand alone movie in the US called The Horror Show.

A great movie that history has treated very well with the ever excellent Scream Factory releasing it all spruced up. And it deserves that kind of release.

7. Shocker

Shocker

Wes Craven goes full ‘horror baddie as anti-hero’ which was just what the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (which ironically he didn’t have anything to do with) had morphed his creation Freddy Krueger into. Only this time the film promised to be a lot more graphic and full-on than what Freddy had become hence the tagline ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’.

Horace Pinker is a voodoo studying serial killer who kills the family of the policeman who is pursuing him, Don Parker. Parker’s older foster son feels that he has a connection with Pinker through his dreams. This proves handy as it leads him and his father to Pinker’s rundown TV repair shop (when he’s not a serial killer he’s actually a TV repair man). Pinker aims his sights on Jonathan’s girlfriend as retribution but is then arrested and scheduled to be executed in the electric chair. However, he’s made a pact with the Devil and will become pure electricity after his execution. And this is the next stage of the film as Pinker now has supernatural powers and can use electricity and electrical devices to possess others to do his biding for him

Whilst this film and it’s plot devices (all of em!) feel undisciplined and lacking any clear boundaries or rules regarding Pinker and what his newly found powers can permit him to do, the film is still great fun. Pinker is a great baddie and a great badass with some of the funniest one-liners and some innovative gruesome kills. Apparently Craven had to submit the film 13 times to the MPAA to get it’s certificate down from an X rating to an R. And it shows! Some of the gore scenes are still especially close to the knuckle and the film feels grittier and more hardcore because of that.

I also love the messages Craven is making about television, the media and popular culture in general. Shocker was a very crafty way for Craven to make a later phase Nightmare franchise entry that wasn’t a part of the series and without Krueger. Fans of the series were privileged enough for Craven to give them a taste of what a new Nightmare (pun not intended) might have been like if Craven returned to the fold.

A wild ride and Mitch Pileggi is bad-ass.

6. Puppet Master

PuppetMaster

André Toulon is a puppet maker who happens upon an old Egyptian formula which is able to create life and so he gives life to his puppets. The Nazis seek to use this knowledge and are in hot pursuit which makes Toulon take his own life but not until he has hidden away his puppets for safe keeping in a wall panel. Some years later four psychics investigate the case of Toulon which leads them to his mansion. Along with his widow, they uncover the secrets of the Puppet Master in the worst possible way.

This film belongs to the ‘evil puppets/dolls/toys’ genre with other notable entries such as Dolls, Dolly Dearest, Demonic Toys and Dollman. In fact, it was this movie that crossed over with Demonic Toys for a future franchise entry.

Ever since the Ray Harryhausen skeleton scenes in Jason and the Argonauts the use of stop motion animation could be used to terrifying ends within fantasy/horror movies. This is one such film. The puppets are the stuff of nightmares, the Nazi background to the narrative is interesting and the locale of Toulon’s mansion is a very creepy setting for the majority of the film’s action.

Highly recommended.

5. Parents

Parents

Michael is living in middle class suburbia in 1950’s America. He has very disturbing dreams and suspects that his parents are cannibals after he finds body parts hanging up in the cellar. Can he convince his school counsellor that he is telling the truth?

Parents is an expertly directed and acted dissection and subversion of the dewy eyed nostalgia towards 1950’s Americana. The reason I saw it was the oh so wholesome artwork of the video artwork that depicted the parents in their perfect kitchen preparing dinner. The image was perfect, pure cheese and very atypical. But there was blood dripping from the movie’s title and the tagline was ‘A new name for terror’ which signified that this was, in fact, a horror movie.

I once read a description of the film that said that this was like an episode of Goosebumps directed by David Lynch. And I couldn’t put it better myself.

Theres a great sense of humour at work within the film. When Michael is served dinner he remarks ‘Who were the left-overs before they became left-overs?!’

Props to the excellent cast that includes Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt and Sandy Dennis- all perfect.

4. Society

Society

Every so often a film would be featured in Fangoria and Gorezone that looked so genre expanding when it came to special effects, make-up and general ickiness that I just had to see it when it reached these shores. But, with the BBFC in full swing this was not always the case. It took me many decades to see Luther The Geek in the UK after first reading about it and poring over the pics in my horror magazines for it to be then banned.

A Beverley Hills youth suspects his wealthy parents may not be what they proport to be.

This is a funny, horrifying and very shocking commentary on the Reagan’s America of the 1980’s with it’s different social strats and inequalities. The film also has some great observations regarding consumerism and those lucky enough to be able to buy into it fully and their insatiable addiction to it.

The director of this opus, Brian Yuzna was the producer of movies as fucked up as Re-animator. His directorial debut shows the same kind of restraint (i.e. none, thankfully) and limitless imagination and vision for this project that is effortlessly translated onto the screen.

The ending has to be seen to be (dis)believed.

3. Tetsuo

Tetsuo

I actually saw the sequel to Tetsuo before I saw the first film. I loved it so much I made it my duty to track down the original and I’m so glad I did.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s film is a black and white gritty looking masterpiece of surrealist visuals, mutation body horror and metal fetishism as we see the lead character eroticising the idea of himself becoming part man, part machine and then finding that it’s actually happening.

The original ads for this film mentioned the ‘two Davids’ Cronenberg and Lynch and their influence permeates this movie. But this isn’t some bad crude cut and paste of the different components and styles that are staples of their films. Tsukamoto has his own vision and it’s this that primarily shines out the brightest from this audacious, brilliant film/experience for the senses. Man Ray can be seen as an influence on this film also.

A disorientating, brilliant experience.

2. Pet Sematary

PetSematary

Louis Creed and his family move into their dream home which is perfect except for the very busy road at the front of their property.

The family cat is killed on the road. Louis is advised by a neighbour of a burial ground behind their property which has the power to reanimate the dead. Louis buries the cat but is shocked to find the cat comes back but as an evil version of itself.

Louis’ young son is then killed on the road. Should Louis bury him in the supernatural burial ground and hope that he comes back to life unscathed or should he take the cat incident as a sign not to?

This excellently directed yarn has much more emotional resonance than similar horror fare probably because the source material was so well written and personal. Stephen King, for many years, refused to talk about his source novel as it was too dark for him to go into. The scene where Louis’ young son Gage is run over and killed is horrific to watch and the lengths his father will go to try to bring him back is completely believable as this character will do anything to turn back time even if it’s been shown to have cataclysmic consequences.

Mary Lambert’s direction also brilliantly ramps up the tension amazingly with the actual horror scenes being especially unnerving and uncomfortable. This film could have been a second rate TV movie with the wrong director on board. Thankfully Lambert proved to be exactly the right woman for the task with the varied events in the film being handled expertly when it comes to either sensitivity or horror.

Horror fans will also be pleased to note that this film features Herman Munster himself Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall the next door neighbour who tells Louis about the burial ground and it’s strange powers.

This film has just been given the 4K UHD treatment and this can only be seen as a worthy  judgement as to the film’s worth.

1 Intruder

Intruder

A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.

What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?

This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.

This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.

There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.

Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Rabid Grannies

RabidGrannies

A group of relatives meet to celebrate their elderly relations birthday (but have disclosed that they are only there so that they may be left something in the old duck’s inheritances when they pop their clogs). A black-sheep nephew of the octogenarians who practices the black arts has been excluded from proceedings but sends a supernatural gift that turns the lovable grandmas into evil, homicidal maniacs. Fun ensues.

This film is from Troma (of course). Within this Belgian horror film, the gore and blood flow and there is also a delectable sick strain of humour at play that make the film feel like no other movie I think I’ve ever seen.

Demented, wickedly funny and one of a kind.

9. The Blob

TheBlob

A remake of the Steve McQueen classic. A meteorite emits a strange pink goo type substance that is in fact alive, harmful to humans and intent on wreaking havoc. It seems to be completely sentient. This 80’s version determines the slime as in fact, a biological weapon that was sent into space after being concocted by scientists on Earth rather than being an alien entity.

By 1988 when this remake was made, special effects had progressed at such a dizzying pace that it was felt that anything was possible. Director Chuck Russell takes full advantage of this with not only The Blob doing things onscreen that could only have been dreamt of in the original film. Also, the blob itself looks aesthetically beautiful, akin to a huge oozing mass of pink bubble gum.

Kevin Dillon is certainly no Steve McQueen (but, to be fair, no one is) and this remake doesn’t have the amazing theme song that the original had, but as a special effects laden 1980’s remake this film more than accomplishes (and with real panache) what it aims to do.

8. Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood

Fridaythe13thPart7VarietyAd

This film is basically Jason vs Carrie as one of the latest crop of teens has telekinesis. Whats more she’s accidentally awakened Jason who was chained beneath Crystal Lake thanks to Tommy Jarvis in the previous film.

This was the first film with Kane Hodder as Jason. He seems completely at home right off the bat with his first inhabitation of the role displaying a real flare and strutting confidence.

We get some great kills, some great moments of sly humour (but not the amount of meta-humour synonymous with Part 6) and a fantastic final confrontation. We also get some of the finest helmet hair ever captured on film, with ‘do’s’ so severe that they very possibly could be just as bad (if not worse) than any of the atrocities committed by Jason.

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There are also some great character archetypes that the film hams up to- the bitch, the evil doctor, the ugly duckling. There’s a shrewdness to proceedings that is really enjoyable and helps pull this entry out of being just a generic late 80’s slasher movie.

But there were also other, more radical ideas being pushed forward when this movie was being mooted. Barbara Sachs, a Paramount producer wanted this movie to be the one Friday that was seen as being ‘arty’ and wanted it to even be in the running when the Academy Awards came around. Seriously! At one point there were even mutterings of trying to attach a director of (previous) high standing to the film with one possible nominee being Fellini. Yes, seriously!!!

This all came to nothing though as John Carl Buechler who had directed Troll was employed instead. He does a great job but the mind still boggles at the idea of Fellini directing proceedings and Jason going up to collect the Palme D’Or.

7. Child’s Play

ChildsPlay1988

Another movie that kickstarted a brand new and very profitable horror franchise was Child’s Play.

Catherine Hicks plays a single mother who gives her young son Andy a new toy (named Chucky) akin to the old ‘My Buddy’, the awkwardly large doll for boys (!) from the 80’s.

Very early on this movie steers into dark waters. When Chucky starts killing people beginning with Maggie, Andy’s babysitter, the police make Andy the key suspect. The issue of killer kids is still a taboo and ironically one of the entries in this franchise would be linked to the real life case of the two killer kids who murdered James Bulger in 1993.

The doll scampering around to kill people looks and feels very sinister and uncomfortable as it looks like a child is actually committing all of these atrocities (a child was actually used to act as the killer doll). Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky is amazing as he shows that even when he isn’t on screen he can still light up a role.

A very good start to an inventive, funny and intelligent franchise.

6. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

KillerKlowns

A film for everyone who finds clowns really sinister and scary (or sexy because of that).

A young couple are busy making out at Make Out Point when they see what looks likes like a falling star and so go to investigate. It’s there that they find, of all things, a circus tent. The alien beings in said tent all look like clowns but they aren’t here to fall over and entertain us. They hate humans and want to harvest us in bright pink cocoons. They also kill humans as witnessed by Deputy Sheriff Mooney who arrests one of them. It slaughters everyone else in the cell along with the deputy.

Fortunately the Sheriff proper realises that the Klowns are a serious threat to the entire town and sets out to stop them. Will he succeed or will they?

This film is by the Chiodo Brothers and is like a really brightly coloured acid trip with this startling vision having darker undertones beneath the surface. This is also one of those movies that has it’s own reality and an amazing vision that is fully and brilliantly conceived and realised by the filmmakers.

This film is now seen as a cult classic and I can fully see why. A sequel has been mooted for years. I hope it comes to fruition.

5. Maniac Cop

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A cop has supposedly gone psycho on the streets of New York which causes citywide panic and retribution with cops being shot or steered clear of by scared civilians. The main suspect is a policeman called Jack with another cop called McCrae diving deep into the case and trying to stop the killer as he doesn’t think Jack is responsible.

This is another film by William Lustig who made Maniac and Vigilante. With this movie he again comes up with the goods. Not only is this a cult film fan’s dream cast with Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree (not to mention cameos by Sam Raimi and Jake LaMotta who is Lustig’s uncle) but this is a great concept for a movie. It has plenty of tense night-time scenes on grimy, terrifying New York streets (a Lustig speciality). There’s also the genuine shock scene when Maniac Cop is revealed with the legend Robert Z’Dar and his awesome jaw coming to the fore.

Maniac Cop was cut by 5 secs by the BBFC when it was first released in the UK. This involved the shower scene that involved a stabbing and facial mutilation.

This film was followed by two more Maniac Cop movies.

4. Phantasm 2

Phantasm2

It was because of Phantasm 2 that I learnt of the first film. Barry Norman on his regular film review programme reviewed the movie and voiced the opinion that he didn’t even know there was a first Phantasm film. At that point I had to agree.

I rented Phantasm 2 before I got to see the first film and loved it. It was (like the first movie) unlike any other film I had ever seen, with bags of imagination and nothing over-explained. The film had a mysterious aura about it.

This film continued it’s exploration of the sinister and malevolent Tall Man with Mike from the original film (but played by a different actor) leaving the mental institution he was resident in after the events of the first film and returning to Morningside Cemetery where he starts exhuming graves. Just as he suspected, they are empty. This convinces Reggie (also from the original) to help Mike investigate further and try to stop The Tall Man.

A bigger budget, more ambitious visuals and more complex plotlines (there seems to be more of an emphasis on the psychic element that was just hinted at in the original film with the seer and her granddaughter) permeate this sequel. There are also more guns, action and gore with the spheres being given a redux and more murderous implements to kill with.

But theres still mystery, intelligence and innovation. And whats more, it’s still ingrained in this second film as it was in the first. The viewer is free to interpret events in this film and try to decide if they are actual or imagined.

Phantasm 2 is a very worthy sequel to a masterpiece.

3. Scarecrows

Scarecrows

Ever since I read about Scarecrows in an old issue of Gorezone I knew I had to see it. When I did finally see it, of course, it was cut by the BBFC. But even in this cut form it still made for a great film.

A plane full of mercenaries have stolen millions of dollars and are flying away to Mexico with their bounty. However, one of them swipes the loot and parachutes from the plane into a cornfield. Two others parachute after him to be joined by the others upon landing the plane. They all meet in a house adjoined to the field. They spot the loot which is in the field but what they don’t know is that they will have major problems retrieving it as the cornfield is home to three paranormal scarecrows who are actually alive and hate those who trespass onto their terrain.

This is a brooding, dark hued film which is perfect for such a dark and gory movie. The horror of the scarecrows is intensified by the way they have been lit with all of the action taking place at night. This lends a very sinister air to proceedings especially with the haunting locale of the nocturnal cornfield.

There’s also great characterisation with the backstory warranting it’s own prequel. The sense of mistrust and paranoia permeates the action and prepares the audience to expect the unexpected. This is no generic 80’s horror movie.

I finally saw the uncut version and it was well worth the wait. As was seeing the film on Blu ray after I first saw it on VHS all those years ago.

2. Dead Ringers

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More double crossing now with twins being perfectly suited for this.

This David Cronenberg movie stars Jeremy Irons as twin gynaecologists with one twin, the narcissistic Elliot, seducing and then discarding some of the women who come to their practice with his more submissive and introverted twin Beverly taking over from Elliot in the relationship but without the woman being aware of the substitution.

The twins carry out this abusive practice with actress Claire (Genevieve Bujold). But Beverly seriously falls for her and after beginning a relationship together, refuses to ‘share’ her with Elliot (which causes a serious rift in their relationship) and starts to share her addiction of prescription medication.

After she has lunch with one of her friends she learns that Beverly has a twin brother. This triggers earlier doubts she had had regarding Beverly and how differently he acted after their first dalliance together. She confronts Beverly about this and tells him that she knows what him and his twin have done.

After a reconciliation between Beverly and Claire, there is more drug use between the two before she leaves town to work on another film. With her gone, Beverly becomes depressed, starts taking more drugs and becomes obsessed with mutant women with abnormal genitalia.

Yes, there’s lots going on here! This couldn’t be more different from the plot to Friday the 13th Part 7 if it tried. This film was another example of Cronenberg going from strength to strength. Just as The Fly had been a huge hit without any sign of selling out or compromise (in other words it was just as gross as his earlier films!), Dead Ringers was Cronenberg’s most accomplished film to date. The plot had plenty of scope for his breed of body horror (check out the horrific women’s examination implements that are made for Beverly as he becomes more deranged and drug-addled), but this time it was his most polished film with a stellar and VERY well respected cast. Cronenberg aimed high with this project and asked Robert De Niro to play the twins but was turned down. He also asked William Hurt but he wasn’t comfortable playing twins. Jeremy Irons has a formidable reputation, rises to this challenge and does an amazing job. His mix of equal parts refinement and derangement was perfect for this role. Genevieve Bujold was another actor of undeniable class who was perfectly cast as Claire.

The critics almost universally threw bouquets at Cronenberg’s feet with this film. It was intelligent, perfectly realised and gorgeous to boot with the subject matter being pure Cronenberg. Many critics and fans think this is his best film. They may be right.

1 Monkey Shines

MonkeyShines

When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.

This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.

A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.

The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1987

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1987

There is a video for this list here.

10. The Video Dead

VideoDead

A demonic television only shows the black and white horror film Zombie Blood Nightmare. The zombies can also escape the TV set to come into real life and kill the film’s viewers.

When I first saw this video on the shelves of my local video store I thought, ‘Whoa! A horror film about home video on home video!’ I also loved the cool sleeve artwork.

This film does what it says on the tin. Grotesque zombies, cool kills…and I love a horror film that has rules as to how to defeat your prey. In this instance the zombies hate mirrors as it reminds them of how ugly they are and they only attack when they sense fear coming from their would be targets.

I love the fact that at the end of the movie one of the survivors is in a sanitarium after her ordeal but is brought the demonic TV set by her parents as they feel something familiar from home might help her recovery. If only they knew.

9. Near Dark

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A young man called Caleb is bitten by a female vampire and then joins the travelling posse of nomadic vampires who she travels with. As he’s been bitten he’s a vampire himself now (with sunlight adversely affecting him) but refuses to kill people, instead feeding from the wrist of the girl Mae who bit him in the first place. But whilst Caleb is now with the group, he doesn’t realise that his father is in hot pursuit of him and his new companions.

This is a fantastic film that pays homage to the vampire genre but also updates and subverts it. The effects and make-up are excellent as is the costume design and conceptualisation of the travelling band of vampires. They look like a band who are on the road with Bill Paxton as Severen looking every inch the rockstar with his shades and leathers.

Near Dark came slap back in the middle of a vampire revival with The Lost Boys making a ton of money and making vampires an extension of the John Hughes genre of movies. Near Dark is a long way from The Lost Boys (and thats not to criticise the latter as it’s a great film) thematically and conceptually. Near Dark is dirtier, grimier and bloodier than it’s teen movie cousin and thats exactly why I love it so much.

8. Dolls

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This film is from Stuart Gordon who made Re-animator so you know it’s going to be great. If you think those old-fashioned porcelain dolls have a real capacity for evil, this isn’t the film for you.

A group of people seek sanctuary from a storm in a mansion owned by a toymaker and his wife. What they don’t know is that the dolls and toys within are all alive and have murderous intent.

This film is so well conceptualised with a vision as unique as the dolls depicted. They really do some damage to their victims too. The scene where a young punk’s skull is used as a battering ram into a skirting board is very painful to watch. The dolls with razorblade teeth taking chunks out of human limbs brings to mind the scene from Barbarella.

This film would unwittingly invent a whole horror sub-genre of killer toy movies with Dolly Dearest, Demonic Toys and The Puppet Master joining the fray and even crossing over at one point.

7.  A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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The closeted first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street may not have been the sequel I wanted after the first film but I still really enjoyed it.

With the release of Part 3: The Dream Warriors it felt like the series was back on the right track. Nancy appears again, the plot is interesting and the special effects were innovative, horrifying and sometimes gut-wrenching (veins being used as puppet strings, anyone?!).

The film concerns a group of teens who are experiencing sleep trauma because a certain Mr Freddy Krueger is terrorising their dreams. Thankfully Nancy Thompson who was in a similar position in the original film is employed at the centre as she has now graduated to become a doctor specialising in sleep disorders. Nancy however has a few ideas as to how to try to do battle with Freddy in their dreams though.

Just as we had supervillains with Superman’s powers going up against him in Superman 2, this was a similar idea but translated to the horror genre with ANOES 3. Or, at least, thats what we thought. Whilst each of the kids in the facility has their own power or special identity in the dream world, they still pretty much get demolished easily by Freddy. But it’s fun to see the patient’s new identities such as Jennifer Rubin’s punk girl resplendent with switchblades, the young geek who has to use a wheelchair in real life being found to be able to walk in his dreams and being a kind of Dungeon Master (this whole film seems to be aimed at Dungeon and Dragon players and anyone else who owns a 20 sided dice) and Joey the mute who finds that he has a voice and uses it to breaks a hall of mirrors in the dream world.

Whilst the second film was closeted and unsure of itself, Part 3 is out, proud and camp as fuck! ANOES 3 lets it’s freak flag fly.

6. The Gate

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This film depicts three kids who are left alone for three days and the carnage that can happen when such an event happens.

When these three kids are left alone for the weekend they see that an uprooted tree has left in it’s place a gateway for demons previously buried beneath to enter the outside world.

This is a great horror film that seems more to be aimed at kids or the inner child of adult viewers. I saw this film when I was about 12 and still love it possibly because I first saw it at such an early age.

There are some great instances of stop motion animation and some very cool visual effects which have aged incredibly well indeed.

This film features a very young Stephen Dorff, years before he became Cecil B Demented. This is a low-key delight that has garnered a cult following as the years have gone by.

5. Opera

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When the diva of a daring production of Verdi’s Macbeth directed by Marco has an accident, the young opera singer Betty successfully replaces her. Soon a psychopath obsessed by Betty kills all who are close to her. Who might be the killer?

This is one of Dario Argento’s best films in my opinion. It contains his usual stylishly depicted murders, scenarios and kills so ingeniously that they beggar belief.

Take one which shows a woman looking through a peephole only to be shot through it. We see in slow motion the bullet travelling down the barrel of the gun used, through the peephole and through the back of the victim’s head after it has entered her eye.

Also, there is another sequence in which the killer breaks into protagonist Betty’s boyfriend’s apartment, uses duct tape to gag her after tying her up, places a strip of duct tape with needles sticking up from it under each of her eyes so that she can’t close them (her eyelids will be pierced by the needles if she tries to) so that she is forced to watch what happens next. She then witnesses her boyfriend being killed in front of her.

The locale of the opera world is also inspired with the story revolving around a production of Macbeth which is a nice nod to another tale of horror.

4. Angel Heart

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A New York private investigator Harry Angel is hired to look into a singer called Johnny Favourite by a shadowy figure called Louis Cyphre. The search begins in New York with all of the usual noir and hard-boiled ingredients in place- murders, beatings and blood.

Soon his research takes him to New Orleans. This setting lends a lot to the movie with religion, voodoo and the supernatural becoming imbued with the narrative. Tropes of the film noir genre seem to go hand in hand with those of horror which makes for a cracking movie which is much more than just a simple genre piece.

This film is amazingly directed by Alan Parker with the look of the movie lending itself to the themes of the film and the genres it’s straddling. Angel Heart doesn’t feel a triumph of style over substance either as it has enough substance to avoid this. The plot is all-consuming and engaging from start to finish. We feel fully in the thrall of Harry Angel with Mickey Rourke being perfectly cast as the hard as nails PI and certainly looking the part with his stubble, shabby long coat and long greased hair brushed back.

Robert De Niro as the enigmatic Cyphre is, of course, as brilliant as ever. The ponytail, piercing black eyes, the sharpened pointed fingernails, the cane and pentagrammed ring on his finger are all perfect. The scene where he eats an egg is something to behold. He tells Angel that in some cultures an egg represents the soul. No shit.

Lisa Bonet proves herself fantastically as being much more than ‘the girl from The Cosby Show’. Her chicken dance is one of the film’s highlights.

Charlotte Rampling rounds off the uniformly impressive cast.

The film had to be trimmed by 10 seconds to get an R rating from the MPAA.

Angel Heart was a case of a horror/noir tinged film that had the budget, innovation, originality and cast to garner applause from the critics. It’s easy to see why. It’s also easy to see why it’s one of the best films of 1987.

3. Predator

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A paramilitary rescue team on a mission to save hostages in Central America cross paths with a murderous space alien known as The Predator who sets out to kill them one by one.

Theres so much to love about this film. First of all it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a film from his Imperial Phase. At that time it seemed that every film he was making was amazing, reaping serious takings at the cinema box office before doing the same on home video. Every Arnie release in these days was a real event. His brand of action movies were perfect for video and Arnie can be seen as one of the actors whose rise to fame was intertwined with many people’s rose spectacled reminiscences regarding home video.

The Predator himself rocked. Stan Winston realised the creature and it felt like he was impossible to beat, even with Arnie battling against him. The Predator exhibited the best of both worlds- the feral and natural characteristics of some wild beast and the technological components of an advanced being unseen on Earth before. We even get to see the jungle terrain from the alien’s POV- a form of thermal imaging due to the body temperature of his prey. Arnie uses this to his advantage near the film’s climax when he covers himself in mud so as not to be detected by the alien.

The action sequences within the film are amazing and whilst this film may be seen by many as not being specifically horror (the film straddles action, horror and sci-fi) there was gore galore. From the scene in which Dillon (played by Carl Weathers) is firing at the beast but then has the arm taken off his body with said appendage seen still firing his gun after it’s left his body, to the character of Mac having his head explode after the Predator’s three red sight lights have appeared on him, the film certainly wasn’t prudish when it depicted it’s horror allegiances.

There was also the homoerotic subtext of the film which I wrote about here. From the greeting between Arnie and Dillon which consists of a grasping of hands with the camera oogling on each man’s bulging and glistening biceps to the bromance between two of the men (and there were only men on the crew), the subtext, like so much, is there is you know what to look for and recognise the signifiers. And there were plenty of signifiers. I how many 80’s action/horror fans have watched this film countless times and not twigged. Or they’ve had something awakened inside them.

2. Evil Dead 2 : Dead by Dawn

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Sam Raimi makes a sequel to the most notorious Video Nasty of all time. Balls. Of. Steel. Christian busybody and professional puritan Mary Whitehouse wanted to have the film buried and crucified in the media (even though she admitted to having never actually seen it) in the midst of the Video Nasties moral panic but instead Raimi gets funding to make a bigger, budget sequel. Thanks, Mary.

Actually, Stephen King was responsible for helping obtaining financing for this sequel. When King found out that Raimi wanted to make a sequel he personally called Dino De Laurentiis who funded the movie.

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is really a more expansive remake of the first film with a proper crew rather than a bunch of friends making a (genius) labour of love. The plot suggests that the events of the first film didn’t happen at all. The basic outline of the start of the film is very similar to that of the first except there are only two characters who venture to the cabin. They are joined by others later.

Ash takes his girlfriend Linda to said cabin in the woods where they find a tape belonging to the guy who was there before, archeologist Raymond Knowby. The tape involves passages of the fabled Book of the Dead being spoken out loud which unleashes all manner of skullfuckery.

Bigger budget, more ambitious ideas, more gruesome horror but the same sick sense of humour are present in this second film. Highlights include Ash’s hand wanting to kill him after it becomes possessed and so he removes it with a chainsaw. Theres also a funny episode involving a character swallowing an eyeball which has shot from another character’s head. We even get to see what Ash would look like as a demon. If these scenes don’t make you want to see this opus then nothing will.

The ending lays the foundations for the next film which Raimi actually wanted to make as the basis for this installment but producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted a movie more resembling the first film.

1 The Stepfather

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Henry Morrison is a chameleon like serial killer who assumes an identity, invades a chosen family and then decimates it. We see him change his identity, leave the family home within which hes killed all of the family members (their bodies are still strewn around) and go off to repeat the whole process again.

He picks a widow with a teenaged daughter and worms his way in again.

The Stepfather felt like it was part of a new trend in horror- films that were polished, brilliantly made but very, very violent. It feels so raw and brutal that it makes for uncomfortable viewing especially when you find out that the film is based on a true story. John List had killed his family, cleaned up the murder scene (their house), told neighbours that his family were going away for a while and then vanished. He had even cut himself out of all of the family photographs. Brian Garfield based The Stepfather on this true life case.

There is deft direction, great performances all round but especially from Terry O’Quinn as the central character. And what a performance! It’s one of the most unnerved, deranged and fucked up turns I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, it’s up there with Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. It’s that crazy! Also, watch for all of the nuances to his performance and his OCD obsession with everything being ordered and regimented.

Theres also something deeply disturbing about seeing these violent acts being carried out in a home that is so perfect that it looks like it’s from the world of advertising.

This relatively low-key film’s reputation has snowballed over the years and is now regarded as a cult classic.

The Stepfather’s director went on to make a film even more controversial- The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin.

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1986

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1986

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives

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Jason was killed in Part 4. But just as that installment was supposed to be the literal ‘Final Chapter’, it had been such a success that Paramount made another film. Part 5: A New Beginning involved Tommy Jarvis still seeing Jason everywhere, especially as new murders start to happen around him. Instead, it turns out that an ambulance driver has adopted Jason’s hockey mask and chosen to dispatch of all of the teens in the vicinity. His identity was only revealed at the end of the film.

Friday fans weren’t happy. They wanted Jason and not some tribute act. Their disappointment was indicated in the poorer box office returns for Part 5. So Paramount decided to resurrect the big guy. Jason would be back and (hopefully) the studio would profit handsomely from this.

How do you resurrect a supposedly dead horror film character? Easy, especially if the film franchise in question isn’t exactly known for it’s logic or coherent timeline. After all, Jason was supposed to have drowned in Crystal Lake prior to the first film. Tommy Jarvis is suffering from PTSD (never explicitly stated in the film but the flashbacks and hallucinations are symptomatic of this) and goes back to Crystal Lake with a friend to put Jason well and truly to rest. They dig up his coffin and open it so that Tommy can burn the corpse. However, with an iron railing from a nearby fence, Tommy stabs it into Jason’s body out of sudden rage when faced with him again. Lo and behold, a lightning bolt strikes the railing which resurrects the killer like a Frankenstein for the MTV generation (theres a great shot of worms falling off Jason’s face as he gets up). He arises, kills Tommy’s friend and puts back on his hockey mask thats nearby. He’s ready for business. Tommy escapes and spends the rest of the movie trying to convince people that Jason is back and then trying to stop his foe.

The supernatural elements to Jason’s resurrection was something Paramount must have loved. It meant that Jason would never really die, could be brought back to life at any time without a reasonable explanation and still make them money.

But there were still risks being taken with this film. It contained a sly humour that wasn’t present to such a degree in any other of the films. Most daringly, there was a meta humour present whereby the film would gleefully reference and gently poke fun at the conventions of cinema and in most instances, horror cinema and the slasher subgenre.

The title sequence of Jason Lives shows this in all it’s glory as we see Jason’s version of the James Bond gun barrel sequence. Instead of firing a gun, Jason throws a knife at the perpetrator whilst we see the blood then gush down. A knowing homage. The Friday 13th fanbase would instantly be divided into two camps. The ones who love the dark, brutal and more serious films and view The Final Chapter as their favourite and those who liked this less serious, more laid back venture with the kills still bing brutal but the build-up being laden with gentle winks to the camera and those in the know.

There are other humorous asides in the film. The cemetery being called ‘Eternal Peace’, the woman in her car who sees Jason and remarks that shes seen enough horror films to know a man in a mask in the woods is never a good thing, the American Express card drifting by on the top of a puddle after a victim is murdered. Theres also a hilarious scene in which Jason’s woods are swarming with paintballers with one of them thinking Jason is one of the competitors.

But whilst there are jokes and subtle references galore, there are great kills as well. The film also attempts to give the fans something new and to expand the canvas of the series as well. One way the film does this is by introducing bigger spectacles that haven’t been seen in the series previously. The scene involving the bus had never been attempted in any previous films and the shots of Jason on top of the huge vehicle feel like something new and grander in vision. The films were little by little changing as they needed to to reflect an ever-changing audience and not to stagnate and grow lazy by just depending on the formula used during the iconic first four films.

Ironically, Part 6 made less money at the box office than any of the other installments. But, it found it’s audience even more on home video and remains many Friday fans favourite entry in the franchise.

9. Chopping Mall

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A shopping mall gets a new state of the art security system consisting of robots that patrol the mall and tackle thieves through the use of lasers whilst also being able to shoot them with tranquillisers. All ways in and out of the mall are also secured with shutters which make it virtually impossible to get in (or out!)

You know what happens next! The system malfunctions due to the mall being struck by lightning and the robots become killing machines as we see after they bump off the system’s technicians and a caretaker in an early scene.

There are four couples in the mall as they stay on after-hours to party, have sex in the beds in the furniture store they are in (three of them work there) and to fall foul of the killer robots.

What is it about malls and horror movies that makes them work so well together? This is certainly no Dawn of the Dead but it’s fun, camp, kitsch and great fun, a true popcorn 80’s film.

But also, it’s a Roger Corman movie so we get Corman royalty such as Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov in roles.

I remember seeing this great big hunk of cheese in 1986 and thinking that American malls were so much more fun than the soulless 70’s shopping precincts we had in the UK. Especially as they had killer robots.

8. House

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A best selling horror author moves into his aunt’s house after she hangs herself in her bedroom. Here he encounters all manner of supernatural shenanigans.

And shenanigans is the right word as this is, and I never thought I’d be uttering these words on my website, a family horror film. The movie is bright and breezy and the monsters fun (but still scary). But this is the kind of horror movie that the whole family can sit through as long as the kids aren’t really young and can see the monsters and ghouls for what they are- grotesque parodies of other people from author Cobb’s life. The ugly female creature is a reverse manifestation of his beautiful actress (soon to be ex) wife, the green and rotting soldier is his buddy from Nam who thinks Cobb left him to perish. These ghouls are one step up from the scarier elements of The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.

This was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3. George Wendt stars of Cheers fame as does William Katt who, of course, was Tommy Ross from Carrie.

This was so much fun when I first saw it with my mates in 1986. And when I watched it again the other day, it was still fun. Arrow’s transfer of this movie is flawless.

7. Critters

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A criminal species of aliens are being transferred to a prison planet but in the process they hijack a spaceship and escape. With Earth in their sights they are pursued by two intergalactic bounty hunters.

They land in rural Kansas and start to cause havoc and mayhem.

Whilst this may sound ‘fun’ and a family film like House, Critters is much more aimed at adult horror fans with more ‘horror’ than House and less of a bright and breezy feel to proceedings.

Dee Wallace Stone, E Emmett Walsh and Billy Green Bush all star and bring a lot to the film. This feels like a moderately big budget movie rather than some cheap and corny alien flick.

The critters (of Krites as they’re called earlier in the film) can frenziedly eat rather like piranha (we see them eat a cow in this manner which makes them a threat to animals and humans alike), fire quills from their foreheads and also travel at high speed by rolling away.

I love the depiction of small-town American life that this film captures with it’s rural/farmland idyll and one scene taking place in a setting of All-Americana, a bowling alley.

Theres also a great sense of playfulness and humour to the movie that comes through loud and clear to the viewer.

This film really reminds me of the movie, Tremors released a few years later.

6. The Hitcher

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1986 sounds kind of lightweight so far, doesn’t it? Quasi-funny aliens, family-friendly spectres and ghouls. But whilst there were a spate of PG-13 horror films that had as many funny moments as horrifying moments, there was, almost to balance things out, a spate of horror movies that were the complete opposite- unhinged, unrepentant and willing to push the boundaries.

One was The Hitcher starring C. Thomas Howell as a motorist travelling from Chicago to San Diego and stops to pick up a hitcher (Rutger Hauer). This in turn unleashes a shitstorm of epic proportions. The Hitcher reminds me of Spielberg’s Duel but with a seemingly unstoppable psychopath taking the place of the truck.

After John the hitcher pulls out a knife and saying he had cut off the arms and legs of the last person who picked him up, Jim (the driver) notices that the passenger door is unlocked and pushes him out of the car as it’s moving. This starts a series of both people crossing paths (or should be roads) with each other until the film’s climax.

The Hitcher is a very well made and beautifully shot B movie. It’s also close to the edge, has a brutality that was pushing boundaries for movies at that point and remains a fan favourite for just that reason.

It is also open to many readings. One possible reading involves the underlying gay subtext to the film with one scene where the duo have to go through a roadblock due to construction work, implicitly bringing this up and out into the open.

5. Night of the Creeps

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It’s always a special year when a movie with Tom Atkins in it makes my Top 10 list.

A fraternity prank involving the thawing of a cryogenically frozen corpse sets into motion a tale involving alien brain parasites (!) that turn humans into zombies.

This film is a fantastic yarn. Not only is it an excellent film but it’s also a brilliant homage to horror of old with several sub-genres being resurrected (pun not intended) and referenced. Also, look out for the character names that name-check others within the genre (Cronenberg, Landis, Corman etc).

This is also a prime Tom Atkins vehicle and, as ever, he shines as ex-cop Ray Cameron. The script is littered with acerbic one-liners for him to utter, which he does with relish.

This film bombed royally when it was first released. But, thankfully, it found it’s feet on home video and became a huge cult classic (just like director Fred Dekker’s next film, The Monster Squad).

4. Vamp

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An ultra stylised vampire film starring Grace Jones (!) that has aged extremely well.

AJ and Keith want to get their way into a college frat house and so decide to hire a stripper for the evening to seal the deal. They puruse the local strip joints in the seedier parts of town and after entering a bar called After Dark, become set on asking Katrina, a stripper they have seen to come to their frat house. AJ goes backstage to try to convince her but she seduces him and then bites his neck.

So sets in motion a whole chain of events that includes more vampires and, of all things, an albino street gang. It would seem that nearly everyone working at the club is a vampire.

With the stylisation of this film being so central to it’s vision, this could have aged really badly and looked ‘sooo 80’s’ and been all surface and no substance. Thankfully, it’s neither of these and looked even better now than when I first saw it. There has also been a pristine transfer issued on Blu Ray by Arrow which means the film looks better than ever before.

The colour palate for this film is extraordinary and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Grace Jones with red hair!

3. The Fly

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Scientist Seth Brundel (Jeff Goldblum) shows Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis), a journalist, his transportation pods (not a euphemism) and how he can transport anything from one to the other. He still has to work on the idea though as living beings aren’t transporting properly yet (we see what happens when Brundel tries to transport a babboon and it actually gets transported inside out). Brundel promises full publishing rights to Quaife when the idea is perfected.

Brundel does perfect and tweak the idea and transports himself from one transporter to the other to prove it. However, a fly has entered the pod as well and so Brundel is transported but also combines with molecular structure of the fly.

He soon starts to transform and manifest his new Fly component. He becomes markedly stronger, starts craving sugar and starts to sprout thick hairs on his back. And that’s just the start.

The Fly was a huge hit in 1986 and it’s great to see that after years of directing his body horror films, David Cronenberg’s reputation and body of work started to grow in prestige. Could someone as esoteric as Cronenberg ever make a film which would *shock horror* involve a huge studio and maybe even be a huge hit? The answer was Yes. 20th Century Fox was behind The Fly along with Mel Brooks’ production company, Brooksfilm. And all of this happened without any kind of sell out or compromise. The Fly feels through and through like a Cronenberg film with it’s minutiae for procedure, science and what the stomach turning results are. And, boy, these sequences don’t disappoint. The bar-room arm wrestling scene is still as painful to watch as when I first saw this on VHS.

The unexpected also happened- The Fly won an Oscar. It was for Best Make-Up and it was richly deserved. Jeff Goldblum’s transformation into part-man, part-fly is inspired, horrifying and extremely gross (perfect for a horror film).

2. Manhunter

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FBI criminal profiler Will Graham comes out of retirement to try to help apprehend a serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’. This involves meeting with one of his old nemeses, Dr Hannibal Lecktor who almost killed Graham.

Whilst Silence of the Lambs was the mainstream Hollywood movie that introduced the world to Hannibal Lector (without the middle ‘k’ too) then Manhunter was the arthouse movie in which he first appeared.

Whilst Silence has a lot to like about it, it does have moments that make me roll my eyes. The one-liners (especially the too showy speech abut fava beans and a nice Chianti resplendent with slurping sound effects) and general showiness does feel a bit forced and kind of vulgar to the Lecktor in Manhunter and Thomas Harris’ books.

With Manhunter the only downside is the change of title forced on by the film by it’s producer Dino De Laurentiis. The book by Harris was actually Red Dragon after he had produced a film with Dragon in it’s title that had flopped. He also didn’t want cinema goers to think the move was a kung fu vehicle. Two stupid reasons but Manhunter isn’t that bad a title for a movie.

Manhunter is a Michael Mann so the visual aspect of the movie is of paramount importance. The way every single frame is composed, the colour palate (notice the colours used for intimate scenes and more striking hues used for more disturbing episodes), the surreality of certain scenes (especially the showdown between Graham and Dollarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy) and how they have been filmed to accentuate this.

Whilst Silence was a huge hit on it’s release, Manhunter flopped but was lauded by critics on it’s release, to be appreciated more over the years with it’s release on home media. Which is ironic as Manhunter is the better film.

1 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

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I first heard of this film in 1991 when Malcolm McLaren reviewed it on a Channel 4 arts show. I thought Mr McLaren would act all edgy and say that the film was very tame and didn’t affect him at all. How wrong I was! He said that he had seen the film 3 days previously to review it and hadn’t slept since! It had scared the shit out of him and that it was like he had watched a documentary rather than an actual motion picture. As soon as I heard him say this, I knew I had to see this film (although with a title like this I was bound to see it anyway).

The film was released on video in the UK after being massively cut by the BBFC but it still remained a harrowing, powerful piece of work the likes of which hadn’t been seen by film audiences before. It really was like we had fly on the wall access to serial killer Henry and his prison pal Otis (based on the real life Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who were actually a couple in reality but not within the parameters of this film) as Henry coerces (not that he needs much coercion) Otis into killing and passes down his wisdom to him regarding topics such as Modus Operandi and not getting caught. Henry also outlines some of his philosophy regarding what murder is like (‘It’s always the same and it’s always different’).

The film is peppered with unexpected intervals whereby we’ll suddenly see one of Henry’s victims just after he has killed them- the woman slumped on a toilet, her top pulled down to show her breasts, suspenders and stockings also on view with a broken bottle protruding from her maimed, mutilated bloody mouth. Or the Mom and Pop in a general store both shot dead. Or the dead naked woman’s body floating face down in a lake. These intervals are also accompanied by their respective screams. We also see other clues as to Henry’s crimes. The hitchhiker he picks up who is clutching an acoustic guitar in a case which Henry later brings into the kitchen where Otis and Becky (Otis’ sister who comes to stay with them) are sat. When asked where he got it from he just says he ‘picked it up’. Theres also the scene later on in the film where he offers to take Becky out for a steak dinner as he has a new Visa card he wants to try out. ‘You have a Visa card?!’ Becky laughs to which he responds ‘Who do you think you’re associating with?!’ It’s not explicitly stated where Henry has received this credit card from but it can be reasonably guessed.

We even get to see the stalking of a woman Henry has seen in a shopping mall car park, as he follows her to her suburban home. On seeing that her partner meets her to unpack her shopping, he drives away. But on being instructed to keep the canister of bug spray from his former job by his boss, he uses this prop to go to the woman’s house on a later occasion and finish what he had hoped to do earlier. We don’t see the murder but we get to see the aftermath. As cartoons play on a TV screen, we see her dead on the couch, a length of cord around her throat, cigarette burns on her chest.

And then there are the murders that take place on screen. These include the homosexual guy who stops for Henry and Otis’ (fake) car breakdown, the sleazy and sarcastic (but very funny) TV salesman who finds a TV actually being brought down on his head screen-first (‘Plug it in’ Henry tells Otis, providing the film with a scene of gallows humour. This sick and unintentional comedy peppers the film just like the bloody intervals revealing Henry’s victims do. More on this bleak humour later), the pair of prostitutes they have rented with Henry breaking both of their necks to the astonishment and dismay of Otis.

And then there is the home invasion scene that was and still is the bane of many film classification boards the world over and one of the most notorious scenes in the history of film. Henry and Otis break into a home whilst the family are enjoying an otherwise quiet night in. Otis is seen fondling a woman sat on his lap but whilst she is desperately try to get away, Otis holds her arms behind her back so that she can’t. Henry is seen kicking her male partner who is tied up, has a bag over his head and is on the floor at Henry’s feet. Henry is also filming the whole incident on a camcorder taken from the TV salesman they killed earlier. As all of this is going on, the front door suddenly opens and a ten year old boy walks in, sees whats going on and makes a bolt for the door again to notify someone. He doesn’t make it though as Henry beats him to it, tackles him to the floor and breaks his neck. Otis breaks the neck of the woman on his lap and is just about to sexually abuse her further when Henry tells him not to. We then see that the action is actually being watched by both men on their TV whilst they sit on a couch in their apartment. They are watching the incident for pleasure.

Becky is coming to stay with them as she is running away from her abusive husband. During her stay with her brother and Henry, she will slowly fall for Henry. She will also reveal details of her own backstory over a game of cards with him- the abuse she received at the hands of her father, the fact that she only got into a relationship with her violent husband Leroy so that she could escape her Dad. Otis had previously mentioned to Becky that he had met Henry in the jug and that Henry was there for killing his Mama. He also demands that Becky doesn’t mention it to Henry which, of course, she does. Henry tells her about it, how his mother was a whore, how she’d make him sometimes wear a dress and watch as her and her male friends had sex and then after the deed they would sit and laugh at him. The fact that he gets the method he used to kill his Mama wrong says so much. Henry also details other aspects of his upbringing- his father who was a great man before he lost his legs, the bicycles that his father gave him and his brother that were too big but were sold before he had time to grow to be able to use it properly, the brother who had ‘bone disorder’ and was deformed.

The film isn’t the quagmire of depravity that the film’s reputation suggests. There is some great black comedy within the film with the ‘Plug it in’ scene highlighted earlier being one of them. One such happens when Henry breaks the necks of two prostitutes in quick succession. On seeing Henry killing for the first time and not even knowing that he was capable of something like that, Otis’ face changes to one of disbelief of almost comic proportions with him almost looking into the camera at the audience and breaking the fourth wall. It bizarrely provides a laugh for the audience in the bleakest of situations. In fact, Otis is also a great source of humour in other scenes in the film. On picking Becky up from the airport, she has a huge suitcase and a paper bag with her belongings in them. Otis chooses the paper bag to carry and leaves her to struggle with the suitcase.  On driving to his apartment, he asks her about her husband Leroy. When she gets upset and says she doesn’t want to talk about him anymore he agrees and asks if shes hungry and wants something to eat. Theres then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.

Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.

A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.

The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.

I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).

A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.