31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 19- Dawn of the Dead (2004)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 19- Dawn of the Dead (2004)

A remake of the much loved and revered masterpiece Dawn of the Dead was always going to be sneered at by fans and film scholars alike when the project was announced.

I actually saw the film on it’s release when I was visiting Glasgow and was expecting to roll my eyes constantly whilst saying ‘Psst!’ under my breath a few hundred times (but not too loudly…) during the film’s running time. I was pleasantly surprised though. Whilst it was no worthy competition for Romero’s original film in terms of it’s coveted place in horror history, it was far from mediocre. In fact, it was really rather good!

The opening scenes show central character Ana finish a long shift as a nurse at her local hospital and return home. The next day a little girl from her neighbourhood comes into her house and shows that all it not well. She has changed into a zombie and fatally attacks her partner, ripping out a chunk of his neck with her teeth. Very quickly, he then springs back to life and also in a zombiefied state like the girl who attacked him.

Ana gets to her car and we then see that the very fabric of society has broken down almost completely. People are either dead and running around as zombies and trying to kill others, or they are still human but have either gone completely crazy (witness Ana’s neighbour armed with a gun) or are in ‘survival of the fittest’ mode with no regard for anyone else around them (someone attempts to hijack Ana’s car by trying to jump into it).

After running off the road, Ana crosses paths with cop Kenneth who, with other characters (one of them pregnant!), goes to the neighbouring mall for refuge.

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The mall is where the majority of the rest of the movie takes place just like the original. There’s even a nod to the first film with a sign for a shop called Gaylen Ross. The theme of a crisis bringing out the best and worst in a person’s character is explored well here with the security guards who are already in the shopping centre having marked it as their territory and only letting the new arrivals take refuge if they surrender their weapons and adhere to their rules and laws. This is very Lord of the Flies.

The next day even more characters are interjected into the narrative by way of a delivery truck and we now have our cast in place for the rest of the film. And this is one of the major strengths for the remake and that is that the characters are so brilliantly sketched and well rounded. There is a fantastic diversity and range within the characters with some changing by the time of the film’s conclusion so that our expectations are constantly being challenged and contradicted with seemingly vile people redeeming themselves and vice versa.

The film also perceptively displays human relationships at work. On first arrival most of the characters rub along pretty well. But being in a confined space together soon causes divisions and differences to develop and flare up. The film soon becomes something akin to events in a season of Big Brother but with, obviously, more at stake.

As well as great characterisation we also get great make up and effects. The special effects for the film were actually by the company owned by Heather Langenkamp aka Nancy Thompson from the Nightmare on Elm Street films! She should be very proud with the results as they are fabulous.

Scott Reiniger, Ken Foree and Tom Savini from the original all get cameos well as the Gaylen Ross reference/homage.

The zombies in this film move a lot faster than their blue-skinned counterparts from the original which massively divided fans with Romero himself saying that he didn’t like this aspect. I personally think it doesn’t really bother me as it’s something new just like the film itself. There’s also a new rule regarding the dead turning into zombies with there being a set time of a few seconds before the dead arise again. I thought this was also an interesting new aspect of this remake/reimagining.

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There is also some great humour in the movie also. Witness the ‘Celebrity Squares’ game that Kenneth plays with his gun shop buddy who is trapped on the roof of his business nearby. This also blossoms into a great moment of camaraderie and dare I say bromance between the two characters. Again, this echoes the same kind of relationship that Scott and Peter had in the original. I thought that it was great that this was reproduced in the remake.

I have to say though that on watching this film again for this review after seeing it on it’s original release brought diminishing returns this time around. It was almost like when you know what to expect with this remake half of the fun has gone.

This remake will never come close to the original film. But on first viewing it was interesting, innovative and had some artistic merit. It’s also a great rollercoaster ride that didn’t make me roll my eyes once.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A novel twist on the ‘demonic possession’ sub-genre. This is more a courtroom drama regarding the priest who tried to save a girl (Emily Rose) from possession by a demon but which resulted in her death. Father Moore faces life imprisonment for his activities trying to save the teenage girl’s life.

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There are of course flashbacks to the actual possession and how it manifested itself and also the resulting exorcism ritual.

Any film that deals with this topic will of course draw comparisons with The Exorcist and any film going up against the 1974 classic will ALWAYS lose.

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But The Exorcism of Emily Rose is passable even if it employs the broadest brushstrokes and whilst it may look great, there isn’t a great deal of detail, nuance or depth to the events.

If you flicked onto this whilst channel surfing this is perfectly enjoyable. But don’t scratch too far beneath the surface because you won’t find much.

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**and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead is George A Romero’s next instalment in the Dead series after 1985’s pedestrian and plodding Day of the Dead.

This involves the human race who are still at the mercy of a world overrun by the undead and now being split into the ordinary folk who are forced to live in slums whilst a few privileged individuals live in luxury in a part of Pittsburgh called Fiddler’s Green.

Whilst the zombies in the film are shown being unfeeling killing machines, so is Kaufman (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) who resides over Fiddler’s Green and the rest of the city. It is understood that he engineered the whole new division of the slum dwelling majority and the richer minority who live in luxury.

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There are analogies abound within the film with parallels being made between the film and the real America at the time of the film’s conception. The majority of American society have to scrape by to survive yet those who are in control have unfair access to the rewards and luxuries afforded to them because of it. Kaufman is shown to be completely devoid of empathy, humanity and scruples. His character is blatantly based on a certain US President who was in power at the time.

There are also comparisons between the zombies and the slum dwellers at the end of the movie with the undead leaving alone the surviving subjegated humans. The zombies also show signs of intelligence within the film with them making the trek to Fiddler’s Green by learning that they can travel underwater. There are also examples of them starting to use guns and firepower during the film’s running time.

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But the film’s moral message feels very heavy handed in retrospect as well as being way too simplistic and a bit too ‘right on’. Theres no nuance.

That being said this is a zombie flick with the undead kicking ass, looking amazing with action sequences coming thick and fast. But whereas Day of the Dead, this film’s predecessor was too ‘talky’, some of the action here feels a but hollow and almost like filler.

A satisfactory film but not a great one.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

I didn’t even know there was a remake of George A Romero’s 1985 film. When I found out about it I was hardly looking forward to reviewing it as I found the original to be the runt of the litter of Romero’s zombie movies- it was too slow, talky and with not enough action.

The remake however is lacking in the intelligence of the original but doesn’t skimp when it comes to the action. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s an enjoyable enough ride whilst it lasts and I can think of worse films to watch.

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In fact, if I had to choose I’d say that I’d prefer to watch this again rather than the original (Romero fans are tutting as they read this).

Ving Rhames stars but is criminally underused. But the rest of the cast do a great job without him. This was made for TV and feels like it but if I flicked onto this it would still hold my attention until it’s conclusion.

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Great zombies, great effects (even if you can tell they’re working on a relatively small budget) and Colorado has never looked so beautiful in some shots.

Certainly not the bad remake I thought it would be even if only zombies and the military are the only elements that link the original and this later film.

***

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

A privileged and thoroughly unlikeable woman ventures out to try to get into a party that George Clooney is supposedly to be at (really) and after failing to flag down a cab decides to get the last tube train from her local underground station. She then briefly falls asleep and on waking up discovers that she is all alone in the station. Or is she?

There have been horror films in the past that are either centred entirely around the London Underground (Deathline is one) or have had a scene set in a station on it (An American Werewolf in London springs to mind).

As someone who used to live in London I know how unsettling a tube line or station can be late at night when they are eerily quiet. Creep has this setting but unfortunately wastes this great location and premise.

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Maybe it’s the fact that the female lead character is just so vile. At one point in the film she seeks help from the homeless living under the station. This social divide between the rich and poor should have been explored in more depth but wasn’t.

Also, when the person stalking her is finally revealed it’s a massive anti-climax. He’s a Jason Voorhees of the Piccadilly Line but without the hockey mask, charisma or ingenuity when it comes to killing.

I would have loved to see the brattish lead suffer more for her horrible personality and thus learn some compassion and humanity as a result, a kind of cathartic redemption. But this doesn’t happen. A wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Jason X (2001)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Jason X (2001)

This film is basically Jason in Space.

This movie massively divided fans. Some loved the innovation but some hated it to such an extent that they viewed it as the worst in the series. Yes, they even hated it more than Part 5: A New Beginning.

But I loved this movie. I even went to see it a bunch of times during it’s original release.

Theres so much to love. The claustrophobia of the spacecraft, the tongue in cheek humour, the nerdy aspects of the film’s vision (check out the eye operation on Jason and the way that injuries like severed limbs are remedied).

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A tongue in cheek cameo by David Cronenberg

Theres also an amazing cameo by David Cronenberg thats worth the price of admission alone.

With this installment being based in space theres many nods to satify the most ardant sci-fi fanboys. Least not Lisa Ryder who was a star of Andromeda. Her android character is a great addition to the cast.

Uber Jason is a sight to behold! And check out the liquid nitrogen kill. It’s one of the best in the whole series.

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Liquid nitrogen kills

Highly recommended. File as ‘underrated’.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Freddy Vs Jason (2003)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Freddy Vs Jason (2003)

I remember going to see this back in the day and walking out halfway through. Will I make it through this film this time? Will I feel the same as I did back in 2003?

Well, yes I did (somehow) watch it all the way to the end. And yes, I feel the same as I did way back when.

 

This no-brainer feels like prior to filming someone told director Ronny Yu what happens in the Nightmare on Elm Street series and then what happens in the Friday the 13th series as he hadn’t seen any of the films. He then made a movie. A big budget, CGI laden shitfest.

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‘So, who’s Freddy and who’s Jason?!’ Director Ronny Yu meets the film’s stars

I hate that they didn’t use Kane Hodder. I hate that they didn’t use Betsy Palmer. I hate that they DID use Kelly Rowland. Could her ‘acting’ career be as putrid as her ‘music’? Erm, yep!. And did she have to use the ‘F’ word in a line that apparently she ad-libbed? It was great watching her die.

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RIP homophobe

This film was made for fanboys rather than fans of either series. A fanboy of F13th and NOES will love anything that has Freddy or Jason in it regardless of quality (like the Halloween fans who like any of the sequels after Part 3). A fan of the series will know the films, characters and plots of a franchise inside out and even try to establish a timeline even when this isn’t strictly possible.

New Line wanted a big, dumb multiplex movie that would attract huge audiences and take in megabucks. They got their wish.

1 out of 5 stars

 

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

This is such a great documentary about Ozploitation films (exploitation films made in Australia).

All the great films and sub-genres are here- the bawdy Ocker comedies, the slasher movies, the films for petrolheads.

The main players are all interviewed and show that making these insane films was just as insane in real life.

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I’m so glad that so much attention was devoted to Brian Trenchard-Smith. I think Turkey Shoot is the greatest Aussie film ever (take that Picnic at Hanging Rock).

But it’s not just Aussies who are interviewed. Jamie Lee Curtis and others are interviewed as they starred in prominent Ozploitation movies. Quentin Tarantino features as he’s a massive fan of the genre.

This doc is great for beginners and the already initiated alike. Theres so many films named that I hadn’t heard of that I’ll now be hunting down. Job done.

4.5 out of 5

Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

My local cinema, The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds regularly shows cult films. I was looking forward to seeing The Room as it had regularly played at a lot of the cult film cinemas like The Prince Charles Cinema and so I thought it must be some kind of newly discovered classic.

The screening I went to was almost sold out. I noticed that the rest of the audience were at least 20 years younger than me. Millennials. Not a good sign. I wondered if they could stay off social media on their mobile phones for the duration of the movie. Or if the concession stand would double up as a safe space for the evening.

And then it started.

Lets get the film’s plot out of the way first. Man is engaged to woman. Woman finds man boring and sleeps with his best friend. Fiancee confides to her mother that she doesn’t want to marry man. Woman tells friends that hubby-to-be got drunk and beat her. This continues until the end of the film where at the man’s birthday party he finds out about the affair and later blows his brains out.

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The Room is a movie that shouldn’t be getting any attention of ANY kind. It makes your average straight to video film feel inspired. Is it a cult because of the depths the film plummets in terms of acting? Is it the wafer-thin plot that is almost non-existant? The cheap production standards? No- The Room doesn’t deserve any attention because its what a cult film should never be. Its boring.

Anyway- back to the cinema that I’m watching the movie in. The audience then starts to indulge in something that I think should be heavily penalised in a cinema. I feel like gagging just typing these two words- audience participation. This is the reason why I don’t go to see one of my favourite films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show when its showing on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact that a heterosexual man finds a legitimate reason to wear suspenders and heels in public rather than just in private. But when assholes in the audience start shouting lines at the screen and stand up to do dance moves so you can’t even see the friggin’ film then I start to get all punchy.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show- one of the best films ever made. Do I wanna see fans try to outperform Tim Curry? No.

And this is what happened with The Room- attention whore audience members trying to outdo each other by shouting out lines, laughing at moments that weren’t funny either intentionally or unintentionally (not that you could tell a lot of the time as you couldn’t hear over the noise being made) and throwing plastic spoons at the screen (just don’t ask). It was all so contrived- ‘I read on Facebook that you do that kind of thing at this movie!’ Then in that case have a screening for your friends in your halls of residence TV room. Imagine the poor cinema usher having to pick up all of the plastic spoons that some privileged student arsewipes threw at the screen- and all in the name of mediocre cinema supported by those trying to be ‘ironic’ *gag*.

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My favourite scene from ‘The Room’- the end is in sight.

I have no problem with audience participation for some cult movies- as long as the cinema warns people beforehand that this is going to happen. This could be a trigger warning for non-millennials and people who just actually want to sit through the movie and be able to fucking hear it.

I think there should also be some screenings of films that have a tradition of ghastly audience participation where this kind of behaviour isn’t permitted. These screenings should be clearly advertised in advance. Cinema ushers should patrol the aisles with electric cattle prods or tasers so that one whiff of a plastic spoon and the perpetrator could be zapped and then ejected (into the care of the local police who would charge them with disorderly conduct no less).

Going to see a film doesn’t always have to be a case of buy your ticket, buy your snacks, find a seat, watch the film. It can also be a feat of showmanship where the fun isn’t confined to what goes on just on the screen. Think of William Castle and the genius gimmicks he used to to elevate an already brilliant film into a unique experience. John Waters was a Castle fan and used a gimmick himself- the Odorama card for his masterpiece Polyester. A number would appear on the screen in a certain scene and you’d scratch off the number on the Odorama scratch n sniff card you got when buying your ticket. Number 2 was exactly that- shit! This kind of showmanship was inspired, in most cases wasn’t done to detract from a dud of a film and the director was still calling the shots rather than some douchbag audience members trying to steal the limelight.

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‘Emergo’: A skeleton that flies above the audience unexpectedly during House on Haunted Hill (1959)

But whilst I love cult cinema and midnight movies, many of the legitimate examples of this genre have a quality in common that The Room will never possess- in many cases they’re brilliant movies that really are worthy of adoration by those touched by their genius.

The people who go to screenings of The Room and profess to be fans of the film are adherers to the adage that some films are ‘so bad they’re good’. I’ve written about that HERE. Why celebrate bad cinema? A cult film should be so good, its brilliant and so you feel the need to tell all and sundry about why thats so.

A couple of years ago the same cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The audience were the same as any other going to see a cult film at The Hyde Park Picturehouse- keen cineasts who know about the film being shown, fans of the film already but also that strong minority (usually students) who have heard about Pink Flamingos being a ‘cult’ film so it must be ‘really bad, right?!’ I’m a huge John Waters fan and was ready to stab anyone who dared to laugh at the film instead of with it. And you know what? There was not one titter, guffaw or groan at the film’s expense from the peanut gallery. The audience was united in being won over by this cinematice masterpiece. They laughed at all the right places and gagged at the appropriate scenes of filth too. The power of Pink Flamingos- it was shocking in the 70s and if anything, in these times of the youngsters of today being offended by everything and being of an ultra-sensitive disposition, its even more shocking. But its also riproariously funny- a quality which has converted even the most staunch cinema snob to Waters’ genius. ‘Jesus! That was actually brilliant!’ said one student to her friend on leaving the screening. Praise indeed.

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Pink Flamingos. Still the cult movie motherlode.

Please don’t resurrect any old piece of mediocre crap resplendent with bad acting and no plot and elevate it to cult status. Theres enough beige fare in popular culture as it is.

If you’re a fan of The Room you need to see more cult films- and good ones. If you’re a fan and go to screenings, throw plastic spoons at the screen, shout ‘Meanwhile, in San Francisco’ and try to dazzle fellow audience members with your wit, you’re a fucking tool.

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The Room- 1 star out of 5- because its something any film should never be- fucking boring.

Day 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Day 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

This film was actually made in 1986 (although I’ve read it was actually shot in 1985) but not released until 1990 as there were censorship problems as to the graphic nature of the film’s proceedings.

The film is loosely based on the lives of real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.

Henry lives with Otis. They both met in prison when Henry was serving a sentence for murdering his mother. Otis’ sister comes to stay with them and instantly falls for Henry. Peppered throughout the film are random victims of Henry shown in differing locales and killed using differing methods. Henry continues to kill but we start to see the involvement of Otis. There is even a scene in which Henry passes down his wisdom regarding serial murder to Otis. Henry now has a new partner in crime. Or does he?

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The first time I heard about this film was on a TV review show which had celebrities talking about new media. Malcolm McLaren was chosen to watch and talk about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and had said that it was so shocking that he hadn’t slept since seeing it! The ultimate recommendation for a horror movie.

The first time I actually got to see the film was when it was released on video in 1990 in the UK. However Henry’s butchery wasn’t the only I was to witness but also that of the BBFC. They had a massive issue with the scene in which one of the random victims is shown to be a dead naked woman sat on the toilet with a broken bottle in her mouth and the home invasion that Henry and Otis not only commit but also film on a camcorder. The film is now uncut in the UK and common sense has prevailed.

Henry feels more like a grimy, gritty documentary which was shot by a silent conspirator rather than a glossy, polished Hollywood film in which the police arrest the assailants at the end. There are no police in Henry as the transient main character moves on and the killings seemingly continue.

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The arrival of this film signified a major new hallmark in the horror genre as this film was so brilliant executed (pun not intended), directed and acted. I can’t imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Henry other than Michael Rooker. He performs the central character with a very strange, very unsettling disconnect and utter lack of emotion, almost like he has a forcefield around him. Tom Towles needs mentioning also as the sleazy, rat-like Otis. Try and watch his performance without your skin crawling.

A perfect film that was in fact lauded by critics including Siskel and Ebert (yes you read that right! They praised the film whilst taking the opportunity to further criticise the Friday the 13th films. Bore off!) I remember at the time of GoodFellas reading a Martin Scorsese interview in which he said that the film had seriously disturbed him too and that it thought it was amazing. The film was so loved by critics that it was a film which helped with the introduction of a new classification for the MPAA. That classification was NC-17 (it had been suggested that the new certification would be A for Arthouse- films that were felt to be of artistic merit but somewhat violent and/or sexual). However NC-17 replaced the old X rating and the stigma remained. Some cinemas still won’t show NC-17 films, some newspapers won’t advertise these films either.

The film has now been restored with the gorgeous looking and sounding 4K print being released on Blu ray. Now thats karma. Lets hope theres a similar karma when it comes to the MPAA’s ratings system.

An outstanding film. 5 out of 5.

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