31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 22- The Ambulance (1990)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 22- The Ambulance (1990)

A young cartoonist Josh chats up a young woman named Cheryl in the street (the board at Gillette must be despairing at this) but when she collapses she is then taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance which has been called for her. When Josh tries to track her down there appears to be no trace of her being taken to any hospital in an ambulance. Josh then learns that the same fate happened to Cheryl’s roommate. Something fishy is going on. Does it have anything to do with that specific ambulance?

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With such a great premise I was expecting a cross between Coma and Maniac Cop. But, alas instead this is more like a TV movie that feels very slight and somewhat hollow.

I was also expecting more as this was directed by the great Larry Cohen and whilst there are some great directorial flourishes and some great dialogue which Cohen also wrote (all of the supporting characters in Cohen’s films have the best in quirky left-field comebacks), they don’t save this movie.

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A wasted premise and a shame.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 20- The Guardian (1990)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 20- The Guardian (1990)

A young couple have their young baby snatched away from them and offered as a human sacrifice to an ancient tree to prolong it’s life by the infant’s nanny. We then see a short time later the Druid nanny from Hell starts new employment caring for another couple’s child.

This tautly and stunningly beautiful film was director William Friedkin’s first excursion into the horror genre again after that low-key film that he directed in 1973 that no-one ever talks about anymore. Just kidding. Friedkin’s first horror movie after The Exorcist was bound to garner much press and this film did. It was also predictable that any film that wasn’t as genre-defining and revolutionary as The Exorcist would provide howls of derision and bad reviews which was the fate for The Guardian.

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I refuse to think of any film directed by William Friedkin to be irredeemably bad or massively flawed. And this truly is the case with The Guardian. Amazingly directed, beautifully shot, pinpoint perfect performances (a big shoutout goes to Jenny Seagrove as the anti-Mary Poppins) and you have a taut 1990 film that has more positives than negatives. If anything is lacking it’s maybe the generic source material and the constant re-writes that affected the film. But it’s interesting to see such a great director working on strictly genre fare and seeing what happens. This reminds me of Martin Scorsese directing Cape Fear and seeing what he could do within such parameters.

The horror scenes are great and the buildup of tension is lovingly established. The film establishes the feeling of placing the well being of your baby into someone else’s life and that someone turning out to be a nutjob (if only the film had ditched the supernatural element and made it about a psycho nanny instead. This film could have been to childcare what Jaws was to sharks). The loss of control and the erosion of some of the most precious parental boundaries are fully explored here and the result makes for a very chilling film.

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Time has been very kind to The Guardian. It’s established a fanbase and isn’t the disaster some critics would have you believe it was at the time. In fact, it’s a very good movie.

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

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

Every now and again a horror film’s reputation builds through word of mouth and because the first horror fans who have seen it rave about it and this snowballs until it can’t be denied or ignored by fans and film journalists alike. This happened in 1998 when Japanese film Ringu was made. This was also when the internet was in it’s infancy still and so this was actual word of mouth which made it’s way into print media such as Empire magazine and other publications. Everyone was saying that Ringu was one of the most imaginative, innovative and scary movies that had been seen in some time.

When I finally saw the film I had to agree. Again, this was before the internet and social media when fanboys (and girls) can build up hype about a film just as filming has started. The consequence of this is that when the film is actually released it turns out to be a huge damp squib (take a bow recent woke Halloween reimagining). And so the acclaim and word of mouth before the internet boom felt a lot more sincere and genuine.

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The film concerns a cursed VHS tape which brings death to it’s viewers seven days after they have watched it. When the niece of an investigative reporter watches it and then has an apparent heart attack, the journalist Reiko Asakawa starts to dig deeper. When she goes to a cabin that friends of her niece’s had died in in much the same way as her niece she finds a videotape. She then recruits her ex-husband to unfathom the mystery and hopefully break the curse.

This film works on so many levels. Firstly, there is the whole adventure that we are whisked away on which is extremely dark and full of mystery and intrigue. It never lets up for the viewer and never lags. There are also so genuine shocks along the way, one that involves Reiko’s son.

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The film also mines into the culture of VHS tapes that was still prevalent at that time amongst horror fans. Before the internet took off and made it possible to order first generation video tapes from overseas (hello Amazon!) the main way to obtain videotapes of films that were unavailable or banned in the UK was through film fairs. Films were taped from other sources onto blank video tapes (the picture and sound quality of these ‘pirate videos’ could vary massively!). The timing of the Ringu’s production and release was impeccable because DVD was just about to take off and make the whole VHS horror film fair scene obsolete. No more fifth generation pirate tapes when a pristine and legitimate copy of The New York Ripper could be bought online and delivered to your door (customs permitting).

The film also brings centre stage the continued relevance of urban myths and urban legends. The schoolgirls who watch the video tape have heard about the dangers attached through the myths told regarding it. So even in the advanced age in which the film takes place the power of a shared story told between friends still shocks and frightens just like the film itself for the viewer.

The use of photographs that show it’s subjects as distorted is also interesting and brings to mind The Omen. Photographs taken of subjects within the 1976 film show distortions and imperfections of how that person will die. The same is true within Ringu. 

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And then there is the tape itself and it’s contents. I’m not going to spoil the surprise of watching the tape for the first time for cineastes here but I’d just like to say that it lives up to the hype and will make your skin crawl.

In fact ‘lives up to the hype’ could be an expression used when describing Ringu as a whole. Unmissable. 

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

Book of the Week- Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly

Book of the Week- Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly

It was great timng when I started to get completely obsessed with the work of Martin Scorsese in the late 80’s because it wasn’t long before a pretty much indispensable text was published that lifted the lid on his oeuvre to a frighteningly thorough degree.

There was already the excellent Scorsese on Scorsese that was published in 1989 that was a great introduction to the great man’s career up until The Last Temptation of Christ.

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But in 1991 came Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly that examined each of Scorsese’s films up until the newly released Cape Fear but with each collaborator and person involved giving their own take on events in a ‘He said, she said’ style that meant that each film was examined in minute detail and accounts came from straight from the horses mouths, so to speak. 

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The book’s UK front cover

Scorsese’s early life, his early short films (now on Criterion) were also gone through with a fine tooth comb as was his aborted 1983 attempt to get Last Temptation made. 

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The book’s US cover

With the numerous interviews that were conducted for this book from a cast of pretty much all of the main players of Scorsese’s career up until this point it means that theres a massive scope of opinions and viewpoints that helps to broaden the canvas on everything regarding the auteur’s filmography. This book feels like an encyclopedia of all thing Scorsese and is a very welcome tome because of it. Add to that the rare stills used from all of his films and you have everything a Scorsese fan and film lover could wish for. 

God is in the details and this book is full of them. Highly recommended. 

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

It was in 1986 when I discovered Fangoria Magazine. A comic book store in a beat up shopping arcade in York in the UK had started stocking it on import from the US. I instantly began buying it and fell in love with the publication. 

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The down at heel (but still sadly missed) Davygate Arcade in York, UK where I bought my first issue of Fangoria from in 1986.

There was a brief time after that that Fangoria couldn’t be bought in the UK anymore as SS Thatcher had purposely banned it’s import and other similar ones (Gorezone and the French Vendredi 13 were two such) as they were viewed as being obscene and as the spectre of the Video Nasty moral panic from a few years earlier was still looming large. But this didn’t last long and the magazines were restocked and horror fans were kept happy. 

A couple of years after this I started to escape the small town of York and escape to the big city of Leeds which was close by. There was a great film memorabilia store there called Movie Boulevard that stocked actual back issues of Fangoria that covered the late 70’s/early 80’s golden era of the slasher films and the time period when new horror movies were seemingly being released every week. I picked up many older issues from there including issue number 1 and also the issues that featured Halloween 2 & 3 on it’s front covers, amongst others.

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The Halloween sequels featured on Fangoria’s front covers

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When I moved to London to study Film in the early 90’s I found even more back issues in the amazing film stores there including the Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill that were selling issues for as cheap as 50p a pop!

So what was it/is it that makes Fangoria so indispensable? In a word- everything. The articles on new releases, the pieces written about classics from the past and forgotten gems that are still unjustly under the radar of most horror hounds and the essays on films ripe for reappraisal that were criticised and ridiculed on first release by critics who sneer at most horror.

There were also pieces on the still vile MPAA and how they were trying to butcher the horror fare being released back then. In fact, I remember Fango’s editor Tony Timpone being one of the few people defending horror as a genre against the censors and so called ‘moral guardians’ in the US at that time. 

But it was also the ads for horror masks, for soundtracks and t-shirts. And it also featured the classified column which contained horror-based snippets from readers and their profound offerings (‘Jason SUX!!!’). 

To me, Fangoria felt like a vital piece of Americana, a gorgeous monument of American popular culture that only confirmed even more my love of this very special country over the pond.

Fangoria was also loved by those in the horror film industry. There were even pictures of actors on the sets of various productions reading the magazine.

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There were even cameos of the publication in various prominent films.

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Debbie reads Fangoria in a hammock in Friday the 13th Part 3D…

 

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…perusing an article on Tom Savini

 

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Her enjoyment of the Godzilla piece was interrupted though. You know what happens next…

It’s funny that a magazine can fully encapsulate that golden phase of my horror obsessed childhood. Fortunately one does and that’s Fangoria. It’s THAT special to me and thousands of others all over the world.

Fangoria continues to this day and is still as great as ever even though the golden age of horror is well and truly over. I’m glad it’s still being published. Now, we just need gorgeous coffee table books/compendiums of it’s back issues.

Until this is the case we can still look at back issues which have been scanned by others and ready to be perused due to the beauty of the internet. The Halloween 2 issue is here whilst the Halloween 3 issue is here. In fact, there are LOADS more issues on this site which can be found here

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

This entry into the taboo ‘killer kid’ horror sub-genre involves 9 year old Mikey. The first scene shows him slaughtering his entire adoptive family (yes, really) in one fell swoop. Whats more, hes videotaped the whole thing for his later entertainment. Mikey is found hiding in a closet by the police officers investigating who could have done this. After fobbing them off with a fake description of the perpetrator he is then placed up for adoption.

The majority of the film is centred around Mikey’s new life with his new family. He starts out by looking every bit the model angelic child but then red flags start to appear. Then the number of ‘accidents’ and casualties starts to grow.

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The power of this film is that it was filmed and feels like a TV movie. It adheres to this genre’s conventions but subverts it because of it’s controversial subject matter. This juxtaposition works amazingly well especially as the film pulls no punches when it comes to the truly sadistic and brutal deeds of it’s central character. The performance of Brian Bonsall is pitch perfect as the psychopathic child. It’s also great to see Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser fame make an appearance as Mikey’s concerned teacher.

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This film was actually made for the ‘straight to video’ market in the US but was then to be released theatrically in the UK. The film was submitted for a certificate to the BBFC and was awarded an 18 cert in November 1992. But then things took an unexpected turn. The abduction of toddler James Bulger by two other children dominated the news in February of the next year and the media was stating how horror films and specifically home videos must be the cause. A number of films that had been released were targetted with Childs Play 3 taking most of the blame. The Daily Mail (who else) noted how Mikey was a future release and involved a child killer. Surely this couldn’t be released now, could it, they opined.  Head of the BBFC, James Ferman then took the unprecedented step of taking back the 18 certificate that had been granted to Mikey and banning it outright. It’s hard to believe that this happened but it did. Mikey was resubmitted for a certificate in 1996 but was rejected. The film is still banned in the UK.

BUT, it’s on YouTube.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

A group of teens find themselves the victims of urban legends that come true. These legends range from ‘The Stranger in the Backseat’ to ‘Eating Pop Rocks and Drinking Soda’ (never heard of this but I’m keen to try it).

In the late 90’s there were a slew of teen horror movies made in the wake of one of the most irritating and terrible films ever made, Scream. They involved a group of pretty young actors in movies completely devoid of likeable characters, tension or any kind of intelligence.

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This still is better than the entire film

Urban Legend is an example of this wave. Stars from recent TV shows were cast to draw in the young audience members who wouldn’t know good from bad in terms of filmmaking. Even Robert Englund can’t save this turkey.

Aside from being a time capsule from the late 90’s this really doesn’t serve any purpose. When I went to see the vile Scream in the 90’s I saw David Cronenberg’s Crash straight after it. So my advice to you is to watch this auto-erotic car fetishist’s wet-dream instead. Crash proved that some great horror movies were being made in that time period.

1 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

A wife fakes her own death to escape from her rich abusive husband. She then flees to the mid-west to try to rebuild her life under a different name so that he can’t trace her. Will she succeed?

This is a Julia Roberts movie. If there isn’t a big enough warning to stay away I don’t know what is (although The Mexican is a great film but that’s an exception in her oeuvre).

Everything from the scenes where she gets a beating (she’s like Bambi in these scenes- innocent and a pure victim) through to the scenes where she is predictably ‘learning to live again’ in her new locale (there is one scene where her and her new boyfriend have great fun trying on different hats. I kid you not. It’s as vomit-inducing as it sounds) to the final scenes where her hubby who has now traced her and seems to have morphed into a really rubbish version of Michael Myers, is big dumb Hollywood crud on every level.

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El vomito

I hate films that don’t warrant their audience with one iota of intelligence. This is one of those films. It took in megabucks at the box-office. In fact how this was made as a film to be shown in cinemas is beyond me. This feels like a Hallmark TV movie.

If you want to see a great, intelligent film about abuse and stalker-esque behaviour in a relationship, please watch Play Misty For Me instead. If you want to see a film about an abused woman who isn’t a victim seek out Ms.45.

Avoid this rancid film.

1 out of 5 stars.

Review- The Matrix (1999)

Review- The Matrix (1999)

I missed this when it was first released. However, at the time I saw clips of the fights scenes and the slow mo bullet sequences and was duly impressed. What would i think of the film on first viewing almost 20 years later?

I never lost interest during this film and I can see why it was such a huge hit in 1999. Its heartening when any highly stylised film which isn’t utter base level bilge to take megabucks at the box office.

But heres where The Matrix succeeds brilliantly. It offers mind blowing concepts- but isn’t too deep. It offers striking visuals- which unfortunately quickly became de rigueur as many other films, commercials and pop videos copied this visual style. Not the fault of the filmmakers and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Certain parts of the film feel like a comic book fans fapfest. The costumes assumed by the main protagonists would only be thought cool by basement dwelling geeks. Black PVC, long coats and clumpy boots- a cyberpunk’s wet dream. Soo late 90s.

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Cool. If you’re a comic book fan.

But this film did dare to take to the masses something original and daring. It succeeded. Fair play especially in these times of stale remakes and turgid reboots. But don’t try to interpret things too deeply. Beneath the surface isn’t a whole lot of depth or substance. Precisely why it was so massive.

The scene need the end where we learn that Neo really is ‘the one’ is one of the most bombastic, unintentionally hilarious sequences in modern cinema. I don’t know if its pure cheese, genius or both. Which is noteworthy in itself.

But for a film that tries to show us what the modern world is really like and what it revolves around I’ll still stick with They Live. A film that accomplishes its mission statement with less gloss, has infinitely more depth, substance and charm and does so on a substantially smaller budget than The Matrix.

2 1/2 out of 5.

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It was bound to happen. Fans of The Matrix.

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.

Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?

David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.

This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.

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However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.

Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?

There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.

A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.

4 out of 5