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.

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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Little Britain, The Inbetweeners, Fawlty Towers…in the age of streaming services it’s shocking that content can be withdrawn/deplatformed/erased/censored at the push of a button.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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1982

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1982

Theres a video for this list here.

10. A Stranger Is Watching

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After reading Mary Higgins Clark’s book in the late 80’s, I was intrigued to learn that it had made into a film previously..

We had a huge video store near us at the time called Barker’s which was cavernous and full of quite obscure titles, including a lot of Made For TV titles that were released onto video in the UK (I saw the two tape edition of The Deliberate Stranger in which Mark Harmon plays Ted Bundy after renting it from there).

On seeing the film I felt they had done a really good job! This was a low-key, understated film and all the better for it. A young girl and her father’s girlfriend are kidnapped and held ransom by a psychotic nutjob in the tunnels under Grand Central station. Rip Torn makes for a terrific baddie and Sean S Cunningham (Mr Friday the 13th) does a very good job directing. Gritty, dirty and underrated. Oh, and a great New York movie.

9. Visiting Hours

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I love hospital based horror movies. The pinnacle of this subgenre was, of course, Halloween 2 but Canxploitation flick Visiting Hours released the year after is also a treat. In fact, Visiting Hours also had the honour of being decried against in the press after it was judged to be ‘misogynistic’ by oversensitive feminists (maybe the fact that the lead woman is playing a feminist provoked her fellow real life sisters into action).

Michael Ironside stars as the psycho here named Colt Hawker (!) and attacks Lee Grant’s feminist activist after she riles him on a TV chat show. He attacks her viciously but after surviving she is taken to the local hospital. But he isn’t finished with her yet.

This film feels sleazy, dark and is as fucked up as it’s psycho lead. This film came in for a hard time with The British Board of Film Classification (they seem to be an unwelcome guest in so many of my reviews) with a minute of footage excised from both the theatrical and video version. The film was also dragged into the Video Nasty moral panic.

Yes, the film is disturbing. Yes, women are treated appallingly and are the focus for the ire of Ironside’s character (an explanation for this is given when we see him visit his father who was disfigured by his mother and has caused him to foster a hatred for women ever since) but there are really characters like this in real life with women being the target for their twisted actions. Maybe this film not being censored would bring attention to this and act as a reflection of society. Or maybe I’m just trying to substantiate my twisted tastes in films…(I suddenly thought of porn theatre owner Elmer Fishpaw in John Waters’ Polyester- ‘my theatre helps stop rape!’)

Have a shower after watching this. But watch it!

8. Pieces

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I didn’t see this for the longest time even thought I had seen it mentioned in books and had seen the great poster for it. When I was living in Sydney I rented it out from the incredible Dr What video with Madman (another film I had always meant to get round to watching).

What can I say?! Cult classic! Lynda Day George screaming ‘Bastard!’ isn’t just cinematic gold but my message to the world!

The king fu professor scene, Paul Smith polishing his chainsaw, the tennis scenes, the clawed crotch scene, the opening backstory with the jigsaw…all utterly brilliant. And I haven’t even mentioned the kills! How brilliant they are, how deliciously gory and aesthetically pleasing each one is. Its like this film was made by a team of horror fans who had a roundtable discussion regarding what would be cool ways to kill people in a horror film. A girl on rollerskates going through a glass pane being carried by two guys who cross her path? That’d be cool! A girl in a lift is joined by a nutjob hiding a chainsaw behind his back? Lets do it!

If a film is brilliant enough it won’t just sink into obscurity. Eventually it will be rediscovered and treated like the great work it really is. That’s the Pieces story. I’ll never understand the massive cult status given to a film like The Room. It should be given to Pieces instead. And it’s already started.

A horror classic. And remember- ‘Theres nothing better than smoking grass and fucking on a waterbed!’

7. The Forest

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I didn’t even know of the existence of this film until it’s restoration for DVD was announced in the 2000’s. I happened to see an original copy of it on the shelves of the afore mentioned Dr What video store in Bondi Junction and so rented it. I’m glad I did. It’s a cracking film.

A bunch of hikers find themselves the target of a madman whilst being warned about him and if he’s close or not by the ghosts of two dead children (back story- the two children used to be his but were mistreated by their mother. Their father killed her when he found she has been having numerous affairs behind his back. He runs off to live in the woods with them but after the onset of malnutrition they commit suicide together. This makes their father go mad and live in the woods as a cannibalistic hermit. Shit happens). As they tell the hapless cityfolk, ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin!’, what the hikers don’t realise is that it’s the kids who are the ones who let their father know when there is fresh meat to be had nearby. Damn those double-crossing ghost children!

This film is a low-key, frenetic joy. Check out the fight scene between the killer and one of the campers. It’s one of the most high octane and off the wall bouts I’ve ever seen in a film and a triumph of kinetic direction and editing.

Another sign that you need to see this film is that there’s an actor in it called Corky Pigeon. True fact.

6. Tenebrae

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One of the many great things that the early 80’s video boom did was introduce movie viewers to the delights of Italian horror movies commonly known as Giallo. One of the leading directors of this genre was (and still is) Dario Argento. 1982 saw the release of his masterpiece Tenebrae. This time not only did horror fans get the usual exquisitely directed and staged bloodshed that Argento fans came to expect but they got a bona fide Hollywood cult star as one of the leads, John Saxon!

Peter Neal is an author of violent horror fiction and it would seem he has inspired a murderer to undertake a killing spree in his name.

Innovative murders, double and triple crossings, red herrings and an ending that has to be seen to be believed! I’d love to elaborate but I’m giving nothing away! I’d also love to explore the themes and meanings within this film but I’m reserving that for a future essay. I don’t want this list to become a thesis length dissertation.

In Italy Giallo directors were treated like royalty. In Britain their movies were banned and lionised (as we’ll see in a much more extreme example later in this list!) See this film to find out why Italy has such high regard for Giallo and it’s filmmakers. In fact, see any of Argento’s films to see why.

5. Friday the 13th Part 3D

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I still remember seeing the poster for the video release of this film and feeling so excited. Let me provide you with some backstory. This film was made in 1982 and gained a cinema release in the UK but then when it came to the video release it was the era of the Nazi video banning and burning that was the Video Nasty furore. CIC Video who distributed the Friday the 13th films on video released a press release that basically said that in the current climate they would hold back the release of Friday Part 3 and the forthcoming Part 4 until things had calmed down a bit. A wise move. Imagine Mary Whitehouse if she ever saw a picture of Jason in his hockey mask. He would have quickly become Public Enemy Number 1 with regard to this moral panic.

When I saw the poster for this release in the window of a small supermarket/off-licence near my house in 1987 it meant that their release was imminent (there were doubts as to if CIC would release them at all).

I then got to see the film in all of it’s 3D glory quite a few times in the late 90’s at the NFT in London.

Why do I love this film so much? The 3D is stunning and not just the technique they used to ensure that it could be the best possible presentation for audiences but also the many different ways it’s used in the plot and in what contexts. We get fun scenarios that utilise the 3D and so we have popcorn shooting out of a pan into our faces, a yo-yo being spun at us, a baseball bat being poked into the camera and even a spliff being passed over. But the 3D is also used for, thankfully, many disgusting uses. And so we get an old man clutching an eyeball which is poked into our faces, a hot poker used by Jason to stab a character in the stomach being pointed at us first, a victim whose head is being squeezed by Jason with a bit too much vigour resulting in one of his eyeballs shooting out of his head at us. Thats the kind of shit you need from a horror film shot in 3D.

This was also the first Friday in which we see Jason in his trademark hockey mask after he has ‘acquired’ it from one of his victims (after slashing said victim’s throat first). Jason’s first kill wearing this new fashion accessory is to fire a harpoon gun into a victim’s eye via the audience first of course. Jason then dispassionately throws down said harpoon and walks away. Killing is just functional to him.

The climax in the barn is worth the price of admission alone. At one point we have Jason with an axe protruding from his head coming towards us with his arms outstretched as if hes trying to grab us. Now that’s genius.

A gimmick used well. The spirit of William Castle lives on. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Shoot a film in 3D and watch the money roll in. Not quite. I also saw Jaws 3D at the NFT and it was dreadful!

Friday the 13th Part 3 in 2D highlights one weak chink in the film’s armour however- the final girl. Shes unbelieveable, lacking in spunk and a dreadful actress to boot. Spoiler alert- after ‘killing’ Jason she is meant to show that shes gone mad in the process. Honey, you have a longgg way to get to the levels of insanity that Marilyn Burns achieved in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

But other than that, Part 3 is a hoot.

4. Basket Case

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When we first got our new video machine (a top-loader from Granada Rentals) my family rented two films with it. One was Captain America and was intended as safe enough for 7 year old me. But the other film was Basket Case which interested me a lot more. I remember watching and loving both.

Watching Basket Case years later, it’s so on-point that it’s incredible. It seems to contain everything that an exploitation film fan would salivate over. In fact, it reminds me of another masterpiece that also hits every exploitation/cult film target it aims at, Bloodsucking Freaks (R.I.P. Joel M. Reed).

Duane books into the flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large wicker basket. Whilst the contents of the basket arouses the curiosity of almost everyone who comes into contact with Duane as he’s always carrying it around (we even see him take it to a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema and with wild results!) Duane seems backwards in coming forwards about the secrets contained within. The audience sees that it actually contains Duane’s previously conjoined deformed twin called Belial. The twins didn’t want to be separated and so seek revenge against the doctors and surgeons who performed this operation.

Basket Case is extreme, depraved, gory and very very funny. It’s also a very lurid time capsule to a time when 42nd Street was awash with cinemas showing horror, kung-fu, action and porn. In other words, the good old days.

3. The Thing

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In 1982 American audiences wanted only one alien. He wasn’t the shape-shifting evil alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing, he was the cute alien who wanted to ‘phone home’ in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.

A dog who is being shot at by the crew of a helicopter flying overhead is taken in by an American compound of researchers situated in Antarctica. When the helicopter is accidentally blown up by one of the men aboard, the crew try to find out why. But then the dog who is now in the same pound as the camp’s own dogs starts to act strangely. And then things start to change very rapidly indeed!

Theres a lot to love about The Thing. Rob Bottin’s bar-raising special effects, the perfect casting of the all male cast (unthinkable nowadays with the current emphasis on ‘diversity’ whether it’s necessary or not), the frozen, isolated locale, the colour palate that compliments this setting perfectly.

Ennio Morricone’s score is as intricate, complex and multi-layed as the rest of the movie. It’s been out of print for a log time and is well over due to be rereleased.

The film is also able to be read into in a number of different ways. It can be seen as a study into masculinity and a metaphor for a new disease being reported about on news reports called AIDS. The movie also doesn’t definitively answer vital questions but leaves it up to the audience to decide for themselves questions like who might be human and who might be an alien at the end of the movie. A film that grants the audience with a modicum of intelligence, another reason to love The Thing.

The Thing tanked at the box office. But it then found it’s audience when it was released on home video. Hooray for video!

2. The New York Ripper

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If this film was a stick of rock it would have the word ‘Exploitation’ running through it. This film is the Giallo Citizen Kane, the Gone With The Wind of sleaze. This is my favourite Lucio Fulci movie and I love his work.

A killer is on the loose in New York. Oh, and he has the voice of Donald Duck. He slaughters his female victims in the most disgusting ways possible using razor blades on intimate areas of their naked bodies. One attack on a female victim involves a broken bottle being thrust and ground into a very vulnerable part of her body. Really! And this sequence is featured in the film’s trailer!

This was banned outright by the BBFC and it was rumoured that they were so outraged by the film’s content that they actually escorted the copy of the print out of the country! This story was later proven to be untrue by the BBFC, who said that instead they just didn’t return the print to the distributor after they had banned it.

Right from the film’s start its a grimy and slimy excursion into New York’s underbelly. We see an old man throw a stick for his dog to go and fetch. Instead, the dog brings back a severed hand it has found. From then on in it never lets up with murders and deviant sex galore (check out the scene in the dockside diner involving a woman we had seen in a sex cinema earlier). And the film never flags and is just as disgusting and brilliant with every single scene.

Whilst this film still isn’t legal in the UK, it can be seen uncut on YouTube.

1 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1981

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1981

Theres a video of my choices on YouTube here.

10. The Burning

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One of the most notorious films involved in the Video Nasties debacle, (but not the most notorious. That honour is reserved for another movie on this list) this was severely cut by the BBFC for cinema and video release. However, Thorn EMI Home Video accidentally released the film uncut before this version was recalled.

The film was so contentious for the BBFC due to the infamous raft scene which is still an outstanding piece of film. It’s strangely beautiful, like a savage, painful and bloodspattered ballet due to it’s choreography and editing. It also involved Tom Savini who was responsible for all of the make-up effects for this film so you just knew this movie would be extra special. The prostitute being dispatched with a pair of scissors also, ironically, met with the censor’s scissors also.

This should have been an anaemic Friday the 13th rip-off which instead is as good as many of the entries in that franchise. A great backstory involving a prank on a summer camp caretaker gone horribly wrong, the deformed killer making his way back to the summer camp with revenge on his mind via an eventful visit to a prostitute resplendent with 42nd Street sleazy locale, a problematic Final Girl who is in fact a guy (and a voyeuristic perv), bloody kills and early roles for Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. The characters are well written which obviously puts this head and shoulders above such fare.

This was also the first film by production company Miramax and it’s co-owner Harvey Weinstein. And another reign of terror of a very different kind began.

9. Burial Ground

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A film that had been on my radar for a while when I first saw the poster for it in a book about extreme horror movies. When I eventually saw it (not easy as it wasn’t readily available in the UK due to it’s graphic nature) it was worth the wait. Craggy faced Italian zombies who seemed to really hate the living as displayed in the gory death scenes.

But I didn’t expect the whole sleazy subplot regarding Peter Bark’s character and his mother. No, I won’t reveal all as it would ruin a huge surprise for those who haven’t seen this film yet. Suffice to say, my jaw hit the floor when I saw it for the first time.

When this film eventually surfaced on UK video it had been cut by 3m 11s (ouch!). It’s now uncut on YouTube.

8. Just Before Dawn

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Jeff Lieberman is a legend and has made many films that I hold dear (Squirm and Blue Sunshine being two of them). Just Before Dawn is his very original take on the town folk vs hillbillies subgenre and also on the slasher movie genre and is utterly brilliant.

Quirky characters, twists galore and an ending that is both funny and surreal. Chris Lemmon and George Kennedy star in this movie that was unavailable for many years but is now (rightfully) on Blu Ray. Look for the deluxe edition on Code Red.

Expect the unexpected.

7. The Howling

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Werewolf movies were like buses in 1981. Wait long enough and three came along at once. One such movie was Joe Dante’s The Howling that skillfully blends horror and comedy to tell the story of Dee Wallace’s Karen, a plucky TV reporter who agrees to meet serial murderer Eddie Quist who seems infatuated with her. Things turn bloody as Quist is shot by the police with Karen having to escape to a resort at the recommendation of her therapist (played by the ever brilliant Patrick McNee) to try to come to terms with what happened. Things then get really weird.

Whilst this film is very funny and there are lots of references to the werewolf genre and it’s legend for the eagle-eyed, this isn’t some vile horror comedy in the vein of the appalling Scream. This film does the horror brilliantly and the sequence in which Karen goes to meet Eddie in a cubicle in the back of an adult bookshop is one of the most unnerving sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

I remember reading the Gary Brandner book after seeing this movie and it’s very different but just as fantastic.

Look out for legend Roger Corman’s cameo waiting for Karen to finish her call in a phone booth, entering after she leaves and then checking for spare change. Fantastic.

6. Friday the 13th Part 2

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Yes, Jason being alive after drowning in Crystal Lake doesn’t make sense. Do you watch Friday the 13th movies for realism or a coherent timeline?! Do you?!!

Alice, the Final Girl from Part 1 returns but is quickly dispatched by Jason in the first few minutes of this sequel (loving the fact that Jason then takes the whistling kettle off the stove after killing Alice with an ice pick through the temple. He’s a good boy after all! He also doesn’t mind that a little cat has joined him. He’s good with animals!) Adrienne King who played Alice doesn’t really even remember starring in this sequel as she had her own shit going on in real life- she was being stalked before the phenomenon of stalking was more widely talked about. He even broke into her apartment whilst she was in it so with her scenes in this film it really was the boundaries between life and art being blurred.

But I digress. This entry into the franchise sees Jason before he acquired his iconic hockey mask, instead donning a cloth sack over his head with one eye hole cut out of it. It’s reminiscent of the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

We have some iconic kills too- machete to the face of a guy in a wheelchair before he goes down a large outdoor staircase backwards (Jason believe in equal opportunities when it comes to killing), a spear impaling two people at once as they have sex (ripped off from the Bava Giallo movie Twitch of the Death Nerve which a member of the  Friday Part 2 crew helped to distribute in the U.S.), someone being killed after falling into a rope trap that leaves them suspended upside down prior to their gruesome fate.

This film also has the distinction of granting the viewers to see inside Chez Jason, a makeshift shack that our hero has made in the woods. He knows a thing or two about decor! It’s within here that we see a shrine to his dead mother. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you all but I love the fact that the film makes sure to establish that the Final Girl, Ginny (Amy Steel, one of the series best characters) has previously studied psychology because her plan at fooling Jason is so intricate that it would require a psych major (!) The ending is unexpectedly slapstick in places but this emphasises the comic book type dimensions to this entry.

A great sequel and one of the best in the series.

5. An American Werewolf in London

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Another of the trio of excellent werewolf movies that was released in 1981 (the third was Mike Woodleigh’s Wolfen that didn’t make it into my Top 10 but missed out by a whisker. It’s a very different beast (pun not intended) to the other two films but is still amazing and well worth finding).

Spookily, this film has also mixes horror and humour but whilst making sure that the funnies don’t dilute the horror just like The Howling. A couple of American chums are hitchhiking across the North Yorkshire Moors and come across a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb (a huge red flag!) where the drinkers inside (Rik Mayall and Brian Glover feature among them) aren’t too friendly but send the boys on their way after a few drinks and warn them ‘to stay on the road!’ They don’t and one of them is brutally attacked by some kind of wild animal. The other wakes up in a hospital in London and…

This film is a treat. Gorgeous characters (including fantastic characters that feature in only a small way but make such an impression that they win the audience over- an example is the uncooperative little boy who is a patient of Alex the nurse played by the gorgeous Jenny Agutter).

This film also acts as a time capsule as we get to see Piccadilly Circus when it was a sleazy den of inequity as David meets his dead and decomposing chum Jack (who appears as a ghost) in the porno cinemas of the area.

We also have quite possibly the best transformation scene in film history, a very scary sequence in an underground station and lots more besides . With all of this you have a genuine masterpiece. I remember this film when it was released when I was 6 years old. It featured in every newspaper and magazine we had knocking around the house and I remember posters and billboards on the street for it. It worked too. It was a huge hit and deservedly so.

4. Halloween 2

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How do you follow up a film as great as Halloween? A sequel would seem like it was doomed to failure, especially with John Carpenter deciding not to direct it.

But Halloween 2 still succeeds admirably. Yes, it’s not as good as Halloween and if the original is an A+++ movie, then it’s sequel is a B+ film.

The decision to carry on straight after the events of the first film still seems audacious and original. Laurie is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from the injuries she endures at the hands of Michael Myers. But Myers follows her there and picks up where he left off.

Cue some very disturbing sequences involving the disturbing sight of Michael Myers walking inhumanly up and down quiet nocturnal hospital corridors and being seen doing so on CCTV monitors which is very unsettling. It takes a while for Myers to catch up with Laurie but when it happens it’s well worth the wait. Props to the director Rick Rosenthal for making her POV shots slightly blurred to convey that she is sedated and groggy. The chase scene through the hospital is amazing with Laurie having to climb through a tiny window, fall onto and then walk through broken glass with bare feet and then wait for a lift door to close as she sees Michael approaching. One of the tensest and best chase scenes I’ve ever seen.

Theres also a revelation as to possibly explain why Myers wants the same fate to become of Laurie as he meted out on Judith years before this.

I remember the first time I saw this was on Thorn EMI video which was cut to take out the hypodermic needle through the eye effect and severely reduce the brutality of the therapeutic pool scene. They’re all restored now though and show Halloween 2 to be a classy film which still packs a punch.

3. The Pit

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File this film under ‘Quirky’. This movie still isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Hopefully the recent Kino Lorber Blu Ray will help more people discover this gem.

Jamie is a rather misunderstood 12 year old. But he has a secret discovery- a pit full of creatures called Tra-la-logs who are hungry for human flesh. The movie sees Jamie lure those who tease and ridicule him to the pit and then feed to the creatures who live within. ‘They don’t eat chocolate’ Jamie says at one point to illustrate their carnivorous tendencies (plothole nicely sewn up!)

There are so many great idiosyncratic aspects to this movie- the fact that Jamie confides everything to his teddy bear (the working title of this movie was Teddy. As filming went over schedule, the novelisation for the film came out with the title of Teddy- except the film was now to be called The Pit. Oops. The novelisation apparently also differs quite a lot from the final movie).

I love the humour within the film too, some of which is so quick that you might miss it. The entire town seems to be mean to Jamie but it’s great for the audience. Those who are mean to him are like characters lifted by a John Waters movie. In fact, The Pit at times feels like an especially edgy after school special directed by Waters.

Something else about the film I love is that Jamie is really dirty and inapproropriate in his actions and deeds. He’s 12 years old in the film (9 in the book apparently) and so on the cusp of puberty. He doesn’t realise that sneaking into the bathroom whilst his babysitter is in the shower to write on the mirror ‘I love you!’ in her lipstick is wrong.

Later in the film he also takes pictures of the mean little girl and her mother as they do aerobics dressed in leotards. This is also, obviously, massively inappropriate. In real life, he’d be arrested. For audiences of exploitation cinema, Jamie is a boon. And an instantly entertaining character.

2. Scanners

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Ahh the glory days of video. This was one of the first videos I ever saw on the great Guild Home Video label, resplendent with the minimalist electronic Guild intro which brings back so many memories for me.

This feels like a genre movie completely subverted by David Cronenberg with a down and out man shown to have the power to destroy adversaries just by thinking about it. Whilst this is happening we see a conference into these thought powers taking place with  a smartly dressed person in front of the audience asking for a volunteer so that he can demonstrate his powers. He doesn’t realise that the person who volunteers also possesses similar powers but to a higher level and not with malevalent aims. Cue quite possibly the best practical special effect in film history and a sequence that would instantly give Scanners cult classic status.

But this film has a lot more going for it then just one perfectly executed (pun not intended) special effect.

Not only are we introduced to the concept and capabilities of scanning and scanners but we also get to see scanner vs scanner as the newly cleaned up Cameron Vale from earlier is told of a very powerful and utterly ruthless scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside in an example of perfect casting) and his dastardly plans. It’s a race against time for Vale to stop Revok and his team of scanner assassins. Who knows what Revok and his followers could accomplish if they aren’t stopped. The previous conference and Revok’s display of power there was only a potential taster of what might be to come.

The locales Cronenberg uses within the film are extraordinary with the glass and metal world of downtown Canada, the shadowy concrete organisations such as ConSec (a staple of Cronenberg’s work) and the extraordinary lair of fellow scanner Benjamin Pierce who explains that his art keeps him sane. We get to see a whole range of very disturbing and fascinating pieces of art and how he sees the work because of his ability to scan. Witness the giant plastercast head that Vale and Pierce walk into to discuss Revok.

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When Vale and Revok finally meet it doesn’t disappoint. There are revelations, plans proposed by Revok to team up and then a duel to the death- with surprising results!

Scanners based it’s publicity around the extraordinary special effect that it showed within the first few minutes of it’s playtime. It also gave it’s audience a movie that was a rollercoaster ride that was just as brilliant, visceral and intelligent. Cronenberg reeled em in and gave em a film that most horror fans would never have normally seen. Now that’s subversive and brilliant. Cronenberg would do the same with the amazing Crash which proved so controversial with the BBFC years later.

1. The Evil Dead

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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.

 

 

 

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

Its amazing what you find when you go trawling through the microfiche archives for your local newspaper.

When browsing through the back issues of The Yorkshire Evening Post for 1979 I noticed that The Warriors, Walter Hill’s gritty, comic book style New York action flick was actually shown at a ‘members only’ cinema called The Tatler here in Leeds rather than the bigger Odeon and ABC cinemas where I’d expect a big studio film (The Warriors was made by Paramount) to play. Why was this?

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The Tatler Cinema Club, Leeds

With a bit more research I discovered why. Local authorities here in the UK can view any film that the BBFC has rated 18, or when The Warriors was released, X certificate. They can then go further than the BBFC and ban a film outright if they wish to do. These are exceptional cases but in the past this has happened. The Life of Brian was notoriously banned in Hull until 2008.

This can also happen in reverse- a local authority can show a film in cinemas in its threshold that the BBFC has banned. This occurred in 1999 when Camden Council awarded The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a special ‘C for Camden’ certificate to show the film even though it was still banned by the BBFC. I was lucky enough to see the film during this run. It was reclassified as an 18 and no longer banned by the BBFC shortly after this.

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The original ticket stub from the TCM screening in 1999. The film was certified ‘C for Camden’ but still banned by the BBFC.

In the case of The Warriors, the local authority here in Leeds chose to ban the film even though the BBFC has classified it as an X. This was due to the violent content of the film.

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What the film critic in The Yorkshire Evening Post had to say about The Warriors and it’s local authority ban.

However, you can’t keep a great piece of art down for too long. There was a loophole that meant that any banned film can be shown uncut in a licensed ‘members only’ cinema even if its been banned by the BBFC or a local authority.

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Original Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper ad for The Warriors and it’s Tatler run

And thats just what happened in Leeds. The Warriors was shown at The Tatler Cinema- a ‘members only’ cinema that at that time was showing ‘erotic’ (or as we’d say here in Leeds- ‘mucky’) films.

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Original newspaper listing for The Warriors in Leeds. Don’t understand the ‘One Hours Wait’ though- yet another mad rule that applies to such clubs?

This must have been a massive two fingers up to the Leeds local authority who thought that no one would be able to see this film that they thought would corrupt and inspire a whole slew of really nicely choreographed gang violence here in Leeds as The Armley Baseball Furies fight for their turf against The Gipton Riffs.

This loophole was later amended by the BBFC decades later to prevent uncut films (specifically with pornography in mind) being shown in members cinemas if the BBFC had banned them or not certified them R18.

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Original Warriors UK quad cinema poster

Strange bedfellows- The Warriors, a film made by huge studio Paramount Pictures being shown at a cinema that primarily showed porn. Overzealous censorship makes great comedy.

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Inside The Tatler. Plush for a cinema that showed mucky films.

 

 

 

No Homo: John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

No Homo: <em>John McTiernan’s Predator</em> (1987)

I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.

Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.

Predator works on so many different levels.

The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.

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The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.

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Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.

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Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy  and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.

In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.

The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.

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The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.

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Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.

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A mug you wouldn’t chug- the unmasking of the predator

Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.

There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

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The homoeroticism of Top Gun (1986) and
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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1986)

In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.

It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.

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Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.

This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.

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The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.

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The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.

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Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.

Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.

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Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.

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Male longing- Brokeback Mountain

In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.

With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.

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Blain and his impressive weapon

Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.

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The Predator circle jerk

In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.

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Predator’s all male cast. Nothing gay here.

Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.

Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.

Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.

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But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.

Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!

Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

As its International Men’s Day I thought I’d review a documentary that I saw a few days ago.

How did I learn of The Red Pill? Thats a journey in itself…Someone tried to bully me in my place of work for being openly gay (note the word ‘tried’. I fought back and have never seen myself as a victim. I’m a fighter). However, in the midst of what was happening to me I began to suffer from clinical depression. The panic attacks that I had kept at bay since the age of 13 were now out of control and I began to experience suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.

It was whilst suffering from all of this that I began to research the issue of suicide and learnt that 75-78% of suicides are male. This fact shocked me massively.

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And so from looking into male suicide I learnt about The Red Pill. The title is actually a reference to the movie The Matrix ”in which the protagonist is offered the choice of a red pill, representing truth and self-knowledge, or a blue pill representing a return to blissful ignorance”.

I knew that the film was seen as controversial to some people with some feminists wanting it to be banned.

So is this film about the Men’s Rights Movement a rancid cesspool of anti-feminism rhetoric, a film that only conveys views from rape enablers that are fundamentally anti-women? Of course not. The film is amazingly balanced with Men’s Rights activists finally given a platform as well as feminists on the same topics. I had never heard these Men’s Rights advocates speak before which is also very telling. The audience is granted a modicum of intelligence with which they can make up their own mind.

Topics raised and discussed include male suicide, the lack of funding for male health conditions such as testicular and prostate cancer, the custody battles that fathers go through, the male victims of domestic abuse…the list goes on. These are all issues in which there is no equality between the sexes with men coming out disadvantaged.

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The documentary itself is amazingly made by filmmaker Cassie Jaye. She presents a well rounded and perceptive documentary that is balanced, fact-based and free from hysterical amateur dramatics. The documentary flows effortlessly and you feel like you want to see more when it finishes. Thankfully there are uncut and unedited interviews from the film on YouTube. And whilst you’re on YouTube look up Cassie Jaye’s videos. Especially of note are the interviews given to the Australian media who had never even seen the film (they claim that Ms Jaye hadn’t supplied the film for them to see when in fact she had and several times. Ignorance is bliss, Andrew O’Keefe) but called it misogynistic and hateful. This is clear proof that they had never seen the film as The Red Pill is neither.

But it seems that others are also taking The Red Pill. Taste of Cinema had a list of their favourite documentaries on their website recently. The Red Pill featured in that list. And it fully deserved to be there.

I’ll finish this review by reiterating the fact I quoted earlier. 75-78% of suicides are male. 75-78%! These conversations regarding men’s issues need to be had before there are many more casualties. And I speak from very bitter experience. The Red Pill starts this process of discussion and discourse in a brilliantly balanced and intelligent way. Thank you, Cassie Jaye.

 

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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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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