One sign that you’ve made a horror classic- your film spawns a slew of imitators.
Sometimes one or two of these imitators are witty, knowing and innovative.
Thats what happened here. Jaws made such a splash (pun intended) that there were plenty of rip-offs. Piranha was one such film but was great on its own terms rather than being a pale imitation.
Director Joe Dante said the original screenplay for this Corman produced film was dire. He worked on it with John Sayles and made Piranha into the hoot it is today. Quirky characters, great scenarios and references to other works such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon abound. One lead character plays a Jaws arcade machine at the start of the film. The movie knows exactly what it is and isn’t afraid to shout it out.
Another great facet of the story- its the heroes of the piece who actually cause the near disaster they have to deal with.
The leads are amazing (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) as are the supporting cast that features Kevin McCarthy, Corman regulars Paul Bartel and Dick Miller and Euro scream queen Barbara Steele.
This was one film that I remember seeing on the shelves of video stores when I was a child but didn’t get round to seeing before it mysteriously disappeared. Absence made the heart grown fonder and I knew I must see this forbidden fruit.
But when I was at school a friend of mine had the video as his Dad ran a video store which was very fortunate. I borrowed The Exorcist and watched it with my father whilst we were eating our evening meal. A bad mistake.
Then in 1993 on my 18th birthday I went to see the film at the Odeon in York with some friends where it was being shown as a one-off midnight screening. The print was in terrible shape. But it still scared me so much that I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in bed thinking about what I’d just seen.
Then in 1998 the film was rereleased in cinemas in a digitally remastered form. It looked and sounded amazing. Again I saw it.
Then in 2000 came the ‘Version You’ve Never Seen Before’ that incorporated deleted footage and CGI at different parts of the film.
For my money, the best version is the original.
Yes, everyone knows about the famous (or should that be infamous) scenes that are actually more shocking and effective on screen then in the telling. But this is a multi-layered complex film and demands repeated viewings to reap everything the film has to offer.
Captain Howdy, Burke Dennings, Friedkin playing with our senses in certain scenes (check out the scene where Chris sees Karras and Dyer for the first time but we don’t hear what they say as theres a jumbo jet going overhead or the dream sequences involving the St Christopher necklace falling to the ground and you’ll see what I mean), the epic and haunting otherworldly sequence in Northern Iraq, Chris’ speech about why she wants an exorcism (some of the best acting I’ve ever seen- although I could say the same about all of this film), the desecrations, ‘Have you seen what shes done? Your cunting daughter!’, ‘Your mother sucks cocks in Hall!’, ‘The sow is mine!’…theres so much to love.
Look out for actor Paul Bateson in one of the murder scenes. He was later charged with murder and was the inspiration for Friedkin’s later masterpiece, Cruising.
The Exorcist is the horror motherlode. 5 out of 5- a true masterpiece.
A class are transported to an island and its then disclosed that they have to kill each other with the last person left standing the winner.
Brutal (as you’d expect) but also witty, humane and strangely poignant in places. This film is brilliantly acted, directed with style and is beautiful to look. Murder and deception has never looked so good. In fact the ‘killing for sport’ theme reminded me of one of my favourite films, Turkey Shoot.
And thats all I’m going to say. To say anything more would ruin the film completely. See it.
What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.
This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.
The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?
Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.
Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.
Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.
Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.
Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.
Every day in October I will be reviewing a different horror film.
Some of the criteria I’ve used for the choice of films are
– a film from each decade from the 1920s onwards
– films from a number of different countries
– a Friday the 13th film as within October this year the 13th falls on a Friday!!! (mind blown)
The rest of my choices were films that I had wanted to see for ages but hadn’t gotten around to or were films that I have seen before but was dying to revisit (three of the films have ratings already by myself. These are some of the films that will be revisited and be reviewed again to see if my opinion has changed).
When I had my list of films they were then fed into an online randomiser so that they could be mixed up. With my randomised list I made one change- I made sure that the film watched on the 13th of October was the Friday the 13th movie. But thats the only change.
Here are the films-
Day 1- The Nanny (1965)
Day 2- Battle Royale (2000)
Day 3- The Exorcist (1973)
Day 4- Piranha (1978)
Day 5- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) and Tales From The Unexpected episode ‘Flypaper’ (1980)
Day 6- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)
Day 7- The Fog (1980)
Day 8- Eyes Without A Face (1960)
Day 9- Phantasm (1979)
Day 10- Nosferatu (1922)
Day 11- Blood Beach (1980)
Day 12- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Day 13- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter (1984)
A young schoolteacher trues to escape small town Australia and reach Sydney…but gets waylayed in the darkest possible way.
This is an amazing examination of small town madness, the unspoken madness of such a life and the brutality and destruction undertaken by men.
Its also an amazing portrayal of cabin fever being caused by nothing but huge open spaces.
The film features another insane petformamce by Donald Pleasance who is in top form. If this doesn’t act of enough of a recommendation then I don’t know what will.
The kangaroo hunting scenes are strangely beautiful just like the rest of the film. The outback has rarely looked so gorgeous on film. However, what goes on there means that this is far from a 70s tourist board film.
The rediscovery of this film and its subsequent restoration restores my faith in humanity. This film is too important and brilliant to be left unseen and decaying in a basement somewhere. This movie would make a great double bill with Nic Roeg’s Walkabout.
This film should be filed under ‘Uncategorisable Gem’.
Lead character is twelve year Jamie. Hes obsessed with sex, his only friend is an evil teddy bear and he knows if a pit inhabited by a pack of mutant trolls called trolologs. Just your average movie plot.
This movie is so brilliantly written complete with quirky characters that its a joy to behold. The acting is pitch perfect and the feel of the movie resembles an after school special directed by John Waters.
Apparently this is to be released by Kino Lorber on Blu ray soon. Sign me up.
4 and a half out of 5
The campest horror film I’ve ever seen. Faye Dunaway, a supporting cast of gay fashion insiders (one of whom drags up to act as a decoy) and a theme song by Barbra Streisand. The campometer is off the chart.
However this isn’t just an excuse in camp folly. The murder scenes are brutal and gritty and the screenplay by John Carpenter is brilliant. The fashion shoots are also based on Helmut Newton and so they are a visual feast.
I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.
Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.
I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.
It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.
Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.
But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.
This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.
At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.
In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.
Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.
On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.
If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.