I love the fact that a movie can be so original and iconic that it can inspire other films to be made. Think of Halloween (1978) and the tidal wave of slasher films that were unleashed in its wake.
This can also happen with movie posters and a film’s iconography. The Breakfast Club is a perfect example.
Take a pose that encapsulated the zeitgeist and not only is it ripe for analysis…
…but it is also open to being imitated and parodied by other movies. I love that films can nudge and wink knowingly at an audience from a movie poster or from a film magazine and know that they are in on the joke. The audience may not get the reference straightaway but eventually they will. And when they do they will marvel at the filmmaker’s ingenuity.
It took many years before I got the in-joke that these two films were making.
Below is the pose used by the cast on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) poster- a movie that was released the year after The Breakfast Club.
Similarly, here is a publicity shot from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987).
In this case the teens who went to see The Breakfast Club could very well have also constituted the demographic who went to see the two films shown above.
I also love the fact that a teen movie has been homaged by two movies as deranged and demented as TCM2 and Nightmare 3. These references to The Breakfast Club feel like, on one hand, a playful co-opting of the original movie and its iconography but also a loving homage to it at the same time. These movies were as far away from John Hughes as possible and yet they still tipped the hat to the filmmaker of all things teen whilst showing that Hughes didn’t speak for all teens with his films. Some teens wanted more twisted thrills for their money. And thats exactly what they got.
A film I know word for word as my brother and I were obsessed with it when we were growing up.
A classic but a problematic one. The cop who flaunts the law and the rules to catch his prey. Hes proud of hating everyone and all groups (the character in this film and in so many Clint Eastwood movies seems to be politically incorrect decades before political correctness became an actual concept). Hes a one man lynch mob who follows his instincts and isn’t afraid of blowing away a suspect and asking questions later (I wonder if one of these questions is ‘Was the dead actually guilty?!’) This character is a right-winger’s wet dream- who cares about a fair trial and the law when these things take so long and might not (seemingly) provide actual justice. The Daily Mail’s readership must love Harry.
Harry’s policing would also include beating interviewees for confessions and said victims somehow developing breathing problems whilst in police custody.
Of course in this and subsequent films Harry is always shown to be right. Its a wasted opportunity that a Dirty Harry film wasn’t made that shows that Harry blew away an actual innocent person. At the films climax there could be a scene after that shows that the wrong person was killed and that the crimes being committed beforehand were actually continuing. Its not late for such a movie to be made. It would have the ‘Bring back hanging’ mob in uproar.
But for all of the bending of rules and trigger happy exploits of the main protagonist during the course of the film it is established that whilst he may be an authority hating maverick its because he actually wants law and order and for the citizens of San Francisco to be safe. The scene in which he runs from phone booth to phone booth to save the kidnap victim shows his willingness to undertake near impossible feats if there is a chance of a saved life at the end of his toils. There is also the scene of the kidnapped girl’s lifeless and naked body being dragged from its underground lair which Harry watches from the distance. This scene is a rare moment of tenderness in such a rough and tumble movie and is genuinely moving. Harry is established as having his priorities right even if they are accomplished in questionable ways.
But to quote Last House on the Left this is only a movie. Aside from the films politics this a rollicking good ride. It perfectly captures its time effortlessly and can be seen as some kind of American time capsule regarding the era it portrays. This was a divisive and fractious period in American history which manifests itself throughout the film. Whilst this was the time of hippies and peace and love this was also the time of Charles Manson and Altamont with more dark times ahead for America.
Whilst Clint may be the star of the film there is another star that is just as important and that is the city of San Francisco itself. It is photographed to perfection with every scene being memorable due to the amazing locales. The neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign, the huge crucifix monument, the grandeur of City Hall…the list is endless. All beautiful and integral to the film to such a degree that they feel like an actual breathing entity. This film would have been inferior or cliched if filmed in New York for instance.
An anti-hero as hard boiled and gritty as Harry Callahan deserves a villain just as idiosyncratic. Thankfully this film provides just that and then some. The character of Scorpio (named as Charles Davis in the film’s novelisation) is brilliantly depicted by Andrew Robinson as utterly unhinged, homicidal and completely batshit crazy. This character is obviously based on the Zodiac Killer who was operating in the Bay Area at the time of the films conception. In fact this is one of those performances that not only goes the extra mile but goes considerably beyond that. Watch the scene in which Scorpio hijacks a busload of schoolchildren and gets them to sing ‘Row Your Boat’ whilst saying that hes taking them to the ice cream factory. This level of insanity reminds me of Betsy Palmer’s turn as Pamela Voorhees at the end of Friday the 13th in terms of getting into ‘the zone’.
Add to this a barrage of brilliant and quirky supporting characters (shouts go out to Inspector Frank “Fatso” DiGiorgio and Hot Mary) and the stage is set for a blast of a film.
Lalo Schifrin’s score is both funky and also very, very disturbing. The music is just as brilliant as the rest of film. Thankfully the full soundtrack is available to buy both physically and as a download.
Everything is in place to make this movie a masterpiece- iconic, quotable and career defining. There was also a rash of vigilante/maverick cop movies influenced by Dirty Harry led by Michael Winner’s Death Wish (also highly recommended).
Just don’t start wishing for the kind of justice Dirty Harry or the sub-genre it spawned seem to condone.
As some of you may know I’m a huge Prisoner Cell Block H fan. I actually think its the best TV series ever made. If you’re into cult film, cult TV or video nasties/exploitation cinema then chances are you’ll love Prisoner.
I’ve just made a video documenting some of the most outrageous moments from the series.
All the juicy stuff is present and correct- drugs, lynchings, murders and brandings. Theres even a sequence that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
The videos here. But beware- its not for the faint hearted!
And now its over to Meathook Cinema’s Liverpool correspondent, Mr Colin Cooper who has been to revisit the filming locations of the masterpiece Psychomania…
”I first saw Psychomania when I was about 13 years old in the early 80s, back in the day when there were only three TV channels, and long before we could afford a video recorder. It was a film that always stuck in my mind and it felt like something I had never seen before. I can still recall my mother looking on disapprovingly as I laughed out loud as a screaming mother and her baby’s pram are sent crashing down a supermarket aisle due to the evil actions of the said film’s biker gang; ‘The Living Dead.”
Some years later it was shown on TV again, in a late night slot (its spiritual home), by which point the VHS recorder had been acquired. This remained my main source to introduce the film to friends, and one night in particular went down in memory, as five friends and myself watched it together in my flat. It was fair to say we were all suitably ‘enhanced’ to fully appreciate everything Psychomania had to offer. The howls of laughter when our deceased gang leader explodes from his grave, still riding his motorbike, which was rewound a number of times for repeated views. Then the very next night as luck would have it, occupying its late-night TV slot, to our astonishment was Psychomania. Cue the sound of numerous VHS cassettes being prepared for its impending broadcast to the nation. Which I’m sure was in itself a message from beyond the grave, from the Living Dead.
For the uninitiated Psychomania is a 1973 British biker occultist zombie horror (in the loosest sense) movie. However it is much, much more (or should that be less?) than that. It is unintentionally hilarious, with a ludicrous plot in which the protagonists discover the secret of immortality. This involves their own willing suicides by various farcical methods to return as the actual living dead. Add to this Beryl Reid as mother to the bike gang’s leader, with a mean sideline as a spiritual medium. Alongside George Sanders in his last movie, given star billing for his minimal role as the family’s somber butler. All delivered with total sincerity, despite the clear ridiculousness of the script. Psychomania was never intended to be a comedy, but a low budget exploitation horror film that would do the rounds, usually as part of a double bill, making the studio some easy cash, then be forgotten. Thankfully due to its screenings on late night TV, no doubt licensed at minimal cost to fill out the schedule, it has gradually gained a cult following.
Motorcycles and their associated gangs / dropouts / rebels were no strangers to the cinema screen. From the counterculture blockbuster Easy Rider (1969) and its psychedelically tinged cinematography and panoramic landscapes. The monochrome cool of the Wild One (1953) starring Marlon Brando, which was only granted a certificate in the UK, some fourteen years after its original release. To The Leather Boys (1964) a rare British addition to the genre, with its kitchen sink realism coupled with a controversial gay subplot. Not to mention the glut of late 60s biker spinoffs from America and beyond.
So what does Psychomania bring to the table? A bunch of predominantly middle class, well spoken, spotlessly clean ‘hell raisers’ terrorising the good people of Walton on Thames. Storming around on a motley collection of ‘heaps of shit’ motorbikes, much to the dismay of actor and keen motorcyclist Nick Henson. His main motivation to sign up to the movie was the thought of leading his band of reprobates atop a Harley Davidson. Needless to say Psychomania’s budget could not extend to such esteemed machines, and a team of mechanics were required to keep the scrap heap bikes running throughout filming. Henson is still somewhat embarrassed and astonished that out of his extensive career as a professional actor, Psychomania has fittingly come back to haunt him from beyond the grave.
Not to mention the dialogue, after another blood free bloodbath, surrounded by bodies, a police inspector when informed of the culprits declares, “That lot!” being one of many highlights. Throw in a stone circle, frog fixated occultism, driving through brick walls, a psychedelic nightmare scene, some natty threads all accompanied by an eerie semi progrock soundtrack. What’s not to like?
Psychomania has only recently been issued on DVD (and Blu-ray) in the UK. I had obtained an American import some years ago, which itself had long been out of print. As always the BFI have made an impressive effort to bring this masterpiece to your living room in all its glory. Beautifully remastered, loads of extras with a well-researched booklet.
So to go the extra mile, heres some photographs from my recent pilgrimage to the film locations around the Walton on Thames area.
Many have long since been redeveloped as it was always a dream of mine to go shopping in the featured supermarket whist pushing a pram. Sadly no longer possible, life sucks!”
Psychomania has now been given the loving treatment it deserves and is released on Blu ray by the BFI. According to sources the transfer is beautiful. Buy it here for a classic slice of British biker death wish greatness.
And it works beautifully. Tongue firmly in cheeck but with awesome kills (check out the liquid nitrogen death). Theres also the small bugs that help things to heal super quick, Uber Jason, the female android, the cameo by David Cronenberg… Lots to like.
Friday fans seem to hate this film. They’re the same as the Halloween fans who hate Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. Idiots basically. I’m so glad I’m right about such things 🙂