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.

 

 

 

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The sequel to George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shows that the zombie epidemic has gotten much worse and society is on it’s knees. Two television workers plan to escape with two SWAT team members in the TV station traffic helicopter in search of…whatever they can find that’s better than their current situation.

There is so much to love about this friggin’ film. The tenement opening scene (the shoulder bite was cut by the BBFC as was the exploding head), the way the film suddenly changes course completely as the four fly off in the helicopter, the scene where they land to fill up the copter with fuel (theres the taboo of zombie kids being shot here. Theres also the amazing scene of the zombie having his head decapitated by the helicopter’s blades) and then we get to THE SHOPPING MALL!!!

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The shopping mall/man trap

The mall is one of the greatest locations ever used in a film. Imagine having this shopping centre at your personal disposal with everything inside being free and your property. I love Romero’s social commentary regarding this. The dream of consumerism quickly rings hollow as do the images being conveyed within the advertising produced before the zombie epidemic. Within the extended cut of Dawn (which is just as good, if not better than the original theatrical cut of the movie) the female character Francine is the only person who wants to leave the mall when the topic comes up of whether to move on or not. The men state that they have everything they need here and so should stay but Francine says that the mall is ‘a rut. A trap’. Ans she’s completely right.

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The four main characters

The zombies continue to come to the mall (Stephen mentions that ‘this was a big part of their lives’) which is a brilliantly wry observation by Romero. In this film the living dead have a very aesthetically pleasing blue tinge to their skin. Within the film the blood is redder than red making the film fully realise it’s comic-book vision. But it’s more than this. The film looks like a series of Pop Art paintings come to life. Andy Warhol had plenty to say about consumerism and mass production (his studio was called ‘The Factory’). It’s almost like he was art director on this opus.

But aside from all of the insights and allegories, this film is just great, great fun! The kills are innovative, disgusting and completely brilliant (Tom Savini returns to make-up and special effects duties and this film is probably the best demonstration of his work). Savini also stars as the members of a biker gang who try to take over the mall and seize it from the main four characters.

Wanna see a custard pie fight between bikers and zombies? Wanna see a zombie Hare Krishna, nurse and nun? Wanna see John Amplas (the lead from Romero’s earlier ‘Martin’) as a Pop Art Hispanic dude? It’s all in this film- and much much more.

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A zombie gets a custard pie in the kisser

I also love the character arc for Francine and the bromance between Peter and Roger.

This film has it all. Seriously.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A mysterious radiation thought to have been brought back to Earth after a space probe to Venus is bringing the dead back to life to feast on the living. A young woman named Barbara is visiting her dead father’s grave with her brother Johnny when…

This film has so much of a great reputation amongst horror fans and cinema scholars alike. Does it live up to this?

In a word- YES. Not only does it feel real (it’s based in the America it was made in and looks almost like a documentary) but you get the impression that the events that take place in the course of the film could actually happen. We are witnessing the fabric of society unravelling magnificently due to the disaster which has occurred. Life (and death) will never be the same again after this literally Earth-changing event.

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Hitchcock may have ripped up the horror rulebook by disposing of Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane early on in Psycho when the audience wrongly thought of her as the main female character who would make it to the end of the film. But George A Romero goes one better in Night. Barbara is still in the majority of the film but is so traumatised by her ordeal that she is rendered catatonic for the rest of her tenure. And what a great performance it is- a mental breakdown captured on celluloid, a brilliant portrayal of a response to trauma. Watch the scene where Barbara comes across the music box. It’s one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen.

Romero also holds a mirror up to societal tensions and conflicts throughout the film. Duane Jones as Ben is the lead of the movie but is also African American- unheard of except when depicted by Sidney Poitier in mainstream Hollywood films that felt groundbreaking and progressive but also marginalised. These films squarely tackled race (and rightly so). But Jones just happens to be black and this is never mentioned in Night. His race isn’t an explicit issue in the film- but maybe directs the actions of other characters (check out the conclusion to Night. There are MANY different readings and interpretations of this. It’s the most shocking ending I have ever seen in a film and just as relevant today as it was back then. I actually get a shiver down my spine just thinking about it and what we see during the end credits of this film).

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Duane Jones plays Ben

But there are other societal echoes within Night. Notice how Ben gives his monologue regarding the backstory as to how he ended up at the farmhouse. Jones is truly astonishing especially here. But then watch how he reacts when Barbara tells her story- her account is no less serious or devastating as she’s just seen her brother being knocked unconscious after being attacked by a member of the undead during an event that should have been humdrum and routine. She is termed hysterical by Ben who tells her to calm down. Different oppressed sectors of society with equally disturbing back stories to tell but instead of each being given their time to share their experiences, a member of one group tells the other to effectively shut up. 50 years on, this film is still relevant.

This film also has a lot to say about the family of that time. The traditional family is under attack from the zombies (as Robin Wood expressed using his theory of ‘Return of the Repressed’). The notion of Mom, Dad and 2.4 children (possibly with an apple pie on the table) is no more. The new family in the farmhouse consists of disparate members of society who are forced together to survive against what has gone wrong in the outside world. In fact, in one scene we see Ben actually taking apart the notion of the family and the household from within as he starts taking apart furniture like the kitchen table to barricade the doors and windows with. The scene where the mother is stabbed to death by her daughter who has been bitten by a zombie represents the death of the outdated notion of the family in it’s purest form. The new killing and replacing what and who has gone before.

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Child kills parent, the new killing the old

The first time I saw this film it had actually been colorised but still worked. The thinking behind this colorisation was probably the video company thinking that all horror films made within a certain timeframe were ‘kitsch’, camp and unworthy of serious analysis or enjoyment. I believe the term is ‘so bad it’s good’ (vomit). I remember an advert for a screening of the film on the UK’s Channel 4 that billed the film as a typical 60’s drive-in B movie- cue emphasis on bad acting, rubbish make-up and all round tack. Wrong on EVERY count.

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It was a revelation when I first saw the film as it was intended to be seen in black and white. It’s actually a beautiful film with every frame resembling the work of the Nouvelle Vague rather than some Grindhouse fodder made on the cheap to be shown to the stoned.

I saw this film yesterday on the big screen. It was the Criterion 4K restoration and it looked and sounded amazing.

If punk is seen as Year Zero for music then this is Year Zero for horror and one of a whole slew of films that represented a turning point for American film in general.

Fun fact- this is the film on in the background when Harold is having a sandwich made in Halloween 2 (1981).

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- The Amityville Horror Part 2- The Possession (1982)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- The Amityville Horror Part 2- The Possession (1982)

I love a sequel that not only ups the ante regarding the original film but decides to be as extreme as possible and really ‘go for it’.

In this film theres a new family who move into Amityville. You know that any family that includes Burt Young and Rutanya Alda as members is going to be dysfunctional. And, by Christ, I mean VERY dysfunctional. Any film that deals with incest is going to be special. Theres also a domestic violence subplot which is just as shocking.

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Keeping it in the family

Add to that some of the grossest special effects as the teenage son is possessed and transformed into an utter beast of a nightmarish character and you have a great, twisted and truly messed up (in a good way) sequel.

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I remember this having one of the most disturbing sleeves of any horror video in my local video stores which instantly made me want to investigate this further.

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Truly disturbing VHS art for Amityville 2

There is also a scene involving a Sony Walkman which freaked me out so much that it made me question using mine for days after seeing this filth classic.

Don’t miss this messed up gem of a movie.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

Katharine Ross plays a woman going to London with her partner (played by Sam Elliott at his homoerotic best) for a job interview.

Whilst riding on a motorbike in the countryside surrounding London they are almost crashed into by a Rolls Royce. The owner apologises and, as their bike has been damaged, they are put up for the weekend at his huge country mansion. But then things start to turn weird. Very weird.

There seems to be a fair few films from the 70’s which prompt me to think ‘What the…’ when I see them. The pinnacle of this sub-genre (lets call it ‘Cocaine was involved’) is The Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

Whilst The Legacy doesn’t reach that film’s dizzying heights of coke-fuelled weirdness (and no other film does), it does still deliver to such as extent that viewers’ eyes will be popping out of their skulls at some scenes. Wanna see Roger Daltry get a trachioctomy on top of a banquet table? Wanna see the guy who played Blofeld (Charles Gray, not Donald Pleasance) being supernaturally burnt to a crisp? Sure you do! And lets not forget the demonically possessed swimming pool and shower.

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If you don’t believe me about how fucked up this film is then just look at this still. Like a bad acid flashback.

It will help to be stoned whilst watching this movie. The film will only make perfect sense this way.

2/5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

A Hammer film that looks to Greek mythology for the basis of it’s plot with the mythical creature known as The Gorgon (a woman with snakes for hair and the ability to turn anyone who looks her in the eye to stone) being adapted and shone through the Hammer Films’ prism.

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This film features the combined talents of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Patrick Troughton who are all amazing. In fact, the storyline between Cushing, his wife and her lover overshadows the actual gorgon at one point. This isn’t detrimental to the film’s narrative though.

This film looks absolutely beautiful. I watched the restored Blu-ray version from the first Indicator boxset and they have done a phenomenal job. I hadn’t even heard of this film before the release of the boxset but I’m glad I did. It’s a brilliant film and deserves to be seen more widely. I would love a cinema release of some of Hammer’s films so that their full glory can be seen on the big screen.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- Bug (1975)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- Bug (1975)

An earthquake uproots cockroach-like bugs that can set fire to things and, more importantly for a horror film, also to animals and humans. But never fear, a biology professor played by Bradford Dillman is on the case.

This great little 70’s B movie is directed by Jeannot Szwarc (who would go on to make the hugely enjoyable Jaws 2 and the brilliant campfest that is Supergirl) and produced by William Castle (no introduction needed). Gorgeous Californian locations, bugs setting cats alight (is it un-PC to find this hilariously entertaining?) and also crawling into huge teased 70’s women’s hairdos and letting rip. This is a great popcorn movie.

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But then the movie changes course and gets all metaphysical as the film’s designated bug expert starts to research the incendiary insects in greater depth and even starts to communicate with them!

This is the kind of film that you could stumble upon on a late night TV channel and absolutely love. A low-key joy.

4 out of 5 stars

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