Great Video Nasties Moral Panic Documentary

Great Video Nasties Moral Panic Documentary

I remember the Video Nasties furore like it was yesterday. With my father being an avid Daily Mail reader and staunch Thatcherite I felt like I had a front row seat with the then Tory government seeking to ban the very films I loved when they were released on video in the early 80’s.

I saw most of the media coverage regarding this as it happened. I’ve also seen the later retrospective takes on the moral panic regarding the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ but there is one documentary that perfectly captures the sense of fear, paranoia and scapegoating for the ills of society unfairly placed on these horror films which some were even calling ‘snuff movies’ (!) I’ve uploaded this here for your delectation. Please watch and prepare for your jaw to drop as you witness a frankly unbelievable episode from history in which, at the time, there seemed to be plenty of authoritative voices against these videos but none in the mainstream media who were standing up for them. It was akin to book-burning.

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Hopefully we can learn from this sad era. It could never happen again. Or could it? With this documentary reminding us what happened, more and more this seems like an episode of unjustified censorship which can be consigned to history where it belongs.

 

Review- Psycho 2 (1983) ****

Review- Psycho 2 (1983) ****

The project of Psycho 2 was a poison chalice. On one hand, it provided a director with the opportunity to prove themselves by making a sequel to a bona fide horror classic by a master auteur. It also made available the possibility of continuing a story of one of cinema’s greatest and most complex characters, Norman Bates.

But on the other hand, the film would certainly be met with howls of derision from some cinema purists. Also, some would see a sequel to such a horror landmark as being cheap, an exercise in making a fast buck and the finished film would certainly draw comparisons to it’s superior first film.

Richard Franklin accepted the offer to act as director and does a pretty good job.

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Everyone’s favourite Momma’s Boy Norman leaves the asylum he has been an inhabitant of for the last 22 years as he is judged to be satifactorily rehabilitated enough to be let loose into the wider community. Marion Crane’s sister Lila (Vera Miles returning to replay the role and a definite plus for the movie) vehemently opposes this move however and wants to see him locked up out of harm’s way forever.

Norman takes a job in a small diner near his home and it’s here that he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who has just split up from her boyfriend and finds herself homeless. Norman offers her board and it’s here that the freakiness starts. Norman starts to see notes supposedly from his dead mother. Unexpected murders occur. Could Norman be up to his old tricks again? Or is he being gaslighted into lapsing into his old murderous ways?

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Put down the knife, Norman

It’s interesting that for this 80’s sequel the director knew that horror had not only advanced and evolved as a genre but that it was at that point in time enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with the slasher subgenre dominating the box office with seemingly new films being released almost every week. These films relied on gory and (in the best examples) innovative death sequences. Psycho 2 duly notes this and so we get some doozy gore scenes. The sequence involving a victim receiving a knife through the mouth exemplifies this. In this regard the sequel is like another sequel to a horror classic, Halloween 2. In the three years between the original John Carpenter classic and it’s sequel the horror genre had accelerated forth like a cinematic juggernaut with deaths becoming more explicit and graphic. Whilst there is little gore, blood or graphic violence in Halloween, it’s sequel includes scoldings, hypodermic needles in eyeballs and a hammer to the cranium to mention just a few ways as to how victims are disposed of.

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The gorier Halloween 2 (1981)

There is even a nod to the slasher genre within Psycho 2 as we see two frisky teens break into the basement of the Bates House to indulge in atypical slasher teen activities like, y’know, making out whilst smoking pot. Mother wouldn’t have approved.

The film has a great feel and look that I haven’t experienced in any other film. It has a very grimy atmosphere. The fact that De Palma staple actor Dennis Franz is one of the cast playing a sleazeball who has turned the Bates Motel into a ‘rent rooms by the hour’ motel for those of lower morals also helps foster this dirty vibe. Psycho 2 feels like the innocence of Norman and the first film has been (for the audience’s entertainment) been defiled and is irretrievably gone (in a good way). The film is very astute in this way as maybe it was a comment on society in general.

Another major factor that helps establish this sleazy air is the amazing cinematography by the ever brilliant Dean Cundey (another factor that helps lift Psycho 2 from just being a cash-in sequel). Check out the astonishing camerawork that almost levitates and prowls around the outside of the Bates House as we see first the teens and then later Lila gain entry via the basement. In these scenes the camera feels like an ever present supernatural and voyeuristic entity as we see events that only an ever watchful killer would.

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Of course, we’re waiting for Norman to go mad during the course of the film and this is brilliantly shown in the scene in which Norman is seen by Mary talking on the phone to his dead Mother and asking her what he should do next. This scene shows the brilliance of Anthony Perkins in this role. Psycho 2 would have been half the film it is if he hadn’t have returned to reprise a role he made all his own.

Add to all of this a final scene which is one of the most unexpected scenes in horror history (no, I’m not going to ruin it!) and you have a very good 1980’s sequel to a horror classic. No, it’s not as good as Psycho but then few films are. But it’s still well worth investigating.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

With the news that Female Trouble, John Waters’ meisterwerk and design for living is being shown, my noggin got a joggin’.

I started thinking about the films that I’ve been lucky enough to watch on the big screen and with an audience.

My favourite filmgoing experience has to be when I got to see a film that I never thought I’d ever see in a cinema AND in the format that it was intended to be seen in. That film is the brilliant Friday the 13th Part 3D. I had moved to London from York in 1994 to study film and had started to go to the amazing but very high-brow (although it can’t be that high-brow as they let me in…) National Film Theatre known as the NFT to London’s cineastes and skinny latte drinking set.

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Shortly after graduating from Uni and getting a job (real life is worse than ANY horror film) I heard that the NFT were to show a season of 3D films which were to be actually shown in 3D using the vintage technology that was required. I then read that the third Friday the 13th film would be part of the season. I have never bought a cinema ticket faster in my fucking life!

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Friday the 13th Part 3D starts with the end of Part 2 which isn’t in 3D. The NFT film snobs were sniggering at how corny this sequence was and were clearly thinking that their tastes in film were so much more elevated than this supposed generic slasher film they were watching on the screen.

But then, Part 3 started in earnest. If you haven’t seen the film, the 3D is brilliantly done. The makers of the movie really knew how they could make full effect of the 3D process and were willing to use it to blow audience’s minds.

The first glimpse of the 3D happens when the titles literally shoot out of the screen at the audience out of the decapitated head of Pamela Voorhees. But to really show how awesome the process was and how far it could be taken, the titles come forth but only part way before they come out even further so that they are right in front of the audience’s noses. It was a great piece of showmanship on the part of the filmmakers- ‘Here’s the 3D. Oh, hang on, we can do better than that! HERE’S the 3D!’

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With that first 3D one-two punch by the film I have never heard such a scream of excitement emitted by a cinema audience (and it sounded like every single member of that audience squealed in delight) before or since. The film was so well crafted with so much thought placed on the 3D aspects and how the gimmick could be used in so many innovative ways. A movie that was primarily made for horror fiends had just demonstrated that it could also work on the snobbiest film audiences imaginable and completely enthral them. Now that’s genius.

The 3D was used for both comical purposes to make the audience chuckle ( these involve yo-yos, juggling, a joint being passed towards the audience) but more importantly it’s also used so that spectators can experience the sheer pain of Jason’s killings. There is one scene in which Mr Voorhees squeezes a bit too hard on a character’s head and one of his eyeballs shoots out of it’s socket and straight at the audience. In another we get an arrow shot from a harpoon that Jason has fired at another victim. This also shoots her in the eye (after wheezing towards us first). It’s almost like the filmmakers wanted to exploit the ‘eye injury’ angle with this being a 3D movie. They were making the movie as painful as possible for the audience. Hooray for 3D!

We even get Jason staggering towards us whilst he’s mid-battle with the film’s Final Girl with an axe sticking out of his hockey mask.

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This screening was such a success with the NFT’s audience that there was even applause when it finished. The audience whooped, yelped and had a jolly good time. Job done.

I went to see Jaws 3D the following night. Even in 3D it’s dreadful and further testament to the innovative use of the format by Friday’s filmmakers.

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Shortly after this screening I heard about a season of films showing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (known as the ICA), another establishment of all things high culture and respectability. All of the films chosen were then (1998) still banned by the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC- as you can tell we like our acronyms here in the United Kingdom or UK *haha*) and were all banned horror movies with some appearing on the infamous Video Nasties DDP List. Through some legal wrangling the ICA had asked the BBFC to let them be shown for one day only.

Thus, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Driller Killer, Zombie Flesh Eaters, House by the Cemetary, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and Zombie Holocaust were all shown whilst they were all still banned in the UK.

The thrill of seeing these forbidden fruits of the Video Nasties era when they were still banned was palpable. James Ferman was still the Director of the BBFC and was notoriously strict when it came to horror (it was under his regime that The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre remained banned. He seemed inflexible when it came to art of any kind and clearly behind the times).

But things were about to change when it came to TCM. The movie was released in early 1999 in London when Camden Council were granted a license to show the film within it’s area boundaries only. For this release the film even had it’s own certificate of ‘C’ for Camden. Only people who were 18 and over would be able to watch the film in a cinema. I saw the film during this release.

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I remember I had gone into London to browse the many film memorabilia shops that existed around the West End then (all sadly gone now unfortunately) and then to go onto the gay scene with it’s numerous bars that were close to the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue. As I exited the excellent Cinema Store I walked past the ABC Cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue and saw that TCM was showing. I didn’t know about this release until I saw the poster outside the cinema.

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This was also my first visit to this particular cinema with it’s gorgeous carved frieze on the outside. It reeked of history inside and out and with further investigation I found out that it went back decades and was even used for film premieres.

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The afternoon screening of TCM only had two other people in it. Watching TCM is like going to Hell (in a good way) for an hour and a half and it seemed really perverse that one minute I was trolling the West End and was then immersed in one of the most intense and frightening horror movies ever made. I remember none of the punters in that screening left before we had seen all of the end credits through to the end. The house lights then went up, we exchanged looks to each other as if to say ‘What the fuck have we just been through together?!’, smiled and then left.

A favourite more recent screening that sticks in my mind was when my local arthouse cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds shows a cult film most Saturdays under the banner of Creatures of the Night. The cinema is located in a part of Leeds which has a huge student population. Hence, you have plenty of students who attend these screenings, a minority of whom think that ‘cult’ means ‘rubbish’. These people obviously don’t know what cult cinema is and wouldn’t know shit from clay. I’ve attended screenings here of films such as The Terminator, The Warriors and Christine which, unfortunately, this clueless and jaded minority have thought it appropriate to snigger at and ridicule. As a side note, these people will never ruin a cinema screening for me. I would never give them the satisfaction or feed their narcissism in such a way.

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A surefire way to tell if your film still has ‘it’ when it comes to cult cinema is to see and hear how the audience reacts. Right from the get-go Pink Flamingos shocked the audience at this particular screening into submission. At the start of the film there was a stunned silence of utter disbelief at what was being seen and then there were howls of laughter at all the right places with screams of disgust at all the appropriate scenes also (the dog poo scene especially) as Divine and co won the hearts of the punters.

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In fact, there have been a few John Waters related screenings that stick in my mind. Firstly, the time I went to see his live film This Filthy World in New York which he attended. He answered questions after it. Also, the time he taught a film class that I was lucky to be invited to in which he showed one of his favourite films, Boom! starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. We all then talked about it and asked him about his career…But that has been covered by myself in a previous blog post. Talking about it again might be seen as bragging *walks away whistling*

Video World- A Blast From The Past

Video World- A Blast From The Past

It’s funny what crops up on the internet.

When video started to become popular there were also brilliant magazines that catered for the video industry and video fans alike. The majority of the column inches and pages were devoted to horror, action and exploitation with a few pages at the back devoted to porn. I think this is why my Dad always took an opportunity to flick through/perv over these video magazines when I bought them. They usually featured a Page 3 stunner on the front cover but my newsagent never once thought not to sell these mags to me even though they looked identical to top shelf filth like Razzle or Fiesta. Even my Dad didn’t care about me buying these magazines. Maybe he thought that his youngest son might be *normal* rather than homosexual which I know he worried about. Sorry Dad.

Anyway, someone online scanned pages from Video Review which came out in the early 80’s. I remember this periodcal along with Video World. The memories (and mammories) come flooding back. What a giddy exciting time the 80’s were for horror fans and gorehounds.

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Jojo is a proud Hitler Youth member. He decides to go on a weekend for fellow brainwashed enthusiasts. However, after a (very funny) accident with a grenade he finds himself hospitalised. At home recovering he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. He confides this to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (!)

This film is actually a comedy! An off the wall, zany and irreverant comedy that works beautifully. It was a massive gamble to make such a film in such oversensitive and ‘woke’ times. And it was Disney of all studios that made Jojo Rabbit! Should such a terrible period from history be depicted in such a chirpy and comical way? Should Hitler be portrayed as such a goofball within the film? YES! Whether it’s Mel Brooks (who said he loved JoJo Rabbit) with The Producers and it’s musical Springtime For Hitler or Joan Rivers making her controversial joke about the Holocaust on Fashion Police, humour reaches the parts that more earnest and serious pieces of ‘art’ can’t. It forces you to laugh at whatever is the target of the joke is and then analyse why you laughed at something that you normally wouldn’t see as comical.

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Whilst most critics have lauded the film, there are peripheral pundits who have either said that the filmmakers have gone too far (How dare they make a comedy starring Adolf Hitler?!) or that they didn’t go far enough (How dare they make a film about Nazi Germany and not show the full horror of what happened?!). The Guardian hated the film which is another reason for audiences go and see this gem of a film.

But, understandably, everything depicted in the film isn’t just for laughs. There are plenty of gut-wrenching moments when the full horror is brought home to the characters and audience alike. These poignant sequences aren’t milked for all their worth and this makes them all the more powerful and genuine. There were a couple of pivotal scenes which made me fight back tears. These scenes were played out for what they were without the whole film descending into a tissue-soaking cry-a-thon which would have cheapened and devalued the movie’s content.

The film also looks beautiful with set designs and a colour palate that makes Jojo Rabbit a feast for the eyes. This film is beautifully constructed. Jojo’s room, the house in which he resides, the cubby hole that houses Elsa and the surrounding environs are all aesthetically pleasing and a joy to behold.

 

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Also, check out the framing. Every scene feels just as quirky, off-kilter and as warped as the narrative. Watch out for the scene on the giant steps and the later scene with it’s emphasis on a character’s shoes and how this motif is used later on in the film in an extremely heartbreaking but dignified and tasteful way.

The soundtrack is also fantastic with The Beatles’ German language version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand (‘Komm, gib mir deine Hand’)  and Bowie’s Helden leading the way. In fact, these two rather obscure (to English eyes anyway) versions of well known songs normally heard in their Mother Tongue depict the whole feel of the film- off kilter, eschew and very original.

There are uniformly amazing performances by the likes of Roman Griffin Davis playing Jojo, Scarlett Johannsen as his mother, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa the Jewish hideaway and Sam Rockwell (great to see him taking more risks with his choice of roles after starring in the ultra-woke and unbearable Three Billboards). Also, look out for Stephen Merchant as a very sinister Nazi inspector. He reminded me of The Demon Headmaster. But it’s director and screenwriter Taika Waititi who plays Adolf Hitler who steals the show. Every scene that hes in is comedy gold as he depicts Hitler as a kind of bro/dude best friend to Jojo. His lines and mannerisms are laugh out loud hysterical.

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4 parts humour, 1 part sentiment, this film has a power that will seep into your brain during it’s running time and stay with you long after the film is over. In fact my first thought on leaving the cinema was that I wanted to see it again.

I feel privileged to have seen one of the best films of 2020 on Jan the 1st of this year. A cracking start to a new decade of movies.

5 out of 5 stars

 

My Film of the Year is…

My Film of the Year is…

…Cats! OK, just kidding.

2019 has been a great year for films and trying to pick my favourite movie has been very hard.

Whether it was the utterly engrossing Shockingly Wicked, Evil and Vile and it’s captivating central performance by Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, the dark heart of Joker which held up a mirror to the divided world it was made in whilst possessing a very warped sense of humour (the cockney midget not being able to reach the door handle being one such example), the assured brilliance of Scorsese’s The Irishman with it’s themes of ageing and taking stock of one’s life (as much as a psychopath can take stock, that is) and the fantastic vision that provided the backdrop for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (at last, Bruce Lee and Charles Manson in the same movie!), it’s been a cineaste’s dream of a year.

But my film of the year must go to Blue Story- a film depicting gang warfare and knife/gun crime in present day London that was very controversial from the get go because rival gangs went to see it armed with machetes at one screening in Birmingham. After fights broke out in the foyer the film was pulled from several cinema chains.

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However, the Vue cinema chain reinstated it’s screenings as they saw the importance of such a film being shown and because the film’s director questioned whether there was a racist agenda behind his film being pulled from distribution.

And thank God he did. Blue Story is such a brilliant work. Exploring the power of group identity and it’s lethal role in the lives of the disillusioned young men depicted, machismo, misplaced pride and how these qualities can turn best friends into sworn enemies, with plenty of others unwittingly becoming collateral damage. These themes feel relevant to any era but tragically so in the UK at the moment. But this isn’t the sole purpose why I have chosen this as my favourite film of the year. It’s the brilliance of the film on every level that has made it my Number 1 film experience of 2019.

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The film also makes human the kind of people who would be mere impersonal names of fatalities in the news and this is where it’s power lies. We get to see the lead characters as what they are- teenage boys making their way in the world with it’s ups and downs and also with some very touching moments of comedy. They feel achingly real which makes what is to come all the more tragic.

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In fact, the role of the rapper who bridges each of the film’s major episodes with his recap of what we’ve just seen and what is to come feels like a modernised version of the Greek chorus found in Greek tragedy and was an inspired touch.

I see that this was actually made by BBC Films. Lets hope this is shown on the BBC so that as many people can see such a brilliant piece of work.

 

Review- The Irishman (2019)

Review- The Irishman (2019)

‘I heard you paint houses’

Martin Scorsese’s latest film centres around Frank Sheeran who we first see in a care home for the elderly reminiscing about his life. He recalls his time in World War 2 and then after this lovingly remembers the scam he had when he is working as a meat truck delivery worker (he regularly siphons off some of the contents and sells it to local mafiosi) when he crosses paths with mobster Russell Bufalino who he is then reintroduced to some time later. This proves to be a turning point for his life. It’s through Bufalino that he is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa, teamster and celebrity. This marks another turning point for his life and the film’s narrative.

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CGI- the new Botox. The shocking WW2 flashback scene

I had to smile when I saw some of the major players from Scorsese’s canon of masterpieces reunited in this film. It was more than awesome to see De Niro with Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel again.

But there are also new actors who more than hold their own. Al Pacino is predictably brilliant and it’s great to see such a legendary actor under the direction of such a masterful director. Stephen Graham shows that he’s just as brilliant in a Hollywood film as he is within the quality TV productions that he’s starred in here in the UK.

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There has been much made of Anna Paquin only speaking six words in a three and a half hour film. When you see the film you’ll see why. Her looks and mannerisms throughout the film convey much more than lines and lines of dialogue as her role is akin to some kind of silent but all seeing sense of conscience or moral judge regarding her father’s dastardly deeds that she knows are happening even if he tries to disguise them to convey himself as a honest working man. Instead of basking in fake outrage (are we really getting to a point where numbers of words uttered by male and female characters will be tallied up and compared when it comes to movies?! Are we really getting that ridiculous?) how about thinking what an amazing actress she is that she can turn in such a genuinely awe-inspiring performance by just using her facial expressions alone and what is implied rather than said out loud. Y’know, by using her acting skills and stuff! There should be a mention here regarding how brilliant Lucy Gallina is as Peggy between the ages of 7 and 11.

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A woman of few words- because she doesn’t need many. Anna Paquin’s terrific performance

This movie is a sprawling epic that spans 1945 to 1990. The narrative shoots forward and backwards through time so effortlessly and effectively that it reminded me of Once Upon A Time In America (thankfully theres no panpipe music in this movie though). With this kind of timeframe being used it’s been widely reported that Scorsese used CGI to make the leading characters look younger in some scenes. Whilst this can be noticed in the first couple of scenes in which this device is used, it blends into the movie as a whole and is quickly forgotten about as the viewer gets used to it. It also becomes unnoticeable because the film is so captivating for the viewer.

There was a point early on in this film that felt very familiar. There is a bar setting with an old 60’s hit playing over the soundtrack whilst a plethora of mobster types are doing their thing. I thought to myself ‘Oh God, I hope this doesn’t turn into a GoodFellas clone.’ I remembered the good but not great Casino feeling like ‘GoodFellas Go To Vegas’. But The Irishman doesn’t play out like this. It’s a film that quickly veers into new territory plot wise whilst exploring themes such as age, reflection, mortality (on many levels) and how choosing to live such a thoroughly deplorable life whilst hiding under a veneer of respectability can impact the loved ones of the people who have chosen to take the dark path.

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I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen yet it was a very uncomfortable experience. The movie is 3 and a half hours long and whilst it’s an amazing ride it’s a painful experience in a cinema seat. My aching posterior was so bad through the second half of the running time that I felt that I was wriggling around more than an eel. But the length of the film was probably intentional for Scorsese as this was made for Netflix- home of the ‘binge watch’ to be watched in the comfort of your home on the comfort of your sofa.

One more touch that I loved about the movie were the captions that accompanied each new secondary character as it stated his name and how/when he died.

This movie might end up in the Guinness Book of Records also as I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘c*cksucker’ used so much in one movie before. This is a great accolade in my book.

The Irishman is a cracking movie. Fans of Scorsese will love this, as will fans of intelligent and innovative filmmaking. There will be several raised eyebrows as to the level of poignancy that the film holds. Which again makes me think of Once Upon A Time In America in that the audience is made to feel sympathy towards a character who the film has shown to have committed some heinous acts.

4/5 out of 5 stars