Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

A remake of the 1958 classic gets a 70s update.

The premise is the same but the reasons behind it are different. It seems like each incarnation of this film reflects the unrest of each society it was made in.

This film depicts the 70s swing towards pop-psychology and psychiatry that was popular at the time. The psychiatrist characters played by Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldbloom brilliantly convey this angle.

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But the film also shows American society and its people in disarray. Post-Watergate and post-Vietnam politics and the related disillusionment fuel the characters and general feel of this film. No one knows who to trust, what the truth is or who/what to believe in anymore.

Paranoia is also a key component in this movie. This makes the film a very intense watch and quite exhausting at times. Whilst I love this film its a movie I have to be in the mood to watch. It seems like tiny nuances and interactions that characters would normally take for granted are given thought time, credence and then magnified. An example is when Brooke Adams character is bumped into. There is then a sequence in which Adams and this character are walking away from each other down a corridor but take turns to look at each other over their shoulders.

There is also a sequence where Adams is walking around San Francisco and passes a bust city bus. Every single passenger is looking right at her. Is the camera capturing reality or the internal and paranoid thoughts of Ms Adams?

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The paranoia and suspicion escalates until we get to one of the most famous unsettling endings in movie history.

Brilliantly acted, written and directed. This really is a prime slice of time capsule filmmaking then is strangely as relevant today as it was in the 70s. This is also one of the best San Francisco movies ever made. The city looks amazing and provides a gorgeous backdrop to the film’s events. Added kudos for the mud baths locale.

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Look out for the cameo by Robert Duvall as a priest on a swing and the man-dog that suddenly appears who is a weird fusion of a banjo playing character and his dog earlier in the film.

4 out of 5.

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

A scientist (played by Vincent Price with his usual aplomb) discovers an organism that attaches itself to the human spine and feeds on the feeling of fear from the host person. The parasite is known to be present as it makes the spine of the person feel a tingling sensation. For this reason its known as a Tingler.

Add into this premise a plot line involving a couple who own a small cinema, one of whom is deaf and mute and another story strand involving the wife of Price’s character and her potential infidelity.

I was obsessed with the film’s director William Castle as a boy as I had read so much about the gimmicks he dreamt up to make the audience’s moviegoing experience something out of the ordinary and in keeping with a ‘roll up, roll up’ circus host as well as a filmmaker.

The gimmick for The Tingler was for some of the seats in the larger cinemas to have an electrical device attached underneath so that some audience members really did feel a tingling sensation at the end of the film when Price’s character has to announce to the cinema audience within the film that The Tingler is loose in the theater somewhere. Castle also employed planted screamers in the audience and people who were told to faint at specific points. A young John Waters famously went to see this film on its original release time after time but only after checking under every seat until he found a seat that had the device attached.

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As I had read plenty about Castle and his brilliant brand of showmanship it was almost as if this overshadowed the actual films. His films weren’t available in England when I first read about his work and so there was an agonising wait before I could see any of his filmography.

And here in lies his greatest gimmick. For all of the pranks and hoopla, his film’s are actually amazingly made, beautiful to look at and constantly achieve just the balance of terror, kitsch and camp.

The Tingler is no exception. It captures the opulence and majesty of 50’s American living in some scenes (check out the set design) but also a kind of affectionate simplicity of small town life symbolised by the gorgeous little moviehouse.

But then theres the pure hilarity of The Tingler which is obviously a large rubber bug. Its one of the funniest scenes in the movie when Price tries to convince fellow characters that The Tingler could in fact kill a man effortlessly and quickly. But then thats the magic of Price- a camp knowingness and deadpan delivery. A raised eyebrow from him says more than a hundred lines from an inferior actor.

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Even the introduction from Castle could be evaluated as high art if it was viewed merely as a short film rather than as an intro to his movie. The filmmaker warns people of what is to come and that they should scream for their lives if they experience what is being played out to them on the screen.

High art. C’mon Criterion- release a William Castle boxset already.

Day 13- 31 Days of Halloween- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter

Day 13- 31 Days of Halloween- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter

I remember seeing this on video at a friends house back in the day and being so freaked out that I had to ask his Dad to walk me home. I was 12 years old. Them were the days.

After the camp of Part 3 this film gets back on track and is resplendent with really vicious kills courtesy of Tom Savini.

Part teen drama, part TV movie about life after separation, the film then becomes what it says on the tin- a nasty 80s horror movie with our friend Jason bumping off the most irritating kids known to man. The film has a very serious and grave tone throughout that precedes the fucked up ending.

Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover both star in this relentless rollercoaster of gore.

Watch for the machete slide scene. This was cut from the original UK video release and is well wirth the price of admission.

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My favourite Friday the 13th movie and the end of Fridays imperial phase.

4 out of 5

Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween- The Fog (1980)

Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween- The Fog (1980)

I remember being traumatised by the Poster for The Fog before I actually saw the film. We had driven past The Odeon in York and I briefly glanced at it. As this was just a glance I thought I saw a woman lying in bed with a ghostly hand reaching out to grab her. I didn’t sleep for several nights after this.

I finally saw the film on video years later and loved it. Whereas Halloween is a killer on the loose movie, The Fog is a modern twist on the old fashioned ghost story.

In fact the plot comes from an event that happened in the late 1890s with a ship being lured onto rocks so that the gold onboard could be robbed and the people onboard left to perish.

The film makes light of this with a buried secret and buried treasure both coming back from the dead. People coming back from the dead in the film is also a knowing wink to the EC Comics of the 50’s and 60’s in which the dead avenge the living by coming back from their graves. The guilty who are still alive have to face those whom they wronged and with ghastly consequences. Theres also a feeling of ordinary people having to endure extraordinary circumstances with these specific comics and within this film.

Whilst the cast is amazing (watch out for the interactions between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis- they’re hilarious) the true star of the film is the fog itself. With this picture being made in 1980 the fog was real rather than being computer generated as it was in the appalling remake. The fog here is a living, breathing and very menacing entity.

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This film also has some of the best cinematography in any horror film and its courtesy of Dean Cundey who had also shot the masterpiece Halloween. The anamorphic Panavision used here was inspired and this and the film’s lighting make the movie absolutely beautiful to look at.

Whilst this is an old fashioned ghost story there is also a modernity about proceedings with some sequences that are as nasty if not nastier than the other horror films of the day by their being committed out of frame or within the fog itself. Check out what happens to the men aboard The Seagrass and the way they are dispatched. The sound effects suggest breaking bones and slashed flesh whilst being obscured by the fog itself. Whilst other horror films were being more explicit with their blood and gore, Carpenter suggested these atrocities whilst not fully showing them. This was the correct approach for this film as excessive gore would have seemed out of place and quite cheap for this movie. Carpenter actually reshot scenes to add to the film as he didn’t think it was scary enough. I’m glad he didn’t go overboard (pun not intended).

Another thing to love about The Fog is the soundtrack. We get the simple piano motifs like in Halloween but also analogue synth atmosphere that really adds to the film as a whole. But most surprisingly there are fully blown baroque pieces that suggest something older and more classical- a reference to what happened years before in Antonio Bay and the resurrection of this piece of grisly history.

Add to the mix some pretty amazing special effects (look out for special effects genius Rob Bottin as lead zombie pirate nicknamed on set ‘Wormface’) and you have a rip-roaring ride that never outstays its welcome and always feels fresh, innovative and a joy to behold.

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Rob Bottin and Hal Holbrook on set

In fact this is one of Carpenter’s best films and is often overshadowed by Halloween. Its almost as if when a director makes a bona fide classic then any other film is destined to be unfavourably compared to it. The Fog and Halloween are both from Carpenter’s Imperial Phase and are both stunning pieces of cinema.

5 out of 5

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

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Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

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Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

One sign that you’ve made a horror classic- your film spawns a slew of imitators.

Sometimes one or two of these imitators are witty, knowing and innovative.

Thats what happened here. Jaws made such a splash (pun intended) that there were plenty of rip-offs. Piranha was one such film but was great on its own terms rather than being a pale imitation.

Director Joe Dante said the original screenplay for this Corman produced film was dire. He worked on it with John Sayles and made Piranha into the hoot it is today. Quirky characters, great scenarios and references to other works such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon abound. One lead character plays a Jaws arcade machine at the start of the film. The movie knows exactly what it is and isn’t afraid to shout it out.

Another great facet of the story- its the heroes of the piece who actually cause the near disaster they have to deal with.

The leads are amazing (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) as are the supporting cast that features Kevin McCarthy, Corman regulars Paul Bartel and Dick Miller and Euro scream queen Barbara Steele.

A cult classic and deservedly so.

4 out of 5.

31 Days of Halloween 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017

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Every day in October I will be reviewing a different horror film.

Some of the criteria I’ve used for the choice of films are

– a film from each decade from the 1920s onwards

– films from a number of different countries

– a Friday the 13th film as within October this year the 13th falls on a Friday!!! (mind blown)

The rest of my choices were films that I had wanted to see for ages but hadn’t gotten around to or were films that I have seen before but was dying to revisit (three of the films have ratings already by myself. These are some of the films that will be revisited and be reviewed again to see if my opinion has changed).

When I had my list of films they were then fed into an online randomiser so that they could be mixed up. With my randomised list I made one change- I made sure that the film watched on the 13th of October was the Friday the 13th movie. But thats the only change.

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Here are the films-

Day 1- The Nanny (1965)

Day 2- Battle Royale (2000)

Day 3- The Exorcist (1973)

Day 4- Piranha (1978)

Day 5- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) and Tales From The Unexpected episode ‘Flypaper’ (1980)

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Day 6- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 7- The Fog (1980)

Day 8- Eyes Without A Face (1960)

Day 9- Phantasm (1979)

Day 10- Nosferatu (1922)

 

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Day 11- Blood Beach (1980)

Day 12- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Day 13- Friday the 13th Part 4- The Final Chapter (1984)

Day 14- M (1931)

Day 15- Freaks (1932)

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Day 16- The Tingler (1959)

Day 17- Drive-in Massacre (1976)

Day 18- Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Day 19- Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978)

Day 20- Ginger Snaps (2000)

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Day 21- The Beast With Five Fingers (1946)

Day 22- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Day 23- Ringu (1998)

Day 24- Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Day 25- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

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Day 26- Les Diaboliques (1955)

Day 27- The Sadist (1963)

Day 28- The Lift (1983)

Day 29- Prom Night (1980)

Day 30- It Follows (2014)

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Day 31- Seytan (1974)

Please join me on this horrifying journey 🙂

Strike A Pose

Strike A Pose

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.

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The original poster from 1985

Take a pose that encapsulated the zeitgeist and not only is it ripe for analysis…

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The famous pose analysed

…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.

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Same pose- very different characters

Similarly, here is a publicity shot from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987).

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Freddy Krueger shows Judd Nelson how its done

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.

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This never happened in a John Hughes movie

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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).

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Just don’t start wishing for the kind of justice Dirty Harry or the sub-genre it spawned seem to condone.