Review- Absence of Malice (1981)

Review- Absence of Malice (1981)

Hooray for IMDB! Here’s Absence of Malice’s storyline-

Mike Gallagher is a Miami liquor wholesaler whose deceased father was a local mobster. The FBI organized crime task force have no evidence that he’s involved with the mob but decide to pressure him into perhaps revealing something – anything – about a murder they’re sure was a mob hit. They let Megan Carter, a naive but well-meaning journalist, know he is being investigated and Gallagher’s name is soon all over the newspaper. Gallagher has an iron-clad alibi for when the murder occurred but won’t reveal it to protect his fragile friend Teresa. When Carter publishes her story, tragedy ensues. Needing to make amends, Carter tells Gallagher the source of the first story about him and he sets out to teach the FBI and the Federal Attorney a lesson.

I remember Absence of Malice being on the video shelves in the 80s and probably didn’t rent it because

  1. It wasn’t a horror film
  2. It seemed to be mainly just people talking
  3. It seemed very ‘adult’ (i.e. boring)
  4. It wasn’t The Beast Within


Now that I’m much older I’m somewhat prone to films that involve people talking (although horror is still my ‘go to’ genre and The Beast Within is high art) I thought I’d check out Absence of Malice to see if it was any good. And it was. Great performances all round but particularly from Paul Newman, Sally Field and Melinda Dillon. Also, I loved the musical score by Dave Grusin.


The direction by Sidney Pollack and cinematography by Owen Roizman are just as fantastic as I thought they would be. Absence of Malice is a brilliant addition to the ‘newsroom drama’ sub-genre and the sets are gorgeously early 80s. The huge open-plan newsroom in a thousand shades of beige, Field’s apartment that is also open-plan, beige and appears to be in the middle of the city (there are the lights of skyscrapers outside her window). ‘How can she afford that amazing apartment on a journalist’s salary?!’ I thought. Only millionaires would be able to afford such a pad these days.

Absence Of Malice - 1981

I also liked how Absence of Malice feels different to other similar dramas. I was trying to think how to describe the feel of the film but Janet Maslin did it brilliantly well already in her New York Times review from when the film was released. She said she liked the ‘quiet gravity’ that the film possessed. And so do I. Absence of Malice feels less urgent than other similar films but it slowly builds up to a very dramatic finale. It also has the power to shock (I’m going to say no more regarding this as I don’t want to ruin any surprises).

An understated joy.

4 stars out of 5


Review- Chariots Of Fire (1981)

Review- Chariots Of Fire (1981)

I remember the release of Chariots of Fire so vividly from my childhood. I also remember how it won multiple awards and that this was like the kiss of death for me. You see, the films I normally watch don’t win Oscars, BAFTAs or any kind of mainstream awards. I associate these awards with boring fare that appeals to Guardian readers. The kind of movies that are perfectly crafted but as much fun as disembowelling yourself. If anyone had tried to start a conversation about Chariots of Fire when I was growing up in the 80s, I would have asked, ‘But is it better than The Burning? Friday the 13th Part 2? Cannibal Apocalypse?’

chariots of fire - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpg

But, I’ve just watched Chariots for the first ever time for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a track on the soundtrack for Halloween 3: Season of the Witch called Chariots of Pumpkins which is a reference to the award-winning film (where were the Oscar nominations for H3? Fools!) and also because Chariots director Hugh Hudson has just passed away. Chariots had been on my TiVo for ages and so now was as good an opportunity to watch as ever.

On watching the film I can report back that Ian Holm from Alien is in it (Chariots would have been made only a couple of years after) and SO IS BRAD DAVIS!!! How did I not know that one of my favourite actors was in this movie?! Chariots was made just one year before Brad went on to star in Fassbinder’s masterpiece, Querelle.



I can also report back from the dark side known as ‘respectable cinema’ that Chariots rocked my world. No, I won’t be abandoning my weird tastes in movies just yet and swapping my slasher movies for copies of fare such as Gandhi and Citizen Kane, but it’s hard to deny the awe, majesty and emotions that Chariots evokes.

The film charts the journey of Eric Liddell, a Scottish devout Christian and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew, to the Olympic Games. Liddell says he runs for God, whilst Abrahams says his running acts as an antidote to the discrimination some Jewish people such as himself face.


Everyone has seen the scenes of the men running in slow-motion whilst the iconic Vangelis theme plays over the soundtrack. It’s a shame that only this piece of music from the soundtrack is so well known as all of the OST is just as visionary, breathtaking and awe-inspiring.


I actually went to a private school (and hated the experience) and so I could relate to the kind of locales depicted in the film. They are depicted lovingly well here and almost make me fondly nostalgic for my own school days. Almost.


Chariots of Fire is beautifully photographed and framed. There were many points within the film that I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to see this on the big screen’. Could you imagine Chariots in IMAX?

The acting, as you’d expect from a film that critics fell over themselves to lavish praise upon, is uniformly brilliant. It’s also great to see actors such as Holm and Davis who made eclectic and brilliant choices regarding the films they chose to star in. Sir John Gielgud also stars not long after having been in the masterpiece comedy, Arthur.

So, there you have it. I’ve dipped my toe in the world of respectable cinema and I loved it. But I won’t be watching Casablanca any time soon.

5 stars out of 5

Review- Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

Review- Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

A slasher movie directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear) and starring Melissa Sue Anderson (she’s a long way from Little House on the Prairie here!), Glenn Ford and Lawrence Dane (Scanners).


Someone is bumping off college students in innovative ways. Who could the killer be?

Even though the methods of murder are unconventional (barbell, motorbike wheel to name but two), this film is, to quote Simon Cowell, distinctly average. I like the film’s bright and breezy visual style that is also slightly blurred in some scenes like someone has smeared Vaseline over the lens (this reminds me of the much better Prom Night) and Thompson throws in a few directorial flourishes but this is very much a C division slasher movie (if I’m being honest there are so few A and B division entries in the slasher genre).


I actually really loved the Scooby Doo ending but there’s so much boring teen drama, obvious red herrings (which after a while made me really not care who the killer is) and unfunny japes to wade through that makes Happy Birthday To Me a real chore to watch.

1.5 stars out of 5

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Commando (1985)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Commando (1985)

One of the videos I rented the most during the golden years of home video was Commando, the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick. I watched it again recently to see if it still stands up. My God, it really does! Re-watching it felt like meeting up with an old friend.

This was the golden period of Arnie’s career for me. He was fresh from The Terminator (which is in my humble opinion, one of the best sci-fi/horror movies ever made. I was so inspired by it that I wrote about the film as part of my university Film Studies dissertation) and Red Sonja (criminally underrated) and really was on top form.

Commando is brilliant in every way. Arnie’s deadpan delivery is perfect for his character Matrix especially when he is delivering some witty line regarding the dispatch of one of his enemies. Another interesting facet of his performance is that he looks like he’s scanning his surroundings just like the camera is scanning and recording him. It makes you realise that there was a lot of Arnie in his characterisation of The Terminator and that he wasn’t just some malleable piece of muscle for James Cameron to tell what to do.

I also love that his character seems to have more acute senses than others. He hears the helicopter approaching his mountainside home before his daughter or we do. He also mentions that at one point he could *smell* when an enemy was nearby. That’s awesome. Half man, half bloodhound but with a lot more muscle.

The screenplay for Commando is also amazing. There’s so much great dialogue within the film that makes you literally laugh out loud. Almost every line that leading lady Rae Dawn Chong utters is some witty putdown which she delivers brilliantly. And that’s something else I love about Commando. Chong’s character isn’t some vapid female appendage who was just cast to merely look pretty. She has plenty to say, is shown to be intelligent and gets stuck in trying to help Matrix get his daughter back. She’s also very funny. The scene with the rocket launcher is still hilarious after all these years.

It’s also nice to see the full film at last. In the ’80s the film was cut by the BBFC with most of the garden shed scene being censored. That meant that we didn’t get to see the glorious moment when Arnie throws a circular garden blade at someone’s head or when he uses a machete to cut someone’s arm off. This sequence feels like something from a slasher movie so it’s no surprise that the BBFC got its knickers in a twist. It was worth the wait.

The soundtrack rocks too. Who knew that steel drums and pan pipes would work so well with drum machines and saxophones? James Horner did. It really is one of the great soundtracks of the 80s.

Is Commando the greatest action movie of the 1980s? I actually think it might be.


Review- Cobra (1986)

Review- Cobra (1986)

The first thing I noticed on rewatching Cobra for the first time since the late 80’s was that it’s a Cannon film. That instantly made me smile, obviously.


I loved Cobra. It’s a cartoonish action flick in which Sylvester Stallone grunts, mumbles and fires guns (no real stretch for him, I agree). Cobra is part Death Wish, Dirty Harry (Andrew Robinson and Reni Santoni from the original film co-star here), Visiting Hours (yes, really. There’s a terrific sequence that takes place involving a serial killer in a hospital) and the opening credits of The Equalizer (there are loads of women in peril in locales such as dark multi-storey car parks in Cobra).

With the film being cartoonish and like a comic strip come to life, the camp quotient is very high indeed. The sequence in which Brigitte Nielsen is being photographed as part of a photo session is camper than a row of pink tents. Sly is camp personified too. His character is supposed to be ultra-masculine but with this there is always the danger of tipping over into Village People territory. And he falls into this headfirst. With his shades, stubble and tight jeans he looks like he’s going to a dress code night at The Spike in West Hollywood rather than fighting crime. But this only makes Cobra even more entertaining and fun.

Cobra had a budget of $25m and took in $160m at the box office.

Of course, with a film that has the tagline of ‘Crime is a disease. Meet the cure’ there was bound to be someone who could use Photoshop to make a meme. And they did. And it’s a brilliant meme.

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- 48 Hrs (1982)

Review- 48 Hrs (1982)
Another cinematic revisitation- I rewatched 48 Hrs for the first time since seeing it on VHS in the mid-80’s.
Walter Hill really is a terrific director and the comic book, technicolor touches that he applied to The Warriors he also adapts here and it works magnificently.
In fact, I played ‘Spot the Warrior’ throughout the film as several of Coney Island’s finest were peppered throughout the cast. It was like a reunion of friends you actually *want* to see again.
Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte make a double-act who bounce off each other very well indeed. There’s natural chemistry there and it shows. Murphy even does his funny little laugh but it didn’t irritate me on this occasion. I’ll put that down to Hill’s direction.
It was also nice to see the iconic Torchy’s bar from When A Stranger Calls. Within Hill’s film it’s been transformed into a Country and Western strip joint. The mind boggles. What would Colleen Dewhurst say?!
All in all a fantastic action film that feels comic but edgy. The dialogue would make any member of Gen Z flee to their safe spaces. Which is another reason why I loved it.
4 stars out of 5

Review- Reanimator (1985)

Review- Reanimator (1985)
I rewatched Reanimator again today for the first time in years. The memories came flooding back…
I originally saw it a few years after it was originally released here in the UK as there was a (cut) midnight screening at a soulless multiplex near my house in the late 80’s. I phoned my friend to see if he would be interested in coming along and he said that his Dad could drive us there. There was only one catch- his Dad would be coming to see the film with us so that he could drive us back after the end of the film. I warned him to tell his Dad what kind of film this was and that it was supposed to be really gross and gory (two qualities I *love* regarding the kind of cinema I go in for). He said that his Dad was fine with this.
His Dad spent the entire film chuckling at the film. At one point a character said something like ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ to which my friend’s Dad blurted out ‘You and me both!’ which made the entire audience burst out laughing at his remark. I don’t think Reanimator converted him to the splatter genre but his remark made him a few converts that night within the film’s audience. My friend and I loved the movie though.
Did it stand up still when I watched it today? Yes. Some parts could have been better executed but hey this is low budget horror with a tight budget and a tight schedule. These moments were few and far between though I’m pleased to say.
Reanimator is still as gory, gross, outrageously funny and original as when I first saw it at the Warner Village multiplex in York here in the UK at that midnight screening.
4 out of 5 stars.
P.S. Here in the UK there was even controversy regarding the severed head on the original US poster for the film. On the UK quad poster the head is turned around so that it’s face can’t be seen (see below)
The American poster with the severed head’s face on view…
..and the British cinema poster with the severed head turned around so that it’s face isn’t on view

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- Beware! Children At Play (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- Beware! Children At Play (1989)

The children of a New Jersey town are disappearing at a very fast rate and the adults of the same town are being slaughtered in ways that suggest a strange death cult are behind this. Could there be a connection?

The first time I ever heard about this film was when I saw the trailer that was included on the DVD for another Troma title. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the trailer as it showed the taboo subjects of not just children going missing but also of killer kids. And with this being a Troma title, obviously taste, subtlety and restraint went out of the window. My prevailing thought was ‘How the hell did they get away with that?’


But when you actually make it past the trailer, is the actual movie a snoozefest? Well, no actually. the film is pretty good and held my attention with enough suspense, tension, kills and dark humour to satisfy the most committed gorehound.

This is Children of the Corn on steroids. Some of the acting is erm, over-ripe shall we say but you really don’t venture to this kind of fare to discover De Niro levels of performance.

If ever a film deserved a trigger warning it’s this though. Shocking, extreme but great fun.

Grade- B-

Review- Censor (2021)

Review- Censor (2021)

Enid is a censor in the 80’s working on classifying the so-called Video Nasties so that they can be released on video. Many are either cut or rejected outright. In her personal life, her sister went missing years before after they had been playing in woods nearby. She has never been found but Enid thinks she might now have a lead through, ironically, the films she’s classifying.

I thought a film based around this period and the Video Nasties moral panic would be interesting with this historical backdrop and the social climate surrounding it.

But whilst all of the resources you need when you base a film around a particular period seem to be at your disposal, the issue of authenticity rises it’s ugly head. I lived through this period and know it inside out because of my love of all things horror and such a monumental shift regarding this with the advent of home video.


Censor feels like the vintage furnishing shops of Camden had been gone through to facilitate this production. It feels like a faux version of the period, a hipster and completely artificial variant rather than the filmmakers successfully transporting you into that amazing period. It’s a particularly ugly vision of this timeframe that Censor presents too.

Add to this the flimsiest of plots, not being able to care about one single character in the film, attempts at subtexts regarding trauma and state censorship (both dealt with amateurishly) and drama school theatrics and it’s a no from me. Watch the actual video nasties instead or a really good documentary about the topic (Ban The Sadist Videos is a great place to start). But don’t waste your time on such a revisionist and boring film ‘based’ on the period.

Grade- D-

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Some of my favourite childhood memories involved me being in a local video shop (and there were quite a few in my area) and poring over the lurid and sleazy artwork for the horror movies. In the 80’s video shops were like art galleries for weirdos and I was (and proudly still am) one of these freaks.

One of the video artworks that I was obsessed with was for the Canadian movie Visiting Hours.


When I rented the movie I wasn’t disappointed.

I love horror movies based in hospitals especially if they’re made in the early 80’s and are really nasty. Another example is, of course, Halloween 2 which is a peach of a movie. But Visiting Hours is also a great movie. And the hospital the film is set in seems to be a hundred times bigger than Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and has more than ten people in the whole establishment (staff included).

Visiting Hours concerns Colt Hawker (no, his character isn’t a gay porn actor even though his name sounds like he should be) who is obsessed with Deborah Ballin, a TV journalist who campaigns for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of their partners. She is shown defending one such woman who was driven to murder her husband after he had abused her. Hawker is triggered by this because of a childhood memory he has that recalls his mother throwing a pan of boiling oil in his father’s face after he had tried to beat her.

Hawker invades Ballin’s home and sets out to kill her. After a really nasty confrontation, Ballin is injured but survives and is taken to the local General Hospital. Colt learns where she is and starts to stalk her.

What a double bill!

It’s in the hospital that most of the film’s action now takes place. It’s interesting to see that Colt will adapt any variety of aliases and roles to get to his quarry- nurse, orderly, surgeon and finally, patient.

Deborah seems to be so hated by him that even those who sing her praises or sympathise with her now being a victim of male violence become a target for Hawker. Nurse Sheila Monroe becomes one such with Hawker following her home to find out her address and later in the film invading it. Any strong woman is an enemy of Hawker’s and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

Of course, with such a villain and his repugnant views, the film was labelled as ‘misogynistic’ on its release. But several things make me think it’s actually a very conservative depiction of the kind of violence some women are subjected to. Yes, we get to see the sheer horror of Hawker and the crimes he carries out against the women he sees as assertive and liberated. But we also have the film’s final act in which the balance is reset and, without giving the ending away, a levelling of the playing fields with an ending that sees Hawker getting the justice he deserves and at the hands of one of the people he wanted to dish it out to. Ballin gets to experience first-hand what she’s only ever had to talk about regarding other women’s lives. There is more retribution by female characters in the film but I’m not going to ruin the film with spoilers here.

Loving this Turkish poster for the film sooo much! A sex scene starring Andrew Stevens whilst Jack Torrence watches outside with a knife. Needless to say, none of this happens in Visiting Hours. But it would make a kickass sequel. It’s not too late.

Also, Visiting Hours doesn’t titillate with its depiction of violence against some of the female characters within the film. And that’s a huge reason why I don’t think it’s misogynistic. It feels like the film has serious things to say about violence against women rather than making a trashy and extreme shocker.

Visiting Hours feels utterly serious and is almost devoid of any kind of humour or lighter moments. It’s also nasty and mean spirited in tone. In other words, it’s perfect for an early 80’s slasher movie. Unfortunately, the BBFC didn’t agree and the film suffered several cuts for its cinema release. These cuts were sustained for the eventual video release and the film was also (albeit briefly) put on the Video Nasties list.


The casting of the film is also pinpoint perfect which is a major part as to why the film succeeds so brilliantly. Michael Ironside is just as amazing here as Hawker as he was in Scanners as Daryl Revok. He really was fantastic at playing psychopaths. In fact, when I see Ironside’s name on a cast list I know that it will be well worth a watch. Lee Grant is fantastic as crusading feminist Ballin and Linda Purl hits just the right tone as nurse Munroe. On top of that, we get star power through William Shatner being a cast member and we even get to see the guy with the bald head and moustache from Cagney and Lacey.

But the hospital setting is a major part of why this film is so damned effective. Hospitals have always struck me as macabre places and this film feeds into this further. It’s why I love hospitals and this film so much.