Review- ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

Review- ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about going to see this at my local cinema. It was a one-off showing of the 4K Blu ray print and the chance of seeing this on the big screen was too much of a rare occurrence to knock back. The reason for my reticence was that when I had previously seen the film for the first time (in about 1993) I had loved it but the actual subject matter was so traumatising and shocking. It’s not often that I experience this when it comes to film and so I was erm, keen to see if this film was just as raw as it had been all of those years ago.

And the simple answer is yes. It still packs one hell of a punch with it’s unblinking view of how vile war really is.

But before the war scenes we are presented with the slowww build-up in the small town of Clairton, Pennsylvania. Some critics have said that there is too much emphasis on this section of the film but I think it’s necessary to get under the skin of the characters and fully experience their lives. This isn’t some romanticised vision of American life especially as we see Meryl Streep’s character Linda having to endure a physically abusive father. We also see that the group of guys who constitute the main characters within the film argue, bicker and fight as well as being part of a tight pack of friends and drinking buddies.

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The original newspaper ad for the Leeds screening

Contrast this section of the film with the all too sudden Vietnam sequences and you’ll see that whereas the Pennsylvania sequences feel like every minute detail is being recorded, the Viet Cong second act zips by very quickly indeed. One second we see the Vietnamese troops approaching the next we see the main characters in a bamboo cage. The pace of the film directly depicts the events being depicted- the slowness of small-town life as opposed to the surreal rush of the unfathomable events taking place in Vietnam.

The film also brilliantly depicts Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had very rarely been tackled in a war film before this. Men had stereotypically been depicted in this genre as tough, unrealistically resilient and untouched by the atrocities of war. Witness Nick’s meltdown in the sanatorium and Michael’s emotional and overwhelming return to his hometown after the horror that he’s witnessed and been forced to participate in.

The film also perceptively depicts how destructive the mind can be when such trauma has been experienced. It’s no accident that Nick stumbles into a Russian Roulette gambling ring, just as it’s no accident that Michael is already in the audience there watching this ghoulish spectacle.

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The Deer Hunter proved to be very controversial when it was originally released. There were criticisms that the film was a distortion of the truth as it was felt by some to be so one-sided and so relentlessly pro-American. I don’t really have a problem with the film’s narrative as it doesn’t suggest that the American troops in this war weren’t committing atrocities of their own. A viewer would have to be pretty naive to think that all American soldiers were good and all Vietnamese bad.

There was also criticism regarding the Russian Roulette scenes with critics saying that this never actually happened during the Vietnam War (although director Cimino said that he had read accounts of this being utilised by the Vietnamese). It really doesn’t matter either way- these scenes act as a very powerful metaphor for the horrors of war.

I love the fact that Jane Fonda criticised the film and referred to the film’s protestors as ‘friends’ but then admitted that she hadn’t actually seen the film. Some things never change- protestors are going to criticise a film on what they’ve heard about it rather than seeing the film firsthand and then forming an opinion on the events depicted therein.

The scenes between Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep stand out in a film that contains uniformly brilliant performances. You get the idea that you’re privileged to be witnessing arguably the best actor and actress of their generation at the peak of their game and the results crackle with electricity.

 

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The scene in which the characters sing ‘God Bless America’ is masterful as it will be interpreted by the audience according to their political beliefs and if they thought the Vietnam War was justifiable or not. Is this scene ironic, sarcastic or totally sincere?

A tough watch but thats to be expected because of the subject matter. A must see film for any self-respecting fan of cinema.

5 out of 5

 

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Review- ‘Death Weekend’ (1976)

Review- ‘Death Weekend’ (1976)

Harry is on his way to a country holiday home with his new ex-model girlfriend, Diane when they cross paths with a rowdy car-full of drunken yahoos who try to intimidate them. After the couple run them off the road and ruin the suspension on their car, they are tracked to their country lair with the angry men proceeding to invade this picuresque idyll.

Violence and rape ensues as the hillbilly gang seek revenge. In the course of events Harry is actually killed and Diane is raped when trying to escape. But then Diane turns the tables single-handedly and in brutal fashion.

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The original newspaper advert for Death Weekend when its showed in Yorkshire, UK in the 70s

They are elements of both Last House on the Left and Straw Dogs within this film’s premise (in the UK, this film played as part of a double bill with the latter film) but theres also enough to distinguish Death Weekend from these two films. Theres a strong feeling of the ‘haves vs have nots’ thats interesting. The hillbilly gang see what they don’t have within the house and their lives and instinctively seek to destroy and tarnish it.

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The UK quad for the Straw Dogs/Death Weekend double-bill

Also, this isn’t a case of the good vs the bad- when Diane arrives at the house by the lake she very quickly realises that Harry is a slimeball personified. Hes a swinger who has invited Diane to the house for one reason and that isn’t holding hands and going for long walks. We see him taking pictures of Diane as she gets undressed and showers as the mirrors in the swingers paradise masquerading as a country house are all two-way. Diane finds out this later when one of the gang stumbles upon the pictures that the pervert Harry has taken unbeknownst to her.

Also, just before the gang invades the house Diane is just about to leave as she learns that although Harry had told her that there were other guests who would be joining them, in fact this was a lie. Harry appears to be just as repellent as the gang members who are just about to kick the door in- its just his social class that separates him from them.

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The original newspaper ad for the film when it played with ‘The Changeling’ in the 70s

This film is also made noteworthy by the cast with Brenda Vacarro and Don Stroud deserving special mention.

A very good film that deserves a really good Blu ray release. In fact, this would be ideal for Scream Factory.

3 and a half out of 5.

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

The Warriors (1979)- The Film Leeds Local Authority Tried To Ban

Its amazing what you find when you go trawling through the microfiche archives for your local newspaper.

When browsing through the back issues of The Yorkshire Evening Post for 1979 I noticed that The Warriors, Walter Hill’s gritty, comic book style New York action flick was actually shown at a ‘members only’ cinema called The Tatler here in Leeds rather than the bigger Odeon and ABC cinemas where I’d expect a big studio film (The Warriors was made by Paramount) to play. Why was this?

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The Tatler Cinema Club, Leeds

With a bit more research I discovered why. Local authorities here in the UK can view any film that the BBFC has rated 18, or when The Warriors was released, X certificate. They can then go further than the BBFC and ban a film outright if they wish to do. These are exceptional cases but in the past this has happened. The Life of Brian was notoriously banned in Hull until 2008.

This can also happen in reverse- a local authority can show a film in cinemas in its threshold that the BBFC has banned. This occurred in 1999 when Camden Council awarded The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a special ‘C for Camden’ certificate to show the film even though it was still banned by the BBFC. I was lucky enough to see the film during this run. It was reclassified as an 18 and no longer banned by the BBFC shortly after this.

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The original ticket stub from the TCM screening in 1999. The film was certified ‘C for Camden’ but still banned by the BBFC.

In the case of The Warriors, the local authority here in Leeds chose to ban the film even though the BBFC has classified it as an X. This was due to the violent content of the film.

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What the film critic in The Yorkshire Evening Post had to say about The Warriors and it’s local authority ban.

However, you can’t keep a great piece of art down for too long. There was a loophole that meant that any banned film can be shown uncut in a licensed ‘members only’ cinema even if its been banned by the BBFC or a local authority.

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Original Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper ad for The Warriors and it’s Tatler run

And thats just what happened in Leeds. The Warriors was shown at The Tatler Cinema- a ‘members only’ cinema that at that time was showing ‘erotic’ (or as we’d say here in Leeds- ‘mucky’) films.

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Original newspaper listing for The Warriors in Leeds. Don’t understand the ‘One Hours Wait’ though- yet another mad rule that applies to such clubs?

This must have been a massive two fingers up to the Leeds local authority who thought that no one would be able to see this film that they thought would corrupt and inspire a whole slew of really nicely choreographed gang violence here in Leeds as The Armley Baseball Furies fight for their turf against The Gipton Riffs.

This loophole was later amended by the BBFC decades later to prevent uncut films (specifically with pornography in mind) being shown in members cinemas if the BBFC had banned them or not certified them R18.

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Original Warriors UK quad cinema poster

Strange bedfellows- The Warriors, a film made by huge studio Paramount Pictures being shown at a cinema that primarily showed porn. Overzealous censorship makes great comedy.

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Inside The Tatler. Plush for a cinema that showed mucky films.

 

 

 

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

There was a long standing tradition for Turkish remakes of huge Hollywood blockbusters. These remakes have miniscule budgets and are made quickly so that they can be released soon after the original.

The Exorcist was remade in Turkey for a tiny proportion of the original’s budget. This means that we get hilarious special effects, truly garish decors and the worst hairstyles ever committed to celluloid.

 

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But whilst we know what we’re getting this film is a true cult movie through and through. It might be cheap and tacky but its also what a lot of more expensive films struggle to be- utterly charming, engaging and a pleasure to watch.

Let me leave you with a question- would you rather watch a film like this or a Hollywood studio multiplex movie that has a budget of millions but also has characters you couldn’t care less about, an uninspired plot and CGI that makes the film look more like a computer game?

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I hope these Turkish remakes get restored and released on Blu ray. I’d buy them.

Day 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Day 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Whilst on holiday Virginia bumps into her old friend and one-time lesbian fumble, Bet. Virginia’s ‘friend’ Roger asks Bet to continue with them on their travels but whilst on the train the next day Virginia is angry at the attention Bet is getting from Roger who insists that he and Virginia are actually just travelling buddies and nothing more. Virginia decides to jump from the train when its moving slowly through a deserted town called Berzano. Bad move. Berzano is home to a medieval Satanic cult who many centuries before were killed for their religious beliefs and sacrificial practices. The eyes of the worshippers who were all hung were pecked out by birds. These blind devil worshippers now come out at night from their graves to hunt for the living to feast on.

And so begins this Amando Ossorio Spanish-Portugese gorefest that was made in 1972 and helped spearhead a resurgence in Spanish horror.

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This film is a cracker- great locations, a downbeat tone to proceedings and its pessimistic as all hell. Whenever something can go wrong it does and badly! Theres also a brilliant pace to the film with the viewer never being bored by any sequences. All killer, no filler.

Watch out for the character of the morgue keeper who takes great delight in showing the dead bodies of the recently deceased to those who have to identify their bodies. Theres also a hint that he does unspeakable things to the corpses in his spare time. He seems to love his work and way too much!

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A special mention to the costume people and hairstylist. The characters in this are dressed in the grooviest of 1970’s couture with all of the women having gorgeous ratted up hair. Perfect 70’s Euro horror.

Oh, and watch the original Spanish version called La Noche Del Terror Ciego. The American dubbed version has scenes of gore missing as is the flashback to Bet and Virginia getting all lesbianic with each other. Its also resequenced and not as good.

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An astounding film.

4.5 out of 5

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

I first learnt of this film’s existence by walking past a cinema at the tender age of 4 and seeing a poster for the double bill of this and a TV movie that was shown theatrically in the UK called The Savage Bees (to be reviewed tomorrow night). Even the poster for this genius double bill of terror fucked me up psychologically as I was obsessed with the idea of the villians of both films coming to get me when I was least expecting it.

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I finally saw The Incredible Melting Man years later on TV- and loved it. It harks back to the horror films made for drive-ins in the 1950s. The plot involves three astronauts going on an expedition to Saturn (“You’ve never seen anything til you’ve seen the Sun through the rings of Saturn”). But something goes wrong and the only surviving astronaut, Steve West comes back to Earth to find that his body is slowly melting. We find out that to slow this down Steve who is now insane, must consume human flesh to decelerate the decomposing process.

This film is ripe for people to call it ‘so bad its good’ as if its absolutely terrible. It isn’t- and not by a long chalk.

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Yes, sometimes the acting is a little, erm, natural shall we say (the actress who plays the mother who stops off to steal lemons reminded me of Edith Massey from John Waters’ films. Yes, her acting is that raw!).

But theres also some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen which were crafted by a young Rick Baker. Yes, the Rick Baker who won seven Oscars (take that cinema elitists). The melting effects are very aesthetically pleasing and the scenes in which El Melto sheds an eyeball and leaves his oozing ear on a bush have to be seen to be believed. Watching a severed head splat on a rock after going down a waterfall in slow motion is also a beautiful sight for horror fans.

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Theres also a cameo by a young Jonathan Demme as the boyfriend of a teenage girl played by none other than Janus Blythe who played Ruby in The Hills Have Eyes. Her performance is brilliant. I love any character that goes mad at the horror of what has just occurred. She does a great job with her character alternately crying and laughing manically.

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But theres also a greater depth to this film. There are many scenes of West walking up and down hillsides with the sun setting behind him and with the sounds from the expedition in his head. These scenes show Steve to be completely alone and nomadic. West is a melting freak but not through choice and is so grotesque that he’s utterly ostracised and feels completely separated from the rest of the human race. These sequences reminded me of the melancholic piano music at the end of each episode of The Incredible Hulk or the underlying sadness to the TV programme The Littlest Hobo. The audience feels pity for West and his condition rather than his character being a two-dimensional grotesque baddie with no other sides to his persona.

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Theres also a heartbreaking scene wherein Steve reaches a barrel of water on his wanderings and sees his reflection that makes him cry out and place his head in his heads.

This film also possesses a scene which is the hallmark of a really fucked up movie- someone runs through glass. A nurse runs through a plate glass door after seeing Steve’s face when he removes his bandages for the first time. If this ‘running/throwing yourself through glass’ scene is in a film you know its special and that you’re watching high art. The scene appears twice in Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), twice in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and once in Halloween 2 (1981)- all great, fucked up pieces of cinema.

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Any film that features the lead character melt in a great big pool of ooze at the end and is then seen being swept up and placed into a trash can by a janitor is A-OK with me.

The next time someone tells you that The Incredible Melting Man is one of the worst movies ever made tell them to fuck off. They wouldn’t know great entertainment if they fell over it.

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

A gorgeous slice of Ozploitation that is extremely well made, acted and written. A young man named Patrick is in a coma after killing his parents three years earlier. A new nurse named Kathie has been assigned to tend to him and they strike up a relationship through a typewriter that Patrick can telekinetically control and through the only bodily function that Patrick can control- his ability to spit (one for yes, two for no). Strange things start to happen in Kathie’s life regarding the husband shes recently separated from and the doctor shes just started seeing. Could Patrick be responsible?

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I love a movie in which the lead character is in a coma but strangely gives a great performance in that state. In fact all of the cast are great and if you’re a fan of Australian TV then you should be able to recognise most of the actors. I recognised the actors who played Captain Barton the Salvo Army man, Evelyn Randell and Irene Zervos from Prisoner Cell Block H.

The setting of the sinister hospital wouldn’t be out of place in an early Cronenberg film. The building seems to constitute another character in this film and a very foreboding one.

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This is a favourite film of Quentin Tarantino, fact fans.

4.5 out of 5