31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

Martin is by filmmaker George A Romero and was his favourite film from his oeuvre.

Martin is a young man who we see travelling by train to Braddock in Pittsburgh to live with his elderly cousin, Tata Cuda who seems convinced that Martin is the latest in a long line of vampires (‘the family curse’).

The film centres around whether Martin is actually a vampire or if he is just a very confused young man suffering from a severe neurosis and only commits his bloodthirsty acts because of a self fulfiling prophecy.

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In fact the film constantly makes reference to Martin proving that there is ‘no magic’ in the world and that the conventions surrounding vampirism (many inherited from books and films) are untrue and so disproving the myth.

On the train journey over to Pittsburgh we see Martin sedate a woman, making love to her naked body before slashing her arm and drinking her blood. This very sequence shows how Martin accomplishes his ‘vampiric’ impulses. Instead of the well established tropes of hypnosis, fangs etc we see Martin use modern implements such as injections, chemical suppressants and razor blades. He has more in common with a rapist/serial killer than a ‘Nosferatu’. The woman as she is becoming subdued even refers to Martin as a ‘rapist asshole’.

It’s just before Martin enters his victim’s train compartment that he has a vision (in black and white) of how his prey will greet him- reaching out to receive him whilst looking beautiful and seductive. In reality when she is seen leaving the bathroom after being sat on the toilet, her face grotesquely covered in a green face pack and blowing her nose- the exact opposite of the vision Martin had just prior. Martin has a few of these visions throughout the film- are they actually age-old memories (suggesting that he is a vampire) or are they imaginings that he has gleaned from books and films but has confused with memories as part of his brainwashing?

There are other examples of Martin disproving the conventions of the vampire legend. When he arrives at Tata’s house he sees that there is garlic nailed to both Tata’s and Cuda’s granddaughter’s bedroom door. Martin rips this off and takes a bite into a clove to prove to his cousin that this myth isn’t real. He also takes a crucifix from Tata’s hand and rubs it against his own face to prove the same thing- ‘there is no magic. Not ever’.

After Cuda employs an older priest to carry out a makeshift exorcism, Martin appears in front of Cuda dressed as a vampire resplendent with cloak, fangs and make-up. He then spits out the plastic fangs and wipes the white pan-stick from his face to show that this is just a costume. Again, the reality disproving the illusion.

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After interactions with people who treat Martin as a human being (the bored housewife he makes deliveries to, Tata’s granddaughter), instead of some kind of age old Dracula from ‘the old country’, he seems to curtail his bloody excursions and finds that instead of murdering he ‘just lets people go’.

Another aspect of reality that Martin observes is the truth beneath the illusion of the all-smiling American family that permeates advertising. It’s the couples in the film that have the most affluence and comfortable lives who seem the unhappiest and are either having affairs (the couple Martin invades the home of- only the female inhabitant of the house isn’t in bed with her husband) or completely alienated, misunderstood and unfulfilled (Mrs Santini).

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Braddock also provides a harsh reminder of reality. It’s working class, shabby and down at heel. The once active steel mills that were the town’s bread and butter have long since closed down leaving a town to slowly die and rot.

Far from being the villain or monster of a horror film, Martin himself earns nothing but the audience’s sympathy. He’s more like a victim of circumstance, even when we see the crimes he commits.

As you can guess, theres so much to analyse and, in fact, cherish with this film. This is a film with many layers that presumes that it’s audience have the intelligence to make up their own minds as to whether Martin is a vampire or not.

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Original newspaper ad for the Leeds cinema release of ‘Martin’

I first saw this film when it was shown on Channel 4 here in the UK in the mid-80’s. It’s so poignant that it has stayed with me ever since and even with regular viewings it loses none of it’s charm, brilliance or innovation. In fact, with every viewing theres something new that I missed previously.

This may be a small budget film but it feels like Romero gained from this rather than letting it detract from the film and it’s production. Romero and crew just used their ingenuity to overcome any limitations and work around them and it works beautifully. Martin feels intimate and personal as a film.

Romero’s original cut of this film was significantly longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours and was completely in black and white. Only one copy of this version ever existed and mysteriously went missing from Romero’s office many moons ago.

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This film should be readily available on Blu ray but apparently there are, ahem, ‘rights issues’ that prevent a definitive version of this or Dawn of the Dead being issued on a restored Blu ray. Criterion or Scream Factory could give this masterpiece the treatment it richly deserves. Let’s hope these ‘issues’ are resolved soon so that these glittering jewels of the horror genre can be widely accessible and enjoyed further.

Another great component of the film is the soundtrack by Donald Rubinstein. A few years back this was reissued on CD and is currently on iTunes. The music is just as haunting as the film itself.

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The pop group Soft Cell wrote a song (also called ‘Martin’) based on the film which is very faithful to the movie’s narrative and is just as brilliant as the film. There are even snatches of the film’s soundtrack used on the song. Check it out here.

Martin is a peach of a movie. In fact, it’s a masterpiece just like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

5 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

A family rent a huge house for the summer from it’s brother and sister owners who have one condition for the rental- that their elderly mother stays in the house and they provide her with meals. Things then start to go crazy for the new inhabitants and it’s almost as if the house is alive and playing with their minds just for it’s own amusement (I hate it when houses do that). The family members start to act very differently to how they would normally as if the darkest parts of their psyches are being brought to the fore.

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The genre of a house as a living being and force of evil can either work really well or can come across as very cliched and tired. Burnt Offerings does both. The big scares feel a bit overplayed and done better elsewhere especially after having seen the genre changing horror of The Shining on one end of the spectrum and the unabashed popcorn cheesiness of The Amityville Horror. But Burnt Offerings has smaller, more subtle scares that work brilliantly well. Check out the scene when Marian sees the family portraits for the first time or when Ben, taking a break from gardening, suddenly sees a pallbearer arriving in a hearse at the house.

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It’s a shame that the film is such a mixed bag rather than being consistently brilliant as the cast (Burgess Meredith! Oliver Reed!! Karen Black!!! BETTE FUCKING DAVIS!!!!) reads like a wishlist of crazy brilliance who would work amazingly well together in a 70’s horror film. Davis especially is wasted in her role as she doesn’t have enough to do although wearing floral polyester prints and being Bette Davis comes close. I think it’s also because she’s playing a nice character. She disappears halfway through the film as if she had better things to do than last until the closing credits in some mediocre 70’s horror flick.

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Even though there are slow moments and the film could be so much better, the ending of the film is completely crazy, gory and genuinely unsettling. If you make it through to the last five minutes you will be richly rewarded.

The look of Burnt Offerings is beautiful. It’s almost as if the whole film was filmed with a veil of mist in front of the camera.

Fun fact- The location used for the house was later used in the horror masterpiece Phantasm. The photos below show the house in Burnt Offerings, Phantasm and as it is today.

So, a film with interesting moments but not enough to fill 90 minutes. But stick around for the ending- it’s a corker!

2 out of 5 stars

 

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

 

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