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*

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

This entry into the taboo ‘killer kid’ horror sub-genre involves 9 year old Mikey. The first scene shows him slaughtering his entire adoptive family (yes, really) in one fell swoop. Whats more, hes videotaped the whole thing for his later entertainment. Mikey is found hiding in a closet by the police officers investigating who could have done this. After fobbing them off with a fake description of the perpetrator he is then placed up for adoption.

The majority of the film is centred around Mikey’s new life with his new family. He starts out by looking every bit the model angelic child but then red flags start to appear. Then the number of ‘accidents’ and casualties starts to grow.

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The power of this film is that it was filmed and feels like a TV movie. It adheres to this genre’s conventions but subverts it because of it’s controversial subject matter. This juxtaposition works amazingly well especially as the film pulls no punches when it comes to the truly sadistic and brutal deeds of it’s central character. The performance of Brian Bonsall is pitch perfect as the psychopathic child. It’s also great to see Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser fame make an appearance as Mikey’s concerned teacher.

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This film was actually made for the ‘straight to video’ market in the US but was then to be released theatrically in the UK. The film was submitted for a certificate to the BBFC and was awarded an 18 cert in November 1992. But then things took an unexpected turn. The abduction of toddler James Bulger by two other children dominated the news in February of the next year and the media was stating how horror films and specifically home videos must be the cause. A number of films that had been released were targetted with Childs Play 3 taking most of the blame. The Daily Mail (who else) noted how Mikey was a future release and involved a child killer. Surely this couldn’t be released now, could it, they opined.  Head of the BBFC, James Ferman then took the unprecedented step of taking back the 18 certificate that had been granted to Mikey and banning it outright. It’s hard to believe that this happened but it did. Mikey was resubmitted for a certificate in 1996 but was rejected. The film is still banned in the UK.

BUT, it’s on YouTube.

4 out of 5 stars

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 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Day 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

This film was actually made in 1986 (although I’ve read it was actually shot in 1985) but not released until 1990 as there were censorship problems as to the graphic nature of the film’s proceedings.

The film is loosely based on the lives of real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.

Henry lives with Otis. They both met in prison when Henry was serving a sentence for murdering his mother. Otis’ sister comes to stay with them and instantly falls for Henry. Peppered throughout the film are random victims of Henry shown in differing locales and killed using differing methods. Henry continues to kill but we start to see the involvement of Otis. There is even a scene in which Henry passes down his wisdom regarding serial murder to Otis. Henry now has a new partner in crime. Or does he?

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The first time I heard about this film was on a TV review show which had celebrities talking about new media. Malcolm McLaren was chosen to watch and talk about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and had said that it was so shocking that he hadn’t slept since seeing it! The ultimate recommendation for a horror movie.

The first time I actually got to see the film was when it was released on video in 1990 in the UK. However Henry’s butchery wasn’t the only I was to witness but also that of the BBFC. They had a massive issue with the scene in which one of the random victims is shown to be a dead naked woman sat on the toilet with a broken bottle in her mouth and the home invasion that Henry and Otis not only commit but also film on a camcorder. The film is now uncut in the UK and common sense has prevailed.

Henry feels more like a grimy, gritty documentary which was shot by a silent conspirator rather than a glossy, polished Hollywood film in which the police arrest the assailants at the end. There are no police in Henry as the transient main character moves on and the killings seemingly continue.

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The arrival of this film signified a major new hallmark in the horror genre as this film was so brilliant executed (pun not intended), directed and acted. I can’t imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Henry other than Michael Rooker. He performs the central character with a very strange, very unsettling disconnect and utter lack of emotion, almost like he has a forcefield around him. Tom Towles needs mentioning also as the sleazy, rat-like Otis. Try and watch his performance without your skin crawling.

A perfect film that was in fact lauded by critics including Siskel and Ebert (yes you read that right! They praised the film whilst taking the opportunity to further criticise the Friday the 13th films. Bore off!) I remember at the time of GoodFellas reading a Martin Scorsese interview in which he said that the film had seriously disturbed him too and that it thought it was amazing. The film was so loved by critics that it was a film which helped with the introduction of a new classification for the MPAA. That classification was NC-17 (it had been suggested that the new certification would be A for Arthouse- films that were felt to be of artistic merit but somewhat violent and/or sexual). However NC-17 replaced the old X rating and the stigma remained. Some cinemas still won’t show NC-17 films, some newspapers won’t advertise these films either.

The film has now been restored with the gorgeous looking and sounding 4K print being released on Blu ray. Now thats karma. Lets hope theres a similar karma when it comes to the MPAA’s ratings system.

An outstanding film. 5 out of 5.

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Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer 4K Restoration Confirmed

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer 4K Restoration Confirmed

Dark Sky have just confirmed that Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer to get the 4K treatment.

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Over at Bluray.com its quoted that ‘In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer returns with a thrilling, cinematic presentation that cements its reputation as one of the most harrowing and original American films of all time. Dark Sky Films, a division of MPI Media Group, proudly presents it in a brand-new 4K scan and restoration from the 16mm original camera negatives, and featuring a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mag reels, all approved by director John McNaughton.’

There is a limited cinema release before the Bluray release also.