Review- The Night Visitor (1971) ****

Review- The Night Visitor (1971) ****

This Swedish thriller was long thought to be lost. I’m glad it’s now newly discovered and released on Blu ray.

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It tells the tale of a mental institution resident who is thought to have escaped to take revenge on the people involved in his case who forced him to plead insanity. But if he escaped, how did he do it as it seems impossible? Also, doesn’t returning back to the asylum after he has committed the crime just as impossible?

Max Von Sydow plays Salem, the criminal in question and is (predictably) brilliant in the lead. In fact, all of the actors are fantastic with great support from acting heavyweights such as Liv Ullman and Trevor Howard. Theres even a small supporting role by Gretchen Franklin- Ethel Skinner (from 1980’s episodes of EastEnders) herself! No sign of her Willie though (but there is a parrot).

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The locales are gorgeous and provide a very picturesque backdrop to the film’s events whether it be the large imposing monolith of the institution or the gorgeous snow-laden villages that Salem escapes to.

The ending is unexpected and completely from left-field. No wonder the film ends with Salem laughing at the absurdity of it.

A low key delight.

4 out of 5 stars

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Monkey Shines

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When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.

This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.

A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.

The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.

9. The Stepfather

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Henry Morrison is a chameleon like serial killer who assumes an identity, invades a chosen family and then decimates it. We see him change his identity, leave the family home within which hes killed all of the family members (their bodies are still strewn around) and go off to repeat the whole process again.

He picks a widow with a teenaged daughter and worms his way in again.

The Stepfather felt like it was part of a new trend in horror- films that were polished, brilliantly made but very, very violent. It feels so raw and brutal that it makes for uncomfortable viewing especially when you find out that the film is based on a true story. John List had killed his family, cleaned up the murder scene (their house), told neighbours that his family were going away for a while and then vanished. He had even cut himself out of all of the family photographs. Brian Garfield based The Stepfather on this true life case.

There is deft direction, great performances all round but especially from Terry O’Quinn as the central character. And what a performance! It’s one of the most unnerved, deranged and fucked up turns I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, it’s up there with Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. It’s that crazy! Also, watch for all of the nuances to his performance and his OCD obsession with everything being ordered and regimented.

Theres also something deeply disturbing about seeing these violent acts being carried out in a home that is so perfect that it looks like it’s from the world of advertising.

This relatively low-key film’s reputation has snowballed over the years and is now regarded as a cult classic.

The Stepfather’s director went on to make a film even more controversial- The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin.

8. The Stuff

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A white goo is found to be bubbling out of the ground by workers. It’s found to be edible, sweet and highly addictive. The yoghurt like substance is then branded as The Stuff, sold and marketed. It sells like hot cakes as it’s sweet, highly addictive and, most importantly, has no calories! But, unfortunately, The Stuff is actually a living, toxic and parasitic organism that turns it’s consumers into zombies before eating them from the inside.

Because of The Stuff and it’s success, sales of ice cream are affected to such an extent that former FBI agent David ‘Mo’ Rutherford is hired by confectionary industry insider Charles Hobbs to find out exactly what The Stuff is and how it’s success can be sabotaged. Rutherford also teams up with a young boy called Jason who sees that The Stuff is actually alive and the dangerous addictive effects it can have. I love the part of the film where Jason becomes to a one-man army against The Stuff, attacking displays in local supermarkets and smashing glass freezers that contain the product.

This film is not just a really effective horror film but is also very humorous and also a very perceptive satire on advertising, consumerism and even the military (Paul Sorvino stars as a retired Colonel who leads a squad to battle the zombies and destroy the product using brute force). Its very telling that when the workers discover the goo bubbling up from the ground they instinctively want to taste it.

I love the adverts we see for The Stuff as well as it’s logo and packaging. The film is so perceptive and accurate that it feels like this could actually happen! Dollars and pounds are more important to corporations and capitalism over humanity and safety.

A great film from the great Larry Cohen.

7. Intruder

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A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.

What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?

This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.

This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.

There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.

Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.

6. Cujo

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Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.

A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.

The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.

But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.

There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.

It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.

Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.

When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.

5. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter

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When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)

Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.

What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.

We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout  when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.

We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.

Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).

The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.

After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.

But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.

4. The Evil Dead

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Young friends persevere to make a horror film, get it finished and then get it distributed. Their new distributor has a hand in the new Cannes Film Festival and shows the film there. Stephen King just happens to see the film, raves about it and suddenly the movie starts to garner press and accolades. King’s endorsement was used in the film’s advertising and helped to get the film distributed worldwide.

But whilst everything was going well, a moral panic in the UK deems the film as ‘obscene’ (even though lead protestor and busybody Mary Whitehouse admits to never having seen the film (!) as she ‘didn’t need to’) which led to it being banned. The fact that it received an X rating in the US (the kiss of death of most cinemas now wouldn’t show it and most newspapers wouldn’t carry ads for the film) didn’t help matters either.

So, is The Evil Dead the most depraved, ugly and vile film ever made? Of course not. I first saw the film quite by chance. The film had been banned on video in the UK but one of my older brother’s friends was the daughter of the owner of one of our local video shops. During the ‘Video Nasties’ furore video shop owners were sent lists of films that had just been banned and instructed where to send these films back to. My friend’s father knew that a lot of business owners weren’t complying with this and more importantly, this wilful non compliance wasn’t being followed up on or leading to more serious repercussions later on. So, he didn’t send the films back and instead she brought The Evil Dead to our house when I was about 9 years old. And look at me! It did me no harm whatsoever…

The thing that struck me the most about the film was it’s comic book humour, cine literacy and the sheer innovation to make things work even though the filmmakers had a tiny budget.

Yes the film is still scary and brutal (the woods rape scene is very close to the edge still and feels out of place in the film. Sam Raimi the director said he wouldn’t include it if he was making the film today). But it’s also very funny and surreal in equal part. An example- when one of the characters is stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, the blood doesn’t splatter or gush out as would happen in real life. It pours out like a tap has been switched on resplendent with a sound effect of water being poured for good measure. The film disorientates and leaves the audience feeling dazed and confused but in a very novel way. This is especially evident in the latter part of the film which finds the last man standing, Ash on his own, his mind playing tricks on him through fear and disbelief. But the situation he finds himself in is also to blame with the ancient evil that has been unleashed completely changing the logic of his known world and making it a dark and lethal place. Check out the surreal sequence in which blood starts pouring out of every place it can pour out of within the cabin, including into the inside of lightbulbs! As Stephen King said when he sang the film’s praises, The Evil Dead made him look at films and what a film can convey in a completely different way.

If this was a comic (and theres plenty of comic-book devices within the movie) it would most probably be an EC Comic- fantastical, exaggerated and ghoulish all at once.

Originality, innovation and subversion are why The Evil Dead is my favourite movie of 1981.

3. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

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I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.

Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believeable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.

The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to it’s advantage.

Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8 year old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.

2. The Fog

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One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.

And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.

It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.

Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).

The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.

All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.

1 Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

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I first heard of this film in 1991 when Malcolm McLaren reviewed it on a Channel 4 arts show. I thought Mr McLaren would act all edgy and say that the film was very tame and didn’t affect him at all. How wrong I was! He said that he had seen the film 3 days previously to review it and hadn’t slept since! It had scared the shit out of him and that it was like he had watched a documentary rather than an actual motion picture. As soon as I heard him say this I knew I had to see this film (although with a title like this I was bound to see it anyway).

The film was released on video in the UK after being massively cut by the BBFC but it still remained a harrowing, powerful piece of work, the likes of which hadn’t been seen by film audiences before. It really was like we had fly on the wall access to serial killer Henry and his prison pal Otis (based on the real life Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who were actually a couple in reality but not within the parameters of this film) as Henry coerces (not that he needs much coercion) Otis into killing and passes down his wisdom to him regarding topics such as Modus Operandi and not getting caught. Henry also outlines some of his philosophy regarding what murder is like (‘It’s always the same and it’s always different’).

The film is peppered with unexpected intervals whereby we’ll suddenly see one of Henry’s victims just after he has killed them- the woman slumped on a toilet, her top pulled down to show her breasts, suspenders and stockings also on view with a broken bottle protruding from her maimed, mutilated bloody mouth. Or the Mom and Pop in a general store both shot dead. Or the dead naked woman’s body floating face down in a lake. These intervals are also accompanied by their respective screams. We also see other clues as to Henry’s crimes. The hitchhiker he picks up who is clutching an acoustic guitar in a case which Henry later brings into the kitchen where Otis and Becky (Otis’ sister who comes to stay with them) are sat. When asked where he got it from he just says he ‘picked it up’. Theres also the scene later on in the film where he offers to take Becky out for a steak dinner as he has a new Visa card he wants to try out. ‘You have a Visa card?!’ Becky laughs to which he responds ‘Who do you think you’re associating with?!’ It’s not explicitly stated where Henry has received this credit card from but it can be reasonably guessed.

We even get to see the stalking of a woman Henry has seen in a shopping mall car park, as he follows her to her suburban home. On seeing that her partner meets her to unpack her shopping, he drives away. But on being instructed to keep the canister of bug spray from his former job by his boss, he uses this prop to go to the woman’s house on a later occasion and finish what he had hoped to do earlier. We don’t see the murder but we get to see the aftermath. As cartoons play on a TV screen, we see her dead on the couch, a length of cord around her throat, cigarette burns on her chest.

And then there are the murders that take place on screen. These include the homosexual guy who stops for Henry and Otis’ (fake) car breakdown, the sleazy and sarcastic (but very funny) TV salesman who finds a TV actually being brought down on his head screen-first (‘Plug it in’ Henry tells Otis, providing the film with a scene of gallows humour. This sick and unintentional comedy peppers the film just like the bloody intervals revealing Henry’s victims do. More on this bleak humour later), the pair of prostitutes they have rented with Henry breaking both of their necks to the astonishment and dismay of Otis.

And then there is the home invasion scene that was and still is the bane of many film classification boards the world over and one of the most notorious scenes in the history of film. Henry and Otis break into a home whilst the family are enjoying an otherwise quiet night in. Otis is seen fondling a woman sat on his lap but whilst she is desperately try to get away, Otis holds her arms behind her back so that she can’t. Henry is seen kicking her male partner who is tied up, has a bag over his head and is on the floor at Henry’s feet. Henry is also filming the whole incident on a camcorder taken from the TV salesman they killed earlier. As all of this is going on, the front door suddenly opens and a ten year old boy walks in, sees whats going on and makes a bolt for the door again to notify someone. He doesn’t make it though as Henry beats him to it, tackles him to the floor and breaks his neck. Otis breaks the neck of the woman on his lap and is just about to sexually abuse her further when Henry tells him not to. We then see that the action is actually being watched by both men on their TV whilst they sit on a couch in their apartment. They are watching the incident for pleasure.

Becky is coming to stay with them as she is running away from her abusive husband. During her stay with her brother and Henry, she will slowly fall for Henry. She will also reveal details of her own backstory over a game of cards with him- the abuse she received at the hands of her father, the fact that she only got into a relationship with her violent husband Leroy so that she could escape her Dad. Otis had previously mentioned to Becky that he had met Henry in the jug and that Henry was there for killing his Mama. He also demands that Becky doesn’t mention it to Henry which, of course, she does. Henry tells her about it, how his mother was a whore, how she’d make him sometimes wear a dress and watch as her and her male friends had sex and then after the deed they would sit and laugh at him. The fact that he gets the method he used to kill his Mama wrong says so much. Henry also details other aspects of his upbringing- his father who was a great man before he lost his legs, the bicycles that his father gave him and his brother that were too big but were sold before he had time to grow to be able to use it properly, the brother who had ‘bone disorder’ and was deformed.

The film isn’t the quagmire of depravity that the film’s reputation suggests. There is some great black comedy within the film with the ‘Plug it in’ scene highlighted earlier being one of them. One such happens when Henry breaks the necks of two prostitutes in quick succession. On seeing Henry killing for the first time and not even knowing that he was capable of something like that, Otis’ face changes to one of disbelief of almost comic proportions with him almost looking into the camera at the audience and breaking the fourth wall. It bizarrely provides a laugh for the audience in the bleakest of situations. In fact, Otis is also a great source of humour in other scenes in the film. On picking Becky up from the airport, she has a huge suitcase and a paper bag with her belongings in them. Otis chooses the paper bag to carry and leaves her to struggle with the suitcase.  On driving to his apartment, he asks her about her husband Leroy. When she gets upset and says she doesn’t want to talk about him anymore he agrees and asks if shes hungry and wants something to eat. There’s then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.

Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.

A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.

The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.

I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).

A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Rabid Grannies

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A group of relatives meet to celebrate their elderly relations birthday (but have disclosed that they are only there so that they may be left something in the old duck’s inheritances when they pop their clogs). A black-sheep nephew of the octogenarians who practices the black arts has been excluded from proceedings but sends a supernatural gift that turns the lovable grandmas into evil, homicidal maniacs. Fun ensues.

This film is from Troma (of course). Within this Belgian horror film, the gore and blood flow and there is also a delectable sick strain of humour at play that make the film feel like no other movie I think I’ve ever seen.

Demented, wickedly funny and one of a kind.

9. The Blob

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A remake of the Steve McQueen classic. A meteorite emits a strange pink goo type substance that is in fact alive, harmful to humans and intent on wreaking havoc. It seems to be completely sentient. This 80’s version determines the slime as in fact, a biological weapon that was sent into space after being concocted by scientists on Earth rather than being an alien entity.

By 1988 when this remake was made, special effects had progressed at such a dizzying pace that it was felt that anything was possible. Director Chuck Russell takes full advantage of this with not only The Blob doing things onscreen that could only have been dreamt of in the original film. Also, the blob itself looks aesthetically beautiful, akin to a huge oozing mass of pink bubble gum.

Kevin Dillon is certainly no Steve McQueen (but, to be fair, no one is) and this remake doesn’t have the amazing theme song that the original had, but as a special effects laden 1980’s remake this film more than accomplishes (and with real panache) what it aims to do.

8. Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood

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This film is basically Jason vs Carrie as one of the latest crop of teens has telekinesis. Whats more she’s accidentally awakened Jason who was chained beneath Crystal Lake thanks to Tommy Jarvis in the previous film.

This was the first film with Kane Hodder as Jason. He seems completely at home right off the bat with his first inhabitation of the role displaying a real flare and strutting confidence.

We get some great kills, some great moments of sly humour (but not the amount of meta-humour synonymous with Part 6) and a fantastic final confrontation. We also get some of the finest helmet hair ever captured on film, with ‘do’s’ so severe that they very possibly could be just as bad (if not worse) than any of the atrocities committed by Jason.

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There are also some great character archetypes that the film hams up to- the bitch, the evil doctor, the ugly duckling. There’s a shrewdness to proceedings that is really enjoyable and helps pull this entry out of being just a generic late 80’s slasher movie.

But there were also other, more radical ideas being pushed forward when this movie was being mooted. Barbara Sachs, a Paramount producer wanted this movie to be the one Friday that was seen as being ‘arty’ and wanted it to even be in the running when the Academy Awards came around. Seriously! At one point there were even mutterings of trying to attach a director of (previous) high standing to the film with one possible nominee being Fellini. Yes, seriously!!!

This all came to nothing though as John Carl Buechler who had directed Troll was employed instead. He does a great job but the mind still boggles at the idea of Fellini directing proceedings and Jason going up to collect the Palme D’Or.

7. Child’s Play

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Another movie that kickstarted a brand new and very profitable horror franchise was Child’s Play.

Catherine Hicks plays a single mother who gives her young son Andy a new toy (named Chucky) akin to the old ‘My Buddy’, the awkwardly large doll for boys (!) from the 80’s.

Very early on this movie steers into dark waters. When Chucky starts killing people beginning with Maggie, Andy’s babysitter, the police make Andy the key suspect. The issue of killer kids is still a taboo and ironically one of the entries in this franchise would be linked to the real life case of the two killer kids who murdered James Bulger in 1993.

The doll scampering around to kill people looks and feels very sinister and uncomfortable as it looks like a child is actually committing all of these atrocities (a child was actually used to act as the killer doll). Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky is amazing as he shows that even when he isn’t on screen he can still light up a role.

A very good start to an inventive, funny and intelligent franchise.

6. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

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A film for everyone who finds clowns really sinister and scary (or sexy because of that).

A young couple are busy making out at Make Out Point when they see what looks likes like a falling star and so go to investigate. It’s there that they find, of all things, a circus tent. The alien beings in said tent all look like clowns but they aren’t here to fall over and entertain us. They hate humans and want to harvest us in bright pink cocoons. They also kill humans as witnessed by Deputy Sheriff Mooney who arrests one of them. It slaughters everyone else in the cell along with the deputy.

Fortunately the Sheriff proper realises that the Klowns are a serious threat to the entire town and sets out to stop them. Will he succeed or will they?

This film is by the Chiodo Brothers and is like a really brightly coloured acid trip with this startling vision having darker undertones beneath the surface. This is also one of those movies that has it’s own reality and an amazing vision that is fully and brilliantly conceived and realised by the filmmakers.

This film is now seen as a cult classic and I can fully see why. A sequel has been mooted for years. I hope it comes to fruition.

5. Maniac Cop

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A cop has supposedly gone psycho on the streets of New York which causes citywide panic and retribution with cops being shot or steered clear of by scared civilians. The main suspect is a policeman called Jack with another cop called McCrae diving deep into the case and trying to stop the killer as he doesn’t think Jack is responsible.

This is another film by William Lustig who made Maniac and Vigilante. With this movie he again comes up with the goods. Not only is this a cult film fan’s dream cast with Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree (not to mention cameos by Sam Raimi and Jake LaMotta who is Lustig’s uncle) but this is a great concept for a movie. It has plenty of tense night-time scenes on grimy, terrifying New York streets (a Lustig speciality). There’s also the genuine shock scene when Maniac Cop is revealed with the legend Robert Z’Dar and his awesome jaw coming to the fore.

Maniac Cop was cut by 5 secs by the BBFC when it was first released in the UK. This involved the shower scene that involved a stabbing and facial mutilation.

This film was followed by two more Maniac Cop movies.

4. Phantasm 2

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It was because of Phantasm 2 that I learnt of the first film. Barry Norman on his regular film review programme reviewed the movie and voiced the opinion that he didn’t even know there was a first Phantasm film. At that point I had to agree.

I rented Phantasm 2 before I got to see the first film and loved it. It was (like the first movie) unlike any other film I had ever seen, with bags of imagination and nothing over-explained. The film had a mysterious aura about it.

This film continued it’s exploration of the sinister and malevolent Tall Man with Mike from the original film (but played by a different actor) leaving the mental institution he was resident in after the events of the first film and returning to Morningside Cemetery where he starts exhuming graves. Just as he suspected, they are empty. This convinces Reggie (also from the original) to help Mike investigate further and try to stop The Tall Man.

A bigger budget, more ambitious visuals and more complex plotlines (there seems to be more of an emphasis on the psychic element that was just hinted at in the original film with the seer and her granddaughter) permeate this sequel. There are also more guns, action and gore with the spheres being given a redux and more murderous implements to kill with.

But theres still mystery, intelligence and innovation. And whats more, it’s still ingrained in this second film as it was in the first. The viewer is free to interpret events in this film and try to decide if they are actual or imagined.

Phantasm 2 is a very worthy sequel to a masterpiece.

3. Scarecrows

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Ever since I read about Scarecrows in an old issue of Gorezone I knew I had to see it. When I did finally see it, of course, it was cut by the BBFC. But even in this cut form it still made for a great film.

A plane full of mercenaries have stolen millions of dollars and are flying away to Mexico with their bounty. However, one of them swipes the loot and parachutes from the plane into a cornfield. Two others parachute after him to be joined by the others upon landing the plane. They all meet in a house adjoined to the field. They spot the loot which is in the field but what they don’t know is that they will have major problems retrieving it as the cornfield is home to three paranormal scarecrows who are actually alive and hate those who trespass onto their terrain.

This is a brooding, dark hued film which is perfect for such a dark and gory movie. The horror of the scarecrows is intensified by the way they have been lit with all of the action taking place at night. This lends a very sinister air to proceedings especially with the haunting locale of the nocturnal cornfield.

There’s also great characterisation with the backstory warranting it’s own prequel. The sense of mistrust and paranoia permeates the action and prepares the audience to expect the unexpected. This is no generic 80’s horror movie.

I finally saw the uncut version and it was well worth the wait. As was seeing the film on Blu ray after I first saw it on VHS all those years ago.

2. Dead Ringers

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More double crossing now with twins being perfectly suited for this.

This David Cronenberg movie stars Jeremy Irons as twin gynaecologists with one twin, the narcissistic Elliot, seducing and then discarding some of the women who come to their practice with his more submissive and introverted twin Beverly taking over from Elliot in the relationship but without the woman being aware of the substitution.

The twins carry out this abusive practice with actress Claire (Genevieve Bujold). But Beverly seriously falls for her and after beginning a relationship together, refuses to ‘share’ her with Elliot (which causes a serious rift in their relationship) and starts to share her addiction of prescription medication.

After she has lunch with one of her friends she learns that Beverly has a twin brother. This triggers earlier doubts she had had regarding Beverly and how differently he acted after their first dalliance together. She confronts Beverly about this and tells him that she knows what him and his twin have done.

After a reconciliation between Beverly and Claire, there is more drug use between the two before she leaves town to work on another film. With her gone, Beverly becomes depressed, starts taking more drugs and becomes obsessed with mutant women with abnormal genitalia.

Yes, there’s lots going on here! This couldn’t be more different from the plot to Friday the 13th Part 7 if it tried. This film was another example of Cronenberg going from strength to strength. Just as The Fly had been a huge hit without any sign of selling out or compromise (in other words it was just as gross as his earlier films!), Dead Ringers was Cronenberg’s most accomplished film to date. The plot had plenty of scope for his breed of body horror (check out the horrific women’s examination implements that are made for Beverly as he becomes more deranged and drug-addled), but this time it was his most polished film with a stellar and VERY well respected cast. Cronenberg aimed high with this project and asked Robert De Niro to play the twins but was turned down. He also asked William Hurt but he wasn’t comfortable playing twins. Jeremy Irons has a formidable reputation, rises to this challenge and does an amazing job. His mix of equal parts refinement and derangement was perfect for this role. Genevieve Bujold was another actor of undeniable class who was perfectly cast as Claire.

The critics almost universally threw bouquets at Cronenberg’s feet with this film. It was intelligent, perfectly realised and gorgeous to boot with the subject matter being pure Cronenberg. Many critics and fans think this is his best film. They may be right.

1 Monkey Shines

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When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.

This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.

A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.

The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

There is a video regarding this article here.

10. Twilight Zone: The Movie

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An anthology of separate short films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller and John Landis.

This homage to the original Twilight Zone TV series much loved by both television and horror fans works really well as the spirit of the series is kept intact but advanced into the 80’s and given the budget afforded to a big Hollywood film. It means the scope of the ideas is expanded immeasureably.

My favourite segment is undoubtably Dante’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ which blew my mind when I saw it as child and still blows my mind now. It’s akin to taking acid whilst watching Looney Toons cartoons alongside The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I will be forever haunted by the girl with no mouth and the giant eyeball.

All of the segments are amazing but there is an added poignancy to the Landis directed ‘Time Out’ as Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children who weren’t working under acting rules in California were killed in a scene involving a helicopter.

The sequences that bookend the main segments are just as good as the main content of the film.

This film was such a hit that the old TV series was relaunched.

9. The Keep

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Warning- this is a Michael Mann so expect stylisation to be turned up to eleven.

‘Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from it’s prison’ is how the plot for this film is described on IMDB. I was dreading providing a plot summary for this film as, even though I’ve seen it plenty of times, I still don’t know what the fuck is going on during much of it’s running time.

This seems to be a film more concerned with taking the viewer on an incredible journey rather than presenting a linear and clear narrative. And that’s absolutely fine if there is intelligence and substance to proceedings. And The Keep is such a film.

You will never see another film like this again, it truly is a completely unique experience, a feast for the senses and will have your noggin a-joggin’.

This was a very troubled production and apparently a much longer cut exists that would be perfect for a Blu ray release. The film’s detractors would possibly compare this to rolling their eyeballs in grit but I’d love such a release. There are many others who share my view too.

8. Curtains

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This Canuxploitation flick started as a low-key hidden gem that over the years has come to prominence through word of mouth and more and more fan raves. If it wasn’t for the internet this film may still have remained buried.

Method actress Samantha has herself committed to a local asylum to properly research for the forthcoming role in a film in which her character is mentally unstable. However, when she is committed she is left to rot in the nuthouse by the film’s director Jonathan who decides to audition other actresses for the role whilst shes out of the way.

Samantha realises what has happened, wants to enact revenge and so escapes from the mental facility. Five other hopefuls arrive at Jonathan’s mansion to audition for the role. But then strange, grisly things start to happen.

This film is highly original (the plot for one), has some wonderful twists and turns with a keen eye for skillful and quirky direction. The sequence in which the killer ice skates over to her latest victim is both extremely disturbing (the killer’s mask is something resembling a hagged old woman’s face and is a sure entry into the Horror Mask Hall of Fame). The fact that a scythe is being brandished and that the killer is skating emphasises the surreality and nightmarish quality to it. This scene is also a triumph of skilful direction and editing.

A newly acknowledged classic that deserves it’s place in the very best of the 80’s.

7. Psycho 2

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Just like a sequel being made for Halloween, making a follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho would require balls of steel.

And just like Halloween 2, this movie isn’t as good as the original (naturally) but it’s still a great film. Everyone’s favourite Mother’s Boy and psychologist’s wet dream, Norman Bates is set free from the mental facility he has been a resident of since the end of the previous film. He has been classed as fully rehabilitated and no longer a threat to the people outside the asylum and so is free to go. But Marion Crane’s sister Lila isn’t happy about this and wants Norman to return to his padded cell.

We see Norman take a job as a short-order diner chef after kicking out Dennis Franz’s sleazy creep who has turned The Bates Motel into the kind of place where rooms are rented by the hour and fake names are written in the register.

We then see strange things start to happen like Norman finding notes left by his ‘Mother’ who, of course, has been dead for years. After one of Norman’s colleagues from the diner, Mary moves into the Bates House even stranger and unnerving things start to happen. Is Norman losing his grip on sanity once more or is someone gaslighting him to think he is?

A great cast help this sequel immeasurably, as do great cinematography (Dean Cundey strikes again) and brilliant directorial flourishes care of Tom Holland who took on the job. The film also has a feel to it that feels completely different to the first film but very gritty and claustrophobic.

Theres also one of the most unexpected and brilliant endings I’ve ever seen. Freud would have a field day with this scene and what it represents.

6. The Lift

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This Dutch film is about a killer lift. Yes, really.

The lift in question is checked over by a repairman, Felix after it fails to open up when power returns to it after a storm has caused a power failure and people were trapped inside. When the lift still continues to malfunction, Felix starts to dig deeper and sees that a corporation called Rising Sun are connected with the lift company and suspects that they may be up to no good after investigating them in old back copies of local newspapers.

Lifts have always provoked fear in people and this film fully exploits this. We see people trapped in the lift- and worse! One unfortunate person gets his head stuck in the doors of the lift. But this film also has it’s tongue planted in it’s cheek. Watch the sequence where the lift interacts with the little girl and scares her just for the hell of it.

I also love the fact that the hero of this film is a humble, blue collar lift repairman. I also love that they sought to flesh out his character more. His wife thinks hes having an affair as he’s so obsessed with the lift that he spends inordinate amounts of time there. She even leaves him and takes their children with them.

In the second part of the film we see that the lift develops it’s own mind and so won’t be shut down or will try to kill those who try it switch it off. This is very Terminator-esque.

On top of all of this the film gives us a real flavour as to what Dutch life was like in the 1980’s and it’s beautiful and very conducive to being photographed on film.

The lift itself is also coloured beautifully with the inside of the small space being lit to emphasise it’s claustrophobia and demonic intent. Who would have known that a film that sounds like the most whimsical piece of fluff ever would in fact be this entertaining and well made?

5. Videodrome

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Max Renn (James Woods) is the CEO of Civic TV, a production company making base level, rating grabbing programmes. He is then shown a new show called Videodrome, a show that transmits violent S&M sex and murder of it’s participants. Max starts to transmit the show. He then becomes involved with Nicki (Debbie Harry) who gets aroused by the episode of Videodrome that she sees and goes to audition for it. But then she doesn’t return! Max then investigates further as to what has happened to her and tries to know more about the mysterious Videodrome and learns of someone called Brian O’Blivion who knows all about it. Max then goes to meet him when he learns that he is in a local homeless shelter. Max then finds himself falling down a very strange and warped rabbit hole!

It’s almost impossible to make a synopsis of Videodrome’s plot without thinking ‘WTF?!’ It’s not only the narrative that is extreme with this film, but also the visuals and the themes of just how far entertainment is willing to go and how far the audience is willing to go to satisfy their needs.

The visuals have to be seen to be believed with Max beginning to see hallucinations (a side effect of watching too much Videodrome). One hallucination involves him discovering a mouth like wound appearing on his midriff which videotapes can be inserted into like a VCR. That’s only one far out visual within this extrordinary film.

Is the film a knowing prediction of numerous television and cable channels run amok? A pastiche of how some people saw the video boom as only a short distance away from real sex, violence and murder being able to be seen of anyone’s living room?

One thing is for sure and that is that it’s one of Cronenberg’s very best films with the master being at the top of his game. Videodrome was also, ironically, a huge hit on video and is recognised as a masterpiece that it is now part of The Criterion Collection.

4. Christine

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Stephen King’s brilliant novel about a possessed Plymouth Fury named Christine, a nerdy teenager and how he changes after the car seemingly takes over his life.

John Carpenter directs one of King’s novels for the first time (he was due to direct Firestarter but lost the gig as The Thing had tanked at the box office. We can only imagine how that film would have differed directed by Carpenter) and does an amazing job. The film fully captures the effects of Arnie buying the car and becoming obsessed with it and how this affects his family, friends and enemies alike. Christine is very possessive of her new owner and seeks to punish those who try to hurt Arnie in any way (and hurt her) and any love interest who might get in-between her and Arnie.

It’s a fascinating conceit and it’s great to see the nuances and details contained in King’s amazing book are brought to the screen brilliantly well by Carpenter.

Theres also a great soundtrack by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Listen carefully and you can hear similarities between the music here and their soundtrack for Halloween 3 that they composed the previous year.

3. The Dead Zone

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Another Cronenberg movie adapted from another Stephen King novel. Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a five year coma to find that he can tell the future by touching someone. The future isn’t set and so can be changed.

This film showed Cronenberg’s versatility as a director as here he made a simple (for him) film that wasn’t overcomplicated (he even ironed out any overly complex issues such as Johnny’s brain tumour that were evident in the novel) and was very straightforward.

A truly startling quality to the film is it’s poignancy. Johnny uses his gift to save the daughter of a nurse in his hospital when he sees a vision of her young daughter in a fire at their home. He later predicts the death of a boy he is helping to tutor at the request of the boy’s wealthy father. Johnny sees that the boy falls under the ice when he is playing ice hockey as he is too heavy. Johnny persuades the father to prevent his son from going to the game and the disaster is prevented.

The film also displays poignancy within the personal life of it’s lead character. Johnny also goes to see his girlfriend after he awakens from his coma to find that she has moved on with her life and even has a family now.

Johnny also uses his gift for massive issues that could potentially affect huge numbers of the public. He helps to identify a serial killer known as the ‘Castle Rock Killer’. Then he turns his attention to politician Greg Stilson, attends one of his rallies but makes sure to shake his hand thereby predicting what will happen in the future. He sees Stilson launching a nuclear war against the Soviet Union as he’s ‘had a vision!’

This isn’t body horror, there is no blood, engorged bodily organs or weird phallic creatures transmitted from body to body in this film. In fact, you’d be mistake for this being directed by someone else but Cronenberg. If any of his films show what a master auteur he is, it’s The Dead Zone. It showed he can stray away from his usual brilliant territory and still make a brilliant piece of work. And not only is this one of Cronenberg’s best films, it’s also one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel that has ever graced the screen.

2. Sleepaway Camp

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Shit starts to get weird at a summer camp where some of the campers meet very violent and grisly deaths.

Whilst this could have been the most generic premise for a slasher movie ever, instead we get something off the wall, VERY left field and completely unexpected.

This movie pushes the boundaries and provides something that then and especially now could be seen as extremely un-PC. One of the characters is the camp chef, Artie who is also a pedophile. Whilst his colleagues joke about his vile tendencies I found myself thinking ‘WTF!’ But it would appear that this has been done as a build up to what happens next. After Artie has tried to creep on the young lead character of Angela, he finds his instant karma by falling into a large pan of boiling water after someone knocks over the chair hes standing on.

There are other kills that are extremely well executed and painful to watch- an arrow through the throat of the camp owner, a boy locked into a toilet cubicle and a hive of bees thrown into it with said character (who had pelted Angela with water balloons) getting stung to death, a girl called Meg getting stabbed in death in the shower, four children hatcheted to death in their sleeping bags and the camp bitch, Judy having a red hot curling tong inserted into her vagina whilst she is suffocated with a pillow over her face.

Whilst the kills are extreme, so is Angela’s backstory. She was on a boating trip with her father and his boyfriend (her father comes out as gay after getting divorced) and her brother, Peter when they were run into by another boat after theirs has capsized. Her father and brother are killed instantly.

When another camper kisses Angela she instantly has a flashback to when her and her brother secretly watched her father and his boyfriend having sex. This prompts Angela to run away from him and from the situation. I’m loving that the film asserts that seeing an incident such as two men in bed together could so massively damaging to someone’s psyche. If thats the case, I’m fucked. Whilst some watching the movie at this point will scream ‘That’s homophobic!’ just take a look at the kind of film you’re watching and when it was made. This is a prime slice of exploitation cinema made in 1983. The film doesn’t hold back with any of the topics it covers. It’s reality is heightened, exaggerated massively and if it offends some people then the filmmakers have succeeded.

Which leads us to one of the most shocking scenes in not just horror history, but in film history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen lists within highly respected film magazines, journals and websites name this final scene as being in the same league as Salo and Irreversible. Yes, it’s that shocking and yes, it’s that unexpected. Oh, and no, I won’t be telling you what it is.

1 Cujo

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Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.

A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.

The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.

But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.

There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.

It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.

Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.

When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980

I’m currently writing an article about my childhood in the 80’s, the massive part that video played during that period with regard to my obsession with cult/horror films and so I’ve decided to compile lists of my favourite horror movies from each year from that awesome decade. These will all lead up to a list at the end of this in which I will compile my favourite horror movies of that decade.

The release of horror classic Halloween in 1978 seemed to open the floodgates to many horror movies being made in what, with hindsight, can be seen as another golden era for the genre and this wasn’t just for slasher movies. There seemed to be a new horror movie being released every week and add to that the various double-bills being shown in cinemas here in the UK and the emergence of home video that seemed to pander primarily to those with a sweet tooth for horror and the 80’s were a great time for gorehounds. I look back at this period and smile. As I say to younger people- I might be an old cunt but at least I got to grow up in the 80’s.

And so without further a do here are my Top 10 movies from 1980. There is a corresponding video here. And whilst you’re there you should subscribe to my YouTube channel. Your life will be enriched because of it.

10. Antropophagus The Beast

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This Italian shocker goes the extra mile. In fact, it goes the extra five miles! It was directed by Joe D’Amato so you know you’re gonna get the goods.

If you ever find yourself in a group of tourists who want to detour to a desolate island whilst on a cruise, listen to the tarot reading member of the group who predicts something terrible is going to happen AND THAT YOU SHOULDN’T GO!

Guess what? They go! And they then hear stories of a man called Klaus who found himself and his family shipwrecked and so to survive ate his family. He (obviously) went insane in the process and became a human flesh craving madman.

The scene involving the pregnant character has to be seen to be believed (a skinned dead baby rabbit was used) as has the climactic scene. There is a reason why early 80’s horror movies were called Video Nasties in the UK. This film has a lot to do with it. Unmissable.

9. The Boogey Man

TheBogeyManAnother Italian shocker, the poster for this poster has a cameo in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Blow Out as it appears on the wall of the schlock film company that John Travolta’s character works for.

Ulli Lommel directs this sleazefest, a name as revered by horror fans as D’Amato’s. I find horror movies that deal with children killing adults to be one of the ultimate taboos for the genre and this movie features it very early on. It feels so raw and upclose and personal that it almost feels like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be privy to.

Years after killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Willy (!) goes back to the house where the abuse happened as himself and his sister try to face their childhood fears that have plagued them ever since.

The potential silliness of the plot (a possessed mirror resplendent with glowing shards once it is broken) is more than levelled with a gritty tone and gore galore. Witness the scene where with the scissors, for one example.

You’ll need a shower after seeing this. In fact, you will after seeing many of the films on this list.

8. Without Warning

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Malevalent aliens have never been so adorable as in this film. I love it when big star names (Jack Palance stars here) throw caution to the wind and star in something that at the height of their career would have been beneath them. I especially love it when they sink their teeth into these roles and bring real life and verve to their characters. It’s almost like they’re having fun! (See Joan Crawford in the brilliant Trog for another example of this). Palance is batshit crazy as is co-star Martin Landau and they both bring so much demented fun to proceedings.

Theres something very aesthetically pleasing about the alien in this movie and the  skin burrowing jellyfish he throws at his victims. They’re like deadly limpets, if you will.

Whatever drugs were being taken during the writing and filming of this surreal and unhinged epic worked really well! Pair with that the beautiful cinematography (courtesy of the ever amazing Dead Cundey who shot Halloween), a gorgeous colour palate and you have a visual treat with a one of a kind atmosphere.

When you get to see the lead alien, it’s well worth the wait! (Kevin Peter Hall of Predator fame did the honours).

7. Humanoids From The Deep

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A movie that was on my list entitled ‘Films I Must Get Round To Watching’ but hadn’t managed until quite recently. It was on Netflix and so I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And I’m glad I did!

I love a monster movie from a pre-CGI time that involved a man in a suit and loads of ingenuity (see also Slithis).

A coastal town is the target of a creature from the sea that kills people. Then the townsfolk discover that there is more than one of these creatures. And worse still, they don’t just kill but rape too.

This couldn’t be because of a nearby shady company called Canco who have conducted their own sinister experiments involving a growth hormone they’re fed to salmon, could it?! I jolly well think it could! Thus they find themselves the victims of horny, murderous creatures from the sea.

Theres a great atmosphere to this film with small town locales and American life of the time being captured really well. The kills are innovative and the film seems to want to push the envelope and give the viewer more thrills for their buck. It more than succeeds.

If there is one reason for this which also acts as a seal of approval and should have you eager to seek this film out it’s this- it’s a Roger Corman film. You don’t need any higher recommendation than that.

6. The Shining

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What more can be said about this film that hasn’t been said before?! Jack Torrence is a writer and gets a job to act as caretaker for The Overlook Hotel with his wife and son during the snowy winter season when the hotel is closed to the public. He envisages that this will be perfect for him to get some writing done. But little does he know that there are a few other inhabitants within the hotel who reside there and none of them are human.

Amazing direction by the genius Stanley Kubrick, wonderful performances from the entire cast with Jack Nicholson stealing the show with his character sliding into insanity and becoming utterly terrifying, but also very funny with it.

This film was actually panned by quite a few critics when it first came out and was nominated in several categories at that year’s first Razzies along with another film on my list and the likes of Cruising, Can’t Stop The Music and Dressed To Kill. I’ve looked to The Razzies to see whats great about film ever since and not in some vile ‘so bad it’s good’ kinda way either.

5. Maniac

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I remember the first time I saw the notorious poster for Maniac in a magazine when I was a young kid in the early 80’s and thinking ‘Whoa! I need to see this!’ This film has the distinction of being banned by the BBFC not once but twice and so it would be quite a few years before I could get to see it after I had first seen the poster.

When I finally got to see it, it didn’t disappoint! An unhinged portrayal of New York life when the Big Apple was rotten to the core, this is up there with Driller Killer. It has lots in common with Taxi Driver whilst being not as brilliant. Not many other films of any kind are as brilliant as Taxi Driver though and so this shouldn’t be taken as criticism.

There is so much to talk about- William Lustig’s assured direction, Joe Spinell’s devastatingly brilliant central performance, Tom Savini’s make-up work as well as the explosive end his character comes to in the film, Caroline Munroe’s character as a fashion photographer whereby we see another side to Frank as they start a relationship.

And then there are the murders. These pull no punches and are truly the stuff of nightmares. The subway scene is worth the price of admission alone. Think of Lustig and Savini choreographing his own extended version of the opening credits to The Equaliser and you’re almost there.

From the eye-popping ad campaign, to the film that was just as lurid and the genre advancing portrayal of madness and instability, this film is a classic. It also earned the highest honour of being picketed by angry feminists and people with nothing better to do with their time.

This has recently been released on Blu Ray in 4K. Karma.

4. Prom Night

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One of the Halloween clones that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was the best of it’s class. An irresistible blend of Halloween, Carrie and Saturday Night Fever.

Theres high camp (check out the bitch off between Jamie’s character and the school bitch Wendy- ‘it’s not who you go to the prom with. It’s who takes you home!’) but also high grit. Check out the scenes in which the killer phones the classmates one by one, the opening scene involving a very sinister child’s game that ends with the death of one of the children, the subplot regarding the local paedophile who was blamed for the little girl’s death escaping his mental hospital and being hounded by police.

We also get to see JLC’s dance moves. She’s as good a dancer as she is an actress, something that we’d see further in Perfect a few years later.

Add to the mix a great ad campaign and a poster that is so disturbing that it hangs on my living room wall and you have one of the best horror films of 1980.

3. The Watcher in the Woods

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The rarest of things- a Disney horror film. This is one of the videos I rented the most during the 80’s.

A naive meddling with the supernatural causes one of the children involved to go missing under very mysterious circumstances. Several decades pass and a teenage girl and her family go to share the house owned by the missing girl’s elderly mother. She says that the teenager Jan resembles her missing daughter and so the unsolved is due to come full circle.

There are some great moments in this film that feel very childlike but very unsettling because of it. Check out the scene in which Jan’s little sister (Lyndsey from Halloween!) goes into a trance and starts writing backwards onto a dirty window, the hall of mirrors scene at the local funfair, the flashbacks to the deadly ritual the children held in the local church. Watcher in the Woods would have made a great spin-off children’s TV series akin to Chocky.

And Bette Davis stars as the elderly mother! And she predictably steals the show and rightly so.

2. Friday the 13th

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It’s interesting to watch Friday the 13th again, especially after the whole franchise has become so huge and has established a formula (but also sees fit to subvert that formula). In 1980, spoiler alert, there was no Jason, no hockey mask. In fact, in this first film the killer isn’t revealed until the end.

For this very fact I always think of Friday the 13th as close to being an American Giallo movie (Giallo movies in Italy derived from the gory yellow paged detective pulp novels with a private investigator pursuing and then revealing a killer’s identity in the last few pages). The sequel would also share more in common with a certain Giallo movie with one death scene being reminiscent of Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Because this is the first film in the series there also isn’t a formula or pattern to proceedings yet and so we get elements in this film that aren’t present in the sequels. There is a goofiness and a brand of humour in this film that isn’t present in quite the same way in the later films (one example being the sheriff). There is also the well defined characterisation of the teens in this film and the inclusion of some of the secondary characters such as the diner’s waitress and Crazy Ralph which isn’t found to be present to such a degree with subsequent sequels.

Friday the 13th was conceived by Sean S Cunningham and Steve Miner as they saw the great box office Halloween was doing. Is this film as good as it’s inspiration? No way. But not many films are. But this has solid direction, a killer (sorry) soundtrack, very good performances all-round and some amazing special effects and make-up by Tom Savini. Check out the innovation of some of his set ups- the arrow through the neck of a young Kevin Bacon, the ax to the face, the beheading. All great stuff. Less art than Halloween but more blood for your buck. If Halloween is a trip to the opera, Friday the 13th is a trip on a rollercoaster. Both have their place.

1 The Fog

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One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.

And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.

It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.

Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).

The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.

All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.

 

Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

I often think about my love of cinema, where it began and the influences on it, both film-based and what was going on around me.

I was born in February 1975. My arrival into the world coincides with the day on which Stephen Murphy the BBFC’s secretary first saw a new independent film called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a view to providing a certificate for it. It feels apt that my birth coincided with an event connected to such a sordid masterpiece which remains one of my favourite films to this day.

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On hearing of a new arrival into the world most people want to hear information that I’ve always thought was a bit random and really boring. Who gives a flying fuck about a baby’s weight? I want to know what was showing at the local cinema.

Thankfully the information I was looking for regarding my own arrival onto this planet was awaiting me in the Central Library in York amongst the archived local newspapers on microfilm.

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Film listings for a new future cineaste/exploitation film fan

I’m thrilled to report that when I was born the films being shown were veryyy me! And before you ask, one of them wasn’t The Omen.

There was either the Safari suited, high camp antics of eye-brow raising Roger Moore as 1970’s James Bond in The Man With The Golden Gun or a sex comedy double-bill consisting of Line Up and Lay Down (!) and Nurses on the Job (!!) Both choices I’m more than happy with.

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Safari-suit Bond- the pinnacle of camp
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A sex comedy double-bill. Another pinnacle of camp. Perfect cinematic choices for my birth.

The cinema these masterpieces were being shown was the Odeon Cinema in Blossom Street in York which remains my favourite cinema of all of the movie houses I’ve been to.

The Odeon was opened on 1st February, 1937. You can see how much of an exquisite building it was by it’s very architecture. A gorgeous building by any standards with it’s distinctive Art Deco form and shape, this was seen on it’s construction as an outstanding addition to the Odeon family.

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The Odeon in the late 80’s

The Odeon is situated on one of the main streets in and out of the city and more importantly, it’s on the route that my father would use when driving us home after going to the city centre. I remember driving past this cinema even before I was old enough to start frequenting the place with my family. Driving by I’d see the garish, alluring and beguiling posters outside. Just the posters alone had the power to scare the fuck out of me as a child with the colourful and nightmarish artwork for horror films leaving the deepest imprints in my young and very furtile psyche. It was just one glance of the poster for the double bill of The Incredible Melting Man and U.S. TV movie The Savage Bees that prevented me from sleeping for several nights in a row.

I also distinctly remember seeing the poster for The Fog in 1980 (I must have been five years old) and that really freaking me out. Again, sleepless nights followed.

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One of the other things I loved about cinemas in those days was that they didn’t just have amazing posters for the films they were showing but also lobby cards which showed key scenes of the films being shown within. Lobby cards seem to have died a death these days but I always loved them especially when they were for the horror fare of the day. If a poster could invoke fear in me then going up close and peering at some of the horrific and disturbing scenes that took place within these cinematic shockers was also an amazing experience for an over imaginative small child.

One of my earliest memories is of my 5 year old self running to where the posters and lobby cards were outside The Odeon to gaze for the longest time at the artwork for a new film that had just started to play there. That film was called Friday the 13th and it was again, 1980. The lobby cards prompted many questions. Who was the kindly old woman enveloped in the misty woodland? Was the killer a dab hand at archery? Hadn’t the girl in the canoe seen Joe Dante’s Piranha?! I’d never dip my hand so casually in a lake like that…So many thoughts ran through my fevered little brain.

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Friday the 13th Lobby Cards. I pored over these for the longest time trying to figure out what they portrayed in the actual film

There was actually a Kentucky Fried Chicken opposite The Odeon and so because of this proximity a unique urban legend came into being. Even though it’s a slight variation on an already well known yarn, the people of York insist that this actually happened. Some say they even know the people involved. It goes like this-

A young couple decide to go to collect KFC and then dash into The Odeon opposite with their greasy meal. The film they are going to see has already started and so they order their food, pay and rush into the cinema to buy their tickets and find their seats. They do this and find that the house lights have already gone down and the place is packed. They somehow manage to find two seats together in the rammed auditorium and start to chow down on their KFC. Because the film has already started the couple can’t see what they are eating and just tuck in regardless. The young woman notices that what she thinks should be a piece of chicken tastes funny. It also doesn’t feel like a leg or breast. Sure, it’s coated in the Colonel’s secret coating but chicken it must definitely aint. With her eyes now started to get used to the darkness of the cinema she sees that in fact what shes been tucking into looks very strange indeed. She decides to take some of the coating off with her fingers and is horrified to see what is concealed underneath- and of which she still has a piece of in her mouth. She has been eating a deep fried rat! She screams, her male companion screams, the audience screams.

The ‘deep friend rat’ is an urban legend that is well-told the world over and can be applied to any fast-food joint but seems to be specific to KFC (much to their chigrin). There was even a case recently whereby someone posted the same story as fact, even with pictures as evidence. But when asked by KFC’s management for further evidence or closer investigation, the story’s perpetrator seemed backwards in coming forward with further details. Social media, the internet and emails are perfect for the further advancement of urban legends in the cyber age.

But I digress. Most of my trips to the cinema during my childhood and teen years were to The Odeon. I loved seeing films in such a venue that was steeped in history and gorgeous to boot. I could almost feel the history of the place as people who had been lucky enough to see some of my favourite films (and that I would have been too young to see at the time of their release) would have delighted in the magic of seeing such cinematic masterpieces as Taxi Driver, Jaws and The Exorcist (fast forward and this would change with The Exorcist as there was a one-off screening and on my 18th birthday (of all days!) It was almost like it was scheduled especially for me! And so in February 1993, even though it had snowed, my friends and I went out on the town and then went to see the film with a packed house (the film was still banned on video in the UK at that time). Whilst the print was in appalling condition and most probably one of the same prints used on the film’s original release in 1974, it had lost none of it’s power. I’ll never forget leaving the cinema, bidding my friends farewell and precariously going to find a taxi whilst wading through snow and trying not to break my neck whilst walking like Bambi over the ice underfoot. Oh, and I remember being really fucking scared because of the film!

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In these innocent days of my early childhood a couple of Odeon visits really stick out in my mind for some reason. I think it’s because these films were perfect for kids- even kids who would have no chance of getting into screenings of the horror and exploitation films he’d preferred to have been watching even at a very early age.

One screening I went to when I was 5 years old was for Robert Altman’s Popeye and I absolutely loved it! The perfect casting, the set designs, the songs- the cartoon series I loved so much was effortlessly and almost eerily brought to life.

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Another cinematic excursion to the Odeon that I look back on with real fondness was a double bill of a pre-Terminator Arnie and Kirk Douglas in the zany Cactus Jack and the live action kitsch fest Spiderman and the Dragon’s Challenge. This was originally a two-part television special made for American T.V. but was spliced together to make a feature film to be shown theatrically outside the U.S. Hence, how I had the good fortune to be watching it. Spidey was played by Nicholas Hammond, one of the Von Trapp brats from The Sound of Music. The film was so bright and colourful that it was akin to a Pop-Art Warhol print come to life. I seem to remember that Spidey’s webs looked like white rope. Myself and all lovers of cinematic cult fare need this film and the films that preceded it (Spiderman and Spiderman Strikes Back) to be released on Blu ray tout suite.

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It was at The Odeon that not only did I fall in love with film as a medium but also the sense of occasion involved in going to see a film. There was the excitement of the snacks on offer, the stench of popcorn meaning only one thing. It was also the trailers for the upcoming films and then the Pearl and Dean advertising for products such as Fry’s Turkish Delight, Westlers hotdogs and Red Mountain coffee. Then it was the wonderfully kitsch and camp ads for local businesses in York such as Indian restaurants and local pubs/nightclubs. The glittering world of York’s nightlife! It seemed so sophisticated. Theres a great sample of similar cinema advertising here. And here is a cinema advert shown locally in the 60’s in Plymouth advertising the local nightspots. It has to be seen to be believed! It’s all about the camp bleach blonde bartender. Something tells me he might be a Friend of Dorothy.

But there was also another cinema in York in those days that I also went to. The ABC cinema was right in the city centre on a street called Piccadilly and whilst it didn’t have the history, grandeur or sense of occasion that The Odeon had, I also went there and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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One of my earliest cinema going experiences here involved my father taking me and my two older brothers to go and see the newly released Superman 2 (which I didn’t like as to my 6 year old eyes the film was too violent- how things would change when it came to my tastes in cinema!) and way too loud. But other than those reservations, I had a great time. My Dad then took us to see executed highwayman Dick Turpin’s grave which is nearby. All in all, a great day.

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For more on the curious case of the burial of Dick Turpin, click here. It’s just one more story from the blood-soaked history of York.

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Another major source for my burgeoning passion in film was, of course, the television. Whilst I couldn’t get in to see the X certificate films at my local cinemas, there were no restrictions to me seeing any of the films shown on TV, whether they were intended for children or not. Hooray for lax parenting!

I remember vividly the first ever screening of Jaws on UK TV. According to the internet this took place on 8th of October 1981 which means that I was 6 years old when I saw it (it was actually certificated A when it was originally released in 1975 meaning that it wasn’t suitable for children under 11. This was changed to a PG years later, but recently was controversially upgraded to 12A as it was felt that PG was too lenient. Which, I suppose, is a testament to the brilliance of the film). This was a HUGE event and garnered mammoth ratings with 23.25 million viewers tuning in, one of the biggest ratings ever for a film shown on TV.

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I also remember similarly huge ratings for the first time Superman: The Movie was shown on UK TV. This was also a pivotal event for not just myself but for most of the population.

Thankfully when I was growing up my father didn’t believe the theory that children watching late night movies that might be violent or disturbing in some way could negatively affect a child and so I was allowed to stay up late and watch the likes of Carrie, The Omen and Dirty Harry when they were shown. I realised that most of my school friends didn’t have parents who were this liberal or maybe just didn’t give a shit as I’d say to them ‘Did you see (insert name of some film usually with an X certificate) last night?!’ to be met with blank stares or a slow, jealous shake of the head.

Not everything that influenced me in those days was film based but still fed into my love of cult cinema and all things fucked up. I was and still am an avid reader. Sometimes I sped through books so fast that my father used to take me to the library more than once a day (really!). It was here that I came across a book that was perfect for a young freak with a taste for the macabre.

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Usborne’s Guide to the Supernatural World was a compendium made up of three earlier titles (Vampires, Werewolves and Demons, Haunted Houses, Ghosts and Spectres and Mysterious Powers and Strange Forces) and was pretty much a bible for me from that moment on. It’s one of my favourite books and I still dip into it for pleasure and for life-affirmation purposes.

My knowledge of everything supernatural was expanded immeasurably with this tome as my eyes pored over the gaudy illustrations whilst taking in every detail of the text.

Usborne have just reissued another of their titles, The World of the Unknown: Ghosts which was just as influential in the late 70’s (see- there were other young weirdos just like me!). Let’s hope they see fit to reissue Supernatural World too. Copies are selling for a fortune on the internet. We need a reprint and pronto. It would sell just as well as Ghosts.

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But there was something a lot closer to home and all too real that provided a macabre backdrop to my earliest years. The county that I grew up in had it’s own serial killer that was at large with his earliest noted murder (but it’s rumoured that he killed earlier and more than has been publicly recorded) being in the year of my birth and not ending until his capture in 1981. Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper murdered women who were out alone at night. One of my earliest memories was of watching the local news programme Calendar which was presented by Richard Whiteley (later the presenter of student and old person favourite Countdown) who was normally a jolly and happy kind of fellow. I knew something was wrong as on this occasion he wasn’t smiling or jolly but had a grave expression on his face as he stood in front of a board that had numerous women’s faces on it. He explained that yet another women had been added to the list of those poor women who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. This victim was Jacqueline Hill, a Leeds student who was walking from where her bus had dropped her to her student lodgings (a matter of a few yards) but instead met her ghoulish fate.

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Because of the Ripper life had to be changed massively. There was an unofficial curfew for women and a feeling of omnipresent dread in the air until his capture. When I grew older and started going out as a teenager I’d always accompany female friends home and make sure they were inside and safe until I left. I never thought why I did this until much later- it had been because I has grown up in the era of the Ripper. It’s strange how life comes full circle. I’m now writing this in Chapeltown in my flat. This area of Leeds was a major hunting ground for Sutcliffe. The murder scenes for at least 4 of his victims are within walking distance of here.

This sense of dread was also all around us in other ways in the late 70’s/early 80’s. This was in the form of Public Information Films which were short adverts made by the government which warned the general population of the dangers of any number of potentially lethal activities as varied as mixing different types of tyre on your car, letting your child talk to strangers, putting down a rug on a freshly polished wooden floor…you name it. My favourite was The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which was voiced by Donald Pleasance and warned of the dangers of children playing near rivers and lakes and what could happen.

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This PIF scared the shit out of me and reminded me of another childhood source of sleepless nights, a paperback of The Lord of the Rings that was knocking around our house resplendent with becloaked soldiers riding nightmarish horses each with glowing red eyes.

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I loved the Public Information Films that were specific to Bonfire Night with the dangers of playing with fireworks being another source of trauma for children up and down the country.

Missives from on high of how to prevent catastrophe in your life weren’t just made for the TV screen either. There were plenty of leaflets, posters and literature around at this time that could educate the populace of how to avoid potential disaster.

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There was plenty of imagery that I found so attractive as it would appeal to any fan of cult cinema and particularly the horror/slasher genre. The threat of some crime being committed to either you or your property was very real with an unspecified shadowy figure (the best example being depicted in the ‘Watch out! There’s a thief about’ campaign) seen approaching (a great example of this was the two black boots walking on breaking ice in the excellent ‘Neighbourly Nell’ Public Information Film) or running away.

One poster that I used to see on the wall in doctor’s surgeries, chemists and libraries was the design classic of The Pregnant Man.

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Another moral panic that I remember vividly from my early childhood concerned the dangers of rabies entering the UK. Cue distressing images of rabid animals attacking children and humans frothing at the mouth due to the disease. And this wasn’t just in print.

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And then there was Protect and Survive. This was a campaign regarding what to do if there was a nuclear holocaust. This booklet would be sent to every household if the button had been pushed and certain psychopathic world leaders wanted the ultimate in narcissistic supply. Details on how we were all to hole up in our self-made bomb shelters with only our loved ones and tinned food for company were outlined. There were even details on what to do if someone in your enclosure had passed away and how their body could be disposed of.

And here, for your perverse pleasure, is the full booklet. I’m sure in these times of lockdowns and Coronavirus we can pick up some worthwhile and strangely relevant tips.

The threat of nuclear war was everywhere in the late 70’s and 80’s. To quote those purveyors of style and hair dye Duran Duran from their number 1 single Is There Something I Should Know, ‘You’re about as easy as a nuclear war.’ Just one push of a button and we would be pushed into a dystopic netherworld.

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There was even a drama, Threads made about what that post-nuclear holocaust would look like. It wasn’t pretty and remains a powerful, brilliant and extremely difficult to watch masterpiece. I recommend you to find it but proceed with caution.

But back to film. Another rich source of cult film goodness was to be found in our local newspaper, of all places. Film adverts were placed in here by the local cinemas that showed artwork (sometimes different from the posters) that was, in the case of horror and cult films, lurid in nature and again, utterly alluring to me.

As it would happen, other cult movie fans were indulging in the same pleasures with the excellent book Ad Nauseam being released not so long ago- a compendium of newspaper ads advertising the kind of movies I relished seeking out the ads for.

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Just as there were newspaper print ads, there were also TV adverts for upcoming and films that were currently playing. Some of these were just as disturbing as the films themselves. I remember seeing a TV spot for The Shining that was possibly the scariest thing I had ever experienced up until that point. On seeing it again, I still feel the same. It’s a terrifying experience.

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Whilst all of this quenched my growing passion for cinema and particularly cult cinema, there was an upcoming innovation that would change everything! That was, of course, VIDEO! And such a momentous event deserves a blog entry all of it’s own…

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

I have an ever-changing mental list of films that I’d most like to see on the big screen. A few entries on this list I’ve been lucky enough to actually see in a cinema such as Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Cruising, The Hills Have Eyes (the masterpiece original, not the remake shitfest), Mommie Dearest, Friday the 13th Part 3 and YES! it was in 3D, Last House on the Left… The film that was at the top of my list (Female Trouble) is about to be ticked off when I go to see the film at my local cinema tonight.

This has made me rethink and rejig my Cinema Wishlist. And here, for your enjoyment, it is…

1. Supergirl (1984)

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The film I probably rented the most on VHS back in the 80’s when I was a kid. The Superman franchise takes an unexpected turn with this tale of his female cousin, Kara who lives on Argo City (a huge piece of Krypton which survived after it’s explosion) who has accidentally lost the omegahedron (an artefact that gives the owner huge power and could be lethal in the wrong hands). And so we see Kara come to Earth in search of it and become Supergirl in the process.

The special effects haven’t dated very well but who cares? Everything that makes Supergirl such a treat is in place- great dialogue, an all-star cast (including Simon Ward, Peter O’Toole, Brenda Vaccaro, Mia Farrow, Peter Cook…) and great cinematography and locations which really establish the feeling of small town America so lovingly.

But the jewel of this crown is that Faye Dunaway plays Selina the self-styled white witch who has come into possession of the omegahedron. FAYE FUCKING DUNAWAY!!! I think of La Dunaway’s filmography as being split into two very distinct categories- the critically acclaimed movies that are examples of brilliant cinema that she has acted in and greatly contributed to (examples of this include Chinatown, Network, Bonnie and Clyde) and then the other category in which Ms Dunaway stars in films that are some of the greatest examples of cult cinema in which she hasn’t just contributed greatly but stolen the show by being larger than life, going batshit crazy in her role when she needs to and not just going the extra mile but the extra five miles. Examples include such brilliance as Mommie Dearest, The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Wicked Lady. Guess which category Supergirl is in?

Supergirl is the rarest of things- intentional camp which works really well. Mostly in cult cinema terms when a big budget film becomes defined as camp it’s in fact strayed off-course and found itself being an uneditable mess and utterly terrible to boot. Cinema goers may appraise it as ‘so bad it’s good’ as camp wasn’t intentionally sought as a tone but camp is what the filmmaker got, whether they like it or not!

But in Supergirl the entire cast knew right from the get go that this film was supposed to be camp and boy, do they go for it! And most importantly- they succeed.

Also, Selina’s character has her own fantastic environ set piece which is an abandoned fairground which looks very sinister but also a pretty cool place to reside.

The dialogue is a knockout. It wouldn’t surprise me if John Waters penned the screenplay under a pseudonym. There is some real comedy gold in this film. One example- when Selina reminds her sidekick played by Brenda Varraco that she’d be nothing in the dark arts without her, she remarks ‘If it wasn’t for me you’d still be reading tealeaves in Tahoe!’

2. Walkabout (1971)

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A film that is contained in one of my favourite film books of all time ‘Movies of the Seventies’ by Lloyd and Robinson. A great book that provides a wide ranging overview of many different genres, it also pays particular attention to some individual films and analyses them whilst providing stills of scenes from that movie. One such film was Nicolas Roeg’s Aussie classic Walkabout. The film was shown out of the blue in the late 80’s on late night regional TV and because I had already read about in in this brilliant book I recorded it. And I’m so glad I did.

A well to do man tales his son and daughter out of school with the promise that they are going on a picnic. They drive out of Sydney and into the outback. As his kids start to prepare the picnic their father unexpectedly starts firing shots at them with a gun before setting the car on fire and turning the gun on himself.

We then see the children the next day after they have been aimlessly wondering through the barren terrain. They encounter an Aboriginal boy who decides to accompany them on their journey.

This is an amazing film with stunning photography which Nichols Roeg has spliced, manipulated and completely buggered around with to illustrate themes such as the disorientation the children are feeling and the forward and backward passing of time. We see the father’s suicide in reverse and later see a flock of birds flying backwards.

Time and the brutality of civilisation seems to be another theme that is explored within the film with the civilised youths being paired with the uncivilised Aborigine. In one scene we see hunters killing numerous animals and wildlife which really hammers home this brutal intrusion of those who are supposed to be more advanced yet aren’t.

This film was tied up in rights hell for years which prevented it’s release on home video. But the requisite number of years have passed and it was finally issued to an gobsmacked public who could finally see this classic. It’s now rightly on Criterion Blu-ray- it’s place as a bone-fide classic firmly established and recognised. Walkabout is another Roeg masterpiece.

3. King of Comedy (1982)

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Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with becoming a famous comedian and is also obsessed with the late-night talk show host Jerry Langford. And he’ll do anything to get his shot. Anything.

This 1982 Scorsese film was a first glimpse into the crazy world of fandom, celebrity obsession and follows it through to it’s darkest conclusions. This was unexplored territory at the time and so some thought of this film as overdramatised, exaggerated and how the events depicted could never happen in real life. This seems incredible now as Scorsese’s film has been shown to be, if anything, a conservative depiction os how dark this world can be.

Another criticism of The King of Comedy by critics was that it feels quite flat compared to other Scorsese films. Thats because Scorsese employs a lot of techniques and styles found in television as this is the axis of the film’s narrative rather than him utilising overelaborate cinematic techniques.

Watch out for Sandra Bernhard’s role as Masha. She almost steals the film from right under De Niro and Lewis’ noses.

Loner Pupkin has many similarities with Taxi Driver’s protagonist Travis Bickle. Both films have been referenced in the recent brilliant film, Joker. I’d love to see King of Comedy on the big screen. If a cinema programmer really wanted to go the whole hog then why not put on a King of Comedy/Taxi Driver double-bill or even a triple bill with Joker. With the latter film’s popularity at the moment, the time is right.

4. Spawn of the Slithis (1978)

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A film I caught on late-night Yorkshire TV in the 80’s. And this is why I loved growing up with the truly fucked up stuff my local television station was showing!

A monster born of nuclear waste stalks the environs of Venice, California.

Not only do we get a great low-key and little known horror movie that features a guy in a suit, we also get the local weirdos, kooks and freaks of Venice that are intertwined into the story. We also get gorgeous cinematography which gives us a flavour of how far-out 70’s bohemian Cali really was.

Roger Ebert hated this film when it was first released. If I saw this poster outside a cinema I would be first in line to watch it. The film had it’s own fan club for the eponymous monster that is the film’s star. The film was shown at various college campuses across America during it’s initial release with the actual monster suit being used so that one of the film crew could dress up as Slithis for delighted (and possibly stoned) students. You got to watch Slithis with Slithis. Now that’s genius.

5. The Tingler (1959)

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In fact I’d love to see ANY of William Castle’s masterpieces on the big screen. And yes, if possible, utilising some of the many brilliant gimmicks that Castle employed in the name of entertainment and showmanship.

The ‘tingler’ from the movie’s title is a parasite that lodges in the spine of it’s host and feeds on fear. When the host is scared, the creature makes him/her ‘tingle’.

For this opus, Castle planted electrical devices under random cinema seats in the cinemas it was showing that would vibrate at a key point in the film’s plotline. Theres a great story of John Waters as a child going to The Tingler everyday for it’s theatrical run in a Baltimore cinema, making sure he was always the first in and checking underneath each seat until he found one with the vibrating devices under it.

But the biggest shock regarding Castle’s oeuvre is that his films, even without the gimmicks, work beautifully. Watch this movie and base your judgements just on the film itself. It’s beautifully shot and is extremely aesthetically pleasing. Vincent Price is perfect casting and check out the sequence in which the seemingly black and white movie lapses into colour for one scene. It’s a joy to behold.

Castle has now been reappraised as a great American auteur rather than just a schlockmeister. This film more than amply shows why.

6. Incredible Melting Man/The Savage Bees (1977)

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My history with this film goes wayyy back! My family were driving by the Odeon cinema in York in the late 70’s and I saw the poster for this double-bill of cinematic goodness. This was enough to give me nightmares for weeks! I was only 3 years old.

I got to see both films when I was still a kid when they were shown on TV. Again, nightmares followed. I love the fact that the made for TV movie The Savage Bees was actually shown on cinema scenes in the UK (the same thing happened with Spielberg’s genius Duel which was granted a UK cinema release resplendent with added scenes).

Rick Baker’s make-up FX would have made seeing The Incredible Melting Man on the big screen an almost hallucinatory experience. The film also has a keen eye for humour (check out the severed head/waterfall scene. It’s one of the sickest and funniest in horror history) but also for pathos. Steve West is now utterly tormented by his melting condition and the film makes the audience genuinely feel for him.

I need to see this double-bill on the big screen NOW!

7. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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Where do I even start with this opus. I honestly think Bloodsucking Freaks is one of the best movies ever made and there will one day be an essay written by yours truly which will give the movie it’s proper due.

Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre hosts Grand Guignol shows in which the goriest and most violent acts are depicted. We get to sample first-hand the kind of acts that are put on. Creasy Silo (!) a theatre critic is in the audience and denounces the show as crass, tasteless rubbish much to the chigrin of Mr Sardu. But is Mr Sardu’s show fake or real? We see that he also has much bigger plans for a much more ambitious show involving Miss Natalyia, an internationally renowned ballerina.

We get to see Sardu and his faithful sidekick Ralphus as they live day to day backstage of the theatre and how they plan for their spectacular spectacle which they are sure will shock the world.

This film was never released in Britain until 2014 even though it was made in 1976. Thankfully, when the internet and Amazon became popular, horrorhounds could order the VHS/DVD from America and cross their fingers that it got through customs.

Bloodsucking Freaks captures a time in film history when exploitation was king, 42nd Street was Mecca for horror/porn/kung fu fans and when sick cinema really was sick. It’s tasteless, shocking, VERY funny and camp as tits. Whats more, you’re always routing for Sardu and Ralphus with both roles being portrayed to perfection. The dialogue crackles with the film hitting a bullseye for every target that it aims at.

One day Bloodsucking Freaks will be held aloft and given the same respect and reverance that John Waters’ early films are now being awarded. Bloodsucking Freaks on Criterion alongside Female Trouble? I don’t see why not.

8. Halloween 2 (1981)

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I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween on the big screen ranging from an original 1978 print copy that looked appalling right through to new prints which visually and audibly are a treat to behold. I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween 3: Season of the Witch at a small screening a few years ago and so I’d love to see 1981’s Halloween 2 in a cinema.

This sequel takes place straight after the events of the original film with Laurie Strode being taken to the local hospital only to be followed by Michael Myers who wants to try and finish her off again.

Cue some truly unsettling scenes of Myers captured on hospital CCTV, further casualties in the form of hospital staff of all stratas (Michael doesn’t discriminate) and a cracker of a chase scene when Michael finally finds Laurie. The hospital forms a really eerie backdrop for the action, theres more great cinematography from Dean Cundey who also shot the original and a brilliantly updated electronic soundtrack by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.

In fact, instead of just seeing this on the big screen, can someone please programme a triple bill of the first three films? There would be massive demand for it. That might just make up for the awful Rob Zombie remakes/reimaginings.

9. The Cure In Orange (1987)

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I got into The Cure in 1986 when Standing on a Beach was released. It was love at first listen. The Cure in Orange was released shortly after this but alas, there were no screenings at my local cinema.

However, I bought the home video when it was released. This is quite possibly my favourite incarnation of the band playing a career encompassing setlist with the amazing architecture at the Theatre Antique d’Orange in France as a backdrop. The Cure were HUGE in France at the time and so the concert is rammed full of fans and the brilliant reaction from these fans brings out the best in the band.

Add to this the fact that the concert film was shot by the brilliant director of The Cure’s videos at this time, Tim Pope and you have a winning combination.

A few years ago Robert Smith mentioned that The Cure in Orange would be released as part of a Cure live DVD box set. This hasn’t materialised. This works to our advantage. We now live in an era of Blu ray. Any media shot on film looks especially great when released in High Definition on this format. It would be great for director Tim Pope to go back to the original film negatives and remaster them for a Blu ray release along with a Pope/Smith audio commentary and maybe a CD release also.

There have been cinema screenings of The Cure in Orange in the States. There needs to be some in Britain too.

10. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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Roald Dahl is a legend. One of my favourite books of his when I was a kid in the 80’s was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wherein eccentric chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka has placed six Golden Tickets in random Wonka Bars. The lucky recipient and a guest of their choice will gain access to his fantastical chocolate factory for an all-immersive guided tour. One of the lucky children to find one of these tickets is poor but kind-hearted Charlie Bucket who decides to take his grandfather.

I’m so glad that Dahl’s masterpiece of kids fiction was translated into a film that lives up to the filmic potential that the book hinted at. Before the film was made the book must have seemed virtually unfilmable as the book was so outthere but the film more than copes with the lofty imaginative standards set by the book.

The film was named Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory rather than sticking to the book’s name and it is TRIPPYYYY! The LSD soaked sensibilities of the late 60’s permeate the look, feel and visuals of the film. The film is also a musical and the songs are just as brilliant as the visuals on offer.

But these drug induced aspects of the movie don’t get in the way of the story being told. The morality of Dahl’s story regarding being a good human being rather than a spoilt brat whether these qualities manifest themselves in children or adults is still present but isn’t overly sugary or overegged.

The casting is pinpoint perfect with Wilder stealing the show as Wonka (lets not go into the disasterous turn by Johnny Depp in the terrible remake by Tim Burton).

A visual feast that entertains, tugs at the heartstrings and makes having acid flashbacks a very real possibility.

I Miss The NFT

I Miss The NFT

You may recall me talking about the NFT (National Film Theatre) in a piece I wrote recently about going to see Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D there.

It got me to thinking about when I went to see films there and the fact that there were critical analyses handed out for each film being shown so that the serious film connoisseur could peruse it before the film started. I wondered if I had kept any of the ones that I received. I have kept most of my ticket stubs, did I save these handouts also?

I just got notified on Facebook of what I was doing in years gone by. A few years ago I had scanned ticket stubs and keepsakes and dated them appropriately after putting them on my FB timeline. And one of these handouts came up!

This is one such handout from when I went to see Klute as part of a 1960/70’s film season reflecting New American Film. The handout even has discolorisation on it from where it was in my pocket!

I saw The French Connection, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Warriors amongst other gems as part of this season.

I miss the NFT. But the world doesn’t revolve around London anymore (unless you’re stinking rich and woke) and I have plenty of great film establishments here in Leeds to more than satisfy my film needs.

Still, the memories come flooding back.

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Jojo is a proud Hitler Youth member. He decides to go on a weekend for fellow brainwashed enthusiasts. However, after a (very funny) accident with a grenade he finds himself hospitalised. At home recovering he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. He confides this to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (!)

This film is actually a comedy! An off the wall, zany and irreverant comedy that works beautifully. It was a massive gamble to make such a film in such oversensitive and ‘woke’ times. And it was Disney of all studios that made Jojo Rabbit! Should such a terrible period from history be depicted in such a chirpy and comical way? Should Hitler be portrayed as such a goofball within the film? YES! Whether it’s Mel Brooks (who said he loved JoJo Rabbit) with The Producers and it’s musical Springtime For Hitler or Joan Rivers making her controversial joke about the Holocaust on Fashion Police, humour reaches the parts that more earnest and serious pieces of ‘art’ can’t. It forces you to laugh at whatever is the target of the joke is and then analyse why you laughed at something that you normally wouldn’t see as comical.

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Whilst most critics have lauded the film, there are peripheral pundits who have either said that the filmmakers have gone too far (How dare they make a comedy starring Adolf Hitler?!) or that they didn’t go far enough (How dare they make a film about Nazi Germany and not show the full horror of what happened?!). The Guardian hated the film which is another reason for audiences go and see this gem of a film.

But, understandably, everything depicted in the film isn’t just for laughs. There are plenty of gut-wrenching moments when the full horror is brought home to the characters and audience alike. These poignant sequences aren’t milked for all their worth and this makes them all the more powerful and genuine. There were a couple of pivotal scenes which made me fight back tears. These scenes were played out for what they were without the whole film descending into a tissue-soaking cry-a-thon which would have cheapened and devalued the movie’s content.

The film also looks beautiful with set designs and a colour palate that makes Jojo Rabbit a feast for the eyes. This film is beautifully constructed. Jojo’s room, the house in which he resides, the cubby hole that houses Elsa and the surrounding environs are all aesthetically pleasing and a joy to behold.

 

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Also, check out the framing. Every scene feels just as quirky, off-kilter and as warped as the narrative. Watch out for the scene on the giant steps and the later scene with it’s emphasis on a character’s shoes and how this motif is used later on in the film in an extremely heartbreaking but dignified and tasteful way.

The soundtrack is also fantastic with The Beatles’ German language version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand (‘Komm, gib mir deine Hand’)  and Bowie’s Helden leading the way. In fact, these two rather obscure (to English eyes anyway) versions of well known songs normally heard in their Mother Tongue depict the whole feel of the film- off kilter, eschew and very original.

There are uniformly amazing performances by the likes of Roman Griffin Davis playing Jojo, Scarlett Johannsen as his mother, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa the Jewish hideaway and Sam Rockwell (great to see him taking more risks with his choice of roles after starring in the ultra-woke and unbearable Three Billboards). Also, look out for Stephen Merchant as a very sinister Nazi inspector. He reminded me of The Demon Headmaster. But it’s director and screenwriter Taika Waititi who plays Adolf Hitler who steals the show. Every scene that hes in is comedy gold as he depicts Hitler as a kind of bro/dude best friend to Jojo. His lines and mannerisms are laugh out loud hysterical.

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4 parts humour, 1 part sentiment, this film has a power that will seep into your brain during it’s running time and stay with you long after the film is over. In fact my first thought on leaving the cinema was that I wanted to see it again.

I feel privileged to have seen one of the best films of 2020 on Jan the 1st of this year. A cracking start to a new decade of movies.

5 out of 5 stars