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

 

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Three women are travelling to a music festival but crash their car. They awake in the isolated mansion of an elderly matriarch and her daughter.

I love this film and not just because I found it in Poundland of all places.

This is a chiller that keeps you guessing until the shocking and completely nutty climax. Look at how great the film is framed and notice the tight editing. This film packs in so much but without any unnecessary filler. Also experience one of the sleaziest soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s like the director knew he was making a shocker that was destined to be a video nasty.

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And that just what happened. The film was classified by the BBFC as an 18 but was then placed on the DPP list and banned anyway. This has meant that it has earned it’s place in horror history rather than being a very good movie that faded into obscurity. Thats one good aspect of the Video Nasties list.

The violence is graphic, the tone unique to this film alone. I hope this gets the Blu ray treatment it richly deserves.

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The ending is shocking in a Sleepaway Camp kind of way. Un-PC in these over sensitive times but thats just what makes me love the film even more.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- The Cure- Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park

Review- The Cure- Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park

I was very excited when I learnt that not only had Tim Pope filmed The Cure’s anniversary show in Hyde Park last year but also that it was going to be shown in cinemas worldwide. But first, let me rewind a bit.

I first discovered The Cure in 1986 at the tender age of 11. My brother’s friend was singing some song lyrics which really intrigued me. When I enquired further she said the song was Killing An Arab and that her brother had bought the new Cure singles album ‘Standing on a Beach’. My interest was sparked enough for me to go out and buy said album and dip my toe into the world of alternative music.

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The album was a perfect introduction with every track being perfectly conceived but with the band audibly evolving and mutating over time with each new incarnation of the group.

What also impressed me was that this was a band who seemed to love their back catalogue and wanting to have it fully available in the public domain for fans to enjoy. Hence, in addition to the LP version of the album which contained all of the singles, the band also released a cassette edition that had the band’s B-sides on it’s second side, a video compilation that contained all of the videos, videos that were made for songs that weren’t released as singles and home video interludes in-between each video. The CD version of the album had an extended tracklisting that mirrored the video compliations songlist.

The video compilation Staring At The Sun- The Images was a revelation. The early videos depicted the band as either a band of angry young men stuck in a studio with some very dated looking vision mixing or as long coat wearing gloom merchants with an innovative sound and equally innovative hair.

But then the band allowed possibly the most insane, demented and brilliant pop video director of that era to visualise their amazing 1982 disco (yes, disco!) single Let’s Go To Bed. Just as this song broke the mould when it came to The Cure as a musical entity (it was even recorded the same year as the band’s Pornography album which is one of the most savagely downbeat albums ever made), Pope broke the mould when it came to The Cure’s videos and in fact, anyone’s videos. He depicted the band as just as colourful, multi-faceted and hallucinatory as their music and it worked beautifully. They even started to smile in front of the camera as if they were genuinely enjoying themselves.

The year after the release of Standing on a Beach the concert film ‘The Cure In Orange’ which was also directed by Pope was released. Tim was now established as the only video director who the band would work with and so it was only natural that he would direct the band’s first live film.

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Filmed at The Theatre Antique d’Orange in France the band used the ancient environs as an amazing backdrop for an hour and a half trip through their amazing back-catalogue.

I was gutted at the time that I didn’t get to see the film on the big screen as it was only shown at cinemas in selected big cities in the UK before a video release.

And now here we are in 2019 and I’m getting to see the band on the big screen and with a different line-up. The band’s 40th anniversary gig held at Hyde Park in London in July 2018 was filmed (thankfully by Tim Pope) in 4K with the sound being mixed at Abbey Road by Robert Smith himself.

Was it as good as I hope it would be? In a word- yes. In fact, it was much better than I hoped it would be and I thought it would be pretty amazing before I actually saw it.

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The backdrop this time is the London skyline as we see the time span that the band play change from early evening to dusk and then to nighttime. Who knew that nature would bring such a brilliant and dramatic tone to events but it does and it works wonderfully.

Whilst the band perform some of their best known songs (Friday I’m in Love, Lovesong, In Between Days) this isn’t a Greatest Hits set. There are rare airings of Grinding Halt, Jumping Someone Else’s Train and The Caterpillar- songs that fans of the band will know but may be unheard by more casual listeners.

The film also does the impossible. I kind of switched off from The Cure on the release of the album Disintegration as at the time I found it to be overlong, a bit ‘middle-aged’ (oh, the irony) and somewhat flabby. This film has made me buy said album again and also play other tracks that I didn’t particularly care for on their release such as High, Friday I’m in Love and Never Enough as they were played so brilliantly by the band during the gig. This last track especially shows the brilliance of the group as a touring ensemble. On it’s release I dismissed the one-off single as The Cure desperately trying to ‘go baggy’ and fit in with the whole vile Madchester scene that was so popular with NME and Melody Maker journo wankers. However, within the film the song now truly swaggers with it’s stop/start brilliance and audience participation. Madchester is now (thankfully) a distant memory and so it’s associations don’t marr the track’s brilliance anymore.

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History judges everything and the passage of time has judged these songs very well indeed as it has the whole of The Cure’s back catalogue. The fact that they have evolved in great ways when played live by such a great touring unit also helps immeasurably. And the band are on such top form that they just keep peaking at various points throughout the set. This ensures that the film and the band never drags. The only criticism that has been levelled against the band recently by certain silly music journalists has been that their concerts are too long. This is twaddle. The band are very evidently in love with performing their music and this comes across in spades throughout the whole of the film. If only more bands were like The Cure.

Tim Pope’s direction also brings several different layers to this concert film. He knows when to be restrained and when to work his visual magic. Hence we get songs like Plainsong that need no visual trickery at all. But then the film twists, turns and gets significantly more freaky visually with every song. Pope employs the kind of direction and effects that have never been seen in a concert film before this. I remember at one point during the film watching the band seemingly shifting in size and form whilst beams of colour radiate from them and the stage. I thought to myself that it felt like I had just dropped really good acid whilst actually being at the event. Thats quite a feat for a concert film.

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Pope also references the past (check out The Walk and the way the editing is a nod and wink to the editing of the original video).

With Pope’s relationship with the band spanning several decades the audience gets to peek into aspects of this that would otherwise never be shared and remain private. Hence, there are several moments of humour and insightful behaviour that are captured on film. One of these is the brilliant first moment we see Smith- he sarcastically waves at the camera and instantly breaks the fourth wall…in fact Pope documents many moments that show Robert not to be the morose singer that lazy journalists would have you believe he is but more the master of deadpan humour, an example of which was also seen recently when the clip of him being inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame went viral.

There seems to be a whole narrative of band relations and genuine chemistry throughout the course of the film which is fascinating to watch and partly explains why the band have lasted so long and why this line-up is such a brilliant live entity.

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If there is one abiding emotion I got from this film it’s just utter joy- at seeing a beautifully crafted film of such a brilliant band who are still at the top of their game. And I kept finding myself smiling at finally getting to see the legend that is Robert Smith on the big screen. The Cure In Orange now needs to find a Blu Ray release with it playing cinemas across the country to support it’s release.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Review- The China Syndrome (1978)

Review- The China Syndrome (1978)

On visiting the Ventura nuclear power plant, journalist Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman Richard Adams (Michael Douglas) find themselves witnessing and experiencing a major emergency when something goes wrong with a turbine malfunctioning causing the plant to go through the procedure of an emergency shutdown. This shows that the plant isn’t as safe as the plant’s management would have everyone believe. Whilst this was going on Adams secretly films the whole thing.

When a superior at the TV station where they work won’t let the secret footage be televised, Adams decides to steal the footage from the station’s vault room and show it to experts who can say exactly what happened at the plant and how dangerous it was. They say that the plant narrowly avoided a ‘china syndrome’ in which the plant’s core would have melted down into the ground, hit water there and emitted radioactive steam into the atmosphere which could have spread over a considerable radius.

Add to this that the plant employee who helped avoid this catastrophic event happening, Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) also sees other signs that all is not well at the plant including a pool of radioactive water that has leaked from a pump and radiograph images of welds and how strong they are that are identical showing that the same one was just submitted again and again.

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How the film was reviewed in The Yorkshire Evening Post on it’s original release. 

A quest to get the truth out then ensues with potentially life threatening obstacles being placed in our protagonist’s way. And this is a major theme within the film- should the truth be exposed and will the truth be exposed.

With this premise firmly in place the film becomes a prime (and brilliant) example of paranoid 70’s cinema alongside films like The Parallax View- movies that show once trusted organisations containing people in positions of power that may now have their own darker agendas once corruption and money have clouded affairs.

Within the film theres also a subtle and very perceptive look at gender roles in the workplace and the glass ceiling actively in operation. Kimberley Wells wants to televise this story as firstly, she wants the truth to come out for the good of everyone but also because she wants to make the move into serious journalism. Wells is seen by the station as someone who is ‘paid to smile and not think’ (as the trailer perceptively states) as we see the kind of stories that she gets to report on- usually end of the night, lighthearted piffle designed to lift viewer’s hearts after the more serious, ‘real’ news has been reported.

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A ‘Spot the Difference’ contest in The Yorkshire Evening Post’ used to publicise the film! In keeping with the film’s theme the prize should have been a microwave oven. A missed opportunity. 

The film is another example of a 70’s movie that shows California very well indeed. The cinematography is brilliant with the highways and landscapes looking especially beautiful.

Finally, The China Syndrome is also a very important film as it’s one of Jane Fonda’s best ‘Hair-Do Hall of Fame’ movies. Her tsunami of red hair is just as iconic and epoch-defining as her Klute feather cut or her 9 To 5 do. Just sayin’.

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Screw nuclear power. Look at that hair!

4 stars out of 5.

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

I remember one of the first films my family rented when we first got a video recorder (VCR to my American buddies) in 1983 was the Charles Bronson sleazefest 10 To Midnight. OK, I know it sounds weird that such a lurid piece of exploitation was hired for a cosy night of family movie watching but (luckily) my Dad thought that the Daily Mail moral panic when it came to film violence and the dreaded ‘video nasties’ was just plain bs. Thus I got to see 10 To Midnight and such fare from the age of 8 and onwards. And I turned out OK. Right?!

10 To Midnight was released on Guild Home Video- ahh, the memories of the Guild introductory pulse theme tune…of the many pieces of music which remind me of just how awesome the 80’s were this is one of them.

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I hadn’t seen this piece of celluloid slime in a long time and so I thought it was well overdue for a rewatch.

The plot involves a homicidal maniac called Warren Stacy (an extrordinary performance by Gene Davis who had starred as a transsexual hooker in the masterpiece Cruising three years previous) who kills women who rebuff his advances and the cop Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) who is determined to catch him. By a bizarre twist Stacy sees Kessler’s daughter at the funeral of one of his victims (an ex co-worker who gave him the cold shoulder and paid for it) as she was a childhood friend of the deceased.

Is the film as grimy, perverted and kick-ass as I remember? In a word- YES!

One thing that I found particularly interesting about the film on watching it again was how it perfectly mirrors the general moviegoing public’s populist tastes of the time. 10 To Midnight is a perfect hybrid of both vigilante film and slasher movie which was brave as the filmmakers could have just played it safe and churned out another Charles Bronson vehicle starring a functional but uninteresting adversary.

Instead they made a film with a killer who was just as interesting and quirky as Bronson’s character. In fact, Gene Davis who plays Warren Stacy gives a performance that truly goes the extra mile! It’s a freaky turn that is comparable with Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th or Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry- performances that are so full-on and brilliant when portraying mentally unstable people that they are utterly believeable but without curdling into camp or pantomimesque theatrics.

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Gene Davis as Warren Stacy

Not only were the vigilante and slasher genres popular at the cinema but also with the home video audiences of the day. The video was rapidly building in stature and earning a reputation as a ‘must have’ piece of technology for every home. Thus video shops started to spring up everywhere with the more extreme genres proving to be the most popular with the general public. Ahh, the golden days when video shop shelves were filled with wall to wall horror, action and kung-fu movies, each with lurid and sensationalistic cover artwork. The makers of 10 To Midnight knew this all too well and so made a movie that perfectly tapped into this creatively and without making some obvious cynical cash-in.

You’re probably thinking that as this is a Charles Bronson movie you know the kind of formula to expect. But this film actually subverts that narrative. Instead of a Death Wish vibe this film actually has a Dirty Harry-type storyline in that instead of being a ‘civilian who fights back’ here Mr Bronson is ‘the cop who bends the law to apprehend the bad guy’ but with a sting in the tail.

This narrative is always problematic. Kessler is only acting on a hunch when he thinks he knows who is carrying out the murders of the women in the film. The viewer has the advantage of the ‘all seeing eye’ of the film to confirm that Warren is carrying out these sadistic homicides but Leo doesn’t. Kessler bends the rules in a number of different ways with regards to Stacey during the course of the film based on this ‘hunch’ which in real life would make for terrible policing.

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Charles Bronson as Leo Kessler

In fact this ‘all seeing eye’ awarded to the film’s audience is something that elevates this movie from just being a stock post-Death Wish Charles Bronson film. We get to see the devilish deeds of Stacy and how much of a depraved, sleazy and warped character he really is. In other words, he’s perfect for an early 80’s exploitation movie.

Stacy’s character points the film firmly towards slasher movie territory. Theres also a nod towards the ‘true crime’ genre of documentaries and pulp paperbacks as the film and Warren’s character seem to be influenced by real life felons and ‘serial killer as celebrity’ culture.

The first time we see him in the film he’s getting ready to go out for the night. He’s very good looking, has a perfect body and is very vain with it. There’s a vibe of Ted Bundy crossed with a proto-Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) about him. Stacy even drives a VW Beetle which was synonymous with Bundy.

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Sharply dressed men- Stacy…
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…and Bateman

We then see him chatting up a couple of young women in a cinema but only to make sure they recognise him and can later vouch for his whereabouts. He’s constructing his own alibi whilst the audience can see what he really does. He sneaks out of the movie theater through a bathroom window once the film has started, stalks a woman who rebuffed him at his work picnic (!) and murders both her and her date at a lakeside location. This scene is very important to the film as a whole. It establishes that this is as much a slasher movie as it is a Bronson action flick. The fact that the young woman and her partner were mid-carnal encounter hammers this home even further with such an act being a sin within the slasher genre.

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‘You come here often?!’ Stacy establishes his alibi by chatting up two women at the cinema

It also establishes a key feature of the killer and the film’s sleaziness as a whole. He likes to strip naked prior to killing his victims. In fact, there were two versions of this film made- one in which Davis is completely naked in the murder scenes and another in which he is only wearing briefs. This tactic would make sure that there was at least one version of the film which could be shown on TV without it being deemed too sexually explicit.

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A still from the ‘briefs’ version of the film

With this first murder, notice the way the woman is killed with the camera invading her body space and the prolonged, almost uncomfortably long time that it takes for Stacy to actually bump her off. This allows the audience to fully see her terrified reaction to her impending fate. The film milks this for all it’s worth especially with the fact that both victim and murderer are naked. You get to witness how twisted and perverted Stacy really is with the audience getting the impression that he is enjoying the build up to the murder almost as much as the actual deed itself. The terror he evokes from his victim is very much the foreplay to the terrible deed itself.

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The all-nude first lakeside murder

When Stacy climbs back into the cinema he flushes down the toilet the rubber gloves he was wearing when he killed the lakeside couple. This is another interesting facet of the film. The movie shows the killer to be forensically minded. This was years before the multiple CSI series brought that aspect of policing and criminality into the sphere of entertainment. We later see more examples of Stacy being forensically aware as we witness him thoroughly washing the knife he uses to kill the roommate of the previous victim whose diary Stacy goes to seize. Stacy even uses rubber gloves when we see him making dirty phone calls from various public phone booths as to not leave fingerprints on the receiver.

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The forensically-minded Stacy wearing gloves when going to steal the incriminating diary

When the diary of one of Warren’s victims (who is also one of his workmates) exposes the deceased’s true feelings towards him (‘a creep’) this makes him a suspect in Kessler’s eyes even though the journal also mentions other men in a less than flattering light. Leo and his partner, McAnn decide to visit Stacy at his apartment. It’s when asking to use the toilet that Kessler has a look around in Warren’s bathroom. He spies some porno magazines (these are shown to be gay porn- is Warren, in fact, a closet homosexual? Has the killer placed these there as a red herring for any potentially preying eyes? Are the filmmakers trying to imply that this is why he hates women?) but more importantly, a device used for masturbation.

A major factor to the film’s overall sleaziness is that theres an equal emphasis on sex as there is on violence. We even got some Freudian film analysis as Kessler exclaims that in this case the knife used in the murders symbolises the killer’s penis. Not bad for an exploitation film.

Warren is interviewed. In one of the most notorious scenes of the film, the sexual aid is brought out with Bronson sarcastically asking what the appliance is used for before roaring ‘It’s for jacking off!’ It’s during this meeting that we find out about an incident from Warren’s childhood that adds to Kessler’s sense of unease about him- he cut a small girl, was reported to the police by the girl’s mother and so as retaliation smashed one of her windows and threw a dead cat inside. Kessler also becomes a bit too ‘hands on’ during his interrogation of Stacy, at one point grabbing his head to make sure he looks at pictures of the murdered women. Leo is firmly from the ‘act first, ask questions later’ school of policing. But, whilst a policeman like Leo may be great in an exploitation film from the 70’s and 80’s, would we really want such authority figures operating in real life?

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A different kind of juice extractor

Kessler is willing to bend the rules and even resort to violence to get a confession. This is extremely problematic and will backfire on Leo later on in the film.

Kessler asks his superior to get Warren brought in on a spurious charge that he didn’t commit just to keep him off the street where he might kill more women (even though Leo doesn’t know for sure that he’s the killer). McAnn has a dual role in the film. Not only is he Kessler’s ‘by the book’ police partner but he also acts as some kind of moral balance to Kessler’s ‘make my day’ gung-ho method of policing.

Kessler’s view on law and order is also extolled when he states that he sees the law as protecting the ‘maggots’ such as Stacy as if they were ‘an endangered species’ after he learns that a lack of concrete evidence would prevent Warren from being arrested and tried in a court of law.

Stacy stalking the nursing apartment complex where Leo’s daughter Laurie lives and making the nuisance phone calls also mines into events that a lot of viewers could relate to that are very much of their time. During the early 80’s these kind of calls were all too commonplace with telephone companies not yet having mastered the practice of tracing where a call was coming from.  Sourcing a call in those days was a laborious task and hadn’t really advanced from the same method so brilliantly depicted in Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas in 1974.

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Stacy makes nuisance phone calls to his victims. Note the rubber gloves and ‘Equalizer opening credits’ style chic

The houseshare of nurses also points the film towards the ‘slasher’ genre. There have been other examples of this conceit used in stalk n slash films before and since with one of the most innovative being the movie Slumber Party Massacre in which girls are in a confined space which provides easy pickings for the deranged psychopath. Within 10 To Midnight this scenario also echoes real life events, primarily the Chi Omega murders carried out by Ted Bundy after he escaped from jail. Bundy appears to have massively influenced this film and it’s narrative.

But before the film shows this sorority house invasion by Stacy we see more of the corrupted version of ‘justice’ which is engineered by Kessler. He goes into the crime laboratory whereby he sees the lab technician smoking marijuana. He tells the tech that he will turn a blind eye. Obviously this will work both ways later on as when Kessler asks for the tech to retrieve a file for him he sneaks into the DNA evidence room and extracts a sample of Stacy’s blood. Kessler’s thinking is that if he is willing to turn a blind eye then the lab technician will surely do the same for him.

When blood is suddenly found on the forensically fastidious Stacy’s clothes, Warren is informed of this by his crooked lawyer. He doesn’t react to this news well and becomes extremely agitated and violent. We get the feeling that with Stacy taking such pride in being methodically precise with all of the circumstances surrounding his killings, this forensic indiscretion is known to him to be both false and an example of him being framed. This news is a distinct slap in the face for him and the professionalism of his methods.

Kessler meddling in affairs by trying to engineer the justice he desires so much sets into motion a domino effect of events which 10 To Midnight is brave enough to depict. Within a vigilante or rogue cop film we normally only see the positive effects of such law bending rather than what can go wrong.

Stacy’s lawyer, Dave Dante, states to Kessler’s ‘by the book’ partner McAnn that he believes that the blood was planted on his client’s clothes. McAnn follows up on this with the lab tech who mentions that Kessler disappeared to the room where the blood samples are kept. When McAnn mentions this to Leo he confirms that he did plant the blood on Stacy’s clothes.

Because of this Leo confesses during Warren’s trial that he did in fact plant the evidence himself. The film then shows the dire consequences of such actions- the waste of public money for the trial being held, Warren Stacy being set free when he could be guilty of the alleged crimes (something that the audience knows to be true but the film’s characters don’t for certain), the fact that Kessler has snubbed his nose at due process. Leo is then fired because of his actions. Such resultant actions that occurred because of Kessler’s meddling with justice shows that the movie is much more than just 42nd Street and drive-in fare. It’s great to see that the movie is well-rounded enough to show that such tactics can have the opposite effects instead of what was hoped for.

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Stacy is set free with Dante beside him (right)

Dante also tells Warren something very telling during their pre-trial consultation. He advises his client to ‘act crazy’ as a last resort. This could involve saying that he thinks he is in fact two people and hears conflicting voices from both- a ‘bad’ personality telling a ‘good’ personality what to do. It’s a widely held presumption that a criminal can have a cushier time serving their sentence in a mental facility rather than permanently looking over their shoulder in a maximum security prison where a prisoner’s survival isn’t always guaranteed. This view also resonates with similar views held in real life. A prison guard overheard Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe tell his wife Sonia that if he just convinces the jury that he is ‘mad’ and not ‘bad’ then his sentence served in a psychiatric hospital will be a doddle and he could even be released sooner. Another nod to real life ‘true crime’ culture that the film references.

On being set free, Stacey rings Kessler to taunt him about his deeds backfiring. He also intimates that he will continue with his terror campaign. This in turn spurs Leo on to wage war and intimidate Stacey in a number of ways that include breaking into Warren’s workplace and placing crime scene photographs on the staff noticeboard for all and sundry to see, driving next to Stacy to unsettle him, loitering outside Stacey’s apartment block (McAnn again acts as Leo’s conscience and approaches him to tell him that he shouldn’t be there) and breaking into Warren’s apartment and sabotaging his stereo so that it starts playing loud music when Stacy enters. These are deliberate intrusions of Warren’s territory by Leo and a clear indication that Kessler can infringe on Stacey’s private space just like Warren has to countless other women.

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Kessler drives next to Stacy and makes his intrusive presence known to him

Stacey knows that Kessler is watching his every move outside his apartment and so decides to shake him off so that he can deal with a more prescient task- the dispatching of Leo’s daughter as an act of superiority over him and to hit Leo truly where it hurts.

The audience gets a sudden detour into nocturnal downtown L.A. with it’s peepshows, hookers and grindhouse theaters. Stacey picks up a hooker fully knowing that Kessler will follow but then slips out of a window in the motel he has lured Kessler to. He then goes to Laurie’s shared accommodation.

This is where the slasher component of the film comes to the fore again. In an incredible moment of self-reference, the nurses in the houseshare even refer to Stacy as ‘the slasher’ when McAnn is setting up a tap on their phone for when Stacy calls them again.

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Whilst Kessler is on the phone urging one of Laurie’s roommates to not open the door to anyone, another roommate is opening the door to what she thinks is a delivery of roses for Laurie from McAnn. But this is instead Stacy, naked and armed with a knife. He even has his trademark rubber gloves on, forensically aware to the end.

This sequence is quite extraordinary even within the extreme genres of the vigilante movie and the slasher film. Firstly, it’s audacious that a film should attempt a scene with a killer who is completely naked and somehow manage to do so whilst not inadvertently exposing any of the villain’s ‘crown jewels’. In a number of shots this is even done by the filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek (pun not intended). Witness the scene where the killer’s modesty is masked by the body of one of the roommates being held close to him. In another, Laurie is under a bed hiding from Stacey but watching his every move. His manhood is hidden from view when he steps in front of a bedpost.

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The bare cheek of the film: the nursing apartment home invasion

This scene also goes the extra mile as it feels extremely uncomfortable to watch just like the earlier lakeside murder sequence. The extreme terror of the women going through these traumatic proceedings is there for all to see and feels like a nod of the cap to films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left. This kind of gritty and unflinching capturing of sheer fear was, with this film, transported from the sidelines of drive-in and grindhouse cinema and now made an ingredient within a mainstream Hollywood film with a ‘name’ leading actor. That was a very brave move to make.

Within this sequence it’s obvious Stacy is getting off on the terror he is evoking and so he takes his time before the actual dispatching of his quarry to elicit as much pure fear from them as possible. These scenes feel necessary to the plot because of this rather than being a cheap and very sick device. This isn’t just the pornography of terror.

The end of this sequence is also noteworthy. Laurie evades Stacey’s clutches by hitting him where it hurts- but not where you think with him being naked. As Laurie tries to leave the apartment she is grabbed from behind by Stacy but retaliates by scolding his face with a pair of curling tongs that were being used just prior to Warren’s home invasion. Aside from kicking him in the balls, this is the worst place to attack someone that the film has established as being so vain.

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‘Not the face!’ Laurie hits Warren where it really hurts

We then see the leadup to the final scene and confrontation between Stacy and Kessler. This involves seeing Stacy (still naked!) chasing Laurie outside (thankfully for Stacy the street is very quiet). Warren is catching up with her when we see her run into the arms of her father. When Leo admonishes Warren for his actions, Stacy tries to say that he only did them because of Kessler’s treatment towards him which cajoled him into further action. Warren then adopts the ‘I’m mad!’ narrative that his lawyer prepped him with earlier. The police arrive but Warren momentarily evades their clutches only to be shot dead by Kessler.

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The final scene. Bronson as judge, jury and executioner

This final scene is the perfect meeting point of the slasher and the vigilante movie genres. The bad guy is meeting justice from the gun of the flawed good guy who has assumed the mantle of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. The bad guy is naked. He’s also just exclaimed to the world how insane he really is and that when he gets out he’ll continue his murderous ways.

Apparently Kessler and Stacy were supposed to fight at the end of the movie. However, Bronson objected to this as he didn’t want to roll around with a naked man!

10 To Midnight also has two other distinct advantages that seal it’s ‘classic’ status.

Firstly, it’s a Cannon Film- an obvious seal of exploitation excellence.

Secondly, ‘esteemed’ film critic Roger Ebert despised 10 To Midnight when he reviewed it which, if nothing else, should propel any self-respecting exploitation fan to want to investigate the film further. Did he not know that his review would actually send gorehounds to the cinemas in droves to see it? Tell me if these titbits from his review don’t whet your appetite-

”This is a scummy little sewer of a movie, a cesspool that lingers sadistically on shots of a killer terrifying and killing helpless women…”

”The movie lingers on the faces of screaming women. It revels in its bloodbaths. Gore spurts all over the screen. The final sequence is so disgusting that I wrote the first sentence of this review in my mind while I was watching it.”

Nice job, Roger. I’m there!

10 To Midnight is out now on Blu ray on the ever brilliant Scream Factory