Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- Terror in the Aisles (1984)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- Terror in the Aisles (1984)

Another one of my favourite VHS rentals as a kid was Terror in the Aisles. Essentially a compilation of clips from horror movies, this is That’s Entertainment for weirdos. And it works beautifully.

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A major reason why this works is the sheer breadth of the films that are used from the old to the new, the well known to the obscure. There are also films used that aren’t strictly horror movies but are still examples of how suspense can be brilliantly generated in a film (Midnight Express, Night Hawks).

This film was also extremely popular in the UK as it contained clips from movies that were either banned by the BBFC (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or discreetly removed from video shelves by them (The Exorcist).

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Forbidden fruit- Terror featured clips from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which was then banned by the BBFC 

Another masterstroke by the movie are the links that involve horror royalty Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen in a cinema pontificating on horror tropes and what makes them work. These sequences are priceless. Look out for a young Angel Salazar as a ‘feature moviegoer’.

Themes such as the villain and the victim/Final Girl are examined with the respective appropriate clips being used to illustrate the filmmakers points. Theres also a lesson in suspense by the master himself, Mr Alfred Hitchcock.

This is a great compilation for either the young horror hound looking for new thrills or the seasoned purveyor of all things cinematically depraved. I never thought this film would see the light of day on Blu ray because of the logistical nightmare associated with a compilation like this and rights issues. I’m very glad to say that I was wrong. A few years back Universal released Halloween 2 (1981) on Blu ray with Terror in the Aisles as one of the bonus features. An essential purchase.

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4/5 out of 5 stars

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- I Am Nancy (2010)

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- I Am Nancy (2010)

When I learnt that there was a documentary all about Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first Nightmare on Elm Street film) and the whole fan phenomenon that surrounded the film and specifically her character I thought it sounded a very interesting concept.

But, alas, the reality is very different. Theres a reason I don’t go to horror fan conventions where the fans get to meet their idols and get 8” by 10”s signed and that is the cringe factor. The fans with the tattoos and the collections of memorabilia pertaining to their favourite films has always made me roll my eyes and here, unfortunately, the filmmakers give them a platform for the majority of the film. And it’s just as excruciating as I thought it would be when I learnt that this film was about the fans rather than the surrounding mythos of the Nightmare series.

There are some great moments that should have been developed into full segments in their own right. We see Heather signing different types of Krueger merch (the Freddy talking doll, the vinyl record that was released at the height of Freddymania of him singing cover versions). I’d love a documentary about how the cult of Freddy grew with a comprehensive round-up of the different merchandise that was produced to satiate Freddy fan’s needs back in the day.

 

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Also, an analysis of how this could have developed around a character as perverted as a child killer needs examination. Freddy pushes the notion of the cinematic anti-hero to it’s furthest point. How could a character that in real life would have been universally reviled be revered by horror fans when he appears as the lead character in a film franchise. A look into that would have been amazing.

This feels like a Blu ray special feature and a very shoddily made one at that. The fact that this was released as a stand alone documentary is pretty shocking.

Whilst this film is billed as ‘Never Sleep Again Part 2’ it only goes to show how comprehensive and detailed the original epic length documentary was. Stick with that. And watch the original films. Especially the first one. Oh, and check out Freddy’s spin-off TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares. History has been VERY kind to this horror anthology series. It’s very underrated.

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1 star out of 5 stars

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

Review- Not Quite Hollywood (2008)

This is such a great documentary about Ozploitation films (exploitation films made in Australia).

All the great films and sub-genres are here- the bawdy Ocker comedies, the slasher movies, the films for petrolheads.

The main players are all interviewed and show that making these insane films was just as insane in real life.

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I’m so glad that so much attention was devoted to Brian Trenchard-Smith. I think Turkey Shoot is the greatest Aussie film ever (take that Picnic at Hanging Rock).

But it’s not just Aussies who are interviewed. Jamie Lee Curtis and others are interviewed as they starred in prominent Ozploitation movies. Quentin Tarantino features as he’s a massive fan of the genre.

This doc is great for beginners and the already initiated alike. Theres so many films named that I hadn’t heard of that I’ll now be hunting down. Job done.

4.5 out of 5

Review: Crystal Lake Memories (2013)

Review: Crystal Lake Memories (2013)

This is basically Never Sleep Again but for the Friday the 13th films. And that’s perfect. Each film gets talked about by cast and crew regarding how it was made, the ongoing battle with the MPAA that blighted the series later on and how well the films fared when released.

It’s always a joy to hear legends like Betsy Palmer and Tom Savini speak about their experiences. Corey Feldman (aka Tommy Jarvis) narrates and does a brilliant job.

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Kudos for including Friday the 13th: The Series.

A great documentary.

3.5 out of 5

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Review- Danny Says (2015)

Review- Danny Says (2015)

A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.

This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.

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As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.

I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.

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4 out of 5

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.

Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?

David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.

This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.

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However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.

Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?

There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.

A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.

4 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An outstanding film. 5 out of 5.

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