10. Hi Mom!
9. Phantom of the Paradise
8. Raising Cain
6. The Untouchables
4. The Fury
2. Blow Out
1. Dressed To Kill
10. Hi Mom!
9. Phantom of the Paradise
8. Raising Cain
6. The Untouchables
4. The Fury
2. Blow Out
1. Dressed To Kill
A young man is accused of stabbing his abusive father to death. 12 jurors assemble in a room to vote and discuss whether he is guilty or not. The verdict must be unanimous. If there is any reasonable doubt, the men must return a verdict of not guilty. If the young man is found guilty he will be executed by electric chair. The men hold a preliminary vote in which everyone states that they think the young man is guilty- except one. Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) states that he would like to discuss the crime and the events surrounding it with the other jurors.
12 Angry Men is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. It was originally performed as a teleplay of the same name and then adapted for the stage and then this feature film production. The cast here is flawless and includes such luminaries as Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden.
Regarding the men on the jury, there is such a diversity of social class, opinion and experience. We have the blue-collar worker rubbing shoulders with an architect and advertising executive. We also have a wide range of ages.
It feels like all of life is here. We have the jurors who have let their prejudices regarding class and race cloud their objectivity and hence why they think he is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. We also have those who have the strength to hold their own opinions in the face of opposition or at least are willing to discuss them with the other jurors even though everyone else thinks that the accused is guilty. There are also the jurors who have the strength to change their opinion from guilty to not guilty. Finally, we have those who go with the majority no matter what. They just want to fit in with no thought of their own. I couldn’t help but think of social media comment sections on news stories when I watched 12 Angry Men.
Through logic and by using his intellect, Juror 8 demonstrates how the accused could very well be not guilty. Juror 8 is akin to a saint in a white suit. This is in stark contrast to Juror 10 (Ed Begley) and his vile out-and-out lynch-mob racism and the loud-mouthed rage-consumed tirades of Juror 3 (J Lee Cobb) who is ready to send the young man to the electric chair and will relish it when it happens. In fact, it’s this character who goes through the biggest character arc by the end of the film as it’s obvious that he is projecting his estranged relationship with his son onto the young man who stands accused. This final scene with this character is extremely powerful as is the aftermath with Fonda helping him put on his suit jacket as the men leave the room.
The fact that all of the action mostly takes place in one room but never feels tired or monotonous is another reason why director Sidney Lumet did such a sterling job. I love the fact that it’s a sweltering day when all of the action takes place. These are the perfect conditions for such a tinderbox of a movie. You can almost feel the heat.
In fact one of the scenes that doesn’t take place in this room is at the very start of the movie when we see the jurors leaving the courtroom. Powerfully, we also see the young man whose life hangs in the balance.
I also love that for most of the film, there are no character names but just juror numbers. Earlier on in the film when a juror’s name is asked to be verified on a list, the character doesn’t state his name but points to it on a checklist. Only two names are revealed and this is during the film’s conclusion.
12 Angry Men was remade in 1997 by William Friedkin. In anyone else’s hands, this remake would have felt unnecessary and a pale imitation. In Friedkin’s hands, it’s amazing and well worth checking out.
But the original is the best. It would sound like a hackneyed cliche to state that 12 Angry Men is just as relevant now as it was when it was made. But it’s true.
I love that as I progress through this Top 10, the more I write on the films. I tried to keep each description down to a couple of succinct sentences but trying to do that with masterpieces like Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Female Trouble was impossible.
John Waters isn’t just a brilliant film director, screenwriter and all-round legend, he’s a guiding light for anyone who is passionate about true cult cinema, underground culture and anything that is on the margins of culture. My love of Waters began with Hairspray and developed from there. I read Shock Value that had just been republished, then Crackpot. In those dark days, there was no Scala cinema in my town to show his films. However, his earlier films appeared in a VHS box set in the early ’90s that I quickly bought and devoured. All of the films within had been cut by the BBFC but it was better than nothing. As time went on and common sense prevailed, the films became available uncut and all was right with the world.
I have a lot to thank John Waters for. Just as David Bowie was a figure of inspiration for all of the weirdos, freaks and individuals who dared to be different, John Waters is the same kind of figure but just working in a different medium. He’s also one of the greatest living film directors today. I’m so glad he’s returning to direction and that his next project will be an adaptation of his great first novel, Liarmouth. His absence has been greatly felt.
Here’s my Top 10. Please feel free to let me know what yours are.
10. Cry Baby
A bigger budget, a huge ensemble cast (Traci Lords! Iggy Pop! Johnny Depp!) but no adverse effect on the film. It’s a terrific romp and with one of the funniest opening credit sequences in film history.
Adult, mature Waters. But again, this doesn’t affect the content. This film showcases just how far Waters had progressed as both a filmmaker and as a screenwriter. And it’s just as funny and perceptive as ever.
8. Cecil B. Demented
Waters’ views on the kind of mainstream cinema that is made to be shown in suburban cineplexes. Riotously funny but largely ignored on its release (I wonder why) this is like a manifesto for fans and makers of underground films.
7. Serial Mom
A loving mother is also a serial killer. Funny as hell, a cameo from L7 (as a band called ‘Camel Lips’) and a great time capsule of everything great about the mid-90s. How Kathleen Turner wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her performance I don’t know. Her performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen in ANY film.
John Waters’ PG-rated racial segregation comedy. Yes, really. This was my introduction to Waters’ movies as my friend and I used to watch this and dance along to it in my front room. Hairspray also introduced the gorgeous Ricki Lake to the world. And any film starring Deborah Harry is high art to me. Divine’s last movie before his death. One of the greatest losses to the film world EVER.
5. Desperate Living
The early Waters movie that didn’t star Divine (he was starring in the stage play The Neon Woman and so couldn’t appear). Because of this Desperate Living is like the underdog of the early Waters movies which makes me root for it more. There’s so much to love here. This was released in 1977 during the apex of punk. In fact, overseas this film was renamed ‘Punk Story’. Waters’ films have always been punk and contributed to the formation of the movement in the US and UK.
4. Multiple Maniacs
Multiple Maniacs reminds me of Night of the Living Dead. Both were shot in black and white and when they were both restored (by the ever-excellent Criterion in both cases) we could suddenly see how gorgeous they looked. A touring freakshow, a sequence depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and a giant lobster. You’ll find out what a rosary job is by watching this film. And there’s a character who may or may not have been involved in what happened on Cielo Drive on a certain night in 1969. Essential Waters. This was also the film that unleashed Edith Massey onto the world. The world was/is a much better place because of this.
3. Pink Flamingos
The World’s Filthiest Person now finds she has challengers to her title. Big mistake. The conclusion to this film made sure that it would go down in cinema history. It worked. This film takes full advantage of the fact that this is Waters’ first film is shot in colour. The colour palate is off the scale, especially Raymond and Connie Marbles’ hair and Divine’s wardrobe. This film is all killer, no filler. It’s also endlessly quotable. Pink Flamingos will make you want to lick your enemies’ furniture and sneer at central heating. When I started my degree in Film Studies at university we had to write an essay on a film that depicted societal issues. I wrote an essay on Pink Flamingos and talked about competition and family values. I got a pretty good grade too.
Waters’ film was shot in Odorama but Polyester is a masterpiece whether you see it with the Odorama cards or not. Former teen idol and homosexual Tab Hunter was lured in to star with Divine in this melodrama riposte/Douglas Sirk from Hell movie. Again, this movie is all killer, no filler. Your jaw will be aching at the end of this movie from laughing so much. The character Lulu Fishpaw is one of my favourites from all of Waters’ films. Whether sees displaying her report card that is full of F’s (‘they changed the grading system. F is for fantastic!’), getting knocked up by her punk rocker boyfriend Bobo (real-life punk rocker Stiv Bators) or learning all about her cervix in sex education class, she is iconic and has a Farrah Fawcett hairstyle to boot. Again Polyester is endlessly quotable with lines such as ‘At first I thought he was walking the dog. Then I realised it was his date!’ A masterpiece.
1 Female Trouble
This film chronicles the life of Divine’s Dawn Davenport who works her way up the crime ladder and finally gets what she sees as the pinnacle achievement in her chosen occupation of criminal- the electric chair which is to her like an actor getting an Oscar for their achievements. One of the funniest films ever made, this film also possesses laser precision when it comes to its observations on celebrity, fame, infamy and true crime. Waters is a true crime aficionado himself and attended several prominent trials for cases that fired his imagination. Female Trouble is the product of these experiences and more. The film is even dedicated to Tex Watson although after his friendship with Patricia Krenwinkle (whom he believes to be fully rehabilitated and should be released), he says he would never have done that now. You think you’ve seen it all with this film but then you see Divine with a mohawk, on a trampoline and then fellating a fish. Female Trouble isn’t just a film, it’s a state of mind. This film sorts out the true cult cinema fans from the try-hard pretenders. This is my third favourite film of all time. Long may it reign.
I remember the first time I ever saw any scenes from The Brood was in the excellent documentary, Terror in the Aisles. I then went on to see the film from start to finish in a Film Studies lecture at university.
There’s a sinister institution within The Brood that’s called The Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmatics. Guess who the director is. It’s David Cronenberg, of course.
I love Cronenberg’s early films and his riffs on topics that were in the popular consciousness of the time and how he transforms them into body horror. The Brood is his riff on the then-new forms of therapy (The Primal Scream springs to mind) and how it could have disastrous and horrific consequences.
I also love that this was Cronenberg’s own version of Kramer Vs Kramer which he had seen and hated because of its positive view of divorce and child access procedures. The director was going through this hellish process in his own life at the time and his take on it was The Brood. You could say that The Brood is the anti-Kramer Vs Kramer which, of course, is a massive recommendation to me.
The plot could only have come from the fantastic mind of Cronenberg. Oliver Reed plays Hal Raglan, a therapist who practices psychoplasmatics whereby patients with past traumas are encouraged to let go of their suppressed emotions through physiological changes that occur to their bodies. One of his patients is Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is battling for custody with her ex-husband Frank (Art Hindle) for custody of their daughter, Candice. Nola has her own past traumas involving her mother. But then Nola has lots of secrets and revelations to reveal, not just to the other characters in the film but to the film’s viewers also.
I love the fact that an all-star cast which includes Reed, Eggar and Hindle can turn in the kind of distanced, cool and aloof performances under Cronenberg’s direction that are expected in his films. These are the kind of performances that Cronenberg wants and he knows how to elicit these from his actors, whether they’re big names or not.
Samantha Eggar’s performance is deliciously mannered one minute and then completely unhinged the next. The scene in which she lifts up her robes to reveal all (if you’ve seen The Brood, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out…) has kept film writers and analysts writing about it in relation to body horror and femininity since it was filmed. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Eggar licking a foetus’s head.
There are also the toddler, dwarf-like creatures who do Eggar’s bidding for her which mainly includes disposing of those she feels animosity towards. I will never look at a metal-toothed meat tenderiser in the same way again. But then again, I will never look at a toddler in a padded all-in-one in the same way again.
The film is referenced in the song Orgy by The Glove on their album Blue Sunshine. In fact, the same track also references the film, Caligula. How cool is that!
4 stars out of 5
Inspired by Sight and Sound’s Greatest Films of All Time, I have compiled my Top 10 Films of All Time. For ages I’ve known what my Top 5 films have been but I’ve had to have a bit of a think as to the other entries. But, I’m happy with my other choices although there are literally hundreds bubbling under these Top 10 films. I’ll compile another list of these soon.
Anyway, in descending order, here are my choices-
10. 12 Angry Men
9. The New York Ripper
8. Muriel’s Wedding
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
4. Bloodsucking Freaks
3. Female Trouble
1. Taxi Driver
I love combing through the archives of the local newspapers to see the ads used for my favourite films as they were released in Yorkshire.
If one of these films is controversial enough, it will find itself the centre of attention, wherever it is released.
One such film was, of course, The Exorcist. The film being released in Leeds (in May 1974) didn’t go unnoticed by the local bureaucratic busybodies as they hadn’t even seen the film yet. What happened gives a glimpse into the censorship process that held more sway in the 70’s when a film was to be released.
The film came to Leeds without a press screening.
The above article is very telling. In those days, films would have to go through a two stage process regarding whether it was shown in a locality by a certain council or not rather than today’s process in which the decision of the British Board of Film Classification (or the BBFC for short) is the ‘be all and end all’. A local council could decide whether a film passed (or indeed, rejected) by the BBFC could still be shown or banned locally. Hence, The Warriors could be banned by Leeds City Council after it was passed with an X certificate by the BBFC. Conversely, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre could be banned by the BBFC but local councils could still decide to show the film in their area. This actually happened with 3 councils deciding to show it including the GLC and Leeds.
In the above article, Coun. Lund asks for further screenings to be stopped until the Licensing Sub-committee have seen the film in a private screening to ascertain if it is suitable to be shown locally. I’m gobsmacked that the film had already been banned in Bradford and Wakefield.
Of course, local religious figures piled on to set pressure to get the film banned. Tellingly, Mr Holy Roller hadn’t actually seen the film. I wonder if he knew Mary Whitehouse.
And after all of that broohaha, the film is actually passed as safe to be shown. But not until Coun. Rose Lund, who caused all of this stink, dismisses it as ‘rubbish’. Thanks for your opinion. I actually disagree wholeheartedly though.
The Exorcist went on to play for many weeks in Leeds, went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all-time and is generally regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.
Again, thanks Coun. Lund.
I’ve wanted to see 1981’s The Fan for the longest time and finally, it was shown on TV here in the UK (the channel Talking Pictures is amazing and never disappoints!)
Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is an actress who is heading a Broadway musical. She is also the target of super-fan and super-stalker Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) who professes his undying love for her in numerous letters that are intercepted and responded to by Ross’ assistant who grows increasingly worried about the mental state of this particular fan. She even raises it was Ross who admonishes her for treating a fan badly. But then things go from bad to worse.
Was the wait to see this film worth it? YES! There’s so much to love about The Fan.
Firstly, I found myself aghast at the cast. Not only do we get Bacall, Biehn and James Garner but also Hector Elizondo, Griffin Dunne and Dwight Schultz (from The A-Team!) We even get a non-speaking cameo from Charles Scorsese (father of Martin) in a theatre audience scene.
The Fan doesn’t skimp when it comes to the gritty and deranged nature of stalking which wasn’t a crime or behaviour that had been discussed widely at that point yet. Although, the film was released a few months after Mark Chapman shot dead John Lennon outside The Dakota Building (where Bacall used to live spookily enough) and so stalking was set to enter the zeitgeist and prompt more conversations. Biehn is excellent as Douglas Breen with the scenes in which we see him at a typewriter professing his love for Ross in his typed letters reminding me of the telephone scenes from Prom Night- dimly lit, claustrophobic and scary as hell.
In fact, Biehn is fantastic at turning from loving to psychotically menacing at a dime. He’s perfectly cast.
The film is also very gory that mirrors a lot of films that were bigger budget efforts but didn’t skimp on the blood perhaps to tap into the demographic who were going to see slasher movies. In fact, there’s an amazing scene in the New York subway in which you definitely get a Dressed To Kill vibe that apparently this film’s producer Robert Stigwood had just seen.
There’s also a nod to Cruising with one scene involving the killer getting picked up in a gay bar and leaving for a tryst which takes place on a rooftop. Sex and death go hand in hand with this scene. What would Genet say?!
I love the look of the film with it having a certain haze as if there’s Vaseline on the camera lens.
Another thing I loved about The Fan was that it’s a great New York movie. This actually feels like a cleaner and more genteel vision of New York from that time. Maybe the filmmakers thought there was enough sleaze in the events taking part in the film without depicting the sleazier locales of the city as well.
And then there’s the camp. Not only do we get divine creature Bacall gracing the role of Sally Ross but with the action revolving around her heading a Broadway musical, we get deliciously gay rehearsals and even get to see the finished product on opening night resplendent with a song that was subsequently nominated for a Razzie (a sure stamp of approval) that was written by Tim Rice. Hell, we even get Do The Dog by The Specials over one earlier scene in a record store. Talk about contrasts.
The Fan bombed at the box office on its initial release and was derided by Bacall who hated how gory and violent it was. James Garner even said it was the worst film he ever made. Some reviews were fair but others were really bad (yes there’s that Gene Siskel again).
I love The Fan and feel that maybe audiences didn’t fully engage as at that time stalking as a crime hadn’t entered public consciousness yet. Remember, another film that dealt with stalking was The King of Comedy which was released the following year and also underperformed. Some films are way ahead of their time and judged very well by history with both films finding their audiences and being appreciated more now.
One person online said that this would make a great double-bill with The Eyes of Laura Mars. That’s very true. Both films are as camp as a row of pink tents but with gritty and genuinely disturbing scenes that reflect the slasher film sensibilities of the time.
Look out for the remarkable edition of The Fan on Blu ray on Scream Factory.
4 and a half stars out of 5
I have a strange history with this film. As a 10 year old boy I had to have 6 (count em- 6!) teeth removed in one sitting with my dentist due to my mouth being ‘overcrowded’. As a treat after having these extractions (‘He made no noise whatsoever! I could have taken out his teeth all day!’ the dentist said to my Dad. My father looked suitably proud) I was taken to Granada TV Rentals to rent a movie. I rented Clash of the Titans to watch whilst the gas wore off and the pain started.
Watching the movie again almost forty years later, it fares very well indeed.
The film is based on Greek mythology and revolves around Perseus and his exploits. I love the fact that the film doesn’t sugar coat the darker aspects of these tales that are being depicted with the more gruesome aspects of Perseus’ adventures being shown in all their gory glory. Hence, we get Calibos’ hand being cut off, the full on horror of Medusa and the three blind witches (one of whom is played by acclaimed actress Flora Robson which leads me to think that once a woman in the acting profession hits a certain age she is instantly cast as a ‘grotesque’).
The film had an all star cast that the studio was quick to publicise in it’s promotional material.
And a fine cast it is with Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and plenty of other esteemed stage performers lending serious gravitas to proceedings. Harry Hamlin who was cast as Perseus and was largely unknown at that time does a great job after being pushed centre stage and having to compete with such lovey heavyweights.
Fun fact- this film was written by Beverley Cross who was married to Maggie Smith who is cast as Thetis. Cross is written about extensively in Kenneth Williams’ Diaries.
Talking of the promotional material for the film, check out the poster artwork. It’s high art.
Clash of the Titans also brought in Ray Harryhausen for his use of stop motion effects for the depiction of such mythical beasts as The Kraken and Medusa. These sequences are a distinct highlight of the film and also hark back to other sandal and sorcery classics like Jason and the Argonauts.
In fact, most of the effects depicted in the film work well and have aged very well indeed. But, there are a few that look a bit stagey and unreal. These involve back projection with figures being superimposed over the top of this- and it looks like it! Thankfully, these sequences are few and far between. The film was made at a time where special effects were in transition with films with much bigger budgets being able to stump up for the effects they required. One obvious example is that of Superman which showed that a man really can fly…but especially when millions of dollars are pumped into the illusion.
Clash of the Titans received the ultimate honour on it’s release in that it was awarded a Look In Special. For those of you unlucky to not know, Look In was a kids magazine that was billed as a Junior TV Times and featured TV stars, musicians and other pop culture figures. It was popular in the 70s and 80s. I’m guessing that the front cover of this special edition wasn’t illustrated by a professional artist.
***1/2 out of *****