Top 10 John Waters Movies

Top 10 John Waters Movies

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.

9. Pecker

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.

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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.

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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.

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6. Hairspray

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2. Polyester

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.

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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.

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Review- 48 Hrs (1982)

Review- 48 Hrs (1982)
Another cinematic revisitation- I rewatched 48 Hrs for the first time since seeing it on VHS in the mid-80’s.
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Walter Hill really is a terrific director and the comic book, technicolor touches that he applied to The Warriors he also adapts here and it works magnificently.
In fact, I played ‘Spot the Warrior’ throughout the film as several of Coney Island’s finest were peppered throughout the cast. It was like a reunion of friends you actually *want* to see again.
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Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte make a double-act who bounce off each other very well indeed. There’s natural chemistry there and it shows. Murphy even does his funny little laugh but it didn’t irritate me on this occasion. I’ll put that down to Hill’s direction.
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It was also nice to see the iconic Torchy’s bar from When A Stranger Calls. Within Hill’s film it’s been transformed into a Country and Western strip joint. The mind boggles. What would Colleen Dewhurst say?!
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All in all a fantastic action film that feels comic but edgy. The dialogue would make any member of Gen Z flee to their safe spaces. Which is another reason why I loved it.
4 stars out of 5

Review- The Brood (1979)

Review- The Brood (1979)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

My Top 10 Films Of All Time

My Top 10 Films Of All Time

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

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9. The New York Ripper

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8. Muriel’s Wedding

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7. Cruising

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6. Martin

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5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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4. Bloodsucking Freaks

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3. Female Trouble

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2. Halloween

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1. Taxi Driver

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The Exorcist Comes to Leeds. Controversy Ensues.

The Exorcist Comes to Leeds. Controversy Ensues.

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.

Review- The Running Man (1987)

Review- The Running Man (1987)
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
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It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
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I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
4 stars out of 5

Review- The Fan (1981)

Review- The Fan (1981)

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.

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I’m pretty sure I’d have the same expression as the woman on the left if I got to meet Lauren Bacall

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.

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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?!

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Cruising in a gay bar. Is that Truman Capote next to Douglas?!

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.

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The unbridled camp of the stage show Never Say Never. Silver lame, dry ice and raspberry neon. A design for living.

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

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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***1/2 out of *****

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

For the longest time I didn’t get around to seeing Pieces. Just like the movie Madman, I had seen the poster and video artwork numerous times but hadn’t got around to actually investigating the film.

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But rather than being the average cookie-cutter slasher movie that I imagined it to be, it was a different beast altogether.

J. Piquer Simon’s shocker of a movie is actually a Spanish/American/Puerto Rican production with Valencia in Spain being used instead of Boston where the film is based.

Right from the opening scene we get to see how crazy, extreme and violent this film is going to be. We see a young boy putting together a jigsaw. This is seen by his mother who smiles until she sees what the jigsaw is actually of- a naked woman. She scolds and strikes the child whilst demanding that he brings some bin bags for her as she is going to burn everything he owns. She then starts going on a hunt to see if her young pervert of a son has any other filth stashed anywhere else.

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Before she can find anything though she is struck in the head by her young son who has found an axe rather than disposal bags. With Mother safely disposed of the young boy then deflects away from the fact that he was the one to have dismembered Mama by being found crying and whimpering for his mother in a closet by the police who have been called to suggest that he was hiding whilst his mother was being axed to death by someone else. It works.

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And this is only the film’s opening scene. It then flashes forward forty years with the action happening on a university campus. Someone is killing students but who could it be?

We see the killer wearing a fantastic Giallo-esque disguise which perfectly covers his identity therefore providing us with another Giallo trope- the whodunnit. Who could the killer be? Thankfully we’re provided with possible candidates and possible red herrings. The film does this with relish with one shot involving the campus gardener Willard lovingly cleaning his chainsaw.

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There are so many reasons to love this film whether it’s the kills (the hint is in the film’s tagline ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ Whereas TCM actually cut away from the camera seeing the murders, this camera in Pieces sticks around so that the audience gets their money’s worth. The murders seem to have been dreamt up in a pre-production brainstorming session. I can imagine the makers of Pieces proclaiming ‘What would happen if someone with a chainsaw got into a lift with a victim. Or what if a girl is rollerskating but then runs into a full length mirror?!’), the VERY quotable one-liners that beggar belief (‘The most beautiful in the world is smoking pot whilst fucking on a waterbed!’) right through to the sequences that are so over-ripe and overly dramatic that they are ensured a place in the hearts of the most ardent horror fan (one such sequence is the ‘Bastard’ scene that is so unbelievable that once it’s seen it can never be unseen. I think of this scene as my message to the world).

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Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.

***** out of *****

Review- The Purge (2013)

Review- The Purge (2013)

A new political party called The New Founding Fathers of America (the clue is in the name) comes into power after the U.S. goes through a depression in their economy. Very soon they find that the country is back on an upward trajectory with the economy improving and unemployment hitting an all time low. Crime has also become almost non-existant. This is partly due to the party passing a new annual event called The Purge in which for one night all crime is legal and will not result in prosecution. Emergency services are suspended for the duration of The Purge. Because of this the crime rate for the rest of the year is also very low.

The Sandin family settle into their secured home for The Purge night hoping that it passes without incident. However, the boyfriend of their daughter Zoey who is forbidden from seeing her sneaks in before the house’s security system is activated and decides that tonight would be a good night to settle affairs with her father. The Sandin’s son Charlie sees a man desperately screaming for help on the houses CCTV system and decides that he can’t just leave the poor man out there and so disables the houses security system so that he can allow the man to enter their house rather than being left vulnerable on the street. This provokes a posse to come to the house to demand that the family turn over the man to them or they will be forced to enter the house themselves.

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When I saw that this was a Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse film my heart sank. But, it’s actually a pretty solid and enjoyable film! There are elements that I don’t normally associate with films from these stables like, oh, suspense, intelligence, great acting and genuine scares.

Issues regarding law and order and the idea of bloodlust as a form of entertainment aren’t looked at to their fullest but I think that this works to the film’s benefit. In an era of films overanalysing any kind of statement regarding society or dumbing such issues down for their audiences, this is most welcome. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are crediting the audience with a modicum of intelligence. Which is nice.

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The ending is just as abrupt as the end of the night itself but again I didn’t mind this. Theres no overlong and cloying ‘deep’ speeches given by characters about what they are going through/have been through. It gives the film an air of being akin to a short sharp shock which again, I quite liked. It was much preferable to MTV style philosophising.

The storyline regarding the vulnerable man being inside the house whilst others try to get in to kill him reminded me of the 1983 Canuxploitation masterpiece, Siege which is a much better film and is due to be released on Blu ray soon by Severin.

This is no masterpiece but it’s still a fun hour and a half and I’ve seen worse. Much much worse.

*** out of *****