Top 10 John Carpenter Films

Top 10 John Carpenter Films

10. Prince of Darkness

A group of quantum physics students investigate a mysterious cylinder of liquid that has been found in a monastery.

I love this film. As well as having a fantastic cast (Carpenter regular Donald Pleasance returns and is always welcome, but this time we get Alice Cooper and his bunch of the zombie homeless. Both actors are on top form here and are a huge part of why I love this movie). I also love that this film is based on quite an abstract notion: the cylinder is actually Satan in liquid form. I also love the links between the ancient and modern computerised age in the film. Far out, dark as Hell (pun not intended) and a fantastic couple of hours.

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9. They Live

A drifter discovers that sunglasses he had stumbled upon allow him to see who people really are with some people being shown to be aliens who are members of the ruling class. The sunglasses also allow him to see the true meaning behind different kinds of advertising and how they coerce people into conforming and consuming to name but two.

The film made after Prince of Darkness features another terrific cast with wrestling legend Roddy Piper playing the drifter (who doesn’t have a name which suggests that he symbolises a kind of everyman figure) with great support from Keith David (reappearing after his turn in Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982) and Meg Foster. This film refuses to be categorised in any one genre and contains action, horror, sci-fi and comedy and does all of them brilliantly well. This also has one of the best and funniest fight scenes in film history. Roddy is trying to convince Keith David to put on the sunglasses he wears to see what he says. Hilarity ensues.

A brilliant film that is rife with allegories regarding what it says about society and especially American society in the late 80s and Reagan era. They Live also gave birth to a plethora of Film Studies essays and conspiracy theories as to what it all means. In other words, it inspired conversation which is a great thing.

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8. Big Trouble in Little China

Possibly the noisiest film I’ve ever seen. A box office bomb, this was then a huge hit on home video which was another reason why that medium was so fantastic and a breath of fresh air. Kirk Russell plays another brilliantly drawn Carpenter character- truck driver Jack Burton finds himself doing battle with an ancient Chinese sorcerer. He’s a great action hero but also funny as hell (Burton not the sorcerer).

The special effects in Big Trouble in Little China have aged brilliantly well (unlike the CGI in Escape From LA which Carpenter made in the 90s). That this wasn’t a huge hit when shown on the big screen is criminal. It was made to be seen at the cinema. Such are the mysteries of life.

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7. Starman

Jeff Bridges plays an alien who takes on the identity of a Wisconsin man who has just died and kidnaps his widow. Or is it a kidnapping?

There are more questions to be asked about the film and not just its characters. Is Starman a science fiction film or a love story? Both. And it works fantastically as both. Bridges was even nominated for an Oscar for his role. Imagine that- a Carpenter film being lauded by the Academy.

If your heart doesn’t melt during the scene involving the deer, you don’t have a heart. For some reason this movie appears to be playing almost everyday on a different cable channel here in the UK. I’m not complaining.

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6. Escape From New York

Carpenter’s big set piece movie. New York is now one huge prison which is (supposedly) impossible to escape. Donald Pleasance’s President has crash-landed there after Air Force One has been hijacked and so someone needs to go into New York to rescue him.

Step forward Snake Plissken, one of the best anti-heroes in film history. He was a war hero until he robbed a bank but was caught by the law doing so. If he successfully springs the President from New York, he will be given a Presidential pardon regarding his bank robbery charges and prison sentence.

The sets are magnificent. And we get Isaac Hayes and Lee Van Cleef alongside regulars Russell, Pleasance and Adrienne Barbeau to make for a fantastic cast. Keep an eye out for Russell’s first wife Season Hubley in a small role.

We also get one of the best Carpenter soundtracks ever. All killer, no filler- every track is amazing. Tracks like the title theme and Engulfed Cathedral are amongst some of the best music JC has ever recorded (which is really something as he’s as great a composer and musician as he is a film director).

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5. The Thing

Carpenter’s remake of The Thing From Another World is a rare thing- a remake better than the original. The Thing is a film of pure suspense, has an amazing all-male ensemble cast, peerless direction and genre-defining special effects and designs thanks to Rob Bottin and Mike Ploog. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is orchestral in places but also discordant and abstract in others and perfectly matches the action. The Thing was hated by critics on its original release but was still a hit at the box office even though the friendlier extraterrestrial of E.T. was bringing in major bucks for Steven Spielberg.

But there’s also a sly strain of humour at play within the film. I guess you could call it gallows humour as events become so surreal and dark that they become blackly humourous.

History judges every movie and The Thing has now taken its place in the vanguard of the very best horror/science fiction films ever made. In fact, whenever there’s a Top 10 Greatest Horror Films list and The Thing isn’t in there, I always think there’s something wrong. The Thing has now been seen as just as good as the very best of Carpenter’s canon alongside bonafide classics such as Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13. And rightly so.

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4. Someone’s Watching Me!

Many people still don’t know about the TV movie Carpenter made just before he started work on Halloween although a Blu-Ray release by Scream Factory has meant that more people can now enjoy this gem. I actually caught it on TV in the mid-80s and then saw it again years later in Australia where I was surprised that it had been released on home video there.

Lauren Hutton proves to be a fantastic lead as her character Leigh, a TV director finds herself being stalked after moving into a high-rise apartment building in Los Angeles. Anonymous disturbing phone calls and strange incidents such as the lights in her apartment dimming of their own accord convince Leigh that, as the title states, someone is watching her. Can Leigh and her friend Sophie (who happens to be a lesbian. I love that this character trait is handled in just a couple of lines of dialogue like it’s really no big deal. If this TV movie was remade today, references to her sexual orientation would be made endlessly and monotonously) find out who this nutjob is?

There is so much suspense within this gem that you won’t have any fingernails left at the end of it. Watch out for the scene where Leigh has to hide under a grate whilst her stalker is stood above her. Also, watch for the scene in which Sophie ventures into the apartment where they think Leigh’s stalker lives whilst Leigh watches proceedings through a telescope.

Not only is Someone’s Watching Me! one of the best TV movies I’ve ever seen, in my humble opinion it’s one of the best entries in Carpenter’s filmography. Yes, it’s that great.

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3. The Fog

I remember seeing the poster for The Fog outside my local cinema in 1980 as we drove past in the family car. I was 5 years old. The poster alone was enough to give me nightmares. It would be a good few years until I got to see the film on home video and I absolutely loved it. I also remember when I was at university watching it on my portable TV (the screen was just a bit bigger than a postage stamp) as it was being shown on TV. I was snug in bed as a thunderstorm roared outside my window. It’s funny the film viewings that stick in your memory as some of the best.

Antonio Bay’s centenary is ruined as zombie leper pirates take their revenge for wrongs done to them when the town was founded. A cracking cast (Jamie Lee Curtis is fresh from Halloween and stars with her real-life mom Janet Leigh along with John Houseman, Hal Holbrook and Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins) is complimented by Dean Cundey’s usual gorgeous photography, a great screenplay (the dialogue between Janet Leigh and her assistant played by Nancy Loomis is hilariously funny) and one of JC’s best soundtracks- electro baroque and music that actually sounds like the fog is a living, breathing and malignant entity.

With the film’s release date looming, Carpenter saw an early cut and decided that it didn’t work. And so he wrote new, nastier scenes and shot them very quickly. The Fog still met it’s release date. These new scenes were nastier in tone and more graphic because Carpenter and producer Debra Hill felt that Cronenberg’s Scanners which had just been released had upped the ante when it came to what horror fans expected from their fare. It certainly worked. The Fog is a terrific film.

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2. Assault on Precinct 13

The skeleton staff at a local police station that is closing down find that they are under siege by a local gang who have declared a ‘cholo’ (which means ‘to the death’) after the police killed several of their brethren. But all of this is after three death row prisoners are put into cells in the station as they have to stop over so one of the prisoners can receive medical assistance on their way to the state prison. One of these criminals is the notorious Napoleon Wilson. Police and criminals have to combine forces to make sure they all make it through the night and fight off the gang’s advances.

Assault was inspired by Rio Bravo directed by JC’s hero Howard Hawks and Night of the Living Dead. The character of Leigh is a classic strong Hawksian woman and the gang members do resemble the zombies surrounding the farmhouse in Night. The dialogue for Assault is definitely pure Hawks in places but also pure Carpenter. Napoleon Wilson is a classic Carpenter anti-hero just as Snake Plissken is. He also has great chemistry with Leigh who finally provides him with the cigarette that he keeps asking other characters for throughout the film’s course. She even has a light too. Check out what happens when she lights his cigarette for him. It might as well be post-coital.

Assault is a perfect film. Carpenter’s direction and framing are extraordinary. Check out how he takes advantage of the aspect ratio he uses for the film (2:35:1 if you’re interested). Exemplary performances bring Carpenter’s fantastic characters to life. I love how there is so much that is kept from the audience who are left to come up with their own theories. It’s almost like Carpenter warrants us with a modicum of intelligence. How did Napoleon Wilson get his name? (My own interpretation- watch him break the gang member’s arm. Napoleon had one arm and so maybe this is one of his favourite moves). What did Ethan Bishop carve into the desk as a child that he whispers to Leigh but we’re not privy to? These characters have a backstory and history which isn’t overshared and overanalysed. I love that.

Assault also has one of the greatest soundtracks ever composed. If you think you don’t know it, you’ll know it when you hear it. It’s well known in its original form but has also been sampled extensively. It’s a minimalist masterpiece and is perfect for the film.

And if all of this isn’t enough, the film also contains one of the most shocking scenes in cinema history. The ‘girl with the ice cream’ scene came to the attention of the MPAA who ordered that Carpenter excise some or all of this scene to reduce its shock value. As was the practice of the day, especially with low-budget productions, he simply told the board that he had complied with their stipulations but he didn’t and the film was released with the scene still intact.

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1. Halloween

What can I say about my second favourite film of all time? (Taxi Driver occupies the top spot if you’re interested). I first watched Halloween in a format that was the exact opposite of how it was made to be watched. I watched it in a faded pan and scan print. And it still worked its magic!

After killing his sister in 1963, Micheal Myers escapes from his mental hospital some years later and heads home to try and kill Laurie Strode and anyone else who gets in his way.

A critic wrote that ‘Halloween is to horror as sugar is to gratification’. This is spot-on. When I first saw the film in 1987 even though it was a sub-optimal print the film still worked brilliantly and I found that it stayed with me and had a haunting quality (pun not intended). A big part of that is the music score. There’s a story that Carpenter tells in which he showed Halloween without the music to studio bosses as the score hadn’t been recorded yet. They all told him after the screening that his film was pretty good. He then showed them Halloween but with the iconic score in place. Everyone raved that he had made a masterpiece. Music is so important for a film especially if you have a classic score like the sinister piano and synth score that is Halloween. It’s irregular time signature is off-kilter and completely unsettling. In the early reels of the film it’s the sound of impending doom. When death comes to Haddonfield, it’s the perfect soundtrack to the carnage.

Shooting the film in Panavision was also an important ingredient to the film’s haunting quality. The images linger with you and Jamie Lee Curtis’ androgynous face in close-up as shot through the cinematic prism of Panavision is iconic as is the rest of the film. The fact that the locales for the film are suburban and not in some castle in Transylvania meant that the horror was everywhere and in surroundings that audiences were familiar with. Some of the horrific action within the film also takes place during the day meaning that we aren’t safe at any time of the day or night.

There’s also the realisation within the film that Michael Myers isn’t human and a seemingly unstoppable force of nature that makes the film so memorable and horrific. The scene in which Myers literally springs back to life as Laurie is catching her breath after seemingly killing him is possibly the scariest moment I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Look out for the audience reaction video of this scene on YouTube which was recorded in a cinema during the film’s original release. The audience screams en masse as Michael’s torso mechanically rises up.

Halloween was so iconic that it gave birth to a whole new horror genre- the slasher film. Whilst some slasher films are very good, none of them are as good as the original Halloween. Halloween is a bona fide classic and like The Thing, regularly appears in the lists of the Greatest Horror Films Ever Made. Halloween stands shoulder to shoulder with other iconic horror films such as the Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Psycho. And long may it reign.

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Top 10 Bubbling Under Films

Top 10 Bubbling Under Films

As with any lists containing my favourite films, I always think of films I should have included or those that just missed out on being in the big Top 10.

I thought these needed to be acknowledged too so, without further a do, here are the next (or should that be another) 10 in descending order.

10. The Offence

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9. Turkey Shoot

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8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

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7. Mommie Dearest

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

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5. Supergirl

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4. Psycho

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3. Phantasm

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2. Scanners

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1.The Hills Have Eyes

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Poster of the Week- The Exorcist (1974)

Poster of the Week- The Exorcist (1974)

William Friedkin tells a great story in his autobiography about Warner Bros’ marketing department and how they wanted to market The Exorcist on it’s completion. The idea they came up with was a drawing of Regan’s bloodied hand holding a crucifix (referencing the infamous masturbation scene) with the tagline ‘For God’s sake, somebody help her!’

For obvious reasons he declined this idea. Instead he spoke to them about the Magritte painting The Empire of Light and how he wanted the poster for The Exorcist to be inspired by that.

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From this came the iconic poster for his movie. The mystery of Max Von Sydow’s character outside Chris McNeill’s house with light poring out of the window but whilst cloaked in darkness. A poster that is perfect for a masterpiece like The Exorcist. And the general public agreed with the film breaking records faster than cinema ushers could break open smelling salts for patrons who had staggered into the lobby to faint.

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A friend of mine went to see the film on it’s first run and said that members of St John’s Ambulance were waiting in the cinema for the inevitable fainters and/or vomiters. Now that’s style.

And whilst we’re at it I’m loving the visual blitz of this UK Exorcist double bill poster. The hot pink is everything.

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Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

There’s a video for this list here.

10. Rabid Grannies

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

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

Demented, wickedly funny and one of a kind.

9. The Blob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Child’s Play

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

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

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

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

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

6. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

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

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

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

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

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

5. Maniac Cop

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

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

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

This film was followed by two more Maniac Cop movies.

4. Phantasm 2

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

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

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

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

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

Phantasm 2 is a very worthy sequel to a masterpiece.

3. Scarecrows

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

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

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

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

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

2. Dead Ringers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Monkey Shines

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

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

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

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

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

A class are transported to an island and its then disclosed that they have to kill each other with the last person left standing the winner.

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Brutal (as you’d expect) but also witty, humane and strangely poignant in places. This film is brilliantly acted, directed with style and is beautiful to look. Murder and deception has never looked so good. In fact the ‘killing for sport’ theme reminded me of one of my favourite films, Turkey Shoot.

And thats all I’m going to say. To say anything more would ruin the film completely. See it.

4 out of 5

Strike A Pose

Strike A Pose

I love the fact that a movie can be so original and iconic that it can inspire other films to be made. Think of Halloween (1978) and the tidal wave of slasher films that were unleashed in its wake.

This can also happen with movie posters and a film’s iconography. The Breakfast Club is a perfect example.

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The original poster from 1985

Take a pose that encapsulated the zeitgeist and not only is it ripe for analysis…

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The famous pose analysed

…but it is also open to being imitated and parodied by other movies. I love that films can nudge and wink knowingly at an audience from a movie poster or from a film magazine and know that they are in on the joke. The audience may not get the reference straight away but eventually they will. And when they do they will marvel at the filmmaker’s ingenuity.

It took many years before I got the in-joke that these two films were making.

Below is the pose used by the cast on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) poster- a movie that was released the year after The Breakfast Club.

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Same pose- very different characters

Similarly, here is a publicity shot from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987).

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Freddy Krueger shows Judd Nelson how it’s done

In this case, the teens who went to see The Breakfast Club could very well have also constituted the demographic who went to see the two films shown above.

I also love the fact that a teen movie has been homaged by two movies as deranged and demented as TCM2 and Nightmare 3. These references to The Breakfast Club feel like, on one hand, a playful co-opting of the original movie and its iconography but also a loving homage to it at the same time. These movies were as far away from John Hughes as possible and yet they still tipped the hat to the filmmaker of all things teen whilst showing that Hughes didn’t speak for all teens with his films. Some teens wanted more twisted thrills for their money. And that’s exactly what they got.

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This never happened in a John Hughes movie