Review- The Demon (1979)

Review- The Demon (1979)

I love the low-budget horror curios that I stumble across. Drive-In Massacre, Spawn of the Slithis and The Incredible Melting Man are three such examples of this sub-genre. I watched The Demon (aka Midnight Caller) from 1979 last night and can add it to this category.

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I actually thought the film was based in California but it’s actually Johannesburg!  There’s a broad range of accents within the cast too with Americans, Brits and South Africans here.

A man seemingly without a face is stalking women (he’s actually wearing a thin white rubber mask which makes him appear completely expressionless. Yes, there are more Halloween reference points to come within the film).

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I actually chose to watch this film as I saw that Cameron Mitchell from the great Toolbox Murders starred in this. And his character of Colonel Carson who is employed by the parents of a missing girl to use his psychic powers to find their daughter is terrific. He produces sketches of the killer for them which completely exclude his face which is very eerie and unsettling.

Another thing that I love about these horror curios is that anything can happen meaning that we get some crazy shit to watch and lap up joyously. The demise of Mitchell’s character is a complete curveball and I was left thinking, ‘Damn! I didn’t see that coming!’

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And then there’s the ending that involves a shower nozzle, a bottle of shampoo and a pair of scissors. This is a booby trap foreshadowing A Nightmare on Elm Street by 5 years but probably influenced (again) by Laurie Strode and her resourcefulness. There’s also another ANOES foreshadowing as the killer wears gloves with metal tips at the end of each finger.

If you decide to watch this film, please don’t think that this is some kind of forgotten horror masterpiece. It certainly isn’t. But if you want to watch a left-field curve ball of a film that is full of quirks then there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. You know the film is low budget right from the start as the titles are VERY cheap looking. The filmmakers run out of music during the closing title sequence and so the last half of the credit crawl is completely silent. I love that.

3 stars out of 5

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Review- Dracula (1958)

Review- Dracula (1958)

The 1958 film adaptation was noteworthy as it was the first film based around the character made by the legendary studio Hammer Films.

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This adaptation has been pared down and changed to help the film’s narrative flow (an example of this is that Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to purposely destroy Dracula. This is very different in Stoker’s original book in which he is there to buy property). Some characters were dropped completely (Renfield from the original book being one). Because of this, this adaptation feels leaner, less cluttered and really gets to the heart of the action. There is never a dull moment here, it really is no filler, all killer (pun not intended).

I feel like this adaptation is a great place to start in terms of cinematic vampires as it effortlessly establishes the conventions of the novel and also of the vampire genre in general ie wooden stakes, sunlight, and crucifixes. This would be done very differently these days in a modern production.

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I actually think this version of Dracula is the best, not just made by Hammer Studios but by anyone (yes, that includes you, Francis Ford Coppola). Christopher Lee will always be the definitive Dracula, a masterful blend of charisma, menace and, this was something that Lee made sure he explicitly depicted in his performance, sexual magnetism. It is shown that some of the female victims of Lee’s Dracula are more than willing to have someone as good-looking, sexy and magnetic as him enter their room in the dead of night, cape flapping and have his dreadful way with them.

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Peter Cushing is just as brilliant as Van Helsing and is the perfect foil to Lee’s career-defining performance. In fact, the entire cast turn in impressive performances and it isn’t a case of any other characters being left in the shade by Lee. Everyone holds their own when it comes to the acting.

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The photography and direction are also amazing. Every frame looks like it’s been painted and the colour palate is absolutely beautiful and a joy to behold. Terence Fisher would become synonymous with this as every one of his films is known for its richness and visual beauty.

The climactic scene in which Dracula is bathed in sunlight and dies because of this has aged incredibly well. Dracula looks like he is turning to ash and it’s a strangely beautiful scene to watch.

This is my favourite Dracula film and one of my all-time favourite vampire films along with Nosferatu, George A Romero’s Martin and Near Dark. All are peerless.

5 stars out of 5

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

A Jaws/Piranha rip-off called Killer Fish starring Lee Majors and Karen Black, you say?! I am soo fricking there!

You know the kind of film to expect when you see that this is a Sir Lew Grade Production. I love his ’70s exploitation films set in exotic locales with all-star casts. They are part Whickers World episodes and whatever film was popular at the box office when it was made.

Killer Fish concerns a robbery of precious jewels by an organised gang. The mastermind behind this heist then hides the booty at the bottom of a reservoir which he has populated with deadly piranha (as opposed to friendly vegetarian piranha). This is so that whoever tries to retrieve the jewels and do a runner will meet their karmic fate. There is so much suspicion and paranoia among the robbers. This makes the film very entertaining whenever the fish aren’t doing their thing. There are also plenty of double-crossings and twists and turns in the plot. At more than one point of the movie, I thought, ‘This film is far more intelligent than I expected it to be’.

The kills were well executed (pun not intended) and near the end of proceedings, there’s a tense scene where most of the cast are on a boat which is slowly sinking. They are close to shore but several thousand piranhas lie between them and land. What do they do? What I would have done was to throw the very fat and irritating photographer character (think of a camp version of Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you can imagine what he’s like) into the drink. All of the piranhas would have been preoccupied feasting on his blubber which would allow the rest of the characters to get back to the mainland unscathed. In fact, his character is eaten towards the end of the film when he tries to escape on a raft (as if a raft would support his bulk!)  I imagined cinema audiences getting to their feet and cheering like hell when this played out. I know I did.

The soundtrack for the film is fantastic. Atypically 70’s which is perfect for this kind of film but also strangely sinister and avant-garde in places. Simon May is one of the writers of the theme song. He would later write the theme song for EastEnders, fact fans.

As Karen Black is a cast member, there are, thankfully, scenes of her being her demented self. One great scene has her freaking out after coming face to face with the killer fish but getting out of the water unscathed. She starts trying to bat them away even though she isn’t in the water anymore. Sir Grade securing Ms Black as part of the cast of Killer Fish was a stroke of genius.

Lee Majors’ wardrobe within the film also warrants mention. He is rocking a camp gringo kind of look in a lot of scenes, all tight vests, hats at a jaunty angle and neck scarves.

Is Killer Fish as good as the film it’s ripping off, namely Piranha by Joe Dante? Hell no. But it’s pretty damn entertaining for its runtime and is a B+ imitator. There’s much worse out there. Much, much worse!

3 stars out of 5

Review- Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Review- Hands of the Ripper (1971)

I remember in the late 80s that one of my local TV stations, Tyne Tees Television bought the rights to most of the films made by the Hammer Studios which meant that I got to see most of the movies that this prolific studio produced. It also meant that I got to see the more obscure output that hadn’t been shown on TV before.

One horror movie that I remember as one of the best made by Hammer was Hands of the Ripper from 1971. This played at the cinema with the equally brilliant Twins of Evil after its initial release.

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Jack The Ripper’s young daughter Anna sees her father kill her mother. A few years later, as a young woman, she finds that she lapses into trance-like states in which she exhibits her father’s murderous impulses. After bumping someone off she has no memory of actually doing it. After killing the woman who had adopted her from an orphanage years before, she is taken under the wing of a psychoanalyst named Pritchard who takes her to live with him, his family and maids.

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Sometimes when I watch a period horror film I think, ‘This is going to be dry, dull and boring’. Hands of the Ripper is the exact opposite. It’s a cracking horror film. Peter Sasdy’s direction ensures that the murders are brilliantly executed and in a few instances, they completely take the audience by surprise. I also love the bright red blood. It’s very Dawn of the Dead.

There are many stars of British TV of the 70s and 80s peppered throughout the cast such as Dora Bryan, Lynda Baron and Molly Weir who all contribute to a great emsemble. But it’s Angharad Rees as Anna who steals the show. Watch how her face mutates into a mask of twisted hatred when she is possessed by Pops.

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Hands of the Ripper is one of the best horror films made by Hammer Studios and is one of my favourites.

4 stars out of 5

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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Review- The Sorcerers (1967)

Review- The Sorcerers (1967)
I finally got to see The Sorcerers which I remember my Film lecturer told me was his favourite horror film of all time back in the day.
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An elderly couple played by Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey have developed a machine that enables them to live vicariously through whoever has been through the brainwashing process that the machine performs. Step forward Ian Ogilvy (pre The Saint). Not only can they now live through him but they can also force him to do whatever they demand.
But whilst living through this young man helps them feel young again, one of the elderly couple has different ideas as Lacey firstly gets him to steal a fur coat for her. Things quickly get even more out of hand with Lacey’s character forcing her young subject to murder anyone who gets in his way.
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I loved this movie. Swinging 60’s London never looked so groovy and psychedelic. The brainwashing sequence brought to mind the back cover portraits of The Velvet Underground and Nico from their landmark album. It’s all projected coloured swirls over facial features.
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The entire cast are fantastic but particularly Lacey and Karloff as the couple who very quickly realise that they have different ideas as to what they want Ogilvy to do for them.
Director Michael Reeves shows that he had his finger on the pulse when it came to portraying Swinging London but also had a great understanding of horror cinema as the dark side of his film is brilliantly effective. He portrays the Jack The Ripper side of Ol London Town fantastically.
4 stars out of 5

Review- Xtro (1982)

Review- Xtro (1982)
Another film I remember seeing on the shelves of video shops in the 80’s that I somehow didn’t watch was Xtro from 1982. I finally got to see it for the first time earlier.
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Wow. Just wow. Xtro is out there! A man is abducted by aliens. Three years later an alien impregnates a woman after he is hit by a car. The woman then gives birth to the man who went missing years before. And that’s just for starters.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a woman giving birth to a grown man. This must be one of the goriest scenes I’ve ever seen.
The rest of the film is like the darkest acid trip ever. In other words, it’s great fun.
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I love the fact that the film is based in London. If you want to see what life was like in Britain in the 1980’s then look no further (apart from the gore and horror, obviously).
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Look out for supporting roles from Anna Wing (who would go on to star in EastEnders) and robotic pop group Tik and Tok.
Crazy film but never dull.
3.5 stars out of 5.

Review- Manhunter (1986)

Review- Manhunter (1986)
I watched the brilliant Manhunter last night. It was a film I regularly saw on the video shop shelves in the late 80’s but never rented. My loss.
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I love Manhunter. All of the Michael Mann touches are here- the perfect framing, the use of slow-mo, the soft rock guitar soundtrack to name but a few ingredients.
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I love the plot as well with The Tooth Fairy being a brilliant character. I also love William Petersen’s empath cop who can read the minds of psychopaths but risks the thoughts destroying his mental health.
Whilst I love Silence of the Lambs, I think I prefer Manhunter. Brian Cox’s Hannibal Lecter is low key compared to the Hollywood gloss of Anthony Hopkins’ take on the character. Cox isn’t giving speeches about census takers and Chianti whilst winking at the Oscar committee. And he’s better because of it.
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4.5 stars out of 5

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Alien (1979)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Alien (1979)

There’s so much I love about 1979’s Alien. This is a film I feel like I’ve grown up with from watching its first TV screening with my Dad when I was about 6, through to renting it on video through to watching it on the big screen either in its original form or it’s excellent Director’s Cut. It was also the first THX film I watched and the first Blu-Ray. It’s been quite a journey.

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The plot goes like this- a mining ship stops off on an unknown planet after receiving an SOS signal (which is, in fact, a warning signal). Whilst exploring this new terrain, an alien life force attaches itself to the helmet of one of the crew members. He and it are brought aboard (against the wishes of Ripley, the crew member who is in charge at that point and who wants quarantine regulations to be adhered to). Ash, another crew member lets them in any way. And so the nightmare begins for the crew and the space vessel.

I love H R Giger’s design of the alien, the spaceship Nostromo and the elephantine Space Jockey that is witnessed on the alien planet. I love the penis-like aspect of these designs, especially the alien as it bursts from John Hurt’s chest and then when it is fully grown. It’s all steel teeth (two sets) and huge curved jelly head. It’s magnificent. As Ash says later ‘I admire its purity’. I agree.

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And how it grew! Another aspect of Alien that I love is that the alien really was a man in a suit. In these days of appalling CGI effects, my love of practical effects and *shock horror* real living, breathing adversaries is unswayable. The alien in Alien was played by 6ft 10in (you read that right! He was actually 7ft in the alien suit) Bolaji Badejo. Alien wouldn’t have been scary or real if made in the era of CGI. Period.

Alien is also a film of extremes and contrasts, another aspect of the movie that I love. There are the clean white lines of the Nostromo’s interior as opposed to the noise, wind and turbulence of the alien planet and the dank and dark boiler room noir of the air shafts of the cargo vessel. There’s also the tranquillity of the hypersleep juxtaposed to when the crew are awake again and going about their everyday lives or when they’re confronted by the extraordinary and fighting for their lives. I love these extremes and contrasts as they juxtapose within the film amazingly.

The cast is another reason why I adore Alien. In this present era with its almost incessant need for diversity (whilst certain members of the media narcissistically scream ‘LOOK EVERYONE! WE’RE BEING DIVERSE!’ ), the cast of Alien is very diverse but without it being something that was a major strategy when the film was being cast. We have male, female, black, white, tall (and not just the men) and short. We even have a cat! And a xenomorph. And an android. That’s fantastic diversity right there but with the added bonus that each player contributes massively to the production and makes their mark. This is diversity but it brings talent to the table rather than being merely a demeaning box-ticking exercise.

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The true diversity of the Nostromo crew

This ensemble cast is another one of Alien’s trump cards. We don’t know who will survive by the end of the film. Sigourney Weaver wasn’t publicised as any kind of leader of the cast and so her being the survivor really is a big surprise. In fact, Dallas as played by Tom Skeritt is/was the Nostromo’s captain and so it can be presumed that he will be the valiant male lead to be the sole crew member to survive and heroically do battle with the alien. But, as with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the person who we expect to survive until the final reel is cruelly taken from us much sooner. When Dallas is killed in the airshafts whilst trying to track down the alien, there truly is a sense of ‘WTF!’ and a genuine feeling that ANYTHING can happen within the film. Which is great cinema. This is also one of the tensest scenes in a film full of tense scenes. Ridley Scott’s direction is masterful.

My favourite character within the cast (apart from the alien and Jones the cat, obviously) is that of Lambert. She seems to psychically sense that all is not right early on in the film as if she can see into the future and knows that they are in grave danger even though the rest of the crew can’t see it yet. This reminds me of a theory that Carol J Clover writes in her book about slasher movies, Men, Women and Chainsaws. She asserts that within the groups of teens in slasher movies, there is almost always one person, usually female, who is very much attuned to any negative events that will almost certainly befall her and her friends and can foretell that their lives are in grave danger (Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween is a glaring example of this). Lambert very quickly ascertains that they are up shit creek without a paddle and that their chances of survival are minimal at best. This is why we see her as extremely apprehensive very early on.

Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic soundtrack is another component that is vital to Alien. The eerieness of the events leading up to the alien’s unleashing of menace on the Nostromo and its crew is met with quiet, unsettling music of impending dread and distorted echoes. When the shit hits the fan, this is paralleled with noisy, discordant orchestration that perfectly matches the apocalyptic events we see unfurling on the screen. It is perfect. The soundtrack is just as extreme and schizophrenic as Bernard Herrman’s for Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver.

The ending of Alien is frankly genius and utterly brilliant. I love the fact that Giger’s sets play a role in this vital scene. And if you haven’t seen Alien then please don’t expect me to give away the ending. I would never ruin such a cinematic treat for anyone. If you haven’t seen Alien, I recommend you see it NOW!

Add to this a frankly genius marketing campaign (minimalist trailers full of foreign, disconcerting sounds and fast-moving images and no dialogue whatsoever. It all invokes an utter feeling of dread), a poster and merchandise campaign that was just as intriguing and based around the idea that less really is more and a tagline that would go down as one of the very best in film history (‘In space, no-one can hear you scream’.) Even the tagline would be ripped off, adapted and referenced by taglines used for other films.

But whilst all of this adds to Alien and its legacy and why I love the film, there is one reason more than any other as to why I love Alien so much- it’s two hours of cracking entertainment.

Alien is a masterpiece.

Review- Vampires (1998)

Review- Vampires (1998)

I had heard such bad things about John Carpenter’s Vampires that I didn’t even see it when it was released theatrically in 1998. In fact, it was only yesterday that I saw it for the very first time. What’s 25 years to see a film though?!

Is it a bad movie by Carpenter’s standards or, indeed, by anyone’s standards? Neither. In fact, it’s a pretty solid movie. Whoever was calling it an unmitigated disaster back when it was released was way off beam.

A gang led by James Woods hunts vampires. The gang comes to the attention of the most powerful vampire Jan Valek who is trying to gain access to a centuries-old crucifix that would make him even more powerful.

I love the fact that Valek decimates most of Wood’s gang very early on in the film. I also loved the character arcs and dialogue between Daniel Baldwin’s Tony Montoya and Sheryl Lee’s Katrina who was bitten during the confrontation in which most of the gang was killed. And the special effects have aged very well indeed.

There are sequences that feel like they are more suited to a straight-to-video movie, but this was probably due to budget restrictions rather than Carpenter.

Vampires is a million miles away from Carpenter’s recognised masterpieces such as Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and The Fog. But maybe that’s the problem. When a filmmaker who has made films that are recognised as pioneering examples of a genre makes a film that doesn’t meet the high standards of their previous work then the critics and ‘fans’ will take sadistic glee in falsely reporting that a film is an utter disaster rather than a pretty good film. That’s a shame. But time has been very kind to Vampires indeed.

3 stars out of 5