Archive for October, 2010

Halloween (1978)

by on Oct.31, 2010, under Daily Review

This is basically the original studio slasher film. There was film prior, many after but this is the entry template which we’ve all grown to know and understand. Watching it by today’s standards it’s difficult to critique as yes, it’s not a perfect film and of cause, we’ve seen this style done a million times better over the past 30 years but as a primary landmark in cinema, this one etches quite a hefty notch.

Mike Myers is a young 6 year old, home with his sister and her boyfriend one dark Halloween evening. Something snaps inside and gives her forty whacks. Some years later (17?) He escapes from a mental institute to continue his work. Back on his old street, Halloween, ready to slash up some more babysitters. Hot on his trail is his shrink, who warns the local cop, ‘this kid has black eyes and the devil inside.’

The tension and frights are perfect here. Allowing Myers to appear across the street, when we look again he’s gone. In a door way, behind a window. It’s that unease of knowing he’s there, and can do anything at any moment. He can make his move, whether people’s backs are turned or not. Killing machine. Also, taking a basic spooky theme, pure Tubular Bells style and repeating it constantly through the film works a treat and in doing so, creates one of the most legendary theme tunes.

Mike Myers is a horror legend. The idea of a huge strong immortal masked killer. You stab him, her gets back up, shoot him, gets back up. You can do anything to these guys and they just come back stronger. I believe Myers was the first, although basically, Myers is the contemporary Frankenstein, although rather than made up out of dead body parts, reanimated, Myers is a consequence of today’s society, a child whose mind has been manipulated and broken beyond the point of repair. It’s this idea, film didn’t need aliens or threats from monsters, vampires or werewolves when it could create it’s own monster from within it’s own society.

Highlights, include Myers twisting his head back and forth as he eyes up his handy-work after he’s pinned a young lad to a door, a good foot or so off the ground. Very creepy scene. Secondly, Myers wearing the sheep and glasses to spook out the babysitter in the bedroom; probably the best scene in the film. Lastly, let me mention the use of adhoc weapons use here. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) uses a knitting needle and a wire coat hanger as a stabbing device, surely the only film ever to use such weaponry. Genius.

But it’s not perfect. The plot is simple but has some crazy reasoning. Why does he kill babysitters? He’s agree his sister is with her boyfriend whilst she should be looking after him, but it’s a bit extreme, even if he does have the devil inside. Still, no real reason to come back and carry on. The remake deals with all of the plot holes and patches them to perfection, here we have the simple version with holes if you actually care to look, but this shouldn’t really be about looking for faults. It’s the land mark movie for the time, place and genre. John Carpenter took a basic formula, on the back of some small budget affairs which had done well at the box office, and some bigger studio films, mashed together a few formulas and here we have the template.

Jamie Lee Curtis is great here, although watching now, she seems a little old for the role of the babysitter in distress. Donald Pleasance is equally great here, although you can see he’s struggling with the film in places, maybe he wasn’t buying in to the future 100%.

By today’s standards, this one flows well, shot well, but doesn’t have the same oomph any more. I remember watching this when I was 11 years old. Really shouldn’t have done that at that age, but non the less, it was a terrifying experience and one which has stayed with me. In fact, I use to watch it at least once a week on my old Betamax player. Watching the film today, it just cannot compete with the later day remakes and homage that the film has created. In my opinion, the remake is far superior, but we should watch this one for what it is and pay tribute.

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The Shining

by on Oct.30, 2010, under Daily Review

It’s difficult to say anything about this one and it’s so unfair on all the other films I’ve sweated over this year. It should really never have been included in the list as how can you compare this with any other horror film that’s ever been made. Stanley Kubrick is the finest director that ever graced film and could work within any chosen genre, sandal, space or horror. He was a story teller but knew the industry inside out and it shows. The Shining is a perfect film from start to finish. Superb set sequences using every technique in the book and what a stunning cast. The whole thing is the mastermind of Kubrick who shows just how to make a horror film. Adapted from Stephen King’s original novel, Kubrick takes the tale and recreates with his own medium.

Let’s break the plot down a little. Jack (Nicholson) gets a job as a caretaker for a huge hotel whilst it’s closed during the winter months. Taking his wife (Shelly Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) with him, they are isolated for 5 months during snow storms and frost, but the weather outside is the least of their problems as they soon discover the hotel holds some dark secrets and isolation can do some very strange things to the mind.

This is the basics. As a viewer, it’s easy to look far deeper as the plot is outstanding with connotations, sub plots, diversions and imagery all over the place. Danny is possessed with an invisible friend who seems to offer a form of protection and vision of the past and future whilst Jack tacks a conflicting possession, one which is tied with the house which hints at a reoccurrence of personalities over the years, bringing them back and pushing them to extremes. But the marriage is far from healthy to start with and conflict is evident from the very first scenes.

The film is flawless in look and feel and great to experience. It’s an example of a merging of perfect novel with a master of the cinema creating a truly haunting film. Performances from Nicholson, Duvall and Lloyd are about as good as it gets. For me, the highlight is the scene between Danny and Dick the cook; a magical moment which pushes the difficulty of how to express danger to a child who you know could be in danger but you also know that he’s gonna be facing this on his own for the next 5 months. You don’t exactly want to scare the poor kid. The other highlight is between Jack and Delbert in the men’s room, a stunning scene which shows an intriguing reversal of roles with Delbert playing the humble waiter and Jack, the cocky punter, soon reverse with Delbert taking the upper hand and voice of the house, Jack the humble servant. Stunning acting.

I could talk for hours about this one. Perfection.

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The Exorcist

by on Oct.29, 2010, under Daily Review

Tubular Bells. That’s what this one is all about. Many films have catchy theme tunes, but this one is about as haunting as it gets. Mike Oldfield’s perfectly crafted score echoes through the film as we witness the possession of a young girl by an obscene spirit. The mother is at the end of her tether as any parent would be in this situation. The score is not only the sound of the movie, but the theme of their lives, we see a breakup of a household, a cry of help to medical science and finally religion, which seems to run the course of the film. But is it religion that saves Regan and takes the spirit or pure dedication on behalf of a guilt ridden man?

Let me break down the plot. A young girl, Regan (Linda Blair) becomes antisocial to the point of her actress mother Christine (Ellen Burstyn) having to seek medical help. Agitating the problem, uncovers a deeper problem, possession by the devil. Meanwhile, a local priest Father Karras (Jason Miller) is at conflict over his demented mother, haunted by the loss and the incarceration which leads to her death. His Father questions his son’s choice of career, hinting with a better vocation, his mother wouldn’t be in this situation. An instant question of faith. Karras is asked into the lives of Christine to help with Regan. I should have also mentioned the devil hunter, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), a priest dedicated to the art of exorcism.

The film is beautifully shot, very sterile and documentary for the most part with a cold wintry feel, low on colour, which allows the actors to truly take centre stage. This film is about people, interaction, emotion and loss. Christine is a single parent, wealthy, but lonely with only her daughter, Regan as any form of real company. Regan is without father desperate for attention. Father Karras is battling with his faith over the loss of his mother. He’s determined he’s made the correct vocation although still blames himself for his family’s hardship. The relationship between Karras and Christine is reflective in sex, wealth but reversal in the mother sibling role. It’s this connection which gives us the final conclusion, making a choice for a mother.

Dick Smith creates amazing effects here. A veteran in the art and here does a sterling job. I love Regan’s neck swelling up, but the full possessed Regan is very hard to beat. As far as scares goes, this one allows a slow build up through it’s clinical style to allow a sudden killer shock. Christine walking along the corridor towards Regan’s room is one of the first big hitting moments, opening the door to see the bed bouncing all over the place.

It’s been said that Director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty had a difference of interests and artistic differences with the finished result of this film but it’s hard to fault and seems about as perfect a movie as could have been made. This is a big film, clever, deep, questioning and thinking at all times. It’s a great film with a very difficult subject matter; child possessions are always tricky through walking the balance of decency and believability. This was back in ’73 and as terrifying today as it was back then. Many have tried to recreate and nearly all fail. This is the original possession masterpiece.

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by on Oct.28, 2010, under Daily Review

There is a reason why Dario Argento’s 1976 masterpiece is held with such high regard, as there is nothing else quite like it. A stunning sensory feast for audio and visual delights. Cinematic art at its finest and by far most gruesome.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is from a long family line of ballerinas, traveling to German to craft her art at the most famous and respected of institutes, she soon discovers her American values clash with that of the Europeans. After a student is brutally massacred, Suzy discovers there is more going on in this institute than ballet. Black magic by the hand of a coven of witches. A trail of vicious murders leads Suzy into their lair.

This is an outrageously good film, through the collective strange and original storyline, incredible cinematography, outstanding lighting and to top it off an ingenious score by Goblin. Argento collects the pieces and masterfully creates the visuals using the screen as a pallet to paint dramatic colour. Scenes awash with gels, red, blue and green. Perfect balance on all accounts. The set design is also of the most outlandish which creates a maze like feel to the institute. Suzy wonders along lush corridors looking for clues lit dramatically allowing every frame to be represented independent as a beautiful photograph.

The gore is also extreme but created and executed to artistic levels. Sara (Stefania Casini) ends up in a grave of wires, cutting and slicing her flesh. Later, here body is discovered by Suzy, laid out prepared and crucified and what a scene this is. Beautiful. The inicial murder, once again shows Argento’s liking for windows as the victim is first suffocated against glass by a beast like creature whose eyes where peering in through the pane. The window shatters. This is a familiar murder which Argento uses again and again as his entry gore moment in most of his movies, but here we are awash with glorious colour and framed perfection of the finished massacre, topped off with bubbling vibrant red blood. Another scene has a blind bloke attacked by his own dog, possessed by something, it viciously rips at his neck. A truly shocking moment as the dog chews up the flesh.

Harper is a perfect choice for the lead here allowing the film to build and grow around her character who is quiet and timid although questioning. Her scenes discussing Witchcraft with Dr Frank (the genre legend, Udo Kier) are beautifully paced and sympathetic to her loss and need for knowledge. A similar scenario in one of Argento other classics, Phenomena shows a different side to the American lead, (Jennifer Connelly) who is brash and feisty.

This is a gorgeous film. If you only see on Argento film, make it this one. I’m not sure Argento captured the essence from this one in any of his other movies. There is something quite special, magical and fantastical about this one which leaves it out on its own. There’s nothing else quite like it.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

by on Oct.27, 2010, under Daily Review

Welcome to the new dawn of contemporary horror, a film which bridges the gap between the classic Universal & Hammer’s and today’s ultra gorenography. A film which feasts on the broth on horror’s past, but which seasons with a whole new flavor.

A group of friends are on a road trip in search of the American dream or maybe the last remains of the summer of love. They stop off in the middle of nowheresville to see Sally’s fathers grave, but before long encounter some weird country folk. A big old house is stumbled upon and from there on in, it gets a bit grizzly.

This is a stunning masterpiece by any standard. Dan Pearl was born to be a DP, Hooper shows what a brilliant director he will become: the performances he pushes for here and achieves are outstanding. Marilyn Burns (as Sally) really should have gained the 73 Oscar for this as her performance is as brutally real as it gets. Great roles, paired with great cinematography don’t equal a great film, but throw in a killer plot, a cooking script and some inventive score and you have a stunna on your hands. Given this was all back in 73, it must have blown people away. It holds up well though and by today’s standards still keeps the viewer gripped and a little unnerved, not to mention disgusted.

Hooper’s winning formula here is lifting from what has gone before. Maybe this was subliminal, but the basic premise is classic Universal. Haunted house, spooky woods, full moon, monster in the cellar. The spin comes with his choice of monster, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) who, rather than a bloke in makeup to create the beast, alla Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, we have a human character who strips the flesh from his victims faces to wear as his own mask: instant monster.

We also have a situation with innocent people brutally massacred and very little in the way of a comeuppance on behalf of the villains, original and unheard of in it’s day. And to suspect any kind of happy ending, I’d question anyone’s judgment over the positive final sequence as no-one sleeps tight after an ordeal like this.

So we have influences from the silverscreen, we also have an obvious reflection from Spider Baby, a film which is closest in spirit and story. Hooper takes this basic and turns it into a riot of anguish and despair. The finger licking scene with grandpa is hideous, the moment with the bone room full of feathers also has a read adverse effect on me, but there are things going on in this film that had never really been touched upon. Mental torture, brutal murder but shot with such a beautiful eye makes the whole thing that more disturbing. Those super close up scenes of Sally’s eye are outrageously good.

Let me mention the rest of the cast. Allen Danziger, Walliam Vail, Edwin Neal and Teri McMinn are outstanding and deserve the mention, high praise. Marilyn Burns takes the lead 100%, makes the film what it is but balances against the pure horror and brilliance of character from Hansen, Neal and Jim Siedow.

A final last note, one on a brighter subject. My favorite shot of the whole film has to be Pam (Teri McMinn) as she steps off the swing chair and approaches the house. Inferior camera pan with glorious blue skies, white clouds roll by with the doom of her demise soon approaching. (A scene beautifully recreated in the remake, once again by the brilliant Dan Pearl) This is the most glorious of scenes then Leatherface makes his move and treats Pam like a doll.

This film is a gem and rightly recognized as so. I have a very special place for this one which just gets better and better with each viewing.

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by on Oct.26, 2010, under Daily Review

‘The television has become the retina of the minds eye.’ It’s this line which echo’s through the film, readdressing the focal point of extreme violence and the effect on the viewer, and in this case, planned manipulation of the mind through video wave signals. An amazing idea, which engages the ‘real’ viewer who is at home watching this, although no longer on  video cassette, the retro esthetic is perfect.

Cronenberg’s masterpiece which brings together the ideals of his previous films, the embrace and acceptance of change within the mind and body, here hits a new level and one which engages it’s audience. The reason we’re watching the film in the first place will be not only for the stunning script, great acting and perfect direction, but the disturbing plot awash with gore and violence of the extreme. Cronenberg makes clever films with full rational and reason for his visuals. Here we have an amazing idea which encourages the change in mind from watching sex, murder, violence to lead to extreme actions on the behalf of those who have viewed leaving them in a state of loss and unease.

TV producer, Max (James Woods) is always on the lookout for the next TV show to capture the audience. He’s pointed into a live satellite stream, a pirate signal broadcasting a sadistic TV show, Videodrome which depicts its contestants in scenes of violence. He’s captivated and immediately sets the wheels in motion to find the source. But the TV shows becomes more than an obsession with hallucinations and out of character actions as Max takes a journey within his own mind. He soon learns there is more to the broadcast than he first thought.

Woods is outstanding here, paired alongside Deborah Harry is some of cinema’s most legendary genre scenes. One of Harry’s great lines wraps up the film for me. ‘What are you waiting for lover, let’s perform, let’s open our neural floodgates.’ Also, we Harry’s lips pulsating out of the TV screen is one of the finest moments, whilst the cigarette and needle moments are also gripping and ugly but always mesmerizing. The gore is outrageously good. Rick Baker, always outstanding. Max slipping his hand inside his belly is an incredible special effect. We have a crazy bubbling exploding body later on in the film and how could I not mention the morphing flesh and gun scene.

The film plays like a vivid dream, or should I say nightmare which is cleverly constructed through Cronenberg’s reality, one of normal apartments, disused crumbling buildings in decay, unlike his usual clinical look. The hallucinations act alongside this decay to give the film a dirty gritty feel, one of closeness and personal attachment. Max’s romance with his Videodrome is his connection as the viewer who experiences the effects, just as I am at home here watching and experiencing in my own personal environment, but the connection and closeness is uncanny.

I love this film. It’s perfect in pace and crazy enough to enjoy on so many levels. Read more and more into this and take it deeper than  you imagine and I’m sure you’ll find your own Videodrome. One of the film characters, O’Blivion (Jack Creley) makes a few statements early on in the film too, a vision of our own future and one which is here and now. The acceptance of violence within our society through a network shown on screens in our home. The idea that everyone will have a Screen name, which differs from their own. Credence to Cronenberg; pure genius.

Death to Videodrome, Long live the new flesh!

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The Evil Dead

by on Oct.25, 2010, under Daily Review

It’s easy to forget just how stunningly good this film is, just how much of an amazing genius Raimi can be and here is the original evidence, and one of the finest debut movies to grace the genre. Raimi has always been top of my list as a inventive director, but with super stardom with the Spiderman franchise he’s kinda taken for granted. Let me also mention, his sequels have always been on the glossier side; brilliant yes, but not of the same standard as far as I’m concerned. The original has innocence and untamed, unchartered creativity.

The plot, simple and perfect. Friends head off for a weekend in a log cabin in the woods. They discover some research notes, an old tome and a recording which tells of demons, resurrection and haunting in the woods. Old things which should be left untouched, but it’s all a bit too late and soon the spirits are upon the youths. The woods come alive with possession and death their goal.

In it’s essence, this is Lovecraft down to the last frame. Things out there which we just don’t know about. We don’t know how to battle against them, we don’t know what they want, but they are there and they are after souls. In cinematic style, this is unlike anything else. It’s close to chainsaw in it’s artistic cinematography and contemporary horror for a new generation, but the things Raimi does with a camera is totally out there.

We have gore, plenty of gore, great makeup and fantastical imagination during possessions. The pencil in the ankle is one shocking moment which still gets me even by today’s standards. I absolutely adore the possessed look, especially Linda (Betsy Baker) with that spooky beautiful smile and babydoll voice. Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) locked in the cellar is also one of the greatest cinematic visuals of the 21st century, a great transformation and brutally fast in it’s attack. Earlier, we see her abducted by trees and vines I the woods, disrobed and raped by a branch. This is a vicious moment and something terrifying, nature turning on youth.

This one will always be one of my favourites. It’s original to the point of crazyness. I’ve probably never seen anything quite so sharp, horrific, clever and inspiring as Evil Dead. Not only does it stand up today alongside huge budget horror flicks, but it lives out its reputation during the 80’s as one of the Nasties, this is one of the definitive, one which has stepped beyond the shadows, through popular culture and beyond a cult classic, propelling Raimi into a god of a director.  I should mention Bruce too, but does he need a mention? We all know how stunning he is here.

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Night of the Living Dead

by on Oct.24, 2010, under Daily Review

This one has a very special place in my heart. No matter how many times I come back to this one, it never fails to surprise me. This is the first place for Z flicks, the absolute true beginning of the genre. Sure, we can take some earlier examples, but this was the first definitive template of how thousands have come to replicate. Many have built of this primary, many have attempted a reproduction, but very few capture the true heart which keeps this one magical.

Barbara and Johnny have traveled to a remote cemetery to place a wreath on their father’s grave. Whilst Johnny begins to goof about, a stranger staggers towards Barbara (Judith O’Dea). A fight breaks out, with Johnny falling victim. Barbara escapes to the safety of a farm house. She’s soon in the company of a few other survivors who argue and complain and debate over the situation which is filling their nation. The dead are returning from the grave hungry for flesh.

George A Romero struck gold with this one. A stunning plot which, although builds and creates the original idea of the contemporary zombie theme, actually focus’ on the human side of things. This is a soap opera of survival and a conflict of interests, be it a family with an injured daughter, two youngsters in love, a woman alone after her bothers dead or the main hero, our protagonist, the spectacular Ben (Duane Jones) and Afro-American character, taking the lead here which for the time is something of a very special move for Romero. For the most part, Ben seems to be the only person with any common sense although, interesting enough, changes his survival plan towards the end of the film, to that of Harry (Karl Hardman) which if taken earlier, could have solved a lot of issues.

Romero is a master of cinema, and here shows exactly why this is. The film is stunningly filmed, paced and scripted. It’s creepy, aerie and atmospheric. Zombies here are pretty horrific and just do not stop, even in black and white, the dripping blood still seems red. The rotting corps on the 2ndfloor is grim and as they surround the farmhouse, more and more shuffling and waiting creates an amazing atmosphere of claustrophobia and hysteria. Meanwhile, Romero’s characters argue amongst themselves and battle for leadership and supremacy. This also reflected in TV reports with local groups cleansing the state taking ownership of who lives, regardless of Z’s or not. An early report states three ghouls around a barn, obviously there for the people inside, which reflects our protagonists outcome.

More than anything, this is a dramatic feature of human greed and accountable actions whilst under extreme stress. The steady build up shows basic survival tricks, but the instant snapping dialogue between Ben and Harry shows the ultimate conflict which this film challenges, of racism and sexism. The film is also not afraid to tackle any taboo, even when it comes to the striking of a woman by a man, or a child eating the flesh of her father. The actions are strong images, but nothing will prepare you for the final scene.

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Week 52

by on Oct.23, 2010, under 365 Schedule

So here we are with the final week of films. These are the cream of the crop.

  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Evil Dead
  • Videodrome
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Suspiria
  • Exorcist
  • The Shining
  • Halloween
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Don’t Look Now

by on Oct.23, 2010, under Daily Review

There’s nothing else quite like ‘Don’t Look Now,’ although after watching this again, (The last time I saw this was some ten years ago) I actually now have Antichrist in my mind. Are the Baxters’ actually in Venice, or is this a maze of madness within John’s mind?

The underrated director Nicholas Roeg directs this masterpiece from 1973, a tale based on a short by Daphne Du Maurier surrounding parents, John and Laura (Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie) whose young daughter drowns in a freak accident in their garden lake. Consoling each other, and some time later, they are working in Venice when Laura is approached by a strange blind psychic and her sister who mentions that Chistine, their daughter is happy. From this point, Laura becomes at peace with their loss, but seems to have a disturbing effect on John who begins seeing his daughter, wearing her red rain coat, running through the passageways of Venice. Meanwhile, the local Police are in search of a serial killer.

The film, visually is spectacular, glorious making Venice look stunning, whilst doing a tremendous job of keeping away from all the major landmarks. We have a beautiful style of shooting related situations, intercut cleverly as if the mind is chopping between thoughts. The reoccurring flashes of red is a theme, reminding us constantly of the drowned daughter, from red bobble hats, a coat on a clothes line and even a lit candle. We also get scenes which seem to represent a vision of the future, just to confuse the matter and a linking of several of the key characters. The red coat, the priest, the blind woman, Laura and John all seem to have a connection. One seen has them waking up, all over the city, effected by a single action.

I’d recommend a second viewing of this one as there is so much going on, I’ve been playing it over in my mind all day, looking for answers as to what else is buried in the plot, are they in Venice, did the daughter really exist, is John actually alive? All could be nonsense, but Lynchian in approach, dreamlike and deep.

Now, let me just mention, probably one of the most talked about scenes in this film, the love making scene between John and Laura. Never has there been a moment captured on film which is graphic, real and believable, but captures true love, loss and despair. A true collective of a union, embroiled in the emotion of desire and loss of their daughter. It’s a beautiful scene and a real high point with Roeg capturing real solid emotion which swings from either end of the happy, sad spectrum capturing everything in between. Amazing.

I really love this film. I love the script, the crazy characters, the emotion and power and stunning performance from Sutherland and Christie. The lighting, direction and camerawork. I love Venice an awful lot, and this film makes me long for a weekend in the misty damp canals.

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