Daily Review

Peeping Tom

by on Oct.22, 2010, under Daily Review

Possibly and arguably one of Britain’s greatest horror films, certainly one of my favorites. The tale of boy raised by his social conditioning nazi scientist of a father, brought up in a controlled environment whist producing research on obsessive observation, sneaky peeking and listening in when people are unknown.

The film starts off some years later. Mark (Carl Boehm) has become a crazy sexual serial killer. By day working as a cameraman, by night, stalking women, stabbing them in the neck whilst capturing their dying screams and distorted features on 16mm camera for his own viewing pleasure. His obsession leads him to capture numerous girls on film, always looking for the ultimate expression of death. But his mind is structured and confused in an OCD manner, the final scene reinforcing this with planned cameras rigged for a final performance.

Never has there been such a disturbing plot for a film, not to mention its release was way back in 1960 and caused all sorts of controversy, recognized as filthy, vile, sick and nasty. More shocking from my point of view was that this film was to end the glorious film career of Michael Powell, the stunning director famous for ‘Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and Colonel Blimp. Critics just didn’t get this film, but watching it today is a glorious event.

From the opening scene, we know who the murder is, follow his actions, see his reasoning and day to day events. His mind truly captured on the screen, a portrait of a damaged, conditioned mind. Yet what Powell manages to withhold is the last piece in the puzzle, the reasoning for the extreme distorted shock on the girls faces. Sure they are getting filmed, they are getting stabbed, but what is Mark doing to gain absolute bloody shock and horror in an expression. It all becomes clear lat on in the final moments of the film, which is a brilliant moment, one of cinema’s greatest.

As you can expect, Powell shoots the film like a dream, which flows easily, enjoyable even though the subject matter is grim. The viewer is captivated as to reasons for murder and the reasons for shock. The script is beautifully written, very British and executed perfectly by it’s cast. You won’t regret giving this one a chance. Stunning absolute classic.

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by on Oct.21, 2010, under Daily Review

For the first half of this movie, you could be mistaken for watching a romance drama, a sweet love story all light and girly but how the tide turns.

I’ve avoided this film. It terrifies me. I once watched it at the cinema and endured horrific visuals whist leaning forward in my cinema seat in a sold out screen. Hot and cold flushes as I sweated through the final half hour. Christ, why would I watch this again? For a film to have such a physical effect on a viewer, it’s obviously doing something right, and of cause, surly this is the reason we watch films, to enjoy the various emotions and live out other lives and experiences.

Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) loses his wife, his true love. For years he works as a single parent. His close friend has a word, maybe it’s time to move on. 

Coincidentally, they both work in film production and use the ploy of a lead role in a movie as an excuse to audition for a girlfriend. One girl stand out from the rest, she’s quiet, polite and pretty. But after a few dates, Shigeharu begins to suspect he may have a little bunny boiler.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this one. Truly Takashi Miike’s  masterpiece. It’s impact on a second viewing is as effective as the first, ten years ago. It’s shocking and sincere, a strange balance between innocent and fiend. Eihi Shiina role as Asami the girlfriend is quite a performance, while Ishibashi takes the role as the tormented boyfriend and offers a stunning character. The final half of the film is shocking but walks a very careful path to stay on the believable with Asami just balancing on the edge, her actions show psycho loon, whilst her manner is polite and quiet, cute smiles. It’s this that really works here. We also get a good twist which has been done to death in film but here manages to work with it with perfect results.

The final scene is beautifully executed with Asami’s words from a slumbering scene whilst the viewer watches a Romeo & Juliette-esq albeit slightly carnageified to the extreme, but allows the viewer to question the outcome and reality.

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by on Oct.20, 2010, under Daily Review

Although I’d chosen this one for the final few weeks of classics, I’ve found myself questioning whether or not to replace the original with the US remake. In my opinion a far better movie, which is sympathetic to it’s originating source yet creatively inspiring. A friend of mine mentioned yesterday, St John’s Wort as a progressive version of the Blair Witch. I agree totally, but it’s a strange contrast to compare a US remake over an original, usually recognized as destroying the primaries. I decided on the original, as I’d only seen it the once after many, several bottles of wine, and to be brutally honest, I could only remember very select moments.

The opening scene spans the basic plot, one which is simple and sleek. Two teenage girls hanging out in a sleepover scenario, eventually bring up a rumor of a video cassette which once viewed, curses the receiver, 7 days later with death. This is the same simple plot as Night of the Demon, based on MR James’ ‘Casting the Runes’, yet here we are with an Eastern original horror tale. A spate of cursed teenagers and kids suggest foul play to the detectives, but one family member of a victim takes the initiative and gambles on the superstition about the tape. When we eventually get to see the curse, it’s truly something to behold.

The film runs at a great pace and is much more comprehendible than I remember. We dive right into the plot which then runs as a detective movie, seeking out reason and questioning motives, the how’s and why’s of possibility. The supernatural side of things is brought to light when photographs taken of the victims show distorted faces. And then, the finest and most famous scene of the film, the girl from the well, climbing from the TV set. This is what makes this film stand out from the rest, a terrifying vision of supernatural horror cursed on the viewer and inflicted through the very device which offered the original experience. Too, here we sit experiencing at second hand via DVD. Brilliance and perfection at taking the basic MR James and remastering to this disturbing terror.

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The Blair Witch

by on Oct.19, 2010, under Daily Review

Made on a shoe string budget and using super viral marketing, this film was ground breaking and news of this spread like wild fire over the internet prior to it’s official release back in 1999. It’s anything but amateur, although attempting to look so, this is a very well put together film and works perfect, plenty of threads which tie up neatly at the finale, although you might have to watch carefully and listen to every line. Saying that, there is still plenty to think and talk about afterwards. Clever.

So, the plot follows Heather Donahue on her collage project to research the history, the legend of the Blair Witch. Bringing a few friends on board, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams to help shoot her detective work. She interviews random people in the local village of stories which they grew up with, some are mainly about the Witch, some are creepy. This also unveils the tale of Rustin Parr, a serial killer of young children who apparently worked under the influence of the witch. Soon, the crew are lost in the woods, the map goes astray and strange things begin to happen.

The thing that worked for this one initially is the close contact the viewer has with the cast. The idea of everything being shot on video camera to capture the whole research side of things, for better or worse, is genius. Character generation is created through situations of positive and negative scenario with our protagonists acting in their own direction depending on their emotions. Brilliant and real, super real in fact. If you’ve ever been camping, you can reflect on their dilemma. Next, we have some strange stuff happening in the woods. Noises, strange piles of stones and those wooden figures. All this before they eventually find the house and the real fun begins.

The last five minutes top the film perfectly, fast moving and intense but capturing a lot of the early research which is usually lost via the visuals and building horror. The standing in the corner thing is brilliant and creepy beyond belief.

I’ve seen this one several times now but not for many years and was surprised how well it still stands up and how easy it is to watch.

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by on Oct.18, 2010, under Daily Review

Never has there been better casting for a role in a movie than Sissy Spacek in the lead here. All due credit to Brian De Palma for casting the young actress as she holds the film up and makes it exactly what it is. There isn’t much in the way of plot, it’s simple and I’m actually surprised Stephen King could get a whole novel out of this, but that just shows what a great author he is.

After being tormented in the showers at school, following an innocent misunderstanding over her first time of the month, a young Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is the focus. Chris (Nancy Allen) is out for revenge with her heart throb boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) whilst one of the other girls, Sue (Amy Irving) feels guilty and persuades her own heartthrob Tommy (William Katt) to ask young Carrie to the Prom. Meanwhile. Carries mother (Piper Laurie) is a religious freak with serious issues. To top things off finally, Carrie has the magical ability to move things with her mind.

Basically, King starts us off with the basics, an underdog who gets teased. What if we tease her to the brink of absolute humiliation? Then, what if we give the underdog, looks that kill? What about if she’s really sweet but we still make the viewer support her in her massacre? What if she kills everyone, even her mother?

The film is gorgeous to watch, it’s well paced and super enjoyable. As with most films which follow the underdog, we are totally in support but Carrie is like no other. She’s ridiculously sweet, naive and innocent which conflicts with the flip side when she turns all psycho.

De Palma shoots a great film. Loads of stunning technical genius on show here. From the opening soft focus dreamy shower scene, the amazing spinning dance scene, the gym/workout scene to the masterful swooping crane shot which follows the wire along the trap during the ball presentation. Finally, beautiful use of split screen glorified with red gels.

Lastly, the back story which knits the plot together, gives reason for Carrie’s actions and character, is one of religious insanity. When the mother says ‘the sin never dies’ it echo’s through the viewers mind. The torture she endures her young daughter, and it’s this which creates the true horror here. The evil comes from the mother, allowing the character of Carrie, submissive for the most part in her presence, moments of teenage rebellion are lapped up by the audience.

The film stands the test of time, even though it looks super 70’s, it’s a historical document which is east to sit through but will seep deep into your mind.

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by on Oct.17, 2010, under Daily Review

Earlier on in the year, I had a whole week of haunted house films. One of my friends reminded me of Poltergeist after I’d stated there just aren’t many good films in the genre. I’d somehow forgotten all about Poltergeist!

Construction engineer Steve (Craig T Nelson) moves into his new home on the estate which he’d planned and worked on. A beautiful family home, his wife, Diane (Jobeth Williams) loves it, but the kids are a bit suspicious. Daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) starts taking calls on her toy telephone while the son Robbie (Oliver Robins) is spooked by the tree at his window. Then the chairs start moving on their own and Carol Anne gets dragged into the other side.

The film is so easy and enjoyable to watch. Directed by Tobe Hooper, I believe he barely added anything personally to this film and worked in Spielberg’s shadow as it looks and feels pure classic Spielberg, circa ET, Jaws & Close Encounters. In fact, is this the same house from ET? The characters are perfect, real, believable and likeable. The situation grows at a perfect pace allowing the characters the time to think about and deal with, first nervous, then excitement, some terror to pure despair as the daughter is lost although communicating via TV. The cast are excellent and work with a stunning natural script which allows the viewer access into their world.

Although I say Hooper plays second fiddle here, it’s beautifully shot with a key focus on the all American family, a reoccurring trait of Hooper. The film couldn’t be more American if it tried and it’s a desirable side of the USA, which looks so idyllic. To see this suburban, beautiful home torn apart by the supernatural forces is gripping. Also, I might add, when we see stuff moving around the house, it’s bloody terrifying. The first scene with the chairs when Diane finds them pulled away from the table is so creepy. To think, this kind of threat is all around, could happen in anyone’s home; this is real horror.

The film is groundbreaking in its use of a classic haunting plot in a contemporary staging. It’s accessible to all through situation horror, creating spooky environments but maintaining a level of respect to its audience to encourage viewings.

I’d forgotten about this one. I’d forgotten how amazing, enjoyable and easy it is to watch; I could hit the play button and watch it again.

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by on Oct.16, 2010, under Daily Review

I’m torn with this one. Totally torn. It’s the beginning of Dracula as we know it, classic in style and image, just like a Coke Cola bottle, yet it feels wrong, the plot is shattered and simplistic with scenes rigid and without heart, everything which Dracula should not be.

It’s 1931, Tod Browning directs a great cast, Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Edward Van Sloan and Frances Dade. The pot is a simplified version of the Novel. Dracula is visited by Renfield, turned mad, they set sail for England then meet the local aristocracy before taking a few bites. Poetic licence is taken as standard here with the film playing out like a stage, theatre production with each scene carefully planned and laid out. But this is really the beginning here. Universal’s big vampire outing and for it’s time, groundbreaking. Lugosi is scorching on the screen, enigmatic and powerful, but for me, the highlight has to go to the two girls, Chandler and Dade who reflect Lugosi in every scene, with his dominance, their subtle submission, their joy and laughter against his dark moody cold and precise exterior.

It’s great to watch, great to enjoy and it’s what we’ve all grown up on as a part of our culture, which makes it difficult to question, never mind review. All we should be doing with this one is enjoying and experiencing and accepting what exactly it is. What else is there to compare it to for example?

One of my plans at the beginning of the year, was to have a whole month of Universal monster movies. Many I’ve seen, many I haven’t but I’m not sure it’s the right place to watch and review these films. Lets just keep them where they are, on their pedestal and love them for their originality and introduction to an image which has lasted 80 years and will hopefully continue to be as symbolic

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Let the Right One In

by on Oct.15, 2010, under Daily Review

One of the most beautiful films so far in the project, heart warming and vicious with a cold heart which treads a tender line until ready to claim it’s victim. The film is subtle and delicate and atmospheric with super undertones reflecting child abuse, loss, anger and hatred.

Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a young 12 year old growing up in a the snowy Stockholm suburb, bullied by peers, ignored by his parents, he discovers a new life when he makes friends with a new girl on the block, Eli (Lina Leandersson). She’s different, strange but seems interested in Oskar’s world.

This is an unbelievable original tale. Simple in it’s conception, brilliant in it’s execution. Boy meets girl who then turns out to be Vampire and not even a girl. But when we look closer, we begin to find a whole super depth below the beautiful cinematography and the inspiring innocence portrayed by Leandersson and Hedebrant. On one level, we see a strong being, witnessing humanity in it’s humblest of forms, a boy bullied and ignored who needs some strength to build and achieve, yet there’s also the whole grooming side, with Oskar being chosen as Eli’s new slave. She grooms him, ready for the role, he adores her, he needs her and she creates a character around this which shows the prize at a price. It suggests a selfishness from the character of Eli, who knows she’s be taking the life of an innocent and rather than sharing happiness and a life together, (which is also kind of suggested on a basic level) it’s more of a protection of her own legacy, her own self preservation.

As I have said, the film is gorgeous to watch. It’s shot with such a perfect eye, very calm and delicately paced. Director Tomas Alfredson gets an amazing performance from his cast, both young and old. The film is no cheep Euro affair either. Some amazing effects. A woman on fire in a hospital bed is outstanding, some good gore scenes too with limbs and a head sinking in the pool scene, but probably one of the highlights and biggest effects is the scene with Eli entering Oskar’s home without being ‘Asked in.’ Amazing effect, blood pouring from here eyes and head, everywhere. A stunning scene, but this really isn’t what the title suggests, it’s not the ‘Let the right on in’ to your home, from my point of view, it’s a choice from Eli’s perspective, placing Oskar under scrutiny, situations, grooming and empowering, all the while allowing a friendship and love to bond him to her side forever.

This is one of the finest films I’ve ever scene. Wonderful and inspiring which just makes me smile thinking about it.

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Nosferatu the Vampyre

by on Oct.14, 2010, under Daily Review

This is my first and only experience of Herzog, but I can tell you, I’ll be checking out a lot more of his work after this one. I knew I’d like his style, but wasn’t expecting the immense class and artistic creativity on and behind the screen.

The basic Dracula plot, set in Europe, beautiful scenery and more rustic than any other versions I’ve seen. Rather than aristocratic characters, we have a more dreamy cast who fall for Dracula’s spell, falling in love with desire and all things alive, living for the moment and falling head over heals, as one could say. Klaus Kinski takes the lead and is fabulous here. Emotional and torn, yet bursting with desire from with, the exterior pure solemn melancholy. Bruno Ganz and the beautiful Isabelle Adjani take on the characters of Lucy and John Harker who fall under the spell of Dracula. It’s everything you could imagine really. A beautiful tale of love and loss with one of the most gorgeous endings, heartfelt and warming and Dracula loses track of time, lost in his own desire and worship.

Herzog can shoot a camera like no-one else. He captures energy and art and emotion with such ease. Sweeping landscapes and pretty villages look amazing with characters being allowed to take their tame over a simple scene which could be snapped through by another director. Some great repetitive scenes of the bat in flight and one of my most memorable, climbing up a lace curtain. Stunning. Another highlight for me would be the entry of Dracula, or should I say his shadow, as Lucy brushes her hair. She watches as the shadow opens the door and approaches behind her, through a mirror. Very, very nice stuff.

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Salem’s Lot

by on Oct.13, 2010, under Daily Review

Some films have such a reputation, a pedestal so high, impossible to climb down from. Not only amongst vampire films, this Salem’s Lot is recognized as one of the creepiest and greatest horror films ever made. As a young lad, many of my friends would talk about this one, famous scenes but for some reason, I never got to see it as a kid and ever since, it’s just passed me by. So here we are and this is the primary reason for the project, to watch all the greats I never got around to and revisit those I remember being great.

Ben Mears (David Soul) a horror novelist seeks inspiration in a small New England town, he soon finds he’ll have more than enough material for his next release as it becomes more and more apparent that vampires have moved in to an old house on the outskirts. Slowly, the residents become victims.

Simple plot, based on the novel by Stephen King, this tale focus’ on the small American town and all the inhabitants, something Kings revisits over and over in his work. His eye for small detail and interesting quirky characters is exceptional and works on any level, be it Zombies in the town, Martians or Vampires. It’s always how these characters react to a threat of something different and how they learn to believe in the fantastical. So, what better a director to take on this movie than the king of small town America, Tobe Hooper. Once again, Hooper takes on a film with a small group of antisocial villains who prey out of sight on the locals of the town, same as Chainsaw, same as Fun House, same as Eaten Alive.

Does it work and does it deserve it’s reputation? I’m not convinced. Maybe it had a bigger impact back then, but watching it today is not an easy task. It’s long and steady and builds plenty of character; we get to know pretty much everyone in the town, but the scares are few and far between and the overall plot is pretty common. Maybe it’s just become common. I don’t know really.

Saying this, it’s not bad though. The cast are great. Soul is perfect in the lead. James Mason is a brilliant addition to any cast. Bonnie Bedelia is a great love interest and with George Dzundza and Ed Flanders in support. The script works well as expected, but the overall length could have done with cutting down slightly. Hooper adds some great direction, some classic camera work too. Highlights for me are Ben standing over the grave as the camera sits in low, POV; very nice. I love the vampire too, non of this beast inside business, here the vampire is a monster and very spooky looking. The legendary floating kid at the window is also genius and brilliantly done. One of my other fave moments is when Ben is staking the vamp, unstoppable, monstrous and crazy, questioning just what is going on inside the novelists mind. The scene goes on and on and he just keeps swinging that hammer, then it becomes apparent that more vamps, turned victims are crawling along the corridor in the distance. Very nice. Lastly, great ending.

So, overall, is this worth the reputation? I’m still not sure. Of cause it has some great scenes, great cast, great script and brilliant direction, but a great film should still stand up against today’s standards, should landmark and break barriers and have something to say. This one is entertaining, but feels dated and doesn’t really do anything different with the vampire genre. I know hundreds of vampire films never both with anything new, but this one is basically the same plot as Dracula but in America. Is it worth watching? I’d say yes, purely to make up your own decision and to experience the floating kid.

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