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IT (2017) Reviewed!

It’s been a long time coming (no pun intended), but finally cinemagoers can watch another adaptation of Stephen King’s IT!

The last time was a forgettable TV mini-series of 1990, noteworthy only for the portrayal of the menacing clown Pennywise by cult actor Tim Curry. In that adaptation the filmmakers attempted to adapt King’s massive horror novel about a group of adults slowly remembering how they battled a shape-shifting monster as kids.

The book is huge and distils all of Stephen King’s work into one story. Everything is here as King literally throws the bathroom sink at us: monsters, kids, the small town with a curse etc etc. It’s a masterpiece of horror fiction, spanning two generations with multiple time shifts. Which is perhaps why it has proven so difficult to film.

In the latest version, the action is shifted from the 1950s to 1988. The film opens with a atmospheric sequence in which young Bill’s brother Georgie encounters Pennywise in the storm drain. It’s a powerful scene, horrific and violent.  It does what some of the best horror movies do, which is make us wonder just how far is this film prepared to go?

But does IT (2017) have what it takes us thoroughly scare us? Is it destined to become another classic Stephen King adaptation in the footsteps of Brian de Palma’s Carrie, the infamous Tobe Hooper TV series ‘Salem’s Lot, or Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining?

First, the scares: yes, it is scary. Horror fans rejoice! Pennywise played by Bill Skargard is the creepiest clown imaginable. The way the character moved was downright unsettling and truly suggested something unnatural. Kudos to the filmmakers for making the worn-out trope of the killer clown scary again!

The child actors are all very believable, especially hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), motor-mouth Richie (Stranger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard) and girl next door Beverley  (Sophie Lillis). A very important consideration that was mostly missing from the 1990 miniseries and, in fact, many films involving children. The kids all played their parts exceedingly well.

The action is set in 1988 instead of decades earlier – presumably so that younger audiences can “relate” more. A dubious choice but it doesn’t hamper the story  much, except that some of the novel’s best moments stem from IT assuming the form of 1950s B-movie monsters. But it’s easy to overlook such things because the movie looks gorgeous. And the opening scene establishes the tone so perfectly.

The film has some amazing visuals. When Pennywise attacks it was genuinely unsettling.  There were some great original moments also, which came as a nice surprise to those of us who had read the book. In fact there were so many scares that the audience kept jumping in their seats all night, followed by nervous laughter. 

However… and this is a big however… the film falls flat in several places. These weaknesses hampered my enjoyment of the film because they were so glaring. These were mainly questions of plot logic and unbelievably stupid choices by the main characters. And it was frustrating because it could all have been put right so easily.

King’s novel is quite daring in its realistic depiction of childhood. I didn’t really get that from the movie.  We never see the kids being kids. Instead they become rather shallow characterisations of children (the motor mouth, the quiet leader, the skeptic, the hypochondriac). We get one scene of Bill’s father being annoyed after Georgie’s death. Other than that, nothing. We get one scene of Stan being put under pressure by his rabbi father. Then nothing. We get one scene of Mike’s life. We get no scenes whatsoever of Richie’s home life. Only Eddie and Bev have an arc. The filmmakers boil the kids down to their bare essence. They could have lost a few of the “montage” sequences instead and made up for this with actually meaningful moments. Instead it feels like a “paint by the numbers” approach to character.

More unforgivably, the kids have a habit of going “slowly towards” an unimaginable horror, presumably so we the audience can get a closer look, rather than turning tail and trying to escape. I found myself groaning inwardly every time someone walked slowly towards yet another life-threatening manifestation of IT. One would have thought that the filmmakers would have learned such lessons in the 1980s themselves!

The annoying thing is that all this is perfectly dealt with in the book. There were plenty of added scenes which didn’t really serve any purpose other than to provide another flashy visual. The writer and director could have used those scenes (scare as they were) to provide some more meaningful storytelling. Carrie has very few scares, but the ones that are there stick in the mind long after the film is over.

The directing style itself was a bit clumsy in places. Plot clues tended to “THUD” onto camera – sometimes literally. There were far too many “Jump scares” that weren’t really needed when the film did so well in setting up an atmosphere of terror. LOUD NOISES also proliferated (see what I did there?) and again, they were unnecessary.

As mentioned earlier, the movie is set in 1988. The problem with this time shift is that all through the movie I was asking myself: why choose 1988? The back end of the 80s had little of quality. Why not set it in 1985 or even earlier? (like Stranger Things – a series to which IT clearly owes a great deal) At least that way we could get some great 1980s soundtracks, hilarious fashions and great movie references. Instead we get a montage to… The Cure (?) and a couple of shots of a movie theatre advertising Lethal Weapon 2. Really? Why not choose some better material from a decade that had so much? It didn’t really feel like the 80s.

The film tries hard to get that Stand By Me vibe. But for me, it  lacked the innocence and playfulness of childhood. The kids ogle Beverley for a few minutes, but that’s about it. Ritchie is funny in places but his “antics” get ridiculous, like trying to steal a bandplayer’s French horn in the background of a scene. We don’t see any authentic scenes of them playing as children. For me this was a major flaw. Especially when King’s novel deals with this so well. It could easily have been rectified by adding a few little moments to existing scenes, such as the kids building a dam in the Barrens. The novel is terrific at depicting the terror of childhood. But apart from a nice scene with Eddie and his momma, there was little of this in the movie. A little more attention to the source material would have helped.

As stated there were many plot holes. I won’t elaborate on these save that two very big ones occur near the end of the movie, leaving a huge incident involving the missing children completely unresolved. Again, a little more care with the script would have helped. I’m not solely blaming the screenwriters as they are often just doing what they are told (or have the decision taken away from them altogether by the production team), but the criticism stands.

However, for all these problems, there was a lot to like in IT. The film is genuinely frightening. Special effects often delivered the scares. There were some great ones too. The opening scene, an incident involving a movie projector, and a moment involving a headless corpse were all terrific moments.

But good moments do not a great movie make. King’s novel is more than just fodder for a Friday night scare. IT is a very complex novel about childhood. This film wanted nothing more than to be a popcorn horror movie. In that the filmmakers succeeded. But IT could have been so much more! This was a shame, as with a little more work this film could easily have been a classic instead of an instant payout.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the movie a lot. The scares are so well done and there are so many of them that I could almost forgive the other mistakes. The best horror films make you feel like you’re experiencing a world out of a nightmare. In this, IT did not disappoint. The whole thing feels like a fever dream with some great, surreal imagery. It is certainly a slick, well-oiled fear machine.

So is IT a classic?

The novel deals with some difficult childhood issues (bulling, abuse, first love, isolation) which are only alluded to in the movie. Undoubtedly IT has enough genuinely scary, gruesome moments to satisfy any horror lover. But the film lacks depth and characterisation, and the filmmakers themselves generate several major plot holes. However, IT is still a very watchable horror movie.  I would say that IT is worth seeing just for the slick Hollywood effects and the many scary moments.

Still curious? Go see IT and judge for yourselves. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Overall: 7/10

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10 MARVEL SUPER-HEROES WHO DESERVE THEIR OWN MOVIES!

We’ve seen the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The FF, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant Man. On TV we have Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But there are plenty of less well-known Marvel Super-Heroes who possibly deserve their own movies. Here’s a selection of some of the best candidates:

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Nova

Teenager Richard Ryder (because every superhero needs an alliterated name) gets blasted with a space ray and turned into a human rocket! Nova was never much more than a Spider-man clone. In the Psychedelic Seventies he fought such far-out cats as The Sphinx, Megaman (whose key attribute was having no face), and The Condor (a guy with wings) amongst others before becoming a member of the less-than-super New Warriors. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to the Nova Core of Xanthar, the alien race that gave Nova his powers. But surely anyone with a costume this cool deserves his own movie?

 

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Dazzler

Interesting fact: Dazzler was supposed to be a movie right from the start. The character was ushered into the pages of X-Men purely to plug an onscreen character who was to both sing and act! The movie and the songstress never materialized, but Alison Blaire, a disco queen who can shoot light out of her body, became a regular member of the X-Men. With the rocking ’70s soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, and her discotastic costume, has the time finally come for the Dazzler to shine?

 

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Moon Knight

Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, few have undergone so many changes as Moon Knight. Appearing in Werewolf by Night #32 as a mercenary who was given a silver costume to hunt down the titular werewolf, Marc Spector morphed into a caped crusader to rival even Batman, before becoming endowed with supernatural powers courtesy of Egyptian god Konshu, dying, being resurrected, being briefly possessed by a demon, infected with lycanthropy, and even suffering multi-personality disorder from the pressure of adopting too many disguises a-la Mission Impossible!

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Captain Britain

The good captain was designed by Marvell UK in the 1970s to be Britain’s answer to Captain America. Unfortunately, he had a shaky start. Given a magic staff by Merlin (yes, the King Arthur one) Brian Braddock becomes a superhuman powerhouse who fought the Red Skull alongside Steve Rogers. The series hobbled along until scribe Alan Moore reinvented the character in the 1980’s as a strapping blonde mimbo who survived rather than won his battles against foes far cleverer than himself. Later stories had him joining comedy superhero team Excalibur alongside several former X-Men. But maybe it’s time Cap had his own movie. Heck, it worked for Ant-Man. Interesting factoid: his sister is Betsy Braddock, aka Psyclocke!

 

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The Son of Satan

Yes, you heard right. It’s fair to say that Marvel in the 1970s was… experimental. One of the better inventions of that time was Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan himself! Debuting in the pages of Ghost Rider #1 Hellstrom is constantly at war both with his own infernal nature and his demonic dad. He eventually got his own series before it was cancelled due to a panel that was considered too blasphemous ever to be reproduced! Surely a character this dark deserves his own TV show!

 

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Power Pack

Louise Simonson and June Brigman created this unique superhero team of children. The Power family find themselves in the middle of a secret war between the warlike alien Snarks (who look like walking crickets) and the peace-loving Kymellians (who look like sea-horses). When a Kymelian sacrifices himself to save the kids, they each gain one of his super-abilities. The series was ground-breaking for its realistic psychology, showing the kids scared, brave, petulant and spoiled, just like real kids. I have a soft spot for Power Pack. It’s my very favourite comic, and I’ll personally love to see it become a live action movie, if only as an antidote to all the dark and depressing fare that’s been served up recently.

 

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Machine Man

Here’s a character who’s better than he looks. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is an unusual comic book superhero, because he’s a robot! X-51 is a sentient and rather sensitive android. When his creator is killed, he decides to go off and tackle crime, along with his Go-Go-Gadget arms and legs. Created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the back pages of “2001: A Space Odyssey” , X-51 was also memorably drawn by Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. There’s something both moving and creepy about a character trying to pretend to be human, even down to wearing a latex face mask and dark glasses! One of Marvel’s more interesting characters.

 

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Howard the Duck

I know what you’re thinking. But try and forget the sickeningly-sweet George Lucas aberration and think more along the lines of a rather adult ALF. Now you’re closer to Steve Gerber’s bizarre vision of a duck trapped in a world not of his own making. Hailing from another dimension, cigar-smoking, wise-cracking Howard finds himself in Cleveland and up to his feathers in trouble. The comic was a satirical take on superheroes that sometimes had to be read to be believed. Vegetarian supervillain, anyone?

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Doctor Zero and Saint George

In the mid-1980s Marvel’s mature comics line, Epic, launched a series of titles outside the Marvel Universe. “The Shadowline Saga” involved a world where superheroes were non-existent, but where a second race lived alongside our own. Possessing awesome powers, some of these were sinister, others heroic, but none were what they seemed. Cue Doctor Zero, an immortal who pretends to be a superhero. Is he really a supervillain, or does he have a more Machiavellian scheme for the human race? Saint George, meanwhile, is a human priest who is given a suit of technologically advanced armour and sent on a crusade to rid the world of dangerous “shadows”. Each series, along with another about a super team called “Powerline” ran for a limited time before being wrapped up. But the series crated some memorable characters and had some interesting artwork by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz (of TV’s “Legion” fame), and just might be something fresh and different compared to the existing Cinematic Universe. Time for a change, anyone?

 

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So there you have it. Plenty of weirder options for Marvel to explore. And I haven’t even mentioned Alpha Flight, Ka-Zar, The Human Fly, Killraven, The Living Mummy, Skull the Slayer, or Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner! Do you agree with my choices or have I left out anyone you’d like to see? Maybe you have a burning desire to see a West Coast Avengers movie or to witness the Avengers clash with the Squadron Supreme? Food for thought for the movie gods at Marvel Studios.

The Shannara Chronicles reviewed

THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES aired on 5 Star in the UK today and MTV in the USA. The beloved fantasy novel written by Terry Brooks was the sequel to his hit 1977 bestseller The Sword of Shannara, an epic fantasy in the vein of The Lord of the Rings but with one unusual twist – the stories are set in a post-apocalyptic future that only resembles the medieval world of fantasy.

The Elfstones of Shannara is a much darker affair and sees elves pitted against a demonic invasion. Only a young, half-elven boy and an elven maiden can stop it. The book captured the imagination of millions of readers. But how does the new TV series shape up?

 

The Shannara Chronicles airs on MTV and 5Star

The Shannara Chronicles airs on MTV and 5Star

 

The TV pilot opens with an action sequence not in the novel, as Amberle, an elven princess, competes in a difficult race to become one of the Chosen, a religious order sworn to protect the Ellcrys, a magical tree that protects the elves from demons sealed off from the world by The Forbidding. We are then introduced to several of the main characters, including Will Ohmsford, the young boy whose destiny is linked to the Ellcrys in some way.

The show boasts some excellent CGI visuals, especially the enormous backdrops of the Elven palace of Arborlon and several shots of old world superstructures, now crawling with vines and forgotten. It’s a handsome production, although sometimes the elven costumes and hairstyles resemble Arborlon 90210 rather than those of a medieval fantasy land.

Initial signs were encouraging.

The writing was for the most part serviceable. The first episode was more of an introduction to the characters, which worked fine on a story level. However, there were some cringeworthy moments. Series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are known for Smallville, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and I Am Number Four.  And that kind of writing style lingered throughout. There were several moments of heavy-handed cliché: the kick-ass heroine, the dumb young male hero, the kick-ass female warrior, the kick-ass female thief, etc., etc. Also, several rather unfeasible physical stunts: a male elven warrior knocked out by a young girl with one blow of a sword hilt. But hey, maybe these elves all have glass jaws.

The writers also changed a lot, bringing in some characters earlier and adding more romance, which is forgivable when you’re trying to draw in new viewers. One strange plot hole was that none of the elves believed in the magic of the Ellcys, not even Amberle. Which was odd, because she’d just competed in a dangerous trial to become a member of a religious order dedicated to protecting that very magic. The king also had an advisor specifically dedicated to monitoring the tree’s health. Kind of makes you wonder why they bothered if the tree’s power was just a fairy story.

Also apparent was some groan-inducing dialogue. This was dialogue obviously added to appeal to modern teens: “I smell elf-boy hate” says one character, while an elven princess tells her friend “Thanks for the save”. I’m pretty sure people won’t be talking like that in 10 years, let alone thousands of years from now. That kind of writing made Arborlon feel more like an American High School than a place of high fantasy.

But what really got on my nerves was the directing – or more specifically, the editing. During the first 25 minutes I had to resist the urge to switch off, because I was getting dizzy. Director Jonathan Liebesman (known for Wrath of the Titans and the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie) seems to have a rule that the camera cannot stay on anything for more than 2 seconds. As the shot constantly changed, sometimes even mid-sentence, I felt like I was inside a nightclub at 2:30 in the morning. Even a dying woman’s last moments featured multiple shots because I guess that just wasn’t dramatic enough. When the camera finally lingered on a money shot of Arborlon for a whole 10 seconds, I felt real relief.

All of which was a shame, because I wanted to love The Shannara Chronicles. I’m a huge fan of the stories and of Terry Brooks’ writing in general – The Elfstones is one of the few novels I’ve read several times. And like many fans, I’m amazed that Hollywood has not seized upon the chance to adapt these into big budget movies. Because that’s what they really need.

Despite this, the series showed some promise. What was smart was the way the filmmakers used backdrops – the Seattle Space Needle now like a giant, fallen tree. The sense of wonder conveyed in the trailers really drew me in. The demons also look suitably weird and scary. And there are enough wonders in the book to provide many CGI  amusement in future episodes.

The acting too was pretty good. The leads certainly look the part, with Will Ohmsford and Amberle (played by relative newcomers Austin Butler and Poppy Drayton) both being particularly strong, if not outstanding. John Rhys-Davis (possibly the only man to play both a dwarf and an elf) adds his usual gravitas as the elven king. As for Manu Bennett as Allanon – he’s a bit of an unknown quantity at the moment. A man of monolithic stature, he looks the part. But does he possess the menacing mystique of Brooks’ creation, or will his character degenerate into a brute superhero?

I am going to watch future episodes, if only to see whether the editing style will calm down. I hope so. Because if the creators can steer away from the patronizing, market-driven approach of so many other forgettable TV shows, they could still create something great. Or at least something that gives people a flavour of Terry Brooks’ unique and moving vision of the world of Shannara. This series’ saving grace just might be the incredible plot of the original book. But at this point, after viewing the pilot, I need a little more convincing that the magic is there.

 

The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 6! The Noughties! (2000s)

If the 1980s wore out horror conventions such as knife-wielding maniacs, wish-granting demons and comedic vampires, in the 1990s horror underwent another transformation. Clever films like The Sixth Sense had made money by generating atmosphere rather than gore. And the found footage phenomenon that (re)started with The Blair Witch Project showed Hollywood that horror was big money. In the 2000s alone there was: The Collingswood Story, Incident at Loch Ness, Welcome to the Jungle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Paranormal Activity, REC, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, Home Movie, Quaratine, REC 2. All found footage.

Unfortunately, the growth of independent horror did not stop studios rushing to release a slew of remakes and sequels. Probably, the major studios perceived that here was a generation of moviegoers who had probably never seen the original version of many profitable 1970s horror movies. Like a helpless slasher victim, these films became easy prey for money men.

The 2000s also saw the birth of three giant movie franchises. “Final Destination”, “Resident Evil”, and “Underworld”. The first feels like a lacklustre retread of “The Omen”. The second is based on a computer game. And the third features Kate Beckinsdale in PVC. All of these made enormous amounts of money from exactly the audiences they aspired to, and spawned numerous sequels and even a reboot in one case. But for those who prefer their horror with more more… well, horror, here we go…

(On a side note, M Night Shayamalan, whose “Sixth Sense” was such a hit in the 90s, went on to write and direct the enjoyable superhero romp “Unbreakable” as well as the rather unbelievable sf/horror “Signs” and the totally insane “Lady In The Water” before returning to horror with “The Happening”, a half-serious tale of killer plants that I actually found to be entertaining. Sorry, M Night, but you just miss out on this list.)

Ginger Snaps 2000

Our first movie is an off-beat gem, typical of those that were getting more prominence as the film market became truly global.  In this very original Canadian werewolf movie, lycanthropy is portrayed as a metaphor for a young woman’s sexual awakening. The result is a highly entertaining and funny movie with some genuinely emotional scenes, as Ginger’s gradual transformation (no lunar change this, but a full on, irreversible devolution) is seen through the eyes of her younger sister. A worthy addition to the genre, and a sign of things to come. Foreign horror films would become increasingly important in this decade.

Pitch Black 2000

Another example is this Australian sci-fi/horror feature starring a then-unknown Vin Diesel. A female spaceship captain and her crew, including one very dangerous prisoner, are stranded on a desolate alien world. But once the planet’s three suns go down, its nocturnal critters come out to play. And nasty critters they are too. A great concept that is carried out with suspense and great special effects.  It spawned two sequels, but these were essentially just star vehicles for Diesel and never added to the original story.

Shadow of the Vampire 2000

Another off-kilter story, this time a “re-imagining” of FW Murnau”s filming of the silent film “Nosferatu”. Willem DeFoe is superb as Max Shreck aka Count Orlock aka Dracula, who has a very specific reason for allowing the filmmakers to shoot their film in his castle. A great black comedy horror with some excellent performances. Again, the film shows how great horror movies were flying under the radar.

Jeepers Creepers 2001

Yet another off-beat tale. This well-crafted horror comedy has a post-modern twist in that it is a brother and sister who stumble across a demon while on a road trip, rather than the usual suspects of teen movies with the obligatory love interest. Thus it subverts the genre and keeps it fresh. The demon itself, “The Creeper” is intriguing, indestructible, and capable of surprising the audience on a few occasions. Very enjoyable, it was a great success and had an inevitable sequel that wasn’t half bad, though less original.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

28 Days Later 2002

Just when we thought the zombie movie had been done to death (pun intended) along came Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, with a gritty tale of sort-of-zombies set in England. London and Manchester, to be precise. Giving the genre a modern twist, the film opens with environmental terrorists releasing a monkey from a biological warfare lab. Things rapidly go downhill from there. In a terrific scene, Cilian Murphy wakes up in hospital to find a London devoid of people. When we do meet the zombies, they are not the shambling undead of the Romero films, but sprinting, slavering contagious madmen. A nightmarish thrill-ride from start to finish, the movie carries on the glorious English post-apocalyptic tradition begun in “The Day of the Triffids”. It also set the stage for the zombie invasion that was about to come…

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

The Ring 2002

SPOILER ALERT!

Bringing Asian horror movies to the public consciousness (or “J-Horror” as it is sometimes imprecisely called), Gore Verbinski’s remake of a successful Japanese horror movie hit theatres in 2002. Naomi Watts is compelling enough as the ill-fated journalist who watches one VHS tape too many. But to audiences, it was the ghost who was the star, especially one sequence when the ghost appears on television, and then walks out of it. Others may find that the whole film is rather tame and relies upon creepy images which are actually not all that creepy. However, it was a huge success, and showed Hollywood that Japan was a rich, untapped well of source material (what is it with these puns?).

House of 1,000 corpses 2003

Performance artist and singer Rob Zombie’s first major feature. On the surface, a “Texas Chainsaw Masssacre” rip-off, it is actually much more than that. The film introduces a host of bizarre, demented and downright nasty characters who steal the show from the protagonists and would show up again in the even grittier sequel “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005). Zombie directs with assurance and a great deal of visual style. This movie boasts the most evil, seedy clown ever and what may be film’s most violent femme fatale!

Saw 2004

It is easy to see why audiences liked Saw upon its release. The film has a very slender plot – a madman compels people to outwit deathtraps to teach them life lessons. It also has many clever twists. However, the main (and supposedly the cleverest) twist is not so believable. More importantly, the film was cheap to make. The result was a rash of sequels and a ton of money. Hollywood was waking up again to horror.

Dawn of the Dead 2004

The logical conclusion based on the success of 28 Days Later was to remake George A Romero’s beloved classic from 1978, with modern special effects. Thankfully, somebody hired scribe James Gunn and director Zack Snyder to do the job. The result is an insanely entertaining film that is full of modern CGI tricks while staying respectful to the original. Some standout performances from Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Jake Weber help. A great addition to the canon that cemented the zombie in the popular consciousness and led to many, many more zombie movies.

Shaun of the Dead 2004

And with success, comes parody. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s hilarious horror comedy tackled what would happen if a zombie apocalypse invaded suburban England. Hardly anyone notices. A watchable but less funny version is 2009’s Zombieland, although it’s hard to follow such a great double act as harried store-worker Shaun and his anti-social layabout friend Ed setting about a zombie in a pub to the tune of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

 

Let the Right One In 2008

Amid the plethora of Hollywood remakes, sequels and reboots, this obscure Swedish horror movie somehow managed to become a success in America as well as Europe. A simple tale of a young boy who meets a young-looking vampire and becomes friends with him/her, the movie has a genuine emotional core. There is a fair bit of gore, too. Hollywood soon cottoned onto this and did an English-language remake, as it would with almost every successful foreign horror film in the ‘Noughties.

House of the Devil 2009

What this list doesn’t show is the quite shocking amount of remakes and sequels that abounded. While independent moviemakers were becoming more well-known, studios chose to give us more of the same rather than take creative chances. The result was some less-than-memorable movies.

In the 2000s alone we had remakes of: Dracula, 13 Ghosts, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, House of Wax, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, The Omen, The Hitcher, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Wicker Man.

Add to that English language remakes of: Let the Right One In, The Grudge, The Ring, Phone, Eye, Dark Water, Into the Mirror and Pulse, plus an enormous number of sequels.

And yet for all that, a few horror movies still shine through as being really good examples of the genre. Some come from surprising places like 2003’s “Into the Mirror” or 2006’s “The Host”, both from the expanding market of Korea.

It seems poignant, then, to end with a low-budget movie that is an homage to the classic 1970s independent cinema shockers of John Carpenter and Wes Craven.

House of the Devil was written and directed by Ti West, one of the genre’s most promising newcomers. From the opening scene, it feels like we have stepped back in time to 1978 and all will be well again. The shaky camera, the 70s clothes, music and even the “final girl” all make for a very believable 1970s “feel”. Yet the film still manages to wrongfoot us and shock us with clever plot twists as a young college girl is lured to a remote mansion by some very odd Satanists.

House of the Devil deserves far more praise than it has been given. West has gone on to be one of the leading lights of independent horror.

Horror cinema itself became divided in the ‘Noughties. On the one hand there were the big-budget, SFX-driven remakes and blockbusters, and on the other independent filmmakers such as Rob Zombie and Ti West, whose love for horror reminds one of those heady days in the 1970s, when independent filmmakers seized the night, and a new breed of low-budget horror was born.

Next time…

The 2010s! Can the found footage genre prevent itself from being buried? What will happen to independent filmmakers in the wake of the Hollywood behemoths? Horror is saved by the haunted house movie (sort of)! We meet some rather unbelievable monsters, and some very unusual cannibals. Yum!

 

 

The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 5! The Nineties!

Ah, the 1990s… when the Eighties were a distant memory. The Nineties were mad for it. Grungier than its predecessor, we never thought there would someday be a price to pay for all those late nights spent clubbing it. Nowadays the whistles and glowsticks seems just as bad as those silly hats.

Horror movies had a hard time in the 90s. The 1980s had milked the slasher movie to death. Vampires and werewolves were old hat. Even the horror comedy was on its way out. In a way, many of these movies represent the dying breaths of horror’s staple bad guys. The horror genre was about get ugly…

Exorcist III 1990

The decade began with a shuddering return to form of William Peter Blatty’s faith-based possession franchise. The film doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. Maybe it simply had nothing new to say. But with some genuinely chilling moments involving a bone saw, this was a worthy sequel to the classic horror hit, if not a new beginning.

Jacob’s Ladder 1990

As a counterpoint to that kind of “old-school” horror, here we have the first of several psychological horror movies as Tim Robbins does a star turn as a man haunted by visions of demons. In true Nineties style, the story turns out to be a bit “meta”.

The children of the night may be beautiful, but they're not very scary.

The children of the night may be beautiful, but they’re not very scary.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992

Francis Ford Coppola turns Bram Stoker’s classic bloodsucker into a kind of modern fairytale. Not scary in the least, and certainly not a definitive version, despite the claim to closely follow the novel (which it doesn’t), and full of wildly uneven performances, you have to admire its impressive, visual style, while Gary Oldman’s outing as Dracula would cement him as a great actor for years to come.

Army of Darkness 1992

Sam Raimi rounds off his “Evil Dead” trilogy with this rip-roaring slapstick live-action cartoon. Boasting some great comic one-liners and an even more OTT performance by B-movie legend Bruce Campbell, this Halloween treat contains skeleton warriors, flying books, and an extremely surreal scene in a windmill where Ash chases around little versions of himself. This is one of those films that’s so bizarre it stands in a category of its own. It is also so downright mad that it ended the series, albeit on a high note of laughter.

Interview with the Vampire 1994

Neil Jordan brought audiences the visually alluring but story-lite “Company of Wolves” in the 80s. Here, he tackles Anne Rice’s novel of a vampire telling the story of his 200 year-old existence. Starring Tom Cruise in  role nobody expected of this all-American action star (a bloodsucking ghoul), and a young Brad Pitt, as well as a 12 year-old Kirsen Dunst, this is a lavish tale worthy of those old Hammer classics of the Sixties. But the novel has a touch of 1990s despair about it. This vampire doesn’t know his place in the world and is constantly seeking something to believe in – a little like people in the 1990s. Once again, the vampire is a reflection of his times, which perhaps explains why it took so long for the book to reach the screen.

From Dusk Til Dawn 1996

Quentin Tarantino hit the big time in the 1990s with his multiple-storyline post-modern heist flick “Reservoir Dogs”. Here, he dips his wick in the horror genre, at least for the first half. Once the vampires cut loose, he turns directing over to Robert Rodriguez, who brings his over-the-top campy action style into play. Hard to take seriously today, this movie has its tongue surgically implanted in its cheek. It is also the movie that inspired a million tattoos thanks to George Clooney. A fun film at the time that is less fun with age, it had some strong actors but is ultimately a bit of a gimmick rather than a serious movie – the main draw being actors getting killed whom you expect to survive. Horror, it seemed, was running out of ideas.

Are you cool? I'm cool. Are we cool? Vampires are not... cool in this movie.

Are you cool? I’m cool. Are we cool? Vampires are not… cool in this movie.

Scream 1996

The last word in Slasher movies belongs to Wes Craven, who was ironically one of its creators. This film is postmodern in every sense. Teens stalked by a slasher discuss how slasher movies work in order to escape their killer, only to discover that the killer also watches slasher movies and knows as much about them as they do. The death knell of the slasher movie can be heard loud and clear in this horror/thriller. After this, there was simply nowhere for the subgenre to go.

Event Horizon 1997

An underappreciated film that makes little sense on first viewing. Imagine Star Trek crossed with a John Carpenter film and you get the picture. Horror icon Sam Neil (at this time a big draw thanks to Jurassic Park) takes a risk as a doomed character in this story of a space ship that returns from its journey into hyperspace without its crew, like a futuristic Marie Celeste. As scientists try to uncover what happened to the passengers, they learn that something nasty waits on the other side of the dimensional border. A Lovecraftian sci-fi, in a sense, this is one of the few truly original horror movies of the decade.

The Faculty 1998

Movie stars got younger and younger in the 1990s as studios targeted their “real” audience. Here, Robert Rodriguez is on form as he directs a tale of high schoolers taking on an alien invasion with the help of a pot-smoking rebel. This B-movie boasts some standout future stars like Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnettt. It is also much more enjoyable than it deserves to be, given the number of irritating jargon-speaking schoolkids. A very “nineties” updating of old 1950s B-movie tropes. Once again, however, the “alien invasion” horror movie had no real place to go.

The Sixth Sense 1999

This movie marked the debut of M Night Shyamalan, whose career would (for a while) be known for its outrageous plot-twists. The movie also resurrected the career of action star Bruce Willis as a psychiatrist treating a kid who “sees dead people”. Although people disagree as to whether the plot twist at the end was a surprise or obvious, the film packs some genuinely creepy moments, and lots of shocks along the way, as only the boy can see the dead folks, but they can see him.  Shyamalan’s tale proved hard to copy, but revived a lot of interest in the flagging horror genre for a new generation of filmgoers.

Like it or loathe it, this movie gave the genre a breathe of new life.

Like it or loathe it, this movie gave the genre a breath of new life.

The Blair Witch project 1999

As if to underline audiences’ boredom with standard horror fare, the found footage genre re-emerged at the end of the century with the most profitable independent film in movie history, usurping John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. Three people get lost in a wood on videotape. It really is that simple. What follows divided audiences. Some loved it for its clever use of a very (nonexistant) limited budget and the way it raises your hackles by not showing you what is going on. Others hated it for precisely the same reason. The found footage genre proved an enormous hit, no doubt because it was very cheap to copy. But whether you love it or hate it, this subgenre gave the horror film a new direction, one that would create a whole new set of filmmakers in the ‘Noughties and beyond, and who would exploit rapidly-changing technology to give the studios a run for their money.

The Nineties suffered from the overdose of slasher movies that took place in the Eighties. For a while the genre was left reeling. But new technology and clever filmmaking resurrected the horror movie at the end of the decade. With audiences demanding new thrills, better special effects, and grimmer storylines to reflect the pessimism of the times, horror movies were about to go to a very dark place indeed.

Next time…

Zombies, zombies, zombies! The world goes mad for George A Romero’s creations. Horror goes viral, ghosts turn Japanese, and it seems that anyone can make a horror film as long as they have a mobile phone.

 

 

The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 Years, Part 2! The Seventies! 1970-1975!

Last time we saw how horror movies changed in the 1960s, from classic Gothic horror like the Hammer films and Roger Corman’s Edger Allen Poe adaptations to pessimistic modern horror stories like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Night of the Living Dead”. This time we turn out attention to the 1970s – possibly the most exciting time for horror since the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

During this decade, Hollywood proved it was willing to take risks with stories, to go places they had never gone before. Add to this a new tide of horror authors who wanted to update the Gothic horror staples of vampires and werewolves, including a certain Stephen King, and you have a decade of some of the greatest horror movies ever made. In fact, there are so many great horror movies of the Seventies that I’ve had to split this post up! So here are what I think are the most influential horror movies from 1970 to 1975!

blood

A Bay of Blood (1971)

One feature of early 1970s cinema is the debt it owes to cinema verite. Even Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” owes a debt in places to this documentary-style of film-making. The trend suited low-budget movie-makers and would lead to the infamous slasher movie. The start of that craze can be found here. Part Italian giallo, part murder mystery, “Bay of Blood” was made by Mario Bava, a film-maker who deserves far more recognition than he has enjoyed. A number of potential heirs and heiresses to a fortune are invited to the titular Bay. They then try to kill each other off in various gory and brutal ways. Boasts some bravura set–pieces. The octopus is a great surprise also!

Deliverance 1972

You’ll never play the banjo again. Disturbing hi-jinks in America’s backwoods when some city slickers cross paths with the twisted locals. John Boorman’s gripping horror-thriller features a young Burt Reynolds. Copied many times, sometimes humorously, sometimes not.

Exorcist 1973

This is a movie which probably needs no introduction from me. A supernatural chiller directed by William Friedkin and based on the best-seller by William Peter Blatty, itself based on a supposedly real event. It broke all records when released and became notorious not just for fainting audiences, but for the treatment its stars were subjected to. Today, it’s been copied so many times that it may have lost its power to shock. It has directly influenced every exorcism movie since, as well as forming the basis for the dubious Leslie Nielsen comedy “Repossessed”. Still, as a meditation on the power and seductiveness of evil, it’s compelling.

Sisters 1973

Brian DePalma’s first movie. So demented it’s terrific. Margot Kidder stars as a pair of French-Canadian Siamese twins that were separated with horrific consequences. This is a movie that seeks to turn horror tropes and clichés on its head. Its twists keep going right to the end. It is also part of the illustrious mad-doctor movie that became popular with “Eyes Without A Face” and keeps on going today with movies like “Hostel” and the distasteful “Human Centipede” films.

The Wicker Man 1973

The world’s first horror musical! Fantastic British chiller starring Edward Woodward as a religious police officer who goes to investigate a disappearance on a remote Scottish island where paganism is rife. Although it was remade poorly, this really is a one-of-a-kind movie. Music by folk-rock band Pentangle serves as an atmospheric soundtrack  to what is probably the bleakest ending ever.

Black Christmas 1974

This expertly-made psycho-thriller started the old gag that the killer is making phone calls from inside the victim’s house.A killer is stalking a sorority sisterhood. Margot Kidder again resurfaces, this time as the victim.  A genuinely disturbing movie in some places and a forerunner of the teen slasher movie that was to come.

Texas chainsaw Massacre 1974

Another 70s shocker that has lost most of its power due to continually being copied. It’s hard to imagine the modern psycho-killer movie without TCM. This brutal film began the “endurance horror” craze and took the idea of murderous hillbillies one step further. You actually see very little gore in this movie. But audiences were convinced they saw more, such was the power of suggestion. Today, its ferocity is hard to understand, but on release this was one of the movies that changed the horror landscape and paved the way for the “video nasties” of the 1980s.

Deep Red 1975

Dario Argento’s best movie. This is a true giallo film — a type of Italian thriller that closely identifies with the killer and features elaborate set-pieces. David Hemmings is the American out of his depth who witnesses a murder in Rome. Or did he? A superb mystery with some excellent death scenes. Probably the finest giallo movie ever made.

Shivers 1975

This unsettling sex horror (is that even a genre?) signalled the arrival of Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg. The residents of a luxury apartment building are attacked by repulsive turd-shaped parasites that drive the into a sexual frenzy. This is a movie that is bound to deeply disturb anyone remotely normal. Which of course, is great. The body-horror genre has its roots in the Atomic bomb era of the 1950s and the plethora of paranoid B-movies where the main character was mutated by radiation.  Cronenberg made that fantasy disturbing reality, which would lead to many other movies in that genre, such as Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” and Cronenberg’s own “The Fly” in the 1980s, as well as direct homages such as 2006’s “Slither”.

You'll never get into the bathtub again... Cronenberg's "Shivers"!

You’ll never get into the bathtub again… Cronenberg’s “Shivers”!

Jaws 1975

The daddy of summer blockbusters. “Jaws” rewrote the Hollywood paradigm for making movies and still rules the waves. Okay, so the shark looks a bit rubber now. But thanks to a mechanical failure, Spielberg has given us one of the best (and most quotable) thrillers ever made. The movie’s success would lead to other popcorn movies like 1977’s “Star Wars”. As we know, these movies would influence the box-office for decades to come. Not for much longer would studios take a gamble on artistic and risky fare. Eventually, this would lead to the cut-and-paste plots of most big-budget movies today. In a way, “Jaws” sounded the death-knell of the kind of low-budget film-making that created so many different kinds of horror movie in the 1970s.

Next…

1975 – 1979!

Telepathic teenagers go on a rampage, zombies go for a morning stroll in a supermarket, a particularly unpleasant alien hitches a ride on a passing spacecraft, and a certain Michael Myers decides its time he went home…

 

 

Whisperers in the Darkness

The Kickstarter campaign to create a new HP Lovecraft-themed TV show is down to the last 52 hours. So if you want a shot at funding them do it now. Starring Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from Hellboy) and many others… grab yourself an IMDB credit!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marxpyle/whispers-from-the-shadows-lovecraft-inspired-short