Tag Archives: DVD

10 Most Underrated Horror Films

We all know about mega-hit horror movies that have spawned whole franchises, such as “Halloween”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Conjuring”. But what about the more obscure horror movies? Those which are critical successes but commercial failures, or films that were just plain overlooked? Here is my list of some of the best underrated horror movies.

10. They  (2002)

Director Robert Harmon is best known for the seminal Rutger Hauer movie “The Hitcher”. However, this suspenseful supernatural thriller was released with just a whisper. The plot revolves around a woman who remembers that as a child she was afraid of monsters in the dark.. now the monsters are back! The film has some standout moments, including the opening  and a very scary swimming pool scene that owes a debt to the Jacques Tournier classic “Cat People”.

9. Mean Creek (2004)

This could have been marketed as “Deliverance for kids”. Some bullied children decide to befriend their tormentor and, along with a much older sibling, take him into the woods where they plan to humiliate him. Things do not go as planned. Some terrific performances from the kids and some wonderful plot twists make this a classic. Yet somehow it failed to ignite moviegoers. Surely it deserves a second life on DVD.

8. Wolfen (1981)

Based on a Whitley Strieber novel, featuring an Oscar-winning cast that includes the likes of Albert Finney and Gregory Hines, and directed by none other than the director of “Woodstock”, this not-a-werewolf story is an eerie, atmospheric creature-feature. The distinctive night-vision “monster’s- eye point of view” shot would prefigure the Schawzenegger hit “Predator” years later. A must-see for horror lovers.

7. Fright Night II (1988)

The original was a hugely enjoyable breakout hit and the first of the 1980s vampire classics. Yet while it continues to delight audiences, the sequel proves much harder to get hold of. Which is a shame, because it’s a great film. There are some terrific vamps here, including one very ugly werewolf! Roddy McDowell once again is superlative as Peter Vincent, making this a great sequel. Sadly neglected.

6. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Everyone knows the Universal Monster movies such as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Todd Browning’s “Dracula”. But this eerie adaptation of H.G. Wells’ tale “The Island of Dr. Moreau” gets less respect than it deserves. Charles Laughton gives a bravura performance as the mad doctor who turns animals into men. Nowadays the film might be a little creaky in parts, and you have to wonder why they didn’t use a thrilling soundtrack in places. But the beast-men are fantastic, and the whole mood is one of dreamlike terror. Well worth tracking down.

5. From Beyond (1986)

Fresh from the success of “Re-Animator”, director Stuart Gordon (who would later go on to direct “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”!) employed some of the same cast in this very loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s extremely short story.  Sadly, it isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Dr. Tillinghast invents a mahcine that allows you to see into another dimension. Unfortunately, its inhabitants also see into ours! Cue two hours of great pre-CGI SFX, and a plot that just keeps on getting darker. The movie is true to the spirit of the original story, but with added Barbara Crampton (for those who like that sort of thing)! The movie and the effects were much more “out there” in the mid-80s. But the acting and sardonic wit are enough to keep modern audiences interested as well.

From Beyond Poster

4. Tenebrae

Dario Argento is a name horror fans will be familiar with, mainly for the classic “Suspiria”. However, in my opinion “Tenebrae” is actually the superior film. The plot is simple and echoes other Argento films: an American horror novelist travels to Italy where he finds someone is offing people in the manner of his own books. But this audacious horror/thriller contains some masterful set pieces, such as the single take shot of a murder on a multi-storey building, and the final twist is awesome. Add to that the music of Goblin, and this is a masterpiece of horror cinema that should be rediscovered!

3. Hellraiser II

“Hellraiser” was the film that launched Clive Barker’s career. Yet the second film is in many ways a better movie. The story takes off where the first film ended, with a power-crazed psychiatrist bringing back from the dead the first film’s memorable femme fatale, played by Claire Higgins. This time she’s more fatal than femme, lacking skin for most of the movie. Character actor Kenneth Cranham steals the show, however. We also get to see where the Cenobites come from, which is cool. Everything is bigger in this sequel, including the imagination, yet most people only remember the lamentable, straight-to-video sequels.

2. Prince of Darkness (1987)

John Carpenter made horror history with “Halloween” in 1978, and directed such cult hits as “The Thing”, “Starman” and “Big Trouble in Little China”. “Prince of Darkness” has all the hallmarks of a great Carpenter movie: it’s a siege in a building, there are great special effects, the cast is solid, especially Donald Pleasance as the priest, and it also features Alice Cooper! Yet for some reason it remains one of Carpenter’s more obscure movies. Perhaps a scathing review by UK film critic Barry Norman at the time did its box office chances some damage. Which just goes to show critics don’t know anything, because this film is one of Carpenter’s scariest, with a shock ending that will play on your mind for some time to come.  You’ll never look at your reflection quite the same way again!

1. Martin (1978)

My final film on this list of underappreciated horror movies is by the King of the Zombies himself, George A Romero. George passed away recently, and with him passed a great horror director. Most people know him for his hugely influential “Dead” trilogy of zombie films, which virtually created the shambling, flesh-eating ghoul as a modern myth in popular culture. However, my favourite Romero film is actually the much quieter “Martin”. Played by a young John Amplas, Martin is a character study of a modern vampire… or is it?  Amplas is superb as the cold, alienated killer who may or may not be one of the undead. The film itself is shot in documentary style. It has this wonderfully earnest quality to it, and will leave you guessing for a long time to come. If you haven’t seen “Martin” I recommend it. It’s an uncompromising movie, even in the rather uncomfortable opening scene. But it’s also one of the very best vampire movies ever made.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of obscure classics. All of these movies deserve much more love, so go out and rent or buy them. Just don’t watch them alone in the house at night, and especially not in the dark!

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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.

Top 20 Alternative Halloween Horror Movies!

It’s almost that time of the season again… Hallowe’en is like Christmas for horror writers. Are you looking for some great horror movies to watch and scare the life right out of you? Great. But before you reach for that Stephen King DVD or watch “Halloween” for the zillionth time, you might want to check out these top 20 alternative horror movies that are (almost) just as great!

Some of these are obscure, some of them are lesser known titles by horror masters like John Carpenter and George A Romero. But they all share one thing in common. These are great films!

 

 

Elvis and JFK versus The Mummy!

Elvis and JFK vs The Mummy in “Bubba Ho-Tep”!

20. Bubba Ho-Tep (2006)

Elvis is alive and well and living in a nursing home, along with JFK, whose brain has been put in the body of an old black man. Cue an undead Egyptian mummy that is picking off the other residents one by one.  Yes, this is a real movie. Worth it for Bruce Campbell’s Evil Presley impersonation alone.

19. The Innkeepers (2011)

Ti West follows up his masterful homage to 1970s slasher films, “The House of the Devil”, with this slick, scary supernatural tale about  two bored, postmodern clerks looking after a haunted hotel. Scooby Doo it ain’t.

18. It Follows  (2014)

A terrific modern horror film about a ghost that… follows. To say any more would be to spoil the plot. Guaranteed to completely ruin any teenage date.

17. House! (1986) 

Fantastic, rubbery horror/comedy with William Katt (“The Greatest American Hero”) at his most likeable. A horror writer moves into a haunted house. What else do you need to know? With Norm from “Cheers”!

16. Martin (1976)

George A Romero is of course best known for zombie films. Here’s his vampire film. Or is it? John Amplas is excellent as the young man who may or may not be a bloodsucker in this disturbing, realistically told tale.

15. Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava is not a name that is widely known. But it should be. This atmospheric, Technicolor Italian masterpiece features three scary stories and is introduced by none other than Boris Karloff!

 

A gorgeous, full-colour apparition in Black Sabbath!

A gorgeous, full-colour apparition in Black Sabbath!

 

14. April Fool’s Day (1986)

Great, fun 80s slasher movie that is a cut above the rest.  Features great set pieces, but I promise you’ll never see the ending coming. April Fool!

13. Wolfen (1981)

Psychedelic horror featuring Albert Finney. Something is killing vagrants in New York City. The detective in charge thinks he’s investigating a werewolf. But the truth is stranger than he could have imagined. A very original horror movie.

12. Vampyr (1932)

If you thought the only old horror film worth seeing was Nosferatu, you’d be wrong. This semi-silent movie classic still has the power to chill with its surreal imagery and its depiction of vampirism as almost a mental illness.

11. Carnival of Souls (1962)

Made by a former banker with a cast composed almost entirely of friends and neighbours, this creepy ghost story has been imitated countless times. The fact that only the lead actress is a professional just adds to the unnerving quality of the movie.

 

Going Our Way? A bus load of ghouls in "Carnival of Souls".

Going Our Way? A bus load of ghouls in “Carnival of Souls”.

10. The Innocents (1961)

The great Deborah Kerr stars in this adaptation of a rather unsavoury tale by Henry James called “The Turn of the Screw”. That’s all you need to know about this classic creepy kid horror movie.

9. Tenebrae (1982)

Dario Argento is one of the Italian kings of slasher movies (or giallo movies as they’re called there). This is possibly his best. An American horror author in Italy finds that someone is killing people using his novels for inspiration. The identity of the killer will keep you guessing right up until the very end.

8. Lord of Illusions (1995)

Clive Barker’s follow up to Hellraiser is less well know but equally atmospheric.  Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) is great as down-on-his-luck supernatural Private eye Harry D-Amour, investigating a very hellish cult.

7. Silver Bullet (1985)

Here is the obligatory Stephen King movie. But this is a less famous gem, starring Corey Haim and Gary Busey and based on King’s illustrated novella “Cycle of the Werewolf”. It grabs you from the start and never lets you go.

6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Carpenter didn’t direct this sequel. But the image of kids in pumpkin masks that suddenly start to decompose will haunt me for the rest of my days. And what’s with those indestructible bodyguards?

 

Jesus, this is creepy. That pumpkin mask from Halloween III!

Jesus, this is creepy. That pumpkin mask from “Halloween III”!

 

5. Near Dark (1987)

Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent vampire road movie never says the V-word once. Beautiful photography and a classic Tangerine Dream score make this possibly the best cult horror film of the 1980s.

4. The Fog (1980)

John Carpenter’s “other” movie. A rip-roaring ghost story with Jamie Lee Curtis and some phantom pirates. Just steer well clear of the hideous Disneyfied remake!

 

3. Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Subtle, sophisticated, psychological horror that perfectly captures what it’s like to be a kid when nobody believes you. This film  has nothing to do with Cat People or lycanthropes of any variety. The studio simply gave the writers the title to work with!

 

2. Dance of the Vampires (1967)

Roman Polanski directs this beautiful Gothic horror movie, complete with castles, wolves, vampires, hunchbacks, and snow-topped mountains. It’s also a hilarious comedy! The ill-fated Sharon Tate gives this movie a poignancy that was never intended.

 

Who is the werewolf? Who cares? Just enjoy this great 70s B-Movie romp!

Who is the werewolf? Who cares? Just enjoy this great B-Movie romp!

 

1. The Beast Must Die (1974)

This groovy 70s werewolf movie is also a whodunnnit! In fact, you get the chance to solve the mystery for yourself while the film stops halfway through! Peter Cushing and a host of character actors are lured to a big game hunter’s isolated mansion while their host tries to figure out which one of them turns furry under the full moon. A fun time is guaranteed for all!

 

There you go, my pick of the best alternative horror movies to brighten up your Halloween night. Happy viewing, and don’t have nightmares!

 

 

 

THE MOST VISUALLY STUNNING FILMS EVER MADE

There have been some beautiful films made. The films in this list aren’t necessarily the prettiest, but they all share some of the most visually striking images ever committed to film. The films below may be obvious, or they may be obscure. But they were all made by master directors who can tell a story visually.

 

A still from Sunrise. Watching this Oscar-wining silent movie is an unforgettable experience.

A still from Sunrise. Watching this Oscar-wining silent movie is an unforgettable experience.

 

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
The first in our list is a silent movie that has to be seen to be believed. Every frame is like a wonderful painting coming to life. Added to that, the film is filled with cinematic tricks, double exposures, and everything but the kitchen sink. FW Murnau was lured to Hollywood after making Nosferatu by the promise of being able to do whatever he wanted. The result is this awesome film that tells a very simple story in a very imaginative way.

 

Fantasia (1940)
Fantasia is the first animated Walt Disney feature film to depict classical music though animation. It’s gorgeous, funny and thrilling, comprising dancing ostriches, nymphs and satyrs, dinosaurs and demons. Apparently Disney wanted to make more experimental films, but the Second World War destroyed his foreign markets so he had to go back to fairy stories. It makes you wonder where he would have gone from here had not WWII intervened.

 

The Red Shoes (1948)
Powell and Pressburger made some beautiful films, such as A Matter of Life and Death with its celestial court, Black Narcissus and Tales of Hoffman. But this updated fairy tale is a gorgeous riot of colour filled with tableauesque shots like oil paintings come to life. Martin Scorsese’s favourite film.

 

A gorgeous technicolor moment in The Red Shoes.

A gorgeous Technicolor moment from The Red Shoes.

 

 

The Third Man (1949)
The black and white photography is perfectly suited to post-war Vienna and the shady dealings in Graeme Greene’s crime thriller. But it’s the final underground chase scenes involving the mysterious Harry Lime that makes this one of the best photographed films I’ve seen. The Vienna sewers become a nightmarish funfair ride to the accompaniment of that famous balalaika!

 

Night of the Hunter (1955)
Who can ever forget the image of the murdered mother at the bottom of the river, her hair floating in the ghostly current? Or the tattooed knuckles of Robert Mitchum? Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort is an American Gothic pastoral fable filled with iconic, haunted images.

 

Lillian Gish keeps a lonely village in Night of the Hunter.

Lillian Gish keeps a lonely village in Night of the Hunter.

 

Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock’s most handsome production sees James Stewart haunted by the memory of a lost love, only to find it again in Kim Novak, who so clearly resembles his former lover that he even remakes her in that image. Right from the title, this film is a delight to watch, with terrific composition, all of Hitchcock’s trademark camera tricks, and an intense performance by Stewart. By the end of it you will be dizzy!

 

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean’s masterpiece is a true desert epic. There are giant vistas, sand dunes and Arab armies mounted on camels. But there are also much subtler moments of symbolism – the way the Arabs follow Lawrence’s shadow on the ground as he postures after winning a battle. A legendary film that deserves every one of its accolades.

 

Japanese ghost stories come to life in Kwaidan.

Japanese ghost stories come to life in Kwaidan.

 

Kwaidan (1964)
The most expensive film ever shot in Japan for a time, Kwaidan tells several ghost stories set in that country’s feudal history. The first, Snow Woman, is probably the most beautiful to look at. Shot in colour, but with sets that were hand painted by the filmmaker, it makes you feel cold just watching it. Well worth tracking down.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Little needs to be said about this sci-fi classic. Its groundbreaking sets and models paved the way for movies like Star Wars a decade later. Indeed, its incredible just how well the space scenes stand up. Also refreshing is the lack of sound in space, which really amps up the tension when the astronauts face off against psychotic supercomputer HAL in the film’s later sections. A sequence of incredible images presages the film’s climactic journey through the wormhole, only to leave us guessing at their true significance as the film fades out.

 

 A plague of locusts descends in Days of Heaven.

A plague of locusts descends in Days of Heaven.

 

Days of Heaven (1978)
Gorgeous Terrance Malik movie with Richard Geere and Brooke Adams. The Depression-era landscape is sparse, consisting of sky, corn and the huge house – emblematic of the simple, human story the film reveals. One of the 1970s greatest films.

 

Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s advertising agency background is nowhere more apparent than in this cult sic-fi, featuring Harrison Ford as a futuristic P.I. and a unforgettable turn by Rutger Haur as the android he is sent to destroy. 1940’s noir is everywhere here, but with the dial turned up to 11 on the style setting, from Rachel’s enormous fur coat to the art deco pillars in the Tyrell Corporation HQ. A beautiful film.

 

Movies at the speed of light in Koyaanisqatsi

Movies at the speed of light in Koyaanisqatsi

 

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Using state-of-the-art (for the time) tricks such as slow and fast motion and time lapse photography, Geoffrey Reggio’s film contrasts the timeless beauty of Monument Valley with the dizzying pace of modern life. Shot to a hypnotic Philip Glass soundtrack, it became one of the most iconic pieces of film ever, copied and imitated countless times.

 

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
Although not appreciated fully on release, Alan Parker’s extended music video of the Pink Floyd concept album features a rather lifeless Bob Geldoff as rock star Pink, a man on the cusp of a complete mental breakdown. But it’s the wonderful Gerald Scarff cartoons interspersing the live action footage that steal the show. Marching Hammers, a demonic Judge shaped like something rather indescribable, and a Hammer-headed schoolmaster pushing his pupils though a meat grinder are images that have passed into public consciousness. An underrated film that is well worth revisiting.

 

What Dreams May Come (1998)
Robin Williams stars in this tale of a man who finds himself stranded in the afterlife following the death of his children and his wife’s nervous breakdown. Not a comedy, you might think. But this movie contains so many emotions that watching it can be an exhausting experience. The film also contains an unforgettable rendition of the hereafter, where whatever you dream becomes reality, and Heaven resembles something out of a Renaissance work of art. A rare example of a modern movie that uses gorgeous colour to its full potential.

 

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Robin Williams looks out over a heavenly vista in What Dreams May Come.

 

Marie Antoinette (2006)
I’ve long been a fan of Sofia Coppola’s movies ever since seeing the very stylish Virgin Suicides. Although the plot here is minimal, with Kirstin Dunst’s titular ruler having fun a lot before the Revolution arrives on her doorstep, the photography captures a kind of childish innocence and a love of nature and beauty. It’s a pleasure to watch the images unfold in cinema verite fashion, showing us a childish monarch who was simply divorced from reality.

What do you think? Do you agree? If not, be sure to let me know! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed this selection of some of the most beautiful films ever made!

The best movies of the 2010s so far!

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So for some reason it’s time to take stock of the movies made in the 2010s so far. Well, it would be remiss of me not to have my own Top 10 movies of the decade. Here’s a big disclaimer, though: these are just the movies I’ve seen. Some very recent movies (including a couple of Academy Award winners) are not among them. Anyway, here goes…

10. Thor

Why: Because it made the surfer look cool again. And it also gave us Tom Hiddleston. Kenneth Branagh’s rip-roaring take on the thunder god was just what Marvel needed. A genuinely fun romp, brilliantly executed.

9. Inception

Why: It’s Chinese Puzzle of a plot proved that audiences are more intelligent than they are given credit for. Some jaw-dropping SFX helped too. But mainly it was Christopher Nolan’s refusal to spoon-feed the viewer with easy answers that won me over.

8. Tron Legacy 

Why: Because it made synthesizer music trendy again. A killer soundtrack and incredible SFX made this underrated blockbuster a must-see. As well as being faithful to the original movie, it included such breakthroughs as a 30-years-younger Jeff Bridges fighting with himself. Oh, and Olivia Wilde. A visually stunning and practically perfect action movie.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

Why: It made “I Am Groot” part of popular culture. A very funny old-school action/comedy that just happens to be set in the Marvel universe. It also has some of the most memorable characters I’ve seen on screen for a long time – especially one psychopathic raccoon and a very literal-minded alien. Writer/director James Gunn never allows the excellent SFX to dictate the story and doesn’t fall into the trap of logically impossible action scenes.

6. The Conjuring

Why: A terrifying movie-going experience, right from the opening titles. This is horror on steroids. The plot is old-fashioned, but the movie is executed in one bravura set piece to the next. Classic horror.

5. Seven Psychopaths

Why: Postmodern, irreverent, full of grindhouse-style violence. But for me, Chis Walken and Sam Rockwell’s acting steals the show. The violence is played for laughs, but there’s also a real heart to the story that makes us question all that movie bloodshed we see so much of nowadays.

4. The Way Way Back

Why: A movie that perfectly captures adolescence. This is the kind of family comedy they made in the Eighties, but with a modern sensibility. Steve Carell is truly loathsome as the passive–aggressive antagonist. While Sam Rockwell turns in another masterful performance. Thirty years ago, Bill Murray would have done the same thing.

3. The Master

Why: The terrific acting holds together this rather quirky “institutionalized” drama. Joaquin Pheonix is a smouldering presence, inviting us to figure out what’s bugging him. It’s a pleasure to try to unravel the characters’ psyches while we watch them onscreen.

2. The King’s Speech

Why: A masterful talking-heads picture with some terrific low-key drama. There are no explosions or spaceships here, just stuffy drawing rooms and restrained performances. But it’s a movie that knows what it’s about and does it superbly, hitting all the right emotional notes.

1. The Artist

Why: What’s not to like about this movie? It’s a silent, black and white film made over 80 years after the first talking picture. But it’s not just a spoof or an homage. It uses silent film as a genre, almost as a metaphor. When sound does intrude upon the action, it’s a truly memorable moment. Some great performances with no dialogue underline this masterpiece of cinematic art. And it features one of the greatest dogs in movie history!

So there you have it. My top movies of the decade so far. These are, of course, based on my own personal tastes, although I’ve tried to include something for everyone. Feel free to tell me I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. But for me, these were the real standouts.

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 3! The Seventies! 1976-1979!

Hi, there, horror fans! Last time we looked at how Hollywood was unafraid to make more experimental horror features in the early 1970s. Although Spielberg’s “JAWS” would lead to studios forever chasing the summer blockbuster, the late Seventies were still an exciting time for horror movies. Foreign filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Dario Argento were developing cult followings. Meanwhile, low budget filmmaking was about to come into its own, as was a certain young horror writer from Maine, New England…

Let’s start our list of late seventies horror with…

The Omen 1976

No-one can doubt the influence of Richard Donner’s by-the-numbers horror movie. With more than just a passing nod to artsy horror masterpiece “The Exorcist”, this is a rip-roaring Hollywood-style horror flick. It boasts some bravura set-pieces, such as the decapitated photographer. With stalwart acting from heavyweights Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billy Whitelaw, and David Warner, the picture is very believable. But there’s no happy ending here as the Antichrist is born to a powerful American politician. This movie created a profitable and mostly well-made series of sequels that gave the world Sam Neil. It also became the bane of children named Damien everywhere.

Martin... a new kind of vampire.

Martin… a new kind of vampire.

Martin 1976

George A Romero, back from “Night of the Living Dead”, triumphed again with this underappreciated cinematic gem. It’s a genuinely original take on vampires. Is homicidal young loner Martin a vampire or not? Is he merely disturbed, or is there some truth in his bizarre flashbacks to another time? Terrific, glory, explicit, sensual, thought-provoking and beautifully filmed, this movie features an amazing performance by the underused John Amplas. Overlooked at its time, this has become a true cult classic.

Carrie 1976

The arrival of a young writer called Stephen King created a reign of terror that is still going today. Hollywood struck gold with King’s curiously brief tale of an alienated young girl with awesome telekinetic powers. Phenomenal directing by Brian De Palma (of “Sisters” fame) catapulted King into the popular consciousness. At one level this is a time-tested tale of an ugly duckling who gets her revenge. But DePalma used split screen and slow motion camera work to viscera effect for the final massacre that is actually too much to fit on one screen! What is mentioned less often is the great cast of actors including Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. This is one horror blockbuster that stands the test of time.

Suspiria 1977

Italian Filmmaker Dario Argento’s most well-known film is about a coven of witches posing as a ballet school in Italy. Some memorable set-pieces elevate this beyond its video-nasty style violence. Argento often treads a fine line between good and poor taste. Here, he manages to keep it on the straight and narrow. It also boasts a great score by the world’s foremost horror band… Goblin!

Dawn of the Dead 1978

Which brings us to George A Romero’s sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”. Where “Night” finished, “Dawn” goes a step further. Civilization is falling into chaos at the hands of the zombie invasion. We begin with some great scenes of things literally going to hell. Four survivors hitch a ride on a helicopter and hole up at an abandoned shopping mall. They soon learn that having everything does not make you happy. A social satire as well as a very frightening movie, the impact of “Dawn” may be diluted now due to dated make-up effects and the current trend for fast-running zombies. But the Romero’s innumerable hordes of shambling ghouls still make for claustrophobic viewing. This movie gave us memorable images like the Hari Krishna zombie, elevators full of undead shoppers, and an eerie kids’ TV theme tune. It also features some great acting from a cast who sadly never went on to stardom. “Dawn” has influenced virtually every horror movie since, including current TV sensation “The Walking Dead” and 2004’s delightful “zombie-rom-com” “Shaun of the Dead”. And come on, don’t you wish you were in that world, just a little bit?

The slasher genre... the most profitable genre in movies!

The slasher genre… the most profitable genre in movies!

Halloween 1978

John Carpenter’s film debut is actually not his film debut. That came with sci-fi black comedy “Dark Star” (1974). But he will forever be associated with this low-budget shocker about a psychopath that comes back to a leafy suburb to kill again on the titular eve. The movie made Jamie Lee Curtis a scream queen and cemented the “slasher movie” as a staple of cinema. The slasher movie’s key components of low cost, titillation, and violence was a wining combination, one that survives to this day. Arguably, this is the one sub-genre that has blackened the reputation of horror films, due to the many terrible or poor taste rip-offs branded “video nasties” in the 80s, such as the inept “Driller Killer”. But what makes “Halloween” a lot more intelligent than many of its successors is John Carpenter’s expert direction. He makes every shadow in your living room menacing, every closet or couch the potential hiding place of a madman. So that by the end of the movie your own house is no longer a safe place to hide. For a long time the most successful independent film ever made, “Halloween” is a true horror classic.

The Amityville Horror 1979

Hollywood must have been confused by the success of “Halloween”, if this return to the tried-and-tested haunted house formula is anything to go by. To be fair, it’s a very effective movie. The haunted house is given a twist by adding a bit of demonic possession, as well as copying the “true story” myth from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to give it added credence. But the worrying priest, bleeding walls etc are all things we’ve seen before. A well-made film that spawned innumerable sequels of decreasing quality and suffered the obligatory 21st century “reboot”. But that’s really the only reason it’s here.

It's enough to put you off eggs for life.

It’s enough to put you off eggs for life.

Alien 1979

Which brings us to the end of the 1970s. If Hollywood was running out of fresh ideas, it found one of its most enduring franchises in this unofficial adaptation of the B-movie shocker  “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” (1958). At the time, science-fiction mania was sweeping the world, thanks to the pop culture phenomenon of “Star Wars” (1977) and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). The time was ripe for a sci-fi/horrror hybrid. Cue Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Schussett’s script of a rather unpleasant alien that stows away on a space ship. A very simple movie, enhanced by amazing visuals and strong actors, this is essentially hide-and-seek on a space ship. The groundbreaking chestburster scene also gave audiences a scare they would never forget. Responsible for a slew of sequels, some better than others, the end of the Seventies showed that horror was still prepared to boldly go where no ghoul had gone before!

Next time… The Eighties arrives!

In which aliens get even nastier, vampires get even cooler, werewolves get even hairier, and a some teenagers have their sleep disturbed on Elm Street. Sweet dreams!