Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
10 - Invariably one of my favourites. Either it is a sheer masterpiece, or notable for it's own unique merits.
9 - Up there with the best I have seen.
8 - Brilliant
7 - Very good. Solid.
6 - Good, but certainly not brilliant.
5 - Passable. Average.
4 - Bad, but watchable.
3 - Doesn't cut it. Maybe a few redeeming qualities.
2 - Atrocious.
1 - Rarely given. Horrendous.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Would rather have gone to school
Ferris Bueller is a smooth operator who is something of a transgressive figurehead at his high school for his rebellious nature. Throughout "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewer, letting them in on his schemes and tricks of the trade. On this day, he shows us how he fools his parents into thinking he is too sick to attend school, making it his nine sick-day this semester. His parents molly-coddle him and then head off to work, leaving him in bed. His miserable-faced sister (Jennifer Grey) sees right through his antics and loathes him for it. Another person who can not stand Ferris is the highly-strung school principal played by Jeffrey Jones (His performance being the only good thing about the film for me). He makes it his mission to find Ferris out and show him for the truant that he is. But Ferris has other ideas for his 'day off off' (They are actually highly unimpressive and uninteresting) and these involve his girlfriend and best friend Cameron. I usually don't mind Matthew Broderick but he creates one of the most irritating characters in movie history here. Bueller is sarcastic and very arrogant, and is not at all funny. Unfortunately, he never gets what's coming to him.
Groundhog Day (1993)
A charming and quirky film with an irresistible concept
I didn't really like "Groundhog Day" the first time I watched it. I thought it was bland and the comedy elements didn't do it for me. But I gave it another watch and my opinion of it has greatly improved. It's a very charming comedy, with an irresistible premise, topped off by a fine performance from Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant, sarcastic weatherman who begrudgingly travels to the town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day, where the locals gather to watch the unveiling of a hog and to find out if it'll be a long winter or an early spring. Phil is joined by his producer Rita and cameraman Larry. Just before they leave town, a blizzard cuts off the roads and they have to stay in the town another night. The next morning, Phil wakes up to the exact same day again, and when he realises that he is stuck in a loop, possibly condemned to live the same day forever, he starts to make it work for him, by doing crazy things and trying to make Rita fall in love with him. A film with a premise like this has an unlimited pool of ideas and possibilities to play out, which is certainly the appeal, and I think director Harold Ramis and writer Danny Rubin did a good job with what directions they chose Phil to take.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Uninspired and cheap. All the hallmarks of a dull TV movie
I can not fathom the popularity of this film and the fanbase it has. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that in 2005 this was hot news and highly anticipated; George A. Romero's first return to the zombie genre - a genre that is what it is today because of him - in twenty years. This had all the makings of being something. By then the zombie film was a different field to what Romero played with his masterpiece "Night of the Living Dead" and its two sequels, Dawn and Day. The likes of "21 Days Later" and flashy video-game film adaptations such as "Resident Evil" had steered the zombie genre onto a fresh course as we entered the 21st century, but anyone who said that they did not crave the zombie films of Romero's generation would be lying, and here it was now with "Land of the Dead", set some time in the future after the events of Day, where we find a colony of humans living in a fortified city, split in to two classes. The elite, led by none other than Dennis Hopper, in a pristine and modern apartment block, while everyone else lives it rough on the streets below, haggling and scavenging. The undead, meanwhile, are starting to show signs of intelligence, led by one big burly fella in particular, who starts to organise a horde to cross the river fortification and swarm the city. There's also some ridiculous shenanigans concerning a stolen truck belonging to Hopper's character and a bunch of one-dimensional pawns sent to retrieve it. The film looks horrendously cheap and it all comes together to give the impression that Romero was just after a quick buck. Which is terrible to think. Watch it back-to-back with one of the countless low-budget Romero imitators from over the years and you would be hard pressed to tell which one was Romero's. You'd probably be hard pressed to believe that this was a Romero film at all.
A gem from a bucket of celluloid sludge
"Winterbeast" is the kind of movie you watch and just want to meet the cast and crew of immediately, and learn more about the making of it. I'm not sure where to even start, so I guess I'll just lay out the story. After a strange nightmare-sequence opening (where we are treated to our first experience of the quirky and horrendous stop-animation special effects) we meet Rangers Whitman and Stillman at the Rangers Station up on a mountain somewhere. Whitman is an intense and brooding character who takes his Park Ranger job with the utmost seriousness. The sunglasses-wearing Stillman is a pure ape, and would rather sit in the station and read his porn-mags than do any kind of community liaison. Which is tough, because one of their colleagues has gone missing, and pretty soon, more people at the mountain resort begin to go missing, too. Whitman decides it's time to shut down the resort. Stillman could care less. The hub of this resort is the local inn run by the camp, nasty and highly eccentric Dave Sheldon (What a performance from Bob Harlow. More on him later), but he is having none of it, and hampers their efforts to close the mountain down. But fairly soon, missing people begin to turn in to dead people, and it comes to light that there are ancient spirits out in the woods responsible for the carnage, manifesting themselves in monsters and possessed Totem poles.
The special effects, first of all. Absolutely diabolical. But unique! These guys did not give a hoot. "Winterbeast" was made (half-heartedly) over a number of years between 1986 - 1989 and my understanding of it is that by the end of it, original footage etc. had been lost or ruined and so Christopher Thies just ran what he could through and filled the gaps with stop-motion animation. All the action and dead scenes are made from clay and are absolutely hilarious. The acting is atrocious, for the most part. Tom Morgan is extremely rigid and awkward as Sergeant Whitman, but he is a joy to watch. Bob Harlow is actually very good and is the best thing about the film. What a nasty and menacing character he creates. His arguments with Whitman over the closing down of the inn are terrific. They really go at it in these scenes! It was like something you'd see in your day-to-day life, with Harlow's pitch getting louder and louder and the tendons in his neck nearly bursting out until the two are literally unrestraint and screaming at one another. It's terrible acting, of course, but by god it is entertaining.
As I mentioned earlier this was made over a number of years and as a result it gives the impression of a project that was passed from one film-student to another. The film varies in quality and changes sometimes in mid-scene. The best example of this is, I think, during one of the aforementioned bust-ups between Whitman and Sheldon. The camera angle suddenly changes and the footage goes from the normal-looking cheap kind to a sepia-grain tone. Made me wonder if perhaps half of that scene was filmed in '86 and the rest of it was added in years later, maybe after the original reel was damaged or what not. To sum it up, "Winterbeast" is like "Plan 9 to Outer Space". Highly deplorable film-making from a technical point, but highly enjoyable. However, "Winterbeast" is extremely obscure and thus not as accessible as "Plan 9...". It simply faded into celluloid-sludge obscurity along with a mass cohort of similarly low-budget, straight-to-VHS, horror flicks from this time, that are now a joy to seek out. The majority are unredeemable, but you do find the odd gem like "Winterbeast".
The Time Tunnel: Crack of Doom (1966)
Early appearance for Ellen Burstyn
I'm only six episodes in to this series and already its starting to get a bit tired. "Crack of Doom" is the most pedestrian episode so far, and the first time where I've felt myself growing weary of the entire thing. Every episode is starting to feel like the same thing over and over. "Crack of Doom" is very similar to the first episode where our scientists found themselves on board the titanic. In "Crack of Doom" the ship and iceberg are replaced by an island and a volcano, and the captain of HMS Titanic is replaced by some British explorer/scientist type who is studying the volcanic readings on the island along with his daughter (an early performance from the brilliant Ellen Burstyn). And as before, we spend the episode watching Tony and Doug warning of impending disaster only for it to fall on deaf ears, before being whisked away to another time and place just before they are killed. It was good to see Burstyn here, but other than that, it was a lacklustre episode.
Count Regula ain't no Dracula. And this ain't no Edgar Allan Poe, either
What a missed opportunity this was. Harald Reinl threw everything but the kitchen sink at this, even flew in Christopher Lee to play his poor Dracula rip-off, Count Regula. We have all the finest gothic horror tropes here; an authentic medieval town, a long journey through a grim forest with bodies hanging from the trees (more on this scene later), a spooky castle full of hidden chambers and trapdoors ... and did I mention we also have Christopher Lee!? I believe this film was Reinl's attempt at cashing in on Britain's Hammer Horror films, and by casting Christopher Lee he was well on his way in doing so. Coincidentally, he also managed to cast Karin Dor, who rose to prominence that same year when she starred as a Bond Girl in "You Only Live Twice". Unfortunately, the plot is so weak that it's difficult to maintain interest, and Lee's performance ends up just being something of a cameo. The famous forest scene was well done bus is a prime example of the poor script letting the film down. The arms, bodies and legs all look very fake - they look like store mannequins. I can always overlook cheap special effects when the writing and direction is there, but here it isn't. Why doesn't the super-excitable driver not freak out when he sees all of this? They ride on through it as if it this is a normal occurrence. It's a very bizarre scene and makes no sense, especially when there is no indication that this is all supernatural.
A film with many titles, as well as it's original German name. It also goes under the title "The Blood Demon", "Blood of the Virgins", "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism", "Castle of the Walking Dead" and "The Snake Pit and the Pendulum". It claims to be based on the 'novel' by "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe. That was actually a short story, lads. Well done. Even at that it bears very little resemblance to that tale, apart from the pendulum scene in the film which is such blatant robbery. Most films have scenes that are inspired by prominent scenes in literature and film, but there is a fine line between being inspired and blatant ripping-off. Taking a scene from a story or novel does not make your work an adaptation of said story or novel. This was just another poor attempt to promote the film, as Poe adaptations were popular at this time.
Baby, it's cold outside
"Frozen" is a survival thriller, something like a cross between "Open Water" and "127 Hours", where I think every viewer will feel the horror of the characters who find themselves stranded up on a ski-lift, exposed to the freezing cold, with no way of coming down. Our unfortunate trio are a young man with his new girlfriend, and life-long best friend, one of whom is third-wheeling but it's up to interpretation as to which one is. They are at a ski-resort on Mount Holliston one weekend and after haggling down the price with the bored worker operating the ski-lifts, they have to go push it one step further at the end of the evening when the place is shutting down for a week and go down the slope one last time when they shouldn't. Unfortunately, due to a serious mix-up between their man and the guy relieving him, the ski-lift is shut down along with the lights, and the staff head home, leaving the three literally high-and-dry near the top. When the realisation sinks in that they will freeze to death up here unless they somehow find a way to get down, the woods around them come alive with the howling of wolves.
This is one intense little movie, and Adam Green - a horror director, best known for his "Hatchet" franchise and for the superb (and one of my personal Halloween favourites) mockumentary "Digging Up the Marrow" - can well rack up the tension here and does not shy away from a bit of body-horror, as he viscerally depicts the effects of frost bite. The actors are average at best and the dialogue throughout is a bit awkward and slightly embarrassing, but then again isn't that how most people talk? There is one scene where (major spoiler) one of the characters is savaged by a pack of wolves and Green made a good decision here in keeping it off screen and instead focusing on the reactions of the other two, while listening to the carnage below. Time and time again this is shown to be a much more effective method of inducing horror, when it is done right. As Tarantino said about the ear-cutting scene in "Reservoir Dogs", it's best to pan away in the last second to let the viewer's imagination kick in. That can be worse than anything any director can produce. Overall this is a tense and uncomfortable thriller, with an ending that pays homage to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
Old School (2003)
Very flat, at times funny, but overall an uninspired comedy
Arriving home early from a business trip, Mitch (Luke Wilson) walks in on his partner in the middle of an orgy. When she admits to regularly taking part in them and that their relationship is practically nulled, he breaks up with her and moves upstate, renting a house near a university campus. His two best friends, newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell) and bored, dad-of-one retail-manager Bernard (Vince Vaughan) land at his doorstep and throw a house-warming party, inviting all the students on campus, giving the impression that Mitch's home is the new frat-house on the block. The first party is a success and Mitch blows off a little steam, but when word gets around campus of what a great night it was, and Frank goes on a temporary break from his wife and ends up living with Mitch, and Bernard hatches a scheme to relieve his college days, the party is just beginning.
Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughan are two comedy heavyweights and they are fairly good here, and lend some credit to a script that is uninspired and just does not live up to the potential that its premise, and pedigree of cast, has. The frat-house initiation scenes are very funny and the cast of misfits who aspire to be members are entertaining. Look out for a very Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory's Howard Wolowitz) in the crew. This film has garnered something of a cult following over the years, owing to the cast, but honestly I wouldn't give it the time or day. It hits a point and instead of driving on towards its peak, it fizzles out there and just chugs along steadily towards a predictable and dull conclusion, where I sat wondering at what point had the laughter stopped.
Police Academy (1984)
Dirtbags. Degenerates. Mommy's Boys. Your city needs you!
The original "Police Academy" has a somewhat mixed reputation, no doubt tarnished in some quarters by the six sequels that followed, the last couple of which are notoriously atrocious. But the first one released in 1984 is a gem. A charming, laugh-a-minute and totally stupid madcap depicting the exploits of a group of misfits who join the Police Academy of an unnamed city, following the announcement from the new Mayor that essential requirements have now been lifted in order to recruit more members. What presents itself at the Police Academy to Lt. Harris is nothing short of a circus line-up. We have one individual whose litany of minor offending has led to him being sent to the Academy as an alternative to jail, a man who can made realistic audio sounds of anything, an overweight and timid woman who can't find her voice, and a gun-nut who can't seem to wait to get a badge and gun and kill someone. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Hurst and Commandant Lassard come up with an idea. They have to accept these people in to the academy, but they don't have to make full-fledged officers of the law out of them. They will weed them out, or so help the city and those they will be sworn to protect.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Surreal. Disturbing. Maddening. Beautiful. Influential.
Many words to describe "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", one of the first horror films ever made, and the finest of the German Expressionist films alongside "Nosferatu". The film opens with two men sitting in a garden. The older man goes on a rant about madness and spirits. The younger man believes he can top the man's story, and so begins his tale. A carnival came to his home town once upon a time and, along with his best friend Alan, he went. There, they found the attraction hosted by the nefarious Dr. Caligari - a sleepwalker, who has been in this state for over twenty years. Caligari boasted that the strange exhibit could predict the future. Alan asked him how long would he live for, and the monster told him that he wouldn't live to see the next dawn. So begins this horrific tale of madness and murder.
The influential power of this film can not be understated. From the imagery and sets of the great Tim Burton, to the twist endings in the likes of modern greats such as "Shutter Island". This film is a hundred years old this year and it has aged very well. It is such an eerie tale and the imagery is superb and quite like nothing I'd ever seen. A sense of dread and madness pervades the film. Buildings are crooked, made from cardboard and sets are blatantly painted on to the background to act as scenery. It all contributes to it being an exhibition of sheer horror; the nightmare of a mad man.
Hell Squad (1958)
Once Upon a Time in Tunisia
This is a somewhat obscure and low-budget WW2 adventure set in Tunisia in 1943. A group of half-witted GI's find themselves lost and cut-off from all communications when they set off behind their lines on a mission. They are subsequently picked off one-by-one in skirmishes with German soldiers, who appear to be just walking aimlessly around the desert and waiting for them. "Hell Squad" runs in at just over an hour-long but you can be sure that it feels a lot longer. We run in to one ridiculous ambush after another and in between that we have to contend with a lot of boredom and Willy Campo's extremely irritating character Private Russo. The cherry on the cake is the final ten minutes or so where Russo is stuck in a minefield and he plays a battle of wits against a dehydrated German soldier, who he attempts to trade a canteen full of water with in exchange for a map showing the location of the mines. This scene in particular is extremely boring to watch and feels like it will never end. The ending is very appropriate as we are forced to endure Private Russo's over-the-top and ridiculous laughter as a cue for the end credits. Nothing to recommend here. Plenty of other obscure war films out there to seek out.
Very exciting episode and fine sets once again. The moon looks brilliant
The second episode of "The Time Tunnel" has our duo propelled ten years into the future, finding themselves on board a spaceship about to begin the first human-manned voyage to Mars. They are discovered by the crew who immediately suspect them as being foreign agents, sent to sabotage the mission. When the ship runs in to problems, the captain is compelled to make a stop-off at a fuel station on the Moon. Here, things go pear-shaped completely. "One Way to the Moon" follows on from the Titanic jaunt in the Pilot episode and is the TV episode equivalent of trying to cram as much food as possible in to you at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It moves at a fast pace and actually becomes tiring by the end as so much happens, the least of which is the mind-boggling scenario we are presented with where the villain in the present finds himself at the lab watching himself in the future, all of which begs questions such as If he can see himself now, how does he not know back then? etc. etc. The sets once again are this episodes strong point, the Moon looking quite authentic and better than any average contemporary designs.
Solid Pilot episode
The pilot episode of this TV series is a solid beginning to what looks set to be a very good show. The sets are very good and the acting is above par. Set in the Arizona desert at a secret, underground government research facility where scientists have been working on a time portal. When the senator who has been allocating billions into the budget for this facility takes a visit, demanding to see results, Dr. Tony Newman has no choice but to volunteer to enter the portal, at this stage not quite near completion, and see what happens. He ends up going back in time about fifty years and finds himself on board the ill-fated Titanic, a few days before it is set to hit the iceberg. While he tries to convince the captain that he is a time traveller and to change his course (probably a bad move), his colleagues work hard to try and save him before he becomes one of those who perish in the freezing waters. Dr. Phillips ends up jumping into the portal and going back to help him. But soon it becomes apparent that it will not be possible to take the scientists back in to their own time and place. The best that can be done by the team is to freeze time and quickly transport them to another random time and place. And so the series begins...
A very interesting concept that I'm sure galvanised and had people glued to their TVs every week back in the 60s. "The Time Tunnel" still holds its own today, and I found this first episode very enjoyable and leaving me wanting to see more. The lead performances from James Darren and Robert Colbert are one high-point, as well as the sets and special effects, all of which have a charm about them. The Titanic scenes are done well and are very reminiscent of James Cameron's 1997 film. Was this episode an inspiration for the sets and design in that film decades later? Possibly. Here is something fun that I picked out; the yellow mugs that the scientists and government agents are drinking from in Arizona seem to appear again in the background, on a table in one of the rooms on board the Titanic.
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Better than I remembered it to be
I remember being underwhelmed and disappointed when I saw this in cinemas back in 2007. A big fan of "The Simpsons" (Really, who isn't?), it has still taken me thirteen years to watch the long-awaited movie again. My initial reaction to the film was wrong. Perhaps, as can often be the case, expectations are too strong and a critical analysis can be far too premature around something as big as a movie adaptation of one of the greatest TV shows of all time, so it requires another viewing once the dust has settled and the spotlight has moved on. Not that I am advocating that the second viewing be more than ten years later! But this time certainly let me forget most of the film and allow me to view it as though it was a first viewing. "The Simpsons Movie" is better than I remember.
Springfield Lake is a cesspit. The townsfolk of Springfield have been dumping in it for so long that the lake has turned almost volcanic. When the band members of Green Day are killed on the lake when their barge sinks into the sludge, Mayor Quimby - in a rare moment of being proactive - announces that the lake is to be cleaned out and then cordoned off to prevent any more dumping. A few days later, Homer saves a pig mascot from being butchered at Krusty Burger. He adopts the pig and acquires a silo to keep the pig's crap in. When it is full to bursting, Homer decides to break the barrier and dump it into Springfield Lake. This becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back, and it causes such horrendous pollution that it attracts the attention of the US government, who, in order to save the rest of America from the pollution, drop a large dome on to Springfield, sealing the inhabitants inside the town and preventing any entry in or out.
There are plenty of good laughs here and a good contingent of our favourite Springfield characters are given screen-time. The story is a bit pedestrian for a movie and by the time we are in the second half of the film in Alaska the laughs dry up and it does start to drag a little. Still, "The Simpsons Movie", although a far-cry from the show at its best, is by no means near it at its worst, or even most average.
Death Wish (1974)
Savage and uncompromising. Bronson is superb, dispatching the scum with cool precision
Winner brings a grim, crime-ridden New York City to life in this archetypal revenge film, that is borderline exploitative. The city itself is a character; we venture down the backstreets and undergrounds of the city and are treated to some fine skyline shots. Just like the way "The Warriors" can be viewed now, "Death Wish" is a 1970s time machine that lets us absorb the physicality of New York City. Charles Bronson in arguably his most famous role is Paul Kersey, a successful architect who lives a modest life in a nice apartment in a bad city. At the beginning of the film he is just back from a nice holiday in Hawaii with his wife. They have one daughter who is married. New York is a crime-ridden city at this time, epitomised by the stat that Kersey receives the day that he returns to work from a colleague. In his absence, there were some twenty murders committed in the city. That same day, Kersey's wife and daughter are attacked in the apartment by three hoodlums who follow them home. They burgle the apartment and sexually assault the daughter. Kersey's wife receives a few blows to the head and later dies from her injuries, and the daughter is left severely traumatised. Kersey becomes a self-appointed avenger, armed with a gun, he walks the bad streets and lures out the scum, dispatching them with cold precision and becoming something of a hero in the city.
Charles Bronson was in his early fifties when he starred in this and had already been in iconic films alongside Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape" and in Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" alongside Henry Fonda. So it's interesting to note, that at this age and with such a CV behind him, that "Death Wish" would become something of a breakthrough role for him, in the sense that the role snared him and he would never shake the vigilante, blowing-away-the-bad-guys role after this. Without a doubt an inspiration for Scorcese's "Taxi Driver" and many others, "Death Wish" is a superb film that caused quite a stir upon its initial release, with many critics seeing it as being an advocate for vigilante justice. I have to agree with them, but I don't view it as a negative. I am guilty of cheering on Kersey and enjoying him killing the scum. He is a hero. And Bronson is superb. This is a highly gripping, savage and unforgiving film, very well made.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The original Creeper!
The word 'horror' to describe a film was not yet in style by the time Universal Pictures began to make what would retrospectively become known as their 'Monster Movies'. It wasn't until the 1930s, really, when the word 'horror' began to define what had initially been advertised as gothic and dark dramas. Therefore, any film predating the 1930s, particularly the ones made by Universal in the 1920s and the superb German Expressionist films such as "Nosferatu" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", deserve study and reverence. These, along with writers such as Poe, Stoker and Shelly, led to the birth of a genre, laying the foundations of what we know today. Universal followed up 1922's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" adaptation with "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1925, another novel adaptation, and starring Lon Chaney once again in the monster role. Set in Paris at a renowned opera house, the film follows the beautiful damsel-in-distress Christine Daee as she is stalked and harassed by the mysterious and legendary Phantom, a disfigured individual rumoured to be living in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House.
Lon Chaney revolutionised make-up effects with his work on himself as the Phantom. Not only that but his performance makes the Phantom the stuff of nightmares; elegant yet horrifying movements and facial expressions. He portrays the Phantom as one-dimensional, something which later adaptations would not do. The Phantom is the epitome of horror; ugly, calculating, evil. Mary Philbin deserves just as much recognition as Christine. An original 'scream queen' without the sound. The film is heavy on atmosphere; a sense of dread and evil pervades the film, possibly helped by how dark and low-quality the film is now. It is an all-round nightmare.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
If only everyone in the film industry had the same passion as Ed Wood
No one can deny the passion that Ed Wood displays in his movies. He was shockingly inept at making films, from script-writing to directing. But what I have always admired about the man was his determination and resolve, and the sense of comradery you can feel from his motley crew of actors. He never gave up, and the passion he had for film was something that many in the industry don't have. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is widely considered the worst film ever made. I do not agree with this one bit. People who say this have not seen many films. They definitely have not seen "The Beast of Yucca Flats" (Another Tor Johnson film, funny enough. But nothing against the big man!) or the diabolical "Robot Monster". Not to mention the likes of "Fifty Shades of Grey". I've seen many 'turkeys' and the main factor present in all them cases was sheer dullness. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is anything but dull, and the history around its production is enough to amuse you. It is also the final on-screen appearance of the legendary Bela Lugosi.
The goofs and quirks are endless. Bela Lugosi died before filming was complete, so Wood got another actor to stand in for him, who looks absolutely nothing like Lugosi. Plastic headstones fall over in the background. The dialogue is absolutely inane but so funny - my favourite: "Inspector Clay is dead, murdered. And some one is responsible." Criswell's dramatic narration is truly something to behold. Every scene warrants study to detect something that's a blatant error or just another idiosyncrasy. Technically, it is a terrible film. But there is something about it, apart from the so-bad-it's-laughable element, that makes it very entertaining and so memorable. Wood managed to pull off a fine shot in one scene where Vampira walks through the cemetery with her arms stretched out. It evokes the finest horror imagery. The cemetery has a certain horror charm about it that makes me think of Halloween. The aliens would have been better had they not been human-looking. Grey alien-masks would have been sweet! I think it is easy to bash this film for its flaws but unlike the average bad movie you can see the effort that was put in here and it has enough charm and wackiness to make it a guilty pleasure.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
And Then There Were ... Five?
I've little doubt that the bones of this eccentric and confidant haunted house film was somewhat influenced by the superb 1945 adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel "And Then There Were None", starring the great Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald . It's pretty much a horror version of that tale, led by the legendary Vincent Price, who plays a witty millionaire who invites five strangers to stay at a haunted house with him and his shrewd younger wife for a night. If the strangers agree to stay and survive the night they will each receive $10,000 (a rather large sum of money back in the '50s!). Amongst the group is the owner of the house, who believes the place is haunted and that they will all be killed before dawn by the ghosts of vengeful spirits of the people who have been murdered there in the past.
William Castle was a very eccentric director and he well and truly leaves his mark all over this film. Running in just over seventy-minutes, it is a wild and whacky ride from start to finish, with creepy caretakers, decapitated heads turning up in random places, people hanging, all the haunted house tropes you'd find in the original Scooby Doo cartoons such as sliding doors and hidden rooms, a vat of acid in the basement and the now infamous scenes of a skeleton chasing a woman around a room. Logic is to be suspended when viewing, as the plot is fairly thin and I got the sense that Castle was not bothered at all by this. He was a showman, who just wanted to thrill and scare his audience. He didn't just leave it on the screen, either. The original showings of "House on Haunted Hill" featured the above-mentioned skeleton dropping down from the ceiling on a rope and frightening movie-goers. By the film's conclusion we come to learn that there are actually no ghosts haunting this place and there are in fact logical explanations for everything that goes on. This was intended to be clever and to be the movie's strong point in Robb White's script, I'd imagine, but unfortunately I think it inhibits the film by pretty much relegating the horror elements. The supernatural should have dominated. That's a minor quibble I have with this film but other than that it is brilliant and one that I have a penchant for.
The Snow Creature (1954)
1954 was a busy year beneath LA!
Not only did a swarm of giant ants seek refuge and establish a nest under the city of Los Angeles in 1954, but the Yeti also made it his temporary home while visiting the city that year. In "The Snow Creature", which sports the title of being the first of a wave of Abominable Snowman, Yeti and Bigfoot films, the legendary Yeti is captured by a pair of Jack-the-Lad scientists, after they march a team of natives up into the Himalayas on a botanical expedition. They clearly got more than they bargained for. In the tradition of "King Kong", they capture the beast and take it back home to the States, with schemes of making their name and fortune. All is dashed when the beast escapes, and the last part of the film is like "King Kong" meets "Them!".
Running in at a modest 70 minutes long, "The Snow Creature" is sure to not overstay its welcome, which is something. It's far from great, but it is just entertaining enough. Similar to the majority of its peers, the monster in the film is very disappointing. It just looks like a giant man wearing a furry hat. Which, in a way, it actually was. The Yeti was played by Lock Martin, reportedly. Yes, reportedly! This is very interesting. Apparently it's never been confirmed whether or not this is actually Lock Martin, as the role of the Yeti was uncredited. Lock Martin was one of the tallest actors in history, standing in at 7ft 7 inches. Going by that, I think the chances are high that it was him. The Yeti is disappointing but other than that there isn't a whole lot blaringly wrong here. It moves at a steady enough pace, but is rarely rousing, or all that unique - all it is missing to be a blatant "King Kong" rip-off is a damsel to take the beast's heart.
Step Brothers (2008)
Extremely crude and funny
"Step Brothers", like its two lead characters brilliantly played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, is a highly stupid and irreverent comedy that is far from forgettable or average. Two forty-year old losers with serious mental issues are forced into becoming step-brothers when their single-parents marry and move in together. Initially, they are hostile towards one another and after a brawl on the front lawn in front of the entire neighbourhood, they finally find common ground in their resistance towards the punishment that their parents inflict on them, as though they were eight year-old boys. Turns out that they may as well be biological brothers, because they are one and the same. And no drum-set, boat or person, for that matter, is safe.
The most memorable thing from "Step Brothers" is a rap music-video that features the two leads dressed up as sailors and rapping on a cruise boat. The brilliant John C. Reilly's father marries Will Ferrell's mother. In another hilarious scene at the beginning Reilly is trying to convince his father not to let his new wife and her son move in with them. His reasoning being, just because you're married, doesn't mean they have to live here. He then goes on to paint a scenario where his new step-mom will see him naked when he gets out of the shower and will decide that she has had 'the old bull' and now wants 'the calf.' Richard Jenkins's reaction is priceless.
Extremely crude, what differentiates "Step Brothers" from a run-of-the-mill gross-out is some fine tuning from director Adam McKay, who originally wanted this to be a serious drama, so the script is somewhat polished. His two leads could not have been better; two natural-born comedians. Unfortunately, it does degenerate at points and unnecessarily reduces itself on one occasion to a lame 'fart joke' that I found to be extremely poor. It's just redundant and something that stopped being funny in the schoolyard. Ferrell rubs his testicles off of a drum-set in one scene, now that was much better! Can't say I've seen that being done before. On a serious note, Adam Scott's rendition of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' with his on-screen family is truly magnificent. Even if he does end up swerving in to on-coming traffic...
How Sleep the Brave (1982)
Highly authentic sound and savage action. Before "Platoon", these guys did it in a forest in England
"During the Swinging Sixties a forgotten few walked in to hell." This tagline comes up on the screen following a montage of the carnage that is to come and with a cacophony of screams and gunfire. This obscure Vietnam War film was filmed in England in a forest on a tiny budget. It still manages to be highly authentic and is a savage war film. You wouldn't necessarily think that this was filmed in the English countryside if you turned it on half-way through. The film has great cinematography in that regard. Director Lindsay Shonteff certainly paid attention here and that makes this more than the brainless, conveyor-belt action-flick that the VHS and DVD covers reduce it to. It has many short-comings - the editing is poor, there are a few plot holes (Why does it take so long to get to the village the second time?) and some of the actors at times speak brazenly with British accents, while the Viet Cong look like they were employees taken from the local Chinese take away. But overall this is an absolute gem, and one that I have watched many times.
The action is raw and the sound effects are superb. I rate this as having some of the most realistic combat sequences in the Vietnam War library. It does feel almost like real-footage at times. It is bloody and it is brutal; we see a young GI's guts fall out of him after he steps on a mine. Another is shot right through and the bullet puts his spine out. A suspected Viet Cong has both of his arms shot so as to cripple him, and a couple of GI's are butchered and strung up like pigs in a slaughterhouse for their buddies to find. As well as being realistic and bloody, the action is also constant. It does not let up, especially after the hour-mark it is just one fire-fight after another. The dialogue is realistic, too. It's highly profane, and not the type of talk that you'd want your mother to hear. But doesn't that make it honest when depicting a bunch of young men in war sitting around bored, waiting to go out and get their head blown off?
The original title is "How Sleep the Brave". The title I've watched it under is "Combat Zone", but it is also called "Once Upon a Time in Vietnam" and "The Forgotten Parallel", the latter I believe was a cheap VHS rip that some film company made for a quick buck, cutting the film down to an hour in the process. Personally, my favourite is "Once Upon a Time in Vietnam". The performances from the virtually unknown cast certainly deserve a mention. Christopher Muncke as Captain Hansen is a formidable leader, in charge of the rather laughable outpost that is Camp Granada (It is essentially two tents in the middle of a huge field, testament to the budget) but he commands every scene he is in. I was surprised to find when I read his profile that he had never been in anything big before or after this. He nearly gave R. Lee Ermey a run for his money in a few scenes. Lawrence Day, Luis Manuel, Thomas M. Pollard and Daniel Foley are better than would be expected, and all gel together very well and deliver Robert Bauer's profanity-spectacular script. I mention "Platoon" in my summary because it would be very difficult not to be reminded of it. Oliver Stone's masterpiece about the horrors of war and the struggle to maintain sanity and decency amongst the savagery that is inflicted is one of the greatest films ever made, and "How Sleep the Brave" tackled similar themes before it and had it had the budget, who knows what may have been. I'm sure Oliver Stone would approve of this film, if he has ever seen it. Overall, "How Sleep the Brave" ("Combat Zone" in UK and Ireland) is well worth tracking down and checking out, for fans of war films. It's obscurity, grainy-look and its sounds and imagery of war give this film the look of a nightmare.
King and Carpenter at their peak. It's a shame that this was the source material
Good atmosphere, good performances. But instantly forgettable. That's how I felt after viewing "Christine". Not something I expected considering it came from Stephen King and John Carpenter. How did this happen? Simple. Because the source material just isn't that compelling. An evil car? That's boring. And didn't James Brolin already take on an evil, possessed car in the aptly-titled 1977 horror film "The Car"? He certainly did. As inane as that one was, it's still a fun and enjoyable movie. Carpenter went ahead and directed "Christine" before King even released the novel. That's how hot King was in the early 1980s, and Carpenter was too, riding high after "Halloween", "The Fog" and "The Thing". So when you factor in all of that, two artists at their peak, this is very disappointing. It just isn't frightening, and I am not surprised to learn that Carpenter had very little interest in this film. He saw it as a job, rather than a project. I quote him from a 2015 interview: "It just wasn't very frightening. But it was something I needed to do at that time for my career." Carpenter certainly tries his damnedest. You can feel it in the great atmosphere, and the scenes that are meant to evoke tension and suspense are done as well as they possibly could be. It just doesn't have a payday because the horror is a stupid, possessed heap of metal. It just didn't do it for me. It's a shame that this was the Stephen King film that Carpenter ended up making. There's plenty more in King's oeuvre that would have been worthy of Carpenter's hand. There are some positives; Keith Gordon and John Stockwell are exceptional, and Carpenter really portrays a nostalgia for the 1950s. This is set in the '70s, but strangely you would think at times that the film is set twenty years earlier. I guess that's the power of Christine and her bopping radio.
The Commitments (1991)
The music is tremendous in this hilarious, yet sombre, look at the tragedy that is Wasted Talent
"The Commitments" burst on to the scene in 1991 and immediately garnered much critical acclaim. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Editing, but it was the music that would make it the film that it is. The soundtrack went on to sell millions and achieved triple-platinum status. Set in recession-stricken Dublin in the late 1980s, Jimmy Rabbitte is a young unemployed man who wheels-and-deals and dreams of music stardom. He has a strong passion for soul music and when he puts an ad in the paper for musicians to audition for the band he wants to put together and manage, he attracts a wide variety of nutjobs and pure talent. He assembles a line-up, and they hit the stages around working-class Dublin. They become a hit in no time, and with whispers of deals and contracts only down the line, and with Wilson Pickett himself rumoured to be lined up to play with the band while he is in Dublin, all that is going to hold this motley crew back is their hatred of each other.
"The Commitments" is a funny and unique film in that the rags-to-riches tale is turned upside down and we are left with a rather sad ending that evokes, as much of the rest of the film does, real life. There is nothing glamorous here, and director Alan Parker hammers it home by filling the movie with dreary, rain-drenched shots of social poverty and ruin. Choosing to film with subdued lighting also helped, as the film always appears to be in darkness. The characters are rough and very talented and they range from the mysterious and sleazy Joey "The Lips" Fagan - who may or may not be what he says he is - to the films finest attribute, the voice of Andrew Strong, who has to be the oldest looking teenager to ever appear on film. He was only about seventeen in this, but he looks and sounds thirty, at least. But what a voice. The rest of the cast are very good, and it is hard to believe that none of them went on to do much else after this - film-wise anyway. Robert Arkins who plays Jimmy vanished into obscurity in the years that followed. Andrew Strong never became as big as he should have. Glen Hansard, however, did go on to become a household name for his band and for the 2007 film "Once". Far from a masterpiece - its humour is dependent on Roddy Doyle's writing where we have a bunch of young Irish men and women roaring abuse at one another in between some fantastic musical performances - it nevertheless carries a strong personality and is a credit to the music that it celebrates, and to Irish life and the era it comes from.
Starts off promising but runs out of ideas fast and just becomes repetitive
There'll never be another "American Pie". But for the first twenty minutes of "Blockers" I held hope. Intially sceptical of John Cena's presence, he was brilliant, and the three girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night were very funny and charming characters. Unfortunately, "Blockers" ends up stumbling over the hurdles that any sex-comedy like this should set out to avoid; sentimentality and attempting to circumvent gender notions - it's ok for boys to have sex, but not ok for girls. Initially the film avoids this by not taking itself seriously and just running along, raising a few laughs and is carried by the strength of its actors. But then the sentimentality and gender notions become overpowering; the over-protective father is a well-worn trope not only in film but in general society, and although Cena does it well it nonetheless becomes cringe-worthy and very repetitive. Leslie Mann's character was extremely irritating and her over-protectiveness of her daughter gets to the point where it's not funny and I found myself thinking, surely it will stop now. But it goes further and further to the point that she is under the bed when he daughter is about to have sex, in a scene that would illicit laughter any other time but by this stage it was just embarrassing and another miss-hit. The characters were there and the opportunity to make a female version of "American Pie" was very much possible but it all went flat very quickly and never recovered.
Black '47 (2018)
An English 'subject' and his 'faithful Mick'. History is never black-and-white
The Irish Potato Famine, or the Great Hunger, of 1845 - 1849 is a highly contested and sensitive subject matter in Ireland to this day. "Black '47" is the first film in recent memory that deals with this horrific time in Irish history. First off, I want to applaud it for being complex in its delivery, and not presenting a traditional, nationalists 'Irish against the Brits' view. Feeney (James Frecheville) has returned from fighting in the Anglo-Afghan War with the British Army. Ireland is in the grip of the Potato Famine, and he is informed by his neighbour that his mother starved to death a year ago and that his brother was hanged by the constabulary for stabbing a bailiff who tried to evict the family. When another injustice is committed on his remaining family, Feeney goes Rambo, and sets out for revenge. Judges, Lords and any representative of the British Crown in Connemara becomes fair-game to him. The brutal murders invariably attract the attention of the authorities. Enter Hannah (Hugo Weaving) an army veteran now working as a constabulary inspector in Ireland. He murders a Irish man while interrogating him over Young Irelander activities, and is to face execution. He is pardoned, however, on the understanding that he tracks down and either kills or apprehends his former comrade Feeney, who we learn saved Hannah's life during an ambush in Afghanistan. Hannah sets out with a jumped-up, young and inexperienced army lieutenant to track down Feeney through a starved and hostile countryside. What will Hannah do when finally tracks Feeney down? What will Feeney do when he is cornered? Either way, we will find out which is stronger, a human bond, or duty and identity.
Australian James Frecheville delivers a fine, brooding performance as Feeney. His performance garnered much criticism in reviews but I personally think that his Irish accent is one of the finest ever done by a non-Irish. Hugo Weaving is mesmerising and very strong as Hannah. He commands that role and creates such a complex character. Together, these two are snared in a sort of nineteenth-century "First Blood", which makes it very entertaining and delivers action. Thankfully, Lance Daly did not shorten himself, and allowed the film to possess a much deeper layer. In history, there is always much more to just 'them' and 'us'. Here, we are presented with an Irish man who has 'taken the King's shilling' and fought Britain's wars for them. He detests British rule and it is no wonder when he sees the lack of help for his people when he returns home. Hannah is burnt-out and we sense that he is now so weathered and lived it all that he sees Imperialism for what it is. He and Feeney were comrades before and he owes Feeney a debt for saving his life. This is how "Black '47" avoids getting swamped down in an Irish nationalistic view; it cuts it all away and leaves us with two men, whose respective senses of identity and duty are ultimately transcended by the basic humanity that is in us all.