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Archive for October, 2010

 

Its Halloween and everyone is getting obsessed with horror movies. Never one to miss out on a party we decided to invite back a few previous contributors for a Halloween special, I give you Groovers and Mobsters Present: Horror.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

“There’ll be no morning for us”

How do you pick a movie to write about for something like this? I was struggling to decide so went back to the beginning, the first Hammer Horror movie I ever saw and the one that got me into horror movies.

The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.

An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans.

Click HERE for all the ten movies in our biggest everGroovers and Mobsters Present

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Kai from The List has invited me to submit three films for the 6th edition of FILMS YOU DIDN’T KNOW. As we approach Halloween Kai has asked us to pick three horror movies. Here are mine:

Taste of Fear (1961): All three of my choices are Hammer Horror movies from the 60s, breaking with the stereotype of Hammer they are all set in the 20th century and don’t include Hammer staples Frankenstein and Dracula (or any other vampire). Taste of Fear is known as Scream of Fear in America, whilst Christopher Lee considers The Devil Rides Out to be his favourite Hammer movie he has stated that this earlier film directed by Seth Holt was their best. A fantastic thriller with just enough twists, turns and revelations in the plot to hold the viewers interest to the very end. Aspects of the story are reminiscent of the classic French thriller Les diaboliques (1955) and there is more than a nod to Hitchcock but this is a first rate movie in its own right. Best viewed with little or no knowledge of the plot.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967): The character Professor Bernard Quatermass originally started out in an influential British TV show in the 1950’s. Quatermass and the Pit, known as Five Million Years to Earth in America was the final and best (but least financially successful) of the three movies to feature the character. The story is largely the same as the original TV series about a frightening discovery made by workmen extending a London Underground station. The movie contains aspects of horror, Sci-Fi and action, don’t expect the special effects to hold up to modern standards but it is still a great movie that has a lot to offer the horror genre.

The Devil Rides Out (1968): Known as The Devil’s Bride in America, The Devil Rides Out started life out as a novel by Dennis Wheatley. Hammer’s biggest and most bankable star Christopher Lee suggested they adapt the story into a movie and took a staring role, he has since described it as his favourite Hammer film. Hammers best director Terrence Fisher was hired to direct and did a fine job injecting style and humour into the atmospheric horror thriller. Set in 1930s England the story revolves around Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) saving some young friends from a devil worshipping cult led by Charles Gray (Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever). A great film that has aged really well and has a charm devoid in more cynical modern horror.

What some more modern recommendations? Check out the full blog featuring: Terri from GOREGIRL’S DUNGEON, Meredith from M. CARTER AT THE MOVIES, Jason from INVASION OF THE B-MOVIES and not forgetting our host KAIDERMAN.

 

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Horror is in many ways the purest genre, whilst it may overlap with other genres and have many sub-genres, some dig into your subconscious, whilst others are happy to just make you jump or disgust you with gore all horror movies have the same purpose and addenda, to scare the shit out of you!

Like many other art forms movies and particular horror movies often follow trends that change over time. The great thing is the way movies can use or ignore what has gone before to follow their own path. In this article I have attempted to chart the evolution of trends in horror movies and my favourite movies that go with them.

 

The Silent Era

Nosferatu (1922): Directed by F.W. Murnau, this silent German movie set the benchmark for vampire movies. The names are changed to protect the innocent  filmmakers from breach of copyright, but the movie otherwise follows the basic story of Dracula. Max Schreck plays Graf Orlok aka Nosferatu is Dracula in all but name. Interestingly it is the first time vampires were killed by sunlight, a characteristic that has appeared in most vampire movies since. Not to be confused with the 1979 remake directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski. Also check out Shadow of the Vampire (2000) for a great fictionalised account of the making of the movie, with a twist.

Monster Movies

King Kong (1933): For me there are two classic monster movies: Ishiro Honda’s Gojira aka Godzilla (1954) uses a man in a rubber suit and a subtext warning against the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. Over a decade earlier King Kong utilised stop motion animation to create the most memorable monster. Famed for its Empire State Building finale and the presence of “scream queen” Fay Wray. Even at an early age the thing that struck me about the movie is the way the boundaries between heroes and villains easily blur. Copied and remade but never equalled.

Classic Horror

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Frankenstein (1931) was a great movie, but Bride of Frankenstein was even better, answering the age old question “what is the best sequel ever made”. Both movies were directed by English filmmaker James Whale who took the idea of a masterpiece to heart, having taken the genre as far as he could, he didn’t make another horror movie. The movie is a perfect blend of horror, action and comedy that isn’t afraid to make its monster the hero and not the villain. Horror movies don’t get much better than this, movies don’t get much better than this!

Psychological Thriller

Les diaboliques (1955): Kubrick and Hitchcock both made supremely good examples of psychological thrillers but Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French thriller Les diaboliques is probably the best example. A meek wife conspires to kill her husband with an unlikely accomplice, her husbands mistress. After the murder is committed things take a strange turn. A much copied movie (including a terrible remake) and imitated movie is capped by a wonderfully ambiguous ending. 

Post War/Cold War Paranoia

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): Directed by Don Siegel (yes Dirty Harry Don Siegel) Invasion of the Body Snatchers tells the story of a small-town whose population is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates. With a subtext full of cold war paranoia the movie is genuinely frightening, not through cheep scares but through a sense of inevitability, dread and helplessness that is created. The movie has been remade numerous times, only 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland (and featuring a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, the star of the original movie) lives up to the original.

Hammer Horror

Dracula (1958): Hammer were the mainstay of British cinema for many years and possibly the greatest name in horror, they created a unique moment in film history that has had a lasting effect on horror. My personal favourite of their movies were the Dracula series. They were not the most faithful to Bram Stokers novel instead taking aspects of the novel, previous movies and stage plays as well as some of its own ideas. It was directed by Hammers best director Terence Fisher but the real victory of the movie is its star, the greatest actor to take on the cape and fangs of Dracula: Christopher Lee. There were numerous sequels, although they all have some merit, only the first sequels Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) (also directed by Fisher) comes close to the original.

The Modern Horror

Psycho (1960): When did the modern age of Horror begin? Possibly with George A. Romero’s reinvention of zombie in Night of the Living Dead (1968) or John Carpenter’s reinvention of the slasher movie, Halloween (1978), for me the first modern horror was also the first slasher films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). As much a thriller as a horror, the scariest thing about the movie is how down to earth and realistic it is, unlike monster movies this could really happen. And only Hitchcock has the balls to kill his star half way through the movie.

Demonic Possession

The Exorcist (1973): The perfect horror movie, I can think of mo way this movie could be improved upon. William Friedkin’s movie is compelling and terrifying in equal measure. The photography is atmospheric and sublime. The acting economic and believable. Copied many but no film in the genre has come close.

Spaghetti Horror

Suspiria (1977): I don’t think the phrase spaghetti horror was ever used but I like it so I am claiming it for European horror movies of the 70s and 80s! After a successful career making influential thrillers, Italian director Dario Argento turned his attention to violent supernatural horror/thrillers like Suspiria. Often criticised for style over substance Suspiria and Argento films on the whole are bloody, violent and frightening, what more could you ask for in a horror movie. Whatever you thoughts its hard to argue with Argento’s credentials as the master of European horror.

The End Of The World As We Know It.

Dawn of the Dead (1978): As the world is overrun by a zombie outbreak four people turn to what they know in order to hang on and try to survive. With a subtext about the evils of modern consumerism not only is it a terrifying display of desperation but a damming indictment on society. I suggest that Bride of Frankenstein is one of the best movies ever made and the best sequel ever made, Dawn of the dead gives it a run for its money on both counts.

The Slasher Movie

Halloween (1978): coming nearly two decades after Psycho the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween led to many more slasher movies including the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. They are amongst the most enduring horror movies with sequels and remakes still in cinemas more than thirty years later. With a seemingly relentless killer that can come at you at any time from anywhere and who just won’t die the slasher movie isn’t for the faint hearted. In many ways the essence of horror is captured in these movies.

Sci-Fi Horror

Alien (1979): The Quatermass movies of the 50’s and 60’s are classics of the genre but Alien is a whole different level. When you strip away the setting the movie is basically a haunted house horror but supreme direction, an iconic monster make as much a horror as any other movie in the list. There have been other great examples such as Lifeforce (1985) and Event Horizon (1997) but one thing they don’t have is Ripley, cinemas greatest heroine.

Comedy Horror

An American Werewolf in London (1981): as mentioned above James Whale incorporated comedy ionto his horror movies in the 30’s but the true master of the genre is John Landis. With An American Werewolf in London he created not only the greatest comedy horoor of all time but also possibly the best Werewolf movie ever. A decade later he did it all again with vampires with (the less successful but also great) Innocent Blood (1992).

Post-modern Horror

Scream (1996): Halloween reinvented the slasher movie, a subgenre of movies that went on to eat itself with numerous remakes, sequels and rip-offs. Scream came to the table with a satirical approach and a knowing nod to what had gone before, a clever blend of irony and social commentary that doesn’t forget it’s a horror movie. The film has a certain credibility lent to it by director Wes Craven, the man behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, one of the aforementioned slasher movies. A third sequel on its way next year, its will be interesting to see how relevant it is today.

The Asian Invasion

Ringu aka The Ring (1999): The plot is simple, there is little in the way of special effects but Hideo Nakata’s Ringu changed the world of horror cinema. Based on a novel that in turn was based on a Japanese folk tale it has been remade and copied by Hollywood countless times in the past decade. The story surrounds a videotape that kills whomever views it a week later. I am rarely scared by a movie but with its spooky atmosphere and disturbing visuals this one really got to me.

Recovered Footage

The Blair Witch Project (1999): Italian horror Cannibal Holocaust (1980) predates The Blair Witch Project by nearly two decades but the later movie found its way to the mainstream. Presented as a documentary pieced together from “recovered footage” the movie tells the story of three young student filmmakers who go missing whilst shooting a documentary about a local legend known as The Blair Witch. After an inical lull the genre is taking off with movies like [Rec] (2007), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).

Torture Porn

The Devil’s Rejects (2005): “Torture porn” is basically a reinvention of the splatter movie. As censorship relaxes sadism combined with nudity, torture and sometimes mutilation come together to create this new subgenre. Although Saw and Hostel (and their sequels) better represent the genre, The Devil’s Rejects is a more compelling movie. Directed by Rob Zombie, it is a sequel that is considerably better than the original movie (2003’s House of 1000 Corpses). Like other movies of the genre it replaces genuine scares with gore resulting a film that isn’t as scary as classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Hoodies

Eden Lake (2008): The hoodie is a is a sweatshirt with a hood but certain right wing newspapers in the UK will have you believe they will be the downfall of society. This paranoia has led to a series of nasty little movies, most famously last years Harry Brown and most recently F, but the best of them is Eden Lake, the story of a young couple whose romantic weekend camping at an Idyllic remote lake is ruined by a group of “hoodie” kids.

 

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Easy A

Olive (Emma Stone) is a regular student at small-town high school in California. Her life is unremarkable, she has a loving family and she is an exceptionally bright pupil, unfortunately she isn’t especially popular and her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) is a vacuous bitch. Basically Olive is your average teenager or at least your average movie teenager. When she tells a small lie, it leads to a bigger one. The lie in question involves Olive losing her virginity, that is overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) the ringleader of a religious group who both preach and pledge purity. As the story spreads around the school she embraces the notoriety of her new status and agrees to pretend to have sex with a gay friend who is trying to hide his homosexuality.

I grew up in the 80’s, so was spoilt for great high school movies, many of them written and or directed by John Hughes. Since then the quality has been there from time to time but not in the quantity we enjoyed in the 80’s. With Clueless (1995), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Mean Girls (2004) it was about time we had a new entry in the series. Following the successful formula of using classic literature for inspiration, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Clueless used Jane Austen’s Emma and 10 Things I Hate About You used William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew). The difference here is the overt references, the class are studying the novel in English. There are numerous references to the Demi Moore film version as well as a more subtle reference to the German adaptation “Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe”.

There are some nice touches such as the device used to allow Olive to talk directly to camera. The whole movie has a post-modern tone that works really well. Working as both a homage to and an update of 80’s movies. Just likes its main character the movie is cutting and sarcastic but most importantly knowing. The supporting cast is brilliant, Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow as teachers, Malcolm McDowell as the headmaster all excel. The standout performances come from Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olives parents. At the centre of all this is Emma Stone, in last years Zombieland she showed moments of brilliance but had to compete with Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, as the star here she is really given a chance to shine and doesn’t disappoint.

Only time will tell how well it ages but here and now I think it is the best high school movie for a decade.

Four Stars out of Five

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Mr. Nice

Drama based on the autobiography of Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans). Dennis Howard Marks was born in Kenfig Hill, near Bridgend, Glamorgan, Wales in the 1940’s, after attending the local Grammar School he went to Balliol College, Oxford. After a shot spell as a teacher, he found his true vocation, cannabis-trafficking!

Aided by a script based on an autobiography and the fantastic casting of Ifans (who is a fan and friend of Marks) the story is very sympathetic to the drug smuggler. From a moral point of view I will let people make their own mind up on the severity of cannabis supply and use. Without the horrors associated with so called hard drugs there is no shocking overdose scene keeping the movie lighter than the usual drug story. Director Bernard Rose has proved his ability to balance gravity with comic moments in the Beethoven biography Immortal Beloved, he also directed the superior horror movies Candyman and Paperhouse. Less successful is the use of old stock footage that Ifans is digitally inserted into, the effect is somewhat bizarre and poorly executed making it very conspicuous. I can only assume with the modern technology available to the filmmakers this effect is intentional and not just sloppy, I don’t see the point of it.

As well as Rhys Ifans in the title role the cast is very impressive with Chlöe Sevigny as Marks’ wife Judy, she is as reliable as ever but does struggle a little with her English accent at times. David Thewlis is brilliant as Jim McCann, an IRA bomber maker who Marks gets involved with. Christian McKay who impressed last year as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Wells has a small but significant part that he makes the most of. Also look out for recognisable faces like Omid Djalili (who, as you would expect gets a lot of the laughs) and Crispin Glover.

A film that is happy to tell the story of Marks without asking or attempting to answer any questions about his chosen lifestyle and career. As such it is successful making an enjoyable film that is sometimes informative, often funny and always entertaining.

Three Stars out of Five

 

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The Social Network

Anchored in the deposition hearings for two lawsuits and told in flashback, we first meet Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in a pub with his soon to be ex-girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). He returns to his dorm room and starts drinking. As he gets more drunk he begins to write a savage attack against Erica on his blog. He also hacks all the local college computers to obtain images to create a website called “FaceMash”, where users are shown images of two girls and have to choose which is more attractive. Vilified by female students and placed on academic probation after the site crashes Harvard’s server, Zuckerberg earns a certain notoriety. This brings him to the attention of fellow students, Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss and heir business partner Divya Narendra. The twins who come from a privileged background and are members of Harvard’s rowing team have an idea for an exclusive dating website for Harvard students and graduates. Zuckerberg agrees to write the program code for the brothers site but is distracted by his own idea for a social network website. Enlisting the help of friends, including best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), The Face book (the “The” was later dropped) goes live and is an instant success to the chagrin of the Winklevoss who believe that Zuckerberg has stolen their idea. As The Facebook takes off and is expanded to other schools Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) joins the team and Saverin becomes marginalised.

As demonstrated in the modern classics (yes I am a big fan) Seven and Fight Club, David Fincher is an expert at manipulating audiences and their emotions. In many ways this is his most subtle work to date. During the opening scene, as she is breaking up with him Erica tells Mark “you’re an asshole” and on the evidence of the previous few minutes she is correct. But something strange happens as the story develops and the depositions dig deeper into the background of the story I found myself on his side, there is even a time when I felt sorry for him. I feel sorry for a billionaire who treated his best friend like shit, how did that happen Mr Fincher? The fantastic cast must also be commended for this, Eisenberg and Timberlake are on top form and give by far the best performances of their careers and the ever reliable Garfield picks up where he left off in Red Riding. The script by Aaron Sorkin is based on the none fiction book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. The dialogue is truly brilliant and the story he crafts is compelling and strangely for a movie in which little happens often exciting. The greatest surprise of the movie is just how funny it is, this again is a combination of script and performance.

Your feelings towards the characters towards the characters, particularly Zuckerberg and Saverin will depend a lot on how much you believe the story you are being told. Rather than playing on the cheep irony of the fact a person with limited social skills invented the biggest social media website ever, the movie instead tells of that only a person like this could have created Facebook. At one point Mark Zuckerberg tells the Winklevoss’ “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook” not only did they not invent it they probably could not have invented it. The title of the source book “The Accidental Billionaires” really sums this up, whist the Winklevoss brothers are the top of the social food chain and have a sound business model and plan to make money. Zuckerberg just wanted to create something cool, his idea of personal gain isn’t necessarily financial.

The fact the movie exists is probably as much an indictment of the litigation culture of recent years as it is a celebration of the phenomenon that is facebook. This does not detract from the fact that it is a fantastic movie that is intelligently made and supremely acted. With an unexpected subtlety and understated confidence that doesn’t feel the need to show-off, this is a movie to enjoy as well as to admire. Like so many of David Fincher’s previous movies I suspect this one that will get better with time and repeated viewings.

Four Stars out of Five.

I used to attach trailers to all my reviews, this is something I stopped doing last year but couldn’t resist this one as it is such a fantastic trailer aided by the use of a haunting cover of the Radiohead song Creep by Belgian choir group Scala & Kolacny Brothers.

 

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Frozen

In February 1991 I was on a chairlift in Oberperfuss near Innsbruck Austria. It was taking me down the mountain over the lower part of the ski resort that was closed as we neared the end of the season. Having stopped to talk to an instructor I was on my own and five minutes behind the rest of my group. Halfway down, the chairlift stopped for no apparent reason. A few minutes later an air-raid siren sounded. In the distance I could hear a low rumble that turned into a deafening thunder as two fighter jets flew past making the chair swing violently. As I remember it they flew under the cables, in reality they may not have done but I have heard many news reports of such things happening (with tragic consequences on one occasion) in the years since, this may have affected my memory of events. After about twenty minutes that felt like an hour or two the chair started moving again. Most of my fear in the situation was irrational caused by the unknown of the situation, it turned out they tested the air raid siren every week and everything stoped for the test including the chair lift. Had I left at the same time as everyone else I would not have been alone and would have had a totally different experience. The fear I experienced is what this movie needs to convey in order to work. In some ways it does but on the whole it relies on the cheep scares of a circling pack of wolves and the gore of protruding bones and frostbite.

Written and directed by B-movie filmmaker Adam Green, the movie never rises about its low budget origins. Following the usual formula of placing the characters in a peril partly of their own making and standing back to watch them make the situation worse. The decision making of the characters is on a par with people who run upstairs rather than out the front door in slasher movies. The characters are believable if not always likeable. This results in making the movie watchable if not always likeable.

Having said all this the movie is effective and has some tense moments demonstrating the writer/directors potential within the genre.

Three Stars out of Five

 

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