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Archive for October, 2011

Its Halloween and as is the recent tradition all the big “tent-pole” horror movies will finding there way to the big screen. While a lot of recent horror movies have been repetitive and unoriginal (in other words rip-offs and remakes) there have been horror elements to some great movies this year:

Black Swan

Set in the world of ballet and concentrating on an emotionally fragile dancer who is promoted to prima for a new production of Swan Lake. More a physiological thriller than a horror, but it also owes a lot to the giallo (yellow) films by directors like Dario Argento.

The Skin I live

Again a physiological thriller, it is also truly disturbing movie and the closest Pedro Almodóvar has come to horror to date.

Stake Land

Set during a vampire apocalypse that owes more to the zombie genre than to vampire movies and effectively employing a road movie structure. Simply the best and most original vampire movie for years.

Julia’s Eyes

A woman with rapidly failing eyesight investigates the death of her sister, she believes it to be murder but the police insist it was suicide. Another physiological thriller this time brimming with atmosphere and suspense.

Troll Hunter

A found footage movie about a veteran Norwegian Troll hunter. Playing it straight when it should be silly but some how it gets away with it making for a fantastic movie.

A Lonely Place To Die

A group of mountaineers stumble across a young girl imprisoned in a box buried in the Scottish Highlands. As they try to get the girl and themselves to safety it fast becomes a battle against the hostile environment and the girls kidnappers. With some brutal and unflinching moments and some great suspense it isn’t out of place amongst more supernatural or physiological movies.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2

The final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise sees the long awaited battle between good and evil. Not a movie I expected to put on the list but it really does have all the elements of a horror but aimed at a younger demographic.

Kill List

A pair of hit-men take a contract to kill a list of people, this takes them and the plot in an unexpected direction. The most bizarre movie on the list and one you should go into blind, you will appreciate it more if you don’t know what’s coming.

John Carpenter’s The Ward

Set in the 1960’s, a young girl with amnesia is committed to a psychiatric unit where she and the other inmates appear to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate/patient. Unfairly overlooked, the best movie directed by the horror maestro for a long time.

Priest

Following a war between humans and vampires America looks like a cross between the wild west and the Mega-City’s of Judge Dredd. The priests who defeated the vampires are now obsolete but one finds a new mission when his niece is abducted by an army of vampires that has been growing in secrete. Silly but entertaining action horror.

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Come back tomorrow for a new take on this years crop of horror movies, until then take a look at a few that didn’t make the grade for me.

Attack the Block

A nasty little movie, the critics loved it, I just didn’t see the appeal.

Apollo 18

Great idea, dull execution.

Scream 4

As irrelevant and dated as the original was fresh and relevant. But the opening scenes are fun.

The Silent House

A few jumpy moments but a pointless concept and week plot.

The Resident

Dull and tedious, its such a same to see the names Hammer and Christopher Lee attached to such a film.

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As part of the Groovers and Mobsters Present series we posted a Halloween special last year. For those who missed it over on Movie Mobsters last year here it is again:

What Happened to Baby Jane (1962)

“Yes, she’s emotionally disturbed. She’s unbalanced!”

My concept of Halloween is probably skewed: I’m not American and we don’t celebrate it in my country. In theory I suppose What Happened to Baby Jane has no remnants of the visceral terror that one would probably associate with the holiday. Still, the theme is horror and more than just the knee-jerk scares that dissipate before an hour wears out sometimes what’s more horrific is when the terror is established through the monotony of everyday life.

Blanche and Jane are two sisters; both were stars somewhat in their youth although Blanche – now crippled – was the more successful one. A resentful Jane must now be caretaker to her sister and she begins to plot the most monstrous of plans to torture her sister while working on a comeback to the screen. It perhaps reads a little like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, but What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is altogether more disconcerting and freakish. We’ll watch as Jane kills her sister’s pet bird and feeds it to her, she’ll eventually do the same with the rats in the cellar, she’ll drag her up the stairs, kick her in the head and in one of the film’s most disgusting scenes perform a bizarre show-tune. Sometimes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is so awful to look at its almost parody, but I have a feeling that that might be the point.

But the film’s horror manages to hit home despite the allusions to parody, or perhaps because of it. Robert Aldrich seems intent on showing us how ridiculous and awful the human spirit can be. It’s more than the ageing makeup on Bette Davis, her entire demeanor indicates grotesquery and it’s even more distressing because it all seems to be so logical. The most horrific things are those which make sense, despite their awfulness, and that’s where Jane one-ups so many horror movie villains. Keep your Freddy Krueger’s and Chucky’s. Lock me up in a room with Baby Jane and I’d probably go crazy… if she’s not a horror movie villain, I don’t know what is.

By Andrew K from Encore’s World of Film & TV

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.

By Andy From Fandango Groovers

The Wicker Man (1973)

“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”

Let me ask a simple question: What scares you? Masked psychos lurking in the shadows, stalking you in your house or through dark and foreboding woods? Alien invasions, full-scale or otherwise, staged by extraterrestrial races with less-than-benevolent intentions? The dead rising from their graves to consume the living– or perhaps menacing you as malevolent spirits rather than shambling, rotting bodies? Perhaps you fear an encounter with a monster thought to be mythic and legendary, a werewolf or a troll? There’s no end to the myriad, ceaseless evils that filmmakers have unleashed upon the hapless characters of their movies for decades, nor to the number of locations and manners in which the victims-to-be might encounter them, but for my money nothing is scarier than something rooted in something real. Which is why almost forty years after being introduced into the world of horror, the residents of the Hebridean island called Summerisle still frighten me more than the deadliest wraiths and the most remorseless slashers.

The Wicker Man is the kind of film that purchases its fear directly from the stores of reality. Relaying the misfortunes of a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) who travels to the aforementioned island at the behest of an anonymous letter tipping him off to a child’s kidnapping, The Wicker Man quickly shifts from a crime thriller into something weirder, and eventually into something incredibly sinister (which, incidentally, occurs around the time that Christopher Lee’s character is introduced). Investigating the kidnapping, Woodward’s devout Christian policeman delves into the customs, rituals, and culture of the island folk– all of whom celebrate a form of Celtic paganism, which among other things involves sexual liberation, animal

sacrifice, and…well, I’ve said enough already. Watch the film for yourself.

Robin Hardy here aims to inspire suspense and dread not through supernatural or otherwise fantastical plot devices but through nothing more than human ignorance. And maybe Hardy’s greatest feat in The Wicker Man lies in the way he makes us, the audience, feel as much like outsiders and interlopers in this pagan community as Woodward’s rigidly Christian police officer. Truly there’s nothing sillier inherent to the belief structures of the pagans than to those of Christian doctrines, and yet it’s hard not to judge the island inhabitants for adhering to such an outmoded dogma as Woodward mingles among them. (And then again, it’s equally difficult not to do the same to the sexually self-repressed Woodward.) Walking away from the film’s climax we realize that in the end Woodward and the islanders could have learned an enormous amount from each other, but chose instead to clash over religion; in this way The Wicker Man seems to be holding up a mirror to human history, and the reflection is utterly sobering and disquieting. Few horror films since have managed to be so bold or brave, nor so deeply disturbing.

By Andrew C from Andrew at the Cinema

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

“Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!”

Anyone that knows me knows that I think Zombies are the end all be all of the Horror genre. And when it comes to Zombies, no one does it better than George A. Romero. Romero has made 6 Zombie films in his “of the Dead” series to date and while Night of the Living Dead is the Bible for all that follow, Dawn of the Dead remains the best film he’s ever made. Here’s the basic idea:

In this first sequel to Night of the Living Dead, a group of four people take up residence in a deserted mall while trying to stay alive amidst the armies of the dead and a vicious gang of militant bikers.

“Dawn”, or the one that takes place in the mall, succeeds on so many levels. First, who hasn’t thought about having free reign over all the stuff in a mall. It’s every consumer’s dream… regardless of whether or not the world is going to hell around you. Second, Zombies make such interesting baddies on film because (a) they’re just relentless and endless and (b) they’re basically us. I mean, what better way to make man take a good look at himself and what he’s capable of than to pit him against his own self. Another thing that makes “Dawn” great is that it was the first time that Romero also began to explore the world beyond people just trying to survive and began to look at the way the living would treat each other if ever they were in a situation where rules and laws no longer applied… turns out, not so good.

To this day, I rarely come across Horror films that are let alone good but offer up chills to boot. Dawn does both and if you haven’t seen it yet, well… get on that!

By Kai from The List

The Changeling (1980)

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

Nothing like a good haunted house flick to cheer you up when you’re sick and that’s exactly what The Changeling did for me. No, not the attractive Angelina Jolie. You’re thinking of the wrong Changeling movie. I’m talking about the classic one with the less than attractive George C. Scott. He may not be as easy on the eyes as Jolie but he can act circles around her which is a very good thing when it comes to this movie. Scott plays John Russel, a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a terrible car accident. A few months after their deaths he moves to Seattle so he can teach a music course in college and spend time alone composing on his piano. He rents an old home from the historical preservation society but soon finds that he’s not the only resident there.

While typical of a ghost story where the spirit searches for some type of justice and someone, obviously the homeowner, must put the spirit at peace, The Changeling manages to take that simple idea and make a grand conspiracy of it involving a senator and a large sum of money promised in a will. It isn’t very long into the movie that we get treated to the usual scares of the ghost film. Doors opening and closing, hushed whispers and strange visions. The film does manage to generate some dread and tension as it builds to these moments though. Early on the ghost appears in very subtle ways but as John moves closer to uncovering the secret surrounding the ghost’s fate we’re treated to much more intense and frightening situations.

The ghost goes from a simple spirit to a full on poltergeist and the events of the film become more frantic as the mystery unravels. It was nice to see a ghost story that doesn’t rely on excessively loud and sudden music cues to create the fear. Here we’re just left with images or scenes that are just plain creepy. One little ball in the movie is just as effective a scare as any killer jumping out of a closet! The film is apparently based on an experience that writer Russel Hunter had at one time and that story is as interesting as the film. This one probably won’t have your friends jumping out of their seats and cowering in fear but it’s an effective haunted house movie with some genuine moments of tension and creepiness.

By Will from The Film Reel

Poltergeist (1982)

“They’re heeeeeeeeeeere.”

When I think of scary movies and when I think of Halloween, my heart immediately leaps to Poltergeist, one of the most eerie, smartly written psychological mind freaks ever to grace the silver screen. It inspired the horror genre to be a smarter place and realize that things don’t have to jump out to scare you, what seems possible instead of extreme situations is far more terrifying.

It immediately whisks the viewer into a world of suburban reality. Every house is a cookie cut out of another, but the neighborhood continues to grow and grow. A typical family that is clearly happy, yet humanly flawed begins to experience strange events out of nowhere. Their youngest daughter Carol Anne begins talking to the TV and the dog begins to act manic. In the meantime strange electrical currents seem to be having an effect on the house, while summer storms are also plaguing the neighborhood. Nature seems to be out of whack, and clearly is when suddenly the furniture in the families home begins to move around. By itself. Suddenly lives are in peril, and a darkness invades the house.

This is still is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. The special effects never go too far, yet there is an epic feel to it, still balanced by realism. The characters are full on tangible, and never do you feel like yelling at them telling them how stupid they are. It feels like a real situation, where human curiosity becomes the catalyst for the impossible, and a nightmare that no one can wake up from. The creativity of Poltergeist, with it’s terrific writing and direction put it in the category of one of the greatest horror movies of all time, without question for me.

By Heather from Movie Mobsters

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

“If you strangle one, stab another, and one you cut up, and one you don’t, then the police don’t know what to do. They think you’re four different people.”

Evil lives in our world, and it rarely wears an obvious or garish mask of villainy. That’s a truth human beings prefer not to confront. It’s simpler to imagine that true evil is recognizable somehow, that it cannot hide beneath a pleasant-looking surface. John McNaughton, who shot “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986) on a paltry $110,000, understands this elemental human need … and he ignores it. His film is a crumpled snapshot of evil in its basic, most mundane form – a grim reality that can’t be shaken easily.

Talented as he is, McNaughton couldn’t create such a disturbing film without the right actor to play the killer, who must seem harmless enough to function in everyday life but be viciously single-minded in his goals. Michael Rooker, then a relative nobody, plays the part so monstrously well that it’s difficult now, 24 years later, to see him as anyone other than an emotionless murderer. Rooker is Henry, a polite, even-tempered drifter/serial killer who moves into the Chicago apartment of Otis (Tom Towles), newly paroled and not the least bit rehabilitated. When Otis discovers Henry’s secret, he wants to join in, and Henry obliges – but not before schooling Otis on the importance of never developing a traceable pattern. The arrival of Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) causes friction between Otis, who lusts openly after his sister, and Henry, who treats this lost soul with kindness and is flattered by her interest in him. But love and companionship, Becky will learn, mean nothing to Henry.

McNaughton based “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (very) loosely on the story of Virginia-born serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, which lends a feeling of authenticity to the film. More important than that, though, is the director’s pointedly unromanticized direction. He forces us to see through the killer’s eyes – as Henry sizes up potential victims, as Henry and Otis slaughter an entire family, videotape the massacre and watch it again for their own sick pleasure. McNaughton forces us to become voyeurs, and it’s the removal of that protective distance that makes “Henry” so frightening.

By Meredith from M. Carter at the Movies

Audition (1999)

“Happy people can’t act”

Takashi Miike has undeniably earned the title of Master of Horror, and it’s because he really knows how to harness an audience’s imagination. The horror industry is known for shocking, bloody, fright-fests, full of chainsaw-wielding bogey men, but I think that when it comes to scary films, less is oftentimes more. A good horror film is one that’ll give you that creeping sense of dread in the pit of your stomach and Audition certainly fits the bill. There’s nothing more chilling than gradually putting together the pieces of a puzzle that’s been gently nagging at you, and slowly coming to the realization that you’re being manipulated by someone you trust—especially when you’re under the impression that you’ve been the one manipulating her.

Aoyama is a middle-aged widower, and like most single men his age who are dipping their toes back into the dating scene, he’s pretty sure he can land a pure, young virgin—if only he could figure out where to meet one (modern girls can be so uppity these days, with all their book larnin’). So, in a stroke of genius, he decides to put out a casting call for actresses to play a sweet, young thing for some unspecified movie or play or something. You’ve seen this ad on craigslist before: “seeking model/actress, 18-24, attractive, good morals, no fatties!” Since most actresses are accustomed to the degrading audition process (being treated like cattle, revealing intimate secrets to strangers, then never hearing back from them) no one will ever suspect that there was never a real acting job. Unfortunately for Aoyama, this little charade is really only good for discovering good actresses—not good girls. (Queue the maniacal laughter).

Beautiful, innocent-looking, young psychopaths will always shock the conscience. (That’s why any good zombie film worth it’s salt will include a little girl amongst the ranks of the flesh-hungry undead.) Our natural instinct is to love and protect such a fragile creature like this, so we’re utterly horrified when we discover her black heart and unnatural appetites. And that’s even before she pulls out the piano wire and eye-acupuncture kit. Yup, films like this will always have a permanent home in the horror genre!

By Allison from My Film Habit

28 Days Later (2002)

“It’s just people killing people. Which, to my mind, puts us in a state of normality right now.”

A group of animal rights activists break into a laboratory, and, like big turkeys, release a monkey with a certain ailment. Said monkey is infected with Rage, a highly contagious, quick spreading virus that sends the host into a homicidal craze, causing them to run wild, killing and infecting everything they see. 28 days later, the entirety of England has been ravaged by the virus. Enter Jim, who awakes from a coma on to a dead world. As he walks through the abandoned London streets, he soon meets other survivors, and together, they try and escape the city and get to a military blockade. When they get there though, they find something far worse than the infection waiting for them.

28 Days Later… was a real game changer for the zombie horror genre. Not only was it the first of its kind to incorporate zombies infected that sprint, it was also the first of its kind that seemed possible. There was a clear explanation behind the outbreak of the virus, and the way it spreads and behaves, though heavily fictionalized, is quite believable, making 28 Days Later… all the more terrifying. But, it’s the quiet moments that really set Danny Boyle’s film apart from its brothers. Early on in the film, Jim walks through a completely desolate and abandoned London. There is not a single person in the streets. The only vehicles he comes across are stalled in the middle of the road, having been destroyed or ransacked. The only clues he gets to his situation are the out of date newspapers that litter the sidewalk and the posters of missing people that adorn the walls. What is truly amazing about this is that Boyle and Co. achieved these images with absolutely no special effects. That’s right! Zero! The shut down sections of London’s streets and then filmed the scenes. Those early images are incredibly haunting are truly frightening. 28 Days Later… keeps that level of terror up for the entire run time, despite the film going a little off the rails in the third act. Imagine that. A horror movie these days that is actually scary.

Pretty much every single modern zombie movie owes something to 28 Days Later…. Remember how cool it was to see zombies running in Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead? 28 Days Later… did it first, and better. Remember how, in I Am Legend, the shots of Will Smith walking through an empty city looked really cool? 28 Days Later… did it first, and without any special effects. Danny Boyle’s film ushered in a new era for the modern zombie movie. It did away with the usual conventions of the genre, chiefly the concept of a slow moving zombie that anyone could get away from. It was the first legitimately scary movie of its kind since Night of the Living Dead. That one was scary because the concept was brand new. 28 Days Later… is scarier because it takes that concept, and updates it to fit in the real world. Hey, it made me believe that a zombie apocalypse could happen. That’s gotta count for something.

Ok, fine, they aren’t really zombies; they’re diseased humans, but come on! Give a guy a break! Zombie movie is easier to write, say, and read then diseased human movie! Let it go (Here’s looking at you, Nick)!

By Sebastian from Films From the Supermassive Black Hole

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Adam: “Please… Stop…” Otis: “Stop?? Bitch, I have just started.”

Raw and unadulterated, this movie features an unsettling amount of violence brought on by this murdering clan of intensely evil people. The Devil’s Rejects (the sequel to the 70’s throwback House of 1000 Corpses) again follows the Firefly Family, the most vicious Texas backwoods murderers. Yet while the original was full of 70’s B-Movie weirdness to compliment the savagery, this sequel was just full on brutal realism.

The film opens with the Firefly Family barely surviving an incredibly awesome shootout (one John McTiernan or perhaps Luc Besson might approve of) and the entire film becomes a chase to bring the Fireflys to justice. Yet in the case of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), being that the Fireflys are responsible for the death of his brother, justice goes right out the window. He wants them to suffer and goes on a half-mad quest for their heads. But while the Fireflys are hiding/escaping the law, laying low just isn’t in their nature and they are still content to destroy as many lives wherever they go. Set to the best collection of 60’s/70’s folk music it’s hard not to like this movie even though you will probably never shake some scenes from your brain…ever. Unsettling is an understatement and this movie has been called “The Terminator of horror films” for a good reason. But there is some fun thrown in amongst the gasp inducing sequences and it all ends fantastically with the best use of “Freebird” I’ve ever seen in a movie.

The Devil’s Rejects is the kind of film you need to see because sometimes, when typical hack-n-slash horror won’t cut it, you need something jarring to cleanse your pallet of all the trite horror. I’m not saying you need to see The Human Centipede but give The Devil’s Rejects a shot especially for Halloween. In short this will rock your world. This isn’t for everyone but in this film which is basically visual blunt force trauma it is really really good in a really really bad way.

You see them walking down your street, you RUN the other way!!

By Marc from Go See Talk

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Vampires

leeThe first vampire I remember was Dracula. Depending on your age this may be Gary Oldman or Bela Lugosi (or any one on the other 206 actors listed on IMDB to have played him in film and on TV) but for me Dracula will always be Christopher Lee. The film was Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the second of the Hammer Dracula films from 1966. As I remember it was 1986 and it was shownpitt on Channel 4 as part of a double bill with one of the Hammer Frankenstein films. A few weeks before seeing the film I had been introduced to Christopher Lee but as a ten year old who had never heard of Hammer let alone seen one of its films had no idea who he was. Following that I watched many Hammer films particularly Vampire films including the other Dracula films and a few others including Twins of Evil, Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers and The Brides of Dracula. I loved all the old Hammer films but anything with Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing was my favourite.

lostAs I approached my teenage years I started watching more modern horrors like Sam Raimi and George A. Romero’s zombie films as well as the slasher films that where popular at the time. It is worth mentioning at this point that Romero also made a sort of vampire film in 1977, Martin. It isn’t up to the standard of his zombie films but worth seeing all the same. The only vampire film I remember seeing at the time was The Lost Boys in 1987. I think this was the first comedy vampire film I had seen but loved it. It wasn’t until about five years later that I discovered the 80’s masterpiece Near Dark also form 1987. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It moved vampires away from the supernatural and closer to the real word with victims saved with a blood transfusion and not a prayer or ritual. The nomadic family of vampires combined elements of road movie, serial killers and a darkmodern western. The main character Caleb is played by Adrian Pasdar who is probably best known as Nathan Petrelli in Heroes. A bleak but enjoyable film, possibly one of the best vampire films ever made. It was also around this time I first saw Tony Scott’s The Hunger from 1983. A film I enjoyed at the time but seeing it again years later I appreciated it even more. It explores the same themes of the loneliness of immortality as Interview with The Vampire that I will mention later. On the same subject there is a great book on a similar theme called Glittering Savages by Mark Burnell. It has been out of print for about 10 years but a copy often comes up on Amazon. Unfortunately it isn’t cheep, second hand paperbacks goes for £10 and hardbacks anything up to £200. I was lucky enough to pick up a hardback copy for £4 but haven’t seen it that cheep again!

The early to mid 90’s saw a wide variety of vampire films. Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1992 was horrendous, failing to work as a horror or a comedy. It did however spawn a successful TV series a few years later. From the same year and far better but not very well know is John (An American Werewolf in London) Landis’s Innocent Blood staring blood3Anne Parillaud (Nikita). It combines two genres vampires and the Mafia, sounds strange but it works! Bram Stoker’s Dracula also 1992 went back to Bram Stokers novel and created a story that was supposed to follow he book more closely than previous efforts. Unfortunately it introduced the love story that completely changed the tone of the story. Skilfully handled by Francis Ford Coppola it is still a good film if not a great one. Interview with the Vampire form 1994 also started life on the page. Adapted from Anne Rice’s 1976 novel. After Johnny Depp (who had previously auditioned for the part of Caleb in Near Dark) turned down the role of Lestat, Tom Cruise was cast much to the annoyance of the author and many diehard fans. As it turned out he was excellent relishing the role of carefree killer while Brad Pitt portrays a more lonely melancholic part. After that things got a little more art house as Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) and Michael Almereyda’s Nadja (1994) provided a cool stylish post modern take on the old themes. Look out for a cameo from David Lynch in Nadja.

The late 90’s also proved to have a varied crop of films but before I get onto them a TV series is worth a mention. In contrast with the slick American comedy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the British Ultraviolet (1998) was a stark, clinical and serious mini series that treated the subject matter as a more science fiction than a supernatural origin concentrating on blood and labs rather than wooden stakes and crucifixes. From Dusk Till Dawn from 1996 starts duskout as a sort of crime comedy road movie staring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino (who also wrote the screenplay) half way through it turns into a bloody violent vampire shoot-em-up! The film is memorable for two reasons, the first collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and an unforgettable entrance by Salma Hayek. The Wisdom of Crocodiles in 1998 provided a now rare British entry into the genre but is a grim tale that is largely forgettable. In the same year director Steven Norrington and writer David S Goyer reinvented the vampire movie when they turned the Marvel comic Blade into a movie. Blade moved vampires from either camp or creepy gothic horror to a slick modern action film. What they did wasn’t completely new, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires combined marital arts with vampire killing back in 1974 and the more comic Buffy the Vampire Slayer was already on TV with an all action approach to the vampires. Where Blade seems to differ from the predecessors is that it has caught on with films like Van Helsing and Underworld and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on an action horror in End of Days. In 2002 a sequel directed by master filmmaker Guillermo del Toro improved on the original (we won’t talk about the third film or the TV spin-off!). The by-product is that it has been much imitated leading to a lot of action/horror films that frankly aren’t very good.

kateThat moves us into the current decade. The big franchise of recent years is Underworld from 2003 and its sequels in 2006 and 2007. The second two films are utter rubbish but the first one is worth seeing if you haven’t already if only for Kate Beckinsale’s outfit. It is also a very slick stylish film that makes the most of its relatively small budget with great Eastern European locations and moody photography. It also introduces a great theme of a war between vampires and werewolves. In recent years that strange phenomenon of video games being adapted into movies has reached the vampire movie in the shape of BloodRayne (2005), unfortunately it is a terrible film! But the recently reliable source material for films, the graphic novel provides far better viewing with the first rate 30 Days of Night (2007) there are a few problems with the plot and there is a very poor sense of time and space but the action scenes are really well handled and there are some real make you jump moments as well as a completely new look for the Vampires.

raveThis virtually brings us up to date. Last year saw a great old name return to vampire films; Hammer released the film Beyond the Rave in short episodes on the internet. Hopefully a precursor to new Hammer vampire film with a decent budget and a theatrical release. The big release of the year posing as a vampire movie was the teenage romance/drama Twilightbased on the hugely successful Stephanie Meyers novel. Despite not being the target audience I have to say it is a well made and surprisingly enjoyable film if not a truetraditional vampire movie.  Have you ever wondered what would happen if Vampires really did take over, outnumbering humans; what would they drink? that’s exactly the question Daybreakers (2009) asks.  Surprisingly the high concept works and it is actually a surprisingly good movie.

I have clearly only described a tiny percentage of vampire films and haven’t even mentioned classics like Nosferatu or popular put overrated Salem’s Lot and I have only given Bela Lugosi’s Dracula the briefest of mentions. There isn’t space to describe every vampire film I have seen and have probably forgotten some of them! This is merely a look back at how I started watching vampire films and the ones that have stood out to me good bad or indifferent.

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Back in 2009, the first year of this blog I posted a Halloween special, the best Horror movies of the decade. In the first of a series of Halloween related posts, here it is again. Shortly after publishing Paranormal Activity was finally released in the UK, if I were to update my list it would be included.

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A special top ten for Halloween. The top ten horror movies of the decade. The problem with a genre list is that you don’t only have to pick films that are good enough for the list but also fit the genre, therefore although good enough to make the list Zombieland (2009) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) have been dropped as they are more comedy than horror.

10  Eden Lake (2008): A British horror thriller with a relatively low budget. From first time director James Watkins. The success and failure of the film relies on a great leading performance from Kelly Reilly. The chav, asbo, hoody kids of the movie are a clichéd Daily Mail representation of all that is wrong with modern society. The characters make stupid irrational decisions that symbolise bad horror. Despite these problems it is still a great little film.

Eden Lake

9 Drag Me to Hell (2009): 2009 is a special year, Sam Raimi is back to doing what he does best, horror with a comic twist. I shouldn’t have to describe the film, if you are reading a movie blog and you haven’t seen this film yet what is wrong with you? For those that haven’t seen it, it is the story of a young woman who becomes the victim of a supernatural curse that threatens to drag her to hell. It is funny, scary and shocking with no Lycia clad superheroes, everything a Sam Raimi film should be!

Drag Me to Hell

8 The Orphanage (2007): Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona the film had Guillermo del Toro attached as a producer, you would be forgiven for thinking it was one of his films. Full of layered characters and strong performances the film is more chilling and disturbing than actually scary but it will still make you jump from time to time. Like any film with Guillermo del Toro’s name on it the photography is nothing short of stunning.

The Orphanage

7 [REC] (2007): Fake documentary horror films with shaky cameras will always be compared to Blair Witch Project but once in a while there is a great example of the genre. This Spanish film is one such example. Set in the confines of an Barcelona apartment block the film chronicles’ the beginning of a zombie outbreak. The simple story with minimal plot and down to earth dialogue is elevated by charismatic performances and some really scary moments. Like the successful Japanese horrors of recent years the film has also had the Hollywood remake treatment.

rec

6 Switchblade Romance(2003): Original title Haute tension, released as High Tension in some countries is a French horror/thriller directed by Alexandre Aja whose remake of The Hills Have Eyes nearly made the list too. It is a simple story of two young women who are terrorised by a crazed killer, or is it? The film is graphic, bloody and violent, it really lives up to the tag horror!

Switchblade Romance

5 Ginger Snaps (2000): Whilst these days we are inundated with Vampire movies, 2000 saw the first good and original werewolf movies since An American Werewolf in London. The eponymous Ginger and her sister Brigitte are slightly weird and moody outcasts at school to begin with, then Ginger becomes a werewolf. This complicates maters somewhat! The film works as a visceral horror as well as a metaphor for puberty.

Ginger Snaps

4 Let the Right One In (2008): When you mention a vampire movie based on a book all people can think of these days is Twilight. While I don’t have a problem with the teen romance vampires of that particular saga this Swedish vampire movie offers so much more. The film centres on the relationship between a twelve year old boy and a girl who appears to be a similar age who turns out to be a vampire. The film explores lots of issues and lingers in the mind long after you have seen it.

Let the Right One In

3 The Devil’s Backbone (2001):  Set during the Spanish civil war The Devils Backbone is one of visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s best films. More an eerie ghost story than an outright horror. Told from the point of view of an abandoned child in an uncertain situation, the characters mirror the political turmoil of the era and setting. The film is both beautiful and unnerving.

The Devils Backbone

2 28 Days Later(2002): Zombies got reinvented as The Infected in Danny Boyles modern horror classic. Cillian Murphy awakening to a deserted London is an amazing creepy and memorable scene. Subsequent scenes offer some gruesome horror and genuine scares.

28 Days Later

1 The Descent (2005): With a relatively unknown cast Neil Marshall created a fantastic film. There is a great sense of foreboding from the start as the group of female friends descends into the darkness of a cave system. Foreboding gives way to unsettling before becoming seriously tense and scary. Great characters, strong performances and horrific images what more could you ask for.

The Descent

When compiling the list it didn’t occur to me until I started adding the photographs that most of my chosen films feature strong female roles often leading roles. Is this a pointer to an ingredient that makes horror movies good or just a reflection on my taste?

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Are American High Schools cooler than British ones? I grew up in England watching American movies and TV shows and rapidly came to the conclusion that they had a lot more fun in American schools than we where having. I know these films are all fiction or just taking the best elements and cramming them into ninety minutes but they were so much cooler than anything British producers could come up with! These films are all about Sex and drugs, the kids drove cool cars and the American drinking laws didn’t seem to stop them having massive parties. Looking back they weren’t having that much fun in Rebel Without a Cause and I am glad we never had anything like the “hazing” in Dazed and Confused but there are still some examples of high school movies that I look back on fondly. I am not talking about sports films or horror/slasher movies set in high school but films that are actually about the kids and their time in school. The one drawback, you have to be at least 25 years to graduate from an American movie high school!

Dazed and Confused: My favourite high school movie came out the year I left school. Looking back you recognise half the cast and wonder how they got so many stars including: Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Parker Possey and yes that is Speedle from CSI (Rory Cochrane) playing Slater the school stoner! Then you remember they were virtually unknown at the time. The story takes place over the course of the last day (and more importantly night) of school term in 1976. As with so many Richard Linklater films it was shot on location in Austin Texas a place that is becoming a hotbed for independent cinema. Set at the time the director would have been 16: although not as romanticized a view of the past as films like American Graffiti it does look back on the era with great fondness and fun. When watching the film you get the impression he did half the things the characters in the film did, and wishes he did some of the others! In 2004 ten years after the film came out three of Richard Linklater’s former classmates filed a lawsuit claiming he did not gain their permission to use their likenesses and surnames (Wooderson, Slater and Floyd) and now suffer from ridicule as a result of the film. From the opening bars of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion you get a vibe for what the film will be like and know the soundtrack is going to be great, with highlights including War, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple the music captures the mood of the era as well as the film itself. This is also captured in the classic early 70’s cars driven by the kids most notably O’Bannion’s Plymouth Duster, Wooderson’s Chevy Chevelle SS and Pickford’s Pontiac GTO. The underlying theme of the film is best exemplified by Woodersons credo Just Keep Livin’

“Man, it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what Randall “Pink” Floyd wants to do, man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N” 

The Breakfast Club: A film that has become so ingrained in popular culture that it is referenced in countless films and TV programs. The story is so simple it’s amazing it got through a pitch; it must have been something like. “Five kids all representing a different stereotypes, meet in detention, they start of hating each other but become friends by the end”. It is one of those films that could have been so much different if the casting had been different. Widely regarded as the stand out performance of the film, Judd Nelson (in one of his three good film roles, the others being Phil Hicks in Fandango and Nick Peretti in New Jack City) nearly didn’t happen. First they tried to cast Nicolas Cage but couldn’t afford his salary demand. Then cast Emilio Estervez in the part but couldn’t find anyone to play Andrew Clark so moved Estervez to that role replacing him with John Cusack (the only other person suggested who I can imagine in the role) before replacing him with Judd Nelson. He was then nearly sacked by director John Hughes because of his attitude and treatment of co-stars particularly Molly Ringwald, co-star Paul Gleason intervened claiming it was a misunderstanding and Nelson was simply staying in character off camera (he is known to be a method actor). There where also questions over Nelsons age, at 25 he was the oldest of the students in the film and played college graduates in two other films that year; St. Elmo’s Fire and Fandango. The film like so many of the directors other films is set in the fictional (no one told Jay and Silent Bob that!) suburb of Chicago; Shermer, Illinois and was shot on location in real schools. The interaction between the charters was probably helped as the film was shot in sequence having been rehearsed like a play. You leave the film wondering what will happen when the kids go back to school on Monday, will they still be friends, you just somehow know they are going to be okay. The balance between life affirming and rebellion is perfectly portrayed not just by the kids striving to be something else but by the janitor who comes across as being a lot more intelligent than the hapless principal.

“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out, is that each one of us is: a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

Heathers: Wow is this film is over 20 years old, that makes me feel old! Let’s start with the facts, anyone asking why I haven’t included Mean Girls, the simple answer is Mean Girls is a watered down imitation of Heathers and the Plastics are positively nice, friendly and liberal in comparison to the Heathers who are the most evil hateful clique in the history of high school movies. That is why the film is so good. Everyone who has ever been to school will have said they want to kill one of their classmates at some time. Most of us didn’t really mean it and the majority of those who did mean it had the sense not to do anything about it. Heathers is a great “what if” film. With the extremely black humour and high body count the events should not be taken literally in the way some of the other films should be, however the themes of alienation are a staple of the genre. A note on casting Brad Pitt was rejected for the role of JD as he was considered to nice for the role, if only they could have looked forward a few years to see Tyler Durden! Heather Graham and Jennifer Connelly both turned down roles in the film. So we ended up with a young Winona Ryder in her biggest role to date and a 21 year old Christian Slater who had been appearing in films and TV since he was 7. Slater is suitably weird; he starts out as the mysterious kid in school (every bit James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause) but rapidly turns into a psycho. A perfect film for him as for years to come you never knew what to expect from him, it was around this time he developed his off screen persona as a Hollywood bad-boy. There is a great device in the film where Veronica has virtually the same conversation with her parents twice, it is then referenced in a later conversation, it says so much about teenagers relationships with their parents. The hippy teacher or guidance counsellor has become a recurring joke and cliché in American films and TV shows but it was still fresh back in the 80’s and is played to perfection by Penelope Milford. It is also great to look back on the dodgy 80’s hairstyles and clothes. On a sadder note, two of the films stars died prematurely: Kim Walker whose character says “Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?” died of a brain tumour and Jeremy Applegate whose character prays he will never commit suicide at Heaters funeral later committed suicide with a shotgun.

“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, “Now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.” Now that’s deep.”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: A film that appears in lists of best comedies and best high school movies; however you look at it this film is a classic! That’s why it is the second John Hughes film in the list. Ferris Beuller (Matthew Broderick) is a high school kid who has everything going for him. He is doing well at school, he is very popular, has a perfect girlfriend and doting parents but from time to time decides to take a day off to help him get through the monotony of school life. On this particular day he decides to bring along girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck). His intention to give Cameron something good to remember high school by. Cameron also has something else going for him, the keys to his dads Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California (sadly a replica, or possibly fortunately a replica considering its fate). The film is basically a cat and mouse chase between Ferris and his nemesis’ his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) and Principal Rooney. Most of the action takes place out of school as the three friends have a day to remember in the city. Unlike the other films I have mentioned that gained cult status on TV and Video Ferris Bueller was a massive box office success taking over $70million making it one of the top 10 grossing films of the year.

 “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Other recommended viewing: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, early 80’s comedy with a young Sean Penn and written by Cameron Crowe. Say Anything, Cameron Crowe writes and directs this time, starring ever reliable John Cusack. Rebel Without A Cause, Nicolas Ray’s film is over fifty years old now but still good to watch, staring James Dean, Natalie Wood and a 1949 Mercury Coupe, also look out for a young Dennis Hopper who appeared in this and Giant with James Dean. The Last Picture Show is Peter Bogdanovitch’s 1971 film set in a small Texas town in the 50’s, a wonderfully bleak film. Rushmore is a curious little Wes Anderson film set in a private prep school, a fantastic cast including the geniuses that is Bill Murray. “Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, “What the fuck.” “What the fuck” gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.” The famous line from Risky Business an early Tom Cruise film that made him a star. Napoleon Dynamite is quirky comedy about a geeky high school loser. American Graffiti isn’t really a high school movie but well worth a viewing. Then we have the crossover films that incorporate sci-fi or fantasy into the high school movie: Donnie Darko is one of the best films of recent years and made overnight stars of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, if you haven’t already seen it go for the theatrical version not the directors cut. Back to the Future, one of the best trilogies ever but the 1985 original is by far the best of the three films. Not as good as back to the future but Francis Ford Coppola’s back in time high school movie Peggy Sue Got Married is also worth a look.

If you haven’t already seen them take a look at all these films. If you have they are all worth another viewing.

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Full Moon

The first part of the last part (if that makes any sense) of The Twilight Saga comes out next week. For those that don’t know the filmmakers have decided to split the final book Breaking Dawn into two movies just like the last Harry potter movie. Obviously this has been done for artistic reasons and not to squeeze an extra few dollars/pounds out of the faithful twihards. But lets be honest fans of werewolf movies aren’t really interested in Twilight, so on this night of a full moon lets talk real werewolves:  

Werewolves have always played second fiddle to vampires in movies, IMDB has less then two hundred werewolf movies listed, in comparison there nearly seven hundred vampire movies listed, over a hundred of them featuring Dracula. Many of the werewolf movies listed are actually vampire movies that feature werewolves. With The Wolfman coming out early in the new year it seems like a good time to look back at some of the best lycanthrope movies.

The Wolf Man (1941): Universals entry into the werewolf genre fails to live up to their Frankenstein and Dracula movies but is still worth a look. Although not the first werewolf movie it is responsible for a lot of the mythology that we now associate with the genre in a similar way to what Nosferatu did for vampires. The story and the plot work well as does the dark moody photography. The only real fault is that it does look dated, cheep and wooden in comparison to Frankenstein that is actually ten years older.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961): Hammer were better know for making vampire movies, in fact this was there only werewolf movie. Directed by Terence Fisher (also responsible for the studios best Dracula movies) who does a great job creating an atmospheric horror. Moving away from the usual bitten by a wolf origin, the story is always interesting and compelling but lacking the violence and gore of more recent movies of the genre. The real draw though is Oliver Reed who is outstanding displaying all the inner torment of the wolf-man.

An American Werewolf in London (1981): Classic is an overused word, and when it comes to comedy horror it is seldom justified, when referring to An American Werewolf in London it is more than justified. Following an attack by a strange creature, an American backpacker who has to deal with the becoming a werewolf and being haunted by his friend who didn’t survive the attack. The pre CGI werewolf transformation is still surprisingly effective nearly thirty years on.

The Howling (1981): Made by Gremlins director Joe Dante The Howling is a great early 80’s horror that dispenses with many of the conventions of the genre. The film plays out like a conspiracy thriller and in the sprit of All the President’s Men and The Parallax View the main character is a journalist. A film of the same era as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is less comical and more satirical but also in the conspiracy thriller style it is actually a little subversive, the wolf effects aren’t as good and look a little dated but aren’t bad.

The Company of Wolves (1984): Werewolves are viscous beasts whilst vampires are symbols of sex and sexuality, all that changed with The Company of Wolves. Loosely based on Angela Carter short story of the same name the film weaves a sumptuous horror fantasy around the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. The meaning of the film is left perfectly open to interpretation but is filled with themes of fear and desire and has an undercurrent of sexuality and loss of innocence.

Wolf: (1994): Wolf works best as a social satire, surprisingly grounded and realistic, the supernatural element is toned down. As a movie it actually starts to lose its way the more we get into the werewolves and the further we get from the human side of the characters. Jack Nicholson is surprisingly low-key for him and gives a strong performance but is sometimes overshadowed by James Spader’s brilliantly detestable yuppie. Michelle Pfeiffer is criminally underused, but makes the most of the part she has given as absolutely oozes with sexuality the way she did at times in The Fabulous Baker Boys and Batman Returns. Not one for gore fans but a good solid film.

Ginger Snaps (2000): Wit budgetary constraints comes artistic invention and Ginger Snaps $4million budget would barely pay the coffee budget on the Lord of the Rings movies. Fantastically developed characters full of teen angst, the film is more gritty, earthyand visceral than the pithy ironic style of most horror movies of the time. With themes of alienation, despair and transformation the entire film is a metaphor for teenage in particular puberty.

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001): loosely based on a real-life Beast of Gévaudan. A series of killings in France in the 18th century that caught the attention King Louis XV who sent professional wolf-hunters to solve kill the wolves responsible. Not actually a werewolf movie, but I like it so it makes the list (my blog my rules!). The beast (I won’t give away the plot for those who haven’t seen the film) is always a beast and doesn’t change form to or from a human. It does however do some vicious killing when let out of the shadows. There is also a plotline relating to the beast and a plot to undermine public confidence in the king, something that works well as the film is told in flashback from the time of the revolution. As well as some good horror the film is also a pretty good action movie, and best of all it features Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, what more could you ask for?

Dog Soldiers (2002): Soldiers on a training mission gone wrong in the Scottish highlands sounds like a rip-off of Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, in a way it is but writer/director Neil Marshall (who went on to make The Descent) isn’t afraid to borrow from the best, later scenes are equal parts Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead with the end being pure The Howling with a British spin. As is often the case film makers are at there most inventive whist constrained by a limited budget, this film is no exception making great use of their none CGI monsters. Again for budgetary reasons the werewolves spend a lot of time where they traditionally belong, in the shadows. The final victory of the film is the perfect blend of horror and comedy, something that is hard to get right.

Underworld (2003): Making the most of its relatively small budget underworld is a hugely stylish movie. The sets are amazing and the Budapest locations are used to full effect giving the film a perfect blend of modern and gothic horror. But the real victory for the film is the premise, the war between vampires and werewolves gives an extra dimension to the plot and means that the vampires have a worthy advisory. The wolves also end the film as the more sympathetic and virtues creatures, that makes an interesting change.

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