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Posts Tagged ‘Fay Wray’

Last night I visited the cinema to watch two perfect movies; Nerve and The Shallows.  When I say perfect, you may think they were instant classic movies that will contend all the awards and will rank amongst the greatest ever made.  Sadly this is not true, they are flawed movies that are average at best.  However, they are exactly what they are supposed to be,  they are disposable fun B movies.Nerve and The Shallows

The B movie started life in the early days of cinema using sets and stages from major pictures to make cheep films in an effort to maximise studios return on investment.  They were also a useful way of breaking new contract players into movie making.  The major studios were full of potential leading men and ladies, ingénue’s straight of the bus, a small number of whom would become stars.

Many of the B pictures became series, or followed a formula that would make you think they were a series.  Away from the eight major studios, the so called Poverty Row studios made nothing but B movies.  In the last days of the silent era and the early days of the talkies into the Golden Age of Hollywood, the B movie evolved into second features.  Throughout the 30’s and 40’s B movies were often genre pictures and usually clocked in at between 60 and 70 minutes for the poverty row studios and up to 90 minutes for the majors. As antitrust rules killed off second features, B movies evolved.  They continued to focus of genres; monsters, gangsters and cowboys were joined by the post war explosion in Sci-Fi.  The 60’s saw the birth of Exploitation movies.  Many of the directors credited as visionaries of American New Wave got their break in 60’s exploitation and B movies.

So back to last night’s double feature: Nerve is a teen (although most actors haven’t been teens this decade) satire on social media dressed up as an adventure thriller.  The plot isn’t as good as the concept and loses its way as it develops but is helped by engaging performances from Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.Nerve

The Shallows is an effective horror thriller about a young surfer who is stranded on rocks 200 yards from shore by a killer shark.  The surf scenes are well shot and Blake Lively manages to hold the viewers interest in a largely solo performance.  The plot is full of clichés and goofs but does feature a main character who doesn’t make the stupid decisions you usually associate with the genre.the shallows

So what is so good about the movies? They are 106 and 96 minutes long respectively.  If Scorsese or Nolan want to make a three hour masterpiece, great, they have proved they can do it, but do popcorn B pictures need to be two plus hours long? Simply NO!  Many two hour movies could be dramatically improved by being trimmed down to sub 100 minutes.  A perfect example of this:King Kong

If you watch the original, and still the best version of King Kong (1933) staring Fay Wray and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both uncredited) and run it alongside Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, you may be surprised at what happens.  The older film runs for around 96 minutes, and is ending at about the same time as Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody arrive at Skull Island.  In fact, you could watch the old film twice in the time it takes to watch the new one once.  Did beauty kill the beast, or was it boredom?

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The “scream queen” has been with us as long as cinema itself but became more notable and memorable when they became audible with the invention of sound (a synchronized soundtrack to me more precise). Possibly the and certainly the most famous scream queen was Fay Wray who appeared in many horror movies but is best known for the classic King Kong (1933). By the 1960’s the scream queen was an archetype of Hollywood movies, even Alfred Hitchcock got in on the act giving Janet Leigh one of cinemas most iconic scenes in Psycho (1960). During the 1960’s and 70’s British cinema developed its own batch of scream queens thanks in part to Hammer horror movies; the most notable of these was the Polish born actress Ingrid Pitt. By the end of the 70’s Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis had earned the accolade of being the “ultimate scream queen” following her role in Halloween (1978). With Halloween, director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis gave cinema a great gift, a scream queen who fought back making them heroines and not just eye candy and amusement. This is a trend that continued through movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Fog (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The interesting result of this is movies that are empowering when they appear to be exploitative.

Many people feared (and some hoped) that that Scream (1996) with its self (and genre)-aware characters and a more satirical approach would be the end of slasher movies and the scream queens that inhabit them, fortunately they where wrong. Detractors of the horror genre and the female place within it will dismiss not only the character but the moniker of “scream queen” as sexist or derogatory. I think these people somewhat miss the point of the importance of these characters within the genre. On a side point it is worth noting a lot of the so called scream queens are also noted for playing kick ass action heroines too, for example: Kate Beckinsale, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku.

This leads to the question who are the current scream queens? Thanks to her appearance in the original Halloween franchise (parts 4 and 5 1988/89) and Rob Zombie’s “re-imagining” Danielle Harris is widely regarded as the current scream queen. If you haven’t already check her out in the apocalyptic vampire survival road movie Stake Land (2010), a great low budget movie likely to appear in my top ten movies of the year. There are two other names that stand out for me, hovering somewhere between A list and genre pictures, they are talented actresses who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty (literally at times) in horror movies when they could have take the easy rom-com option.

Amber Heard: Her breakthrough role should have been All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006), sadly it sat on the shelf for two years and remains underappreciated. She also had a small but significant part in Zombie land (2009). More recently she starred in an American remake of And Soon the Darkness (2010). Also little seen, The Ward (2010 ) is the first feature directed by John Carpenter in the best part of a decade and the best for more than two decades. Despite its title and themes Drive Angry (2011) is more an action thriller than a horror but certainly doesn’t harm her credentials.

Melissa George: Following a successful TV career and numerous small parts in movies Melissa George took the starring role alongside Ryan Reynolds in the remake of The Amityville Horror (2005), she followed this with the Americans in peril abroad movie Paradise Lost (2006) also featuring Olivia Wilde. The highlight of her horror career is a choice between 30 Days of Night (2007) and Triangle (2009), the first an innovative and effective vampire movie, the second brilliantly constructed time slip thriller. Later this month sees the release of A Lonely Place to Die, a film I am really looking forward to having recently heard about it.

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