HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS – HALLOWEEN 2021 SPECIAL!

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS

Halloween is slowly creeping out of the fog and shadows. It’s a time of the year where horror films come to the fore. Personally, I watch horror all the year round, but it’s always fun when the genre pulls focus on the cultural calendar.

Rather than concentrate on current horror film releases, I thought it would be interesting to seek out chillers that are a tad less known. So, I had a scan through Amazon and Shudder screening platforms and unearthed several cult horror gems worth catching.

Some of these films come from the 1980’s period which encompassed the “video-nasty” era in the United Kingdom. With the advent of home video technology, the government suddenly got frightened about bloody and exploitational films and desired control. Censoring seventy-two titles and banning a flurry of films actually made people want to watch them more. This caused the government’s policy to backfire as people clamoured to watch “pirate” video versions of such films. In fact, it was in the living room watching forbidden films and the old Universal black-and-white classics where my true love of horror cinema began.

The following films may not have been banned at the time, but I was intrigued by how many of the titles I missed seeing on first release. Aside from Ben (1972), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and Phantasm (1979), I hadn’t seen the other titles. Therefore, if you’re looking for obscure horror films to watch then delve deep into the Amazon library. They have a fine feast of 1970’s and 1980’s fear inducing fare, many of them which were on the infamous “video-nasty” list. Dare you watch them!?



THE CAT OF NINE TAILS (1971)

An early Dario Argento giallo finds a blind puzzle-maker (Karl Malden) and dogged reporter (James Franciscus) investigating murders at a genetics lab. Aside from a couple of scary set-pieces, notably in a graveyard, it neither works as a detective nor horror story. It is however beautifully filmed with a vibrant restoration. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CHUD (1984)

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission track down missing toxic waste the New York homeless population are becoming victims to something monstrous in the sewers. An energetic sci-fi-horror hybrid combining a schlocky plot with socio-environmental themes. It’s not bad and actually quite funny, with early roles for John Heard and Daniel Stern whose acting raises the overall quality. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CLASS OF 1984 (1982)

I remember school kids raving about this film when I was twelve. I really wanted to see it, but could never find it in the video shop or from the “pirate” video guy. The plot merges The Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Death Wish (1974), as Perry King’s music teacher attempts to soothe the savage beast of a gang of nasty punk students. He fails and the final act revenge-driven rampage is fantastically inventive and gory. Latterly famous director, a young Tim Van Patten, portrays the psychotic, Peter Stegman, with vicious zeal. A true exploitational classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11).

HELL NIGHT (1981)

This is one of those films I had never even heard of. With a sizeable budget of $1.4 million dollars for a slasher film, it concerns four college students, including a grown-up Linda Blair, spending the night in a creepy house as part of an initiation ritual. Unfortunately, there’s a psychotic killer about hellbent on hunting them down. We’ve seen it all before, but it was nicely filmed and had decent humour. Overlong but way better than I thought it would be. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PHANTASM II (1988)

I reviewed the remastered version of Don Coscarelli’s low-budget masterpiece here, but only just got round to watching the sequel. Phantasm II (1988) had a bigger budget and suffers from some stodgy plotting. The re-casting of Mike with James Le Gros in the role throws you. Yet, once Mike and Reggie fight with the Tall Man (inimitable Angus Scrimm), the razor-sharp spheres and the hooded monsters, the film finds real pace. Coscarelli blows-up a lot of stuff and ramps up the weaponry, but the sequel lacks the twisted magic of the original must-watch horror fantasy, Phantasm (1979). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)



TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Another unknown mini-gem I found on Amazon. This Canadian slasher film is, you guessed it, set on a train and finds, yes you guessed it again, college students getting picked off one-by-one by a vengeful psycho. Notable for a really good plot which gives the killer empathy and understandable motivation, it also stars everyone’s favourite final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis. With disguise and magic prevalent in the themes, David Copperfield also appears in a neat role. Highly entertaining with a killer twist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)

Inspired by a famous urban legend, Fred Walton’s chilling suspense thriller has one of the most nail-biting opening twenty minutes in horror cinema. Carol Kane is the babysitter terrorized by a series of tense phone calls from a mystery ringer. From that terrifying start the story falters slightly as it focusses on Charles Durning’s obsessive search for the unhinged man. Only when Kane rejoins the film some years later does the horror rise up again in a truly frightening denouement. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WILLARD (1971) / BEN (1972)

This was an odd one because I knew and seen the sequel Ben (1972) when I was a younger. Little did I realise the original Willard (1971) had been released the year before and became a sleeper box-office hit. Bruce Davison is excellent as the introvert, Willard, who is bullied at work by his aggressive boss, Ernest Borgnine. Only when, and take a deep breath here, Willard trains an army of rats does he gain confidence to take on the world. It’s a weird film that actually works because of Willard’s fascinating character arc and Davison’s nuanced performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

The follow-up Ben (1972) focusses on Willard’s alpha rat, Ben, and his friendship with lonely kid, Danny. The sequel really raises the rat count and there appears to be thousands of them in their dirty lair. Danny is a likeable kid who suffers from a serious illness that prevents him from going out. Why he would make friends with a killer rat though is still frankly nuts! A lack of thrills and goofy premise make it difficult to recommend, and is more famous for the classic Michael Jackson hit called, surprisingly enough, Ben. Mark: 6 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Story by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming

Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnusson, Ana De Armas etc.

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Elliot Graham, Tom Cross,

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon Productions

*** NO MAJOR SPOILERS ***



As a Bond swansong, No Time To Die (2021) gives Daniel Craig’s earthy and human characterisation of the famous spy a tremendous finale. Indeed, it was a powerfully entertaining work of cinema, but was it a great Bond film? Not for me. Don’t get me wrong, all the creatives here from the director, art department, cinematographer, location scouts, costume design, scintillating cast, stunt team, production crew, the army of screenwriters and so on, have all worked prodigiously to create a wonderful example of blockbuster genre cinema. But it has many story and legacy issues that stop it from being a memorably pure Bond film in my opinion. However, I am not going to be critical in this review, but rather celebrate what is great about No Time To Die (2021). Thus, it’s time to revel in the fact Fleming’s fictional formula continues providing sensational diversion from everyday existence.

The choice to make No Time To Die (2021) a direct sequel to Spectre (2015), would not have been my preferred route for this narrative. Spectre (2015) is entertaining. It was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Not particularly.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically, it was strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing depth and subtext. Skyfall (2012) was also lusciously shot by Roger Deakins with fantastic direction from Sam Mendes. But neither Spectre (2015) or Skyfall (2012) are great Bond espionage adventures like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987), or a devastatingly plotted, romantic action adventure like Casino Royale (2006). Skyfall (2012) was an Oedipal soap opera with bells on, as ghosts of the past avenge the present. Spectre (2015) and No Time To Die (2021) continue the theme of vengeful and dysfunctional family ties bringing strife to Bond. But, nowhere near as successfully as Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale (2006). That remains one of the best Bond films ever.

Like Quantum of Solace (2008), No Time To Die (2021) is, as aforementioned a sequel, but the main difference is No Time To Die (2021) is way longer than Quantum of Solace (2008). The pace rarely dips in No Time To Die (2021), but it could certainly have been trimmed in places because at times I felt the screen was stuffed with too many characters and subplots. I must point out I’m aware that Quantum of Solace (2008) is not rated highly in the Bond canon, but I like it. I feel there are some incredibly filmed sequences in it. Notably, the opening car and foot chase, the opera shootout, a spectacular air conflict and the fiery desert lair denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace (2008) succeeded for me as a fast-paced and exquisite, if choppy, spectacle that tied up the loose ends from the far superior, Casino Royale (2006). Quantum of Solace (2008) infamously had no writers re-working it due to the ongoing strike, No Time To Die (2021), arguably has too many cooks and ingredients occurring simultaneously. Having said that Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a confident energy to the film throughout, connecting the emotions of the script and explosive box of tricks together in a neatly packaged presentation.


Daniel Craig is phenomenal in No Time To Die (2021). While he is always a strong actor, he has also grown into a bona fide movie star too. Even when going through the motions in Spectre (2015) he was good, but in No Time To Die (2021), he blows the doors off. While he does look too old for the role now, from getting blown up in Italy, to almost drowning in Cuba and facing off against Rami Malek’s malevolent poisoner on an island near Russia, nobody does almost-dying better than Craig. Moreover, as well as the constant threats on his life, crazy new technology that delivers instant death, and a litany of evil henchmen trying to take him down, Bond must contend retirement and having his place usurped at MI6 by the confident Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Having been set-up as a major story player, Nomi and this spy-versus-spy story pivot ultimately peters out for more melodramatic plotlines which I will not divulge. In fact, Nomi’s thunder is ultimately stolen by the CIA agent, Paloma, with Ana De Armas absolute dynamite in the smashing Cuban section of the film.

As with Spectre (2015), where there wasn’t nearly enough of Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek’s villain Safin is not utilised enough. Malek gives a haunting performance in a few creepy scenes, yet I felt cheated. I would have loved more exchanges between him and David Dencik’s eccentrically dangerous scientist. More scenes in the imaginatively designed island lair where all manner of deadly poisons were being concocted would have been brilliant, and further developed Safin’s intriguing backstory and fiendish plotting.

No Time To Die (2021) belongs to Bond and Daniel Craig of course, and they get into some barnstorming scrapes. The opening action involving motorcycle stunts and the iconic Aston Martin blasting the Spectre goons is an early highlight. The Cuban nightclub murders and subsequent gunplay really raises the pulse too. After the explosive boat sequence where Bond has a moving parting of the ways from an old friend, the action arguably becomes more generic and not as memorable. That is, THAT IS, until the unforgettable end set-piece where Craig’s 007 faces an insurmountable set of physical and emotional challenges. Lastly, some might say Daniel Craig goes out of an all time high, and no doubt No Time To Die (2021) is destined to knock the living daylights out of all prior Bond box office records.

Mark: 009 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

Directed by: David Lowery

Screenplay by: David Lowery

Based on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous

Produced by: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page

Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, etc.

Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


The quest to see The Green Knight (2021) has seemingly taken longer than Gawain’s mythical journey to meet his ultimate fate. Was it worth the wade through COVID determined lockdowns and distribution delays to the cinema to finally watch it on Amazon? Yes and no I would say as the filmmaking on show is of a visually magical standard. Yet, somewhere in the character’s bones is an emotional brittleness. I will expand.

Written and directed by the formidable filmmaker David Lowery, The Green Knight (2021), is based on the rites-of-passage trials of Gawain (Dev Patel), a young subject within the court of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) Camelot. Happy getting drunk and flirting with apparently loose women, one of which is Essel (Alicia Vikander), he is then faced with a challenge from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Meeting the gamble from this stunningly created craggy work of metaphor head on sets in motion a fight for his life on the road to symbolic discovery. Throw in some exquisite montages of ominous religious and magical subtext and Gawain must face his fears, fate and foes on a dangerous quest.



Once Gawain hits the dirt tracks, bloody battlefields and ghostly houses of this cursed land the The Green Knight (2021) really finds narrative impetus. Gawain’s confrontation with the Green Knight at Arthur’s court is certainly thrilling, but Lowery spends too much time creating poetic juxtaposition and magical image systems, which while beautiful, really slow the pace of the story. King Arthur’s kingdom and Sean Harris’ performance is somewhat downbeat and drab as less time is spent establishing Gawain’s characterisation.

Dev Patel is phenomenal in the role. He brings both strength and vulnerability. But what was Gawain? Was he a fool to be taught a lesson? Was he a determined individual desiring to prove himself? Was he out for revenge? Was he doing it for love? Who is he saving? What did he want? I was never sure. Thus, The Green Knight (2021) was in danger of collapsing under its own stunning visual pretension. That is until Barry Keoghan’s effervescent thief came along and raised the stakes and energy of the story. After that Gawain’s drive was one of survival as Lowery’s screenplay gave him a succession of devilish, deadly and seductive obstacles to overcome.

David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, Bong Joon-Ho and dare I say it, Stanley Kubrick, he takes familiar content and filters it through his own inimitable style and vision. His masterpiece thus far is the truly remarkable romance, A Ghost Story (2017), a low-budget indie gem. The bigger-budgeted The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power. But such adventure stories, for my taste and preference, need a hero with a clearer goal. Lowery gives the audience sorcery and existentialism and some nightmarishly beautiful sequences, while overall lacking clarity for Gawain’s personation. I imagine this is actually deliberate to counter genre expectations and make the viewer raise their game and apply meaning. I felt the same about Kubrick’s fatalistic, Barry Lyndon (1975), when I first saw that. Indeed, I have no doubt that on future watches The Green Knight (2021) is likely to be similarly revered as cinematic gold.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11