Who doesn’t like a great movie death? Well, people who abhor violence and gore on the screen. But I am not one of those people. Thus, if done right in terms of combining emotional context and cinematic imagination, there’s nothing I like more than revelling or lamenting a character’s end in fine bloody fashion. Lastly, I hear you ask why no Zahler, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Miike, Peckinpah, Jackson, Fulci, Roth, Romero, Argento etc. on this list? So much death and only six make it, so please suggest any of the thousands I have missed off in the comments.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
ALIEN (1979) – “Do these eggs taste off?”
I think it may have been something Kane (John Hurt) ate or maybe something that ate him? Anyway, one of the most spectacularly surprising scenes ever still holds amazing power to this very day.
THE FURY (1978) – Separated at death!
This under-rated tele-kinetic thriller is a spiritual sequel to Carrie (1976). Adding a spy conspiracy plot to Amy Irving’s rites of passage character arc, it has a whip-cracking-pace and classic DePalma set-pieces. None more so than the explosive end of the baddie-in-black.
PSYCHO (1960) – Take a bath next time!
What more can be written about one of the most shockingly original scenes in cinema history? Not only did Hitchcock break all narrative rules killing off the main protagonist halfway through, he did it with one of the most ingenious uses of montage, music and murder ever.
PULP FICTION (1994) – The original “face-off!”
Marvin never saw it coming. But let’s face it – none of us did!
ROBOCOP (1987) – Toxic Wasted!
Whoever designed this action scene, no doubt Paul Verhoeven had much to say, delivered one of the most excessive demises in 1980’s cinema. The vehicle crash, the toxic waste, the melting bad guy, the steam coming off his body and the final disintegration are just cinematic perfection.
WILD AT HEART (1990) – Bobby Peru loses his mind!
David Lynch’s vibrant adaptation of Barry Gifford’s romantic thriller contains many colourful characters. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru is a particularly nasty piece of work and he gets his comeuppance in an incredibly visceral and disturbing way!
In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.
If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.
Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11
THE BURNING (1981)
Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)
I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11
Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11
HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)
A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
MANIAC COP (1988)
I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11
RAWHEAD REX (1986)
A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11
RED EYE (2005)
A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11
ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11
REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)
So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.
In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO
Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.
The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME
Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally betweenAlien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.
Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse(Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME
Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.
Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.
Writer(s): William Bridges, Kate Trefey, Paul Dichter, Curtis Gwinn
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Cary Elwes and many, many more.
Number of episodes: 8
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS**
When Season 1 was released, Netflix’s phenomenally popular sci-fi-rites-of-passage-comedy-adventure-drama proved an excellent nostalgia-fest. Indeed, it evoked the 1980’s perfectly in design, sound and look, wearing Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences, not so much on its sleeve, but as a whole darned fashion show.
Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centred on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven, who’s on the run from a nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track down their missing friend during eight episodes containing weird and monstrous moments throughout.
I thought Season 1, while full of great design, style, suspense and mystery, was over-rated. It was still a fine work of entertainment but I found the story seriously padded out and stretched. While Season 2 is more generic it was a marked improvement as we got more pace and action. Season 3, though, is even better in terms of story-lines, pace and humour. Some may lament the move away from the mystery and darkness of Season 1, but Season 3’s humour, action and romantic sub-plots are turned right up to Eleven (pun intended).
Furthermore, amidst all the teenage romance crap, there is some fantastic gore and visceral monster goo on show. The Mind Flayer nemesis is an absolutely fearsome creature creation and way more convincing than the cartoon Russians. So, overall, I think this was my favourite season as it didn’t take itself too seriously. It just went for pure adrenaline and mind-bending chases and fights throughout. I didn’t even mind the John Hughes-style soppy romances.
Lastly, Season 3 isn’t perfect as it often verged on parody. This is notable in Episode 8, where we get a viral-bait version of The Never Ending Story (1984) theme song. Quite frankly, it was tonally inappropriate given the kids were being hunted down by Russian soldiers and an inter-dimensional monster at the time. Aside from this crime against genre occurring Season 3 is great because it featured a cavalcade of film references and homages. Well, let’s be honest, they basically stole a load of ideas from other movies.
So, rather than do a traditional review I will mark Stranger Things (2019) – Season 3, and then pick a TOP TEN movie homages or steals that featured prominently as a fun meta-bingo review. Obviously, I’ve probably missed loads out, so, if you care, let me know which ones.
Mark: 9 out of 11
TOP TEN META-REFERENCES IN STRANGER THINGS (2019)
RUSSIAN BADDIE — THE TERMINATOR (1984)
BILLY AND TOWNSFOLK ‘DOUBLES’ — INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 / 1978)
THE MIND FLAYER – THE BLOB (1958) / ALIEN (1979) / THE THING (1982) / TREMORS (1990)
STEVE AND ROBIN’S “WILL THEY, WON’T THEY ROMANCE?” — ANY JOHN HUGHES FILM!
THE BLACK WATER VOID – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
USA VERSUS RUSSIA — RED DAWN (1984), RAMBO 2 (1985) & ANY COLD WAR FILM!
BILLY’S DREAMS — DREAMSCAPE (1984) / NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
ELEVEN’S TELEKINETIC POWERS — CARRIE (1976), THE FURY (1978) & SCANNERS (1981) ETC. . .
KIDS ON A MISSION TO SAVE THE TOWN/WORLD (AGAIN) — THE GOONIES (1985)
FANTASY OLDER WOMEN DYNAMIC — RISKY BUSINESS (1983) / WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)