The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #21 – Nightbreed (1990) by Stuart Smith

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #21:
The Ecstasy of NIGHTBREED (1990)

nb1In the final part of our Ecstasy and Agony series, Stuart Smith steps up with a love letter to Clive Barker’s much loved fantasy horror…

I can’t quite remember any more if my first experience of Clive Barker was Hellraiser or this: the utterly fascinating Nightbreed. What I do remember is the effect Nightbreed had on my young mind, and how it was the start of an obsession I have with Barker and all of his works that still grips me to this day. I had no idea at the time I saw Nightbreed that Barker was a prolific author; I was movie obsessed and didn’t read that much at what must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. Suffice to say at that age I didn’t fully understand all the points and nuances that Barker was trying to convey with the film, I just thought it was cool. But the brilliance for me has always been the fact that I have always found something new to discover; whether it is unearthing the various subtexts or noticing the many visual details and flourishes that thrive in the backgrounds of many scenes. It has its weaknesses and certainly isn’t a perfect example of narrative cinema, but it has more ideas and creative spirit than most movies (horror or otherwise) can ever hope to dream of.

I sadly have yet to see the now famous ‘Cabal Cut’, but that doesn’t really affect anything here as the most important version in terms of my initial love for the film is the theatrical cut. With a notoriously troubled production and a studio that completely misunderstood the material, Barker was forced to release a greatly shortened version of the tale with greater emphasis on the slasher elements rather than the monsters of Midian. So Barker’s attempt to create the Citizen Kane of horror became more a Heaven’s Gate. But like Heaven’s Gate it has gained its fans and become far more appreciated as time has passed.

nb2Based on Barker’s novel Cabal it is the story of Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) a man haunted by dreams of a place called Midian, a place where ‘the monsters live’. Manipulated into believing he is a notorious murderer by his psychologist Dr. Dekker (David Cronenberg) he searches out Midian and discovers that: “It’s all true. God’s an astronaught, Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian’s where the monsters live.” Bitten by the beast-like Peloquin (Oliver Parker) he is gunned down by police at the gates of Midian. He rises from the morgue and returns to Midian to become one of the Nightbreed. But soon his ‘natural’ life begins to intrude on his new sanctuary and the forces of ‘Man’ begin to threaten the very existence of The Nightbreed.

As a young teenager I think I loved Nightbreed because of the monsters. They were just awesome, and it was fun that they were the good guys in a way. But as I have grown up with it I have come to understand how much I related to them at that time in my life. A celebrant of those who stand outside the accepted norm and add colour and diversity to the world, Barker has always been a story teller with a difference. Daring to go places that many artists wouldn’t dream of his stories are often journey’s into the dark fantastique that try to remind us that just because something is different or challenging, doesn’t mean it is evil or wrong. To a younger me who always seemed to stand apart from the crowd this was something that I found I could really identify with, and with Nightbreed a love of Barkers fiction, and a much deeper affinity with horror, was born.

nb3At one point in the film one of the many Nightbreed remarks that ultimately we envy them as they can do things we only get to dream about like fly, change shape, become invisible… But what we envy we destroy. This makes it wonderfully ironic that the film was so misunderstood by its producers and strangely fitting that the version that would make it into cinemas was something of a misunderstood monster itself. The theatrical cut undoubtedly suffers a little because of the interference of its producers, but it is a testament to the strength of Clive Barker’s voice that the film still manages to be heard. Despite their attempts to mould it into a slice and dice movie where David Croneberg’s mask wearing killer Dekker is more prominent it still manages to really be about Midian and its monsters. It does become convoluted and a little lost in its own ideas towards the end, but there is so much in every frame to enjoy that its shortcomings become almost irrelevant.

It also stands as a wonderful piece to bring together two different eras in horror. I have always loved horror as a whole genre and have never really had a preference in terms of sub-genre or era. I love the Universal movies of the 30’s as much as Slasher films from the 80’s and here Barker brings the two together. He admittedly lands on the side of The Universal Monsters era, presenting his beasts sympathetically and with character. But in Dekker he has created one of the most over-looked villains in horror. Whilst David Cronenberg may not be a great actor (he once remarked that he wouldn’t cast himself) he gives Dekker a cold detachment that is incredibly believable and chilling at times, and had Nightbreed been released under different circumstances that mask with buttons for eyes may well have become iconic.

DSC_0057Nightbreed stands proud as a testament to horror fans and their passion for the things they love. It has taken more than 20 years for the ‘Cabal Cut’ to surface and it is through the tireless efforts of fans of the theatrical cut that it has eventually seen the light of day. It may not have been possible in the pre-internet years, but I can’t recall ever experiencing such a passionate charge to find the footage and restore a director’s original vision to the screen. I have yet to see ‘The Cabal Cut’ and am eagerly awaiting the announcement from across the pond as to when it will finally make it to DVD and BLU-RAY. But until then we have this version that like the monsters of Midian is an underdog that has survived against the odds.

In fact I love this film so much that I had ‘We are the tribes of the moon’ tattooed upon my back!

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

#16 Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

#17 Jaws: The Revenge (1987) by Dean Sills

#18 Scream 4 (2011) by Joey Keogh

#19 Psycho (remake 1998) by Stuart Anderson

#20 Hannibal (2001) by Andy Deen

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #20 – Hannibal (2001) by Andy Deen

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #20:

The Ecstasy of Hannibal (2001)

hannibal1In our penultimate spotlight, UKHS boss-zilla Andy Deen looks at the grand guignol charm of the underrated Silence of the Lambs follow up…

Ecstasy and agony: the yin and yang if you will of the horror spectrum. A film you love but not necessarily your favourite – just something that means a lot to you – and also something you loathe but again maybe not your least favourite film. For my ecstasy I have chosen a film that causes much debate when I talk to film loving friends and that is Ridley Scott’s Hannibal.

Thirteen years on a lot of people forget just how huge Hannibal was. It broke box office records and that was without Jodie Foster who refused to return for her role as Clarice Starling. Also Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme turned down a return along with screenwriter Ted Tally, and remember all these won Oscars for Silence of the Lambs . But I am waffling so Okie Dokie lets get on with this.

My love of Hannibal started with reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris sometime in the late 1980’s , this introduced me to Hannibal Lecter. I then saw the film based on the book which was called Manhunter – a fantastic film with William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan and Brian Cox as ‘Lecktor’ (yep, total change in spelling). Next was my reading of Silence of the Lambs and then the Oscar laden film which won the Big Five (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director & Screenplay). Then I read Hannibal which blew me away as I finally got inside the head of Hannibal Lecter; OK the ending is dodgy and it all gets a little lovey-dovey but there are parts of that book that are true genius.

So on to 2001 and the Film adaptation of Hannibal, so what’s to love?

The major factor I chose to write about Hannibal was the soundtrack: it is simply the greatest film soundtrack – the end! The music immediately sets the scenes, it immerses you into the story with beautiful haunting qualities . But throughout Hannibal the music changes, if you listen you will notice that Mason Verger has his own theme running that changes and becomes more chaotic and perverted , and Hannibal Lecter onscreen is announced with just Cellos and Basses that are playing at the more extreme end of their ranges.
You have the delightful pianist Glenn Gould and his Goldberg Variation 25 by Bach, also throughout is Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz but there is one piece of music that lasts for a mere 4.20 that will forever move me.

hannibal2Vide Cor Meum was written by Patrick Cassidy but the libretto is taken from La Vita Nuova (The New Life) which is a 1295 text written by Dante Alighieri. Vide Cor Meum (Behold My Heart) was specially composed by Patrick Cassidy and specifically focuses on the sonnet A Ciascun Alma Presa. (I won’t go into the details of the meaning and lyrics but please visit the link at the bottom of the page for lots more information.) . The subject of Dante runs throughout Hannibal and again see another link at the bottom for more insight.
Also I had Vide Cor Meum played at my wedding and it was taken from the soundtrack so at the end of the piece Hannibal Lecter says “Tata H” which made me laugh .

After lauding the soundtrack then one cannot watch Hannibal and not be floored by the stunning cinematography from John Mathieson. From the sweeping wide shots as Starling drives to the Verger Estate to the magnificent shots of the stradas, canals, bridges and piazzas of Florence, Mathieson adds a layer of pure decadence to each shot and finds often beauty in scenes where there is total horror. One scene on the Verger estate with the pigs is truly mesmeric where there is total blind terror yet an immense calm at the same time.
On another note the Verger Estate in Hannibal was actually filmed at the Biltmore Estate the largest privately owned house in the USA , although it is now more a museum and hotel/conference centre.

Now as I write this I have realised that I could actually write an essay on Hannibal not just the 1K word limit, so please I apologise if I don’t actually review the film 🙂 . But the points here are just why I love Hannibal and not an in-depth analysis.

Lastly I will wrap up with a sentence on the five main characters.

Clarice Starling – Julianne Moore just nails it as Clarice and after the Oscar winning performance of Jodie Foster that is saying something !

Hannibal Lecter – Sir Tony steals every scene , he oozes malevolence yet here we also see a little vulnerability . Hopkins matter of fact performance even when he is at his most psychotic is just sublime.

hannibal3Mason Verger – Gary Oldman is almost at his crazy best here. He overacts and his oral delivery is brilliant. Just to hear him say “lunch”, “and nobody beats the Riz” and “would you like a popper and I said would I !” is an absolute joy. Also the make-up is awesome.

Paul Krendler – Ray Liotta is the slimy, sexist and despicable Justice Department official and is perfectly cast.

Barney – Yes Frankie Faison is the lovable and large nurse who in fact is selling off Hannibal memorabilia on the side. Almost as close to a friend as Lecter has it shows that maybe Hannibal had morals and only ate the deserving?

The sets on Hannibal are astonishing , whether it is Verger’s estate, Dr Fell’s library or Starling’s basement each are dressed to perfection to the very smallest detail.

I have gone this far and not even mentioned that Hannibal was directed by Mr Ridley Scott himself. And one of the reasons that people dislike the film is because of the style of Scott. The film runs so bloody smoothly that it does feel a little soulless at times and like it has had the life edited out of it. But the three acts that consist of Hannibal dovetail perfectly and what we are left with is a film which is not only aesthetically mesmerising but a horror film that has some really subversive moments and has you cheering the psychotic cannibalistic serial killer from the start. So not a bad job then !

hannibal4Does Hannibal have any faults? Hell yes, but that is not for now. For now is for me to tell you that when it comes to cinematic horror ecstasy then Hannibal is right up there. So why not pull up your leather Chesterfield armchair, pour yourself a glass of 1959 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and luxuriate in 131 minutes of decadent, over the top cinema.

More info on the soundtrack click HERE

More info on Dante in Hannibal click HERE

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

#16 Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

#17 Jaws: The Revenge (1987) by Dean Sills

#18 Scream 4 (2011) by Joey Keogh

#19 Psycho (remake 1998) by Stuart Anderson

 

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #19 – Psycho (Remake 1998) by Stuart Anderson

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #19:

The Agony of Psycho (Remake 1998)

psychoremake1Today on E&A, Stuart Anderson dissects Gus Van Sant’s pointless rework of Hitchcock’s classic shocker…  

Hate is a strong word and one that I don’t use very often. I like to think that I’m a reasonably easy-going guy with a healthy dose of a live-and-let-live attitude to people and life in general. In fact I would go as far as saying that there are very few things, and even fewer people, that I would categorise as ‘hating’. I will, just between you and me, freely admit though to hating a few things that make ones blood boil; bullying, aggression, homophobia, intolerance and carrots – boy do I hate those orange coloured vegetable bastards.

As for people, well again there are few that I would define as hating, though I certainly dislike a whole shed load of people who well and truly test my personal policy of non-violence. I pretty much hated a guy at school when I was 10, David Clark (and for many years afterwards as it happened) after he stole my prized possession of my favourite Dobbie marble and then gave it as a present to the girl in our class that both of us fancied. Bastard. I worryingly held onto that hate for many years until I found out that he was married with 5 kids, had turned into an overweight and balding no-hoper who had been in and out of prison for a range of petty crimes. Hows that for Karma, matey Davie boy?

When it comes to Science Fiction, fantasy and horror, there is much I love, much I dislike and only a very little I would say that I hate. In all honesty, it would take a lot for me to hate a movie and in truth the particular film would need to have a number of important elements to fully justify a full hate value. The film would have to be a remake of a classic for a start which no doubt would have to completely and catastrophically miss the point of the original. In addition it would have to be a lazily directed piece of derivative excrement, containing a cast full of performances so abysmally wooden that it would never fail to make me want to be physically sick whenever I merely think of the films title. Oh hello Psycho (1998).

It is virtually impossible to gauge the colossal impact that Hitchcock’s original masterpiece made upon it’s release way back in 1960. It broke in no small way countless cinematic and social rules of the time; A couple sharing a lunchtime of illicit pleasure on screen & overtly violent murderous acts, to name but two. Psycho (1960) should also be given credit for introducing, or at least re-inventing, a new type of horror film. Here the traditional b-movie plots of Gothic horror in medieval England or distant Eastern Europe were substituted by the possibility of everyday horrors that were real and known to us.

psychoremake2Psycho (1960) isn’t regarded by some as a slasher movie, but it should be. There are many in my fellow slasher-loving fraternity that point out the lack of blood and gore in the film, but does a true slasher film have to be so? Not only does is have a demented murderer slicing up perfect strangers in the middle of nowhere, it is also a lesson in intelligent and thoughtful storytelling and audience manipulation. In addition, the movie’s direct descendants in the 1970’s of the seminal slasher movies such as Halloween owe everything to the first in their line.

The plot I’m sure is familiar to most – but just in case you have no taste and have never seen it…..

The film begins with an office worker Marion Crane who is clearly unhappy during one of her lunchtime assignations when she realises she and her boyfriend cannot afford to get married. This problem seems to be potentially rectified when, on returning to the office she is entrusted with a huge amount of a client’s money to put into the bank. After a few moments of deliberation as to whether she should take the money, steal it she does and absconds from the town immediately.

As she drives onwards through a torrential rainy night she realises that she needs to rest and so pulls into the remote Bates Motel. Here we are immediately introduced to a shy yet polite young owner, Norman Bates, who offers Marion one of the many spare rooms in the Motel. As they chat Norman tells her that since the recent diversion of the main highway they don’t really see much business anymore. He seems nice………….
At first Marion feels in control of the conversation with this pleasant but very nervous young man, even after he also starts telling her about his mother, who Norman reveals suffers from some sort of mental illness. However, Marion soon starts to regret her immoral actions and after setting on returning in the morning to give back the stolen money she decides to take a shower………

psychoremake3And we all know what happens there…..
Soon after, a detective who has been charged with the task of tracking Marion and the stolen money, has been talking to her boyfriend and sister (Sam & Lila) and eventually locates the Motel. Here he is murdered on the stairs of the Bates house by a shadowy female figure, who has emerged from an upstairs room.

Sam and Lila, after losing contact with the detective decide to take matters into their own hands and make their own way to the town near the motel. Here they start asking questions about Norman’s mother…..
It doesn’t go well.

You may be asking whether this is the original plot or the one for the remake? Well it really doesn’t matter because in his infinite wisdom, the director, Gus Van Zandt decided to not just remake a classic, oh no, no no…….He was going to duplicate the hell out of it.

When Gus Van Sant decided not only to remake this, the most revered of all of Hitchcock’s films, but also to shoot a great deal of it frame-for-frame, there were many who shook their heads in disbelief. After seeing the finished product on it’s release in 1998 there were even more people simply wanting to shake the director by the throat.
There are so many aspects of this version to despise that this particular article could never hope to do it justice. But as I said to myself many years ago when given the chance to spend the evening with Gemma and her twin sister, Rebecca- “I’ll certainly give it my best shot”.

psychoremake4One myth that should be dispensed with straight away is the belief that this was a complete shot for shot remake- it wasn’t, but it was bloody close. The vast majority of shots, including the way why were angled and lit in the original, were copied exactly, As was much of the dialogue. For the life of me I’ve never been able to figure out if this was some of misguided homage to Hitchcock or whether Van Sant actually believed that he was adding something new and fresh to the story. I’ve got news for you Gus, sonny Jim, you were doing neither.

Then there was the misguided belief which old Gus obviously felt that the late 1990’s audience wouldn’t be satisfied with the lack of blood that accompanied the original. One of Hitchcock’s many master strokes was to make the violence implicit and suggested, so much so that even today when people are asked to describe the much lauded shower scene their descriptions invariably included far more recollection of blood and violence than there actually was. This wasn’t just genius of Hitchcock because there are a plethora of examples of so called blood soaked movies that in reality contain comparatively little; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, to name but two.

However when old Gus went bumbling into the the directors chair he seemingly thought that the audience of 1998 were a bit too thick to understand such complexities as the power of suggestion and the genuine feeling of terror that it can bring. He instead decided to uses oodles of blood in the showers scenes et al in an attempt to placate the appetites of a new contemporary audience. Fool.

Then there was the performances of the cast. Oh deary me. The catastrophic mis-casting of the all-important lead actor meant that the film was doomed from the start. Now, one could probably forgive the leading role of Norman Bates, as played by Vince Vaughn, because Vince is, well, crap in everything that he does. It’s really not his fault, he’s just a bit rubbish. So it’s probably fair to say that he was always going to be on a hiding to nothing when being compared to what was to become in the original, one of horror’s seminal performances.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho was almost note-perfect in his portrayal of a tortured psychopathic killer that gave us glimpses of textured acting that Vince Vaughn could only dream of. The genius of his performance was to hide the fact that beneath his shy and pleasant exterior lay a monster. You looked at this frail innocent looking boy and failed to comprehend the horror that he could be capable of. Unfortunately, it was also a role that defined Perkins’ career and for many fans it defined the actor himself – despite a string of awards and noteworthy performances that succeeded Hitchcock’s seminal masterpiece. No fear of that happening to you, Vincy boy I’m afraid.

psychoremake5If we can at least excuse old Vince then the rest of the cast don’t get off quite so lightly. Forget Anne Heche, because she’s also pretty rubbish in most things, but for crying out loud; Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H.Macey, Robert Forster and Phillip Baker Hall – these people are bloody good actors! Whether it was the fact that they felt constrained by the directors need to mirror as much of the original’s dialogue and scenes is impossible to know. They all have the look about them that seems to constantly have the “I thought that this would look good on my CV, but now I think i’m buggered’. Viggo Mortensen in particular seems that he would rather be anywhere else but in that bloody stupid cowboy hat.

There have been a number of catastrophic misguided failures when it comes to remakes – this one for me is quite clearly at the top of that list. It’s terrible and I hate it.

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

#16 Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

#17 Jaws: The Revenge (1987) by Dean Sills

#18 Scream 4 (2011) by Joey Keogh

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #18 – Scream 4 (2011) by Joey Keogh

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #18:

The Ecstasy of SCREAM 4 (2011)

Scre4mIn a piece every bit as surprising as the film itself -after all four-quels are hardly a sign of quality, as our previous E&A can attest – Joey Keogh discusses her love of Wes Craven’s stunning return to form…

With his 1996 slasher hit Scream, horror maestro Wes Craven used his vast knowledge, experience and indeed love of the genre to make us question everything we thought we knew about it, creating a self-referential masterpiece stuffed with tension, thrills, spills and laughs. A modern tale that pitched know-it-all horror fanatics fighting against – and eventually succumbing to – the pure evil of two stab-happy dudes in a shitty Halloween costume, Scream changed the horror landscape forever and made slashers once again a staple of it.

Funny, frightening and incredibly clever, the film turned the genre on its head in a way that nothing before it, or since, has managed to do, beginning with an opening sequence which killed off the most famous actress on the bill in spectacularly gory fashion. Scream 2 was much of the same, while three leaned a little bit more towards comedy than horror, disappointing purists and casual fans alike.

When a fourth instalment was announced, eyes rolled the world over. Scream 3 did well at the box office, but the fans felt cheated by it and, since fifteen years had passed since the release of the first film, we were understandably reluctant to believe that Craven could strike gold again. Especially so considering just how much the horror landscape had changed, with torture porn, paranormal found footage bullshit and Japanese spin-offs now being all the rage instead of old school-tinged slashers.

Thankfully, yet still somewhat shockingly, Scream 4 was a masterpiece in its own right; a brilliantly inventive return to form that, aside from just being scary, funny and hugely entertaining, also managed to deliver a social commentary on celebrity, and fame-obsessed youth culture. A remarkable step up from the disjointed third instalment, four was a reminder of just how good the movie that started it all was, while it simultaneously broke new ground in its own right.

scre4m1The fun starts with two cold openings, each a film within a film. Both are played to hilarious effect and star a bunch of familiar faces, all of whom are done away with in a gory and suitably over-the-top fashion. The actual opening is a far darker affair, which references the beginning of Scream, along with one of its most famous kills. It’s brave, brutal and chilling.

The new cast of teenagers immediately feel real and fleshed out, slotting in nicely with the three originals whose central relationship forms the centrepiece of the story. Even though it’s the funniest since Scream, the fourth instalment is also the goriest boasting the highest body count in the series along with the bloodiest death (in some poor girl’s bedroom, with her friends watching from across the street, unable to help). The scares come hard and fast, punctuating the steady narrative when we least expect them.

A sequence in a parking lot is nail-bitingly tense, while the idea of the killer terrorising the annual Stabathon (which I would totally attend) and filming the whole lot is wonderfully meta, and completely terrifying (as Gale points out, right before she gets stabbed herself). Long-time Craven collaborator Marco Beltrami, who handled the music on each previous instalment, once again delivers the goods with a screechy, scary, score that swells at the perfect moments and chugs at others.

The central idea of Scream 4 is that even when we think we know it all, we still don’t know enough. Ghostface may look silly but he’s quick, stealthy, and ruthless. He kills with terrifying ease and precision, terrorising the group not just because he can, but because he’s one of them. The film consistently refers to the fact that reboots have to one-up the original and thankfully Scream 4 does exactly that, managing to be scary, wonderfully gory, thrilling, hilarious and highly inventive throughout – even the cinema club don’t stand a chance, and they know all the rules.

scre4m2In a series such as this, the killers’ reveal is vital, and Scream has always prided itself on shocking us with the identity of those behind the mask. The fourth instalment botches it ever so slightly, but given how strong the film is, it’s easy to suspend disbelief for a moment to believe it’s actually the scrawny girly girl and the nerdy film buff running around in big boots and the long cape, stabbing everyone in sight – especially since the reasons behind the murders are fascinating, and they root the film in the real world, where people really are killing, or indeed dying, to be famous (“I don’t need friends” Jill explains, to a bewildered Sidney, “I need fans”).

Speaking of which, returning writer Kevin Williamson’s killer script is absolutely loaded with one-liners this time around, each of which is instantly quotable, and without it, the film wouldn’t stand a chance. From the cops’ discussion about their kind always dying in movies, to Gale’s description of Stabathon as a “meta” (even though she doesn’t actually know what that word means), Williamson’s razor-sharp wit keeps the narrative chugging along nicely.

He, along with horror fanatic Craven, ensures that we know these characters are highly self-aware, yet ultimately still doomed. Most notably, for a film of this nature, Scream 4 never once feels smug or self-satisfied, as it always ensures we’re in on the joke, as opposed to being the butt of it. In fact, the final line of the film, which of course comes from Sidney, is a standout as she tells Jill simply that the first rule of reboots is “Don’t fuck with the original”

scre4m3Scream is one of my all-time favourite films, and I cannot explain the relief and joy I experienced watching 4, in the cinema, on opening night. Not only was it awesome to finally be old enough to see an instalment in this near-perfect series the way it’s meant to be seen, but I was delighted by how true it felt to us as fans, as well as to itself.

It’s not a perfect franchise, and if the fourth instalment is the beginning of a second trilogy, then it could go either way. But, if Scream 4 is where this story ends, then it’s a hell of a send-off for Ghostface. Nobody does it like Wes Craven, nobody gets it like he does, and if there’s one recent film to which I can most easily relate, it’s this one – Scream introduced me to slashers, but Scream 4 reaffirmed my faith in them.

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

#16 Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

#17 Jaws: The Revenge by Dean Sills

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #17 – Jaws: The Revenge (1987) by Dean Sills

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #17:
The Agony of JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987)

jawsrev2UKHS’ chinwag king Dean Sills contemplates the pain of the far-from-Spielbergian shark shocker…

When it comes to a crappy movie that annoys me like crazy, it’s got to be Jaws: The Revenge. It’s a truly awful fishy flick; a major insult to not only Steven Spielberg’s original masterpiece but also every single great white shark swimming in our beautiful oceans. Am I being a little shellfish – sorry, selfish – in my opinion? Nope, because this bottom feeder from the director of 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is just taking the piss. Maybe someone should have put Joseph Sargent in the shark cage before he started directing this…

It’s by far the worst film of the Jaws franchise and said to be one of the worst films in history. Ok, why do I hate it so much? The shark effects are terrible and so laughable that you would think a Blue Peter presenter had thrown the fake shark together with some sticky-backed plastic, old washing-up liquid bottles and pipe cleaners. The plot is even more laughable with Ellen Brody, the main character thinking the shark is out for revenge on her and her family. Yes, that’s right, Brody! you will know the name because she is the wife of Police Chief Martin Brody [Roy Scheider], who has since died due to having a heart attack, probably caused by the fear of Sharks, water or listening to another music composer killing John Williams original score, “Dum Dum… Dum Dum… Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum.”

Ellen [Lorraine Gary] is still living in Amity. Her son Sean [Mitchell Anderson], now deputy sheriff himself, answers a call to untangle a buoy out in the sea and soon becomes Shark bait. She retreats to the Bahamas where Michael (Lance Guest), her other son is studying to be a marine biologist. Oh no; a job involving the ocean where Sharks live! Is the shark really smart enough to follow a person from New York to the Bahamas? And if so why didn’t it just take a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to get there?

jawsrev3Another reason why I hate this so much is the fact my Dad took me to our local cinema to see Jaws when I was a kid. I loved every little detail about the original movie, from the opening credits; the pure genius of Steven Spielberg making a movie where we never see the creature until well into the film’s second half allowing us to use our imaginations more; the superb acting from Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw; the film’s excellent score; the jump scenes especially the decomposed head that pops out at Hooper and the scene where blood squirts from Quint’s mouth; Peter Benchley fantastic story and the immortal line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” That was just pure filmmaking, a real classic.

Now what does Jaws: The Revenge have? Nothing at all. Even the Shark looked more real in the first movie thanks to using footage of real sharks from Australian experts Ron and Valerie Taylor, we have none of this in Revenge just a very fake looking Shark. We don’t get to know and like any of the characters in this just find them very annoying, like the new love interest of Ellen Brody, a guy named Hoagie [Michael Caine] a pilot who has the ability to keep his shirt and trousers dry when he is swimming in the sea. Not even a Harry Brown patch on his pants! Let’s face it, most of us would shit ourselves with pure fear after a shark attack but not Michael Caine; he just swims from his sinking plane and makes it to the boat to join the others, dry as a bone.

jawsrev1And let’s not forget the shark who has some kind of fishy psychic powers to knows where to find the Brody Family. I also find Jake [Mario Van Peebles] very annoying with his bad Caribbean accent and the fact the shark appears to eat him near the end of the film but he then pops up from under the sea covered in fake blood and all his limbs still attached, I really wanted the shark to eat him. We also see lot’s of silly flashback footage in this movie of Roy Scheider from the first movie. Why? Roy Scheider must have felt really crabby seeing this but thank god he was uncredited for the archive footage cameo.

I feel sorry for all the people who paid a few squid to actually see this in the cinema and those who paid for the DVD. I hope you all threw your copies away in the Whaleie bin because It’s just a load of scallops!

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

#16 Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #16 – Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #16:

The Agony of DEVIL’S DUE (2014)

devilsdue1After a short break, E&A is back! And so too is Mark Pidgeon, this time bemoaning one pregnancy-themed horror that should have been drowned at birth…

After devouring my cinematic ecstasy, the monumental task of divulging my own personal filmic agony was set upon me; an incredibly painful exercise that could feature a whole catalogue of terrible horror movies with absolutey zero merit whatsoever. For me though, agony personified was the recent “blockbuster” Devil’s Due.

I was actually looking forward to seeing this theatrically – thanks to its innovative and funny marketing campaign – and the subsequent rage which flowed through my body like some kind of super siyan power for days after was overwhelming and annoying: I walked around in a dazed stupor, muttering under my breath about that bloody devil baby and stupid shaky-cam footage.

After a lost night on their honeymoon, newly-weds are rushed off to some kind of party by a weirdo taxi driver-cum-cult worshipper and the female is impregnated with some demon seed. Now so far so interesting but stop right there: go watch Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby instead, a far superior and suspenseful tale of demonic impregnation. If you’re still hankering after a bit of Satan child after that, give the orignal Omen a watch; just avoid Devil’s Due at all costs!

This found footage garbage is devoid of any substance; instead it’s like being dragged through your own personal hell. And not in a good, crazy-screwed-up horror way either! It could’ve been a creepy little tale but instead director’s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett focus too much on intrusive cameras filming our lead couple that hinders and squeezes the life out of any sense of natural development. I’m actually surprised the cameras weren’t fixed to the damned toilets either, as this is certainly where this film goes…

devilsdue2The most obvious switch of a satanic doctor/midwife is bafflingly stupid too, and he does nothing to hide the fact that he’s bloody evil. I mean look at him! From that point, I really should have given up but no; I held out and was subjected to even more madness.

The film-makers themselves got so bored at the midway point they throw in three random teenagers allowing the possessed woman and showcase her devil powers,stupidly irrelevant to the couples story.

The scares are few and far between, any experienced horror fan will see the pay-off coming a mile off. In fact, just throw in all the clichés of satanic horror movies: priests getting nosebleeds, super devil powers(what is this super Devil Juice?), cravings for eating raw meat (even though she’s vegan), overt satanic symbolism and you have Devil’s Due.

The cult move into the most run down ,obviously creepy old building hideout(Scooby Doo where are you?) in order to monitor the pregnancy while they wait for the seed to develop, my god it feels like this boring movie takes nine months to end.

I’m sure the Devil himself would find this utterly repulsive movie garbage too; the whole film is more concerned with the last five minutes by which point I was bored to tears and very nearly sacrificed my own first born – which doesn’t even exist yet – to make it end. All this time they were just setting up a bloody sequel… Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

devilsdue3There are plenty more movies to seek out if you want some satanic thrills but please for the love of the horned one please don’t watch this film it doesn’t even fall into so bad its good territory. Sure, there is the argument that there are hundreds of films which are worse than this but I guarantee that every single one of them will have some tiny redeeming quality that makes them a million times more relevant than this life-sapping filth.

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #15 – The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #15:

The Ecstasy of THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

It’s the return of Oli Ryder today as he gets all mushy about his greatest genre love…

evildead1When asked to write about my very favourite piece of horror filmmaking, there was and will only ever be one answer: Sam Raimi’s masterpiece The Evil Dead.

I didn’t actually discover the film until a few good years into my obsession with all things horror. I knew of it and the uproar it caused back in the eighties as a near part of the Video Nasty scandal, but for one reason or another I kept verging off to discover other established classics. Finally, our paths would cross one fateful night…

On Film 4’s Extreme Cinema mini-season, the immaculately quiffed Mark Kermode gave a brief but pulse-quickening introduction of just what was about to come at me with all guns blazing. With the most innocuous of all horror film openings, where the creeping force POV (shot by Raimi running with a camera strapped to a board of wood) catches up with the hapless five college students of their way to an old abandoned cabin in the woods, no hint of the true horror of what’s in store is hinted at. It is only after they’ve crossed the bridge and start to approach the cabin that the chills really start to tingle down the spine.

At this point, all the noise has suddenly stopped and all that can be heard is the endless banging of the outdoor swing against the cabin wall… Which suddenly stops as soon as jock Scotty reaches the door. This moment never fails to put a big grin on my face as this is where the rush of fear starts to kick in. The film deliberately takes its time to have a slow build-up, establishing characters and slipping in lots of brilliantly chilling moments, like Cheryl’s hand becoming possessed, the sudden opening of the iconic cellar door and of course, the discovery of the Book of the Dead (the film’s original, less stark title) and the playing of the mysterious tape that resurrects the Kandarian demons.

evildead2Once the infamous tree-rape scene occurs, the film throws the audience into a bloody and disturbing assault course of fear that never lets up; it’s still just as effective now as it was over 30 years ago. It has always been interesting to me how many people view the film as a comedy. This could be down to the modern-day perspective of the special effects or the admittedly very hokey acting but for me, the film absolutely terrified me the first time I saw it and still gives me a great thrill every time I watch it. Whilst the demon make up is basic, I am always in awe of just how damn creepy they are all made to look! The classic image of Ellen Sandweiss’ head just sticking out from under the cellar floorboard is one that’s forever burned into my retinas.

The demon voices, all distorted and growling are also hugely effective; Betsy Baker’s shrill taunts of “We’re gonna get you!” are profoundly unnerving. The scares aren’t all about the extreme bloody carnage of dismemberment and torrents of blood, however. I’ve always argued that that there is a surprising amount of subtly to The Evil Dead that is too often ignored. The great mystery of just what happened to the man from the recordings or just what on earth he was doing deciding to see if the demon incantation really worked is never explained. On top of this, the malevolent force that stalks the group is never once seen for what it really is. I don’t know it’s just me, but I find the concept genuinely scary! Even if it’s made somewhat less scary when discovering the terrifying calls of “Join Us!” were made off-camera by Sam Raimi growling into a megaphone.

evildead3Technically, the film is a sheer marvel when its incredibly limited budget is considered. Resorting to the use of marshmallows, stop motion animation and milk, it says a great deal that the amount of carnage and gore displayed onscreen is still effectively squishy and nasty. Raimi’s camerawork is, without question, one of the reasons why the film still looks so impressive and is held in such high regard. Examples such as the ‘floating’ force pov or the incredibly bizarre angles that are employed towards the end of the film to give the impression of a totally warped reality are magnificent and clearly marked him out as a future visionary talent. My very favourite aspect of his directing here is just how intensely he is able to hold your attention and never lets the pace or the tension relent for even a second. I have seen the film countless times now and still feel like I’ve been put through the ringer afterwards!

Oh and of course, Bruce Campbell is the man. His Ash is the everyman, thrown into a hellish situation who somehow manages to pull through and survive. Despite doing all his own stunts, Bruce (in this film anyway!) is not the toughest of guys, and doesn’t even initially have the air of a leading man about him but that is why he has such an endless appeal. Ash is us, the viewer, and with such a proud chin, is just so darn groovy.

evildeadoliWhat comes through most of all in the film and possibly one of the main reasons why I cherish it so much, is that despite all the violence and gore, you can genuinely feel all the love and effort that went into the making of it. Despite cast-members having to wear painful glass eye contacts, the struggles of a limited budget and all the problems that can plague a small production, the film was gloriously unique and threw a bold marker down for the shape of horror to come. To my mind, it is still yet to be surpassed. It has a great story, awesome special effects and remains a genuinely scary classic!

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #14 – Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #14:
The Agony of CRIMETIME (1996)

crimetime1Today, Dave Wain re-opens old wounds and reawakens a buckload of suppressed memories as he discusses the immeasurable pain of Crimetime…

“Sometimes, watching a movie is a bit like being raped.”  Luis Bunuel

Video found me first. Cinema found me a good while later. I was an antisocial adolescent, a trait which seems to have followed me closely into adulthood! Kids parties where a group of yabbering boys would go off to the local Odeon to see the new James Bond film thankfully passed me by, but the onset of Uni and being away from home necessitated something extra to kill time. The VHS bug had taken over my life at this point, and after acquiring a car at eighteen I found my world expanding to the silver screen. Nottingham was the town, and the Showcase Cinema on Lenton Boulevard was the location for me to roll up to either two or three times a week. I habitually saw every new release that came out. I didn’t party, so while others were investing their student loans on bottles of 20/20 and cans of Diamond White, mine went on several hours of celluloid escapism every week.

The internet was in its infancy, so the days of meticulously cross referencing reviews on metacritic.com and checking the IMDb profiles of director, writer and leading cast were way off (what! You don’t do that?). Back then it was a case of waiting for the Nottingham Evening Post and flicking to the cinema listings to see what was on. Let’s not forget Empire Magazine either of course – a publication that now seems so deep inside the hip pocket of the major studios its practically tickling their balls. Back then however it did retain a level of subjectivity so you could at least glean a degree of information with regard to the coming attractions.

In any case – I didn’t need any help, I was on a roll. As with any new found obsession, it wore a cloak of impenetrability for the honeymoon period. It felt like every new movie that I went to see at the flicks had an air of superiority over its direct to video counterparts. “VHS? No thank you, I’m a cinema-goer now. That’s where all the good films are”. My arrogance was nauseating. I admit though I had seen some great movies since the start of the new semester and next up was Crimetime.

crimetime2My first awareness of Crimetime came via Empire magazine. Nonchalantly flicking through the rag, the sight of a dozen detached human eyeballs lining an ice cube tray certainly caught my attention. It was a full page notice for its forthcoming cinema release, a sparse advert with the tray being the focal point and the tagline “to be seen is to exist”. My interest was piqued, and then immediately heightened by the cast: Pete Postlethwaite and Stephen Baldwin. “Holy cow! The two guys from The Usual Suspects, back together in a film, this is gonna rock!” was my naïve response. Adding to that billing we also had Sadie Frost, Karen Black and Geraldine Chaplin, whilst behind the camera was none other than George Sluizer – oh yes indeed – The Vanishing guy! Anyway, November 29th rolled around pretty quickly and it was time to consume this greatly anticipated work.

Showcase really used to lay the American cinema experience on pretty thick. The whole place really stank of that intensified saccharine smell that could easily make you wretch as it could make you yearn for a syrupy hit. Back home on the rare visit to the local Odeon all we were exposed to were chewing gum stained carpets and foot odour from the adjacent Bowling Alley. My viewing time for Showcase tended to be the first screening, so I rocked up ready for Crimetime at the staggeringly unpopulated time of 11:45am and drifted through into Screen 9 within which I was the only occupant. Lights down, the Pearl & Dean jingle (that could easy perforate a vulnerable eardrum) up and running. Showtime.

For those who don’t know (which I hope is most of you, for your own sake), Crimetime was shot in London and centres around two lead characters. There is Bobby Mahon played by Stephen Baldwin in a career low performance (but more on that later) who is an unemployed jobbing actor desperate for a big break which soon comes thanks to Sidney (Pete Postlethwaite) – a serial killer. Doing well in the ratings is Crimetime, a crime re-enactment series in a similar vein to our very own Crimewatch. When some grisly murders start occurring around the capital, the producers of Crimetime need an actor to portray this serial killer on screen and thanks to a weary and dishevelled witness to one of the murders who inaccurately describes the killer, Bobby Mahon manages to get cast as Sidney.

crimetime3This break for Bobby is one he’s determined to grab with both hands, and he dives into the grim world of Sidney at full pelt which provides him with a level of expertise AND fame. With Sidney keeping fully abreast of Bobby’s new found success he feels inspired to step up his grisly pastime to create some more lurid and hideous crimes. But as the adage goes, if you’re not careful you’ll have someone’s eye out.

Stephen Baldwin… *sighs** … Stephen Baldwin. “Gimme the fuckin’ keys you fuckin’ cocksuckers blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh”. Such a crazed lunatic in The Usual Suspects. Someone who in every scene he was in managed to extract so much fear from the viewer. A loose cannon. In Crimetime though you almost pity him, he’s so out of his depth. With a haircut that would fit in better with the German 80s disco group Fancy, best known for their breakout hit ‘Slice Me Nice’, he goes all method in the role. This is such a big mistake as instead of approaching the character of Bobby Mahon with a degree of subtlety, everything is heightened, frenzied and distorted. After his first Crimetime shoot he remains in character when he meets his friend Val (Sadie Frost). Walking home he pins her up against a building, rips off her underwear (which seriously look like adult pampers – we’re not talking seductive lingerie here folks) and sets about committing to celluloid one of the least horny sex scenes imaginable with a level of gurning that would make Phil Jones  proud.

It’s hard even in his worst moments to be critical of the late Pete Postlethwaite. So many iconic roles from In the Name of the Father to Brassed Off… Even the fecking aberration of Suite 16 (seriously – check it out) ranked higher than Crimetime. In this he just looks lost. It’s like watching De Niro without Scorsese or von Sydow without Bergman. Even the supporting cast in Crimetime seem disorientated; how many times have you said that about a Karen Black performance?

I think the worst aspect of the film lies in its production design. Despite being made in 1996 it seems horribly dated. Each scene of the film is rooted in the decade prior to its release like some sort of abomination of a movie, disowned by its financiers only to be discovered years later during a warehouse clearance. This movie doesn’t have an identity: it’s a schizophrenic chameleon which shifts from horror to crime thriller to dystopian fantasy and all with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Worst of all it’s nearly TWO HOURS in duration which leads you to believe that either the wrong print got sent to the lab or that the editor saw the dailies and just simply walked out in sheer exasperation.

crimetimeThe screenwriter of the movie Brendan Somers has taken to IMDb a number of times over the years in an attempt to placate the scorn of the masses by declaring “Bobby was meant to be an utterly normal nice guy not the brooding presence that Baldwin was from word go”, and “Crimetime was meant to be a funny / clever/ nasty little slasher movie and I think the producers and financiers were afraid of that – the video nasty scare was still in the air.” Video nasty scare? In 1996? In any case, after a run of cinema orientated highlights my world came crashing down upon me on November 29th. For once cinema didn’t seem like that holy place where no mediocrity could bestow itself.

It felt vulnerable. I left Screen 9 in despair thinking how could this film of such potential turn out so poor. It was a wake-up call and one in which cynicism first entered my crazy world of movie-going. In the ensuing weeks I sat stony-faced through Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Feeling Minnesota and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Cinema was my knight in shining armour, but soon it became as infallible as any movie viewing format. Crimetime tipped the scales. It is without any doubt ‘MY AGONY’.

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #13 – Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

THE UKHS ECSTASY & AGONY SHOWCASE #13:
The Ecstasy of SESSION 9 (2001)

session91James Pemberton with the skinny on why he just can’t get enough of director Brad Anderson’s creepy cult hit…
To truly pick one film for this article, one film that I like and want to tell people about… Well it was a difficult choice at first. I could have written about any of the all-time classics, such as Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead etc, etc, but fair enough; I think there’s been enough written about them already. Instead, I’m picking Brad Anderson’s Session 9; one film from the last fifteen or so years that has really stood out to me.

Originally I viewed this as an off the cuff rental choice from my local video emporium – the now defunct Global Video – when I was on a Christmas break from uni in my hometown of Southport. What intrigued me was the cover most of all, with its tagline ‘Fear is a place,’ and the image of an abandoned wheelchair in a derelict corridor and a ghostly figure in the foreground. So figuring it looked good and having no idea where this film came from I took it home and watched it. What I found was a film that truly surprised me in its use of tension, atmosphere and disturbing incident. Most of all though, the abandoned asylum building used in the film was creepy as hell!

Our five main characters [amongst which are Peter Mullan and CSI: Miami’s David Caruso] are working on an industrial cleaning porject, clearing up a decrepit old mental hospitals asbestos ridden walls. The building hides a sinister past, and it’s dank, water damaged corridors and secret tunnels slowly begin to effect the members of the team. I don’t want to give too much away, but between the creeping dread and sense of utter despair, someone – or something – is causing the rest of the team to mentally fall apart. As the tensions rise, it’s only in the films final harrowing moments that everything is revealed; the damage caused on the psyche of those involved mirrored by the state of the building.

session92Like a classic horror flick, Session 9 relies on atmosphere to disturb its audience. One scene of violence aside, there isn’t much bloodletting going on at all. I don’t mind gore – when it’s well done – but when something relies on suggestion and sound, that really gets under the skin. The creepy recording sessions that would-be lawyer Mike (Stephen Gevedon, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson) discovers and plays, for example, are almost unbearably frightening. It’s these recording sessions in particular that act as a catalyst or even chapter points for the eventual unfolding events that occur throughout the film, leading towards to the horror of the eponymous Session 9.

Mullen and David Caruso work well with their characters, and, despite Caruso’s hilarious, classic off-colour insult of ‘FuuuuuckkkkkkYouuu’, their performances are strong enough to really help hold the film together. As mentioned before though, it’s the asylum itself that remains the star of the show: filmed at the then-abandoned Danvers State Asylum, which was eventually demolished to make way for luxury apartment complex, the building carries such an eerie and unnerving quality in and of itself. Even looking at some of the real life pictures of the building gives me a creepy feeling, and the use of this structure in the film adds a superb haunting atmosphere. It beats the creepiness factor of any number of reality paranormal Most Haunted style TV shows, especially coupled with Anderson’s use of slow panning and long shots that creep around the building. It’s ghostly, as if the netherworld at the dark heart of the building is trying to communicate with us.

To me, Session 9 is a great horror film. Even after watching it again in the run up to writing this, it still holds up and I still love it; you can come back to it and discover new stuff each time. From its first creepy opening title sequence shot of an empty wheelchair in a corridor, to its final climatic and disturbing conclusion, this film holds you, and drags you right into it. Like The Shining [unless you’re Stuart Smith – Ed], this film deserves repeat viewings.

session9It’s a shame that this film went to straight to DVD in the UK, and when it will eventually reach an anniversary point, it would be great to see this get a cinema re-release or even a decent DVD release. The history alone on the building would be an excellent addition to any special feature. But most notably this is brilliant and creepy horror at its finest, and one film that will stick in your memory for days after the final frame. If you can get to see this film somewhere, anywhere, be it on DVD, Blu ray or video on demand then watch it. It’s a gem.

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #12 – Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #12:
The Agony of MONSTER BRAWL (2011)

monsterbrawl1Duane Hicks is back, this time giving a half-nelson of hate to creature punch-up turkey Monster Brawl…

Cyclops vs. Witch Bitch. Mummy vs. Lady Vampire. Swamp Gut vs. Werewolf. Frankenstein vs. Zombie Man. They’re the kind of school yard wager match-ups a boy dreams of, not to mention the perfect subject matter for a film for monster fans.

Let’s go back to the summer of 2012 when, after months (nearly a year?) of anticipation after seeing the trailer on YouTube, I was thrilled to finally have a copy of Monster Brawl in my hands. An independent feature by Canadian filmmaker Jesse Thomas Cook promising a showdown of the world’s eight most legendary monsters at the Hillside Necropolis at midnight, I figured MONSTER BRAWL would be an instant, modern cult classic. How could it not?

I eagerly popped into the DVD player and sat at the edge of the sofa. I leant forward, eager to jump up and down and cheer for Frankenstein to crush some heads; for the wolfman to eviscerate his foes; for the cyclops to heroically swing his maul-like fists, and then miss his foes due to his lack of depth perception. So many questions too: If a zombie bites his opponent while giving him a headlock, will that other monster turn into an undead version of itself, and if so, how cool is that?! If the mummy uses his bandages to strangle an opponent, is it considered use of a foreign object? What will the physically weaker Witch Bitch do to best her opponents? Use black magic? Or sexy black magic? I had to know.

monsterbrawl2The disappointment was not immediate. I rather liked the way each monster was treated to a brief origin story, providing some promise, not unlike a first date wearing a warm smile, a lovely yet not too strong perfume and, if you’re lucky, showing a bit of cleavage. But it all quickly turned into a painful exercise in patience once the matches began.

Instead of a maelstrom of violence, Monster Brawl was like watching subpar professional wrestling match after subpar professional wrestling match after subpar professional wrestling match (and yes, I intentionally wrote that three times to convey the agonizing tedium of my viewing experience). Now our date is killing us slowly us with one-sided conversation about kitty cats, knitting, kitty cat sweaters, and knitting kitty cat sweaters. And urinary tract infections.

monsterbrawlAs our gruesome grapplers fumble around like they were in a very outdated video game, not even Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart, Dave Foley of “Kids in the Hall” fame, nor Lance Henriksen (or rather his voice doing a Mortal Kombat-like “Finish him” spiel) can rescue us from boredom. Our date has just confessed that she has a unique gynaecological condition called “vagina dentata” long thought to be folk lore or at the very least metaphorical but, no, it’s real. And she may be meowing mad due to something called Toxoplasma gondii, stemming from that litter box she never seems to get around to emptying. Too busy knitting, she says, as she starts chewing the skin off her hand.

And it’s really too bad, because Monster Brawl seemed like a no-brainer. Terrific premise, good monster makeup. And that’s why it is such a bitter disappointment. I’ve seen worse films, but had no expectations for them. But Monster Brawl could have—nay, should have—been something special.
Special like this ball of yarn and pair of dental forceps. Now where did I put that girl’s number …

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills