Archive for August, 2010

A. M. Esmonde talks Blood Hunger, photo shoots, film and horror in an interview with the Volts Show. From his thoughts on the modern vampire genre including Twilight to Hammer Horror.

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Ever heard of Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd? How about Robert Ludlum, the former are his pseudonyms. Ludlum has sold an estimated 290-500 million books, but more so for me he is the creator of Jason Bourne.
 
Sadly, aged 73,Robert Ludlum died 12 March 2001 during the development stage of Bourne Identity and only saw the TV version that aired in 1988 starring ageing Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith. While it was closer to Ludlum’s novel it had it dated badly and his Jason Bourne character needed an update, allegedly the charismatic author acknowledged this and was complementary of the changes and style proposed for the Doug Liman’s Bourne.
 
The film would send ripples across the movie world and wake up producers and influenced moviemakers. As a result good old James Bond was given a make over and action scenes would never be film the same again.
Below are my thoughts on the Bourne films, the legacy Ludlum left us…
 
The Bourne Identity (2002)
 
Thanks to Bourne, Bond was given that update make-over that was needed. Although a loose adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel it’s a far superior to closer rework The Bourne Identity (1988) TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain and ‘Angel’ Jaclyn Smith.
 
Matt Damon’s does a surprisingly great job, not just as Jason Bourne the character but against type cast, convincing the viewer that he’s a dangerous and physical spy. While the Bourne Identity is action packed with some fantastic fight choreography and car chases it feels realistically grounded as an effective espionage thriller.
 
The captivating screenplay by Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron gives the cast time to shine. Franka Potente Brian Cox and Chris Cooper are all on fine form and there’s also a small, memorable role by Clive Owen as an assassin.
The films has a great look and benefits from the real life European locations, Doug Liman’s direction is exceptional utilising a hand held style that has become common place in mainstream films since. The score is exciting and Moby’s theme tune is captivating, for such a high concept film Bourne Identity is very convincing,- it avoids clichés, has some twists and exudes atmosphere.
 
The Bourne Identity is must see.
 
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
 
In this action packed follow up Bourne is framed and is forced to take up his former life as an assassin to survive. The Bourne Supremacy is a gutsy squeal to The Bourne Identity (2002) using the character based on an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s best selling novel. Paul Greengrass takes over the directing reins for Supremacy, while previous director Doug Liman’s takes a producer credit. Greengrass maybe a little over zealous with the hand-held camera work, but continues the series more than effectively, successfully injecting some more energy into proceedings. In some ways the story is more interesting and complex than the first, again Tony Gilroy ‘s amazing screenplay avoids the clichés, dishing-out plenty of surprises and a major plot turning in the first minutes.
 
Brian Cox reprises his role as Ward Abbott and his character goes though some changes as the predicament and pressure he’s under increases. Like Identity there’s some fantastic fight choreography notably when Bourne, again played fittingly by Matt Damon, goes head to head with Jarda played by the understated excellent actor Marton Csokas. Julia Stiles returns as Nicky and new comer to the Bourne series Joan Allen as Pamela Landy is convincing. The cast are all first-rate including, Karl Urban of Star Trek and The Two Towers fame, as the Russian killer Kirill.
 
The ending leaves an upbeat intrigue that few films of this genre manage to stir. The Bourne Supremacy has a great look and again benefits from the real on location feel coupled with a complimenting score by John Powell, which leaves you wanting more of the same.
 
It’s intelligent and captivating, packed with car chases, assassins and political conspiracy. Damon again is Bourne this time deeper and more dangerous. The perfect sequel.
 
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
 
Director Paul Greengrass for this instalment Ultimatum picks up (before!) where he last on left off in Supremacy. It sharp, slick and entertaining rightly winning three Oscars.
 
Although loosely based on Robert Ludlum novels, close friends of his are convinced that he would have enjoyed these film as much as the viewers have had watching them. Again with great directing, fantastic gritty and atmospheric on location shooting, which includes a remarkably key sequence in London it doesn’t fell like a third film. Bourne again has to evade, out-manoeuvre, and outsmart highly-trained agents and assassins, while it might sound like old ground, Ultimatum comes with plenty of new surprises.
Like it’s predecessors it zips along at a fast pace with exceptional stunts and gripping dialogue. You know you’re in good hands when the original writer Tony Gilroy is still on board and Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne.
Albert Finney puts in a nice cameo appearance as Dr. Albert Hirsch who is partly responsible for origins of Treadstone and Bourne’s training. Although Brian Cox as protagonist Ward Abbott is sorely, but rightly missing, there’s enough unscrupulous officials played by seasoned actors Scott Glenn, Kramer, and David Strathairn who excellently portrays Noah Vosen to fill the gap. Julia Stiles returns as Nicky Parsons in a meatier role and Joan Allen once again superbly plays Pam Landy.
 
It’s has a gripping final act and once again the ended is exhilarating and emotionally stirring. It’s grounded, it’s understated it’s Bourne.

Planet of the Apes (1968) is without a doubt a milestone in novel adaptations and science fiction. As a series they touched on social unrest, evolution and the possibilities of space and time travel.

Four sequels followed Franklin J. Schaffner apes: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970); Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971); Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972); Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)followed apes quickly in secession and while the sequels were inciting the quality never did matched the original.

The TV series followed with Planet of the Apes (1974) and the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes(1975). The hastely speed in which they were made and released in amongst a toy spree (before the infamous Star Wars (1977) merchandising) is what probably lead to it’s downfall, in a way they slaughted the cash-cow and golden goose within 6 years.

In 2001 Tim Burtons reimagining was released and ten years later Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an original origin film that pays homage to the original 1968 film was released.

Below are my comments on the 1968 original, the 2001 reimagined version and 2011’s Rise…

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

In a personal bid to help his father’s medical condition a man’s experiments for a genetic engineering company leads to the dangerous development of an intelligence in apes.
Although it departs in many ways from the original films, it is a fantastic piece of entertainment in its own right. Rise of the Planet of The Apes mixes the right amount of character development with story, effects and performances capturing the imagination of a new generation.
Despite a good cast with great performances notably from John Lithgow and James Franco, it’s the apes themselves and Andy Serkis coupled with
some state of the art special effects that steal the show. 
Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa’s writing keeps the action and emotion somewhat believable, that Franco handles particularly well. The contemporary setting of San Francisco gives the film a familiar believable feel and it is a good contrast to the dark caged scenes and sterile lab sets. Patrick Doyle’s score compliments the action and stirs feelings during the poignant moments.
Rupert Wyatt’s direction ensures there’s enough surprises and action setups to give Rise momentum. Wyatt’s handling of Caesar manages to demand attention throughout with a welcomed display of edginess, danger and intelligence. There’s also an added odd eeriness due to the ape actions and glancing looks. In addition, the writers and Wyatt thoughtfully give enough nods to the original to humble fans and hints at possible sequels throughout to tease further interest.  
Overall, Rise manages to be an emotional ride, successfully grounding the concept of the originals while eradicating Burton’s 2001 missed opportunity. Caesar is home…

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Franklin J. Schaffner is never given enough credit when it comes to the genuine sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes. The talking points are usually the twist ending, or the late great Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall.

A philosophical sci-fi made in 1968 and nominated for two Oscars it still holds up today as a social parable, effective drama with a relevant and underlining social commentary. It’s the primitive depiction of an ape civilisation rather than technologically society made Planet of the Apes standout as the iconic film it is haled as today.

‘Apes builds up nicely, there’s a wonderful score, (groundbreaking for the time) by Jerry Goldsmith, creating eerie and ominous atmosphere with the first exciting ape reveal at about 30 minutes in.

The film is wonderfully directed and has a solicitous and thought proving screenplay by Michael Wilson & Rod Serling. That said source material was from Pierre Boulle’s very wry, whimsical and thoughtful novel. Astoundingly Boulle is also author of The Bridge over the River Kwai.

The few visual effects are sufficient but the ape make up is admirable and star of the show. Recognisable only by their voices Kim Hunter as human conservationist Dr. Zira and the anxious Cornelius played by McDowall are splendidly magnificent as they assist Taylor played by the boldly cast film legend Heston to escape the command of the apes. The attractive Linda Harrison, who plays Nova is effective and the British classical actor, in orangutan make-up Maurice Evans is outstanding, giving a weight of believability to the subject matter.

Planet of the Apes is an original science fiction must see.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Remake, re-imagination whatever you’d like to label it as, Planet of the Apes (2001) is inferior to the original 1968 film in almost every way.

That said, the make up is excellent, Tim Roth as Thade is fantastic, Colleen Atwood costumes are notable and Danny Elfman’s thumping score is an achievement. The spaceship sets and on the location night scenes have a unique atmosphere and edge about them. Even Mark Wahlberg tries his best to handle the half-baked script and there are a few welcomed cameos from some of the original cast.

On the flip side there’s some choppy editing, an uneven story, the ape city and the sandy finale are emotionless and uninspiring. Slipped in is some unnecessary humour, usually supplied by Paul Giamatti (aptly named Limbo) and you never feel any danger or threat from the apes apart from Thade. Also, there’s no likable characters to really root for. Nevertheless, nothing can save nominated director and visionary Tim Burton’s incarnation of Apes.

The fist ten minutes and the last two are probably the most attention-grabbing of this version but with an estimated budget $100,000,000 there’s no excuse for the travesty in between. Thankfully Rise of the Apes (2011) put the series on track.

If history has taught us anything it’s that father of three director/ producer Ridley Scott knows how to make a gripping movie.

Self proclaimed perfectionist born in 1937 Tyne and Wear, nominated and winner of Numerous Oscars, Scott is now surprisingly in his 70’s.

Rid’ Scott started in the TV commercials and become known for his stunning visuals, weeping landscapes and backdrops, at times coupled with a close-up of a character’s face in foreground. Scott has an array of films under his belt covering many genres which include The Duellists (1977), Legend (1985), Black Hawk Down (2001), Hannibal (2001) and Body of Lies (2008) to name a few.

While not part of the 70’s 80’s Hollywood in-crowd like heavy weights Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola and Scorsese, Scott’s seems to be the dark horse, a British, dry, witty guy and above all intelligent with a good business sense who loves a good cigar.

He has personally brought me hours of entertainment and if you are reading this he’s probably captivated you too.

Below are my thoughts both good and bad on a fist full of Ridleys finest moments.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Possibly one of Scotts most intricate and underrated films. Orlando Bloom plays Balian of Ibelin who after a committing a murder travels to Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century. Soon he finds himself defending the city and its people.

Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]With a fine cast including the likes of Philip Glenister, Liam Neeson and David Thewlis to name a few it’s a casting directors dream. Marton Csokas performance as Marton Csokas is exceptional and Michael Sheen has a small part and pivotal part (especially in the directors cut). Eva Green, Jeremy Irons and an unrecognisable Edward Norton are a great support. However, Bloom desperately wrestles with the substantial script and size of the film appearing a little uncomfortable at times. That said, even though he is the main character, the story, really revolves around the other characters. Balian appears more as a narrative tool.

The locations are breathtaking, from the misty woods and shores of France – to Holy sites of Jerusalem. Again Ridley, incorporating amazing sets and utilising visual effects, production designer Arthur Max, set decorator Sonja Klaus and crew painstakingly recreate the period. Janty Yates costumes are fantastic. Weapons, flags and props look authentic, all this attention to detail coupled with Harry Gregson-Williams score and John Mathieson Cinematography give the film a wonderful look and atmosphere.

All in all, one, if not the best crusade film ever.

Alien (1979)

Space, spaceships, androids and aliens, and no it’s not Starwars or Startrek…

Alien (The Director's Cut)Alien is a perfect blend of characterisation, visual effects, sound and score. What separates this from the two franchises above is the gritty realism, a brooding atmospheric and claustrophobic feel that has given the film both cult and classic status. So much so it spawned its own franchise.

The acting is provided by a perfect heavy-weight cast that includes John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. Dan O’Bannon’s screen-play, coupled with Ridley Scott’s visuals stop this becoming just another monster alien movie or space film. The subject matter is delivered completely seriously and you become immersed in the dread, fear and uncertainty as even the main characters get killed off (which has become common place these days). Who will be the hero or the heroine?

H.R.Giger creature designs of the face huger and Alien is the ace in the hole and Jerry Goldsmith score mixed with the sound effects gives the film a nightmarish feel that build up the tension to breaking point. Scott’s direction is outstanding, creating the most fantastic and memorable moments in film history which push your fear threshold.

Compulsive viewing for Sci-fi fans who want story over action or in this case a steak to digest instead of fast food. If you’ve never seen Alien what it treat it will be to watch it fresh.

Blade Runner (1982)

I must admit I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s and Blade Runner is one of his finest moments, panned by critics and by most on its release, it was ahead of its time on every level.

Blade Runner (Five-Disc Complete Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]Whichever version of Blade Runner you prefer, it has atmosphere, great costumes and a mood of gritty realism about it. The neo-cityscapes, the dark street life and polluted air; all paint a grim futuristic picture complimented by a Vangelis score; which is touching and haunting. The lines are memorable and there are fantastic performances from Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. Harrison Ford is perfect as the moody ex- Blade Runner and Joe Turkel should have won an award as the Frankenstein -like creator.

Blade Runner is quite a simplistic tale that is complicated by the fantastic visuals and effects. Lying beneath the plot that many writers contributed to, there’s heart and soul, questions of what it means to be human and even delves into our own mortality.

Its edgy hi-tech art-house that brings science fiction to life and while it’s not the most fulfilling sci-fi film it certainly is a fantastic visual experience.

American Gangster [Blu-ray]American Gangster (2007)

Consistent Ridley Scott recreates 1970s America in the true life story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a heroin kingpin from Manhattan. Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, an incorruptible detective, who works to bring down Lucas’s drug empire.

An interesting and contrasting character study on many levels, Russell Crowe performance is excellent, his personal life is in turmoil, yet he is totally focused on his work. Where as Washington’s character is in control of both his personal and ‘work’ life. Washington is on top form, equalling if not surpassing his Oscar winning performance in Training day (2001).

The costumes and makeup are excellent. The supporting actors give weight to the production and there are some memorable performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin and Ted Levine to name few.

I’ve seen both the theatrical version the 175 min extended version that includes approx. 19 minutes of additional footage. While the extra footage doesn’t jump out at you, the ending is notably different but just as captivating. For a lengthy film America Gangster zips along at a fast pace, accompanied by a great music soundtrack and a enhancing score by Marc Streitenfeld.

The 1970’s is painstakingly created with amazing realistic set design. Scott’s direction coupled with Harris Savides cinematography captures the feel and tone of the time. Scott not only recreates Manhattan but also Vietnam and the war is at it’s height. Credit deservedly should g to Steven Zaillian’s

A perfectly crafted film and gratifying cinema.

Robin Hood (2010)

I hold Ridley Scott in the highest regard, one of the most creative and demanding directors of his time. However, Robin Hood is an unequivocally unnecessary prelude to a timeless folk tale of a man who fights against the Norman invaders. The direction, subtle effects, locations and so on are remarkable and are what you would expect from the director of such films as Gladiator and The Kingdom of Heaven to name a few.

Robin Hood [Blu-ray]The cast is superb, a mix of old greats and new comers that include Max von Sydow, Cate Blanchett, Scott Grimes, William Hurt and Russell Crowe as Robin the legend himself. With a heavy laden script for the seemingly padded out story the high calibre actors’ graft their way through the latest incarnation of Robin Hood with ease. There are a few droll moments but the screenplay appears unsure if it wants to be another Disney, Costner Robin Hood or a serious war movie tackling issues of the time of corrupt politicians, generals and monarchy.

With an estimated budget of $200,000,000 and the acting talent and creative people behind Robin Hood, you’d thing Scott would have suited to tackling a period piece not centred around the rise of Robin Longstride. Due to this it leaves the viewer unsatisfied.

It’s a lengthy movie and there is much to enjoy, the score, performances, cinema photography, action scenes are admirable. However, as a Robin Hood film it’s a bit of a miss, and you can’t help feel that as the last reel runs that that’s where the story should have begun.

Gladiator (2000)

Despite it’s historical inaccuracies Gladiator without a doubt deserves it’s 5 Oscars. The story follows Maximus, a Roman general who’s family is murdered after he is betrayed and left for dead. While the story is echoes The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Gladiator revenge theme is far more ambitious and poignant.

Gladiator (Sapphire Series) [Blu-ray]Meticulous portraying the social and political issues of the time, proved director Ridley Scott united with David Franzoni story and screenplay single handily bring back the sword and sandal epic prompting a flurry of copycat films. The opening scene is astounding, the fights are incredibly choreographed, however, Gladiator is far from perfect, let down by a variety of CGI shots, the lack of grandeur that other epics have and several hollow palace scenes. That said, Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer score is exciting, emotionally moving as much as the actor’s performances.

Thankfully, Mel Gibson turned down the part of Maximus that Russell Crowe portrays with such conviction and energy. Even though it was Oliver Reeds last great performance and one of Richard Harris finest, as Marcus Aurelius, the new comers hold their own and are just as effective. Juaquin Phoenix. Connie Nielsen, Derek Jacobi and supporting actors are perfectly cast. Aside from the magnificent sets and locations to the cast credit it’s the ability to render the viewers concern for these characters is what separates Gladiator from being an run of the mill flick.

It’s no masterpiece but far from a gladiatorial coup de grace. Scotts compelling Gladiator is impressive, moving and exciting.

Prometheus (2012)

The near future 2089 Earths historical artifact’s and ancient paintings prompt an expedition into space to find our makers but puts the crew of the Prometheus in grave danger when they land on LV-223 in 2093.

Veteran director Ridley Scott gives Prometheus its own unique look and rightly so as the action, suspense takes place on LV-223 not LV- 426 as in Alien(s). Without getting bogged down with Alien (2122A.D) comparisons, this is a science expedition not a mining vessel. This change in location allows Prometheus to sit as a stand alone film.

Questioning our origins in a reasonable intelligent way the story written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is intriguing and makes this film stand above your average sci-fi. That said, Prometheus does raise more questions than it answers yet it’s ambiguity is what makes this film special and allows set-ups for future instalments.

It’s excellently cast and includes international actors Guy Pearce (who is sorely underused) Idris Elba as everyday man Janek and Logan Marshall-Green to name a few. Charlize Theron is astounding as Meredith Vickers, a hard nosed corporate mission director. Notably is Michael Fassbender as David who is every bit as interesting as Bishop and Ash with added a quirky ‘fondness’ for Peter O’Tool. Main protagonist Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace is not your typical Ripley clone and carries much of the emotion for the film.

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The effects are first rate, with the Space Jockeys, scenery, ships and Aliens wonderfully realised and rendered. Some of the effects are practical and look organic for the most part. The location and environment feels real and makes everything more palatable. A nod should go to Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography and Pietro Scalia’s editing.

Scott delivers a few standout creepy scenes some particularly gut turning, notably the arm breaking, infection and decontamination scenes- it captures some xenomorph magic.

Marc Streitenfeld’s music score is an effective mixed bag although is a little over used. Both writers and Scott ensure to include a few character twists and wisely incorporate some elements from the Aliens series (in keeping with that world) whether it be a vehicle, a line or setup to possibly appease die-hard fans but for the most part it feels fresh.

Prometheus tackles themes of origin, mortality and biological warfare to name a few and although it feels a little rushed it’s a grower just like the spores themselves.

What makes a good Thriller? I don’t believe there is a formula that makes a thriller, the aspects of a successful thriller usually revolve around the opposing forces of good versus evil, however, the line between good and evil can be very murky, it’s usually high-stakes…a ticking clock, life or death in the balance with some kind of realisation.

The thriller genre is packed with sub-genres and there are many classic thrillers. Hitchcock was the master of suspense thrillers, Rear Window (1954) and Dial M for Murder (1954) are two of my favourites. There are notable thrillers – Se7en (1995) ; Fatal Attraction (1987); Les diaboliques (1955) to name a few. From The Godfather (1972); Aliens (1986);The Usual Suspects (1995) to Jaws (1975) are classed as thrillers. While I wouldn’t necessary agree fully with all the categories of the aforementioned it’s clear that thrillers are hard to define.

 
Below are my comments on a few mystery thrillers that are  typical in some cases but in others definitive of the genre. I hope you enjoy my thoughts these thrillers, possibly seek them out or steer clear from them…


Angel Heart (1987)

P.I Harry Angel has a new case, to find a man called Johnny Favourite, only it isn’t a straight forward missing person’s case. Prefect, grounded, Alan’s Parker’s voodoo-laden, hard-boiled film is the ultimate mystery film.

This is without a doubt Mickey Rourke’s finest role. The supporting cast deliver some of the most interesting and story driven performance that include Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling to name a few.

You can feel 1955’s New Orleans warm rain, hear the jazz, taste the grit of 1950’s Brooklyn, the film’s Cinematography is amazing,. The films realism captures the time wholly, Trevor Jones mystery music builds up the tension as murders increase Harry Angel is drawn into eventful dangerous meetings. The dialogue is flawless and the ending has a mind-blowing twist that has been imitated but never surpassed. The Johnny Favourite theme tune will linger with you long after the end credits.

A timeless, eerie and realistic atmospheric classic. Perfect.


The Game (1997)

Wealthy financier Nicholas Van gets drawn into a live-action game that consumes his life. Douglas perfectly portrays the characters journey, excellently written by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris.


It’s a psychological thriller packed with intrigue and suspense, a creepy clown and feeling of helplessness. Supporting actors are an array of familiar faces that include flawless performances from Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

The flashback scenes of a younger Nicholas are captured beautifully by cinematographer Harris Savides and Howard Shore’s score heightens the pivotal moments elegantly.

 The Game is an exciting Hitcock-like yarn, with a principled message of wealth and youth, it’s a fantastic thriller with amazing twists and turns from David Fincher. A must see.

Basic Instinct (1992)

Known at the time for its nookie and infamous cross-legged interrogation scene, 50 San Francisco riot police had to be present at every location to deal with picketing gay and lesbian activists, it’s hard to believe the film caused such a stir at the time.

Michael Douglas plays a police detective investigating a brutal murder, in which a beautiful and seductive woman could be involved. It is without doubt Sharon Stone’s best and most memorable performance, as writer Catherine Tramell, who taps into every mans fear of being lied to, rejected and so on.

The supporting cast are effective, it has a few familiar faces in there. Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza and Leilani Sarelle are surprisingly good. That said, Douglas who gives great performance does seem miscast especially in the night-club, where he gurns and sports a jumper that will stick in your mind forever.


Despite the dramatic score being over powering in places it adds to the film stylised charm. Director Paul Verhoeven keeps set ups interesting and writer Joe Eszterhas puts in enough twists, albeit clichéd, to keep you interested.

Arguably less effective than Al Pacino’s 1989’s Sea of love, Basic Instinct is a big budget solid thriller that still stands up today.

Shutter Island (2010)

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniel’s and his partner investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is apparently hiding on the remote Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese again demonstrates why he is one of the worlds best directors. The CGI is unnoticeable and only used to create the imagery of Shutter Island. A WW2 concentration camp, Dachau, is recreated for a disturbing and key scene. Scorese perfectly recreates the 1954, bring the best of location, sets, lighting and sound together to deliver a fantastic psychological thriller.

The cast is a fine line-up that includes Leonardo DiCaprio who manages to get away with the complexity of the characters situation; Swed’ Max von Sydow is on usual perfect form. Zodiac (2007) and Collateral’s (2004) Mark Ruffalo is excellent, although a little under used as Daniel’s partner. Thankfully Ben Kingsley has taken on a role worthy of his abilities as the empathetic Dr. John Cawley. In addition, Ted Levine and Elias Koteas show up in almost cameo appearances.
There’s plenty to like about Shutter Island, it exudes atmosphere, and it’s foreboding and eerie. The story tackles alcoholism, mental heath and asks the viewer to question what should be perceived as a dream and what should perceives as real. It’s an intriguing mystery that not since Angel Heart (1987) have I seen such a well constructed psychological period film. Credit must go to the Laeta Kalogridis’ screen-play and Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Possibly one of Scorsese’ best films.

The beauty of black and white photography aside, today’s black and white motion film is usually used as a nostalgic gimmick, with exceptions of the likes of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994). Apart from the obvious monster classics of the 30’s and 40’s there are countless black white (b/w) films regarded as ‘classic’. Purists and b/w  fans would probably have me locked up and flogged but I must admit I really do not think b/w adds to the aesthetics of a film. I would argue that the feel and atmosphere can stir the same emotions in colour pallet. To sum it up in a sentence, we don’t see life through our eyes in black and white.
 
Nevertheless many great films were made in black and white and some of those were very influential horrors which I’ve commented on below. I hope you enjoy and possibly seek out if you not seen them already…
 
 
House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Allegedly rousing Alfred Hitchcock to make the horror film – Psycho (1960), and while the setting is not as lavish as The Haunting (1963) the House on Haunted Hill is an entertaining 50’s movie.


Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren played wonderfully by Vincent Price invites 5 people to the house on Haunted Hill for a “haunted House” party and they’ll get $10,000 if they survive the night. The quirky house owner, Mr. Pritchard is played entertainingly by Elisha Cook Jr. and the rest of the cast are good enough.

Vincent Price is without a doubt the best thing about the film oozing charm, wit and panache. What is interesting and worthy of note is Robb White’s writing of the adultery plot that build the tension and interaction between Price and Ohmart. They are reminiscent intensified versions of the characters in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954).

While the stories ‘twist’ is well developed the large modern 50’s house story is not. There are some creepy moments that include the striking Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren but the lighting and sets are so crisp it fails to create any real brooding atmosphere and sadly a movie of its time, the women shriek a lot.

Should the house itself has been more traditional this may have been a near on perfect black and white chiller. Still, it’s good fun and worth checking out on a quiet dark night if even just to hear Price’s deep tones.
 


The Haunting (1963/I)

Dr. Markway is undertaking research to prove the existence of ghosts and decides to investigate Hill House. He is accompanied by a sceptic, a clairvoyant and an insecure attuned psychic. Even though made in 1963 it is still very enjoyable even if a product of its time.

Nelson Gidding screenplay is based on novel “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. The Haunting is an archetype haunted mansion film, superbly directed by Robert Wise. Excellent, painstakingly designed sets, amazing use of sound effects bringing to life the things that go bump in the night, which all add to the eerie and spooky atmosphere.

Richard Johnson plays the perfect English gentleman, Dr. John Markway. Russ Tamblyn as the cheeky chap is amusing, Claire Bloom as ‘Theo’ the lesbian, at the time a risky role for mainstream cinema. The supporting cast of quirky characters are all fantastic.

My only complaints are is that the movie, for effect only, was unnecessary filmed in black and white. In addition, Julie Harris’ superfluous voice-overs are distracting.

It’s exceedingly atmospheric, foreboding, creepy and while the scares and terror are not as frightening to today’s audience, it remains a classic, psychological, genuine and suspenseful horror.


Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero has readily admitted that Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls influenced in his making of Night Of The Living Dead (NOTLD). For me, they’re both low budget, both filmed in black and white and both are chilling creepy in places.

Both went onto be get ‘lost’ but unlike Carnival of Souls, NOTLD was haled by critics abroad, who saw it not just as another horror movie, but a film that reflects society. Romero has gone on to define a genre, a feat that very few have accomplished. Many films have been influenced and have imitated George’s creation but few successfully.

NOLD is seeped in history and has become as intriguing as the chiller its self. There’s really not too much to comment on that hasn’t already been said before. The dead are played mindlessly well. Duane Jones is a fantastic lead actor and stands out, an actor ahead of his time but the others are less convincing.

The stock music is bold, and the sound is an adequate mix but all these things with their faults add to the charm of this little horror classic.

It’s dark, gloomy and entertaining but more importantly it was a turning point in horror history.


Carnival of Souls (1962)

A true horror classic Director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford both waived their earnings in order to get the film made. Upon release in 1962 the film was a failure in the box office, thankfully its subsequent airings on late night television helped to gain it a strong cult following so Clifford and Herks work was not all in vain.
The delightful Candace Hilligoss is perfectly cast as the troubled woman that after surviving a traumatic car accident, that kills her two friends, becomes haunted by a frightening ghoul and drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival. It’s a shame that Hilligoss only acted in two features as she gives an impressive performance as Mary Henry.

The music is very creepy and a little too intrusive in places, however, for it’s time and budget it is a well crafted film. Carnival of Souls many not be as sleek and stylish as the Haunting (1963) but it is far more eerie. The zombies are not as imposing as in Night of the Living Dead, however, they are vastly creepier and macabre.
Oozing atmosphere it’s a creative and unnerving film that concludes with a common place twist but back in ’62 it was ahead of it’s time, a true cult classic.
 

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The tag-line read ‘By night they leave their graves, crawling, shambling, through empty streets, whimpering, pleading, begging for his blood’ if that doesn’t grab you as a horror fan, nothing will. Remade many times since as The Omega Man (1971), I am Legend (2007) to name a few, Richard Matheson novel I am Legend has been a wealthy piece of source material.


Despite Matheson feeling that Vincent Price was miscast in the lead role, Price gives a sterling performance as Dr. Robert Morgan who is the survivor of a devastating world-wide plague. Morgan is tortured by his dreams and his solitary existence trying to find another human still alive. Price’s distinguished voice and acting really gets the viewer hooked and caring for his character who is harassed by vampire zombies seeking his blood every night.

While not a faithful version of the novel it is well crafted by Ubaldo Ragona, who incidentally only directed a handful of films. Ragona’s work clearly influenced Romero’s set up of the horror classic Night of the living Dead (1968).

Admittedly The Last Man on Earth is slow in places and the music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is bland and of it’s time. Nevertheless, the locations are great featuring, bleak backdrops and curious architecture which leaves the viewer disconcerted.

What this unsung black and white chiller gem demonstrates best is that The Last Man on Earth shows what a fascinating and captivating actor Vincent Price was.
Roman Polanski, Academy Award-winning director nominated for Oscars for “Tess”, “Chinatown,” and “Rosemary’s Baby” pleaded guilty in 1977 to a count of having unlawful sex with a minor, acknowledging this he fled the United States before he could be sentenced. U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1978.
He declined to collect his Academy Award for Best Director in person when he won it for “The Pianist” in 2003 to avoid being arrested if he enters the U.S.
On 26 September 2009, Polanski was taken into custody at the Zurich airport by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities, however, on 12 July 2010, the Swiss authorities announced that they would not extradite Polanski to the U.S.
After establishing himself as one of the most important international directors in the 60’s and 70’s he was unsurprisingly shunned by Hollywood for this unlawful act and the ‘80’s were uneventful for Polanski, directing only two feature films – Pirates (1986) and Frantic (1988).

Ironically for some his private life makes him more known than his films. Many years before his arrest, sadly, Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 while staying at the Polanski’s Benedict Canyon home above Los Angeles by members of the notorious Charles Manson ‘family’.

Polanski, now in his seventies, still lives in France and aside from his interesting personal life and his critical achievements I like to share with you my thoughts on his three most underrated and splendid thriller films Frantic The Ghost Writer and The Ninth Gate.

Even though these three films were appreciated by some critics they were not nominated by any major guild or festival for best picture, which in my opinion is a crying shame and while not perfect they are of no lesser interest than the aforementioned critically acclaimed Tess and Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby.
What is notable about these films is that they are anti Hollywood in style, Frantic’s Euro-subtlety and The Ninth Gate in it’s odd narrative and The Ghostwriter in it unconventional settings.
There’s no coincidence that all have solemn endings and it easy to see why Polanski would be drawn to such projects.

Known under a few different titles The Ghost Writer borrows some of the serious and grounded elements of Roman Polanski’s Ninth Gate (1999). The tight thriller follows Ewan McGregor’s loner character, a ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), who becomes accused of war crimes. The writer soon uncovers a conspiracy that like his dead predecessor puts his own life in peril.

The lighting is superb, plenty of shadows adding to the ominous atmosphere, the locations and sets are attention-grabbing, with an unusual beach house setting and motel at one point. Alexandre Desplat’s score puts the viewer on edge.

There are fine performances from a cast of familiar faces including Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach, and Liz Hurley look-a-like Olivia Williams. Both Kim Cattrall and James Belushi go against type cast and deliver their best work in a long-time. Despite Brosnan’s shaky accent, he’s on good form playing the ex PM, Adam Lang perfectly.

Like with most of Polanski film’s there’s no overboard story telling, everything is subtle, natural and down to earth. There’s no need for big explosions or fast paced cut’s. McGregor is exceptional as an everyday man out of his depth. The tension is builds up slowly, taking time to immerses the viewer and follow the story from the Ghostwriter’s point of view. Credit must goto Robert Harris’ novel and adaptation of an intriguing, topical story but this film interestingly demonstrates not only what a great screenplay writer Polanski’s is, but like the Piano shows what he can do with a bigger budget.

It’s well crafted suspense thriller, admirably, Roman Polanski makes a mystery as good as they used to be.
In Frantic Harrison Ford offers his best performance a character study of a man who, tamed by his peaceful and conformist existence is forced into a seedy and risky dangerous world.


Written by Polanski himself alongside Gérard Brach. It has a classic Hitchcock narrative and appreciates the rules of the genre. From beginning to end, the director shows a deep discipline by the way in which he visually conducts the narrative, establishing and preparing each shot, framing and revealing in a methodical.

Although Frantic never gets ‘frantic’, the title refers to the psychological aspect of the narrative, it’s an edgy and suspenseful story. The pace of the movie is very slow but worth the wait as Dr.Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) is caught up in a web of Parisian night-clubs, drugs, seedy characters and terrorist games in order to find his kidnapped wife.


This is a tight little thriller which Roman Polanski has tackled in a personal down to earth manner without big guns and explosions. The characters are believable and you get caught up in Richard Walker’s (an ordinary man in an unordinary situation) journey to find his wife.

Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner’s (Polanski’s wife) performances are top-notch, the chemistry between the unlikely pairing is the making of the more interesting, tense and memorable scenes. Ford’s Doctor Walker changes from a desperate fish out of water, to a driven survivor, while striking Seigner (Michelle) goes from self-centred drug trafficker, to heroine. The supporting cast are fantastic, an array of crazy characters including- french tramps and desk Clerks, to bumbling American officials and dodgy French cops.

Polanski’s direction is excellent and the movie is worth a watch just for a nostalgic look at 80’s back street Paris. This is a fine production accompanied by an excellent memorable score from Ennio Morricone. Throw in Paris as your backdrop and you get one of the best thrillers of the 80’s in the vein of Dial M for Murder mixed with a dash of Chinatown.

Frantic is sorely underrated.

Filmed 11 years later The Ninth Gate is the film adaptation of The Dumas Club, written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, a rare book dealer, who is in search of copies of a demon text “The Nine Doors To the Kingdom of Shadows”, a book purportedly written by Lucifer himself and is said to contain knowledge to raise the devil. Corso gets drawn into a conspiracy with supernatural overtones.

The film is actually a lot cleverer than it’s given credit for, a subtle subtext, complex story and so on. Johnny Depp gives a fantastic performance as a cynical morally corrupted anti-hero.

Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner’s is cast as a mysterious blonde. Lena Olin fleets in and out as to does Frank Langella (Boris Balkan) who gives a great exaggerated performance. Like Polanski’s Frantic there is an array of quirky characters that push the story forward to a intriguing conclusion.

The special effects are very minimal and used very effectively, Darius Khondji’s cinematography is excellent and Wojciech Killar score is superb. The Ninth Gate is a highly atmospheric occult thriller, a fascinating experience.
Polanski’s Frantic, The Ghost and The Ninth Gate have not been given the credit that they deserve, and while I’m not writing this to convert or sway opinions they are films that should not go unnoticed by movie-goers.