Posts Tagged ‘movie review’

If you’re a horror fan or have an interest in history you’ve most likely heard of Elizabeth Bathory. There’s been many films that incorporates the legend including Countess Dracula (1970) to recent teen supernatural slasher Stay Alive (2006). I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see a version that had originally cast Bond Girl baddie Famke Janssen as Báthory... Replaced by Brit chick talent, London Boulevards Anna Friel.
FAMKE JANSSEN 24x36 COLOR POSTER PRINTThis story follows the rise and fall of one of history’s most prolific serial killers, Countess Báthory who supposedly bathed in virgins blood to stay youthful.
This is a comprehensive fictionalised TV version directed and written by Juraj Jakubisko with mixed production values in both tone and atmosphere. The setting is fantastic and breathtaking, however, the exterior scenes lack the Gothic feel that the interiors have.
As a TV film, in several parts, the Monks narration and involvement arguably fits, however, as a film it may have benefited from the omission of the character entirely. You’ll also either love or hate the involvement of painter Caravaggio. Historical inaccuracies aside and the unnecessary humour injected usually by the monk, this incarnation of the legend is very interesting and adds food for thought to the tale of Báthory. In addition, it gives an interesting portrayal of politics,religion and royalty.

Anna Friel is fantastic as the miss-judged Erzsébet Báthory and gives a wonderful performance, full of range and emotional depth. It’s not all out horror, a possible nod to Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula. Co-Star Karel Roden is on top form as Juraj Thurzo and Vincent Regan is notable. The supporting cast do just that. The principle characters have strong motivations for their actions and the morale choices are at times shades of grey.

Bathory [Blu-ray]It’s not without its faults but there’s a handful of interesting dream and hallucination sequences and enough twists on the tale to keep you watching. This coupled with some fine locations, costumes and performances makes Bathory worth your time.

Hunter PreyAfter a crash landing an escape human prisoner must avoid being recaptured by humanoid aliens or caught by a bounty hunter.

A low-budget sci-fi reminiscent of Enemy Mines (1985), Pitch Black (2000), Planet of the Apes (1968), Star Wars (1977) and Star Trek’s 1967 ‘Arena’ episode to name a few.

While it may not have the production design or sleekness of some of the aforementioned, Hunter Prey has some nice make-up design and subtle effects. Lead alien performer Poitier is note-worthy as Centauri 7 shows depth and bearded Simon Potter as Logan is entertaining enough as the prisoner on the run in a desert landscape.

The costume design is effective and fan-boy cool but is let down by the original sound design that doesn’t give them weight leaving them plastic and hollow rather than heavy pieces of armour, guns and helmets. Director writer Sandy Collora delivers a watchable sci-fi but it still has the feel of limited budget filmmaking rather than a low budget with a cinematic feel.Hunter Prey Poster Movie 11x17 Isaac C. Singleton Jr. Clark Bartram Damion Poitier Simon Potter

Despite an abrupt ending there’s a few story twists and double crossings that are mainly played out in dialogue rather than action and enough visuals to keep you entertained.

Hellraiser - Clive Barker - Movie Poster Lobby Card - 8 x 10

As a horror fan the Hellraiser Series elludes me, it has such an interesting premise and concepts, puzzles, keepers of hell, resurrection and redemption to name a few. The first two films have excellent raw, wet, blood effects that few horror movies, especially at the time offered. Still despite all it’s allure the Hellraiser series has been so unjustly realised which is simply hellraising considering the fan following of the character Pinhead (wonderfully played by Doug Bradley) and the Cenobites that have captured the imagination of horror goers.
Both Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) (#5) and Hellseeker (2002) (#6) are above average productions with their fair share of blood and chills. Hellseeker sees the return of Kirsty briefly but both amount to nothing more than Creepshow Twilight zone tales with Pinhead featuring in a bookend capacity with more of the same in Hellraiser: Deader (#7) and Hellraiser: Hellworld (#8).
Hellraiser - Hellworld
A 9th, Revelations was filmed without Bradley which was produced in a matter of weeks due to an obligation on Dimension Films’ part to release another Hellraiser film or risk losing the rights to the franchise. It was the pin in the coffin for the direct to video entries. Nevertheless, there is hope with a possible Hellraiser remake, ghastly or entertaining time will tell but look what became of Freddy, Jason and Leatherface… Below are my thoughts on the theatrical released instalments…
The remains of a man rise from the dead and is aided by his sister-in-law to regenerate his body. However, he is being chased by demons who want to return him to their hell.

Hellraiser

A modestly budgeted horror with memorable cult impact, fantastically realised by writer, director Clive Barker. It’s sadomasochism, blood and gore influenced many films to follow. The music complements the claustrophobic atmosphere and adds to the films tension. 80’s poor lightening visuals aside the practical effects are excellent, including skinned, pinned and mutilated people.
Hellraiser - Clive Barker - Movie Poster Lobby Card - 8 x 10Surprisingly it’s Kirsty Cotton’s (Ashley Laurence) fight against her uncle and stepmother that is at the core story. Lead Cenobite ‘Pinhhead’ (that the series is synonymous for) is calmly played by Doug Bradley and has very little screen-time, yet leaves an impact. There’s great characterisation executed admirably by Andrew Robinson as wimpy Larry, Clare Higgins as adulteress Julia and Sean Chapman as power hungry Frank.
Hellraiser is creepy, bloody and eerie. It’s just a shame that neither this or any of the sequels capitalise on its greatest assets, that is Frank and Pinhead.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II - 20th Anniversary Edition Kirsty is brought to an institution after the death of her family, where the occult-obsessive Dr. Philip Channard resurrects Julia and unleashes the Cenobites once again.
It’s no surprise it was released the same year as Phantasm II, Friday the 13th Part VII and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, having one of horrors most surprising memorable and bankable protagonists. However, Hellbound borrows some elements from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) and feels as if it had money thrown at it and was rushed to capitalise on the success of the first.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II Poster Movie (11 x 17 Inches - 28cm x 44cm)As a side note director Tony Randel arguably captures the imagination of Clive Barker correctly as its style appears to be the foundation for Barker’s own Nightbreed (1990).
There’s plenty to enjoy, the dark oozing blood effects, the return of almost all the original cast and of course the Cenobites and Pinhead himself. The music is fantastic, as too are the costumes and SFX. That said, the story is disjointed on occasion causing it to feel longer than it’s running time, almost never-ending with one crescendo after another.
Overall, compared to the first and traditional movie styled Hellraiser third Hellbound: Hellraiser II is average and hellishly overrated.
Hellraiser III: Hell on EarthA work of art contains ‘Pinhead’ who is hellbent on escaping and unleashing hell on earth, armed with a puzzle box can reporter Joey Summerskill stop his evil?
Clive Barker is absent from a writing role which leaves Peter Akins to take up the reigns and to his credit this screen-play connects the previous films via various flash backs and recordings. However, the story follows a more linear narrative than it’s predecessor. Follow up Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth swaps the grittiness of the modestly budgeted first for a glossier grander slicker 3rd. Pinhead is given more story, dialogue and exposition – possibly to appease a wider audience.
Hellraiser 3 - Movie Poster (Size: 27'' x 40'')Hell on earth is really a one-man-show, British actor Doug Bradley is allowed to give a pleasing head-to-head performance as both Pinhead and his former-self Captain Elliot Spencer. Terry Ferrell as the snooping reporter who walks the film playing the genre piece like an 80s thriller. There are some new less-menacing cenobites, that said,Terri/Female Cenobite played by Paula Marshall is noteworthy but her appearance is all too brief. The rest of the cast are forgettable, mainly their purpose is to allow Pinhead some elaborate torture kills.
The special effects (although now dated) are digestible and oddly even though this film was made in 1992 it feels late eighties. Director Anthony Hickox competently delivers an entertaining instalment despite the choppy editing, lack of tension and gore. Nevertheless, there are enough dream sequences, dead bodies and bloody scenes to keep most chill seekers happy until the explosive final act.
Overall, in a traditional movie sense Hellraiser III is arguably a very strong sequel and viewer is left with tantalising closing scene, but in retrospect the concept is an empty promise.
Hellraiser - BloodlineThis instalment of Hellraiser IV follows the bloodline of the creator of the puzzle box the ‘Toy Maker’ and his plan to summon and to destroy Pinhead forever.
Despite a theatrical release, bloodline looks and feels TV movie-like and the acting is below average, possibly due to the script. That said, Doug Bradley is fine as Pinhead and Valentina Vargas is note-worthy as the demon Angelique.
The story’s concept is quite good, and includes (one assumes) the building in the 3rd and the history of the box. It is told in flash-backs by Dr. Paul Merchant in the year 2127 and follows his descendants Phillip L’Merchant in the 18th century and John Merchant in 1996. Sadly, it’s just poorly executed and let down by an uneven screenplay, bland direction and sub-par sets. The effects are a mixed bag, some are well done while others are less-convincing and tame.
Hellraiser 4 - Movie Poster (Size: 27'' x 40'')
It appears to have a troubled shooting history as there were two directors Alan Smithee (under an alias Kevin Yagher) and Joe Chappelle (uncredited). This maybe one cause and result of such a less than satisfying fourth.
Overall, producers didn’t give such a bankable character as Pinhead the attention he deserved leaving the viewer as empty as the 22nd century space setting.

I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]Meir Zarchi’s Day of the Woman, better known as I Spit on your Grave was a longtime banned VHS in the UK. Later passed by BBFC like Evil Dead (laugh) and The Last House on the Left to name a few ‘video nasties’.

It’s a basic tale also written by Meir Zarchi, a New Yorker Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) rents a lakeside cottage in the woods of Connecticut, however, later is she gang raped and thought dead. However, alive and recovered she takes her revenge against the rapists.

Those who say it’s a feminism film are off the mark. It’s nasty, needless and arguably gratuitous exploitation. The rape scenes are graphic and I feel unfairly more intense than the revenge scenes later. A product of its time and made to shock, it certainly does that. It’s not a film I would want to watch again or have in my collection. However, I’m sure there is a strange audience out there who would.
The film is well constructed and directed. The locations are for the most part picturesque and ooze the 70’s vibe of that time gone by, in contrast,the lack of a music score sinisterly adds to the realism of the barbaric violence. The cast are below average, however, the unknown lead Keaton gives an amazing performance, and it’s a shame she’s only known for this film. As a side-note I was surprised to find out that she is the granddaughter of actor Buster Keaton.

Only watch for curiosity, Keaton’s performance or possibly the revenge kills. That said, it’s not recommended.

The remake of Meir Zarchi’s Day of the Woman, better known as I Spit on your Grave follows a surge of ‘video nasties’ been re-done unnecessarily including the likes of The Last House on the Left.

I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]Naturally it follows the basics of the original, city girl Jennifer (Sarah Butler) retreats to a secluded lodge to write her book, but she is gang raped and thought dead. However, alive and recovered she takes her revenge against the rapists.

Just like its predecessor it’s nasty, needless and border gratuitous exploitation and compared to what she endures the revenge kills even though elaborate and (Hostel/Saw-like) bloody never satisfy. Where as 1978’s version has a place in history being a gritty product of its time and was made to shock, this time round it just feels like a money-maker for controversy’s sake.

That said, director Steven R. Monroe’s film looks fantastic and is well executed. Stuart Morse’s screenplay at times improves the dialogue, some characterisations of the original and a few tweaks inject some freshness, especially the inclusion of the sheriff and his family. Neverless, its initial feel is reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The supporting cast surpass the original actors and lead Sarah Butler on the trail of revenge arguably equals Keaton seductive first-rate performance but instead with a coolness edge.

Only watch for compatible curiosity if you must but it’s not recommended especially these days.

A London gangster is recently released from prison and tries to go straight after being offered a job by a clinically depressed borderline agoraphobic celebrity. However, he’s forcefully reined back into ‘the business’ by Gant a psychotic criminal boss.
A star-studded and familiar face cast come together in William Monahan’s passionate compelling and compulsory underworld film that manages to capture a contemporary 60’s feel. It benefit’s from an on location look which is wonderfully and stylishly shot capturing both beauty and darkness of L.A. and London. The back drop of London feels like a character itself with something interesting always going on screen.
For some reason despite the formulaically worn genre Boulevard manages to stay fresh. Colin Farrell’s main character Mitchell is likable, interesting and dynamic with a Steve McQueen air about him.
The character relationship dimensions and interactions are intriguing and a little bit different from the usual Brit flick considering linear story thanks to a at times ambiguous script. Leads Farrell, Keira Knightley and Ray Winstone are on fine form. And both David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin steal the show with their contrasting character performances. There are loads of great supporting actor appearances, Eddie Marsan,Matt King,Tim Plester and Sanjeev Bhaskar to name a few. Notable is Briony, Mitchell ‘s alcoholic sister played excellently by Anna Friel.

US director Monahan has created a slick, witty, violent and soulfully hard hitting film. It’s a quality production and despite the soundtrack being repetitive at times and a choppy last act – London Boulevard is near on perfection for the genre.
Reminiscent of Layer Cake (2004) quite frankly it’s the UK’s Carlito’s Way (1993), Colin Farrell’s Charlie Brigante,which is a simply a good thing.

There are films that are great, timeless and classic.Then there films that have an edge and atmosphere that resonates and stays with you. For me there is many and I’ll start with this handful. Some you’ll want to visit again and some you wont, they are a good and bad selection but one thing they have in common is that they ooze atmosphere.

Dead and Buried (1981) Dead And Buried Movie Poster 11x17 Master Print

There are a handful of horror films that I can say are underrated and exude atmosphere, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), Dead People (1973) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) rank as some unsung cult sleepers. Dead and Buried while better known sits fittingly with the above for sheer eeriness, as director Gary Sherman takes you to the odd, clicky, fishing town of Potters Bluff where visiting tourists and passer through are killed only for their corpses to be brought back to
life to serve the town.
Reminiscent of Jaws 2 (no one believes the sheriff), The Wickerman (1973) (plotting towns people) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (they are not who they clam to be) to name a few, Dead and Buried still manages to remain fresh and intriguing until the shocking end.
James Farentino wonderfully plays sheriff Dan Gillis who must solve the case and wrap up the mystery, and Melody Anderson is perfect as his wife. Jack Albertson gives a fine performance as the mortician and Robert Englund has a small role, the rest of the cast are first-rate.
Dead and Buried is only hankered by some choppy editing and despite the amount of writers on board, Sherman’s well crafted film benefits from ‘too many fingers in the pie’, including Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The film is enhanced from a shot on location look which adds to the genuine creepiness of the goings ons and Joe Renzetti’s music is fitting. There’s some notable blood and gore effects by the late great Stan Winston which even though are a by product of the story they are excellently executed.
Overall, a must see excellent underrated chiller.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

A disturbed woman recently released from a mental institute has various nightmarish experiences. She becomes further disturbed after moving to an old farmhouse on a Connecticut island with her husband and friend where they meet a mysterious squatter.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a 1971 low budget gem, possibly the foundation or inspiration for many horror films that followed. It’s skillful directed by John D. Hancock who creates a foreboding atmospheric horror, with chills and spills.

The supporting cast are notable and Zohra Lampert plays the lead role of Jessica admirably, with emotional range and depth. In addition, Mariclare Costello is excellent as the creepy lodger Emily.

It suffers slightly from some 70’s film trappings, the intrusive use of the score, choppy editing and the sound is a little off but these are only small distractions, and to the movies credit it doesn’t look like a low budget film.

The on location shoot adds to the realism and there are many surreal moments, involving the odd towns people, a girl in a graveyard and the body in a lake. Creepy old photos, folkloric tales, unexplained noises all add to the unease and tension of this smouldering horror.

It draws in the viewer making you consider is what Jessica experiencing real or not. The film builds up modestly, tackling possible vampirism, haunting and ghosts which are all handled in a believable manner. I can only compare the ambiance to that of The Haunting (1963), Exorcist (1973), House of the Devil (2009) Carnival of Souls (1962) and another underrated horror Dead People a.k.a Messiah of Evil made the same year (although not released until 1973).

It’s Hancocks ability to execute pure creepiness and eeriness that sets Let’s Scare Jessica to Death apart from many horrors. If only the majority of modern horrors could stir up the same sensations experienced.

The House of the Devil (2009)
Student Samantha Hughes takes a babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse, she soon realises her clients harbour a terrifying secret.
Director writer Ti West delivers an elaborate painstakingly created homage to 70’s and early 80’s style thriller/horrors. It feels authentic, from the period costumes, 70’s style title sequence, complete with font, swipes and stills reminiscent of countless films, to the music and camera work to match. The film is pure nostalgia and he does a fantastic job at handling a slow set up which keeps the viewer interested.

You fall back in love with the time and more importantly the innocent, struggling student character of Samantha, played superbly by Jocelin Donahue. There’s no 80’s style bad performances, it’s naturalist oozing 70’s grittiness. The House of the Devil is wonderfully acted, every member of the cast is first-rate with their subtle and realistic portrayals. There is an exceptional stand out supporting cast which include Tom Noonan (Manhunter 1986); Dee Wallace (Howling 1981); cult horror actress Mary Woronov and newcomer Greta Gerwig as Megan is notable.

The first three quarters of the film is crisp building up an everyday tension after a series of odd phone calls and awkward situations while taking the viewer back to around 1983 America. Pay phones, walk-men, Fawett hair and skinny jeans. The last last reel is a Rosemary’s Baby (1968) set up as you are jarred out of the normality that came before and the film turns on it’s head to blood, violence, murder and satanic ritual.

The lighting is naturalist, West is not afraid to cast shadows creating an eerie and ominous atmosphere. The effects and make up are excellent and the music soundtrack and score is well placed.

A tension building 70’s/80’s crafted horror but made in 2009. Perfect.

Valhalla Rising (2009)

Valhalla RisingLess conforming than 2005’s Beowulf and Grendel and more experimental, this is an artistic, slow and wonderfully filmed piece of cinema. Sadly, marketed as something of a 300 type spectacle will leave some critics annoyed.
A fighting one eyed slave escapes from the Vikings to end up with Knights on their journey to the Holy Land but they end up in a strange and primitive land.
The small cast led by ‘One Eye’ Mads Mikkelsen and ‘The Boy’ Maarten Stevenson who speaks for him is more than adequate in the lead roles. With sparse dialogue, strong visuals and stunning scenery. Feel the icy wind, taste the fresh cold water, watch the mist, smell the bark of the tree’s. This type of film is an acquired taste, it has a dreamlike quality to it. The bloody fight scenes are few and far between, heightened by a strong modern distorted guitar score that suits the film.

Valhalla Rising is earthly, atmospheric, religious, conventual and anticlimactic. Conventional viewers will be disappointed but others may enjoy the journey.

Day of the Woman (1978) a.k.a  I Spit on Your Grave

Meir Zarchi’s Day of the Woman, better known as I Spit on your Grave was a longtime banned VHS in the UK. Later passed by BBFC like Evil Dead (laugh) and The Last House on the Left to name a few ‘video nasties’.
I Spit on Your Grave Poster 27x40 Camille Keaton Eron Tabor Richard PaceIt’s a basic tale also written by Meir Zarchi, a New Yorker Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) rents a lakeside cottage in the woods of Connecticut, however, later is she gang raped and thought dead. However, alive and recovered she takes her revenge against the rapists.

Those who say it’s a feminism film are off the mark. It’s nasty, needless and arguably gratuitous exploitation. The rape scenes are graphic and I feel unfairly more intense than the revenge scenes later. A product of its time and made to shock, it certainly does that. It’s not a film I would want to watch again or have in my collection. However, I’m sure there is a strange audience out there who would.

The film is well constructed and directed. The locations are for the most part picturesque and ooze the 70’s vibe of that time gone by, in contrast, the lack of a music score sinisterly adds to the realism of the barbaric violence. The cast are below average, however, the unknown lead Keaton gives an amazing performance, and it’s a shame she’s only known for this film. As a side-note I was surprised to find out that she is the granddaughter of actor Buster Keaton.

Only watch for curiosity, Keaton’s performance or possibly the revenge kills. That said, it’s not recommended.

Dead People (1973)  a.k.a Messiah of evil

Before Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and The Crazies, there was Dead people a.k.a Messiah of evil. Shot in 1971 the film was not released until 1973. Like H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon and The Wicker Man (1973), weird locals are hiding a horrific secret… In Messiah, the people of Point Dune worship the rise of a red moon as they become zombies.
Messiah Of Evil (1973)The story-line is disjointed, but this adds to the mystic, surreal and dreamlike quality of the film. Admittedly, there is some irregular editing and the score is very much of its time, but there’s plenty to like about it.

Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and the aforementioned clearly have taken its cue from Willard Huyck’s jumbled but effective film. Especially the scene where slinky brunette Anitra Ford is pursued through a supermarket. There is also truly creepy scene again with Ford and an albino trucker, played by Bennie Robinson,you’d think he would have been in a lot more movies.

It oozes dread and suspense, it’s a chilling 70’s horror flick that despite its faults is a lot better than some of today’s so called horrors.

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

1994’s underrated zombie horror classic based on the comic Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclavi, it stars Rupert Everett (in his best role) and enchanting Anna Falchi.
Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetary Man) Rupert Everett Anna Falchi Region 2 Pal Unrated German Import English Audio Widescreen“Zombies, guns, and sex, OH MY!!!” was the tag line, and while it’s true it has those things Dellamorte Dellamore is so much more, macabre and violent, with atmosphere you can taste. Excellent music by Riccardo Biseo & Manuel De Sica and direction amazingly executed by Michele Soavi.
Spellbinding and arguably the strangest, most effective zombie film out there to-date.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead Laserdisc (1978) (Uncut) [EE3296]Dawn of the dead, there’s loads of reviews here. I’ll start with the bad, make-up consistency, poorly edited, poor sound, intrusive score music and a pie fight. Sounds horrid eh? Like a bad B-movie? Well Dawn of the Dead through all it’s faults is still a classic sub-genre film. I wont go into all the under tones, subtext of consumerism, mass hysteria, social commentary and satire yada, yada.
This is possibly George A. Romero’s most balanced and satisfying of all his zombie films. What it boils down to is film has dated.. Even so, the script is very well written and the film oozes atmosphere, the emptiness, notably the basement, and airfield scenes.

Tom Savini provides some fantastic gore effects, many of which stand up effectively today. While it’s gory, bloody, violent and disturbing, I would think today’s film viewer has hardened up to it, but this is not fault of the film, it is an amazing product of it’s time.

Many horror buffs think it’s overrated, but it’s more that just a straight horror, the character interaction, even down to the priest speech is understated. Should they have had a bigger budget and more time, maybe the faults I mentioned wouldn’t have been made. However, made they were and Dawn of the Dead is still the finest zombie film to date, a must see.

The Living Dead (1974)

Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti (original title)

Let Sleeping Corpses LieA crop dusting machine from the agricultural pest-control is emitting ultra-sonic waves that are re-animating corpses… 


A lot have said this is underrated, granted it’s overlooked. It is Atmospheric with an ominous feel. It has great locations and is at times genuinely creepy. However, it’s shares more with Fulci than Romero. The acting is not aided by the bad dubbing. To its credit it has an eerie musical score by Giuliano Sorgini and a number of suspenseful sequences but it borrows many of its best sequences from Night of the Living Dead. 


I watched director Jorge Grau’s offering under the title of ‘Let Sleeping Corpse Lie’ but whichever name you see the film under don’t be mistaken or mislead, it’s a solid zombie horror movie and of its time with fine cinematography from Francisco Sempere. It’s a lot better than the low budget DTV zombie films that there’s no shortage of at the moment.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner - The Final Cut - Movie Poster (Size: 27" x 39")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.
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.

Christopher Smith, (born 1970) is not just a British film director but also a great writer, while not celebrated as the likes of the comparable Neil Marshall or the now mainstream Christopher  Nolan, Smith certainly deserves his place in directing Brit history. Here’s my lowdown on his fabulous quad of films 2004 -2010…
Creep (2004)
Franka Potente is party goer Kate, after she misses her last train, she is pursued by a deformed crazy and has to fight for survival in the London underground system.
British films had played it safe for a jolly good while with costume dramas, romantic comedies and gangster flicks. However, the UK have started dishing out a few original horror gems in recent years, Dog Soldiers, Descent etc. Writer/ director Christopher Smith (who went on to make Severance) with a small budget gives the viewer an effective, interesting chiller.
There’s no bad acting here, the actors deliver the goods with a limited dialogue driven script. To build up the tension Smith utilises the underground, music and sound to full effect. He creates a genuine creepy atmosphere, the lighting is fantastic and the gore effects are note worthy.
The quirky small cast that Potente encounters are believable and the killer who dwells in the underground is one of the better original killers in a longer while.
The film is very bloody at times and was quite shocking in 2004. Creep remains a strong claustrophobic and underrated horror.
 
Severance (2006)
 
Imagine your on an office bonding weekend with your boss and colleagues, with all the typical office banter and goings on but you then get stuck in the middle of nowhere and your colleagues start to get killed off- this is the basic premise to the highly recommended film Severance.
Severance is laced with genuine humour, mostly supplied by Steve played by Danny Dyer and Tim McInnerny as clueless office boss Richard. The supporting cast give memorable and plausible performances that highlight underlying relationships making the characters likable. The character build up pays off as you find yourself rooting for their survival. The bad guys are menacing and there is plenty of realistic gore.
This very enjoyable, ironic, balanced, horror/comedy written and directed by Christopher Smith remains witty and shocking throughout.
Highly recommended whether you work in an office or not.
 
 
 
Triangle (2009)
Written and directed by Christopher Smith, lead Melissa George gives a
justifiably odd but mesmerising performance as Jess, as her and her
friends are forced to abandon their sailing boat and take refugee on an
ocean liner.
Some may find the story frustrating, however, it’s a taught mind-bending thriller, about how your actions can change your life.
Triangle is an interesting grounded and emotionally driven chiller that explores time travel, doppelgangers and choices.
George effortlessly carries the weight of the film on her shoulders and the small supporting cast are more than effective. Smith’s direction is superb, with few locations, as the film mostly takes place on the marvellously dressed ‘Ghost ship’, his angles and use of movement ensure the viewer is never left uninterested and credit must go to Robert Humphreys’ photography direction. Stuart Gazzard’s editing is fantastic and key in making the interloped story work. Christian Henson’s score is the icing on the cake and adds to the eerie, creepy atmosphere.
Triangle gives the viewer a lot to think about and ponder over well
after the credits roll.
Black Death (2010)
Two British directors and writers really standout for me in recent years, Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent and Doomsday) and Christopher Smith (Creep, Triangle and Severance). Smith’s latest offering has it the mark with a blend of swords, Catholicism and Wicker released the same year Neil Marshall’s well advertised Centurion, which on first viewing was sadly average.

Set in 1348 the Black Death is at it peak, however, one village appears to be immune to the plague. Ulric (Sean Bean) devoted Christian enlist the help of a Monk (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his men through dangerous lands to this unholy village where it is said the dead are being brought back to life.

With marshes, fog and mists across the lands it oozes atmosphere. The gritty realistic sets and settings are note worthy, everything looks authentic and aged, perfect for first outbreak of bubonic plague. There’s some great practical effects, cadavers, dismemberment’s and blood. The flights are finely choreographed and swordplay is raw and relentless as limbs are hacked off.

The latter part of the film slows down, building tension in the seemingly safe village, Smith’s develops the eerie strangeness of the rural superbly, reminiscent of the Wickerman (1973 & 2006), In the Name of the Rose (1986) and The Village (2004).

Although in fear of being typecast as another chain armoured soldier Bean gives a passionate and gripping performance, and newcomer Redmayne plays the confounded monk Osmund’s admirably. The supporting cast, even though another band mercenaries are memorable and the characters are developed. Comedy actor Tim McInnerny is satisfactory in an unusual serious role as the village head. There’s a notable cameo by David Warner as The Abbot. However, it’s Carice van Houten who steals the show as Langiva the striking necromancer.

There’s a little too much shaky hand held camera work at times, that aside the cinematography is first rate. Dario Poloni screenplay is the icing on the cake, as the dialogue feels authentic and unforced, compared to the aforementioned other period piece. It explores religious beliefs, faith, witch hunts, occultism and much more.

With low expectation’s for another period piece, I was pleasantly surprised by Smith’s vision. Certainly not perfect or the grandest film; however, it’s a gripping medieval, satanic mystery action that has a nice original twist at the end.

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.
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.

Science fiction is a huge spanning genre of fiction. It’s an incubator for imaginative minds to create visions that help us to glimpse not only the future, but also something about ourselves. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible. I’ve left Terminator and Alien(s) out both I’ll visit in the future, in the meantime here are my comments on a few old classic films and new comers of Sci-fi…

Repo Men (2010)

It’s is the near future, Jake and Remy are repossession men for body organs. After a repo’ goes wrong Remy’s heart is replaces and he finds himself on the run before his heart is repossessed.

It’s a high concept idea with a twist at the end. The gory repo scenes are cringe worthy and action scenes backed with a pumping music score are amazing. The sets, location and effects are attention-grabbing. Miguel Sapochnik’s directing admirable but its failing is the screenplay, Repo Men is a jarring mismatch of a film, it doesn’t know what it wants to be, one minute a social commentary, the next minute a comedy, then an action, a serious thriller and so on. It just doesn’t gel and as a result it’s a let down.

Schreiber’s Frank is menacing as one of “The Union” heads and there’s a welcomed cameo appearance by John Leguizamo (Asbury). A lighter, healthier Forest Whitaker makes an impression in this odd toned movie, quirky lead and ever reliable Jude Law looks uncomfortable with the role Remy. Alice Braga’s (Beth) performance is average and she isn’t atheistically beautiful enough to convince the audience of Remy’s infatuation with her.

Unfortunately, Repo Men tries to cater and appeal to a spectrum of movie goers and as a result fails to entertain or satisfy in any capacity or arena.

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.

Blade Runner (1982)

I must admit I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scotts’ 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.

Whichever version of Blade Runner you prefer, it has atmosphere, great costumes and a mood of gritty realism about it. The neocityscapes, the dark street life and polluted air all paint a grim futuristic picture complimented by a score by Vangelis , 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 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.

RoboCop (1987)

A cop is brutally murdered in the line of duty only to be resurrected as a robot cop. With a mission to clean up Detroit stopping criminals and corruption unwitting Robocop meets his killers.

 Social commentary, religious connotations and cutting satire, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is now over 20 years old, some of the effects have dated and some of the acting is like two-day-old chicken, but it holds up. It is indeed an often-imitated sci-fi classic. It could have been just another Terminator rip-off but all it shared was a machine theme as it had a whole world of its own. That said, it borrows heavily from lesser known films Jean-Claude Lord’s The Vindicator and The Wraith both made a year prior.

Amongst the rival robot ED-209 and TV commercials what’s more interesting about Robocop (played by the now elusive Peter Weller) is the loss of his family and how they have moved on after Alex Murphy’s gory death which is only partly explored. There’s a lot going on in Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner writing underneath all the action pieces.

Miguel Ferrer as ‘Bob’ is excellent, his performance has all the 80’s Wall Street feel of the time, doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Ronny Cox plays ‘Dick’ Jones and gives the bad guy dimension. It shows a corporate structure and how they also use the underworld to get an immoral job done, in this case using Clarence and his gang played terrifically by Kurtwood Smith.

Basil Poledouris’ music is fantastic and heightens the films punches and subtleties, the action is great as to are the costumes and practical effects. It is a comic book film for adults but is unusually grounded in a surreal plausibility.

It’s Orion Pictures fine production, part man, part machine. All cop.

Moon (2009)

David Bowie’s son directs his debut film. Duncan Jones comes out of his fathers’ shadow and into his own in this low-key sci-fi which is destined to become a classic.

The style is without a doubt influenced by Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You could argue that there is also a hint of Gattaca in there, but this does not detract from the strong emotional story line.

Sam Rockwell’s subtle and edgy performance is Oscar worthy, as to are the effects. As Duncan Jones first film it certainly doesn’t show, it screams traditional in the modern sense of film-making. Kevin Spacey voices the robot GERTY, his smooth tones and look are reminiscent of 2001’s HAL and his monotone voice adds tension.

The film is not an action; Moon is a well-rounded package, almost pure sci-fi, and thought provoking playing out a believable premise. It’s a tighter 2001 for a 2009 audience, compulsive viewing.

Star Wars (1977)

It was a long time ago when I first saw Starwars, I watched it as part of a trilogy and then Lucas’ CGI altered edits.

There’s not much I can add that isn’t already littered on the, net, countless books and so on. It has become ingrained in popular culture and it is impossible for me to watch it with fresh eyes. It was great to see my son watch it for the first time and no doubt his children will enjoy it too.

The story is that Luke Skywalker must try to save Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader. It could have been an awful b-movie but its strength is a great bold script, memorial characters, fantastic effects, costumes and John Williams timeless orchestral score. It has a princess, lasers, alien creatures, spaceships, and more. It’s a good old fashioned tale of good versus evil and there really isn’t much not to like.

It has inspired and has been imitated in numerous films, books and games. It has changed the way Sci-fi is made and will remain a timeless charming classic.

If you only ever see five films in your lifetime, this is one of them.

Surrogates (2009)

In a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust? A well made sci-fi, a hybrid reflective of high concept low-budget 70’s-80’s films. Sadly it was in and out of the cinema so fast I missed it.

Bruce Willis character tries to unravel the mystery conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and is forced to abandon his own surrogate, risking his life.

Excellent direction by Jonathan Mostow Radha Mitchell is as usual on top form, Rosamund Pike (give a poor performance) and Ving seem out of place. That said, the effects and music are amazing – I was pleasantly surprised. Overall very entertaining, suspenseful and while not totally original, it combines the best ideas around to deliver a thought provoking piece.