Tag Archives: film

Even More Horror Movies You May Have Missed

25 Oct

Crikey! It’s been a while. But with Halloween just around the corner it’s about time I shared a few overlooked frightening films, spooky stories, and monstrous movies. Now before I get lost under my own smug alliteration, let’s get cracking!


The Changeling

There’s no better way to start a Halloween movie night than with a traditional ghost story, and The Changeling is a perfect example of one. A composer loses his family in a tragic accident, and moves to a secluded manor house. Whilst there, he is visited by the spectre of a child. An atmospheric slow-burner, the payoff is worth the wait. Whatever you do, don’t go in the attic.


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

If you’d rather have something more light-hearted, try this instead. Two hillbillies take a well-earned holiday by a woodland lake. Unfortunately, their plans are ruined by the unfortunate arrival of a bunch of college teens. A wonderful horror subversion, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a trope-playing laugh riot. I’ve posted a scene rather than the trailer below, as it is best to go into this film blind, to experience it all fresh.


Jug Face

Keeping with the rural theme, Jug Face is an interesting, character-driven horror. Living in the middle of the woods, a small commune worships a strange pit in the ground. The pit grants prosperity, growth, peace, but only as long as it gets what it wants in return – sacrifices. Ada learns that she is to be the next sacrifice, and tries to hide it from the rest of her family. Can she escape from what her religion demands?


The Bay

Disclaimer: don’t watch this film when eating. The inhabitants of a Chesapeake Bay town start falling under strange and deadly afflictions. Could it be tied to the deaths of a pair of environmental researchers? Told in a found footage style, from a series of different accounts, The Bay follows the mould of Jaws – the dangers of nature overlooked by complacent leaders.



This Swiss sci-fi horror knows how to build tension. A skeleton crew keeps a deep-space cargo vessel running. Laura, one of this crew, stays sane through talking with her sister, who lives on the paradise world of Rhea. However, it becomes apparent that there is another being on the ship. The setting is perfect, the isolation and the dark industrial look keeping viewers on the edge.


Noroi: The Curse

This Japanese mockumentary already has a fearsome reputation, but it’s yet to break into the top echelons of horror imports. An investigative reporter looks into a series of strange events – supposedly psychic children, disappearances, deaths. What he discovers leads him to try and stop the manifestation of a terrible demon. Genuinely unsettling, Noroi is a real treat.


The Frighteners

Peter Jackson is, of course, best known for his work with the Lord of the Rings films. If you’re a horror fan you’ve probably seen – and loved – his earlier gory works, such as Dead Alive and Bad Taste. One film that is often overlooked, though, is comedy The Frighteners. Teaming up with Robert Zemeckis as Executive Producer, the film has a wonderful cartoonish, chaotic vibe for fans of Ghostbusters or Gremlins.



If you prefer something high-concept in your horror, then try Antiviral. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the acclaimed body horror master David Cronenberg, Antiviral shows us a world where celebrity culture and genetic engineering have disastrously combined – allowing true fans to infect themselves with the same strains of disease as their idols. It’s a fantastic debut, a terrifying world imagined well – Antiviral is bound to get under your skin.


Lie Still

A low-budget English horror, Lie Still follows John Hare, unemployed and recently single. He moves into an old apartment building, but soon realises that he may not be alone. Extremely low-key, it’s a surprisingly effective film, helped by the suitably dark setting and tapping into genuine fears of what goes bump in the night.



A historical horror, Sauna is a Finnish film set at the end of a war between Russia and Sweden. Whilst negotiating new borders, two brothers come across a village in the middle of some marshlands. There, they are faced to confront the acts they have committed.  Bleak yet artistic, with a fantastic and open-ended plot, Sauna is a real gem – not only terrifying, but a great film all round.


Have a Happy Halloween, everyone! And guess what? There are more horror recommendations to come!

You better believe it!

You better believe it!

Rob’s Top Five Films of 2012 and Top Movie Moments of 2012

1 Jan

Crikey, we’ve got a twofer here! Not only my favourite flicks of last year, but the specific moments that made me squeal with delight! Let’s get this started with the best movies, in no particular order.


21 Jump Street

I was cynical going into this. A reboot of an old eighties TV show, starring Channing Tatum and that dude from Superbad? It looked fairly decent, but that was it. Instead it ended up being the funniest film I have seen since Anchorman. Ridiculous, and with a tongue firmly placed in-cheek, 21 Jump Street delivers not only top dollar laughs but a number of fantastic action set pieces. Get it and watch it: Ice Cube’s performance alone is worth the price of the DVD.



Compliance is one of the most uncomfortable-to-watch films I have ever seen. Detailing the real-life events of a mysterious phone call to a fast food restaurant, it will make you squirm on a variety of levels. Featuring some great performances from a cast with no big names, Compliance is not a film that you enjoy, exactly. Rather than see it and be entertained, you will see it and want to have a shower and cry for a bit. More power to it, to be honest. Compliance is a serious, powerful, and emotive film and one of the great lesser-known movies of 2012.


The Dark Knight Rises

Given my huge write-up of this film earlier in the year, I was trying to find another film to take its spot on the list. But there’s no getting around it, it deserves to be here. Not only is it a fantastic film in its own right, but it completes one of the best trilogies of all time. Christopher Nolan did the impossible, by placating the majority of a hardcore fanbase whilst refusing to budge on his creative vision of a realistic superhero trilogy. An incredible feat and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.



Speaking of superhero films, Chronicle provided realism in an entirely different way. The world is fantastical, with a group of teens gaining superpowers from a crashed meteorite, but – incredibly – the characters appear to react as human beings. They don’t immediately don spandex outfits and fight crime. Instead, they focus on their own lives, and their own pain. It’s a brilliant take on the subgenre and adds a fresh new element to the found footage style.


Red Lights

Oh boy, do I love a good mystery, and Red Lights gets it right. Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver are a pair of paranormal investigators, who spend their time picking apart fraudster psychics and hoax hauntings. They take on the world’s biggest psychic, played charismatically by Robert De Niro. But is he really a hoax? Red Lights is a complex film in all the right ways, leaving clues along the way to help the audience decipher the mystery of its plot. Unnerving and tense in all the right places, Red Lights is a gem that was unfairly overlooked.


So those are my top films of the year. But what about the best moments?


Prometheus – Surgery Scene

Prometheus was a flawed film in a variety of ways. But it was visually stunning and there were some absolutely incredible moments. The most memorable of these was the grotesque surgery scene that…well, see for yourself.


Sinister – Home Movies

Sinister was my horror movie of the year. Generally, it built its scares on atmosphere rather than jumps, which puts it a long way above most of this year’s other horrors. The most important parts of this were the home movies that Ethan Hawke’s crime writer finds. The clip below is a good example, but the best of the bunch involved lawn mowing. I would link it, but I don’t want to spoil it. See it for yourself.


Ted – Shoryuken

If I had to pick a comedy alongside 21 Jump Street, Ted would be it. A wonderfully charming film, it still has some great moments of shocking humour. My favourite was seeing Mark Wahlberg give a snotty brat of a kid his just deserts.


Dredd – Finale

Gosh darn this film was great. A fairly faithful adaptation of the 2000 AD character, Dredd was a bloody, violent, wonderful film harking back to the ultraviolence of eighties action. The best part was how Dredd’s character – an unstoppable force of legal righteousness – was kept in. How he deals with MaMa threatening to destroy a tower block was an iconic end to yet another great comic book adaptation.


The Dark Knight Rises – Bane’s Prison Speech

Oh, Bane. Everything about the character was fantastic: charismatic, dangerous, brutal, violent, and – most importantly – fiercely intelligent. It was everything his character in the comics was, but with crucial changes to make him applicable to Christopher Nolan’s Gotham. The best example of this was his speech in front of Blackgate Prison: a wonderful bastardization of the Occupy movement to suit his own, evil means.


So that’s the best of 2012. I’m not going to go into the bad – I’m not really that kind of fella. All I can say is that I hope that 2013 is just as good as the year just gone. It was a wonderful year for cinema, so let’s hope for an even better future.


Happy New Year to you all!

Bargain Bin Reviews: Anaconda!

20 Nov

Welcome to a new feature! I will be having a gander at often-overlooked movies. I’ll dust them off and give them a chance to impress. So, let’s get going with my first Bargain Bin Review.

Anaconda is the story of a loveable, misunderstood giant snake that is mercilessly tormented by a bunch of documentary-makers. All it wants to do is devour Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, but for some reason they object. Just to warn you, there will be many spoilers ahead. But, given that this review is for a fifteen year-old film, I think you can forgive me.

The movie starts off by killing Danny Trejo. His boat is attacked by some kind of nasty creature and, faced with a choice between a gooey painful death or taking his own life, he decides to shoot himself in the head. Generally, it seems as though poor Mr Trejo gets the raw deal in situations with killer beasties, such as his early demise in Predators. Here, though? Well, his character probably caught wind of the script coming his way and decided to off himself. Oh, how I wish I could join you.

God speed, Mr Trejo. You made the right decision.

After a wonderful bit of pan-pipe music, we’re then greeted to the ragtag bunch of filmmakers. First up we have J-Lo and the dashing anthropologist Eric Stoltz. They are off on the noble endeavour of documenting the existence of a rarely-seen tribe in the Amazon. The makers of Anaconda, though, have no such artistic temperament, shown by the fact that the moment you see Miss Lopez she’s, for some reason, wearing a very skimpy nightgown. Who knows, perhaps I am being too cynical and that is perfect attire for the Amazon.

They are joined by Ice Cube, the angry cameraman and one of the few voices of reason within the entire film, the production manager and attractive-but-not-famous-so-will-definitely-survive Kari Wuhrer, the constantly aroused sound guy (played, amazingly, by Owen Wilson), snooty English presenter Jonathan Hyde, and the unbearably sleazy and definitely-not-sketchy ship captain (Vincent Castellanos). If you have made any early presumptions about who is likely to survive this film, you are probably right.

Give horror-movie-survival bingo a go, I dare you!

Only a short while after they set off on their journey, they find a boat sinking into the river. They rescue the lone occupant, a Paraguayan snake-catcher played by Jon Voight. I’d just like to take a moment to tell you exactly how frickin’ creepy this guy is. He’s like if The Joker from The Dark Knight and Tommy Wiseau had a South American middle-aged lovechild. The only way he could be creepier is if he was naked the entire time, his greasy ponytail flapping in the breeze. You half expect every scene to end with him having sex with some kind of reptilian creature.

Don’t believe me? Well I took the time to make a brief compilation of a few of his weirdest moments in the film. Take a look.

In spite of the fact that their new guest is clearly not a very nice man – shown by the way that ominous music starts every time he’s visible and the fact that he is constantly staring at everyone in an outrageously evil way – they decide to welcome him aboard, and even listen to his advice on their journey. The only two crewmembers that don’t seem to trust him are the aforementioned sceptic Ice Cube and the Indiana Jones-wannabe Stoltz.

Of course, this means Stoltz – the only man willing to tell Voight “you know what, let’s not take that meandering route through the Amazon that you say will lead us to our destination” – has an accident after trying to clear vines from the boat. Incapacitated, Voight takes command and lets the crew know of his real motive: to catch a ruddy great big anaconda. Choosing not to listen to Ice ‘Voice of Reason’ Cube, Sleazy Captain, Owen Wilson and Snooty English decide to join in on the plan. First stop on their whirlwind tour of idiocy? The remains of Danny Trejo’s ship.

Unsurprisingly, this does not end well. The sleazy ship captain is the first to go, chomped right outside the boat. Owen Wilson is next. Having already survived a failed attempt at a sex scene on the shores of the Amazon at night (surely the best idea anyone has ever had), he finally succumbs to the wily Jaws wannabe.

From that chin and nose combo, you can tell that it’s Wilson.

Apparently the death of Owen was enough for the rest of the crew to decide enough is enough with the creepy ponytailed guy. J-Lo seduces Voight – in one of the most awkward-to-watch scenes I have ever seen – as the rest of the crew pounce. Tying him up, they think they’re safe. Unfortunately for them, the giant snake hadn’t quite forgotten about their previous attempts to turn it into handbags, and attacks, enjoying Snooty English as a rather fine brunch. Voight uses this as a way to escape, killing poor not-as-famous-as-J-Lo in the process.

Lopez and Ice Cube manage to fight off the anaconda and, with the help of the woken-from-his-illness Stoltz, manage to knock Voight into the river and escape. Stoltz, unfortunately, doesn’t even have time to whisper “you guys seriously trusted the weird snake catcher? Seriously?” before he once again succumbs to his wounds and passes out.

Without his guidance, the wonderful J-Lo/Cube duo are captured by the soggy but still dangerous Voight. He uses them as bait to catch a mega-snake, covering them in monkey blood. For some reason, we need to see Voight kill two monkeys over the course of this film, as if to prove that he is such an evil madman.

Thankfully, the anaconda decides, halfway through suffocating Ice Cube and Lopez, that it would rather go after the creepy-looking guy sneering at it in the corner. It eats him, spits him back out again because apparently he tastes as bad as he looks, and instead goes after J-Lo. Between them, Lopez and Ice Cube manage to trap the snake and blow it up. In spite of being set on fire, exploded, and thrown fifty feet in the air, our plucky jungle friend tries to eat them one more time, and is bludgeoned to death by Ice Cube, who apparently was sick and tired of goddamn snakes at this point.

Can I axe you a question?

And that’s about it. Anaconda, as you may imagine, is a bad movie. It sits awkwardly between its A-List budget and B-List plot, and as a result it is absolutely brilliant entertainment. It’s a trashy, violent, stupid mess with bad performances and a hackneyed plot, and I enjoyed every bloody minute of it. Anaconda is the only place to go if you want to see Ice Cube attack a giant snake with a pick-axe, all the while with an incredible pan-pipe soundtrack.


Interested in more? Be sure to head over to GeekClique.net, where future Bargain Bin Reviews will also be hosted.

Silent Hill: Revelation – A Review

31 Oct

The first Silent Hill is an underrated gem. Lumped in with the rest of the video game adaptations, it is instead an incredibly effective horror film. Visually stunning, with some good performances, Silent Hill had two big strengths: it created a terrifying atmosphere, and it refused to treat its target demographic like idiots.

Silent Hill: Revelation cannot quite live up to the promise of its predecessor. It continues the story several years down the line, with Heather (played by Adelaide Clemens) near eighteen years of age and living with her father, Harry (Sean Bean). She is being plagued by horrible dreams of a town called Silent Hill. She knows nothing of her real past, and the events of the first film. Unfortunately for her, the town itself is coming to take her back.

From the off, it seems as though the filmmakers were concerned with how ‘hard’ to decipher the original film was. The entire movie, in particular the first half hour, is full of expositional dialogue. The back story from the first film is clumsily explained through a series of clunky scenes, and even Heather’s immediate situation (being near-18 and going for her first day at school) is awkwardly explained in an early bit of dialogue with Harry.

There is, quite frankly, too much speech and not enough done with it. It is used to make the plot that much easier to understand – from discussing the history of the town of Silent Hill, to Heather’s origins, and even the mysteries of Silent Hill’s sect, the Order of Valtiel. Characters spend so much time explaining what is going on that there is no real chemistry between them. You do not feel Harry’s yearning for his lost wife, or the growing relationship between Heather and Vincent (played by Kit Harington, better known as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones).

An even worse problem is created, though: the characters do not appear all that phased by what they see. Whether it’s a sword-armed demon, the walls rotting around them, or a fairground made out of human remains, the characters barely react. Then, with each further moment of expositional dialogue, tension and fear are eradicated. It has to be said, though, that this is not a bad movie.

Silent Hill: Revelation does saunter along, disappointing, for about half of its run time. But, the moment Heather actually enters the town of Silent Hill, that all changes. Instead of the fleeting and relatively safe settings of the first half – a high school, a shopping mall, a motel – the atmosphere of Silent Hill is immediately oppressive.

The film, at that point, hits strong with a succession of fantastic horror set pieces. A twisted version of a mannequin warehouse gives us the most terrifying part of the film, and the fear continues well into Silent Hill’s mental asylum and dark carnival. The original visuals, such a triumph of the first film, come back to the fore to great success. A dangerous world of rust and decay, constantly shifting, is created. Not only that, but the monster designs are fantastic as well. Falling somewhere between David Lynch and Hellraiser, they are the kind of body-horror monstrosities that will slowly seep into your nightmares.

Given all of these stylistic positives – the art style, the monster design, and the sets –it seems a little strange that a decision was made to make it in 3D. Although there are moments where the 3D works quite well (during the snow storms and fairground scenes, for instance), there are large portions of Silent Hill: Revelation where it feels out of place. It takes away from the unique feel that the film has, and makes it feel a hell of a lot cheaper than the first Silent Hill. It also suffers from the usual problem with dark 3D movies – it is sometimes very hard to work out exactly what is going on.

Silent Hill: Revelation, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Although the film is sometimes stunning – and terrifying – to look at, and although it contains some genuinely scary moments, it feels a little like a wasted opportunity. It falls down in the same places that the first one was strong: an unnecessary desire to explain every detail. It is good for a video game adaptation, but really that’s just a case of damning with faint praise.

In Defence of Disney’s Lucasfilm Buyout

31 Oct

By now I am sure you’ve heard the news about Disney’s spectacular Lucasfilm acquisition. Immediately after it broke, the internet was exploding with rage. One of the phrases banded about online was “this is the death of Star Wars”.

Is it really, though? This post is an attempt to give a rational, reasoned and positive argument about the takeover. I am cautiously optimistic about Star Wars: Episode VII. I am not saying that it will be a fantastic movie. It may well still end up being terrible. There are, however, reasons to be positive.

First, let’s look at Disney’s recent films. We all know their long-term history of consistently making absolutely fantastic movies. But in the last decade, there have been a number of more action-focused live-action features. We’ve had the Pirates of the Caribbean series, National Treasure, Tron: Legacy, and of course The Avengers.

“What’s that?” “Oh, it looks like another Disney buyout. Brace yourself.”

Marvel’s flagship is the main reason to be optimistic. Disney knows how to treat a franchise with a rabid fanbase. With The Avengers, they were careful not to deviate too far from the canon. They made not only one of the biggest films of this summer, but a film that achieved general acceptance from the original fanbase.

It’s more than just The Avengers, though. Disney has, over the years, shown that they are not afraid to broach adult subject matter in their films. Of course you have the subtleties of the Pixar animations – Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Brave for instance – but even the more ‘meat-headed’ films in their catalogue sometimes move into darker territory. Tron: Legacy appears at first to be nothing more than a neon-coloured thrill-fest, until you realise that the story of the film revolves around the genocide of an entire race.

Merciless slaughter goes well with a techno beat and day-glo onesies.

Speaking briefly of Pixar, they’ve managed to create some brilliant films over the years. One in particular to point out is The Incredibles. Personally, I feel it’s one of the best superhero movies of all time, quite amazing considering that it is an animated children’s film. What is interesting is the way that Disney treats Pixar – and Marvel, for that matter. Pixar have been able to keep their own unique feel, in spite of being taken over. Disney knows that the best way to make money is to create excellent movies. Even John Carter, a huge box-office bomb, was not a bad film – it just happened to do poorly, be it because of a failure to reach a target demographic or simply hitting the market at the wrong time.

Having a consistently good end product is not something that can be said about Lucasfilm, however. Let’s face it: the Star Wars prequels are bad movies. There were strange changes made to the overall feel of the franchise, there was bizarre cinematography in every film, and awkward character tie-ins to the previous trilogy throughout. That’s without even getting into the awful acting and terrible scripts.

The rest of the original Star Wars content is not much better. The Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series was passable, but the following CGI series and feature film were sub-par. The upcoming series Star Wars Detours looks absolutely abysmal. There hasn’t been a decent Star Wars videogame since the end of the Jedi Outcast trilogy.

After being forced to do a dance routine, Han was happy to be encased in carbonite.

At least all of the above was original content. Star Wars fans have, alongside new releases, also been subject to constant re-releases of the original trilogy. Each and every time, these ‘remastered editions’ shift more and more from the first three Star Wars films, chopping and changing one of the most loved film series of all time.

So, I’ll be blunt. What exactly can Disney do to make the Star Wars franchise plunge to new depths? Will they add annoying, furry creatures? They’ve been with Star Wars since Return of the Jedi. How about unnecessary CGI that adds nothing to the films? Say hello to Jar Jar Binks and the remastered editions of the original trilogy. Wooden acting and bad scripts? Rewatch any of the prequels. Terrible musical numbers? Have another look at Jabba’s palace in the remasted Return of the Jedi. Ridiculous cash-ins in other media? Try a couple of the Star Wars video games, like Masters of Teras Kasi, Super Bombad Racing or Star Wars: Demolition.

Lucasarts have already made Han Solo take part in a dance number. I don’t think there is much Disney can do to make the Star Wars name seem any shallower.

Skyfall: A Review – Plus News!

27 Oct

2012 has been a year of much-anticipated movies. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit – all of them would have been the most hyped-about film in any other year. Then, of course, there’s Skyfall. The trailers have had people salivating for months. Early reviews called it the best Bond film ever made. And it ever-so-nearly lives up to the hype.

Sam Mendes has done an absolutely tremendous job in bringing Bond back to the fore after the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s full of great performances, has a water-tight script, and best of all is absolutely stunning to look at. The direction is vibrant, varied, powerful, and even a little emotional at times. Even if it’s not the best 007 venture ever, it’s certainly the best-looking one.

Skyfall takes a lot of risks, too. It’s a serious film with a surprising level of depth for a franchise built on the foundation of “man kills man, man sleeps with woman, man makes pun”. Without going into spoiler territory, it touches a little on the aftermath of a service agent’s life after missions, and what happens to an agent left behind by his agency. Not only that, but (whisper it) Skyfall briefly delves into James Bond’s personal history, and even M’s back story.

It’s also very interesting in terms of scale. The finale is not a villain’s volcano lair; in fact, the film drops in size steadily. In the first half of the film, Bond is in his natural habitat: jet-setting across the world, killing people and getting frequent flyer miles at the same time. But slowly, the scale shortens. We go to London, and then to a plot of land in Scotland. The end, in contrast to most Bond films, is incredibly small-scale and introspective. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – it packs an incredibly powerful punch.

It’s rounded off with some great performances too. Judy Dench gives us another look at the stoic, witty M she so successfully portrays, and Daniel Craig simmers with pent up aggression throughout. Newcomers to the series Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw deserve plenty of credit as well: particularly Whishaw, who brings Q bang up to date.

Javier Bardem steals the show, though. His performance as Raoul Silva is absolutely terrifying. A Bond villain to be proud of, he is dangerous, charming, seductive, funny, and completely and utterly insane. His plot doesn’t revolve around world domination, or wealth – he is not the greedy Bond villain archetype in the style of Goldfinger. Instead, Silva is entirely focused on the destruction of M and the MI6. He’s not a Blofeld. In fact, if he’s to be compared to anyone, it’s quite possibly The Joker from The Dark Knight.

It’s not the only comparison this film bears to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, either. There are certain directorial similarities – in particular an abundance of breathtaking location shots, and a grounded sense of realism. The most important similarity, though, is the desire to build a film around themes instead of set-pieces. Skyfall has a message beyond “watch things get blown up”, and as a result, it is a much stronger movie than your regular popcorn-munching blockbuster.

There are a few quibbles to be had, of course. There are a few more light-hearted moments that jar a little with the overall tone, and there’s a particularly silly scene with Komodo dragons that doesn’t quite work. Thankfully, the film only has these few, minor problems.

In short, Skyfall is fantastic. It sits happily in the top tier of Bond movies alongside the likes of Goldeneye, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice, continues 2012’s magnificent run of excellent major releases, and most importantly does something new – and positive – with one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time.

Apologies for the lack of new posts in the last couple of weeks. There have been a few exciting developments recently, one of which I can talk about. A number of my film fanatic friends, along with yours truly, have formed a brand new site called Geek Clique. We’re going to bring fantastic reviews and opinion pieces on film, including both new releases and retrospectives. If you head over to the site now you’ll see a wealth of other James Bond content.

So, if you fancy having a gander it would be much appreciated!

You can also see my awkward attempts at 8-bit sprites.

More new content here, and at Geek Clique, soon.

Horror Movies You May Have Missed Part Three: The Reckoning

5 Sep

It’s been a while, but here’s another bunch of spooky movies you might not have seen.



This 1981 film is one of the most unsettling I have ever seen. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani play a couple whose marriage has deteriorated beyond repair. She wants a divorce, but Neill is determined to try and save the relationship: if only for the sake of their son, Bob. Although it features some spectacular – and horrifying – special effects, the film succeeds mainly on the strength of its psychological nature. Paranoid and desperate, this is a film you will never forget.



Absentia is going to become a real cult classic. Released in 2011 and made on a measly budget of $70,000, it’s got the best scares-to-pound ratio of any film since The Blair Witch Project. Winner of a huge number of horror awards, the film follows two sisters trying to continue their lives after the disappearance of the elder’s husband several years earlier. But was something sinister behind his departure?


Cabin Fever 2

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like the first Cabin Fever. It didn’t scare me, the over-the-top gore seemed a cheap trick, and the plot didn’t work for me. The sequel, though? Well that’s a different matter entirely. The only way I can describe this film is that it’s like Napoleon Dynamite if someone added a flesh-eating virus to the mix. Totally unique and compelling viewing.



In this found footage film, a group of grad students decide on a controversial film thesis – to travel into America with a group of illegal immigrants and document their journey. Unfortunately, the group is captured by an anti-immigration vigilante group, who offer them a deal: record everything that happens in their secret prison, and they will be set free. Try to interfere, and they will be killed.


Shadow of the Vampire

This movie gives us a brilliant premise: what if, whilst making Nosferatu, Director F.W. Murnau had given the role of the vampyr to an actual creature of the night? Darkly funny and deeply frightening, this film has absolutely fantastic performances from John Malkovich and Willem Defoe. Add a great supporting cast, including Cary Elwes, Udo Kier, and Eddie Izzard, and one of the best final monologues in cinema history, and you’ve got an excellent horror on your hands.


Stir of Echoes

Probably the most well-known film on this list, Stir of Echoes had the bad luck of being released very soon after The Sixth Sense. Kevin Bacon, after a hypnosis session, begins to suffer horrifying visions of a ghost of a girl. Although not particularly scary, the film has a great atmosphere, excellent performances, and puts together a genuinely compelling mystery.



I love a bit of body horror, and Society is one of the greats of the sub-genre. Equal parts funny and disgusting, the film follows a teenage boy who begins to suspect his family – and his entire town – may be more than human. Acting as both a great parable for adolescence and a scathing critique of the class system, Society shows that horror can be intelligent.



Speaking of body horror, it would be negligent of me not to mention David Cronenberg. One of the greatest directors ever, he’s been responsible for some of the best horror films ever created – but his first film is often overlooked. Made in 1975, it was once the most successful Canadian film of all time, but was so heavily controversial that Cronenberg found it difficult to get funding for further projects. Also known as They Came From Within, Cronenberg’s debut is a must watch.



A lot of horror films tap into the fears we had as children. They is no exception, and focuses around four adults that had night terrors when they were growing up. What if night terrors were because of genuine monsters, and that one day, those monsters come back? It may not be a classic, but They is a real chiller.



The final film on this list, Dread is based on a short story by Clive Barker. A team of students decides to do a film study on fear – getting to the root of what really makes people scared. Although it sometimes drops into Saw-esque territory, for the most part it is a brutal, psychologically-scarring film with surprisingly deep characters. Most impressive of all is Quaid, played by Shaun Evans, who gives a brilliant, terrifying performance.


That’s all for now! Up next, another retro review. But I’m sure that more horror recommendations will be coming your way…

Oh yes indeed.

Depression: The Non-Discriminatory Curse

20 Aug

Today we woke up to the tragic news of Tony Scott’s suicide. Scott, brother of Ridley, directed such iconic films as Top Gun, True Romance and Man on Fire, and produced Prometheus and The A-Team. He was a talented filmmaker and was responsible for some of the most iconic scenes in cinema in the last thirty years. The news of his death was a total shock.

Depression can attack anyone. Depression doesn’t care about how successful you are, how much you earn, or how many people you have around you; it will make you feel like a failure, and completely alone. Scott was an artist, but at the same time he made many robust, strong action films. He did not fit the stereotype of a suicidal person.

The depressed are typecast. They are pigeonholed. The cultural view of a suicidal person is the thin, waiflike artistic individual. The person who locks themselves away to write poetry, who listens to The Cure, who only watches films like Donnie Darko or The Crow. When I was a sufferer, and when I finally talked to people about my problems, my friends were surprised. Yes, I am a pretentious musician and writer. My favourite band is Nine Inch Nails and love American Beauty. But I am a vibrant person. I talk for England. I sing constantly and it irritates a lot of people. I can watch Dumb & Dumber and laugh like an idiot. When I was at university, I went clubbing several times a week and can still happily listen to ‘emotionless’ fun music based solely around how good it is to dance to.

My point is that depression can affect anyone. The death of Gary Speed, a former footballer and Wales international coach, woke up the football community. Speed was a model professional, took care of his physical fitness, did a huge amount of community work and was an incredibly supportive individual to those around him. He was well-liked both in the football world and beyond.

In the world of such a masculine sport, he is not alone, either. German goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide, and Neil Lennon, Paul Merson and Stan Collymore have both spoken about their battles with depression. In American football, Terry Bradshaw was a sufferer. In cricket, Lou Vincent, who does a huge amount of work to raise awareness about mental illness.

For every person who society ‘expects’ to be more susceptible to depression – the artistic sorts like Woody Allen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – there is another who is seen as immune. But it doesn’t work like that. Depression is debilitating and disabling, and it does its work completely unseen. It affects Jim Carrey and it affects Buzz Aldrin. And it isn’t a simple matter of ‘cheering yourself up’. It takes time to be able to successfully function again, and there are scars that never go away.

The point of this post is this: if you suffer yourself, if you are depressed, if you have feelings of killing yourself, it is not a shameful thing. Talk to someone. Consult a doctor, try and get counselling. It can destroy the best and brightest of us, and if it goes unchecked then the people who can combat it will only know when it is too late.

A Closer Look at Film Adaptations

11 Aug

Last time, I wrote about just how difficult it is to create a successful adaptation. The example I used was David Lynch’s Dune, a box-office bomb that failed to bring Frank Herbert’s epic vision to the big screen. Today, I’ll go through my personal favourite, least favourite and controversial adaptations – not just of novels, but of a variety of different media. I’m only picking five from each category, so since this is far from a definitive list.


The Good

Below are the best of the best: fantastic movies that managed to adapt the original source material without it leading to major detrimental changes to the plot, and that, at least mainly, avoided the wrath of either fans of the original or the creators themselves.


Blade Runner

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, shall we? Blade Runner is a fantastic movie. Beautifully directed, expertly scripted, and with a huge number of iconic performances. It’s one of the best science fiction films ever made. What often gets overlooked, though, is just how well it was adapted into film. The original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, contains a myriad of different ideas that were excluded from Blade Runner, the most important being the religious movement of Mercerism. In spite of the big changes, Blade Runner stays true to the main plot of the novel, so much so that Philip K Dick, who lived only to see a test reel and read the screenplay, said that they had captured his “own interior world”.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986)

I may be cheating a little here by putting three films together, but these movies share a similar timeline: pulp science fiction stories, first adapted for cinema in the fifties, and then again in the seventies and eighties. I count these three films amongst the best horrors ever made, and I would say that they improve upon the original stories by making small changes: the setting and ending of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the discovery of the alien in The Thing, and the transformation method of The Fly, for instance. Of the three, The Thing is actually the closest to the source material – and I’d suggest the original novella, Who Goes There?, to any science fiction fans looking for an underrated gem.

Great posters, too.


American Psycho

Reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is like being bludgeoned to death by an incredibly well-written brick. It’s a brutal and uncompromising critique of late 80s Wall Street ideals and is an important and powerful work of literature. It is dark, funny, ultra-violent and absolutely brilliant. It was given an equally controversial adaptation in 2000, starring Christian Bale. I mention Bale as he was the main reason why I think the adaptation works: an astute casting choice and an inch-perfect performance. The adaptation was relatively faithful to the novel, bar a few of the more gory moments, but somehow doesn’t quite have the same power as the book. That said, it is still an intelligent, funny, and thought-provoking movie.


Jurassic Park

This was once the most successful film ever made, and for good reason – the best special effects of the time, a bright and vibrant directorial style, and a story that was exciting for adults, but still family-friendly. And that is the biggest change that was made between the novel and the film. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is quite a different beast: darker, longer, with more detailed scientific exposition.

Spielberg’s film streamlined the plot and cut a number of characters. The most interesting example is that of the lawyer, Gennaro. Rather than the weak, frightened character seen in the film, the Gennaro of the novel has a much more active role, and contributes a lot more to the plot. However, in the film Gennaro was combined with another character called Ed Regis.


LA Confidential

Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential is a near-perfect film noir. It includes a smoky atmosphere, great performances (particularly those of Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce), is aesthetically wonderful, and most importantly has a genuinely intriguing and hard to decipher mystery. It’s a work of art, and is so good that the novel’s author James Ellroy counts it as one of his favourite crime movies. And Ellroy is a hard man to please; he was particularly scathing of another adaptation of one of his novels, The Black Dahlia.


The Controversial

The films below are those that deviated heavily from the subject matter, plot, or tone of their original material, and in doing so were heavily criticized by the original authors or fans of the intellectual property. In spite of that, I still consider them to be good films.


The Shining

“Wait, The Shining?” I hear you cry. “But that’s one of Kubrick’s greats!” Well, yes it is. But people didn’t always feel that way. The Shining was nominated for Razzies, and received a lot of negative reviews. Stephen King himself was highly critical of it, both because of the removal of large amounts of the supernatural and the way that Jack was built as an incredibly unsympathetic character from the off. Over time, both the critical reception and King’s own feelings on the film have softened, but at the time this was far from the controversy-free masterpiece that we know today.


Total Recall

Daft one-liners, extreme violence, nudity, explosions, and a hulking Austrian: Total Recall may well be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movie. It’s also another Philip K. Dick adaptation, this time of the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. There are very few similarities between the two, however; you won’t find any three-breasted mutants or action-packed fights on the surface of Mars. The short story instead is much stranger, and like much of Dick’s work deals with the way that perception and reality differ. That said, I love both: Total Recall is a great action movie, and …Wholesale is a unique and interesting read.



I must confess that I love this film. It’s directed perfectly for a more fantastical comic book movie, the casting was excellent (particularly Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian), and, personally, I think that the changes made to the main plot work. I think Zack Snyder keeps the overall message of the film on-track and is as faithful as he could have been. I can also understand where the criticisms come from: gone are the wonderful, intertwining story arcs, the multimedia storytelling and the full development of some characters. Watchmen was always said to be ‘unfilmable’, and to an extent I agree – I think that Snyder did as well as anybody could do, and as it stands, I think he did a great job.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This film, with Gene Wilder in top form as the inscrutable sweet-maker Willy Wonka, is a cult classic. Loved by kids for its vibrant colours, dreamlike locations, and the wish fulfilment fantasy of owning a chocolate factory, not everyone was a fan. And by that, I mean Roald Dahl, the author of the original book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl, who was writing the screenplay but could not keep to deadlines, was absolutely furious with what the final film did to his novel, and afterwards refused to give over rights to a sequel.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy         

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy took $2,917 million at the box office and won 17 Oscars. But not everyone enjoyed the epic fantasy trilogy. There was huge criticism over changes made to characters, events, and themes of Tolkien’s original trilogy. In particular, the changes made to the characters of Merry and Pippin, and the cutting of the hobbits’ return to The Shire to find it under the control of Saruman, brought on the anger of Tolkien fans. As it stands, Peter Jackson’s trilogy is still one of the biggest achievements in film history – but perhaps not a true reflection of Tolkien’s fantasy series.


The Bad

Finally, here are the adaptations that just don’t work. Heavy deviation that is detrimental to the overall quality of the film, cluttered and unforgiving screenplays for the uninitiated viewer, and total thematic change are all included below.


Max Payne

This adaptation of the 2001 videogame should have been an automatic hit. The storyline, a mix of hard-boiled detective, corporate conspiracy, and good, old-fashioned action was perfect as it was, and game’s pulp, graphic novel art style meant that it really should have been an easy adaptation. Unfortunately, it fell into the trap that claims many a videogame film: over-complication of the story. Rather than stick to the watertight plot of the game, changes were made that turned Max Payne into a convoluted mess.


The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has a number of complex themes right underneath the surface. Most important of all are the discussion of religion, and the development of children into adulthood through increased responsibility. All of this disappeared, though, in 2007’s adaptation. Worst of all, though, was the way in which Roger’s fate was changed – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to read the novels, but it makes a dramatic difference to the tone of the story, and it was a change that really jarred with the original.


The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the best kids TV shows in the last twenty years. It had deep, interesting characters, an interesting art style, a wonderful setting, and – most important of all – a completed and impressive story arc. Unfortunately, it did not convert well into a feature film. There was scathing criticism over the casting choices – Avatar was set in an Asian-influenced world yet the film had a primarily western cast – and over absolutely appalling dialogue, wooden characters, and a nonsensical plot.


We Need To Talk About Kevin

A controversial choice, this – but hopefully I can explain myself. We Need To Talk About Kevin received fairly good reviews upon its release, and the praise of Lionel Shriver. However, I feel it falls down by being thematically different from the original. I spent a large proportion of the book thinking about whether I believed my narrator; was she reliable? The framework of the novel was strong, as well: it was separated into different letters. Instead, the film gave us an unconventional, time-jumping structure and little hint that the film was showing anything other than the absolute truth. Although fantastic-looking, We Need To Talk About Kevin could not achieve the same effect as the original.


The Bonfire of the Vanities

Finally, here is the infamous The Bonfire of the Vanities. The novel by Tom Wolfe tapped into the political, social, and racial sentiments of 1980s New York – from the rich and powerful of Wall Street to the marginalised of Harlem and the Bronx. The film, though, was a huge box-office bomb. Part of the reason it failed to capture the same power as the novel was the casting choice of Tom Hanks as Sherman McCoy. McCoy, an intensely unlikable character in the book, was softened in an attempt to make him more likable. In the end, it meant that The Bonfire of the Vanities was a weakened-down comedy-drama, and a far cry away from the incisive original novel.


So, that was a brief look at what I consider to be some of the best, most controversial, and worst adaptations. Up next, I will take you through the adaptations that I would love to see happen.

Source Material and the Film Adaptation

6 Aug

As I’ve said before, I am not against adapting books/novels/comics/delete-as-appropriate into movies. I recognise that a lot of amazing films have been created from other sources. However, when a film is made out of a previous intellectual property, filmmakers have to tread a very careful line: to stay faithful to the source material whilst creating a story that works. And believe it or not, this is much harder than it looks.

What people fail to realise is that books and movies are very different media, and as such require very different structures and writing styles. Just because a novel has a brilliant plot, it will not necessarily transfer over into cinema. There are methods novels can employ that films cannot: use of descriptive text, use of internal monologues for characters, and a less stilted conveyance of emotion without resorting to dialogue for instance.

Excessive dialogue does not cover up other flaws in a screenplay.

Meanwhile, movies are an inherently visual medium, and must also successfully utilize the use of sound. Plots need to be more concise. Characters need to be more concrete and defined. The world of the film must be more structured, and, as it were, more real – or at least have a set of rules that must be adhered to for the audience to buy into the situations shown. Cinema is at the same time both simpler and more complex than fiction.

Having said all this, I can suggest a few main reasons why certain adaptations fall flat. First up is pacing. Fiction can have more meandering sections, where characters can be developed without it being detrimental to the overall plot. Even the most action-packed of novels can have chapters where the tension can drop and the reader can really get to know the characters. In film? Not so much. There is a bit of leeway, but characters really need to be defined by their actions, by how they look, and by what they say.

Next up, there’s the problem of back story. How exactly do you get a huge back story into a film? With a Star Wars-style opening crawl? Clichéd, but it can work sometimes. Expositional dialogue? Definitely not. The most successful back stories are created without the audience even realising: a look or an in-joke between characters, mise-en-scène to portray the world of the film – or in the case of specific props, a bit of a character’s history.  There are some examples otherwise but in general these subvert the tropes of dialogue.

One of the reasons The Joker is great is because of his two back stories. Which is real? Is either?

Then, there’s the length. Novels, in general, have quite a lot going on – a complex plot, lots of characters, back story, even large jumps through time. When the subject of an adaptation is a long text, then sacrifices need to be made. But where should these sacrifices fall? Successful adaptations take the core plot, keep other plot elements that are thematically important, and cut around that: characters that add little vibrancy or have nothing to do with the story, back story that doesn’t develop the plot of the film, and character-developing scenes. It’s incredibly hard, though, to work out what should be cut, and the director and scriptwriter are bound to upset fans of the original work. Perhaps this is why it seems that short stories often work out as better adaptations.

Finally, there’s the audience. Many adaptations fail because they ignore one simple rule: the audience is a blank slate. Lots of them, or even most of them, will not have read the original text, and they shouldn’t have to. It doesn’t matter if fans of the novel understand what is going on; if Average Joe the cinema-goer doesn’t understand it, your film doesn’t work. If a viewer has to have done homework in order to decipher a big-budget adaption, then the filmmaker has, unfortunately, done something wrong somewhere during the production. This is the one criticism I have of Edgar Wright’s fantastic Scott Pilgrim – it looked great, the correct elements were cut from the plot and cast, the art style reflected the comic perfectly, but some viewers came out of the movie not quite understanding what they had just seen. This one mistake in an otherwise wonderful film could be one of the reasons why it didn’t do that well at the box office.

Those are the major reasons that adaptations fail. So, let’s do a case study, shall we? Let’s pick David Lynch’s Dune: one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Lynch was so unhappy with it that in certain pressings his name in the credit is replaced by Alan Smithee. Let’s not get on Lynch’s back, though – Frank Herbert’s original novel has many traps that any movie-maker could all into. It has time lapses, meandering character-developing sections, a massive back story, it’s absolutely massive, has a huge number of characters, its own vocabulary, a high-concept plot, and it’s absolutely insane. This book is potentially unfilmable – at least, as a single movie.

Lynch’s Dune fails at each and every one of these problems. Time-lapses are explained by an omniscient narrator, character developments are either explained by the same narrator or by the characters themselves – through both dialogue and internal thought. Back story? That’s the first fifteen minutes. The complete version of the film clocks in at just under three hours, and cuts still had to be made for the theatrical release that chopped up the story even further. Hardly any characters were cut, even those who, due to plot streamlining, had no point anymore. The vocabulary remains, some of it explained, some of it not. It’s still insane, and difficult to follow even if you’ve read the original text.

Worst of all though, are the additions made by Lynch himself. Obviously, additions need to be made, in terms of art style and dialogue. Sometimes even plot points and characters need to be added to make an adaptation work. Lynch, though, made some very strange choices. The evil Baron Harkonnen was given sores across his face (not mentioned in the novel), and due to the Baron being gay there were allegations of homophobia – with the sores representing the AIDS epidemic.

Then there’s this scene:

Why is a cat being milked for an antidote? Who knows. It wasn’t in the novel, that’s for sure, and doesn’t add anything to the film other than making Sting look even more mental.

How about the giant eyebrows of the Mentats? Or the seductive Bene Gesserit being made bald?

Eyebrows mean logic and baldness is sexy.

Lynch seemed to choose these additions over other points that were vital. The Mentats were included despite the Mentat/Bene Gesserit rivalry being practically removed from the film. Hawat (he who needs the cat-antidote) was kept in the film in spite of his role in the novel – helping the Harkonnens after believing that Paul Atreides’ mother betrayed him – being taken out of the movie. Gone was any feeling that Arrakis was a hard planet to live on, and indeed the value of water is not really present. And the point of the novel – that Paul Atreides is not truly a god, but has made himself seem one, is taken out. Unfortunately, Dune is far removed from the source material in all the wrong ways. It is also similar to the source material in all the wrong ways.

Film adaptations, for me, fall into one of three categories. There are the great adaptations – the films that are respectful of the source, build upon it, and adapt it into a working movie. The films that make you want to go back and read the original work, regardless of whether you’ve read it before. Then there are the films that were heavily criticized for their deviation from their source material, but are still good films in their own right. Finally, there are those that just don’t work – nonsensical plots, poor scripts, changes to the source that make no sense, and that are just bad movies.

Join me next time and I’ll take you on a whirlwind tour of the three categories of adaptations – the good, the bad, and the it-got-ugly-with-the-original-fans.