It Stains The Sand Red 2016

Its hard out there for a zombie movie. To try and make yourself distinct from the rest of the flesh eating hordes you really have to try something different in order to get noticed. Recent times have barfed up The Girl With All The Gifts with its emphasis on children and World War Z with its emphasis on throwing lots of money at the screen and then doing a bog standard final act that could be in any low budget undead flick.

It Stains The Sand Red tries something different for its plot and it works a treat… well to start with anyway.

Molly and Nick are racing across the desert in his Porsche, escaping from the zombie apocalypse. Neither of them seem particularly bothered by the mayhem they’ve left behind, partly because they are drunk and high but mostly because they are selfish. However a quick vomit stop results in Molly alone with no car and being relentlessly chased by a single, besuited zombie. This is the central plot of the film: one woman being mercilessly pursued by a man who wants to kill her (and eat her intestines obviously). No matter where she goes, and she doesn’t really have anywhere to go as she’s in the middle of the Nevada desert, there he is, relentlessly following her.

This is a great set up for a low budget movie. For one thing you only need two actors. Brittany Allen has a really tough job to do here. She has to be both an awful human being and deeply sympathetic (she pulls it off well). She may be self obsessed but she has also found herself in this situation through a series of bad choices with bad men, the zombie following her is just the latest in a long line of them. It is telling that when she runs out of the cocaine she was so desperate to keep hold of in her initial scramble to escape, the real Molly starts to show herself. She is a woman of regret and sorrow and maybe this enforced, hideous, sobering experience is what she needs to get back on track in life. Obviously its a pity that her new life could be in a world where everyone is dead but hey, you can’t chose when you’re going to sort your shit out.

Molly herself is a trashy, taste free stripper with too much make-up, some awful animal print clothes and deeply inappropriate shoes for walking in the desert. There is a beautiful moment when Molly comes across a mirror and sees her face, all the make-up long since washed away. She looks almost shocked at seeing her true self. Its the minimalist plot which means the film can have great, subtle character moments like this.

Juan Riedinger plays the zombie, not very affectionally know as Smalls. Zombies are ten-a-penny nowadays so making them distinct or even scary is a tricky number to pull off. Smalls’s relentless pursuit of Molly makes him a formidable presence and having him stumble around in the bright summer sun rather than shuffling around in the dark makes him more creepy rather than less: despite the fact that here is a man trying to kill a woman in broad daylight there is no one here to stop him.

The other thing that works so well in It Stains The Sand Red‘s favour is the astonishing Valley of Fire desert location. There have been a lot of low budget films shot in deserts but director Colin Minihan and his cinematographer Clayton Moore really take advantage of the Nevada landscape, with grand vistas and heat hazed tarmac. The stark image of Smalls in his sharp black suit against the burning brightness of the sand makes the zombie stand out more in this hellish world not fit for humans.

My main problem as I watched the first part of the film was that I wasn’t sure they could make this premise last for an hour and a half. Even half an hour in it felt a little repetitive with Molly thinking she’d escaped Smalls only for him to lurch out from behind some rock again and again. However the dynamic between the two characters does take a turn, I’m just not sure its for the better.

Look, I find it a bit odd for people to say I don’t like the way a story went it should have done this instead. Well if that’s the story you wanted to see then you should have written it yourself. So its not for me to tell Minihan and co what there story should be about. However it seems weird that (OKAY SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) firstly Molly and Smalls should start to get along, mainly because he is a zombie who’s soul purpose in life, sorry death, is to eat people and Molly should be just meat to him.  Maybe its like Bub in Day of the Dead who grows as a zombie and doesn’t want to eat his master. I can maybe see a bit how Molly would be more grateful to him (he saves her life, albeit only because the person attacking her was nearer and so easier to eat) as she probably likes any man who shows some kind of kindness to her. But their relationship does seem to me to stretch probability somewhat. However I could go along with this because at least it did do something different and stretch Molly’s character in interesting ways. What I couldn’t understand was how the final act abandons the entire set up altogether and becomes a basic standard zombie movie like hundreds of others. I realise that you have to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, however the end of this story seemed to be from a completely different movie.

Okay so if you did skip the rest of that last paragraph I basically said it starts of interesting, well made and original and by the end its just well made. Still if you aren’t sick to death of zombies by now (and I have to say I am more and more struggling to care about them anymore) then its better than most, certainly better than World War Z with its generic, bog standard final act… oh, hang on….

Antibirth 21016

The horror genre can be very repetitive. It is constantly going through cycles, making the same stories over and over again. We are subjected to years of slasher movies with little creativity, then years of post-modern slashers mocking them. Possession films have been spat out for so many years that surely everyone must be bored of them by now? Found footage has had its day, at least this time round, as has the haunted house movie. A film about ouija boards is a box office smash and a year later the shelves are full of Ouija rip offs. If you look at the horror genre as just this cycle of repetition then it would be easy to dismiss it as a beast always eating its own tail.

However the horror genre is also the ground for some of the most experimental and unique movies out there. Maybe it is because of the low risk nature of the budgets, or perhaps because experiments in art often result in nightmarish imagery, but the genre is packed with all kinds of weird, off kilter and demented projects. Its not a coincidence that a number of Any Warhol’s films were horror ones. Horror is the place where Cronenberg can explore his obsession with the alien nature of the human body, and where David Lynch can study the fractured state of reality. Horror may be sometimes a cheesy yarn about teenagers being chopped up in a woods, but every now and then it can achieve something much darker, stranger and better.

This is where films like Antibirth exist. It is clear that director Danny Perez’s approach to narrative structure is secondary to weird imagery from the opening scene where we follow our heroine Lou, played by Natasha Lyonne, through a fragmented, drug fueled night of partying which barely makes any sense. The rest of the film is about Lou’s attempt to piece together what happened that night when she finds out that she is pregnant. Whilst initially hard to follow what has happened and indeed what is happening, that is a really the point. We are following Lou’s point of view, and being a drug addict and alcoholic her point of view is as incoherent as her daily life. It’s not like Lou even tries to straighten herself up, either because she has potentially been sexually assaulted or because she is carrying a new life inside her. In fact she seems to go the opposite way and drink more, smoke more and intake more pills. Of course if you have seen Orange Is The New Black then you know this isn’t exactly a stretch for Lyonne. However it is really worth checking interviews to see Lyonne isn’t just being herself on screen, she’s just really good at playing a waster.

Lyonne is ably helped by Chloe Sevengy playing her best friend Sadie. The two of them are like low rent versions of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous– whenever the shit hits the fan, or even if they just have a bit of spare time, their approach is just to pop back to Lou’s horrible prefab home (that seems to being the middle of a dump site) and get off their tits.

All this self abuse leads increasingly to Lou having weird flashbacks and hallucinations which, surprisingly, drive the narrative forward as she is able to see clues as to how she ended up pregnant in the first place. What is most surprising abour all of this is that all this destructive madness makes sense at the end with a gloopy and gory climax for which the word “bonkers” was invented.

The film is designed with primary colours which swwwmed to have been left to mix up together too much in a paint pot so instead of bright and cheerful it’s repellently gross. This is no more vividly expressed than when we meet what seem like bad trip versions of the Teletubbies.

Antibirth probably isn’t for everyone: it’s incredibly cheap and sleazy, and the lead character works hard to get your disrespect and is barely able to stand for most of the time. However if you like to watch some freakish and experimental fun with a brilliant central performance from an actor honing a particular type then you will be laughing. And then there’s that ending which is either hilarious too of revolting, depending how you look at it…





George A. Romero 1940 to 2017

George A. Romero died on Sunday the 16th July 2017 after a short battle with lung cancer. He was one of the few directors who can genuinely lay claim to having changed cinema forever. His body may have died but his body of work will live on forever.

It is well documented in the likes of Easy Riders and Raging Bulls that back in the late 60s the counter culture was making inroads into Hollywood that would change American cinema from the stuffy old hierarchy of studio bosses and escapism to a modern, realistic form of story telling that ushered in the second golden age of the movies. However, whilst Hopper and company were making Easy Rider across America, in deepest, darkest Pittsburgh another young film maker was creating something so new and original that it would revolutionise horror cinema all by itself, sweeping away old Gothicism and clunky tropes and bring it slam bang into the modern world.

Night of the Living Dead may have seemed like just another drive-in B movie but with its subtext of how the violence of the Vietnam war was affecting the American mind and putting the civil rights movement front and centre by casting a black man as the hero, critics and audiences alike sat up and took notice. It wasn’t just these political issues which made the film an instant classic, it was also the striking imagery of the recently deceased attacking their former family members, the brutal, sudden, gory violence and its refusal to give the audience to give anything like a happy outcome.

Night of the Living Dead was a huge hit, making close to $30 million in the US alone (that would be $210 million today). However due to one tiny change to the title of the movie Romero lost the copyright to it and hardly saw a dollar.

The effect Night of the Living Dead had on horror cinema was almost instant. The reigning studio of the time, Hammer, immediately started to look old hat as audiences started to seek more modern scares. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would never have been made without Night… and even the studios embraced the realism now being shown with like of The Exorcist. Romero himself never fully became part of the Hollywood system, instead continuing to explore what horror meant to contemporary America in independents with the likes of Season of the Witch and The Crazies.

During this period Romero’s greatest film was Martin, which like Night of the Living Dead took an old horror monster and flipped it on its head. Into the grim reality of 1970s America he reintroduced the vampire. Dealing with insanity, disease and drug addiction Martin is never less than a challenging and thought provoking feature. It is also absolutely terrifying. It didn’t strike a chord with audiences in the same way that Night… did but that doesn’t mean it is any less deserving of praise. Maybe now Romero has passed people will start digging up Martin and give it the recognition it is due.

Next Romero returned to the zombies that had made his name and make his masterpiece. Dawn of the Dead again brought up social commentary within the context of the horror genre, this time about the West’s obsession with consumerism. But it was also an incredibly exciting and well made action-horror movie. Managing to be both tragically bleak and hugely entertaining at the same time, Dawn of the Dead again had a massive influence on cinema and pop culture, an influence that is still felt today. The outrageous gore and fully realised world building of a post apocalyptic America has influenced so many parts of Western fiction there isn’t enough room to even begin discussing it here.

Romero collaborated with Italian macabre master Dario Argento on the making of Dawn of the Dead and with its success he was to move onto another great collaboration: working with America’s best horror author, Stephen King. Creepshow was a bizarre, vivid and strangely humorous anthology movie based on stories by King. Romero shot the film like the old EC comics it was clearly influenced by and the primary colours on show highlighted how wonderfully weird the whole endeavour was. Add in Tom Savini’s outrageous special make-up effects, Stephen King acting (sort of) and a final story so full of cockroaches you can feel your flesh crawl when the end credits roll and it seemed that Romero was so on fire that he could do whatever he wanted and the audiences would come flocking.

Unfortunately due to the difficult nature of funding, especially in the more conservative eighties, Romero struggled to get his next film, Day of the Dead, made. Rather than compromise his gory vision the director chose to make the third film in the Dead series with a smaller budget. Day of the Dead is still a horror classic but rather than be the grand finale to the trilogy it felt like a smaller, more intimate story in an ongoing series. It also suffered from difficulty with distribution and marketing due to being slapped with an NC-17 rating in the States (the kiss of death box office wise) and it seemed like Romero’s zombies were to die a sad, quiet death, rather than the rousing climax they deserved.

Romero went on to make other good films though, most of which no one saw. He worked again with Argento on the Edgar Allen Poe anthology Two Evil Eyes and also with King with a fantastic adaptation of The Dark Half. The story of a man being stalked by his evil dead twin is full of shocks, strong imagery and great performances… and again like many of his films in this period it didn’t get the release or praise it deserved.

The same could be said for Monkey Shines and Bruiser which also disappeared into obscurity and as the gap between productions grew and grew it seemed that Romero was to be all but forgotten.

Then a funny thing happened… Danny Boyle’s non-zombie zombie movie 28 Days Later was a surprise box office smash and suddenly the undead were hot again. Before he knew what was happening Romero suddenly had a big wad of cash to make Land of the Dead. The forth Dead film is certainly uneven but is full of ideas, not least the theme about how the rich are getting richer in their ivory towers whilst the poor are stuck down in the mud with death closing in on them. This seems even more relevant today that it did in 2004. A modest success it meant that Romero could now get funding for more films, albeit seemingly only zombie ones. He followed up Land… with Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. These two films certainly have their problems and detractors but there were still full of those wonderful zombies, shuffling around and eating people who make foolish mistakes, in the way that only Romero can do.

If you look back at Romero’s long career, with a couple of oddball exceptions (jousting motorcycle drama Knightriders and OJ: Juice on the Loose !?!), here was a director who consistently embraced and moved forward the horror genre. However, despite the often serious nature of these films the man himself was apparently quite a different beast. A good friend of mine worked with him on some of his later zombie movies and said Romero laughed all the time. I mean literally he never stopped laughing. My friend worried that perhaps Romero was a little unhinged, in a good natured way, but I like to think that maybe he was just happy to be working and couldn’t believe his luck: still making good horror movies and, finally, getting paid for it.

Alien: Covenant 2017

Look, if you are one of the seemingly endless amounts of people who didn´t like Prometheus then I can tell you now you are probably not going to Alien: Covenant either. This is because no matter what the title or poster suggests, this is very much the film set after Prometheus rather than the film set before Alien. The main reason given for people´s hatred of Prometheus is that the characters all do stupid things, and if that was your reason then,  like I said, Alien: Covenant is going to annoy you all over again because it is populated by more people doing more stupid things.

That whole stupid characters thing always bugged me. Partly because when you are are in times of great stress then you often DO do stupid things: for example I have frequently not ran out of the way of a falling spaceship, but my excuse was I was in a state of panic because a spaceship was falling on my head. What did you expect? I´m never going to be able to defend the guys who did the mapping of the Space Jockey´s ship and then couldn´t find their way out but to be honest I don´t care. I am a died in the wool, hard core horror fan and characters being idiots is my bread and butter. If they didn´t act like fools then Jason would never kill anyone. Brett in the orignal Alien was a bloody idiot for looking for Jones the cat but no one has a fanny fit about that do they? Alien: Covenant certainly has its fair share of dumbness (two people slip over on the same pool of blood for God´s sake) and there is a moment late in the film which seems more like a rip off from an Alien rip-off than something directed by Sir Ridley Scott but I´ll get to that in a bit.

Maybe the worst problem isn’t that they are stupid but that most of the characters aren´t characters at all, or at least aren´t developed in any way of note. No matter what you thought of Idris Elba and Charlize Theron´s characters in Prometheus at least you knew quite a lot about them. Here there are a number of characters who you can barely recognise as crew members before they´ve been eaten or dribbled on. I suspect that the 18 minutes of deleted scenes coming to the Blu Ray will sketch these people out a little better and you can at least work out who they are if you watch The Last Supper which was a five minute short released before the film which should really have been at the beginning of it.

However, these problems are by the by though. Yeah i know I have said before about the importance of character in order to care for the story but we do have some interesting individuals here and most importantly there is an awful lot of good. Like Prometheus what we are left with is, once again, an ambitious, haunting, beautiful but flawed horror science fiction movie that weighs more heavily on the horror this time than the sci fi of the last prequel.

This emphasis on horror is important. Apparently last time Ridley Scott felt that after all the sequels and verseses the concept of the Alien had run its course, so tried to do something different. Instead of the old dark house in space he went for a more cerebral action sci fi that mused on the origins of humanity and what it means to be a creator. Various last minute rewrites may have muddled those ideas somewhat but it didn’t stop the film from being an interesting discussion on birth, life and death. The look and feel was very much what the future and space could look like. Between the bright, beautiful people, their clothes, the ship and even, initially, the planet they land on , Scott was creating a science fiction universe where technology could be used to explore the origins of humanity and the posibilities of its existance going forward. Alien: Covenant is the flip-side to this. Everything is dirty and dark. The planet the crew land on might seem like it could be paradise but it becomes very quickly apparent that it is in fact hell.

Beyond the usual pods and eggs you’d expect to find on an Alien planet there is also Michael Fassbender’s crazy android David who clearly has far too much time by himself and, if he wasn’t already one circuit short of a ZX Spectrum before he certainly is now. Despite the welcome return of the H. R. Giger designed xenomorph the real monster here is David who has done some unspeakable things since the last film, some of which are only hinted at here (we are never fully sure what he did to Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw) and what he has in store for the crew of the Covenant isn’t any better. The home David has made for himself is truly hellish, from the literal with charred bodies reaching out from the ground towards the heavens like some kind of renaissance landscape to the weird little lab/bedroom he lives in.

David is the main fully realised character on display, along with perhaps his replacement Walter. David is confused that he thinks he is playing god, trying to create life like Doctor Frankenstein (he even quotes what he thinks is Byron when what it is is Shelly, the husband of the author of Frankenstein) but really he is just the monster. The opening of the film shows David discussing creation with his maker and the main themes of the movie are set up here, as well as following on from Prometheus. Alien: Covenant might have the sheen of a blockbuster but what it really is a meditation on life and who has the right to create it.

It really is a pity that the rest of the characters are so underdeveloped as we are left to either root for David or against him, rather than for the final girl. That’s not to say that Katherine Waterston doesn’t do her best because she does, but we don’t know much about her other than her husband dies very early on.  This at least is one area where the characters do come alive, even if it is a bit unclear as to who they all are at various points: the spaceship Covenant is carrying colonists to new worlds and the crew themselves are mostly couples. The upshot of this is when one member dies there is serious grief from at least one other crew member, it would have been nice to establish which person was with who at the start of the film though. For example it wasn’t til after the film was over that I realised there was a gay couple on the ship.

The one truly ridiculous part of Alien: Covenant has to be the sex in the shower scene that you probably saw in the trailers. If it happened near the beginning it might have been bad enough but it happens right before the oh-its-not-really-dead extra climax. I’m as big a fan of sex in the shower as the next man who saw An American Werewolf in London as a youth, but if 90% of my crew mates had just been killed on a weird alien planet there’s no way I would be in the mood for some wet and wild times orbiting said planet about ten minutes later. Add into that that the scene feels lifted from Galaxy of Terror, itself a rip-off of Alien in the first place and you have to wonder what anyone was thinking when they wrote, shot and edited that scene.

Oh I don’t care that much really. Alien: Covenant is still head and shoulders above the Alien Vs Predator movies and is way more engaging than Alien: Resurrection (not hard admittedly) so its alright in my books. I’m not saying it isn’t flawed, and I’m certainly not saying it isn’t deeply stupid at points, because it definitely is, but I still really enjoyed it all the same. It was brimming with interesting ideas and beautifully dark imagery. it won’t go down as a classic like Alien or Aliens but it will certainly exist on my shelves next to other expensive and messy follies that I still love like Event Horizon, The Keep or Lifeforce and that, my friends, is okay by me.

God I love Lifeforce. Must watch that again sometime. Hey its my birthday, maybe I’ll watch it tonight…

Don’t Hang Up 2016

Pranksters are a staple of the horror genre. As most monsters and/or serial killer will need a bunch of teens to butcher then those teens better have some kind of character trait. You can have the jock, the nerd, the slutty girl and of course someone who likes nothing more than pulling hilarious pranks on the rest of the gang. And when I say hilarious I mean not funny in the slightest. The good thing about these fool makers is that they are often the first to be garrotted, beheaded or disemboweled by Jason Voorhees or whoever. The audience are happy to see these imbeciles die because they are annoying and their pranks are annoying too.

So making a film purely about pranksters is both a good idea and a terrible one. On the one hand no one else has made a horror movie like this, but on the other we have endure more and seemingly endless “jokes” at other people’s expense. Of course that is the point: we’re not meant to like these guys, but a whole movie with them front and centre? It might be too much.

Brady and Sam are the jesters in question. Despite both looking like male models who could be out getting laid relentlessly, they spend their sad spare time making prank calls to unsuspecting good folk and tell them that their home is being invaded or that their wives have been killed in a car crash. Laugh out loud stuff like that. Problems arise when they get a return phone call and the creepily voiced person (who sounds just like the killer in Scream) calls up and starts to turn the tables on them.

Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot (how come all directors seem to work in twos nowadays?) do a damn fine job of shooting what is essentially a film entirely set in one location. We get some interesting camera moves rolling around Sam’s house like a budget version of David Fincher’s Panic Room. It helps set up the geography of the location which is important because there is a lot of going in and out of doors later on in the film and I really wouldn’t know what was going on without it.

Or maybe I wouldn’t have cared. Obviously Don’t Hang Up wants these characters to get their just desserts (or does it?) however I wouldn’t have minded at least one person to root for. Brady and Sam are the very embodiment of the word “pratts” and having to tolerate their winy existence for an hour and a half was more than most audiences deserve. There is a girlfriend who shows up but even she is pretty unsympathetic. Maybe this is harking back to the bad old days of the Saw movies where everyone was awful and they all got what they deserved but I’m not in any rush to return to that scenario.

Or maybe it’s just me. The film is very well made, the lads who play the two main characters are good actors (which could not always be said about the pranksters in the Friday the 13th movies) and the ending is at least satisfying.

More so than the ending of this review certainly…


Videodrome 1983

I saw Videodrome fairly early on in my teenage years, being a fan of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre before even the wild popularity of The Fly sent him into the film director stratosphere. A couple of years later I owned a copy of the VHS as part of my ludicrously large horror collection and watched it numerous times. Since that tape disappeared into the ether though I don’t think I’ve watched it since, although I’ve always had fond memories of it and thought it was one of Cronenberg’s best early movies.

Finally watching it again now it struck me with one question: how on earth did I watch this film when I was thirteen or so and understand a jot of it? All the scenes that I remember we’re still there, plus the great central performances from James Woods and the alluring and mysterious Debbie Harry and the weird graphic imagery. But it was like watching the film with fresh eyes. I’d always found the main plot a bit murky and people’s actions confusing. Now, I understood it as clear as day. And of course this makes perfect sense: it’s great that the teenage me got some pleasure from Cronenberg’s films but he is an adult director making adult pictures with adult themes.

Videodrome concerns James Woods as a cable television programmer who works for some sleazy station way down on the TV Guide options (Channel 83! That’s better than ITV2 nowadays) who is always looking for more, er, interesting shows to draw in an audience. Finding little more than soft core porn to titillate or bore his viewers*, his bespectacled boffin assistant comes across a grim, fuzzy show called Videodrome which by all accounts seems to only concern itself with showing naked women being tied up to a wet, electric wall and beaten to death. Somehow this show is hypnotic to anyone who views it and Woods feels he needs this to boost his ratings. However it starts to have some weird ass side effects on him.

Essentially Videodrome is a whacked out Conspiracy thriller but even then there is so much more going on. There have been endless articles on Cronenberg’s study of body horror so I won’t go on about them much here (although how I never knew that the wound in Woods’s stomach was vaginal just shows how naive my young self was). Okay the familiar theme of the body taking over the man is here but also,as the film progresses, what grabs me the most is how Woods as a human being was no longer in control of his his own life but used as a puppet for various fractions own ends. The broadcasters of Videodrome want to make him a weapon against any number of real or potential enemies in order to gain power. Those who fight against them want to use Woods for their own ends. The so called “new flesh”, the rebellion against Videodrome, is no better than the alleged corporate villains. Woods becomes dispensable in their existential game of chess: a pawn for one side, stolen to be used on the other.

Then there how Videodrome appeals to some very deep dark desires and needs of the sexually active adult. When Debbie Harry’s Nikki sees the programme for the first time she is not horrified by it but turned on. Granted we later find out that there is some form of transmission to the brain underneath the main video signal which would make any viewer become addicted to it, but for Nikki this is tapping into the sexual dispensations she already has. I do wish Nikki had been in the film for more screen time. It’s not long before she’s setting off to audition for Videodrome (surely a bad career choice) and outside of the hallucinations we never see her again. It’s not just that Harry gives a terrifically multi layered performance but that whilst Woods quickly catches on that Videodrome is something not to be messed with, Nikki, fascinatingly, embraces it, even at the cost of her own destruction. Of course it would be a different story but it could have been interesting to see if Nikki realised the error of her ways or if her apparent demise was something she welcomed as part of some kind of psychological destiny. Perhaps if Videodrome had been made now we would have found out more as the movie would have been several hours long rather than the amazingly tight ninety minutes we have here.

There is no denying that all the videotape horror does feel positively antiquated upon viewing it now. I mean, I work with people who have never even experienced VHSs and they think DVDs are a thing of the past. However, whilst the medium for transmitting imagery into our brains may have changed over the past 34 years, the themes that Cronenberg is talking about here sure as hell haven’t. There is the Videodrome itself, stimulating and intoxicating the viewer into a state of addiction the same way watching porn at home can and does to people now. Whilst it’s programme mostly deals with torture and murder, Woods is naive enough to think they are just really good actors. Nowadays it is taken as a given that someone having sex on the internet is really having sex, when someone is beheaded they are really beheaded. There is also the character of Doctor Brian Oblivion, the creator of the Videodrome, waxing lyrical about how a personality is more real on television than they are in real life. This may have been a stretch in 1983 but in this world of YouTube sensations and internet celebrities maybe Oblivion was right – Donald Trump entire public persona was created on TV and in Tweets, and now he’s the most powerful person in the world.

Not only did Cronenberg seem to be writing about social attitudes towards media in the future, he was also showing how his film making would change in the future too.Production wise Videodrome is a big step up from his previous films. The movie he made immediately before this was Scanners and, as successful as it was, it still had an aura of B-movie about it. Not so Videodrome. Now, despite the sleazy apartments and sound stages, the art direction and general look of the film is exemplary. Make up effects are super realistic – well, as realistic as a stomach virgina or TV spilling intestines can be – and this is all headed by a disturbing soundtrack and that starry A-list turn by James Woods.

Videodrome may be set in the world of videotapes and cable TV, neither of which exist any more, but it’s also a timeless classic.

*There’s a hilarious Japanese softcore porno involving a geisha and her dildo doll that is less sexy than primeminister’s question time.

Prom Night 1980 Vs Prom Night 2008

When it comes to remakes probably the best approach is to take a movie that was kind of shit in the first place and remake that. Then the only way is up: there weren’t that many fans in the first place* so the hate will be limited, and if the orignal was garbage but there was an inkling of a good story there you can use that as a starting point and make a better film.

Well that’s the theory. Or you could do as the producers of the Prom Night remake did: just take the title and setting and make a different film all together, albeit one that is equally as bad as the original.

Let’s face facts though, when you think of the best of the slashers from the early eighties, even when you limit it to the slashers with dates/holidays in their titles, Prom Night is not the first film that springs to mind. The reasons for this are multiple but the main ones are that it takes way too long for any slashing to begin and it is deeply dull leading up to said slashing. Actually its not exactly heart racing when the killing finally does happen but at least Jamie Lee Curtis is in it.

Why, exactly, is Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night? Obviously Curtis had yet to break away from the Scream Queen label she had helped to create two years earlier in Halloween, so you could see why she was popping up in the likes of The Fog and Terror Train but at least they were decent films with good scripts and directors. Prom Night is dull as watching the British Parliament TV channel on a Friday morning when the chambers are empty because everyone’s still at the commons bar drinking cheap booze and having fisticuffs.Before anything interesting happens we have to spend a lot of time with Curtis and her friends stumbling around high school being boring. There is an opening of the I Know What You Did Last Summer variety when a bunch of children accidentally kill a girl in an abandoned house. This will obviously will lead to the revenge killing spree but it’s not hugely exciting or original stuff. And Curtis has to wade through all this acting like a teenager whilst looking far to old to be in school. She dresses like she has a job in New York City so sticks out from the rest of the cast even more. Its like she said, I’ll do this film but only if I can stress my mature side by wearing modern office fashion.

What Prom Night does ask of its audience is to guess who-done-it, even before anyone starts doing it.  There are multiple potential murderers from disgruntled parents to escaped lunatics and, to give Prom Night it’s due, I did not guess who the killer would be. This killer had a certain style – if you can call an all in black number with a black sparkly sequinned balaclava stylish. The sparkles are a particularly odd choice as I’ve never found the shimmering mermaid look particularly scary or threatening. It must be something to do with discotheque because there is a lot of disco here. The prom night itself is basically one big homage to Saturday Night Fever, from the light up floor tiles to Curtis spinning around the dance floor whilst staring at the camera. In fact Curtis does get to show of some pretty decent dance moves. Maybe she took the role with promises of horror themed choreography, if so then it was a job well done… Unlike the killings themselves which again like so many of the other Friday the 13th rip-offs, fails to deliver on what made that film so successful in the first place.

What we have got, and the disco is just one part of this, is a lot of padding. There are numerous scenes of characters preparing for the prom, we spend far too much time with various red herrings which are a total waste of time and there is a Carrie-style sub plot that literally gets cut off halfway through and goes nowhere. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen is in here (as the head liner no less) but is only in it for about five minutes. This was pre- Airplane and Naked Gun times where he was actually a dramatic actor, but such is his presence that we expect him to say something funny or do something stupid. In fact I laughed several times at him when I wasn’t meant to. Even staring at his dead child was somehow a comedy moment. Poor Nielsen: his early career has forever been retrospectively turned into a farce.

There’s also plenty of time for dubious chat. Curtis is struggling with a prom dress in her bedroom when she turns to see her brother standing at the doorway. “Are you going to get over here and help me, or are you just going to leer?” She asks. “Well I am your brother so I think I’ll just leer,” he replies. Say what now? What is going on here? Why is he perving over his sister or have I just mistaken what leer means. Or maybe the script writers have mistaken it’s definition?  Later, a horny male character is trying to get laid. He says to the girl he is basically forcing himself on when she tries to pull away “if you don’t, I know plenty who will!” This seems to seal the deal for her, not to run away screaming but to say oh okay and relent to some almost certainly bad sex.

All this padding is clearly necessitated by film makers who don’t have enough faith in the slasher story. Admittedly this is because it is slim stuff: masked killer turns up and kills a bunch of youths is essentially your lot for all these films, but by filling the rest of your plot with unnecessary guff makes you slasher less interesting not more. Halloween understood this: it kept the story to the bare minimum – there was character development (to an extent) but it was all either in service to the main plot or happened whilst Michael was watching his victims. Prom Night mostly ignores that it is even a slasher for an hour before we even get to the Prom Night of the title, let alone any of the slashing.

So obviously ripe for a remake. However if anything the 2008 version of Prom Night is loathed even more than the original. This is a shame as it does the opposite of the 1981: after a brief and tense prologue the film starts on the night of the prom with the heroine, Brittany Snow, being picked up to get to the event where all her friends will, and do, die. There´s no hanging up decorations or choosing outfits, its straight to the main event of death.

Proms have clearly changed in the 27 years between the two films. Back in the old days all the proms seemed to be held in the sports hall with some tacky decoration to make the room into some sort of Doctor Who-set version of an underwater palace. By the noughties, and I guess prior to the bank crash, all these kids were having their prom in the fancy ballroom of some upmarket hotel in the heart of down town Los Angeles.

What has not changed is using the same escaped killer trope from one of the sub-plots of the previous film and, indeed, Halloween. This forfeits the who-done-it plotting of the original but unlike Michael Myers this killer is just some ex-model looking chap who´s weak attempt to follow his serial killing forefathers is to disguise himself with a baseball cap. He also manages to get himself a room in the hotel where the prom is going on and much of the film involves the victims mistakenly going into his room so he can kill them with his big knife. He´s a pretty lazy murderer really, he only chases one girl besides Snow, most of the time he just kicks back and, presumably, work his way through the mini bar until the next idiot victim shows up.

At lease having the killer there and killing from the start of the film solves the originals main problem – pace. Prom Night ´08 races along at a breakneck speed and is entertaining enough whilst its going on, even if it doesn´t have anything new to add to the genre. Also without the who-done-it story there’s no room for a Leslie Nelson cameo, which would have livened up things no end.

The remake does, however, break the one cardinal rule of slasher movies – the final girl has to learn to have some grit. Brittany Snow, who has proven herself an able actor in more challenging stuff than this, only gets to play the victim. She is in fear of the guy who killed her family in the prologue the whole way through the film. She barely gets to do any running away, she mostly cowers under beds or in cupboards and screams a lot. This is no way for the final girl to act. Well it is for most of the movie, but at some point she is meant to dig in deep, find her survivor’s instinct and fight back with an axe, shotgun or booby-trapped floor lamp. Instead Snow kicks the killer once whilst scrambling along the floor and that seems like an accident.

It’s left for the investing detective to work out what is going on and rescue the girl, which is not right I tell you! On the positive side said detective is played by Idris Elba, clearly looking for something to fill his time what with The Wire coming to an end. He probably did it before the final season in the hiatus to kill sometime. He certainly didn’t do it because of the great dialogue or interesting character development because there isn’t anyway. Maybe they paid him well.

Actually I would have thought everyone got paid well, because they spend $20 million dollars on this thing. Twenty. Million. On a slasher, with no stars, big set pieces or visual effects. Someone was having a laugh, all the way to the bank I reckon. Especially as this is about as generic a slasher movie as you could get but without the who-done-it of the original to keep you guessing or a final girl you can root for. Yeah I know I just said earlier that Halloween‘s genius was how simple and stripped down its plot was, and essentially this remake does the same but it doesn’t have an embodiment of evil in a William Shatner mask scaring you to death, it has the embodiment of Elite modelling agency look silly in a cap.

In the battle of original verses remake I’m afraid the losers are both versions, and me for sitting through them. Both had their pluses; the original had disco and the remake was short. Maybe if you combined the two you might have a good yet brief disco slasher. Sadly twenty eight years stand between them,so unless they’re going to make a third version  combining those elements and a Leslie Nielsen cameo before he dies** then please: no more Prom Nights thank you.


*Even the worst things in the world have fans. There are a lot of people who like the slasher Madman even though it has no redeeming features at all. And I had an (adult) friend who used to be really into Rolf Harris. I say used to be…

** Apparently he died seven years ago. I missed that. Thanks Leslie for making us laugh, even if it wasn´t intentional.

A clear winner on the poster front though. The original is strong and well designed with the shard of mirror (the killers weapon of choice – let´s hope his gloves are thick enough) showing one of the victims, the killers eyes staring into your soul. Its certainly better than the film, or indeed the 2008 poster which is one of the least interesting and laziest horror posters ever created.