Horror Movie Monsters I Have A Soft Spot For

I’m not keen on being garrotted, torn apart, possessed or dragged to hell at the best of times, but sometimes you’re watching a movie and instead of worrying about the protagonists you just can’t help feeling a bit of pity for some of the poor old sods who have to do all the horrible stuff. Some of them are having as miserable time as their victims, some are just misunderstood, and some are just wild and crazy guys. Here are my favourites, or at least ones I can relate to, if one can ever really relate to an eighty foot tall Hell Demon.

TARMAN FROM RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD

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The tar-man zombie type thing from Return of the living dead is one of the greatest depictions of Zombiedom ever committed to film. He is also one of the silliest. The moment he is released from his sealed barrel after 20 years and exposed to the atmosphere, his skin disintegrates into a dark, melting mess. You can see his bones sticking out everywhere, his eyes bulge in craziness and a big fat tongue slobbers about, licking his non-existent lips. He’ll not hesitate to dive straight into a punk’s head and munch into his lovely brains; he’s a truly horrific creation. Plus he’s smart, witness him using a chain pulley system to break open a locker door to get to the heroine and her tasty grey matter. Better, he’s also got a demented, twisted charm, livening up proceedings whenever he’s on screen. He walks about like the top half of his body is going to drop off at any moment, dribbles bits of himself everywhere he goes and seems genuinely happy to see people – albeit for the wrong reasons. Finally, when his head is departed from his body with a well timed baseball bat, you get the feeling that the best character in the film has departed too.

BUB FROM DAY OF THE DEAD

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While initially similar to Tar-man, in that he’s also an incredible depiction of a zombie, in many ways Bub is the polar opposite of the funky fella above. Taught to follow simple tasks and maybe even be controlled a tad by the nutty Professor Logan, Bub takes genuine pleasure in listening to music, using a phone and reading a book (okay so the book is upside down but hey, he gets the idea). Like a puppy he seems to genuinely care for his teacher and when the professor is gunned down, it is a genuine emotional moment. Not because of the death of the professor, who was a bit of a mad git to be honest, but Bub’s heartbreaking reaction to finding his master’s corpse (which he doesn’t eat by the way, just moans over).

MOLASAR FROM THE KEEP

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Okay, so Molasar from Micheal Mann’s second, hard-to-find WW2 set movie is an ancient evil force held within a Keep to prevent him from taking over the world with, I don’t know, some bad stuff. And yeah, he may be about eight foot tall, with burning red eyes and a skull-like face, oh and have the ability to tear a man in half with his breath. But the only people he kills are a regiment of Nazis, plus he heals Ian McKellen from being a life-long cripple, and he saves his daughter from being raped. But really, just let me repeat: HE KILLS NAZIS. We could have done with him on our side. I think he’s alright; damn that stupid Scott Glenn for ruining it all by coming along and sealing Molasar back into The Keep for all eternity. At least I think that’s what happened: the film is almost incomprehensible and the climax involves Tangerine Dream providing a cover of The Snowman’s Walking Through Air. I’m not even making that up.

SAM FROM XTRO

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Another film for the ‘WTF?’ generation: I have no idea if Sam is the man who is abducted by the aliens in this low budget British cult, or if he is in fact the alien who does the abducting, or maybe even a mixture of the two. The film makes little to no sense with scenes like a woman giving birth to a full grown adult and an old lady being killed by a life-size Action Man. All I do know is he’s a bizarre, nightmarishly unique monster, made up of a man in a suit walking backwards on his hands and feet.

RAWHEAD REX

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Look at him! He’s a lunatic! A cross between an angry pig and a predator, I remember seeing Rawhead Rex photos in Fangoria magazine when I was a confused teenager and being so excited to see him move. Unfortunately, when I finally did get the VHS that’s the one thing he didn’t do: move. The mask used in the film has no moving parts, the upshot of which is that he has this constant look of surprise and anger on his face, as if he’d just discovered something horrible in his pants and is blaming God for the mess. The upshot for me was that is I felt kind of sorry for the poor fella.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP

I don’t feel sorry for these guys though. A pack of half-man/half-salmon (!) mutants, they are determined to kill our men and rape our women. Well, I say ‘pack’, but I’m pretty sure you only see one or two at a time, I think budget constraints meant they only had one proper suit. They also look like they’re either going to fall out of their costume or drown at sea due to the demands of pretending to be Humanoids from said Deep. So it’s not the Salmon-men I feel sorry for at all, it’s the guys playing them.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON

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Famously (okay famously to me and about ten other people) there wasn’t meant to be any demon in Night of the Demon at all, Jacques Tourneur’s classic was originally meant to be all about the power of suggestion. However the producers had different ideas. The moment Tourneur delivered his film they went back on set and shot this wonderful beast. I think he’s great and unlike some others on this list, he has moving parts and everything. He’s a bit of a Godzilla in that in that you can tell he’s a bloke in a rubber suit, but whether he’s chasing someone through the woods, stomping on someone’s head or throwing them under a train, you’ve got to admit he’s got character. And that’s alright by me.

CHATTERER FROM HELLRAISER

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It’s a miserable time being a Cenobite. You almost certainly have lots of long metal things inserted into you or wrapped around your private parts making it difficult to sit down. Plus you can guarantee that your nipples will be exposed with rods thrust through them, which must chafe terribly when you’re going for a jog. Then there’s all the chat about eternal damnation and soul burning. It’s all got to get incredibly dull after, well, an eternity. But all this is multiplied by a million if you are Chatterer. He can’t see (his eyes have gone who knows where), you can’t hear (ears cut off and wired up) and your mouth is pulled back so all you dentistry work is exposed for everyone to see. Every time you eat a meal, standing up of course, Pinhead is there going “You’ve got something in your teeth. There. And there. And there. And there.” etc etc. Plus you’re obviously cold, hence the name Chatterer. It’s a miserable afterlife, and that there’s no denying.

PYRAMID HEAD MAN FROM SILENT HILL

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This guy makes Chatterer look like the lucky one. The Pyramid on his head is obviously far, far too heavy for him; I mean seriously he can barely look up. Add to that the fact he has a selection of unfeasibly large weapons to deal out death (which is his job, he’s not doing it for fun) which he seems to be struggling to lift. If ever there was a man who needs a career change, Pyramid Head Man is the one. Although being called Pyramid Head Man probably helped him when getting the job in the first place: “WANTED: Man for unholy human execution in live-in haunted town. Must be able to provide own Pyramid.” Poor bloke.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE

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Okay I don’t have a soft spot for the guy at the front, but the middle and back parts have all my sympathy.

Dracula 1979

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At last! I’ve had a right old dearth of decent horror films to watch of late. Someone was asking me the other day if I even like horror films, as I seem to be negative about all of them. Finally though I’ve found a good one, and from an unexpected corner of the horror genre: the big budget studio gothic horror romance.

Okay, let’s get one thing straight, I like my vampires like I like my spiders, creepy, living in dark spaces and as far away from me as possible. As a young whipper snapper I was terrified by the floating vampire boys scratching at the window in Salem’s Lot and can you blame me? What doesn’t frighten me is the vampire as the tragic romantic lover. From Twilight to Angel to Francis Copplella’s Dracula, vampires are swanning around like midnight lotharios, all misty eyed about their great immortal loves. It gets right on my nerves. I want my blood suckers to hideous undead fiends of the night with weird contact lenses and terrible breath.

This big budget studio effort from 1979 is probably the origin of the vampire as sexy bastard, and yet despite that I kind of had a good time with the old rascal. Frank Langella stars as the aforementioned count, giving his best come-to-bed eyes to anyone who’ll look at him. The film plays fast and loose with the original story, starting aboard the Russian ship, The Demeter, we skip out the whole Transylvanian fun, as The Count, mysteriously only survivor of the voyage, washes up on the shores of Yorkshire and proceeds to get jugular with Lucy and Mina, plus a dirty old man for some weird reason. Okay, so its Renfield who’s in the original book, but I never understood what Dracula saw him. He’s useless as a right hand man, and in this sexy take on Dracula, ain’t much of a lay, so to speak. Jonathan Harker (played by the great Trevor Eve, in his first screen role) is still as massive a drip as he’s always been. However, this time you genuinely feel his jealous hatred towards the count, once he works out that Dracula is taking away his girl. In fact this angle on the story, of loosing the person you love to an overwhelming power, be it to love or addiction or both, gives the story a nice extra layer: Harker and Van Helsing struggle to save Lucy, not just because the monster has kidnapped the girl, but because the girl wants to be kidnapped.

The film looks absolutely fantastic. The sets, from the mental asylum where Lucy lives with her father (an always welcome Donald Pleasence) with it’s twisting metal staircases and filthy walls, to the castle Dracula shacks up in, have a macabre gothic theatricality that are brilliantly shot. The colour hues are desaturated to almost black and white (apparently tweaked for the DVD release but still) with only the odd splash of blood red at pivotal moments to set the tone. There is one mad, incredibly dated moment when Dracula and Lucy first make out in front of a red disco laser and smoke machine that looks like its stumbled out of a James Bond titles sequence, but even that has a weird, beautiful charm. It also has some great dark imagery: when Van Helsing unearths his (SPOLIERS) dead daughter’s grave only to find she’s dug her way out into the mines below, he finds her horrible undead corpse waiting for him, blood red eyes and rotten teeth ready to bite her old man.  (By the way Jan Francis is great in her role as the wide eyed innocent corrupted and transformed into a hideous baby-eating monster). Also, there are some truly beautiful old-school matte paintings of the castle and its surroundings giving the film some excellent, epic scope.

Then there’s the music. Written by John Williams just before his work on The Empire Strikes Back, it’s all suitably cinematic, although you do occasionally expect Darth Vader to come round the corner. But hey, we’ve got another villain in a black cloak. And Frank Langella is bloody brilliant in the role. It’s funny that, despite this version being based on a Broadway production, Langella plays it pretty low key for much the time. Unlike poor old Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing, who despite being one of the greatest stage actors of all time, can’t seem to tone it down for the silver screen. He’s all rolling eyes, hand grasping and an outrageous high pitched German accent. You got to kind of love him for it though.

There is a problem though, and it’s a big one. In fact its huge. It’s Frank Langella’s hair. Its an absolutely giant back blown quiff making him look more like an insane cross between David Copperfiled and Neil Diamond. It looks completely late seventies, not in the slightest bit from the Edwardian period the film is set in. Whenever Dracula turns up, for all of Langella’s steely-eyed intensity you keep on expecting him to burst into song or for some old ladies to throw their nickers at him. I mean, I’m not exaggerating here, it’s really, really big. And really, really blown dried with a lot of hairspray. And its really, really stupid.

But on the other hand, fuck it. Dracula is also a lavish, entertainingly epic, grand studio spectacular. It is pretty dated, but a lot of fun for it, and I haven’t had enough fun watching horror movies of late. So while Bram Stoker’s story may have been told a hundred times, and this version has been quite forgotten, maybe it’s worth remembering. Not just for the look and sound of it, but also for the big, big hair.

Dark Skies 2013

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Much like Insidious, Dark Skies takes the approach of using all the familiar tropes of a genre and creating a sort of greatest hits movie. Whereas Insidious went for the haunted house story, here we have alien abduction. So the usual stuff is wheeled out: weird symbols, kids looking up at the sky, long limbed aliens, metal rods prodded into holes, that sort of thing.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are the hapless put upon parents, struggling to bring up bring up two difficult boys during the current financial struggles. The last thing they need is stupid aliens anally probing them. Actually that never happens. But pretty much everything else you’d expect to happen to them does. They black out, skip a day, nose bleed left, right and centre and scream at nothing in particular. Plus there’s the tricky problem of their kids looking more and more beaten up and no one, oddly enough, believing that aliens did it. You know what, these aliens are a right bunch of bastards. They manipulate this poor family seemingly for no other reason than to freak them out. There’s a good sense of the hopelessness at even understanding this higher plane of evil, let alone fighting back against it. As J.K. Simmons, playing a world weary expert on the matter, points out, we are no more cable of understanding why the aliens are doing this to us, than a lab rat can understand the scientist experimenting on it.

Trouble is we’ve all been here before. Bringing in elements of Close Encounters, Communion, The X Files, etc. Dark Skies, although well put together with solid acting, a few okay chills and the afore-mentioned J.K. Simmons, doesn’t bring anything new to the table. What worked so brilliantly in Insidious was the kitchen sink approach to story telling: just chuck everything at it, and create your own mad tale. Dark Skies settles for just retreading, and so settles for much less.

American Mary 2012

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The latest in an increasingly growing sub-genre of disenfranchised-young-women-who-chop-people-up, this follows the likes of May, Alyce and Excision and I have to say I was really looking forward to this. However it barely hangs together as a story, and as well made as it is, it feels as remote and uninvolving as the main character becomes.

Katharine Isabelle (from great werewolf movie Ginger Snaps) stars as Mary, studying medicine in Vancouver with dreams of becoming a top surgeon. However she is also incredibly broke and can barely make ends meet. Deciding to get a job as a stripper, her initial interview is disrupted when the club owner has a sudden need for on the spot surgery for one of his victims. Mary discovers that there is a better way to make a quick buck, and this event leads her towards some stranger clients, unable to have the kind of wacky body modification they desire in the legal medical system. Meanwhile, the surgeons at her University have different plans for Mary…

The film looks great, it is beautifully underlit, giving Vancouver’s underbelly a lovely sense of a city secretly alive only at night. We also meet some incredibly odd characters, some of which seem genuinely weird, including the twin directors who make an appearence as customers for Mary desperate to have some bonkers alterations. However, almost nothing is done with any of these oddballs. The twins have major surgery, but other than fleeting glimpses of the sketch of what they want to look like, we don’t get to see the result. The most interesting character, Ruby, who wants all her bits lobbed off and smoothed over like a Barbie doll, disappears for most of the film. We have a modified girl whose been altered to look like a freakish Betty Boo who pops up more often, however her performance is so stylised that (and I realise this sounds stupid saying this) she never comes across as a real person. In fact, it seems all the performances have been directed to act in this overly mannered way. No one comes across as real or believable, their deliveries are more like the performance you get from re-dubbed Manga movies. Isabelle, whose character is meant to become more remote and unfeeling as the film progresses, seems to be pretty inhuman right from the word go. Only a small, low key and symapthetic performance from Mary’s bouncer has any emotional impact.

Furthermore, there’s no drive to the story. It might be a bit of a rape revenge drama but the rape is completely underplayed for the horrific event it is (I don’t want to see it, I just want it’s victim to look and act a little more than pretty and distracted) and the revenge happens about two scenes later. It might be about someones decent into depravity, but it’s not depraved enough, or at least you barely see any of the work Mary is doing. It could even be a fuck-the-story we’re going wildly off the rails here to mess you up kind of tale, but even then it’s slow, episodic pace doesn’t give you enough madness to get your teeth into.

So what we’re left with is a pretty but directionless tale about illegal plastic surgery, and, unlike one character’s split-dow-the-middle tongue, its kind of pointless.

 

Wolf 1994

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(SPOILERS AHEAD) I didn’t bother with Wolf when it came out because it seemed way too easy, with a bunch of Hollywood execs sitting around a napkin saying “Hey, Jack Nicholson’s a wild man, wolves are wild. What if he was a werewolf?” etc, etc. In fact, Jack Nicholson is probably the best thing about this film, especially in the early scenes which play a bit like a precursor to his amazing performance in About Schmidt. Nicholson plays a highly regarded, but long in the tooth, publisher who gets usurped by the younger, hungrier James Spader; loosing his career and his wife in the process. Fortunately, he’s also bitten by a really bad animatronic wolf in the opening scene and soon starts to get a taste for life, love (with Michelle Pfeiffer) and blood.

Directed by the great Mike Nichols, the film plays like a reverse of his Working Girl, with the audience this time on the side of the old has-been rather than the young upstart. The early set up with Spader doing his best sleazy back-stabbing, as Nicholson tries to fight-back and save his lifelong career, is all quite intriguing. However, once he starts getting all hairy and toothsome the film really looses its way. Numerous sub plots seem to fade-off into the background: what happens to Nicholson’s attempt to start up his own company? Who actually killed his wife? Why was Prunella Scale’s character in one scene at the beginning and never seen again?
Worse still the werewolf effects are terrible. Rick Baker is a legend, arguably one of the greatest make up effects artists in cinema history. His work in American Werewolf in London still stands up today. What happened in Wolf though? The main make-up is little more than some pubic-like side burns and a dodgy under-bite. I suppose the contact lenses are okay. That doesn’t say much though does it? As for the aforementioned fully animatronic wolf – I think there is a reason it’s only seen in two shots, it makes Bruce from Jaws seem like the height of robotic monster sophistication.

By the time we reach the climatic wolf-man showdown, shot in excruciating slow-motion, I was hiding my eyes in embarrassment. It’s all just so overblown and ridiculous. Plus some of the dialogue is really clunky, especially when talking about the werewolf legend. Only a beautifully delivered moment when Jack Nicholson proclaims his pure, instinctive love for Pfeiffer stands out.

To sum up I’m not going to make any wolf based jokes, okay I am! It’s a bit of a howler. Oh god that was terrible. Bite me. Oh, it just goes on. I bet all these puns were made in 1994 when I, rightfully, ignored this film.

My Seventeen Favourite Horror Movies

The people, and when I say people I mean Adam Rowland at work, say “What, Jim, are your favourite horror movies?” and I usually ramble on about pretty much anything that comes to mind, often either a film I’ve just seen, or a film I might not even like. It’s a tricky question to be hit with on the spot. So I figured I’d do some proper soul searching, ignore the crap coming out of my mouth, be honest with myself: What are my ten favourite films? Well I still don’t know. I’ve whittled it down to seventeen, and that’s only because I’ve a terrible memory and have probably forgotten half the films I love.

Well never mind. Let’s just go with it. Here in alphabetical order are my favourite horror films… for now:

Alien

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It’s an obvious one, but what choice do I have! This film is the prime example of how to make a horror movie. Everything works so well. The incredibly creepy set up as our doomed crew arrive at the isolated spaceship wreck. The sudden, violent twist as the movie, and the Alien, leaps into life over a dinner table. The horrific bleakness of the future for humanity, working in a cold, unknown outer space, with nothing but sleep, death and bonuses to look forward to. I won’t go on, it’s all been said before. This film is perfect.

An American Werewolf in London

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I saw this on pirate VHS at Lawrence Molloy’s house when I was ten years old. I’d never been on the London tube, I’d never walked across the moors late at night, I’d never seen a girl naked in a shower. Even if this film hadn’t have been hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, it still would have been a fascinating glimpse into a new world coming around the corner to me. Fortunately it was also a hugely entertaining film, and an early one for me that showed that even amongst all the flesh ripping and talking corpses, horror films could still be fun. And I like fun.

Dawn of the Dead

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I went to the cinema a lot when I was a kid. But being in England with its tough ratings system meant that seeing horror film was a tricky feat. Mum used to sneak me in occasionally but until the advent of the video, most of my horror intake involved staring at the photos of X certificate monster movies in the foyer. Dawn of the Dead’s photos hit me the hardest. I was convinced there were zombies amongst us after seeing a still of two zombies in a shopping mall, lying in a bed together. The mundaneness of it all, the normality of the undead in our shops, on our furniture. It freaked me out before I’d even seen the film. It still freaks me out now.

Dead of night

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I love old British movies, and I love old British horror movies even more. This incredibly creepy (although admittedly a bit creaky now too) anthology from Ealing Studios really helped set the tone for many films to come, including the Hammer horror ones, even if it lacked the blood, boobs and Technicolor. It had a serious, dark tone throughout most of the stories that unnerved the viewers then, and would still unnerve you now, especially the classic tale about Michael Redgrave and his sinister ventriloquist dummy. If you’ve never seen this, please do, I implore you. I knew lots of people who loved this film when I was younger (I believe it was a big hit at the box office in its day) but now it seems to be semi forgotten. Please don’t forget it people, else it might come back to get you…

Deep Red

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Rule number one when watching Dario Argento movies: don’t do it by yourself while tripping your nuts off on LSD. I did it with this one, I’m still a bit worried.

The Devil Rides Out

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Most Hammer horror movies follow a similar pattern, usually involving a bunch of Edwardian’s coming across a town or village in some made up eastern European country and meeting Dracula, or Frankenstein’s monster, or a gorgon, or a reptile or some such. The Devil Rides Out skips all this set up. Essentially a back and forth chase movie, it stars Christopher Lee in one of his best roles as the hero, the man of action, and the chap who will stay up all night to save his bezzie mates from satanic worshippers. The final confrontation as Lee and chums try to survive a night of demonic torment within a pentagram is a little bit silly occasionally and at one point borderline racist but its such a rip roaring adventure that these small issues can be ignored. Okay maybe not the racist bit.

Halloween

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I hope the world is not at the point that we as a whole have started taking John Carpenter’s seminal classic for granted. There are few films this well made, and its influence goes far beyond the slasher genre it helped create. The use of Steadicam throughout is incredible, at no point being just a pretty camera move but helping set up the eerie tone, as well as filling in the character of the murderous Michael Myers. Plus there is all the perfect composition and lighting with The Shape always just out of view or hidden in the shadows. It’s so tense and scary, when the film is over you know that something this evil can never die, as the rubbish sequels proved!

The Haunting

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Not the Robert Wise original but the Jan de Bont remake… I am kidding! Jesus, did you see that piece of shit? Anyway, between er, West Side Story and The Sound of Music, Wise directed a ghost story and what brilliant restraint he showed. I implore you do not watch this by yourself as a ten-year-old kid unless you want to scare yourself close to death. Better yet, watch this by yourself as a ten-year-old kid and scare yourself to death.

The Howling

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Coming out at about the same time as An American Werewolf in London, this werewolf movie is both outrageously serious and seriously outrageous. It’s the film that made me realise that, other than Jenny Agutter in a shower, my ideal woman was one who could turn into a werewolf while we made love by an open fire. And despite covering topics as diverse as serial killers, adult retreats, orgies and women’s role in the work place, it still can tell a good story with a tragic ending. And then finish on a shot of bloody meat cooking on a grill.

The Innocents

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From another director of more mainstream movies, this time it’s Jack Clayton, director of such fair as Room at the Top and The Great Gatsby. Deborah Kerr amazes as the governess haunted by the ghost of the woman she’s replaced and her evil lover, both determined to drive Kerr completely mad. Unless she already is… Ghost stories don’t get any better than this. Watch this in a double bill with The Haunting if you want your hair to turn white.

Lifeforce

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Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that this is a great movie, or even, you know… good. But it’s just the kind of bonkers, over blown, big budget folly that I love. Every time I watch it I wonder: “what, in all that is holy, were they thinking!?!” The tale of the British space shuttle Churchill’s ill-fated investigation of Haley’s comet, where they find a sinister spaceship contains lots of dead alien bats, plus three super hot naked people. Upon returning with the three bodies London is reduced to life-sucking-zomies as the three sexy vampires steal everyone’s souls and send them off into outer space. It’s completely nuts, the prime minister sucks on his secretary, Patrick Stewart is possessed by an alien, St Paul’s cathedral is the venue for a sex-and-death frenzy and the lead female, Mathilda May (possibly the bravest actress in mainstream cinema ever) spends the entire film very, very naked. It’s all completely ridiculous but supremely entertaining, and I get a funny feeling when I finally get to make my own horror movies they will probably be just like this, only, you know, good.

Martyrs

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A modern masterpiece, this French horror starts off like a torture-porn-revenge flick then rapidly goes of on its own tangent. Fiercely violent and intelligent in equal measure, it’s the kind of film I shouldn’t talk about too much so as not to ruin its many surprises. If you’ve the stomach for such gruelling horror, you need to see this.

Night of the Demon

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The prime example of the kind of film I used to watch from behind my parents bed without their knowledge, this adaptation or M.R. James’ Casting The Runes gets everything right, and I’m including the big studio-enforced demon, both scary and kind of daft at the same time. Jaques Tourner delivers a near perfect film, the building suspense emphasised by some rattling, unnerving sound effects. Plus there’s a lovely small role for Brian Wilde who would go onto be Mr Barrowclough in TV’s Porridge. It’s the kind of role that reminds you how many great and versatile character actors we’ve produced over the years.

Night of the Hunter

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There is some debate as to whether this is a horror movie at all. Indeed the first half is more of a film noir as Robert Mitchem’s preacher man tricks Shelly Winter’s into taking him in, in persuit of her ex husband’s stolen fortune. However by the time Mitchem is hunting the two small children downriver in the American countryside the film has taken on the mood and look of a dark fantasy, with the preacher a devil incarnate, willing to sacrifice the lives of innocents in order to get what he desires. Truly a horrific tale.

Ringu

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Maybe it was because I knew nothing about this when I first saw it, or maybe it was because the friend who lent it to me did so on a boxless VHS, but this for me is one of the scariest modern horrors I’ve seen. The unnerving feeling of inevitable dread builds towards one of the best climaxes in modern history and, unlike the American remake, doesn’t feel the need to explain the whole background to the mystery which only adds to the unsettling tone and points towards the main moral of this tale: there are some things that are best left unknown.

Suspiria

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Proving once and for all that style over substance sometimes is enough; Dario Argento’s outrageously colourful, bombastic best film is the perfect representation of a nightmare on the silver screen. The simple story of an American girl arriving at a European ballet school on the night of some seriously crazy and violent goings on, the plot is merely something to hang the glorious and gory set pieces on. Murder has never been so beautifully poetic. And then there’s the absolutely bonkers soundtrack which frequently get’s so loud with its screams of “Witch! Witch!” you can’t hear yourself think, not that it matters: we’re here for the visual and aural feast not for what’s actually going on.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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Back in 1988 I went on my first holiday without any family to Majorca, with my buddies Greg Byrnes and Aldo Breda,  I had saved up a big chunk of money to spend while out there. Enough essentially to last for two weeks of boozing and partying in the sun. However, the morning before I flew off I had to pop out to the shops and happened to wander past an old video rental shop. In the window was a beaten up copy of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now, back in the late 80′s the film was completely unavailable, having been caught up in the stupid “video nasties” controversy. I couldn’t believe it, and after some terrible bartering on my part I owned one of the few copies still in the UK (most had been destroyed by the police: Thatcher’s fascist state eh?) and only now had only half the money I needed for a two week holiday in Majorca. I still had a great time abroad and I also had a great time in front of the TV, watching one of the most visceral, crazy movies ever committed to film.

The Thing

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The Thing optimises all that is great about the horror genre, while at the same time writes its own rules on how to tell a damned fine story. On the one hand it has fantastic jumps, scares and an impending sense of doom, on the other it deals with topics such as paranoia, isolation and what it means to be human. Ultimately though it is a rip roaring blast, where you never know who next is going to have a tentacle or a weird Venus fly trap thingamajig tearing out of them. And it has Kurt Russell. And Ennio Morricone. And Keith David. And Rob Bottin. And everything… sigh… happy days.

Other films that probably should be on the list, or probably shouldn’t

Trick r’ Treat
Phantasm
Tenebre
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
The Evil Dead Trilogy
The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
Altered States
I Saw The Devil
The Burning
Alyce
May
The Shrine
Livid
The Beyond
Audition
Don’t Look Now
Hellraiser
The Wicker Man
Frankenstein Created Women
Plague of the Zombies
Theatre Of blood
The Fly
The Mist
Freaks
Insidious
Witchfinder General
Carrie
Videodrome
Bride of Frankenstein
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Let the Right One In
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Thirst
The Fog
Carnival Of Souls
Candyman
Shaun of the Dead
etc. etc. etc.

Welcome to the Jungle 2007

welcome-to-the-jungle

I thought this one was a direct remake of the seminal non-classic, and shame of all horror fans, Cannibal Holocaust, and the description said it was, but there’s no reference to that film in the credits or anything, and while the plot is essentially the same it beats it on several points. Plus it loses on several points as well. So if it was a competition neither film would be a winner. And neither would we.

Welcome to the Jungle is, in a nutshell, a found footage film about four friends who venture to Papa New Ginuea in search of Michael Rockefeller, of the American Rockefeller dynasty, who really did disappear in 1961, possibly eaten by cannibals. They hear from a friend of a friend that an old man fitting his description was seen with a lost tribe in the jungle, so set off to find him, interview him and claim the riches and rewards that would follow: hot tubs in every room, dwarves with trays of cocaine strapped to their heads, that kind of thing. Of course the important line these kids over look is possibly eaten by cannibals. I don’t know about you but the thought of being spit roasted, in any scenario, ain’t that appealing. I know people who feel different mind, so what do I know.

A lot of people hate the found footage genre, and that’s something I can understand, but I don’t have a problem with it myself. I find that as long as the characters can find a good enough reason to be filming all the horrors that unfold and then not go on about it, it can be an immersive way of telling a story. Of course, most of these films end with the final heroes being dragged away while the camera falls over and that’s not so good, but if they can be inventive enough along the way then that’s fine by me.

Welcome to the Jungle does pretty well on this count. The locations are spectacular, the Fiji landscapes, standing in for Papa New Ginea, totally draw you into a hostile environment. The characters come across a friendly village which looks like it was genuinely just shot in a friendly village, with kids running about excitedly and chickens clucking everywhere. The acting too is very natural, to start with anyway. The characters are fairly likeable while they’re planning their trip and getting drunk with each other. However once they get deep into their heart of darkness, presumably because it gives them something to do before the cannibals show up, they start hating each other, bitching and whining and fighting and taking the piss and oh God! Would someone just eat them already! I’m starving.

Also the camera work is woeful at some points. I know this is meant to be found footage so running along, shakey-cam is de rigueur, but there are some daylight shots that are so heavily backlit you can’t see a thing that’s going on. There is a difference between found footage movies and actual found footage, and that difference is that this is all fake and done by supposed professionals. So if a shot is really that awful could they not just do another take? Does it have to be so authentic that the audience is just looking at a white blob in the corner of a black screen? At least that isn’t too often, and in fact, nothing lasts too long because it is pacely edited with everything moving along at a decent lick.

It still takes forever to get to the cannibals though, which is really what we’re all here for isn’t it? And here is where the crux of the problems lie. Cannibal Holocaust did have a huge about of extremely unpleasant violence, but when you watch a film about cannibals you want to see some of the red stuff. Welcome to the Jungle has a girl with a bit of wood through her mouth and a pair of feet. It’s not enough. I think this kind of film really needs to push the limits of violence and horror otherwise what is the point? These charachters are meant to be foolish westerners who blindly wander into a natural world they have no control over, you can shoot all the natives you like with your Wallmart bought pistol but  sooner or later they will surround you, stick you on a spike and have you for supper. Saying that, Cannibal Holocaust was a truly revolting film; I could live with all the human depravation, it was the animal murder I hated. Not done using effects but real life animals, they butchered and mutilated innocent creatures for the sake of “entertainment”. I don’t think that film should ever be accepted as a classic, and at least Welcome to the Jungle is a step up from that.

So maybe less gore all over is the price we have to pay if this is indeed essentially a remake of Cannibal holocaust in all but name. And it has some merit in it’s incresingly dark tone, with the characters floating down the river on rafts as the natives, painted half black, half white close in on their prey. Plus girl on a spike isn’t half as offensive in this version.

However (MASSIVE SPOILER AHEAD), at the end of the day this found footage movie still follows the modern, traditional, deeply unsatisfying ending of it’s genre: as the last survivor is dragged away, the camera falls over. Oh well…