Poltergeist (2015)

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It really seems like Hollywood has run out of ideas and has turned to mining the back catalogue of old movies and remaking them. But the truth is Hollywood has been doing it for years, only these days people are much more aware of it.

And remakes are a funny thing: there is no guarantee that new version is going to be any better or, in fact, any worse than the original. For example, The Thing is a fantastic remake of a 1950s science fiction B movie, Thing From Another World. And the 1970s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is suitably terrifying.

But for every time that the remake is better, there are just as many, if not more, examples where the result is worse, e.g. The Italian Job, Total Recall and The Day The Earth Stood Still.

I’m not sure that the horror genre has any more remakes than any other genre but it certainly seems that way to me. Carrie, Children of the Corn, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Fright Night, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example.

Worse, I am not a fan of the horror genre but there are a few horror movies dear to me: the aforementioned The Thing, An American Werewolf In London, The Descent, Paranormal Activity and, my absolute favourite, Poltergeist.

Poltergeist just received the remake treatment this year, 33 years after the original was released. The world has changed a lot since the first version was made and consequently, I can see there is scope to make a new, more relevant version of a classic suburban horror story.

So yes, curiosity got the better of me and I watched the new version. And then the original, immediately after, as I wanted to review the new version in context of the old (but mostly because it is awesome).

Inevitably, this is going to be more of a “compare and contrast essay” than a review, so rather than bore the people who just want to know whether the remake is worth watching, let me lay that spirit to rest: the original is better, in spite of its age. The remake isn’t a bad film per se, it just doesn’t improve on anything and actually does a lot of things worse.

Right, that’s the verdict, let me go into a bit more detail about why…

Warning: there are spoilers below!

Both films follow the exploits of a nuclear family moving into a new home in the suburbs. There is a father, a mother, an older daughter, a boy in the middle and a young girl.

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In the original, the father is a successful estate agent who works for a development company selling the homes in the suburban estate his family have just moved to. In the remake, the father is out of work and the family have moved into cheap housing out in the sticks.

The key differences here are that the original family are an ordinary, fairly happy family: the kids are typical kids who play and fight. The parents are ordinary parents, Dad watches football with his mates, has problems with the next door neighbour, Mom smokes weed in the bedroom once the kids are in bed and big sister is secretly on the phone to a friend.

Whereas the remake family are struggling with financial worries, mother is a writer (who doesn’t write and considers herself a crap mother), the eldest daughter is (stereotypically) horrid to her family for forcing her to move and the boy is somewhat neurotic, after a traumatic experience being lost in the mall by his mother for a couple of hours.

I don’t think modern families are suffering any more than they were 30 years ago. Has society changed so much that we don’t want to see happy families anymore? Do we only empathise with down on their luck Joes or families that worry about sending their children to psychiatrists?

Here, the original does a much better job of simply making the family look like a family. The phrase “show not tell” comes to mind as they let the family just get on with being a family. In the remake, the characterisation is so bland you can easily imagine the two sentence paragraphs that were written to describe the characters of the remake family.

Worse, there is real chemistry between the original cast members and a real sense of them living in a suburban community (but then I suppose that is Steven Spielberg’s influence there). Conversely, there’s little chemistry between the cast members of the remake, especially between Sam Rockwell (Remake Dad) and Rosemary DeWitt (Remake Mom). I guess Rockwell can only play off-beat characters with any conviction?

There are further, more subtle but quite important differences between the two films. To start with, 1982 Poltergeist has the family already living in their home where as 2015 Poltergeist has the family viewing the house and then moving in. The original has a lot of humour in the first act, which goes a long way to disarming the audience.

This to me changes the subtext of the film from an ordinary suburban family being terrorised by ghosts to a troubled family moving into a haunted house. Subtle but important.

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Then the spooky things start happening. Carol Anne (youngest daughter in the original) starts talking to people in the TV, then the ghosts fly out of the goggle box and into the walls of the house, Carol Anne giving the viewers the creepy line, “They’re here!” It is all very downplayed at the beginning, again, lulling you into a false sense of security.

Maddy (youngest daughter in the remake) starts talking to people in the TV, a nice modern LCD TV, then there is a closet they cannot open in her room (but touching the handle makes the kids hair stand on end), there is a collection of creepy clown toys in the attic… there are a lot more jump scares and attempts to ramp up the tension. Completely opposite to the original. Even to the classic “They’re here!”… Maddy announces “They’re coming…” and then “They’re here!”

Everything is more contrived to scare you in the 2015 version. The original wanted you to feel like you were watching a family movie, when ghosts turn up, the horror being that this could happen to your family… The remake, realising the audience expects certain horror tropes, just plays it as a straight horror film.

Once the ghosts arrive, there are major differences between the original and the remake. The latter is more about Griffin, the son, exploring the house and catching Maddy talking to nothing. The former is more about the mother experiencing really strange occurrences, like the chairs rearranging themselves and objects sliding across the floor, as if moved by an unseen hand.

I really feel like the remake missed a trick here. They talk about the son needing therapy and if they had given him medication, they could have played up the family not believing him and really done something interesting.

In fact, the film does focus on the son a lot more whereas the original was more about the mother in general but we will get to that later.

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The mother experiences lots of supernatural occurrences which they simply cannot explain. The father is suitably disturbed by it and seeks to come up with a solution. In the remake, all the supernatural weirdness happens to the son and Maddy.

Just a quick ‘sidebar’, in the original, when the mother shows the father the supernatural happenings in the kitchen, she gets excited, doing a star jump and a high kick, clearly indicating that she was probably a former cheerleader. It’s the little “show, not tell” details of the first film which demonstrate just how much better made it is.

Anyway, so when Carol-Ann and Maddy both get ghost-napped, it makes sense that the 1982 family go straight to parapsychologists whereas in the 2015, it is a bit of leap of logic when the family ignore the Police or any other explanation for the disappearance of their daughter and go straight to parapsychologists…

The ghost-nappings themselves are similar. Unsurprisingly, the original uses a lot of practical effects (some more ropey than others) while the remake uses more digital effects. Both feature a tree coming to life and trying to eat the son. I can’t objectively judge which version did it better because the original has terrorised me for 33 years… though looking at it now, the original is an impressive feat of practical effects that, while looking fairly good despite the age, you can see how it was done. The new version looks great but doesn’t impress me, given how much easier it is to do SFX these days.

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Then there is the youngest daughter actually being kidnapped. In the earlier version, the closet sucks her into a ghostly purgatory. This clearly involves a mocked up bedroom on a rotating spindle, to give the effect of the furniture being drawn in. That’s a big practical effect and looks really good (though I had to smile when it became clearly obvious that the “Carol-Ann” in this scene is a doll). In the modern version, the ghosts just kind of trick her into walking into the portal. It’s a stylistic choice I guess. I really liked the original though, so the new version just seems a bit underwhelming.

The next act plays out pretty similarly between the two films: a team of parapsychologists arrive at the house to investigate the supernatural activity. Both a led by a strong woman, have a cynical white guy thinking the family are trying to fool them (though interestingly, in the new version, he thinks it is to get their own reality show) and an African American (which is pretty important for 1980s film but a bit sad that there is only one person of colour in a 2015 film).

In the original, it feels like the family have been living under the threat of supernatural craziness for a while before the parapsychologists arrive. In the remake, the parapsychologists are right there when everything happens, so the family feels less important to the narrative.

For example, the mother has clearly been experimenting and tells the parapsychologists about the best way to contact Carol-Ann. In the remake, it is the parapsychologists that tell them to call out Maddy’s name and so on. Again, subtle but important differences.

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This act of the film is mostly the family and the parapsychologists investigating the supernatural occurrences. Both result in failure, resulting in a specialist being called in. In the original, it is “Tangina” (Zelda Rubinstein), a very unusual individual who you could imagine as a psychic, and in the remake, it is “Carrigan Burke” (Jared Harris of Fringe and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), a TV psychic, complete with famous catchphrase “This house is clean!” (which is also a call back to the last line uttered by Tangina in the original).

With the focus on the parapsychology team in the remake and Carrigan Burke being a TV supernatural investigator, it becomes clear that someone was thinking about potential sequels, which is why I think they changed the emphasis of the narrative: I can really see a series of films following the exploits of Carrigan Burke investigating various supernatural haunting and that being quite good! Maybe I am just being cynical but the changes seem deliberate and I think they weaken the remake.

Indeed, the original has powerful performances from the various cast members, from the sense of wonder, joy and the pain and sorrow (there is one bit where the mother clearly distrusts Tangina’s instructions but reluctantly obeys, hissing “I will hate you for this”), it just makes for a believable experience, whereas the only the character of interest is Carrigan Burke in the remake. The most cynical part of that being when the 2015 father has a moment to witness Carrigan Burke seemingly-sacrifice himself to lead the ghosts out of purgatory.

A large part of the new film is about the son’s guilt at leaving Maddy alone. As stated earlier, the ghosts seem to torment him and no one believes him. I think the film does focus on him more as a character, less on the family and has the parapsychologists calling all the shots, rather than investigating something the family has had to suffer through.

It makes for a different movie but I prefer the mother-daughter relationship of the earlier one (largely because JoBeth Williams who plays the mother is a really good actress).

The remake then seems to focus a lot more on the supernatural plane of existence, from sending an aerial drone through the gate (which for some reason can transmit camera footage through to our reality) and an extended sequence as the son goes into purgatory to rescue his sister. I mean, it looks good, particularly all the lost souls tied to the house reaching toward the light, but they forgot the other maxim of “less is more”.

Once they get the youngest daughter back, there is a final act where the restless dead make one last attempt to get her back.

In the original, the father has to take care of something but insists that they will leave the house forever when he gets home. The mother is assaulted by the ghosts, in another practical effect where she is dragged up the wall of her bedroom and across the ceiling. Then she attempts to get into the children’s bedroom but is barred by a weird ghost creature (which I think looks pretty good, given it is 30 years old!).

One of the best bits is when the father returns home, caskets bursting out of the ground, and he screams in his former boss’ face, “You moved the headstones but you left the bodies!” (sidebar: in the remake, Carrigan Burke arrives and just tells them that he thinks they just told people they moved the bodies… against, placing the emphasis on Carrigan and the parapsychologists).

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In the remake, the family fully get into a car and are about to drive away when the oldest daughter gets Carrigan Burke to say his catchphrase, “The house is clean”. And then Maddy goes “It isn’t though”. I liked that, it was quite chilling… then ghosts grab the car and flip it.  They are dragged into the house and have to effect an escape as it starts to collapse, complete with Carrigan Burke going in after them.

The original finale deliberately lulls you into a false sense of security once more with the mother taking a relaxing bath, the kids are in bed (and the daughter lies there with her brother’s Luke Skywalker action figure in her mouth) and then all hell breaks loose again.

The remake literally has them leaving the house and then all hell breaks loose again (and I still have no idea where the pristine Mini Cooper they escape in comes from, despite watching the end sequence twice… the power of product placement compels you!).

I think the stylistic choice of the remake is just an example of the differences between what modern cinemagoers expect (or what Hollywood thinks we expect) and what the 1982 filmmakers decided on.

The original isn’t slow paced but just more deliberate. The remake is pretty much breakneck speed by comparison however, assuming that the modern audience needs constant stimulation to hold its interest. In fact, the only time there is a break in the action is when they are building up for a jump scare, a technique now so common in horror that it only serves to telegraph the scare.

Where I think the original wins hands down is the destruction of the house. The original has the house collapse in on itself as it is sucked into the gate in a really cool effect. The remake has the house explode in a beam of light as the ghosts are led toward final release.

Both films end on a similar joke. The original has the family in a hotel room whereupon they put the TV outside. The remake has the family viewing a new property and the estate agent talks a lot about closet space and the age of the house, whereupon the family just leaves.

So there you have it. A fairly faithful, fairly decent remake of a classic horror movie for a modern audience. Mostly the changes are stylistic alterations (though I did raise an eyebrow at the GPS and aerial drone working through a portal to purgatory and why they had an aerial drone in the first place), complete with very pretty special effects.

I don’t think the remake really adds anything, to be completely frank. The original is just better paced, better made and has a stronger theme of normal folks brushing shoulders with the supernatural. And that is where the horror comes from. The remake seems to have missed that and focused on SFX set pieces and jump scares.

I think it also highlights the difference between modern computer generated SFX and the practical SFX. When creating special effects, they didn’t have computers and so they either hand animated it or used real effects to do things. And good practical effects will always trump CG effects.

I mean, compare the gate between worlds in the closet in both films. In the original, they used lighting and fans to create the effects and although it seems obvious to us modern viewers how they did it, it still feels more ‘real’. The remake is all CG, all the time. And while it looks better, it doesn’t feel as solid. I really want Holllywood to understand that practical effects touched up with CG would yield far more impressive effects.

This is why films like Alien, the original Poltergeist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind etc still look damn good, despite 30 years having elapsed.

TL:DR; “While I can’t say it was an unnecessary remake, I can say that it fails to really trump the original. Worth a watch, if only to satisfy curiosity.

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The Fall (2006)

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I’m actually struggling for the words to describe this film. By rights, it shouldn’t exist: it took 4 years to film, was completely self-funded and was filmed in some 20 real locations. And you’ve probably never heard of it.

You see, the guy who wrote and directed it had a vision of what he wanted to produce and he didn’t want that tainted by outside influence. So he paid for everything himself, giving everyone equal pay. Consequently, without the backing of a major studio, distribution and advertising was extremely limited. Which apparently he was ok with.

Both Spike Jonze and David Fincher, two names I greatly respect, loved it enough to ‘present’ this film to the world, which is what ultimately drew me to it.

And it is a beautiful film.

The basic plot revolves around two hospital patients, a young stuntman and a little girl, who strike up an unlikely friendship in 1916 Los Angeles. Between them, they tell a story about five bandits who all want to kill the dreaded Lord Odious.

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“A child’s interpretation of a run away slave, an italian explosives expert, a masked bandit, an indian warrior and Charles Darwin.”

The tale they weave forms the majority of the film, existing as its own thing, brought to life by the imagination of young Alexandria.

Since much of the action takes place through the eyes of a young girl, those scenes are filmed with vivid colours and in a very stylised fashion (here the director employs techniques he used in the dream sequences in his earlier film, The Cell).

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As the story is brought to life by her imagination, everyone and everything is interpreted by her experiences. For instance, the five bandits are all played by people she knows and the minions of Lord Odious all look similar to the scary boiler room man. One of my favourite things in this movie is when the man describes one of the characters as an Indian. Clearly, as an American, he is talking about a Native American but young Alexandria interprets him as Asian. It’s little touches like that which add a whole load of charm and help bring the film together.

And it has to be said, the story sequences are larger than life, filmed in very striking, real world locations all around the world. That in of itself is such an impressive feat that later learning it was self-funded absolutely blows my mind.
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“The fact that this isn’t CGI should blow your mind.”

Part of the drama stems from real world matters affecting the story. And watching young Alexandria’s reaction is absolutely heartbreaking at times. You see, much of her lines and interactions are real, as the director tried to limit the number of lines she was given. Risky but it really pays off: I defy anyone not to be moved by her performance.

The real world parts, by contrast, are minimalist, being subtly shot from a child’s vantage point (save for one animated sequence). Ordinary everyday things take on a different tone and the music is equally subdued.

If this film has any flaws its that it is perhaps too artistic. I absolutely adored it but I try to conceive of who this film is aimed at and I’m struggling to imagine any of my work colleagues enjoying it. I totally understand why this was not a commercial success.

For me, however, it is one of those rare pieces of ‘cinema as art’. Freed from commercially driven constraints, the director is able to craft the film he wants. And in that, it is glorious.

Roger Ebert saw this film and placed it in his top 20 films. He suggested that you should watch it for no reason other that it exists. Given the background to the production of this film, he’s right: there will never be anything quite like it.

TL:DR “A movie so independent no one has heard of it. A truly artistic endeavour and worth seeing if only for its production.”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Fourteen years after the Steve Barron directed ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ comes the reboot. Gone are the rubber turtle suits, 2014’s turtles are created by the latest in studio CGI technology.

The 2014 film is missing a key character, and arguably the best thing about the 1990 film – Casey Jones, but more on that later. It’s little known, but by way of the lips of Mark Kermode, who probably got this information from Wikipedia, 1990’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ became the second highest grossing independent movie of all time of that year, and also was in the highest grossing films worldwide of 1990. If you want to know why a franchise film this would struggle to be distributed by major studios then it is because of doubts around adapting from a successful cartoon / comic book. This seems absurd nowadays, but probably represented scepticism around the early nineties about superheroes and comic books.

Jonathan Liebesman who directs the 2014 version, has been behind films like ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning’, both received a panning from critics, but in Liebesman’s defence, he does a good job at presenting flashy action sequences, and I will say ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ is one of those films I will stand up, and I reckon it’s long overdue for a reappraising. In ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ he puts together some memorable moments, but the second half of the film is top heavy in this regard, leading to a mid-point lull

We don’t really see the turtles for the first twenty minutes of the film. Instead po-faced sexpot Megan Fox tries to revive her flagging acting career by playing April O’Neil. Roving reporter O’Neil is fed up with having to present stories involving her jumping up and down on a trampoline wearing lyrca. O’Neil is a serious journalist, and she, alongside reluctant but loyal cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), are on the hunt for the big story. Fox doesn’t do a bad job as O’Neil, but you can’t quite help but think that the role would be better suited to a pluckier likeable female lead actress.

In New York the big story is about a gang called the Foot Clan who is up to no good, dealing dodgy chemicals. Thwarting the Foot Clan is a group of mysterious vigilantes, who later reveal themselves to be the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. In this version of the Turtles, O’Neil is actually closely connected to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. It turns out her Father’s Project Renaissance lab experiment was responsible for their mutation, and in a laboratory accident she was the one who prevented the turtles from being harmed.

The main problem is that the film is dull as ditchwater. Or should that be sewer water? The leader of the Foot Clan Shredder is consigned to a background character brought out for a few fight scenes in the second half of the film. He is not the deadly potent nemesis that the Turtles deserve to be up against. And we also have to put up with rich scientist / businessman Eric Sacks, who portrays corporate evil, but nothing more. I can’t help but feel we needed more scenes involving the Turtles in action earlier in the film, maybe after O’Neil discovers their identity, just a few more fight scenes of them foiling the Foot Clan, and perhaps even the introduction of a character like Casey Jones to bring a little edge and anarchy to the proceedings.

 

–  RJW

4/10

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on IMDB

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

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Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

 

Mark has been reviewing a lot of classic slasher films in recent weeks. It has inspired me to look at the remake of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’. I’m a sucker for masked horror villains, but there’s something extra sinister about a maniac running around with a burlap sack on his head. It’s a lot more terrifying than a hockey mask.

The original ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ is a cult favourite, and one of those horror films all the more terrifying because it is based on a true story. In a little American town called Texarkana, the Phantom killer murdered five people in 1946. The killer was never caught.

The great thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake is that it is able to directly reference both the 1976 original movie, and the murders which inspired that film in ’46. Cleverly there is a nod to a real life tradition of outdoor screenings of the film which occur on Halloween. The whole movie has a jerky, jittery retro feel which faithfully continues the lineage.

Texarkana is a traditional town which hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world, it is the kind of place where the majority of the town still attend meetings and the church is regularly full, particularly in light of a spate of murders which occur, reminding the town of what happened in 1946.

After a showing of the ’76 version of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ a young couple named Corey and Jami go to a secluded spot. The couple kiss and fumble before they are disturbed by what they think is a peeping Tom who is watching them from the bushes. They then see a man wearing a sack on his head. It’s the phantom killer! The couple lock the doors but it’s all to no avail as the phantom attacks. The phantom kills Corey and sends off Jami (Addison Timlin), to spread the message about what he has done.

Addison Timlin is good as the plucky & resourceful scream queen who overcomes her trauma by trying to connect the dots between who killed Corey and who was behind the murders in 1946. Jami is a strong young woman who is determined to make the use of our second chance in life. In many ways she is portrayed like a cross between the characters of Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers in ‘Scream 2’. What I mean by this is that there is an element of poise in her character, and not your typical helpless pretty girl frantically running away from the murderer.

The gore of the film is wonderfully overdone, blood sprays all over the place as the Phantom continues to prey on young couples. The Phantom, and indeed this film is rather progressive, there is even a couple of gay men who are brutally slain in a scrapyard. This scene, perhaps overshadowed by the violent use of a trombone, should not be overlooked. It is progressive in the sense that it acknowledges that Texarkana, and in a wider sense horror movies, are not just populated by heterosexuals.

It is great also to see a horror movie with a well-developed supporting cast and not just nameless victims. Newspaper archivist Nick (Travis Tope), a cynical veteran policeman played by Gary Cole, the son of the director who made the ’76 film Charles B. Pierce Jr (Denis O’Hare) and Anthony Anderson as Lone Wolf Morales all add so much to the film. It’s also not entirely obvious who the Phantom is, with a host of possible suspects, and this makes the big reveal a genuine shock. Though I felt the reveal was a bit of a rush job, it’s a minor gripe about an otherwise gripping retro flavoured slasher movie.

– RJW

7/10

 

 

The Town That Dreaded Sundown on IMDB

Stagecoach (1966)

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Directed by: Gordon Douglas

I want to argue that this remake should be remade. ‘Stagecoach’ is a remake of the wonderful 1939 John Ford original. After watching the ’66 version I couldn’t help but think – “Imagine if Tarantino or the Coen Brothers got hold of this. Turned out something like ‘Django Unchained’ or ‘True Grit’. The source material is all there, the quirky characters, heinous villains and a whole heap of remorseless Wild West violence. There’s something about ‘Stagecoach’ which if adapted again could provide the unrepentant violence featured in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ with this allegory of the need for coexistence and diplomacy in the face of adversity. The story is golden in a world divided and on the brink of oblivion.

In terms of the views of Western purists, not many people have time for the ’66 version of ‘Stagecoach’. I suppose it is because John Ford is one of the master creators of the genre. Tampering with his work is sacrilegious. The story of ‘Stagecoach’ is all about a bunch of passengers who have no choice but to travel to Cheyenne. Bing Crosby plays a drunk doctor, Ann-Margret the banished showgirl, there’s a stern Marshal, a goofy stagecoach driver and a falsely accused outlaw called the Ringo Kid.

The film’s most gripping action packed scene is when hundreds of Native Americans chase the rickety stagecoach through woodland and the prairies. The chase is brilliantly action packed, as Indians leap from horses onto the stagecoach. Bullets and arrows fly, then disaster strikes and the wagon loses a wheel. A horse is slain. The motley band of misfit travellers must fight for their lives.

Then there’s the final showdown, a stripped back version of Django’s final fight in Candie’s Ranch as the Ringo Kid goes into enemy territory facing off against the horrid Plummer brothers. It’s no less exciting, as a fire rages through the saloon Ringo looks for revenge.

I was surprised by Bill Crosby’ acting; my abiding image of the man is of a dopey, sad sack crooner. In ‘Stage Coach’ he provides the light relief. Crosby spends most of the time sipping bourbon on the sidelines, stepping in with a wisecrack when required. He’s part of an ensemble cast that work well together. There’s no star name, unlike the magnetism of the young John Wayne in the original, Alex Cord’s Ringo Kid is quite literally shackled. The film relies on the sum of its parts, rolling on through the wilderness.

– RJW
8/10

Stagecoach on IMDB

The Hitcher (2007)

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Directed by: Dave Meyers

It must be said, before I venture any further, that I have not seen the original ‘The Hitcher’ from the eighties starring a man whose name sounds like a Scottish bloke with a chest infection trying to clear his throat (Rutger Hauer). However I will address this by watching the original Hitcher movie, but only after I’ve dissected the remake starring Sean Bean.

I’ve long been fond of Mr Bean; he was the masculine action hero of my childhood in ITV’s ‘Sharpe’ series, playing the dashing Richard Sharpe who took on the might of the French Army during the Napoleonic War. Bean makes a good villain here, even managing a passable American accent.

My biggest problem with ‘The Hitcher’ is that nobody involved in the remake appears to be able to drag the film out over the required ninety minutes, therefore tension, the most vital of ingredients in a horror movie, isn’t built. The film ends around the one hour fifteen minute mark. This proves to be both a blessing and a curse for ‘The Hitcher’. If judging a film as I do, then I don’t believe ‘The Hitcher’ is long enough. I always think along the lines of – if I went to the cinema to see this, then how would I feel afterwards? I would probably think, Jesus, this was too short, I’ve been ripped off! A film needs to be ninety minutes long, to satisfy the consumer, secondary to that, there needs to be some time to effectively tell the story. On the flip side, ‘The Hitcher’ straddles the line of terribleness, but doesn’t go on long enough to cross into terrible territory.

Nearly five minutes is taken up introducing us to love’s young dream – Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush), our victims, or possible survivors. This sequence, seemingly covering hundreds of driving miles lasts for a five minutes. The same annoyingly poppy song ‘Move Along’ plays. Given that the song is playing on the car stereo it almost appears that they’ve been listening to The All-American Rejects for five or six hours straight. The share madness this would induce, distorting all the senses, would mean that it is quite understandable that Jim almost ran over a man who was thumbing a lift. The devil in the music caused him to do it.

After that near accidental collision they pull into a gas station and meet the staple of most modern horror films, the sleazy garage owner, who provides a few moments of creepy light relief. Whilst refuelling the couple come across the man they almost hit who identifies himself as John Ryder. He’s surprisingly not angry or bitter, and asks them for a lift. The couple feel obliged to give him a ride since they almost killed him.

Back on the road the hitchhiker known as John Ryder turns on Grace and Jim, and pulls out a blade. Miraculously, during a tense high speed struggle they bundle him out of the car, and learn the valuable lesson of the road – Never pick up strange men. On a sparsely populated highway to hell, the rest of the film sees the hitchhiker pursue the couple across the desert roads

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The hitchhiker is a unique psychopathic villain in that he kills people in order to put himself in a position where someone might turn around and kill him in self-defence, but we don’t really get a good look into the mind of this killer, so his methods are a tad irrational. He has a nihilistic approach; getting off on the fear of his victims, taunting them to say “I want to die”, and urging them to fight for their life.

Almost a collection of violent scenes stapled together, this version of ‘The Hitcher’ doesn’t attempt to develop a back story for any of the characters. We are thrown into the action after enduring ‘Move Along’ for five minutes, and the pace is relentless, with suspense nipped in the bud in favour of sudden sharp shocks.

The next thing to do is see how superior the original movie was.

– RJW
4/10

The Hitcher on IMDB
Buy The Hitcher [DVD]

I wonder why the dog is called ‘Grandpa’: Thoughts on Evil Dead

evildead

By the end of the movie the sole survivor of a horror film has bloodshot watery eyes, juddery hands, and usually is slumped in a sorry state of frailty. Throughout ninety minutes of nightmarish pursuit they end up going through an accelerated mental disintegration that ordinarily someone wouldn’t face in a whole lifetime of toil.

The afternoon before I watched ‘Evil Dead’ I had two terrifying encounters with men who had entered their twilight period, men who had lived a lifetime of toil. I was told to wander down to the food hall of the department store that I work in and escort from the premises a gentleman who was banned from entering the store because previously he had shoplifted a punnet of strawberries. This guy must’ve been nearly eighty, wiry with bottle thick glasses and a walking stick. I tried the soft approach and politely informed him that he would need to leave because of what happened last time. He told me he only wanted to buy a lettuce. I told him there were other shops nearby that sold fresh vegetables such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco. “Fuck Tesco” he replied. I put out my hands in exasperation, and gestured for him to calm down. Mainly because I was afraid that he might keel over as his cheeks had reddened instantly. The man became increasingly irate and yelled “Don’t touch me; if you touch me then I’m going straight to the police”. I didn’t want to touch him because he smelt of urinated beetroot juice.

Twenty minutes after this perplexing incident fizzled out I was wandering about, lost in daydream. I ran into one of the ‘regulars’, an old guy who I bump into every Wednesday. We usually have one of those, are you well? Ok good, now let’s talk about the weather conversations. I asked this man, with his messy silver hair and crooked yellow teeth, how he was. The man told me that things had been difficult for him recently; his wife had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was in a bad way. The most important person in his life was about to be taken away. He welled up, and sobbed. There is something horribly uncomfortable about an old man crying. Particularly when he was doing so in a busy department store next to the main escalator, dozens of people stared at the curiosity. A Security Guard stood next to a blubbering mess. The awkwardness conquered my noble display of empathy.

Work was finally finished, the fifth day over. I meandered down to the cinema, emotionally exhausted. Had I been going to see a drama then I would have dozed. Thankfully I was there to see the rebooted / remade / revisited / rebirthed version of ‘The Evil Dead’, minus the ‘The’. There was likely to be bloodcurdling screams and scares aplenty.

Jumping to the end of this little anecdote, as I left the cinema with belly full of Haribo Starmix and waited for the bus home I wondered why the dog in ‘Evil Dead’ was called ‘Grandpa’. None of the characters exclaimed “Grandpa, that’s a weird name for a dog. Why’s he called that?”. I wondered if I had misheard the dog’s name, but yes, a Google search reassured me that I was correct. The dog is called ‘Grandpa’. Was this because the dog was old? That wouldn’t make sense, because the dog would have had to have not been named until much later into its life, or maybe he was renamed, his original name might have been Pops. Perhaps ‘Grandpa’ was not the dog’s real name, but a nickname. This was not unusual. I refer to my dog as ‘Pipkin’, even though it isn’t his name. I was left flummoxed by this little irrelevant detail of the film.

2013’s ‘Evil Dead’ is a different beast to the 1981 cult classic. Everything is amped up a notch to reflect the sadistic gore trend we’ve come to expect after several noughties remakes of horror classics from the past such as Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’, various output from Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes and Alexandre Aja’s crossover into Hollywood and the overiding influence of the New French Extremity movement. In fact, probably since the phenomenal success of the Saw franchise there has been consistent mainstream appetite for the macabre, which reflects some kind of insatiable cinematic desire for no holds barred animalistic violence.

It’s weird, I know we like to be scared, to jump out of seats and spill the popcorn, and how seeing a horror movie can be a fun experience, but there reaches a point where you begin to question the enjoyment levels of what you are watching, particularly when all you get is a series of gore set pieces. A woman cuts off her own arm, gets shot, beaten, and bashed up. Another woman gets her skull caved in, in that cold brutal fashion reminiscent of Gaspar Noé’s ‘Irréversible’. A bloke gets stabbed repeatedly, hit with a crowbar and shot with a nail gun. It’s best not to think too hard about this. It’s just gore. Fun gunge. This isn’t real life.

The share nastiness of ‘Evil Dead’ actually helps the film, and differentiates itself completely from Sam Raimi’s original cult classic. In 2013 four lifelong friends help Mia, their junkie pal, kick the habit by taking her to a cold turkey cabin in the middle of the wilderness. When the friends discover a trapdoor in the cabin, the menfolk in the group go down into a dank den of depravity where they find a book locked by barbed wire alongside several dead cats that hang from the ceiling. The curious bespectacled man of the group uses some tin snips to open up the book. Evil is unleashed and a demonic spirit possesses Mia.

Jane Levy’s performance as Mia grants her iconic scream queen status, and a likely sequel will put her up there with the Neve Campbell’s of this world. She endures pretty much everything that could possibly be thrown at her.

Before I head off, I’d like to waffle on a bit more about ‘Grandpa’ the dog. I think my fascination with a dog’s name explains why I didn’t really care much for ‘Evil Dead’. If after watching the film I’m spending time contemplating the name of a dog, then I think that really the film’s gore washed over me, coating me in crimson contemplation. I was desensitised by the visceral bombardment of unrelenting violence to the point that I can’t quite conjure enough words to sum up the relative merits of ‘Evil Dead’. The dog is named ‘Grandpa’ for people like me who attempt to criticize a film that is strictly for the gore gobblers.

– RJW

Evil Dead on IMDB
Buy Evil Dead [DVD] [2013]

The Blob (1988)

le blob

The 80s was a golden decade for horror and I mean really good horror, John Carpenter was at the height of his powers, David Cronenberg was moving up a gear, Wes Craven and Robert Englund were teaming up on Elm Street and a certain Stanley Kubrick made The Shining. The list, as always, goes on and hidden away underneath all the gold is The Blob, a film that knew it would never dine at the top table but was able to stand proud as a solid, entertaining genre piece.

I love 80s horror like this. I love the use of prosthetics, the 80s of course was a time before widespread use of CGI, and I love the schlocky nature of The Blob and its tongue in cheek approach. It was a remake of the 1958 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen but it wasn’t purely a cash-in, it was a bit of fun, it even sold itself alongside other, far superior, remakes of the time like The Thing and The Fly just for laughs.

It stars a heavily mulletted Kevin Dillon, a poor man’s Matt Dillon who also happens to be Matt Dillon’s brother, as a bad-boy loner who prefers passing time on the periphery of town life performing motorcycle stunts and pestering tramps. The remaining cast of ‘that guys’ include Emil from RoboCop, Dale from TV’s The Walking Dead and Saw franchise mainstay Shawnee Smith who also fronted 2000s punk-metal band, Fydolla Ho.

The deaths are fantastically inventive, people get crushed in phone booths and sucked down plug holes and the satire extends to playing with genre stereotypes like the young couple making out in the car on a hilltop road overlooking the town who meet a violent end as he gets dragged through her breasts during a fondling session. Meeting your maker by the late 80s not only had to be a stunt in itself but it also had to look unbearably good and this was achieved with disgusting aplomb by Rick Baker alumni, Tony Gardner whose credits include The Addams Family, 127 Hours, Zombieland and creating the signature helmets for the electronic dance duo, Daft Punk.

Kevin Dillon’s mullet deserves its own credit; it’s the best looking thing in the film and effortlessly precipitates his coolness by never once looking messy or unkempt and it’s starched to the point that it still stays straight even when he tilts his head forward so he can chin people standing behind him. I raise a glass to the makeup and hair department for this magnificent specimen of hair control.

The Blob was written by then up-and-coming screenwriter Frank Darabont alongside his friend Chuck Russell who also directed the film. The inventiveness of some of the bigger sequences, the parodical subversion of the standard genre tropes of 50s horror (a military created space blob terrorising a small town) and 80s horror (the film showing at the cinema is called Garden Tool Massacre) and the formulaic dialogue showcase the vibrant talent buzzing under the surface of the fledgling Darabont and also some of the rawness which he’d learn to shed.

It was a wise move of Darabont to move on from Russell early in his career as he’d go on to turn anything he touched into gold including Green Mile, The Mist and Shawshank Redemption whereas Russell would prove his limitations with basic output such as Eraser and The Scorpion King. He did make The Mask but this still suffers from his dour touch and only shines when Jim Carrey is bouncing around onscreen surrounded by those fantastic effects.

If you’re looking for a stupidly violent, ridiculously 80s and wonderfully hair-styled horror send-up that’s perfect Saturday night fodder then you can do a lot worse than check out The Blob.

– Greg Foster

The Blob on IMDB
Buy The Blob [1988]