Tuesday 31 January 2012

Flavours of the Month: January 2012...


The Angelos Neil Epithemou Show - seemingly just a pilot at this stage (along with Milton Jones' "House of Rooms"), but being a huge fan of his character as-seen on the now cancelled Shooting Stars, I loved it. Hopefully Channel 4 pick it up for a full series.

Apocalypse Now (Blu-Ray) - Franis Ford Coppola's Vietnam war epic just got even more vast - on 3-disc collector's edition Blu-Ray. It's crammed with extras too.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Blu-Ray) - Jason Siegel wrote a killer script and gave a brilliant comedic performance. I loved it when I saw it in the cinema, and I figured it was about time to give it another spin.

The Golden Globes 2012 - last year Sky Movies broadcast them in the UK. This year it was E! Entertainment - and boy did they make a pig's ear of it. The feed was all over the place in the first 30 minutes, missing half of Gervais' intro speech, an entire category, half of a winner's speech, and it kept cutting away to the same glitchy package of adverts that just seemed to keep coming back like a friggin' zombie. Add in the incessant, wimpy bleeping out of every punchline (and even entire sentences!), and it was just a weak sauce showing all round.

Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set DVD - as you'll have seen already, this month I've been reviewing this excellent 3-disc box set of 1970s Italian genre flicks. Killer Nun, Torso, and Night Train Murders.

Kevin Smith - Too Fat For 40 (his latest stand-up Q&A DVD) finally makes an appearance more than a year after it happened, but in an unexpurgated form. Hilarity ensues as he once again manages to capture my imagination with well told yarns from his personal life (the main feature is 3 hours and 20 minutes long!) Plus at long last, a full year-to-the-day after it's Sundance Premiere, Smith's deeply twisted realist horror movie Red State comes to a wide UK release on DVD and Blu-Ray - it has some flaws, but I really dug it. Finally, another viewing of Clerks: The Animated Series.

YouTube hopping - my love for The Big Bang Theory has excelled thanks to it being on constant repeat on E4 nowadays (since they let Friends go to the Paramount Comedy Channel), and I've found myself skimming around YouTube watching numerous gag reels, interviews and Comic-Con panels to do with the show. What's more I've also got into watching various small clips from season five of Robot Chicken - a season that, at this time anyway, has no release date on DVD (even though it's been out in America for ages - before it's even finished airing on Adult Swim).


Chase Status ft. Liam Bailey "Blind Faith" - as heard in Dirt 3.

The Walker Brothers "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" & Wye Oak "Civilian" - the time is nearing for the second half of season two of The Walking Dead (the best show currently on TV in my view), so I've been psyching myself up with these tracks which appeared on the full trailers for seasons 1 and 2.

Red Dead Redemption OST

Ringo Deathstarr "Colour Trip"

Alessandro Alessandroni "Suor Omicidi" - otherwise known as "Killer Nun". Like so many stand-out pieces from the soundtracks of Italian genre flicks, this one gets pleasingly lodged in your head.

Stelvio Cipriani "La Polizia Sta A Guardare" - as heard in the flick "What Have They Done To Your Daughters" (and briefly heard in "Death Proof").

M83 "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"

Drive OST - Kavinsky ft. Lovefoxxx "Nightcall", Desire "Under Your Spell", College ft. Electric Youth "A Real Hero", Riz Ortolani "Oh My Love", and The Chromatics "Tick of the Clock"

Kavinsky "Pacific Coast Highway"


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - a nice rounding off of a trilogy arc. The third act isn't quite as thrilling or epic as the first two acts, but as a fan of the franchise I really enjoyed myself. The additional "Special Ops" content has also been tweaked for the better (although I do find it strange that "Recruit" mode isn't included for the Spec-Op missions).

Dirt 3 - the 'mini pyramids' felt a bit like a chore after a lengthy career mode, but then on the other hand you aren't left wanting for content. It's still been a spiffing racer to play, mind you.

The Walking Dead: Volume 9 & 10 - slowly but surely I'm catching up on Kirkman's excellent comic series. Still another five to go, however.

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk - the author's latest book, and it's his most inventive outing since Rant. The central character is a 13 year old daughter of a celebrity couple, who is damned to hell after suffering an apparent 'marijuana overdose' and bands together with a veritable 'Breakfast Club' cast of teenage stereotypes to plead her case to the authorities of Hell itself. I enjoyed it immensely - if you're a fan of Palahniuk's work, you definitely need to check this title out.

The Top 50 List - it was an exhaustive process re-jigging the list (less-so than creating the list from scratch back in 2009, mind you) but I had been meaning to do it for ages. Well - I've compiled my own Top 50 list of personal most favourite-favourites ... but even still a beloved title or two is going to slip your mind (such as the utterly arresting The Shawshank Redemption, or the endearingly laid back and meandering The Big Lebowski).

Monday 30 January 2012

Double Bill Mini Musings: Polar Opposites...

The Woodsman:
This 2004 character piece must have been quite the risky prospect when they were trying to get it made - simply because Kevin Bacon's central character Walter is a paedophile on parole (living in an apartment overlooking a playground). Keeping decidedly to himself at his job at a lumber mill, he soon gets into a strange relationship with a female colleague (Vicki), but when his past is revealed to those around him - resulting in disgust - he has to fight against his inner demons. The filmmakers wisely only suggest in small, obscure doses what his character has done in his past (before he was incarcerated for twelve years), as it allows the viewer to not just completely shut down to the rest of the plot. There's no doubt that it makes difficult and bleak viewing at times - although let's be very clear, there's nothing graphic anywhere in the movie - the horrific aspects of the story are kept to subtle images, the tortured inner turmoil etched on the face of Walter (Kevin Bacon delivers a powerful performance), and the testimonials with his handler Rosen (Michael Shannon) which reveal just enough back-story to proffer the creation of his sickness.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:
For a title like that, there aren't many strange tides in the movie, particularly as it's all about finding the Fountain of Youth. The first movie was fun, the second two were far too long, far too overblown, and far too complicated, and this fourth entry is just boring. The rip-roaring fun of the first is long gone, Jack Sparrow's just become a bit of a repetitive arse, and the script is flat-out crap. Indeed the latter complaint is best summed up by the entirely perfunctory thread-bare 'love story' between whinging man of God Philip who just gets in everybody's way, and Mermaid Syrena who has nothing to do but gawp at everyone with doe eyes. With half of the original cast missing you can't help but wonder if they had got thoroughly disenchanted with the whole venture and opted to better their careers elsewhere. I'm so very glad I didn't pay to see this in the cinema and just watched it on Sky Anytime instead, for it is a weak and boring load of old cobblers.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Double Bill Mini Musings: Catching Up on 2011...

Red State:
I've been hearing about this movie for absolutely sodding ages - particularly as I'm a frequent and consistent listener to numerous podcasts featured on Kevin Smith's "SModcast Network" (and as such I was subject to a few spoilers over the last year-or-more). Indeed, I had got to the point that I was utterly sick of listening to yet another all-too-familiar 45 minute rant about the state of modern movie advertising, that I'd just switch off entirely ... needless to say I was damned ready to see the movie already.

I've also heard very mixed things about the flick - some love it, some hate it, and some whinge specifically about the ending for not 'going the whole Dogma hog' - but considering Red State is a realist horror film, such flights of fantasy wouldn't fit in too well with the overall tone, which feels terrifyingly close to reality at times.

Another thing that some haters of the flick didn't like was the constant shifting of tone, genre, and focus - which was very much intended by Smith - and I can understand how it could wrong-foot some, and how it can mean that some characters remain a bit underdeveloped over the extremely efficient 85 minute running time ... but nevertheless I really dug it.

I dug it so much in fact that I wanted to watch it again straight away - surely a very good sign (I had the same reaction to Clerks II, come to think of it) - although I'm specifically starving myself of it for a little while before I re-view it.

Ranging from teen sex comedy one minute, to Wrath-of-God preaching the next, to Waco-esque shoot-out after that, pretty much nobody in the cast is safe ... and boy, do some of them go in extremely chilling ways. Indeed, the fear is so palpable on many of the victim's faces that a chill genuinely tears up your spine and dances across the base of your neck; seeing one smut-talking teen reduced to a dribbling wreck pleading that he just wants his mother packed a surprising punch. The film's 'Five Point Chuch' - led by a Phelps-to-the-most-extreme patriarch - preach such seething hatred that it makes you sit most uncomfortably in your chair, all-the-more-so because Michael Parks' performance is simultaneously disarming and utterly enrapturing. Suffice to say the man owns the entire film, with a fantastic performance that turns what could have easily become a pantomime villain, into a remarkably fearsome fun-time fanatic. As he beams with joy at the Popeye impression of one his youngest followers, you can't help but grin from ear-to-ear, and therein lies the excellence of Parks' performance: he constantly disturbs your balance.

Moving on, this is most definitely unlike any other Kevin Smith film to date - returning to his Indie roots for the production and distribution (albeit with the connections and sway of a long-time player with a loyal, long-established fan base), Smith's film displays a sense of vibrant flair which he hadn't previously explored. Using the Red Camera system, the film takes on a rampaging sense of immediacy, while looking utterly gorgeous and endlessly crisp on Blu-Ray.

One problem though - and it's the extra features on the Blu-Ray - whoever encoded them did a piss poor job. Every single one of them is in letterbox (so the image is surrounded on all sides by black on a widescreen TV), and whatever settings were used for encoding have rendered the extras subject to an annoying amount of interlacing and even strange image ghosting at times. They're not unwatchable by any means, but considering the sheer high quality of the main feature's presentation, it's unfortunate that the extras haven't been given the same care when being ported over to the disc. I'm not sure if this is only a problem with the Region B disc or not.

Despite receiving a few spoilers along the way from numerous podcasts on Smith's network, there were still a few good shocks left in it for me. Furthermore, good lord, there are countless fantastic performances throughout. Great character actors of various levels of repute populate the cast so that it's fit-to-bursting - there's always somebody new to see, and another dark twist to be taken in the ever-changing plot. While there are occasional pacing issues (which could conceivably worsen if you're one who disagrees with the ever-shifting focus of the script), I really enjoyed the flick - it's ruddy good to finally see it, but in my view it's also Smith's most interesting film since Dogma and his most enjoyable since Clerks II.

Nicolas Winding Refn (who has previously given us the stonkingly stylish Bronson) gives us the most stylish and achingly cool movie of 2011. Some didn't like it - no doubt because the title could prove a bit misleading (and the marketing sold it the wrong way) - it's not so much about driving, as it is the existentialism surrounding Ryan Gosling's grippingly-performed stuntman ... but I absolutely loved it.

The opening getaway car sequence (seen entirely from the passenger seat) is nail-bitingly, hold-your-breath tense, exhibiting the sort of patience, skill, and shark-like determination that sums up the character of Gosling's 'Driver'. A man who spends most of the movie not saying an awful lot - indeed, as was the aim of the filmmakers, he is akin to the lone wolf American hero who uses stoicism and skilled use of extreme violence to preserve innocence. Speaking of innocence, the focus of that is Carey Mulligan's mother Irene (whose jailbird husband gets the Driver into an awful lot of trouble with some gangsters and a bag full of money). The relationship between Gosling and Mulligan's characters is sweet and chaste - it truly is an examination of love as an innocent and precious thing, where entwined fingers on a gear stick, and one kiss before an eruption of shocking violence prove to be far more potent than getting your kit off and going all the way.

Speaking of violence, it's no Rambo, but on the other hand it does feature moments of stunningly graphic violence - no doubt because the beauty of the build-up is so involving. Finally, on the issue of style - this film has it in spades. From the titles in pink cursive, to the lush and twinkling neon of the streets at night (a highlight of the superbly composed cinematography), and to the exceedingly cool 1980s soundtrack, it's nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful. One part B-Movie with an A-Movie look, one part masterclass in cool, and one part thrill ride; if I had seen this in 2011 it would have most definitely been on my Top Ten list of that year.

Friday 27 January 2012

Double Bill Mini Musings: Your Brain on Drugs, and re-jigged Philip K. Dick...

A dead-beat writer is given an incredible new drug that unlocks the rest of your brain power (we only use around 20% of it normally) - and makes a huge success of himself ... while also getting into an awful lot of trouble. It's slightly barmy, but it's also a spiffing wish-fulfilment flick too, and what's more it doesn't always go in the direction you imagine it will. The plot isn't without the odd hole, but if you just go with the flow it's really quite enjoyable - and it really is a great central plot device.

The Adjustment Bureau:
The eponymous group of 'suits' keep things ticking along just nicely according to a complicated plan. That time you forgot your keys and were late for work, or that time you missed the bus - possibly little nudges perpetrated by these agents to keep everything ticking along nicely. Things, however, all go a bit arse-over-tit when Matt Damon's up-and-coming political figure falls madly in-love with Emily Blunt's charismatic dancer - and it doesn't match 'the plan'. The love story was an addition to Dick's short story, but it works surprisingly well - although the abilities and rationale of the Adjustment Bureau is never entirely consistent or mapped-out enough to be entirely convincing. However, if you gloss over the cracks, it makes for a fun flick - helped in no-small part by Damon & Blunt's on-screen charm.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1974)

Find more Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD reviews here

The following is the third of three reviews for the "Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set" - it's a 3-disc DVD comprised of Killer Nun, Torso, and Night-Train Murders.

Like Killer Nun (included in this box set), Aldo Lado’s riff on Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) found its way onto the Department of Public Prosecutions list of 72 banned video nasties in the 1980s. However, similarly to Berruti’s film, Night Train Murders was later acquitted (33 titles in total were acquitted, leaving 39 that were ‘liable to deprave and corrupt’ anyone who viewed them).


While the trailer seems to suggest a lurid and fast-paced thriller, Lado’s ‘rape and revenge’ flick is in fact much more reliant on suspense and slow-build tension – and a script loaded with brutal social commentary. Furthermore, despite Lado claiming to have never seen Craven’s vicious Vietnam-weary The Last House on the Left (itself heavily inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1959 film The Virgin Spring), there are numerous similarities between the two films – two girls fall victim to a gang of thugs (one of whom is a junkie) only for them to in-turn fall victim to the upper middle class parents of one of the victims (one of whom is a Doctor). That said, the two films differ in two key ways – Craven’s documentary-like film is far more directly plotted, while Lado’s visually luxuriant film possesses far more twisted characters.


Opening amidst the heavily populated consumer haven of a German shopping district on Christmas Eve, Lado’s social criticism gets off to an early start – the safety of this scene getting interrupted when the two antagonists (“Blackie” and “Curly”) mug a boozy Santa Claus. They escape the police by hopping aboard a departing train – the same train that is carrying Margaret and her friend Lisa on their way to spend the holidays in Italy – and so a night of depravity is set in motion.


Amongst the passengers are a cross-section of 1970s European society – including happy families, students, Catholic priests cheating at chess, and a group of well-heeled adults discussing the very nature of morality, democracy, and if there is a middle-ground between liberalism and totalitarianism. Indeed it is within this last group that we meet one of the key antagonists – ‘The Lady on the Train’ – an upper middle class woman who hides her sexual perversions in her handbag and behind her veil. It is with this character that the social criticism of the script is most potent, unleashing her inner demons via a toilet-bound tryst with Blackie – in this way depravity is almost treated like a sexually transmitted disease that brings out the worst in her suppressed character. It’s quite literally a clash of the high society and the seething proletariat.


As the film progresses, the social commentary continues to come thick-and-fast as the tension slowly builds – seemingly happy marriages are shown to be on the rocks, and the very nature of temptation and shame are embodied brilliantly in the figure of a bourgeois voyeur. Indeed, the film really explodes once we’ve swapped trains and the central protagonists and antagonists find themselves secreted away in a booth with each other – and it is here that Ennio Morricone’s score (central to which is a chilling, stalking harmonica) creates an almost unbearable amount of anxiety as events take a dramatic and violent turn for the worse.


Cast in a sinister and seductive blue light, Gabor Pogany’s cinematography expertly melds vice, violence, and virgin innocence, while Alberto Gallitti’s exceptional editing fizzes with inspired cross-cutting and sound design that blends two distinct worlds into a distillation of the troubled underbelly of (at the time at least) modern European life. While The Last House on the Left focussed more on up-front violence, Night Train Murders instead opts for chillingly lifting the veil on the potential moral squalor inside any one of us – and it is precisely this kind of rich thematic texturing that proves Lado’s film to be an extremely rewarding entry in the ‘rape and revenge’ sub-genre.

Shameless Screen Entertainment do themselves proud with a clean and crisp transfer, and a nice audio presentation that preserves all of the Godfather-like use of clattering train wheels on the soundtrack; trailers round out the package. The 3-disc 'Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set' also comes with an essay insert from noted film writer Kim Newman (providing brief but informative context), and the set itself comes with impressive cover art that mimics a rental videotape (complete with "Be Kind and Rewind" sticker).

Friday 20 January 2012

Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973) - DVD Review

Find more Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD reviews here.

The following is the second of three reviews which I'll be posting for the "Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set" - it's a 3-disc DVD comprised of Killer Nun, Torso, and Night-Train Murders.

Like Killer Nun (included in this box set), this Italian giallo flick is presented uncut in anamorphic widescreen with a handful of newly re-inserted scenes that were previously expurgated – scenes that provide some extra connections between the dots. Sergio Martino had previously delivered The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1972) starring giallo legend Edwige Fenech, and would go on to unleash Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) starring Stacy Keach and a certain Bond Girl by the name of Ursula Andress. However Torso (appropriately sub-titled “Carnal Violence) has perhaps brought the director the most acclaim in wider circles, as it stands as an excellent example of the slasher movie during the early gestation of the sub-genre.

In advance of early American slashers like Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974), Martino’s film features examples of some of the most common themes and iconography found in such fare. Writers such as Carol J. Clover, Reynold Humphries, and many more have discussed these elements – particularly the so-called ‘final girl’ – the one female to make it out alive due to her superior moral standing. Indeed here the femme who escapes fatal consequences is played by Suzy Kendall – who also starred in Dario Argento’s superb debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1971).

However, Martino and his screenwriting partner Ernesto Gastaldi, and his Director of Photography Giancarlo Ferrando seem far more interested in gazing at any one of the other girls who populate the film’s bevy of gorgeous babes – gals who are no strangers to getting their kit off at a moment’s notice. That all said, once we move into the second half of the movie the focus finally lands squarely on Kendall’s shoulders – indeed it’s very much a film of two halves.

The first half rapidly makes it way through a whole succession of tense stalkings, bared breasts (even in the very first shot!), violent murders, and no end of red herrings and possible suspects. True to gialli, practically anyone is a suspect, and in a film populated by sex-obsessed men who lustfully/creepily leer at the central female cast non-stop, there’s no end of potential slashers. It is then with the second half that the pace slows and the spotlight lands on mystery and suspense – indeed a triple-slaying is entirely off-screen – but Kendall more than makes up for it as she becomes a captivating captive.

Making exceptionally good use of locations, Martino’s film certainly isn’t lacking in the looks department, but pleasingly it’s no “F Grade” student either. “Carnal Violence” might not be especially catchy as a title, but it matches the content perfectly. Themes of sex, death, and where the two collide are central to the plot, which also features an underlying dose of socio-political commentary. Not only is there a clear gender gap on display (many of the surviving males are sexually defunct, unlike the females), but so too is there a distinct generation gap (the students versus the ineffective police).

Shameless Screen Entertainment provides a solid transfer, however it isn’t without some problems: the audio source shows wear & tear at times, as does the video source – but being that this is the sort of film that epitomised the video nasty era (while, incredibly, never becoming one!), the slightly rough look only adds to the experience. We’re unlikely to get a prettier looking Torso in the future; finally, a series of trailers round out the disc. The 3-disc 'Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set' also comes with an essay insert from noted film writer Kim Newman (providing brief but informative context), and the set itself comes with impressive cover art that mimics a rental videotape (complete with "Be Kind and Rewind" sticker).

Slasher fans and giallo fans are both exceedingly well-served here, as Sergio Martino crafts a murder mystery that is as sleazy as it is involving; a must-see.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Killer Nun (Giulio Berruti, 1979) - DVD Review

Find more Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD reviews here.

The following is the first of three reviews which I'll be posting for the "Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set" - it's a 3-disc DVD comprised of Killer Nun, Torso, and Night-Train Murders.


Presented fully uncut for the first time in the United Kingdom, and including freshly re-introduced scenes previously excised by the producers, Shameless Screen Entertainment bring us a nicely spruced-up presentation of Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun. Previously one of the entries on the Department of Public Prosecution’s list of video nasties here in the UK, the film is based on a true story.

Oftentimes you read the words “based on a true story” and it’s anything but, however Killer Nun is based on a case of a Belgian nun who underwent brain surgery and consequently became a morphine addict to assuage the torment of persistent headaches and mood swings. In order to feed her addiction she would ‘help along’ patients in her care who were near-to-death, only to steal their precious belongings and pawn them in the city for money to buy the drugs she craved.


So far that’s the majority of the plot of the movie right there – although nowhere in the true story were there actual murders, torture, or bisexual nuns played by heavy-chested Playboy models. Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita) plays Sister Gertrude – the morphine-addicted nun – while Paola Morra plays her sexually obsessed junior Sister Mathieu (the actress was the Italian Playmate of the Month of February 1978).

Today the film is much tamer than its reputation or title might suggest, however it’s a relatively high-minded film that dares to mix in a little social commentary about institutionalised cover-ups in religious organisations. It’s perhaps more akin to What Have They Done To Your Daughters (Massimo Dallamano, 1974) in the respect that it’s not quite as lurid as you might expect from the title – unlike Strip Nude For Your Killer (Andrea Bianchi, 1975), which is precisely as sleazy and violent as you would anticipate. That said, considering the juxtaposition of murder with religion, and sex with Sisters of the Cloth, I can picture how it would have historically been considered quite the controversial film in certain quarters – indeed to some, for those very reasons, it could remain offensive to this day.


Giulio Berruti and Alberto Tarallo’s script plays with thematic substance and a gradual pace, and while it may be comparatively light on sex and gore unlike some of its peers, the film is more then backed-up by a quality production. Tonino Maccoppi’s cinematography is – typically for Italian cinema – beautiful, and is nicely complimented by Mario Giacco’s editing, and Alessandro Alessandroni’s exceedingly memorable score.

Shameless Screen Entertainment’s DVD offers a lovely restored print, trailers, and a brief chat with star Anita Ekberg. The 3-disc 'Shameless Slasher Nasties Box Set' also comes with an essay insert from noted film writer Kim Newman (providing brief but informative context), and the set itself comes with impressive cover art that mimics a rental videotape (complete with "Be Kind and Rewind" sticker).

Fans of this kind of cinema should be pleasantly surprised by Killer Nun, and would do well to give it a spin.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Feature - "Re-Entering the Nightmare: Eraserhead 12 Years On"

David Lynch’s 1977 debut – Eraserhead – was my first introduction to the man’s uniquely idiosyncratic work. In the summer of 1999 I was fifteen years old and I was on holiday in Scotland with my family. During those couple of weeks we visited Edinburgh, and being a film-mad teen I was eager to scour the shelves of HMV and Virgin Megastore (back when the latter still existed).

At this point DVD was still a long way from taking over VHS, so the landscape in these stores was dominated by the reassuringly sturdy forms of video cassette boxes. With money to burn (relatively speaking), my eyes grew wide at a special offer – three videotapes for £15 – and I duly selected three titles: Graveyard Shift (Ralph S. Singleton, 1990), Evil Ed (Anders Jacobson, 1995), and Eraserhead.

Featuring screaming faces drowning in rat-infested water, severed heads, a screaming, crimson-coated, lunatic film editor, and bold text proclaiming “BE WARNED: The nightmare has not gone away…”, it’s little wonder I was drawn to the box art of these particular titles. Being fifteen at the time – and each video alluringly brandished with an 18 certificate – it fell to my Dad to purchase the videos. The store clerk knew full-well who the videos were actually for (proclaiming knowingly “I see you’re quite the connoisseur”), but they didn’t care. To me there was a sense of danger and fascination about it; I wasn’t legally of-age to be purchasing these videos, and yet by that point I’d been watching 18-rated movies for six whole years (don’t worry – they weren’t anything wildly inappropriate).

I found Graveyard Shift to be an average, but not all that memorable Stephen King adaptation, and Evil Ed to be an utterly barmy horror comedy that really earned the cover blurb “a rampage of exploding heads and flying limbs make this gorefest truly splatterific!” … however, Eraserhead proved to be an entirely different journey.

It was to take me the best part of the ensuing 12 months to get through every one of the 89 minutes in the running time. The film was so bizarre and unsettling to the early development of my cinephile senses that I could only manage 5 or 10 minutes at a time – with gaps of weeks or even months between these sporadic portions. No doubt this extremely fractured form of viewing didn’t help in achieving any kind of understanding of the narrative, but even if I’d viewed it in one sitting, I simply wouldn’t have ‘got it’ one bit aged fifteen with the typical attention span for my age.

More than a decade later, and with The Horror Channel showing Twin Peaks in-full (which I’d never seen before), I truly discovered the work of David Lynch. Blue Velvet (1986) revealed itself as beautifully dark and consuming, while second-attempts at Lost Highway (1997) and Wild At Heart (1990) proved successful. A transcendent witnessing of Mulholland Drive (2001) was followed by the half-baffled enjoyment of Lynch’s most cryptic work to date – the three-hour-long Inland Empire (2006). Aged fifteen, the latter wouldn’t have even been attempted had it been out at the time, but now things were very different – and as such I realised that I would need to return to Eraserhead, which had spent the last 12 years sitting on a video shelf quietly goading me.

I had realised that Lynch’s actual work, and his reputation, are two very different beasts. The content of his work is far easier to decipher once you understand what information in each scene is key to the plot, and what information is unique, inspired, dream-like, Lynchian window-dressing.

The following blow-by-blow account is laid out by time, during which I will posit my personal understanding of Lynch’s most widely analysed, and argued about, film.

Spoilers ahead.

January 15th 2012

8:02pm – Resembling the Lady in the Radiator, I steel myself with a face full of Jaffa Cakes, and press play.

8:04pm to 8:09pm – Henry, full of apprehension, floats in space, but it seems the planetoid going through his mind is in fact a nightmarish ovum. Is this happening now, or is this a guilt-ridden memory – a memory of Henry’s shame, and perhaps even lust, as engendered by the scarred man who instigates the terrified release of Henry’s sperm. Splash down: conception.

It was at this point, I seem to remember, that I first took a lengthy breather from the film as a freaked-out fifteen year-old.

Industrial landscapes that howl with angry, distant machinery – a typically Lynch obsession is birthed on film. Guilt, corruption, intimidation and paranoia seep from every brick, every stained and broken window, and every blackened steel girder.

8:12pm – Ah, the ever-popular zigzag patterned flooring. As the elevator doors slide shut on Henry, I finish my Jaffa Cakes and prepare to enter the nightmare.

8:13pm – “Are you Henry” – we meet ‘The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall’ – the temptress of apartment twenty-seven.

No wonder Henry’s a bit down in the dumps. His shitty one-bedroom apartment roars with the sound of a hissing radiator and features a window without a view.

8:18pm – Henry and Mary X: their relationship is a fractured one amidst a terrifying industrial hell that roars with a cacophony of man-made noise, smoke, decay, loneliness and no small measure of social awkwardness.

8:22pm – Time for dinner at #2416: The wild feasting of puppies upon an exhausted/indifferent mother canine foreshadows news which will bring Henry’s world – and vacation – crashing down around him.

8:25pm – Puppeteering Grandma to mix a salad. An eyebrow takes a subtle step forward in its ascent up my forehead. This is one of those oddball details, with little-or-no underlying meaning, that you so often see in dreams or nightmares that make little sense, but which provide background texture to a scene.

8:27pm – Henry carves the damn-near foetus-size chickens at the behest of crooked-kneed patriarch Bill … if I remember correctly, my fifteen year-old counterpart took another lengthy breather after the close-up of the viscous ooze that gushes forth from the miniscule chicken as its legs flail about. Considering a scene towards the end of the film, perhaps this is another moment of foreshadowing.

8:30pm – A blown bulb, a mother’s invasive questioning and out-of-the-blue personal-space-invading, and a nose bleed. A moment of handheld, free-roaming camerawork unsettles the glaring balance of the usually static, scrutinising camera.

8:34pm – Feeding the horrific premature result of Henry and Mary X’s premarital lust … and receiving a very small worm-like thing in a very small box in the mail. I sense that my fifteen year-old counterpart has gone AWOL once again.

8:37pm – A stormy night to mirror the post-natal torment of Mary X.

8:44pm – Mary X, the woman caged by her youthful indiscretion, flees leaving Henry alone with the monstrous baby … and the temptress next door.

The nightmare escalates – the baby is unwell … it’s sickly wailing, and its diseased appearance, have decidedly disturbed me. The power of the Jaffa Cakes is called upon.

8:52pm – The ‘Lady in the Radiator’, her swollen cheeks, her cutesy come-hither smile, and her dance upon the stage inside Henry’s radiator. Naturally in 1999 such an image simultaneously flew over my head, and exploded it, but I feel I have a better grasp of the scene’s meaning – or at the very least I have an interpretation to proffer.

This vision of Henry’s creation stomps on his sperm – the result of his lust; the very product that rendered him trapped alone with his ailing, premature, inhuman offspring – and so suggests a sense of innocent bliss, a suggestion of what could have otherwise been, before his pre-marital dalliance with Mary X.

8:56pm – Mary X is back in Henry’s ragged bed, crowding him out, but this seemingly normal scene becomes a ghastly unreality as our electric-haired protagonist exhumes giant, slimy, sperm-like worms from between the sheets (from between Mary’s legs … is this a form of afterbirth, or a rejection of his seed?).

As we return to that miniscule worm in the miniscule box that came in the mail, only to be devoured by it whole, I ponder if this worm is in fact a seed of an idea in Henry’s head, and become quite freaked out … I’m so glad I’m not on drugs right now.

9:00pm – The temptress of #27, locked out of her apartment late one night, comes to resurrect Henry’s lust … but where is Mary X, Henry’s new wife, and is this encounter a dream? Henry silences the gruesome progeny.

9:03pm – Infidelity strikes: The pair are quite literally consumed by their actions and sink into the cloudy pool within his marital bed. Sexual seas split – possibly at the moment of climax – but any ecstasy is usurped when the temptress comes face-to-face with the planet-like egg.

9:05pm – “In heaven, everything is fine” – so sings, quite hypnotically, the Lady in the Radiator. The Lady, and Henry’s infidelity, are juxtaposed … however she vanishes after a moment of happiness with him, only to be replaced before his eyes by the scarred man, his dead sperm, and a gnarled and lifeless tree.

9:09pm - A mixture of guilt and threat creeps in as Henry finds himself on trial for his actions.

Then his head falls off – replaced on his shoulders by that of his terrible offspring – as the dead tree secretes a trickling river of blood into which Henry’s severed head suddenly falls.

The head descends from the sky, the skull cracks open, and a child steals it as a homeless man protests.

9:12pm – Over the last 12 years I had almost convinced myself that the following sequence was just in my head, but no – Henry’s decapitated head really is taken to a pencil-making factory where a sampling of his head (much like you’d take a core sample of cheese) is used to make the eraser part … well that explains the title of the film, I suppose.

The dust of his ‘Eraserhead’ wakes him from his hallucinogenic dreamscape where thoughts of his tryst with the temptress plague him … just as two people feverishly dig (or fight?) in the dirt in the alleyway below.

9:18pm through 9:27pm –Henry’s grotesque child mocks him as the girl next door returns home with another man, much to Henry’s dismay. She sees the head of the baby on Henry’s shoulders.

Full of resentment, Henry hacks open the bandages that encase the screaming premature progeny – and he ruddy well stabs it … the disturbance levels in my mind have taken a big old leap … however quite soon both eyebrows find themselves making friends with my hairline as an oozing volcano of goo and sparking electrical outlets precipitate the baby’s head growing to room-consuming size so it can stalk Henry’s terrified form in the strobing Lynchian light … things have most definitely gone a bit mental.

9:28pm – The planet-like egg breaks open as the scarred man wrestles with his jammed levers – then Henry finds himself with the Lady in the Radiator. Hugging her, he discovers that in heaven everything really is fine.

He killed his hideous offspring – and did it in return kill him? – so he can live free of torment forever after.

9:38pm – I watch an episode of Cougar Town to un-freak my mind.

In summary the meaning of the film is quite clear – it’s all about the fear of an impending birth, the dread of on-coming fatherhood, and the torturous and guilty thoughts of a mind-in-fright seeking escape. To me it’s about responsibility versus temptation, and nightmares born out of a fear of everything going wrong – not only with the imminent birth but also your own life, and your relationship with the mother.

Twelve years apart, these two viewings of Eraserhead could not be more different. With age, experience, and even a film degree, comes understanding of a film that flew right over my head in 1999. Back then I struggled with it completely, whereas now I found it quite concise – and I have to say I rather enjoyed it.

Saturday 14 January 2012

In follow-up to my personal Top 50 most-favourite-favourites...

Having updated my Top 50 personal favourite films of all-time, I’ve decided to throw together a short list of some other flicks – films which I greatly admire, and which have made a great impression upon me.

My film degree opened my mind to a whole variety of cinematic experiences, and ever since then I’ve watched films of all varieties. I can go from a horror movie to a drama, then onwards to documentaries, animation, Oscar-grabbers, dim-witted blockbusters, exacting character studies, experimental shorts, indie flicks, or musicals, and whatever else you have from big names or no names – be they in the English language or not. The point is, if I’m interested in it, then it doesn’t matter what country or genre the film originates from.

My Top 50 list was designed for, and populated by, firm favourites that I could watch at any time, at the drop of a hat – but the following is a short list of more varied films off-the-top-of-my-head that I’ve had to be in the right mood for, but which have left a lasting impression.

Battle Royale (2000)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Blow-Up (1966)
Brick (2005)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Downfall (2004)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird (2008)
The House of the Devil (2009)
Hunger (2008)
Ichi the Killer (2001)
Inland Empire (2006)
La Jetee (1962)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Martyrs (2008)
Neighbours (1952)
Pi (1998)
Repulsion (1965)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Stalker (1979)
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Touch of Evil (1958)
Versus (2000)

Thursday 12 January 2012

My Top 50 Personal Favourite Films of All-Time - the 2013 Update...

The list of my own personal favourite Top 50 Films of All-Time (plus 15 honourable mentions) is broken down into three parts - you can view each part by following the links below:

Part One (#1-20)

Part Two (#21-40)

Part Three (#41-50 plus 15 Honourable Mentions)

This list is purely the films that have been the most ever-present throughout my life, and the ones that I return to time-and-again and/or absolutely adore beyond all reason. While many of the films are American or British, do note that my viewing habits have historically been much more varied - and while I am greatly impressed by films such as Downfall or Yojimbo or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Singing in the Rain or Neighbours (the short Canadian film from 1952, not the soap opera!), they don't factor into this particular Top 50 list. Indeed, it was hard-as-all-get-out for me to come up with 50 personal favourites (e.g. The Shawshank Redemption totally slipped my mind in 2009 and 2012, but has now been included in the 2013 list update) ... and finally it should be noted that this isn't what I perceive to be the best 50 films of all-time in general (I'd never even attempt such a list, and certainly not from the position of a single, solitary person).

It's simply my own personal list of most-favoured-favourites.


Note: The 2013 update consists of the following:

New Additions: The Shawshank Redemption (#31-40), The Big Lebowski (#41-50), The Shining (#41-50) and Casino Royale (#41-50).

Swapped: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" has been swapped with "The Evil Dead" (#1-20).

Honourable Mentions: "2001", "Enter The Void", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "WALL.E", and "Battle Royale" have been moved/added to the Honourable Mentions.

My Top 50 Personal Favourite Films of All-Time (2012) - part 1 of 3...

Go to: Part Two or Part Three

In May 2009 I compiled a list of my Top 50 All-TimeFavourite Movies, but then in 2012 I updated it, and now here we have the list updated for 2013 with a handful of tweaks.

Note: Each ‘ten slot’ is ordered alphabetically – it was hard enough compiling a list of 50 films out of the thousands I’ve seen during my life, nevermind ordering them all numerically!

Top 50: #1-10

Aliens (1986):
When I was a kid – long before I ever saw the it – I knew this was a seriously cool movie. My friends and I would frequently play Terminator or Aliens, and we’d bicker over who got to pretend to be Hicks (played in the movie by Michael Biehn), one of the coolest badass good guys committed to film. The first battle with the titular Xenomorphs and the operations room siege, are two key sequences for me – even after repeated viewings over many years they still get my adrenaline pumping; they are perfect examples of how to do action cinema correctly.

Back to the Future (1985):
The script is text book perfection – no scene is wasted, back story is constantly imparted, and the plot is tight and controlled. Seeing the third film in the trilogy was one of my earliest cinema-going memories, and indeed I can never watch the first film without following it up with the second two. Smart, witty, filled with mind-bending time travel technicalities, and endlessly quotable dialogue, Back To The Future is a true classic. My love for this film was further strengthened during its 25th Anniversary theatrical re-release – it was a joy to finally see it on the big screen, but even greater was seeing young parents bringing their children to share in their long-standing enjoyment of this fantastic film.

Blade Runner (1982):
The very first time I saw Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece (the 1992 Director’s Cut on a fuzzy Channel 5), it decidedly passed over my head. The special effects impressed me, but that was about it – it was most definitely beyond my years at that stage. A few years later I re-discovered it and began to appreciate it much more, and over the years that trend has continued. I now adore it as a visionary treat for the senses – a combination of classic film noir with a future dystopia. It might depict an over-crowded, smog-choked metropolis that seems to exist in a permanent state of neon-mottled darkness, but it’s simply beautiful and breathtaking to behold.

Dawn of the Dead (1978):
This is one of the movies that made me want to get into filmmaking. In 1997 I bought an issue of SFX which featured an article, and review, about George A. Romero and the release of the “Director’s Cut” (actually the Extended Cannes Cut) in the UK. I read and re-read this article, and from that point on it was my mission to see the movie. I fondly recall how I was so utterly gripped during my first viewing – for the entire 139 minute running time – that after the credits finished I just sat there with my open-mouthed in awe. Since then I’ve seen the film dozens of times and to me it’s simply the absolute best thing to happen in the zombie genre.

The Evil Dead (1981):
Bought for a fiver from the local post office bargain bin of videos, my first viewing of Sam Raimi’s grue-filled shocker was one of the most memorable viewing experiences of my life. It may have been a version that was cut-to-ribbons (it was released in the UK fully uncut a few years later), but there at 14 years old I was transfixed. The sheer inventiveness of how Raimi and his merry band of indie filmmakers put the flick together has been a constant inspiration to me over the years, and its reputation as Mary Whitehouse’s “number one nasty” just makes it all-the-more appealing.

Fight Club (1999):
Visually arresting and so well crafted, this is the ideal male movie for the modern era. It successfully combines a searing style with an acerbic wit that tempts the rebellious part inside all of us. Closely followed by Zodiac, it’s perhaps David Fincher’s finest outing as director.

Ghostbusters (1984):
During my childhood this was what it was all about – the movies, the cartoon, the action figures – this was (and still is) my Star Wars. As a child it inspired awe for its fantastic special effects and family friendly frights, but as an adult I was finally able to fully recognise and appreciate just how well written and downright hilarious the script is. This is one of those films that was seemingly on endless repeat on the VCR when I was a kid, and as such it’s utterly imprinted on my memory. Utterly, utterly, utterly superb.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966):
Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” was what got me into westerns during my mid-teens, but it was the grand and sweeping scale of this epic ‘spaghetti western’ that proved most enduring in my memory. The score is fantastic, the editing is brilliant, the cinematography is lush, and the central trio of Eastwood/van Cleef/Wallach make this a perfect bloke’s movie.

The Maltese Falcon (1941):
During the first semester of the first year of my film degree at UEA, we saw a restored print of this iconic film noir for the Key Issues in Film Studies course. Before this point I had never really appreciated classic black and white movies, but a switch was flicked inside my mind during that screening – my first introduction to Bogart – and I’ve never looked back. Not only is it a very fine film indeed, but on a personal level it really blew the doors open in terms of the scope of my cinematic appreciation.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991):
I first saw this (in a heavily censored version) on BBC1 at just the right time – I was a young kid just getting into action films such as this, and it left a mighty impression. Pioneering in its use of CGI, T2 is one of the finest examples of action filmmaking. Like Aliens, the busted blocks come with intelligence, but also impressive skill when it comes to crafting adrenaline-fuelled sequences to drop your jaw.

Top 50: #11-20

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007):
Director Andrew Dominik went in a very different direction after his debut film Chopper with this meandering, wistful, hypnotically poetic western. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is sumptuous, the central performances are astounding (particularly Casey Affleck as the eponymous coward), the score is wonderful, and while it can very easily divide an audience (if your attention span is short, don’t even bother) I found it to be nothing short of spell-binding.

Blue Velvet (1986):
During my teens I struggled with David Lynch’s work (it took me the best part of a year to gradually work through all of Eraserhead, the director’s debut) and this was one of his films I didn’t ‘get’ at the time. Fast forward the best part of a decade and I came to appreciate it immensely after another two viewings. It’s perhaps Lynch’s most distilled and chilling examination of the seedy underbelly of a community that looks idyllic on the surface (a theme which he would then go on to explore further in the wonderful Twin Peaks television series). It’s horrifyingly beautiful to look at, entrancing to listen to (thanks to Angelo Badalamenti’s brooding-then-soaring score), and is one of Lynch’s most hauntingly memorable films.

Casablanca (1942):
My time at university studying film broadened my cinematic horizons and appreciation of film immensely, and initially this came in the discovery of the work of Humphrey Bogart. I found Bogart’s Rick – a booze-soaked, cigarette-choked, club owner hiding out in the eponymous town – to be unreservedly compelling. It almost goes without saying, but the writing, direction, cinematography, and acting all demonstrate great talent. You won’t find Citizen Kane on this list (although it too is an impressive and extremely important film), but here in its place is one of its most widely acknowledged contenders for the best film of all time.

A Clockwork Orange (1971):
In the UK, Stanley Kubrick’s self-banned ‘unofficial video nasty’, had quite the fearsome reputation – and its 1999 re-release (after the director’s death, and during an era of new-found liberalisation at the BBFC) coincided perfectly with my formative years. I was discovering a whole host of newly un-banned (and uncut) ‘video nasties’ (along with countless other films by the hundreds), but it was this one that become the poster child for me during my GCSE years. The book, the film, and the soundtrack proved to be quite inspirational to me at the time (don’t worry, not in the “ultra violence” way) during my 2-D Art GCSE. Of all the films on this list, it’s one of the ones that had the most tangible impact upon me.

The Dark Knight (2008):
Christopher Nolan has crafted himself a career filled with brilliant filmmaking. He so skilfully combines blockbuster action with intelligence and ideas, and The Dark Knight is a shining example of that. On the one hand you’ve got a long-standing and well-recognised superhero yomping around fighting crime with marvellous gadgets, and on the other you’ve got moral dilemmas aplenty for the characters to battle against in their hearts and minds. Richly textured, densely scripted, packed with pounding action, and a terrific penultimate performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker, make this downright superb … and then Nolan followed up with the equally brilliant Inception. Finally, I’ll always remember how – when the truck flipped end-over-end – a kid far back in the audience was so impressed that he screamed out “WOWEE!” – and I think that sense of awe and enjoyment sums it up nicely.

Goodfellas (1990):
My favourite Scorsese film, and aside from Scarface, my favourite gangster movie. In all facets – from the soundtrack to the script to the performances to the cinematography – it’s nothing short of enduringly memorable.

Rocky (1976):
Who isn’t inspired by the fictional underdog boxing hero of Rocky Balboa? The character is an icon for anyone who is downtrodden and looking for something better in life. It’s an inspiration to keep pushing forward, but above all that, it’s just an exceptional film made all the greater by the simple fact that Stallone really earned it.

Scarface (1983):
One of the very best rise-and-fall tales, and one of the finest gangster pictures ever made. Pacino, DePalma, Stone – a bravura creative team give us a stylish crime drama that draws you into all the murkiness and temptations of a cocaine-addled Miami in the 1980s. A grand, sweeping epic for the decade of excess.

The Thing (1982):
There are few films capable of scaring me, and not least by penetrating my mind with extremely potent themes of isolation and paranoia. John Carpenter was at the height of his talent and passion – indeed the same can be said of many of those involved. Just thinking about the movie gives me the creeps. Terror perfected.

Zodiac (2007):
David Fincher’s methodical examination of what happened to those who tried to solve the crime of 1970s America is like the antithesis to his previous serial killer thriller Se7en. Both films are excellent, but for different reasons. While Se7en is brutal and immediate and darkly stylish, Zodiac is subtle and slow-burn and almost nostalgic. With an extreme attention to detail, Fincher’s never been more precise.

My Top 50 Personal Favourite Films of All-Time (2012) - part 2 of 3...

Go to: Part One or Part Three
Top 50: #21-30

Clerks (1994):
Not only is it hilariously funny with sharp dialogue, but it’s a great slacker flick, and a great indie flick. The further into my twenties that I’ve got, the more it’s spoken to me, and as illustrated in the excellent making-of documentary “The Snowball Effect”, it’s one of those flicks that I enjoy even more because of the story behind its production.

Day of the Dead (1985):
After that 1997 issue of SFX, this was my first introduction to the films of George A. Romero. Bought on VHS from a local Woolworth’s (long before they went bust), my first viewing was one of awe. I’d never seen such tremendous gore effects before, Captain Rhodes proved to be an enduring screen villain, the score kicked arse, and it features the best on-screen zombie of all time – Bub. It’s a terrific zombie movie (as I often say, AMC’s The Walking Dead is the best thing in zombies since 1985) and it’s one that I saw at the most explosive time in my formative film-viewing years.

Die Hard (1988):
My favourite Christmas movie of all-time, and one of the best action movies ever made. It’s tough, sweary, violent, and it stills holds up to this day with ease.

Heat (1995):
The first time I saw Michael Mann’s epic and stylish ‘cops and criminals’ thriller, it was all a bit ahead of me if I’m perfectly honest. Then years later I rediscovered it on DVD and suddenly the appeal was there. Beautiful camerawork, perfect performances, and one of the best movie bank robberies ever shot, make this simply splendid.

High Fidelity (2000):
I always dug this flick, but it wasn’t until several years later that I really came to value it. It’s got a cool script, excellent performances, and it’s a tip-top ‘hang out’ movie. What’s more, the way the protagonist organises his life and his memories around his music very much appeals to me, as I do the very same thing, albeit with cinema.

Pulp Fiction (1994):
Achingly cool, this was one of those flicks that gave you immediate cred in the school yard when you could say you’d seen it. Upon its initial release it whipped up a bit of a storm here in the UK due to one particular sequence of drug use – so it had an air of danger about it – and that just made it all-the-more appealing. However, beyond all the elements that tempted all of us kids in high school to see it, it’s just a really damned good flick.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010):
When I saw it in the cinema I was aware of the graphic novels, but that was it. As such it mostly flew over my head, but after I read the books and got the flick on Blu-Ray, I got absolutely obsessed with it. Edgar Wright’s inventive style blends seamlessly with O’Malley’s slacker-action genre-meld, and while it’s disappointing to see it didn’t do stellar business at the box office, it did become one of the best cult movies this side of the millennium. Brash, stylish, and with brilliant sound design, it’s a genre-splicing arse-kicker with heart and an unbreakable sense of appeal.

Shaun of the Dead (2004):
It may be a comedy, but this Wright/Pegg/Frost runaway success was the best thing to happen to the zombie genre in a very long time indeed (well, until AMC’s The Walking Dead came along). Chock-full of zombie movie references for the die hard fans of the genre, it combines a dizzyingly good script with charming performances, gore, and even genuine heart.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974):
Picture the scene – it’s the middle of winter, I’m eating dinner, and for the very first time I’m watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a fudgy 3rd generation dubbed copy on VHS. That’s how these movies should be viewed – during those mid-teen years of cinematic discovery on a scruffy copy from a friend – it has a sense of illicit, rebellious danger to it. This viewing experience, for me, sums up why I’ll always be a child of the video era.

Tremors (1990):
I saw this early enough in my childhood that I sought to emulate it – recreating scenes in Lego while dressing similar to Kevin Bacon’s character Val – and over the years it’s become not only a fond memory of my youth, but also an example of perfect screenwriting. Like Back to the Future, no scene is wasted – everything drives the plot forward with new information – the pacing is spot-on, it’s quotable, and it’s utterly and totally enjoyable. Plus – Burt!

Top 50: #31-40

American Psycho (2000):
The source novel was a brilliantly dark slice of satire; it cut the decade of excess to ribbons with a disturbed glare and a vicious wit. Christian Bale’s performance as Patrick Bateman – a Yuppie version of Norman Bates via Leatherface – is as chillingly cool as the film itself.

Apocalypse Now (1979):
A journey into madness both on and off-screen, Francis Ford Coppola’s re-mixing of Heart of Darkness for the Vietnam era is an extraordinary filmmaking achievement. Its journey to the silver screen was a long and arduous one, but it unleashed a vast war movie for the ages.

The 'Burbs (1989):
A favourite from my childhood that has endured countless viewings over the years, and as such it is imprinted on my mind like only a few others. To those of a certain age it’s a fond trip down memory lane with memorable quotes galore, but what’s more when I think about it, it was really my first introduction to the horror genre. I was fascinated by a clip of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, and an infamous gushing of pea soup – which in later life I discovered were clips from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and The Exorcist respectively.

The Devil's Rejects (2005):
A sleazy, down-and-dirty, yet blackly comic punch-in-the-face horror movie. The opening siege and shoot-out kicks the doors open with gusto in Rob Zombie’s best filmmaking effort thus far, which goes on to boast graphic violence, terrific characters, magnificent editing, and the best use of Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird” to date. After the onslaught of Scream-clones in the late 1990s and very early 2000’s, Zombie’s gut-punch was a lurid, nasty and extremely good antidote.

Escape From New York (1981):
John Carpenter at the height of his game, Kurt Russell as one of his most iconic characters (Snake Plissken), and featuring Dean Cundey’s neon-smeared photography, this future dystopia action flick is a 1980s genre classic.

Grindhouse (2007):
It was never released in-full in the UK after a less-than-stellar box office run in the USA, but eventually I got to see it in its ‘double bill version’ (before which I had watched Planet Terror and Death Proof in their extended, separate forms) and I absolutely loved it. As a big fan of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s work this was a delight for me – especially as I’m a huge fan of this kind of cinema anyway. Planet Terror is a bloody blast, the fake trailers are an adrenaline rush of tongue-in-cheek nostalgic sleaze, and personally I absolutely loved Death Proof (which divided audiences).

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011):
Jason Eisener’s 1980s-grindhouse-cinema-inspired crimson-choked arse-kicker is a bloody good time from start-to-finish, especially for fans of this kind of flick. What’s more, the genuine indie spirit and heart behind the making of the movie makes it all the more entertaining and indeed meaningful – here we have a bunch of genre fans from Nova Scotia getting the chance to make their own spiffing genre movie. Without a doubt it’s my favourite movie of 2011.

L.A. Confidential (1997):
Curtis Hanson’s deeply cool 1940s-set detective thriller didn’t initially appeal to me when I first saw it, however like a few entries on this list, I came to greatly appreciate it upon a second and third viewing several years later. Everything about this sumptuously shot film is luxurious – the superb cast and their performances, the labyrinthine script, and the sharp direction. It’s one of the very best high quality prestige pictures to come out in the last twenty years.

The Matrix (1999):
After a couple of bloated back-to-back sequels, the initial impact of the Wachowski Brother’s influential milestone action sci-fi outing may be somewhat diminished. However, casting my mind back to 1999 and watching it in my local independent theatre with my Dad, it was a cinema-going experience not to forget. It was the film to see that year and it blew the doors off seemingly everything at the time.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994):
In the original 2009 list, and then in the 2012 update, I forgot to include this flick. It's one of those movies that never fails to hook me in when it's on TV – I intend to just watch a few minutes, and I'll end up watching the whole thing. Iconic, memorable, quotable, and beautifully realised on the screen, Frank Darabont's adaptation is simply incredible.

My Top 50 Personal Favourite Films of All-Time (2012) - part 3 of 3...

Go to: Part One or Part Two
Top 50: #41-50

Adventureland (2009):
There have been a handful of recent releases that have really made an impression upon me, and Gregg Mottola’s reflective 1980s-set coming-of-age film is one of them. It’s a ‘transformative summer movie’ where the protagonist undergoes a watershed of personal growth over the summer months, and Mottola’s movie is all-the-more impressive and touching in that it makes you wish that the summer of growth Jesse Eisenberg’s James Brennan experiences was your own.

The Big Lebowski (1998): 
Another one of those films that never fails to hook me in when it's on TV. Hugely quotable dialogue, utterly hilarious throughout, and Jeff Bridges is absolutely legendary as The Dude, and he heads a cast that has no weak links. Classic Coens.

Casino Royale (2006): 
I was introduced to James Bond with Goldeneye, but it wasn't until Casino Royale that I really started to get into the whole series, and with repeated viewings (again, one of those films you can't tear yourself away from) it just got better and better. Skyfall was brilliant, but Craig's first outing as Bond has become my favourite in the long-running franchise.

Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):
Out of all the big-name slasher-masters, Jason is my slice-and-dicer of choice, and while Sean S. Cunningham’s franchise opener remains a tightly crafted indie horror writ large, I’ve always had a preference for the third sequel (the not-so-final-chapter of the long-running franchise). Tom Savini’s gore effects are excellent, the script actually makes you care about the characters before dispatching them left-right-and-centre, and it features perhaps the best non-Hodder rendition of the central antagonist.

Mulholland Drive (2001):
I’m very glad that I didn’t get around to seeing David Lynch’s seductive, Hollywood-set neo-noir until a decade after its premiere, as it would have no doubt left me utterly baffled as a teenager. However, after properly getting into and understanding David Lynch’s work in the last couple of years, I was able to dive right into this dark dream of a film. For me it’s Lynch’s best work, second only to Blue Velvet. Much like Angelo Badalamenti’s heartbreakingly beautiful score, this film is simultaneously hypnotic, mysterious, dark and twisted.

No Country For Old Men (2007):
While I’m not a rabid Coen Brothers fan, their films have rarely failed to impress me. It’s a great film to watch from the perspective of a student of film as the mechanics and construction of the film exhibit expert accuracy. The sparse plot is classic Coen Brothers territory, where greed corrupts an everyday man and leads to no end of bloodshed. Unsettlingly cool in its calm pursuit of methodically unfolding a cat & mouse chase, it’s also a real joy to simply watch – thanks to Roger Deakins’ astonishing cinematography.

Sin City (2005):
It’s a rough and tough comic book movie that is perhaps the most successful comic-to-movie adaptation ever made. Born from Frank Miller’s excellent, pulpy source material, this stylish and deftly executed flick drips cool like no other.

The Shining (1980): 
I've always loved this movie, but it was one that I overlooked in 2009 and 2012. However, on Halloween night 2012, I attended a screening of the film (in the extended American cut) with a packed audience who were totally invested in the movie. For the first time I noticed just how hysterical and shiver-inducing the stunning soundtrack was, and having been alerted to the impossible lay out of The Overlook Hotel itself, I tumbled further down Kubrick's haunting rabbit hole. A milestone in cinema history.

Shutter Island (2010):
For a long time prior I was longing for a great movie set in a mental asylum, and Martin Scorsese finally provided just that with this B-Picture-with-an-A-budget. Dark, brooding and unnerving in its paranoia-inducing pace, even after three viewings I’m still finding new depths to the script.

Sunshine (2007):
The music, editing, pacing and stunning visuals of Danny Boyle’s nicely crafted flick really impacted upon me in the cinema – so much so that during certain sequences I found myself gripped the armrests of the seat like I was undergoing an enjoyable version of the Ludovico technique from A Clockwork Orange. I couldn’t turn away from the screen, so the film’s ability to capture my attention so assuredly earns it a spot in my Top 50.

Top 50: Honourable Mentions

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): 
This was yet another case of seeing the movie before I was ready to fully appreciate it. Thankfully, upon rediscovery, I found it to be transfixing. Thematically it’s intriguing, visually it’s stunning, and technically it’s a marvel.

American History X (1998):
Few films wield the power to simultaneously move, anger, demoralise and uplift – but this one certainly does.

Battle Royale (2000):
Stylish, bold, original - a landmark entry in Japanese cinema.

Batteries Not Included (1987):
I could easily put Short Circuit, or The Money Pit in this slot, but out of these three – all of which were decided childhood favourites – this one made the biggest impact upon me. I’m sure The Towering Inferno made quite the impression on young boys who saw it, and I can imagine that the inferno that engulfs the decaying housing block inspired a similar sense of awe in me. It might sound a bit iffy, but as a kid I’d repeatedly draw versions of that sequence – to an outside observer that might look like a pyromaniac-in-waiting, but I can assure you that instead it was just a film fan expressing how blown away he was by the spectacle of that sequence.

Enter The Void (2010):
Gasper Noe’s head-splitting wrecking ball might be lazily paced and at times rather blunt in its thematics, but it is a visual experience unlike any other. From the perspective of a newly deceased drug dealer (high on DMT) we swoop and twirl and spiral through the neon-dripping streets, alley ways, apartments, and adult establishments of Japan’s seedy underbelly. Visually it’s a remarkable film – most notably in the climactic ‘Love Hotel’ sequence. Hell, the opening titles alone leave you firmly blown off your feet.

In Bruges (2008):
Some black comedies promise a deft mix of darkness and light, but boy does this wonderfully non-PC tale of two assassins hiding out – in Bruges – properly deliver on the promise. The swings from utter, eye-opening hilarity to utter, eye-opening darkness, and back again are truly marvellous.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956):
Much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, this film routinely sends shivers up and down my spine. The crisp black & white visuals, inherent paranoia, and the McCarthyism/Communism thematics of the script make this a smart sci-fi chiller that remains just as potent to this day.

Last House on the Left (1972):
The story behind the making of this cult classic ‘rape-revenger’ is fascinating, but Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham’s down-and-dirty sleazy slice of fleapit horror is a cinematic milestone. Contextualised by a Vietnam-weary America, the glut of perversion that befalls two partying teens – and then befalls their captors – must have been rather shocking upon its initial release (a release that inspired countless grindhouse releases thereafter).

Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003):
Truly, truly epic … the elaborate production alone was, and is, a massively impressive achievement – but what’s more it’s a modern classic that made a long-standing literary masterpiece accessible to the masses without sacrificing depth or quality.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004):
The last couple of semesters at university in the final year were an increasingly stressful period, and in our off-campus house tensions began to flare. Then, in the midst of the fallout from a row (long story), one of our housemates introduced us all to this runaway cult success. Any tension and ill-feeling vanished in an instant – and permanently – and for weeks afterwards it was practically on an endless repeat in our household as we’d constantly quote from it to each other.

Rabid (1977):
Bought from the same local post office (also for a fiver) as The Evil Dead was, I first saw David Cronenberg’s gritty viral movie during my formative years. Fast forward to my film degree and the Canadian & Quebecois Cinema course (one of my favourite courses during my three years at university) and I’m analysing it in the context of Canadian socio-economic politics in the 1970s. It’s a superb film, but it also reminds me of the best times I had learning about cinema to a graduate level.

Se7en (1995):
Visually striking, and directed with style and dark meticulousness, few movies have the power to continually creep me out, even after multiple viewings. However, David Fincher’s extreme slice of serial killer thriller is so relentlessly gloomy, gritty and tough, that it can only be admired and feared at the same time.

United 93 (2006):
A few films will elicit a keenly felt response from you, but even fewer will elicit a physical response from you – and so it was with Paul Greengrass’ horrifyingly true-to-life telling of the events of September 11th 2011 from the perspective of those connected to the ill-fated flight. The first time I watched it, during the inescapable final moments, I was so moved by the dramatic recreation on-screen that I leapt out of my chair, punched the air, and screamed out – my reaction to those chilling final moments was visceral to say the least.

Vanishing Point (1971):
Embodying the independent spirit of seventies cinema, this is one of the best car movies ever made. The Dodge Challenger is a beautiful machine (so much so that it features prominently in Tarantino’s Death Proof) and this flick is a magnificent cinematic specimen of the era.

WALL.E (2008):
Johnny 5 from childhood favourite Short Circuit sticks out as a long-standing loveable robot in my eyes, so it was inevitable that I was going to adore his descendent WALL.E in Pixar’s exceptional sci-fi. With Roger Deakins acting as a visual consultant, it is without a doubt Pixar’s best-looking film to date, but matching the looks with smarts, the virtuoso animators excelled at making what was for the most part a silent film. The fact that we can truly invest in the fate of two robots from very distinct eras of mechanical engineering just goes to show how talented the Pixar folks are at crafting peerless animated films.

I still love and/or greatly respect these movies, but with ten new additions to the list, ten films had to be removed. The reasons varied: some were for nostalgia, some were for recent influence (that has since faded) when originally compiling the list, some were misjudgements resulting from list-making fatigue, and some were because – upon reflection – they didn’t quite cut the mustard to remain in the list.

All The President's Men (1976)
Animal House (1978)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Critters (1986)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
The Money Pit (1986)
Rambo (2008)
Screamers (1995)
Short Circuit (1986)
The Warriors (1979)