British Invasion Review: Grant Morrison's "The Coyote Gospel"

Grant Morrison had been given the green light to write his four issue miniseries for Animal Man and it was a success. The bods at DC knew that if they were going to take a chance on Arkham Asylum then Morrison needed more exposure and if Animal Man was working, why change anything. So they asked him to continue, but after finishing your story what do you say? How about shifting focus to a coyote that has been sent to the DC universe from a parallel animated world?

While the first four issue of Animal Man dig into the weirder mythology of the DC universe, issue 5 creates its own weirdness. It’s an absurd existential tale about sacrifice and fear. Again, I won’t go into deep detail but I will cover the salient points, in fact I am barely going to mention Animal Man himself at all.

The main elements in the issue are the revelations about a coyote that walks around the desert on two legs and a man that loses everything but his faith. The issue opens with optimism and a trucker that has turned his life around for the better. During a conversation with a hitchhiker we learn that he’s a gay man in the 80’s that has found a loving partner and is doing well, he has even found religion. Then they meet the bipedal coyote … and run him down with a truck. This could be the end of the story for both the trucker heading home and the dead coyote. However, we quickly learn that this is far from the end when the coyote’s broken body heals.

The story picks up a year later for these two and in that time a lot has happened. The trucker has lost everything; his partner was killed in an accident. His mother had died from cancer, he had lost his job and the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the hitchhiker he helped a year before has also been killed. Tracking it back he pin points the start of his bad luck on the day he ran over the devil, or as we know the coyote. Now he wants revenge.

After running through several attempts to kill the coyote in some very looney toon ways, the coyote meets Animal Man and presents him with the truth. We learn that he is from a world of cartoon characters, beset by constant violence but where no one can die. Sick of this endless cycle of pointless violence he goes to see his creator and partition him to intervene and stop it. The creator agrees, on one condition, the coyote will be transported to another world to suffer again and again, thus saving his world from violence.

The book ends with Animal Man stating that he cannot read the script he has been given that contains the truth. The Trucker finally kills the coyote believing he has killed a / the devil, thus saving the world.

To stop there for a moment, we are really getting into the Morrison-isms that I have always enjoyed. The concept of parallel or multiple worlds will come up again and again in everything from Doom Patrol, Batman, Final Crisis and of course Multiversity. It is a core conceit of the DC universe that Morrison is a master of. Also, woven into this issue and some of those other stories, especially Final Crisis is the idea of a “creator”. This is returned to later in his Animal Man run, when Buddy Baker actually meets Grant Morrison. In this series and Final Crisis we meet characters that have been forgotten and exist in a limbo waiting for a creator to pluck them out and use them again.

Moving from the purer Morrison ideas, the heavy religious overtones of this issue cannot be missed. From the truck drivers cross and mission to kill the devil, the evangelist on the TV in the Baker home to the idea of the Coyote sacrificing himself to endless punishment to save his world from violence.  Of course the irony being that a man of faith has killed a being that is on a mission of pain for the purpose of peace.

I think because of his longer list of stories behind him Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing 21 is a better statement of his ability; it is better structured and tighter plotted. However this issue from Morrison is like an experiment, he throws in some good ideas in a loose construct and it comes together brilliantly. It’s no wonder he comes back to the ideas again in the future. Of the three issues I am discussing, this is my favourite.

British Invasion Review: Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson"

For Alan Moore his statement of intent came with his American breakthrough. He had done a lot of work in the UK and it had gotten some attention. However, writing for Swamp Thing gave him exposure to a much wider audience. His first issue on the series was a wrap up of the previous writer’s story; in fact the issue is actually called “Loose ends”. With issue 21 he was able to start taking the series in his direction.

In issue 20 Swamp Thing is shot and presumed killed. In issue 21 we literally get a lesson in the Swamp Thing, where he came from, what he is and how he works. I am going to try and avoid spoilers but I will give the basics. The person that had Swampy ‘killed’ has kept his body and brings in Doctor Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, to analyse the body. As he learns more and more, so do we. We and Swamp Thing also find out by the end of the issue what he really is.

This issue is a literal rebirth for the character, not only does he awaken from the dead but when he does so everything about the characters essence has changed. This issue takes what started as a mutated Man and transforms him to something much more mythical.

A lot of this issue deals with what it is to be human, and how we define ourselves. It is demonstrated that Woodrue, a plant/man hybrid villain from the DCU, uses synthetic skin to hide his true appearance, wanting to look human.  Does his appearance make him human?

There is also the man that had swamp thing killed, the old General, who lives and works in a digital office space, the king of his castle. The tower of steel and wires, as he sees it, a symbol of his wealth, but if you’re not engaging with society, are you human? Again when we learn what Swamp Thing really is, the question is presented: Are you a person because of the body people see, or the thoughts in your head.

This question is represented in the issue by book end images. The opening page shows Woodrue’s human face looking through a rain soaked window. The final page presents the same image, only now the human façade has been washed away and we see the Floronic man.

This is just one theme that I have picked out form the issue, a lot more can be taken from these 22 pages. However, just in presentation of this one theme we get to see the use of mirroring, which would be used in much more detail in Watchmen. As well as presenting juxtaposing ideas, like nature vs. technology and what it means to be human – Woodrue vs. the general. These are not only Moore ideas that he would visit again but more importantly the techniques used will be refined and used again and again in his future works. A lot of what came before is very good but this issue defiantly represents a turning point for Moore. This is a confident, well written story that being received well encouraged Moore to become more ambitious. 

"British Invasion: The invention of the modern comic book writer" Review

Despite my love of history and reading I haven’t read many biographies. I will admit to an attention span that needs something exciting every couple of pages to keep me going. So pages about someone’s childhood and family always become dry and my thoughts start to drift. However, there are a couple of biographies I would hold up as great examples of the genre that I really enjoyed. Mick Foley’s ‘Have a Nice Day: A tale of Blood and Sweatsocks’ and Kevin Smith’s ‘Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a fat lazy slob who did good’ kept me engrossed and I would recommend them to anyone. I can now add to that list Greg Carpenter’s ‘British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the invention of modern comic book writer’.

I should caveat that British Invasion is not wholly a Biography; while it does cover most aspects of the three subjects’ lives it also provides insightful and detailed analysis of their comic book work. The balance that this book strikes is perfect and written in an accessible fashion. This could have been a dry and dull text book but at no point is it overly academic but it also never dumbs down or patronises the reader.

The objective of the book is to provide a history of events and analysis of the impact of three of the most influential comic book writers of the last 30 years. Highlighting how these three men defined an era with some of the most well regarded and loved comic books ever. It achieves that objective and then some.

The history aspect is sufficiently detailed for the reader to understand where Moore, Morrison and Gaiman come from without getting bogged down in “this, then this and then this” listing of childhood events. I found it fascinating that three men from such different backgrounds could become so entwined historically and thematically. The rea historic detail comes later in the book chronicling how each of them entered the industry and then moved from work to work. This biographical context alone provided deeper meaning to the work they were producing. Knowing why and how Morrison created King Mob for ‘The Invisibles’ is one step beyond!

The book however goes further. This is where it is worth noting the author’s (Greg Carpenter) background as a college lecturer. Carpenter has taught courses on topics such as Comics, Shakespeare, Modern & Post-modern American literature and Screen-writing to name a few. So to say that he knows what he talking about is an understatement.

Carpenter’s analysis of the works, both popular and obscure, of each writer is fascinating and thought provoking. I lost count of the times that I dashed to my collection to read an issue or check the page of a book and seeing it in a completely new light, with more depth and meaning.

Having read this book it has achieved three key things for me that have changed the way I will not just read comics from Moore, Morrison and Gaiman but all writers and artists. Primarily, by providing an insight into the life of each writer I now appreciate more than ever how comic books are influenced by the personal situation of the contributors. Secondly, it has given me a deeper and richer understanding and love of the writer’s works. Anything that makes me love something more than I already do is always good. Thirdly, it has provided an education in the questions to ask and elements to consider when enjoying and experiencing any piece of art. I don’t and won’t claim to be able to provide any deep or meaningful analysis but knowing where to start is great. As an addition it has add a number of books I wasn’t aware of to my “Must read” list.

Overall, this is well written, accessible and insightful look at three genuinely brilliant creators that took comic books out of the spiral of silliness and proved that they could be art.

Greg Carpenter’s ‘British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the invention of modern comic book writer’ is published by the Sequart Organization and available through their website (sequart.org) and other book selling sites (I got mine from Amazon). 

"Elvis Presley" Review

When I decided to review an Elvis album for this blog it struck me how much expectation I bring to anything Elvis. Elvis is so ingrained in pop culture appearing in so many forms, accurate and parody, that I have a very specific image in my head of what to expect. To me, rightly or wrongly, this is the rhinestone spattered jumpsuit glad Vegas Elvis. It was because of that image that I actually decided to review this album, his debut album, 1956’s “Elvis Presley”.

I should quickly highlight that I am actually reviewing the 1999 reissue with a couple of bonus tracks. I thought this would give me a wider selection of songs from this period. Additional Elvis songs are always a good thing, right? Erm … no.

Of the 19 tracks on the album two thirds are pretty much standard 50’s fair. They feel and sound like they could be released by almost any of the similar country rock’n’roll stars of the period. Although Having Elvis sing them with his distinctive voice does make them more interesting. While they may be interesting they are not the kind of songs that would inspire a generation to scream and shout or for musicians to go and create something new. They feel safe, which when you realise that this is a debut album starts to make a little sense. Elvis may become the king of rock’n’roll but he is starting by introducing himself with something that people know. Of these there was one standout worth mentioning, “One sided love affair”.

Being safe is one thing but doing covers is one step further. This album contains several covers that I recognise from other artists “Blue Moon”, “tutti Frutti”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Blue Suede Shoes”. While the first group of songs were fine, two of these covers (“Blue Moon” and “tutti Frutti”) are awkward and feel incredibly out of place. These two songs are so clearly not designed for Elvis’s voice that I could not listened to them a second time. Shake, Rattle and Roll is an enjoyable step up, fitting the Elvis style but still does not completely feel like an Elvis song. The final cover however is great. Elvis’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” is classic and does exactly what it is supposed to do. It introduces what Elvis can do with a recognisable song. As a song it is catchy and a lot of fun.

However, there is something amazing on this album, “Heart Break Hotel”. This is an incredible song and one of my favourite Elvis songs. This song alone stands out as a flash of brilliance and a glimpse of what Elvis would quickly produce on a regular basis.

As an album I found this disappointing. As a milestone for Elvis it is interesting but by no means essential. Throughout the album there are moments demonstrating what he could do but the majority of the songs feel like they are being held back, kept at a level that was already common for this kind of music. The standout is Heart Break Hotel which is the turning point, the siren call that Elvis is something different. I enjoy Elvis as an artist but listening to this album confirmed something for me. I am not an Elvis fan. I really enjoy the “best of Albums” but I don’t have a need to go beyond that. In some way’s this is a little sad, on the other it means I can enjoy that best of album, knowing that I really do think this is the best of this work. 

"Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" Review

I have written quite a few reviews of films and a couple of books over the years. That’s not to say that they’re any good but I am more experienced reviewing those. So when I decided to try reviewing an album, a Beatles album no less, I wasn’t sure where to start. I have no musical ability or technical knowledge, so that only left me with how the songs and overall album make me feel, which let’s be honest, is the only thing that really matters.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in June 1967. It is considered the height of the Beatles creative collaboration and one of the greatest albums of all time. So is it any good? Actually yes, it is very good and I was able to listen to it repeatedly over three days without getting bored of it.

This album can be dropped into and the songs listened to and enjoyed individually. There are several that I really enjoy, “Lucy in the sky with Diamonds”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “A day in the life” all of which are predominantly credited to John Lennon. I wasn’t aware of this until after listening to the album and doing the research for the podcast on the Beatles.  In my opinion these are the songs that feel the most contemporary, even today. It would appear that John Lennon may have been my favourite Beatle.

However the real joy comes from listening to the whole album. This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Yes the songs are good but the album is a great show. You are welcomed with energy and joy to the show. It then continues from there with ups and downs, all the time with energy and creativity. This album is a tour of styles and imagination from each of the members combined.

When the show is over there is an encore, “A day in the life”, a combination of Lennon and McCartney Lyrics telling two different stories. The tone of the song is different from the rest of the album. A coda highlighting the creative brilliance of the band and how they cover so many different styles and had the ability to balance artistic merit with humour and fun.

If you want to get into the Beatles start at the beginning and experience them as they evolve and grow. If you are looking for the best from a band at its creative height then I strongly recommend enjoying the show put on by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

A final blog for 2016

It is pretty much generally accepted that 2016 has been a crap year, for many reasons. 

We have lost some of the most influential pop culture icons of the 20th Century. The loss of these people is sad and is a great loss to the creative arts but while we have lost the person their great work is still there and can and should be celebrated. I want to mention something about just two of these great people; David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

In response to the death of David Bowie earlier in the year I went and listened to his entire discography. I didn’t think it was all great but it was really fun to listen to it all and experience his creativity and get a glimpse of his imagination. Bowie was a fascinating character that was not tied into any traditional rules of what could be done as a pop / rock star, breaking down barriers for so many other people to follow. while he may not have had a direct influence on my life, listening to his music is easy to see that has influenced so many musicians and artists that have had an influence on my tastes. 

Alan Rickman was an actor that appeared massively in my life. For me he was the perfect depiction of the bad guy. His appearances in Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and later the Harry Potter series established him in that role for me. I know he has appeared in loads of other films and is great in all of them but to me he personified the perfect villain. Is that a bad place to be? Depends how you look at it. The fact is he was a great actor and he will be greatly missed.

The point of this is to consider the celebration of each of these great people. They are a loss to pop culture but if you are a fan let people know why. That is a big part of what the podcast is about, going back experiencing and celebrating the work and influence of some great pop culture icons. I am really looking forward to celebrating the work of some of these icons, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. 

In addition to this we have seen a massive shift in political belief and loss of common sense. I don’t want to get into a detailed political tirade hear, that’s not the point of this site but there are a few things worth mentioning. The rise of populist politics is cause and effect and just shows that we do not learn lessons from history. Globally we experienced a period of boom during which we all got very comfortable and complacent. When the bubble burst in 2008 the world looked for someone to blame. Don’t get me wrong, there was someone to blame but we all let it happen and we have suffered the consequences.

The period of depression that has followed has been difficult and impacted everyone at home. Decisions that were made behind closed doors in a shiny office building we have meant we have suffered. This has re-established the notion that so much of our lives is out of our control. Knowing this is scary and we want someone to tell us why this happens, who is to blame and reassure us they will do something about it. A protective charismatic leader who we believe has our best interests at heart. In this dark fearful place is where the right wing thrives and its control across the world is growing like a mould.

This of course has been made worse by an escalation in terrorist violence the world over. I am not a religious person and have no theological dog in this fight. However just as a person I understand that this is a fight of good against evil, the twisting of a belief system that is based on hope and love. However, I also understand that this twisting is caused by fear and hatred of a perceived loss of control.

In both cases people worried about the future and their own small world have looked for something secure and clear cut to cling on to. Something that they can say provides perspective and clarity of purpose to their world. That is not to say that the actions that have been taken are right in anyway shape or form. Only that people driven by hatred have used peoples fear as a launch pad to spread more fear and hatred.

Ok, this part has become a bit of a rant, sorry about that. The point I want to make is that we have been here before. There are many examples but you only need to understand the rise of Nazism in Germany to appreciate the possible futures we are now facing. However, there is something that we can do about it.

20th Century Geek has been a positive passion project and while this year has had its own challenges personally it has taught me something about making time to do what you love. It has provided a channel to share a passion with friends and meet a host of people that share my passion or have introduced me to their passion for other things.

The best I can advise is find your positive passion, the thing that makes you happy and smile. Then follow that passion, keep it to yourself, share it or find others that share that passion, just keep happy. The world can be a dark place and instead of looking for someone to share your fear find someone who shares your love. Easier said than done? Well give it a try in 2017 and if you can, let me know what it is and how it goes.

To finish lets talk about the podcast. The podcast has been an experiment, which has meant that the shows have all been a little different in style and content. Having tried a few things, some of which haven't even seen the light of day, I am starting to settle on a format. There will be a lot more of Mike and I chatting about films and other historical tidbits. The one thing that I will be introducing in the new year are a series of interviews with people actively involved in things that celebrate elements of 20th Century Pop Culture. I am really excited about meeting these people and sharing their passion. 

Anyway, time to wrap up so Merry Christmas and have a great 2017. please feel free to contact me either through email or social media, I would love to talk to you about what your passionate about. 

Halloween Countdown: 1 - Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter is a director ruined by the studio system; the more backing he was given the worse he became a victim of his own early success. In 1978 however he was untested with only one film behind him (1976 – Assault on Precinct 13) and with a budget of only $300,000 he produces the magnificent “Halloween” and we get the birth of the first iconic slasher killer Michael Myers (Jason would not be fully formed until 1982 and Freddy until 1984) and a template that would be expanded and mimicked for years to come.

Due to its limited budget and the fact that it was made before the overly gory horror films of the late 70’s and 80’s really took hold Halloween is surprisingly sparse on gory kills. In fact only 4 people are actually killed in the film. Halloween is a great example of necessity being the mother of invention. Throughout the film where they can’t afford to show masses of blood methods of hiding it have been used, whether that’s clever lighting or the first person perspective. Instead the film focuses on building tension and creeping fear, as the viewer you know something is coming but you don’t know when.

This technique is used from the outset, having the first 5 or so minutes of the film in first person perspective. Someone is stalking a young girl and her boyfriend as they go upstairs, within minutes the person enters the house and puts on a clown mask and picking up a knife. The person moves upstairs and enters the bedroom where the young girl clearly recognises the person. Seconds later all we see is the knife moving and the girl screaming. It is revealed in the next scene that the perspective was that of a small boy, Michael Myers and that he has just killed his sister. There is no explanation for why or who this family is. This is the key thing for Michael Myers, he is dangerous and driven to kill but (in the first film at least) we don’t get a reason why and I think that not knowing makes him scarier and more unpredictable. 

His mystery is heightened by his iconic design, a result of the limited budget. Originally he was going to wear a clown mask to mirror the look used as a child. However this was dropped close to production and the legend has it that a member of the design crew had to look for a new mask and bought a Captain Kirk mask, made the eye holes larger and painted it white. Add in a plain dark blue boiler suit and a simple and incredibly affective design is born. This design is so perfect because we still get a face to see but it is expressionless and using good lighting we never get to see his eyes. This could well be a hollow shell, it is only in the last act that we see below the mask and see a scared young man who panics and pulls the mask back on to regain his control. This does raise the question of what is he? Does he need to hide behind the mask to be the killer; is he scared of seeing his own face when he knows what he has done? There is so much we don’t know about what is going on in his head, leaving it so open makes it more interesting.

Michael fits very neatly into the first of the three iconic slasher killer types; silent slow moving killing machine (Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees), Witty and flamboyant (Freddy Kruger, Chucky) and charming seducer (Candyman). Without a given motive and because Michael gives nothing away during the film it is for the viewer to fill in the motivation if they want to. You can be as simple or as deep as you want to be, he could just be a crazy person who is killing based on opportunity and Laurie just happens to survive, or he takes a liking to Laurie and wants to separate her from her friends.

I like to think of things a little more deeply, I have always seen Michael in this first film as a personification of conscience, like a crazy Jiminy Cricket. Each of the kids that are killed has committed some sort of sin (under age sex, drinking, smoking weed or leaving the kids unattended) which singles them out for killing, even his sister at the start of the film.

This is a morality tale for older kids, the film even calls it out when Michael is referred to as the Boogey man by the young kids, which Doctor Loomis agrees with at the end. Children are told, if you’re naughty the Boogey man will come and get you (not a practice I advise) and here we have that played out for real. Laurie is the best of them, she is the goodie two shoes of the group but even she smokes weed at one point. So despite being the best of them she still sins, this is why she is the last to be attacked. I think this also plays into the building of tension for the first two thirds of the of film. Michael is watching and picking his kills. After the opening scene we only ever see the film from a limited number of viewpoints, I have always thought that we have only followed the stories that result in kills but that Michael has actually been watching other kids as well.

This notion is driven home at the end of the film. Doctor Loomis has shot him and he has walked away from it into the night, proving that he isn’t simply human he is something more. Then we are shown a series of shots inside and outside normal homes all normal, overlaid with the sound of breathing. In modern cinema this would be an indicator of the inevitable sequel, however when they made this film there was no intention of having a sequel this was supposed to be left open ended. To me this scene is the final indicator, be good because Michael is still out there and he is watching, he is in your normal looking home or neighborhood. Be good or the Boogey man will come and get you.

The film tries to drive this home by making everything as normal as possible All the kids are normal and doing normal things. They are discussing things that we all talked about when we were that age, school, dating and what we are doing at the weekend. There are parts of the film where the conversation is almost inane to the extent of being distracting. However it all works to make the point that this could happen anywhere.

John Carpenter’s desire for the film to maintain a level of normalcy is betrayed by two key things, firstly, the fact that the film actually points out its own main plot hole. The ones that come to mind are the fact that Michael has been locked up for 15 years since he was six, yet he is able to drive a car from the Hospital to Hanndonfield. It is mentioned by a doctor and an answer is never given. It’s something that has bothered me since the first time I watch the film.

The second is Donald Pleasence and his scene chewing performance. Everyone else in the film is trying to play every scene down and be normal. Pleasence screams, overacts and goes crazy eyes every chance he gets trying to convince everyone that Michael Myers is the devil incarnate. His performance is distracting and struggles to fit in with other parts of the film, he would probably fit in better in a later Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th film rather than this more restrained suspense horror film.

The final thing to mention is the music. John Carpenter is renowned for having done his own music for many of his early films and produced some amazing yet simple scores. Halloween is a prime example of this; the title music has become a seasonal anthem and is another further highlight of how restraint and a minimalist approach can really pay off.

In summary this is a low budget horror film that uses its limitations to its advantage and tells a story about a normal neighborhood going through one night of hell. It builds tension using a brilliantly simple score, well directed photography, clever editing, restrained acting (for the most part) and some simple designs to create something iconic. As with A nightmare on Elm Street this franchise becomes something different down the line, however in this case it’s not for the better. This is a great film that gets to the route of horror, there is something hiding in the dark that will get you if you aren’t careful. 

Halloween Countdown: 2 - The Changeling (1980)

I had not heard of 1980’s The Changeling until a couple of months ago. After that I heard about it several times in quick succession. Each time was praising the film as a forgotten gem. I am always a little suspicious of a film that seems to have fallen of the radar so much. It’s usually for a reason. Having now watched it and really enjoyed it, I understand why this does not get the attention it deserves. The late 70’s and early 80’s saw a wave of classic horror films that changed the direction of the genre to this day. The Changeling would have done better if it had been released 5 or 10 years earlier. This film is a much gentler ghostly thriller than was being produced by 1980. That does not mean that this is a bad film though, far from it.

The film centres on George C. Scott’s character John Russell, a musician and music teacher who, following the death of his Wife and Daughter, moves into a rented historical house. While dealing with his grief he starts to hear strange noises in the house. His investigations into the house lead him to a boarded up attic room that contains a small dusty child’s wheelchair. The hauntings escalate and he finds out more about the child that died in the house.

While I enjoyed this film and happily recommend it there are several issues that need to be addressed and are the reason it got lost in the mix with other films around this time.

The tension builds well for the first two thirds of the film and there are some really spooky moments. The massive house is used like a real haunted house. Doors slam, pipes bang and it’s all played like an old school ghost story, which is one of the reasons I like this so much. There are no huge moments with people being pulled up stairs by an unseen force or a ghostly wind blasting through the house and no mention of Demons. It feels a lot more real. There is a reason for that; the script is based on alleged events experienced by the writer a decade before.  

Unfortunately the mystery is revealed a bit too early and the last third drags as it reaches the finale.  This tension is mostly lost by the time the credits roll despite some great set pieces and performances. However, an uneven script is not helped by pedestrian direction and cinematography. Looking at their other credits both the director and cinematographer have done mostly TV work and it is shows. The locations for the film, the House in particular, are beautiful and a more talented cinematographer could have used them more effectively. Also, throughout the dialogue scenes are shot with the same intensity as ghost scenes, both of which have a TV movie feel.

When you stand this next to similar films around this time, such as Poltergeist (1982), The shining (1980) or The Amityville Horror (1979) it doesn’t stand up. Each of those had something special which makes them stand apart. With stronger more auteur direction this could have been elevated to the classic status along with the other films listed.

As I say there are several great effective spooky moments, also the essence of the story is strong and disturbing. Despite the pacing issues the feeling of grief and how that affects people, possibly opening them up to experiencing supernatural things is played really well. This is bolstered by brilliant sound design. The character of John Russell being a musician is utilised well with a creepy score that both supports and exists within the film.

Speaking of John Russell I would like to mention how good George C. Scott is. Scott plays John Russell as a quiet man looking for peace and to work through his grief. He portrays different sides of the grief so well and with dignity, from crying with despair to reminiscing over a photo album. There are several moments in the film where his is stopped in his tracks by a memory or his emotion and I felt it with him. In other scenes we get to see more of the man that he was. When the hauntings begin he ends up bringing in a medium to conduct a séance. During the mediums rantings and scribbled spirit writing the look of disdain for his face is priceless and completely valid.

His feelings and grief are what propel him through the film and drive him to follow the investigation to its end. I get the feeling that knowing he has done the right thing for this lost soul will make him feel reassured about what has happened to his wife and daughter. A good man whose life has been broken and he is looking for sense and peace in his life.

Overall, this is a good film with solid performances in a pretty strong story. Unfortunately despite these it feels like a film from 1972 released in 1980. Weak direction and a failure to utilise the locations really hinder this film. Had this been directed by Spielberg or Kubrick I am convinced that this would have been a classic. It is well worth a watch especially if you enjoy the smaller more down played ghost stories over the over blown nonsense that is released today. 

Halloween Countdown: 3 - A Nightmare on Elm St Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

I have a theory, when you watch a film franchise or TV show (which lasts more than 5 seasons) that isn’t based on previously established material the first film or series in the run is the idea in its purest form. However, it doesn’t become the model that is most commonly known until at least the third instalment. A good example of this is the SAW franchise, the model that is most associated with the series (traps and creative deaths) is a better description of the sequels.

This theory is also true of the Nightmare on Elm St franchise. There is very little humour in the first two films, Freddy is a straight up slasher killer and the deaths are plain gruesome. It isn’t until the third film that we get the Freddy and film model that we know and love, in fact it is possible to pin point the actual scene when this series turns a corner but we will get to that later.  

By 1987, when this film was released the slasher template was very well established and was being rolled out for all the slasher icons of the 80s (Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and even Chucky). A group of stereotypes (jock, nerd, bitch, virgin etc.) in a relatively confined location, being killed in a series of deaths that represent something about their character until the most virginal beats the killer. This is almost a perfect description of Nightmare 3.

We are first introduced to Kristen, our in for the film, who is forcing herself to stay awake because she is having horrific nightmares. I should also point out the music over the opening sequence, the song Dream Warriors by Dokken, written for this film. This is a great 80’s hair metal song (I have it on my iPod!) and the first sign that Freddy has become popular and is starting to get some mainstream treatment. Anyway, Kristen falls asleep and we get taken to the Freddy house. This sequence is very reminiscent of the first two films, we get the horror house, the little girls skipping and the infamous nursery rhyme (1, 2 Freddy’s coming for you …). I am getting what I know and I am into this film from the start, I especially enjoy how this sequence ends, with Kristen slitting her wrists with a little help from Freddy.  This is also the first great thing that I am sure first appears in this film but becomes a staple; Freddy becoming something else in a dream, in this case a tap becoming the bladed fingers of the glove.

From this we go straight to the local mental institute (Horror films have told me that every town in America has one!) and we meet the rest of the teen group and they are the expected outcast archetypes, a Dungeons & Dragons nerd, an ex-druggy, sarcastic kid and shy kid, a delusional girl who wants to be a star and … err … an angry black guy. Yeah, things were a little different in 1987.  Kristen has been brought in to join them and she isn’t alone.  

Let me say it right now, I really enjoy this film, for me it is the most enjoyable Nightmare film but that does not mean it is a great film out right. There are a few things that are bad and it is at this point that we meet the first of them, Heather Langenkamp back as Nancy from the first film. This film has some young actors in it so I am willing to accept some less than stellar acting but Ms Langenkamp should know better. She is awkward in this film, she struggles to portray any real emotion and almost every interaction with any other actor looks like she is reading her lines off of their face. I understand that they have brought her in as a tie to the first film but she isn’t needed and I do think the film would have been better without her in it.

Anyway, I digress. So we have now met the whole group and through a number of conversations we now understand that despite the kids all talking about the same nightmare, it is classed as group hysteria, basically that they are being difficult teens and just need to behave. That’s not to say that all the doctors are against them, there is Dr Gordon, the one person willing to listen to the kids and try something different to help them. Played by Craig Wasson, this character is the anti-Nancy and is a real help to this film, he is convincing and shows that the character cares for the kids but is still a professional. He is also in the scene with my favourite line later in the film.  

With the all the players in place the plots can begin and we get into the kills. Let’s get to the one that really matters, the moment Freddy becomes Freddy. The star wanna be, Jennifer, falls and asleep watching TV without realising it’s a dream, the TV goes on the fritz while attempting to fix it and we get more Freddy becoming something in the Nightmare. This time he literally forms out of the TV set, grabbing Jennifer and slamming her head into the screen and shouting “This is your big break Jennifer. Welcome to primetime bitch!” There it is, the one thing that was missing, Freddy pulling out one liners after each of his kills. It should be noted that this line was actually adlibbed by Robert England (Freddy) and started something both great ruinous for the later films.

The other side of the kids being killed is an origin story for Freddy and more supernatural shenanigans. I know it’s ridiculous to say about a film that has a killer stalking kids dreams but I find the introduction of a ghost nun a bit much. It’s fine but like having Nancy back it is something that isn’t needed and there could have been better ways to progress the story. Despite this, it is the Nun that has my favourite line in the film. When we find out that Freddy’s mother was trapped in the mental institute years before an repeatedly raped, during which Freddy was conceived, she describes him as “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs” a bit dramatic but awesome at the same time. This also leads to the contrivance of being given a way to beat Freddy. This is why I dislike the Nun so much, it’s too easy. A ghost turns up and tells you what to do to beat the baddy. Did all of this have to take place in this location for her to part this knowledge? What if they had gone to a different hospital? What about all the kids that died in the first two films, didn’t she care then? It gets the plot going and I will let it slide because this is a slasher film about a killer that stalks dreams but I still think it is a little lazy on the part of the writers.

Something positive? Ok, this film does have a positive message. We find out later that all the kids have select special powers in their dreams. Not going to go into them but suffice to say some are better than others and the questionable race relations continue (Kincaid the Black Character gets super strength and um, more anger – it seems fine in the context of this film but would not fly today). The point being that we all have dreams and that believing in them makes you stronger. The theme is well placed and actually plays out when they are fighting Freddy. It’s not often you can say that a daft slasher film has a positive message.  

Getting to the climax we have had some great kills, dream confrontations and we also get a stop motion skeleton Freddy in the real world attacking someone. I have always had a soft spot for stop motion effects, the Ray Harryhausen style from the Sinbad films and the 1981 Clash of the titans. Granted they never look great but they have a feel to them that is something else and it works in Nightmare just as well. This is a great climax leading to a troupe of this franchise. Freddy being defeated is always a little woolly and never feels like it will be final. Yeah, I know the villain always comes back but the Nightmare films don’t really try.

 

In summary, this is, in my opinion, the best of the Nightmare films. You don’t have to have seen the previous films to understand anything; it contains some of the best kills of the series and we get the Freddy we know and love for the first time. This is a fun slasher horror film, with a couple of jump scares and plenty of blood for the gore-hounds. However, as I have mentioned it isn’t perfect. The story is a little weak and contrived, some of the acting is just plain bad and the final defeat isn’t amazing. Overall if you have never seen any of the “Nightmare on Elm St” films start with the first one and then watch this one, just to see the difference. If you have seen this, go back and watch and see how well some many parts of this film still stand up, especially if you are having a few drinks. 

Halloween Countdown: 4 - The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

When I was pretty young I was given my first TV for my bedroom. It was a small TV (tiny by today’s standards), with a black and white picture, an aerial in the top that needed adjusting constantly and a rotating knob to tune in the channels. It was ancient even when I got it but I loved it. It sat at the end of my cabin bed and for a kid in the late 80s was the best thing ever. I was easily pleased.

I vividly remember listening for my parents to go to bed and then switching the little black and white TV on and sitting way to close, so I could watch it with the volume turned way down. I must have watched all kinds of things but two images stand out in my mind. The first was my introduction to Rocky, when Rocky 3 was playing late one night. The other was my introduction to Hammer and it scared the hell out of me.

I tuned in a channel and I could hear the smooth tones of, who I now know was, Peter Cushing. The picture came into focus and I see two men in period costume in heated debate. I wasn’t particularly interested but gave it a few minutes. Soon Peter Cushing storms out and walks into a lab, revealing a bandaged figure slowly lurching towards him. The figure reaches up and pulls the bandages from its face and in an instant reveals a broken and vile face. I literally jumped and turned the TV off. Yep, I chickened out and I doubt I slept well that night.

It wasn’t until years later when I saw the film again that I learned that I had been scared by Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” and Christopher Lee as the creature. Watching it now there are elements that are campy and the make-up effects haven’t aged well but I still think this film is fantastic and genuinely creepy and sinister. However, the things that affect me have changed over the years.

Film historians have credited this with two note worth distinctions. This film is the first of the very successful Cushing / Lee on screen partnership. Also, many highlight that this film brought horror back in to favour after it had declined in the 40’s and early 50’s. A film and two great actors at the start of the British re-birth of Horror.

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein is brilliant. He is smooth but driven; almost single minded in is obsession. He also comes across as cold and calculating to such an extent that I wonder if he is a sociopath. Throughout the film he treats people as if they are solely there for his benefit, helping him reach his goal. He kills, cheats and casts people aside with no remorse. Even in the final moment he is still screaming to be believed to save his life and be appreciated for the genius he is. There is so little consideration for the people he has hurt.

Watching it now I love this choice. The easier option is to make Victor a fallen or damaged hero. He would be someone trapped in an obsession but still loves his wife and eventually regrets what he has created, someone redeemable. Not this Victor, in this film Victor is the real villain.

There three scenes that I want to mention that demonstrate how Cushing and the film portray him like a villain. The first is a small scene between Victor and his wife Elizabeth (Hazel Court) as she presses him on working with him in his lab. During their conversation Victor is placating her to keep her happy. However, as he talks about her being in his lab he is clearly examining her, considering whether her body could be used at some point. She is so fawning and naïve that Cushing being so calm is chilling.

The second is the killing of Professor Bernstein, to obtain his brain. The scene sets up that the professor has been invited over under the pretence of dinner. Victor then leads him to his room for the night but on the way stops to show him a painting. He then proceeds to ask the professor to step back to see it better and over a balcony his goes (an amazing head pounding stunt!). Cushing is so slimy as he builds up to the killing and is clearly pleased with the result. No remorse, just another step in his grand plan.

The last is towards the end of the film. We find that Victor has had the creature restrained and been performing experimental surgery on it. Its torture, nothing less and he just sees it as science advancement. He does not see the creature as human in any way at all. It is just a collection of parts that he has created and therefore can do with it whatever he wants.

He repeatedly states that all of this is in advancement of his research but there is no question that he is enjoying everything he is doing. He may be obsessed with the goal of greater knowledge but he is in love with power it gives him.

The script of the film is a bit clunky and campy in places but Cushing elevates this to a classic. Christopher Lee is fine as the creature but doesn’t have a great deal to do. His Hammer shine will come with Dracula and others. The rest of the cast are also mostly fine, Hazel Court begins to grate on me but I think that has more to do with the character and dialogue she is given rather than her acting.

Robert Urquhart plays Paul Krempe, Victors tutor and friend. He is given the sole purpose of being the voice of reason and only in a couple of scenes does he bring anything interesting to the role. On several occasions his reactions to Victor indicate he understands how dangerous not just the experiment is but the man conducting it is as well. He sees and fears the uncaring nature and knows that it will never let Victor stop.

Watching it this time I also noticed what a small film it is. Mostly due to budget I am sure but there are only a couple of sets and very few outdoor scenes. Victor’s lab is a smallish attic room rather than the grand expanse of the Universal Dr Frankenstein. Like I say, budget restraints but it adds something to the film, knowing that this creature is so close trapped in the house with the others. It makes it a little claustrophobic. It starts to represent that this is Victor’s small world; it’s all he cares about.

In summary I recommend this film. There are better Hammer films and better portrayals of Frankenstein’s Monster but Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein is brilliant. A villain I really enjoy watching and a film that still gives me chills. Hammer has started releasing a lot of their films on special edition blu-ray, which I watched, and the picture and sound quality is excellent. The colours are so lush and crisp for a film made in 1957. Track it down and give it a go. 

Halloween Countdown: 5 - ParaNorman (2012)

I am going to break my own rule for this review and jump into the 21st Century.

There are two things to explain upfront before I get into this review. First, while it is probably the biggest part of Halloween, I love the fact that it’s not just about scares and horror. Halloween is about fun, it’s about letting go of convention, enjoying yourself and being able to laugh. This is why I really enjoy films like ParaNorman, Beetlejuice, Monster House and even Hocus Pocus. They don’t take themselves seriously and pock gentle fun at clichés and the more serious films that have come before.

Second, I am an advocate of kids’ films being a gateway to a better and wider range of films. Some people I have spoken with have an odd belief that kids films are for kids and then you grow up and only watch “proper” films. To me this is madness, if you want someone to be interested in something you snag that interest when they are young and you can’t interest a child in horror or films in general by making them sit down and watch Halloween or The Exorcist! What kind of parent are you! – So we need films that act as an entry point and they have to be good or at least appeal to kids and contain enough to be enticing.

However the line between “children’s” films and “proper” films is blurring more and more with Pixar producing classics like Inside Out and Up. They are not alone though; there is another studio working to produce animated films that are an art form as well as good films. A small studio called Laika. They specialise in stop-motion animation and have contributed to the Corpse Bride as well as making Coraline, The Box Trolls, Kubo and the two strings and of course ParaNorman.

Their animation style is wonderful and they have it nailed. Ever since I saw 1981’s Clash of the Titans I have been fascinated by stop-motion effects. They don’t always age well but they always have a feel that is so appealing. I will admit that watching it in older films nostalgia comes into play but ParaNorman is an example of the animation style used to great effect.

The story focuses around Norman, a young boy that can see and speak to ghosts. He doesn’t think much of it; it has become part of his daily life. Others however think he is a freak and weird, none more so than his own Dad. He is an outcast in a town, Blithe Hollow, which lives on the back of the town legend of a witch that was executed 200 years before. The witch gimmick is in everything, including the school play Norman is forced to be in.

It turns out that Norman is not the only one who has the ability it’s a family trait. Moreover, it’s his destiny to use to the power to calm the spirit of the Witch every year. Otherwise she and her accusers, 7 elders that settled the town, will return from the grave to attack Blithe Hollow. Of course it doesn’t go to plan and Norman and his new friends are thrown into some Zombie mayhem.

The story has some really strong positive themes. Norman appreciates that being different is a good thing and that people should learn to understand who you are. There are also lessons about not making judgements based on fear as well as several swipes at American gun culture and other things. The script is pretty strong and it is boosted by great design and animation.

Despite being cartoonish in style all of the characters have physicality due to the nature of the animation, which makes them feel more real. The great thing about stop motion for me is that the sets and characters are actually being lit and affected by the environment. I do enjoy CG animated films but they still feel like a cartoon. These have texture and depth that cannot be replicated in a computer. Yes the stop-motion is cleaned up and special effects are added using CG but the basis is still the stop-motion figures.

The film is littered with little details that I notice more of with each watch. I would not question that this was a passion project for everyone involved in the making of this film.

This is all good but the real fun comes from the jokes and nods made to horror films. The film opens with a bad zombie film which includes a boom mic in shot and acknowledges the silliness of slow moving zombies. It’s a joy to watch and smile along with the film makers that clearly love the reference material, despite some of its more ridiculous aspects.

A couple of other nods worth noting are a shot taken directly from Halloween (1978) of the shape hiding beside a hedge and then disappearing. Also Several Night of the Living Dead references when the main characters are trapped in a library.  

The film moves along at a pretty swift pace following Norman failing to keep the witch in her grave. The zombies chase after them slowly but with purpose and bump into some of the town’s folk. This leads to chaos in the streets as the residents don’t know whether to fight the zombies, loot the shops or shout at Norman.

In the third act some harsh truths are revealed and Norman is able to deal with the Witch. The finale is both eye popping visually and excellently emotionally driven. I am always drawn into this film and enjoy the journey and the pay off each time. I highly recommend this to everyone but especially to fans of animation or a family looking for a Halloween family film. Its great fun with some excellent voice work (John Goodman is having a blast as a crazy uncle) and genuinely funny moments. I wish there were more films like this that could start kids on the right path to enjoying the fun that horror films provide. Check it out. 

Halloween Countdown: 6 - The Shining (1980)

I have seen this film on several occasions and it has never sat well with me, it has always felt a little off. I know that it is lauded as a Stanley Kubrick classic and a great horror masterpiece but it just never lived up to that for me. However, it wasn't until I read the original Stephen King book recently that it fell into place. 

King's novel is the story of a man's last shot at redemption in an isolated hotel with his wife and son. How he is driven slowly insane by the ghosts of the hotel that feed off the psychic abilities of his son and his guilt over the choices he has made in his life. This creates a tense story filled with fear and inner conflict building to a tragic end. 

Kubrick's film however seems to be about a psychotic man forcing his family to move to an isolated hotel so that he can possibly do some writing but after some mild nudging from a ghostly barman decides to kill his family. This creates a tension of a very different kind as we wait for the inevitable finale that has become such a famous part of pop culture. 

This is not to say that this is a bad film. The way it is shot is great and the third act of the film is very good. There are also some pretty good scares when you are watching this sat alone in the dark. It is a competent horror film but there are some major flaws that really take me out of film. 

The biggest issue I have with this film is the primary cast. 

I really like Jack Nicholson, and find him incredibly watchable in the right role with the right direction (see The Departed or 1989 Batman). That does not mean he is the right person to play the central character of this story, Jack Torrance a struggling writer looking to make good on his potential. From the moment he appears on screen we know where this is going simply because we get crazy Nicholson. When he has his first scene with the family unit he talks to them with flippant annoyance and almost disdain. Nicholson is playing, or being directed to play, a man who is only one step away from beating his family anyway. The choice to play the character this way and drop the inner conflict that he should go through before reaching the inevitable decent into madness makes the character a little shallow and the outright villain rather than the tragic figure he should be. 

As for Shelly Duvall I have to admit that I don't find her that good in anything that she has done. It is well documented that she had major run ins with Kubrick over the direction of her character (Wendy Torrance) in this film and rightly so. She wanted to play the character closer to the book, an intelligent woman that has stood by her husband through some bad times. What we get is a whimpering Olive Oil before she played Olive Oil (Popeye 1980). The character becomes so grating and redundant by the third act that I would not be surprised if this direction was taken by Kubrick as a punishment for her arguments. 

As a quick note, I will add that the young boy who play the son, Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) is actually quite good and adds an element of sympathy to the film. Although, much of Danny's story from the book has been dropped. 

So what do we have at the centre of this film? A psychotic husband and his dependent wife. At no point in this film do I ever buy that these two people met, fell in love and had a life together before this film starts. There is no chemistry or sense of family and the interplay that should be demonstrated on screen. 

In King's novel the Hotel is very much a character itself and the events and life that have happened there is vital to understanding the downfall of this poor family. There are images, some horrific some ordinary that pop up throughout the book but all are explained and tied to events in the history of the hotel. This does not translate well to the film, although some of the images are used. The most famous is the two little girls and the events that surrounded them and their father, the previous caretaker. This is fine and makes a lot of sense both in the book and the film. However, in the third act as Wendy is roaming round the hotel she sees a series of things (man covered in blood, a man dressed as a dog etc.) that are tied to very specific events that have been a part of Jack Torrance's torment. In the film they come across as being random for the sack of trying to random and spooky. It was this section of the film that never sat well with me before I read the book; now that I have it just makes me think that Kubrick liked the images but not the story.

Halloween Countdown: 7 - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

 

For the Halloween film reviews I wanted to look at different types of films that are worth watching for this growing annual pagan holiday. “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (KKFOS) is an homage to the horror and sci-fi films of the 50’s and 60’s, as well as the teen comedies of the 80’s. 

The film was written and directed by the Chiodo brothers, who have a background in special effects (Team America, Critters and Elf). This was one of the first films they made and they set out to make a film that they could have fun making but also show off some of their skills. Lets be honest from the start, they are not overly talented writers or directors. The dialogue is clunky and only well handled by some of the more experienced actors (we will get on to John Vernon in a minute). The direction is also very pedestrian with no flare. However, neither of these affects the quality of the film and in fact adds to the cheesy B-movie nature of the film.

In addition to this some of the special effects are very cheap and dated; this can be expected though based on the films budget ($2M) but the thing that standards out for me are the Klowns themselves. There are 4 or 5 main Klowns and they look great, a little rubbery but the movements in the faces are smooth and they look good enough for me to accept them as a threat in this very silly film. This is aided by the fact that the Klown designs themselves are great, they are all different shapes, sizes and make-up combinations, making them each easily identifiable. In addition to the Klowns there are a few other things that standout for me in design and effect, which I will call out as I go.

Getting into the film itself, from the outset it is clear that this is not a film that is going to scare anyone, the title sounds like the result of a drunken conversation. It also opens with the most amazingly ridiculous 80’s synth-rock title song performed by The Dickies. The expectations are set, this film has a sense of humor and we are right in the heart of comedy-horror.

We are introduced to the main players straight away, with the idiot brothers selling ice-cream out of their clown ice-cream truck out side Big Top Burgers, this film isn’t subtle. Then we get the main male and female leads Mike and Debbie at “make out point”, which are very cookie cutter late teens being played by actors in their mid-twenties. Knowing that neither of these actors went on to do much more will give you an idea of the quality of the acting that is on display here. However Mike is leagues ahead of Debbie, who has particular trouble getting through some of the clunky dialogue. They are sufficient for what the film needs.

Soon after we also get the films good cop / bad cop combo; Dave the good cop is very bland and by the numbers but the bad cop is great fun. John Vernon as Officer Mooney is brilliant as the teenager hating paranoid aging cop. He gets stuck into this role and chews the hell out of it. He is a panto villain that the audience want to see killed. The fact that the film plays it totally straight when he intends to beat two teenagers for walking through park after dark drinking is brilliant. By playing it so straight it is over the top but makes the rest of the film even more outlandish.

Then we get the introduction of the titular Klowns. They fall to earth and Mike and Debbie decide to go investigate but in the mean time we get to see the ship in which they have arrived, a huge glowing circus big top, and a glimpse of Klown when they kill a local old timer. Within minutes we are in the ship with Mike and Debbie and they are being chased by the Klowns. There really isn’t any messing around in this film the pace is great, it starts and you are off to the races. I may criticise the writing but I can’t fault them for getting stuck in as soon as possible. They know that this isn’t about building tension or drama, lets see some craziness.

So what craziness do we get? How about a pop corn gun or the Klowns using a balloon animal dog on a leash as a bloodhound. The sniffer dog is a particular favourite of mine, stupid and simple but makes me laugh each time. At this point we also get the most exposition we are going to get in this film when Debbie asks about the Klowns guns “Pop corn, why pop corn?”, Mike’s response “They’re Klowns, that’s why.” fair enough I can buy that and there is no need for any other questions, this is all the explanation I want and need from this film.

The second act is a 20 minute montage of the Klowns invading the town to kill and collect it’s citizens. I won’t go into all the moments but I will highlight two standouts for me. The first is the shortest Klown cycling up to a biker gang. The inevitable happens and his little clown bike is broken and I love the expression of sadness on the klowns face. The puppet work is so good, his ears droop, he frowns and for a second I feel sorry for him. However, he gets his revenge when he offers to take on a member of the gang one on one and literally knocks the guys head off. In keeping with the general tone of the film this is daft and fun.

The second is a queue of people waiting for a bus being entertained by a Klown making shadow shapes on the wall, which eventually becomes a dinosaur and eats them all. I love this because of the complexity of the shadow designs and the fact that no one in the queue questions whether this is possible. I especially love the old man who salutes when a shadow of a soldier and waving flag is presented. Again, this has dated but I am so enjoying the tone and essence of this film that I can see past the iffy spots.

I should mention that during this act we also find out why they are here in the first place. They are here to wrap us in space cotton candy cocoons and drink our blood. Obviously as with most things in the film this raises a load of questions that there is no point or need in asking because the simple answer is, “They’re Klowns, that’s why”.

The third act starts with the first payoff of the film when Mooney is killed by one of the Klowns and turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy. We also find out how the Klowns can be defeated, how else than blowing up their big red comedy noses, why? They’re Klowns, that’s why.

The third act is driven by the fact that Debbie is one of the people that have been captured and Mike and good cop Dave have to go and rescue her. During this section we get a glimpse of other budget restraints of the film and poor direction Such as the Klowns invading one street and it looking like a party with streamers, then a shot from another direction shows the rest of the street is fine and we even get to see two cars driving past normally in the background. A mis-step but only a quick shot that doesn’t distract from the madness.

I should also point out that at this stage that I am beginning to think that good cop Dave has a darker side. The two leads are supposed to be late teens in college and he a Officer that has been on the force for a couple of years. Yet he dated Debbie at some point in the past, it’s not made clear when and the age difference between the two is never made clear but it’s another part of the script that feels forced. There had to be some relationship tension so they threw in a love triangle. It doesn’t work for me but it is also so inconsequential to the film that you can ignore it.

So off they go back to the Big Top space ship to save Debbie and stop the Klowns. Unfortunately this final act is where the lack of budget really shows. While the scenes on the space ship at the beginning were in small corridors and looked pretty good, the final act tries to take things to a larger scale and while one or two sections are good overall the inside of the ship is made up of big black spaces and some random brightly coloured shapes. It looks cheap and well, rubbish.

The finale is also a bit of a mess. There is a super Killer Klown in the empty black space back lot that is space ship which does have a fun little fight with an ice-cream van. The super Klown is defeated and the main characters escape. This is a bit of a flat ending for such a fun film but I am not sure how much money there was left or if they could have done something larger.

In summary this is a cheap and clunky scripted comedy horror that tickles that silly immature funny bone. It never takes itself seriously and despite some missteps has some great moments that will stick with you, as well as some great design work, puppetry effects and title song. And who can resist a film that has pop-corn attack a woman in the shower? Why, pop-corn? They’re Klowns, that’s why

I highly recommend this 88 mins of joyous nonsense, which is best enjoyed with a few friends and a few drinks.  

 

HALLOWEEN COUNT DOWN: 8 - DRACULA (1931)

Some things are so good that they become ingrained in pop culture and are copied and parodied to the extent that the original is almost forgotten and lost. This is the case with the 1931 Dracula starring the great Bela Lugosi. This is the film that has formed most of the modern common Dracula look, the suit and cape, the slicked back hair, the charming eloquent mysterious man (however no fangs appear in this film). Every Dracula fancy dress costume that we see today in shops and supermarkets is based on this film but it is it any good? The film is 83 years old and film making has progressed so much in that time but I will say up front, this is a very good film.

It’s hard to spoil a film that’s central story has been told so many times in so many different formats, so I will only skim over the plot and focus on what I really enjoyed about this film. I should say, I only watched this film for the first time last week and I watched the remastered Blu ray.  If you do watch this film and I strongly recommend you do, this is the best format to watch this film on. The remastered version is beautiful, the picture is fantastic and the contrast of the black and white image is great. I can honestly say that this film has probably never looked better.

This is a rather short film, running at 74 minutes. One of the reasons for this is that the screenplay was a direct use of the stage play version. A lot of the original novel has been dropped or contracted but this is a real benefit to the film. It would not have been possible to create some of the expansive scenes and locations on stage or for the film at the time it was made. So the film focuses in on the central characters and the key story points. This is excellent concise storytelling, supported by some iconic performances.

Before I get to Bela Lugosi there are a couple of other performances that I want to highlight, first off, Dwight Frye who plays Renfield. A character from the Stoker novel but expanded for this version to be the person that visits Dracula and helps him travel to London. It is this interaction that drives him insane in this version of the story.

While he replaces Jonathan Harker for this part of this story it actually does make reference to a Stoker short story “Dracula’s guest”. This was originally part of the novel (Dracula) as an introductory section but was removed by the publisher. It was later published in a collection of Stoker’s short stories. “Dracula’s guest” tells the story of another English lawyer being chased down in the woods of Transylvania. It is disputed whether this is an earlier start to Harker’s story or the story of Renfield’s interactions with Dracula. Either way, in the film we get a character that is a very reserved and goes crazy.

Frye is superb in this role. When he is introduced he is clean cut and almost naïve and reacts as you would expect to the strangeness he encounters on his way to and at Dracula’s mansion. His facial expressions are great as he interacts with Dracula, he is nervous and a little lost but keeps doing his job. The scene between Frye and Lugosi near the start of the film is a stand out for me. He is also brilliant as the insane Renfield when they get home; he is excessive crazy without being over the top. He has some of the best lines in the film and a great monologue about being promised hundreds, thousands of rats on which he can feed when he has done the work of his “master”.

Frye was a stage comedian for a lot of early career and this comes through in his timing and delivery. If this guy was working today I would expect him to be someone like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, a comedian who takes on and succeeds at more dramatic and creepy roles.

The second character I want to bring up is Van Helsing play by Edward Van Sloan. This Van Helsing is portrayed as a man of science and superstition and happens to be right all the time. It is not really explained how he got this knowledge and to be honest it doesn’t matter. Sloan is like a force of nature in the film, despite being an older gentleman he orders people around with confidence that everything he is doing is right and I was bought into it.

There is a scene where he stands toe to toe with Dracula and lets him know that he knows what he is and what he is doing. Dracula attempts to use his hypnotic stare to bring him close enough for the kill but Van Helsing resists. Not only is Dracula impressed, so am I. it quickly shows that these two are a match and I want to see them face off at the end of the film.

Bela Lugosi had played Dracula on stage for a period and was so keen to get his performance on screen that he took a huge pay drop to make the film. It is a stage performance that he gives but it is so engaging. There are moments of stillness, where he just watches someone and or his is animated and charming as the exotic count. Either way he commends the screen and owns the character.

Forget all the over acted parodies and the ridiculous accents, this performance contains real menace and the accent is legit and perfect for the performance. The one line that I loved and has become so famous “Listen to them, children of the night. What music they make.” It can be read as corny and over the top but Lugosi delivers it with such sincerity you believe that he does take comfort from the sound.

Lugosi’s performance is taken from great to iconic by really effective lighting and direction. In 1931 this film was made to make Dracula a serious villain and it achieved it. I would suggest that a modern comparison is the way Hannibal Lector is presented in the TV show Hannibal. The audience is well aware that this suave charming person is a danger but the cast don’t see it. In fact I would suggest that Mads Mikkelsen would make a fantastic Dracula.

The three roles that I have highlighted are male, which for a film made in 1931 isn’t surprising. The female characters in this film, whilst key to the story (as in the novel) are only secondary to the males. The plot revolves around the male characters reactions to what is happening to the women. However, a lot of events regarding the women happen of screen. This is not unusual for the time, however it is one of the flaws of the film and an extra 10 – 15 minutes expanding on the women in the movie would add so much more tension and empathy.

In Summary this is a classic, a film that has set the template for all future Dracula films. Granted this is a film of its time but this only adds to the appeal. Whilst this isn’t scary by today’s standards the portrayal of both Dracula and Renfield is unsettling enough to stay with you, Bela Lugosi is and always will be Dracula. Also, as I mentioned before go and find the remastered version it is a fantastic transfer and makes the film look stunning. 

HALLOWEEN COUNT DOWN: 9 - HELLRAISER (1987)

I think that Hellraiser is one of the most mis-remembered films and would be included in the theory that general understanding not matching the original intent. This is in part due to the lesser sequels (3 onwards) and the way in which Pinhead has been marketed over the years. He is remembered as a horror icon in the same vain as Freddy, Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers but he is very different to all of these and so much more. The three I mentioned are icons, no doubt but they are all slasher killers, killing with a loose motive (revenge or territoriality) but Pinhead and his Cenobites are not slasher killers. In fact I would argue that they are not intended to be the stars of the film at all.

 

Hellraiser is a pretty accurate translation of Clive Barker’s novella “The Hellbound Heart”, likely because the film was written and directed by Clive Barker himself. Despite not being a very experienced director he has a very distinct vision and tone that permeates every scene. There are few directors that could have made this film and made it match the tone set out on the page. To my mind maybe Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton or David Cronenberg could do it well but let’s look at what Clive Barker created.

 

The film centres on the Cotton family, Kirsty, her father (Larry), his cheating wife (Julia) and her lover (Frank), who is also Kirsty’s uncle. Frank is the black sheep of the family and he has dedicated his life to pursuing pleasures. This leads him to find the Lament Configuration, a black and gold puzzle box that legend states when opened will provide the opener with unlimited physical sensations. It also opens a door for the coenobites, creatures driven to seek out physical sensation – pleasure and pain, and led by the priest, better known as Pinhead.

 

This brings us to one of the themes of this story, be careful what you wish for. Granted it’s not subtle but it does play out in the rest of the film.  Also this is where a more experienced director may have added some additional layers to the story.

 

Frank is taken by the Cenobites to experience the extremes of physical sensation for eternity. However he manages to escape and return to the room from which he was taken, a room in a house his brother and family now live. However, he does not come back as a whole man only a bloody skeleton returns screaming. This is a great scene and use of practical effects as the skeletal remains pull themselves from the floor. I love practical effects, yes they can date a film and look bad within a few years but this scene looks great and this is to do with the vision that Barker is bringing as well as the excellent effects by Cliff Wallace.

 

During the next act of the film we are shown the sordid history between Julia and Frank, as Julia finds him, skinless, bloody and weak in the attic. I have mentioned perfect escalation in films in past reviews (Ghostbusters) but this is an example of a leap of logic that almost breaks the film. Julia finds him and after only a quick conversation she is convinced not only that he is Frank but also that she has to bring him people to feed from to become human again. In the first part of the film it is made pretty clear that Julia is a bitch but it is a big jump from a cheating bitch to a woman willing to kill for a monster locked in the attic. Once again I put this clunky leap in logic down to Barker’s inexperience with film, as this plays out much better in the novella. It is saved however by Clare Higgins, playing Julia. She plays it so well and portrays a board house wife with deep passion and lust that is desperate for some excitement. It just so happens that her obsession has been Frank.

 

The following couple of kills are the closest the film gets to a slasher film but they are quick and facilitate the growth of Frank, which yet again looks brilliant, gruesome and terrifying using practical prosthetics. It is also during this section of the film that we get the most tension; Barker introduces a claustrophobic feel to the house. As the audience we know that Frank is there lurking in the dark as the family go about their business. The second act culminates in Kirsty finding Frank and escaping with the puzzle box and ending up in Hospital. This is when we also get to meet the Cenobites properly for the first time.

 

The four Cenobites, The Priest (Pinhead), Chatterer, Butterball and The Woman are visually stunning to look at. Pale skin, clad in leather, hooks and chains with weeping open wounds each unique but following a theme that Barker called “Sadomasochistic Glamour”. They are lit so well, they are hidden in enough shadow to hide the joins in the costumes but illuminated enough so that the audience get a good look at them. Pinhead is the most distinctive and made better by the great voice of Doug Bradley. He is given some dialogue that would sound ridiculous coming from someone else but he gives it a level of gravitas that makes him terrifying. One such line is, “No tears please, it’s a waste of good suffering.”

 

These are creatures that revel in the pleasure of pain but the film does not attempt to give them an origin or explain what they are, they just are and they always have been. Pinhead actually describes them as “Explorers... in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others” I love the idea that they have always been out there and they don’t care about good or evil, just physical sensation and looking to try something new. The notion that they have been doing this for eons is heightened by the fact that they comes across as business like. There is no huge acting, they move with purpose and look on the human characters with boredom. They are looking for something new but keep getting the same depraved people seek out an extension of limits of Human experience and they have long passed this level.

 

It is also demonstrated in this scene that they are arrogant and consider themselves better than human. Kirsty tells them about Frank escaping them and they refuse to believe that anyone can escape them. However, they eventually agree to give her a chance to prove it but before she leave the hospital we also get to see a little more of the “hell” the Cenobites call home. A door is open in the wall and leads down a corridor, which Kirsty just has to walk down.  However, she is chased out by a creature called the engineer hanging from and running along the ceiling. The effects in this scene are really disappointing, while the creature looks pretty good as a practical puppet; the problem is that in several shots the rigging and puppetry for the creature is clearly visible. It is only fleeting but it is so disappointing for a film that has, to this point, done some much with so little.

 

Eventually Kirsty escapes and returns home to find her Father and Julia playing “happy families”. Her father tells her that he knows what has been going on and everything is sorted, Frank is dead. Running to the attic she finds a bloody skinless body lying in a heap and the Cenobites waiting for her. They inform her that the remains are not of the one she told them escaped and that they will now take her. I am not going to go into detail regarding the final scenes as there are some really good twists and reveals. What I will say is that the finale is almost the pure essence of Clive Barker. There is cruelty, sexual depravity, hellish creatures and a satisfying resolution which means that this can be watched in isolation of the sequels and provide enough answers to be satisfying but leave enough to the imagination that parts of the film can be interpreted in different ways.

 

In Summary, this is one of few films that have managed to capture the essence of Clive Barker and delivers a really interesting horror film. The designs are iconic and the Cenobites rightfully belong in the pantheon of horror. However, the film has aged poorly in some parts, mainly due to the budget restraints on the effects and Barker’s inexperience at directing. I am in two minds about a lot of the changes that George Lucas made to the original Star Wars films but I understand his intent. I wish that Barker would do something similar with Hellraiser. This film could have a new lease of life with some CGI enhancements to some of the effects and around some of the rougher edges. Until that happens, as long as you can accept a few leaps of logic I highly recommend this truly Clive Barker Horror. I also recommend that you read the novella, at 128 pages it is a quick and tightly packed read. 

Halloween Count Down: 10 - The Frighteners (1996)

Before trekking across Middle Earth Peter Jackson made splatter gore comedies such as Bad Taste (1987) and Brain Dead (1992) (both of which I recommend). He changed direction with Heavenly creatures (1994) receiving critical for doing so. The film was nominated for Best Director and Screenplay Oscars. Following this the studios came knocking. Jackson put forward “The Frightners” a film he had penned with writing partner and wife Fran Walsh; it wasn’t the film the studios were hoping for.

The film follows window and spiritual psychic Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) who uses his psychic abilities (and two ghost partners) to carry out haunting cons. A Ghost disguised in Death’s robes is also numbering and murdering people in the small town and Frank becomes the prime suspect. Eventually he discovers that the ghostly killer is Johnny Bartlett. Johnny, with his girlfriend Patricia, carried out a massacre 30 years previously and killed Frank’s wife following a car accident.

This film is a mishmash of tone but there are so many good elements I enjoy, the whole experience becomes satisfying. Even without knowing the full behind the scenes story the unevenness smacks of studio interference. Jackson’s core story is incredibly dark, incorporating coping with grief, survivor’s guilt and obsession. This is overlaid with strange comedic scenes of flying babies and ghost sex jokes. The latter have an air of studio “notes” to make it lighter.

The final 20 minutes are mostly spared the comedic injections and benefit from it. It’s a cat and mouse chase through the abandoned hospital where Bartlett’s massacre took place. Bannister is trying to get to the hospital chapel but keeps having flashes back to the massacre. We and Bannister watch helplessly as Bartlett and Patricia kill innocent people left and right. The joy taken in the senseless killing is shocking and while a good piece of film it fits awkwardly with the previous 70 minutes.

The killing of the character Milton Dammers further suggests studio issues. Originally written as an off screen gunshot to the chest. However once the MPAA made it clear the film would get an R instead of the much coveted PG-13 Jackson filmed Dammers’ head being blown apart on screen. Also, the fact this was held back from a 1996 Halloween release for a January 1997 release in the UK strongly suggests that the studio didn’t know what to do with the end result.

Despite the unevenness the script is good. Frank and Patricia are parallel characters. Both trapped in the aftermath of the death of a lover, not able to move on. They are being forced to face their past on a daily basis. Frank in his unfinished dream home he was building for his wife and Patricia from her mother’s unrelenting hatred and fear. This theme of loss and being unable to move on is carried through most of the film. The spirits that remain on earth decay and start to fall apart, it is only if they let go and move to the other side that they become “pure spirits”.

There are several standout performances in the film. The first is Jeffery Coombs as the damaged and deranged FBI agent Milton Dammers. He steals every scene he’s in despite leaning a little too much towards wacky comedy. There’s so much more to the character. His reaction when shouted at by women hints at past trauma. Also the scene in which he recounts how Bannister’s wife died could have been just an exposition dump. By adding in a series ticks and character flourishes it becomes just as much about his character as progressing the plot. I would love to see this character in his own film.

The second is Dee Wallace as Patricia. For the first two acts she is the perfect meek guilt ridden victim. When this mask is torn away she relishes in the wild menace and freedom of being able to be the killer she has always wanted to be. While this twist is sign posted pretty early on her character portrayal makes the reveal so much fun. Another highlight is an amazing cameo by R. Lee Emery as a version of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.

The decaying ghost make-up affects are really good throughout but the film is let down a little by early CGI affects. They are flat and lack texture which took me out the film in parts. Despite these flaws the film has a look which works for the content.

The Frighteners is an enjoyable horror yarn that has confused moments of horror and comedy but has darkness at its heart that makes it a Halloween must see. 

The Rocketeer 1991 Review

As a companion to my first episode (coming soon) I thought I would provide a review of the underrated pulp hero film, The Rocketeer.

 

The current deluge of Superhero films isn’t the first time Hollywood has dipped into the cape and tights well. Over the years there have been highs (Superman 1978) and lows (Superman IV 1987). In the middle of this was a small group of films that revisited the pulp heroes of the 1930’s. The best of these is 1991’s The Rocketeer.

 

The Rocketeer is a great representation of the heroes of the 1930’s, despite not actually being one. The Rocketeer was created in 1982 by Dave Stevens as a homage to the heroes he loved a child. The film maintains this loving homage and sense of adventure.

 

The film follows Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), a stunt pilot in 1938 California. A good but unreliable guy trying to get along and impress his beautiful girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), when the mob drop a rocket pack in his lap. The story is a typical hero origin story. Several groups want the rocket pack and Cliff is planning to use it to make money. By the end the good guys win and Cliff becomes a better person. It’s simple and pretty rote, so why do I enjoy it so much?

 

Simple, this film makes me smile from ear to ear. The characters, the setting, the action are so much fun. Billy Campbell isn’t a great actor but he has a boyish charm and enthusiasm that makes him watchable. The moment he finds the rocket he wants to strap to his back and give it a try. Cliff considers the rocket a chance to do something awesome and make a buck. Ok, Cliff’s arc isn’t one of personal discovery for the greater good. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heart. Cliff learns to appreciate that there is someone he will put ahead of everything, the woman he loves.  

 

The supporting cast are really good. Jennifer Connelly as Cliff’s girlfriend, Jenny Blake, feels of the period without being just a damsel in distress. Plus she is stunning throughout. Alan Arkin is, as always, great as the weary but loyal best friend.  Then there are the Villains.

 

Timothy Dalton brings a moustache twirling glee to the role of Neville Sinclair. He is a smarmy, arrogant rogue made worse by being revealed as a Nazi. However, while being key to the plot making him a Nazi feels a little lazy. He is joined by a host of stereotypical 30’s gangsters and a Monster henchman, Lothar, in impressive (if immovable) Rondo Hatton make up. They are pantomime baddies, they’re bad but you never feel the Heroes are in any actual danger.

 

Director Joe Johnston brings comic book charm, heart and adventure to the film. A touch he would later bring to another superhero franchise with Captain America: The first Avenger. Despite being produced by Disney the Rocketeer didn’t have as much money as Cap and it shows. The film is let down by the special effects which, even for the year, are weak and haven’t aged well.

 

Even with iffy effects I love the two big set pieces of the film. In the first Cliff saves a pilot from an out of control Bi-plane during a stunt show, using the rocket pack for the first time. Seeing Cliff in the full outfit is awesome. The Design is great; a pulp hero has leaped from page to screen. The rescue doesn’t go so well, it’s a success but almost at the cost of Cliff’s life. Our hero is finding his feet in the only way a hero can, a birth of fire.

 

The second is the big finale, which is amazing in its comic book lunacy. A simple trade off escalates to a fight atop a burning Zeppelin. The turning point comes when Sinclair’s true allegiance is revealed and he is joined by a Nazi army. Not sure how they got there but I am happy to go with it. The reveal puts the gangster goons on the side of the FBI in a shoot out against the Nazi’s. During this Cliff, Sinclair and Lothar are fighting on the blimp which, as to be expected, eventually explodes. It is ridiculous but almost pitch perfect for the film.

 

I am a big fan of the big modern superhero universes. However, watching this makes me wish for a pulp hero universe. Smaller less god like heroes in a bygone era. I am sure it is being considered but until we get it go and enjoy The Rocketeer.

Ghostbusters 1984 Review

This year we are getting a remake of Ghostbusters. So to celebrate or commiserate, depending on the end result, I thought I would kick off my blog reviews with one of my favorite film of all time, 1984’s Ghostbusters. This was the first film that truly captured my imagination as a child. I may have wanted to be Indiana Jones but it was Ghostbusters that I pestered my Mum to rent repeatedly from the video shop.

I will always try my best to keep my reviews balanced, highlighting the negative as well as the things I enjoy. However with Ghostbusters it’s difficult to find anything negative, to me this is one of the best films ever made. Yeah, I can admit that the special effects have dated in some places but this happens to the majority of films (although Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 still look as great today as they did over 20 years ago). Everything else in this film is brilliant, so where do I start? easy, the Ghostbusters themselves.

Sometimes you capture lightening in a bottle, everything perfectly placed and working at its best. In this case the three leads, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, had known each other for a quite a while by 1984. They had worked on Saturday Night Live and several other films together. They understood each other’s strengths and styles and were able to bounce adlibbed lines off each other with ease. They were young, confident and clearly having a great time making the movie.

The general consensus, with which I agree, is that Murray is leading the charge. He’s a comedy powerhouse in this film as Dr Peter Venkman. Not letting ego stop him from coming across as a bit of an arse from the opening scene in which he happily electrocutes a poor student in order to impress a female student. The characters attitude and charisma remain strong throughout the film and whilst Aykroyd maybe the Heart of the Ghostbusters Murray is the mouth, producing the majority of the best and most quotable lines (too many to start listing them here!).

Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz is an eternal optimist with the excitement of a puppy. It’s impossible to not be charmed by Aykroyd’s joy at the prospect of sleeping over in the dilapidated fire house that becomes the now iconic HQ. Throughout the film he is a joy to watch. He is that friend that keeps you going at the end of the night but will also make sure you get home safe. While Murray creates a character we want to watch, Aykroyd creates a character you want to be your friend.

Harold Ramis was never a superstar, a better writer than actor (he also wrote and directed Groundhog Day – another great Murray film!). By playing it down in this film and being a little wooden he creates a genuinely unique character in Egon Spengler. Looking at it now I would even suggest that Egon could appear on the Autism scale. He is socially awkward, singularly focused needing structure and facts. He is the brains of the team and the straight man to so many great moments set up my Murray.

Last but by no mean least, I have to give some space to Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddmore. The regular Joe in a room of crazy scientists, Hudson does a great job of grounding this film and giving it accessibility. I will get on to perfect escalation in a bit but Winston is a great example of it in this film. You totally buy into his story and the fact he is a regular guy who, by the end of the film, becomes perfectly comfortable taking on a god.

In addition to the main players, this film is filled with amazing supporting characters such as Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett and Rick Moranis’ hapless Louis Tully. In addition to these I always loved of Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and William Atherton as the dickless Walter Peck. These are all people that can only exist in the Ghostbusters universe and make it more colourful and exciting.

The original concept was created by Aykroyd. He placed it in the future, in which ghostbusting was a service much like the fire service and the film was intended to be around an ongoing escalation of Ghost activity leading the final confrontation with Goza. The central joke would be that these four men would be dealing with this extraordinary situation with a boredom that comes from many years doing the same job. It was the films eventual director, Ivan Reitman, who suggested some changes advising Aykroyd to use Harold Ramis as a co-writer; it was this team that brought us the film that I love to this day.

It is that central concept that I love so much, these are a bunch of guys that set up a business that shouldn’t (and almost doesn’t) work and get into an adventure way over their heads. Also, as I have gotten older I have started to appreciate the way that each section is written. I believe that Aykroyd and Ramis’ previous comedy experience led them to structure the film to contain a series of, what could be, comedy sketches. Such as the opening scene with Venkman and his student volunteers, the trip to the library, their first major job chasing Slimmer at the hotel, or the Louis Tully party and the Devil dog. Each of these is a little standalone story and could be watched as a short sketch, each providing insight into the characters, the situation and with a satisfying payoff.

When this film was released in 1984 the UK British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave it a PG rating. It has been released on Blu-ray recently ad has been given a 12. Why? Firstly there wasn’t a 12 in 1984 (this was created a few years later due to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and secondly there isn’t enough swearing or nudity to warrant a 15, so why the change? Well take a look at the content of this film. From the outset it has some scary (for kids) moments, for example the library ghost, which scared the crap out of me as a child. I loved this film but the moment Aykroyd shouts “Get her!” my hands covered my eyes. The skeletal Taxi driver also freaked me out. Then we have Ray Stanz’s sex dream, yes that’s right, sex dream. In the dream sequence Ray is lying in bed and a ghost unzips his trousers and it then shows his “Happy Face”. As a kid I didn’t know what this was but it made me laugh. This was a hard PG film yet because it was seen as a kid’s comedy, with a cartoon spin off, I don’t think my parents noticed. However, that extra edge is also what made it better. This is like an introduction to scares and adult(ish) humour for kids. This is a very 80’s trend and something that current production companies shy away from.

One of the things that I consider when watching a film is “perfect escalation”, the achievement of making the final act or conflict perfectly in keeping with the films universe and the story that has been told so far. A good example of failing, in my opinion, is “Signs”, an ending that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really fit. This is not the case with Ghostbusters. The film starts with a single library ghost and escalates to them confronting a god on the top of a building whilst being attacked by a giant marshmallow man and because of how it plays out it all makes sense. How is it that three scientists and a regular Joe end up in this situation and as a viewer I totally accept it? Brilliant writing and drip feeding ideas and concepts as you go along. The scope of the story increases a little bit at a time, not overloading the viewer with information or making too many leaps in logic or credibility. Each of the story developments or exposition scenes builds on the previous ones within the limits of credibility within this universe. So by the end of the film inter-dimensional god Gozer is as acceptable as a library ghost.

In summary, this is a film with a brilliant screenplay, amazing characters being expertly played by guys at the top of their game. It progresses at a perfect pace to an awesome finale. I will always recommend this film to anyone and it would take a lot to knock this film the top spot on my list of favorite films.