Posts tagged ‘john carpenter’


Halloween 2011 – a television review.

I think we can all agree that Halloween is quite simply the most wonderful time of the year. After all it’s that one time of each year you can dress up as a zombie Playboy Bunnygirl, and not wind up being arrested. Adding in insane amounts of sweet stuff, alcohol, and potentially embarrassing trysts to the mix is frankly just the icing on already very sweet cake. But one thing usually ends up being a massive disappointment. Television at Halloween.

This year admittedly was better than most. E4 again screened the wonderful zombie filled, reality television ass-ripping that is “Dead Set”. If you’ve missed it again, get it on DVD, buy some popcorn, and settle in for Zombie Shakespeare the way it was meant to be seen.

There were several slasher films shown on various channels. And the Horror Channel went all Hammer Horror, screening “The Scar of Dracula”, “Blood of the Mummy”, and its usual mixture of modern B-movie pleasures.

Of course Syfy joined in with the hilarious “Tremors 2: Aftershocks”, and “Tremors 3: Return to Perfection” on Saturday and Sunday. admittedly they’re B-monster movies rather than horror, but were still welcome additions to my televisual Halloween.

But here’s the sting in the tail. While “Dead Set”, and the Hammer movies are real horror.  The “Tremors” series are as I just said monster movies, and slasher movies to my mind simply aren’t horror either. Neither for the record is the torture porn that these days often masquerades as horror in the cinema. But worse still is the fact that all of them were shown on Saturday and Sunday. Or in other words, not on Halloween! No last night the only horror we had the choice of watching was “Halloween: Resurrection”, yet another badly written, badly realised, rehash of the classic “Halloween” franchise. Or Ashton Kutcher trying, and failing, to fill Charlie Sheens shoes in “Two and a Half Men”. Just so you know, in case you missed them, Ashton was far scarier.

So this leaves me wondering why is it that on what’s supposed to be the spookiest night of the year, I just watched “Mythbusters”, “Two and a Half Men”. Then, loathing what both time, and hollywood has done to John Carpenters classic, the only actually horrific slasher movie “Halloween”, curled up with a good book?

Why can’t the television networks, and companies get through their heads that on Halloween a good selection of genuine horror movies would go down a treat? Why not show a selection of classic horrors, “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “The Wolf Man”? Why not let a new generation discover the joys of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, or either of the two Lon Chaney’s? If they have to go more modern, why not show us “The Omen”, “The Amityville Horror”, or One of John Carpenters classics such as “The Thing” or “Prince of Darkness”?

No instead we get, if we’re very lucky like this year, a television show edited down into a movie, a couple of Hammer horrors, some monster B-movies that didn’t even scare the 5-year-old Force of Nature. In fact she fell asleep watching those. Well it’s over for another year, maybe next year we’ll be treated to some real scares. But in the mean time I think it’s time to make a date with a certain hot Russian girl of my acquaintance for a horror DVD marathon. Nothing like oceans of horrifying blood to wash away that bad post Halloween aftertaste.


Horror movies, a love story.

On the night of Sunday 19th, BBC4 showed the last part of its three part series, A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss.  I was unlucky enough to miss the first two parts, but found the third, an episode based around American 70’s horror movies an absolute treat.  I have had a very long love affair with horror movies.  Though my love of horror did not actually start with horror movies, but with two particular moments in two classic 1980’s fantasy/science fiction movies which at aged 5 made me both cringe away and long for more.

I’m sure everyone has seen both the original Clash of the Titans (1981) and Flash Gordon (1980).  Both are classics of imaginative movie making, one for the remarkable skills of StopMotion maestro Ray Harryhausen, the other for its immense campness and a surprisingly remarkable cast.  I remember C.O.T.T. for many reasons, not least for the incredible Kraken puppet and Flash Gordon has always stuck in my mind for its incredible movie score written and performed from beginning to end by the immortal Queen.  But both of these movies are jointly responsible for launching my love of the horrific and the macabre.  How so?

Well, Perseus has beaten the Gorgon Medusa, taken her head and is on route to save the fair Andromeda from being sacrificed.  Along the way Calibos, son of the Goddess Thetis sneaks into his camp and stabs the bag containing Medusa’s head with his trident.  For years I felt like screaming every time I saw that moment.  The mere thought of that trident stabbing into Medusa’s skull even now 30 years later is enough to give me a severe case of the collywobbles.  Yet as I was repelled by that moment I was drawn to watch it again.  It scared me shitless and at the same time the adrenaline surge made me crave to be scared the same way again. 

But it was  a year later when I finally got to see Flash Gordon, that my love of being scared was finally cemented.  At the very end of the movie, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe and as good a villain as has ever been written, has the spike on the very nose of one of his own ships plunge right through his body.  He then turns his ring of power on himself to escape being captured.  Again it was a moment of impalement, again it made me cringe and again the horror of that moment had an immensely powerful effect on me. 

I was hooked.  I spent the next three decades watching every horror movie I could get my hands on.  Which for the first decade wasn’t very many.  Ireland in the 1980’s was almost a video nasty free zone, especially if you didn’t have access to any of the U.K. television channels or worse still didn’t own a video player.  Every Halloween I would scour the RTE Guide in the hopes of a couple of decent horror movies.  Most years I was sadly disappointed.  But even so occasionally, I would luck out on something nice and scary, that had managed to slip through the RTE censorship net.  I remember one particular year when they showed Halloween 3: Season of the Witch and I loved every second of it.

For me, someone who has a severe illness and so has a fairly caged existence, horror movies and their close cousins the creature-features have an important part to play in my life.  They’re in some ways far more of an escape from the pain of day-to-day life than even science fiction can be.  A good horror movie sweeps me away completely.  There’s just me, the screen and an absolutely huge overdose of adrenaline.  Even the names of the classic and modern masters of horror are enough to make me excited Lugosi, Karloff, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero.  Those are the names of my movie heroes.  The names of the story tellers I most admire.  And I admire them because in a way they are the very best at tapping into the atavistic core of even the most civilised human being.  That caveman we all have buried at the centre of our brains, terrified of what’s creeping around outside in the darkness.  Terrified of what’s waiting out there  to make a quick caveman snack out of us.

Please note though that here I am not speaking about the torture porn, masquerading as horror which has flooded our cinemas and homes over the last decade or so.  Saw, Human Centipede, The Hostel are to my mind not horror movies.  They’re genuine video nasties which mostly serve by showing the depths of depravity which some human minds contain.  But mixed in with these movies are genuine horror gems The Ring (2002) being one of the stand out examples.

I’m feel lucky though, unlike the current crop of horror fans, I grew up before the invasion of torture porn. I grew up in a time when we had the entire golden age available with moves such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and White Zombie (1932).  But it was also a time when we had the modern delights of John Carpenters movies, Romero’s then zombie trilogy, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Children of the Corn.  I feel that bad Halloween knock-off slasher movies and atrocious torture porn aside, this is the true Golden Age for horror fans, myself included.  Everything is available to us either on satellite television or in DVD stores, but best of all through that best source of all things a little dodgy, the internet.

My love of horror  and horror characters has never gone away and I hope that it never does.  I adore the ultra punk Pinhead, Candyman rocks and who could fail to grudgingly like The Omens Damien?


Movies I wish I could see again and again – Horror Movies.

While there are many movies that I loathe there are far more that I adore.  So as a companion set of reviews to my “Movies I hope I never have to see again” posts I will also from time to time post a list of movies I consider to be wonderful.

There are only two rules to make it onto one of my favourite movie lists an those rules are very simple.

1: The movie has to have had a general cinema release. That’s it.  I’ll end up dealing with straight to television or DVD movies on their own at a later date.

2: They have to be a movie which I have or would have paid to go see at least twice in the cinema.  The would have simply because so many of my favourite movies are significantly older than I am.  Not a difficult feat when you consider that as an art form film is over a century old.

Just as with my lists of bad movies I won’t be giving much in the way of a synopsis with each entry.  If you’re unfamiliar with the movie and interested I will be including in the movie title a link to its Wikipedia page, at least where one exists.  (I will also be adding these links to my older movie reviews also.) These will be about why I think they are the best of their genre.

So we shall begin today with a treat for myself, my second favourite genre.  Horror movies.  I have almost no horror movies in my DVD collection.  This probably strikes the people who know me well as odd when they consider how I truly adore them.  But I have done this quite purposefully.  Horror movies are my illicit viewing treat.  Something which I use very occasionally to reward myself with.  But despite this I have seen a huge number of them.  In this list I will share with you my top five horror movies and though they are numbered one through five in all honesty it’s virtually impossible for me to set them apart.


5: Alien

Typically unnerving shot from the 1979 classic.

Released in 1979 this is the movie that has gone on to fuel half of my teenage and adult nightmares. It’s set on a huge but somehow incredibly claustrophobic spacecraft where the crew are being hunted down one by one by an alien creature which they have accidentally set on themselves.  Though really if you haven’t seen this movie by now where have you been for the last 32 years?

There are two things which really make this movie one of the best of its type .  First the cast are top-notch.  In there you have Tom Skerrit, Ian Holms, John Hurt and best of all Sigourney Weaver who was a virtual unknown in film at the time.  As a cast they just work.  By the time everything starts to go wrong for the characters you actually care a lot for them.  This is in part due to the great, real feeling of everything said in the script.  But mostly it’s down to the brilliant performances by the entire cast.  Ian Holms especially is wonderful as the sort of villainous Ash.

The second thing that makes this movie unforgettable is the atmosphere of it.  It’s dark, dingy, cramped and vaguely unpleasant throughout. This is not the bright clean future of Star Trek.  Everyone smokes, they swear and while the living areas of the ship are clean, it’s not sterile.  It’s more like the cleanliness of the average home; clean but would you really want to eat off the floors?

Then the planet is dark.  The alien spacecraft is like an erotic nightmare.  Basically to me the whole movie feels kind of like a science fiction film noir set in your worst nightmare.  And that’s without even mentioning the Alien itself and the way it’s even more terrifying when you don’t see it.

This movie is everything a good sci-fi horror should be.  It’s not wall to wall technobabble.  It’s a good human story with a brilliant script, cast and story. And even though the sequels and spin offs  are all far more thriller/action movies the original is pure horror through and through.

4: Nosferatu

A much lampooned image, but imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery so...

Released in 1922 this is the first, though unauthorised Dracula movie.  If you’ve seen any version of Dracula you already know the story but this movie even ninety years after it was shot is still far more creepy than any of the others.  Not even the great Béla Lugosi could make his Dracula as horrifying to watch as Max Schreck did in Nosferatu.

While the story does deviate a lot from the novel in places, such as in how the vampire eventually dies, I have since my first time seeing it considered it the best Dracula movie to watch.  Especially with Schrecks Count Orlac creeping through every scene, a scrawny, ill-shaped creature who moves in a disturbingly non-human way.

Being silent it has no script as such but what it does have is the ability to make you start feeling anxious from the moment it begins.  And after all that anxiety, the sitting on the edge of your seat when you don’t know why combined with disquieting imagery is at the heart of great horror.

3: Prince of Darkness

The poster for one of the most unnerving movies ever made.

The second of John Carpenter’s trilogy of apocalypse horrors this 1987 release is one that I was so tempted to put at number 1.  It combines classic Satanist horror with some really odd metaphysics to give us the story of Satan’s attempt to escape into our world.  I won’t say too much about this one because it really needs to be seen to be believed.  But I will say that it was all shot through a weird lens that distorts every shot and man does it start to mess with your head eventually.

Also it has Donald Pleasance in my favourite of his roles as the head of a small group of researchers.  He really is at the top of his game in this and so is Carpenter. Leaving us with a movie which I feel is far superior to either it’s predecessor The Thing or the third film in the series In the Mouth of Madness.

2: Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

Nothing in common with the other Halloween movies but to my mind the best of them.

The only episode of the Halloween movie franchise not to include Micheal Myers as a character this one is an often overlooked gem.  It is also the movie that started my love affair with horror.  Sent into the world in 1982 this was the only attempt to make the franchise into what it had always been intended to be.  A series of horror films each of which explored a different horror theme each year.

Yes that’s right Halloween was never intended to be just a slasher movie series.

I have to say that the other Halloween movies leave me cold.  Slasher films just bore me and whenever I try to watch them I always end up drifting away to do something genuinely scary.  Like try to edit the grammar or punctuation in one of my novel projects.

But Halloween 3 is different.  It feels almost like a 1980’s attempt at an American Hammer horror set in the modern age.  Though this really is more in feeling than anything else.  The story is a bit silly, the sets vary from very normal to overblown and the villain of the piece is almost Brian Blessed-like in his over acting.

But this is all good stuff because it leaves you more open to the rare and never really expected moments of intense gory, violent horror.  This movie gave me nightmares for a year after I first saw it and to this day I still get unnerved when I see people wearing those rubber hood type Halloween masks.

1: The Omen

Simply the best.

I am speaking here of the original 1976 version here.  The 2006 version while a good movie with a strong performance by Julia Stiles just doesn’t have the same impact as the original.  But anyway this is simply the best horror movie ever made.

It was shot on a small budget with very few special effect shots.  Though the impalement and decapitation scenes are both spectacular to watch.

But this movie is not about horrific violence in the scenes.  The true horror in The Omen is all in your own mind.  Everyone involved in this movie created a piece of cinematic perfection where everything from the script to the score, the casting to even the weather winds the viewers anxiety levels up and up from beginning to end.  Speaking of the score it is the most disturbing but most beautiful collection of pieces of music ever written for any movie.

I think this is Gregory Peck’s greatest work.  Through out the movie he becomes the rock your control over your own fears is built on.  You just know that somehow he will win in the end and good will prevail.  Of course he doesn’t but that makes the ending all the worse emotionally to watch.

The Omen puts you through a ringer and leaves you in the end with a deep sense of dread that takes an age to go away.  And isn’t that what a good horror should do?

So I guess there’s only one thing left to say;

Damien, it’s all for you Damien!

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