Monthly Archives: June 2011

Overview of the Omen Series…

The Omen (1976)

starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton

certificate: 18

Directed by: Richard Donner

Synopsis:

American ambassador Robert Thorn (Peck)  begins to learn that his son, Damien Thorn (Stephens), is the antichrist.

Review:

Bold, intense and well-acted – this is one of the best horror movies of 70s. The film’s leads are extremely convincing and Peck probably provides his last great performance. There’s also a strong supporting cast with Billie Whitelaw’s devoted Nanny and Pat Troughton’s troubled priest being the best of the bunch.

Damien, being but a toddler, can’t really “bump off ” those individuals in his way, all by himself. This sets the scene for some very  inventive death sequences (which became the hallmark of the series). To wet your appetite: a priest is horribly impaled on a rusty church spire and a snoopy photographer is graphically decapitated by a pain of glass which slides off the back of a truck.

The film’s soundtrack provided by Jerry Goldsmith is legendary – and rightly so. The choral chants of “Ave Satani”  echoing around an Italian graveyard are pretty spine-chilling as are those same chants during the final scene of the movie – an innocent looking Damien holding the US president’s hand at his parents’ funeral…..a very powerful scene indeed.

A must-see movie for everyone.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

Damien: Omen 2 (1978)

starring: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Robert Foxworth, Nicholas Pryor, Lance Henriksen, Sylvia Sidney

certificate: 18

Directed by: Don Taylor

Synopsis:

Damien, now a teenager, learns of his own destiny – and once again, those in his way, are bound to die….

Review:

Nowhere near as well-produced as the first movie. Nevertheless, Holden is good as Damien’s uncle and Scott-Taylor does well in his debut as the adolescent Damien. Add to this, some spectacular set-pieces – the old guy (brilliantly played by Lew Ayres) trapped under the ice during the hockey match is a favourite of mine – and you end up with a pretty good horror film.

The ending is a bit of a surprise too – and Lee Grant plays it perfectly as the “whore of babylon” – and once again, the soundtrack is breathtaking (but of course you say!).

An all-round solid picture which is a decent companion to the original.

hotdog rating: 7/10.

Omen 3: The Final Conflict (1981)

starring: Sam Neill, Rossano Brazzi, Don Gordon, Lisa Harrow

certificate: 18

Directed by: Graham Baker

Synopsis:

An adult Damien becomes Ambassador to the UK and plans to put a stop to Christ’s second-coming. A group of fanatical monks are enlisted to murder him before he can achieve his task…..

Review:

Damien the adult is far less menacing than Damien the child. I actually think Neill plays him far too melodramatically to be in any way frightening. Further, the movie is predictable in ways that parts 1 and 2 were not (we know the eventual ending….). The plot gets a  bit ridiculous too when Damien starts ordering the execution of baby boys all over the place like a latter-day King Herod.

These things aside, Omen 3 is not a terrible movie but it’s surely not close to the iconic original or the ‘kitsch’ Omen 2.

hotdog rating: 5/10

Child’s Play (1988)

Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent

Released: 1988

Certificate: 15

Directed by: Tom Holland

Synopsis:

Andy Barclay (Vincent) is a nice kid and gets a “good guy” doll (Chucky) for his birthday…..however, the doll is actually bearing the soul of a nasty serial killer (not what you want really is it…). In need of a new body, Chucky must transfer his soul from the doll into the little boy…..and his time for doing so is running out.

Review:

A well-crafted, if slightly camp, horror movie.

Holland’s direction sets a good pace whilst Hicks gives a believable showing as Andy’s increasingly scatty mother – which means we really do care about her eventual fate (and the same goes for Vincent’s performance as her son, Andy). Sarandon’s police officer, however, just seems to go through the motions. What the film lacks is a real hero – a character like Dr Loomis in the Halloween movies for instance – but let’s not to be too harsh. Here what we have is essentially a low-budget B movie and although the idea of a doll coming alive is by no means new, it’s well-done and Child’s Play is effective at delivering quite a few scares.

Action Man is dead....

The film has a great underground feel to it – good examples being the scenes where Andy’s mother purchases the much-sought-after “good guy” doll from an old drunk’s trolley and the brutal slaying of a witch-doctor in his dingy voodoo den. Several other scenes have, by now, become pretty iconic – the shot of Andy’s mother frantically checking the chucky doll for batteries (and finding none) is almost genius.

Subsequent sequels suffer from the same fate of the later entries in the Elm Street franchise – transforming the killer from a dislikeable abomination into a wise-cracking anti-hero. Luckily, the original Child’s Play  is quite different – Chucky’s character is decidedly darker and far more threatening in this movie – and brilliantly voiced by an almost unhinged Dourif.

In a nutshell, worth watching. If only to witness the unveiling of cinema’s smallest boogeyman. Note: the sequels go downhill fast.

hotdog rating: 7/10

The Brood (1979)

Starring: Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman

Released: 1979

Certificate: 18

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Synopsis:

A concerned husband (Hindle) investigates the unconventional psychiatric clinic where his wife is being treated as a ‘special’ patient. At the same time, people connected to the family are attacked by a gang of mutant dwarf children.

Review:

An under-rated and intelligent horror movie from David Cronenberg. The drivers in this movie are similar to other early Cronenberg “body-horror” films such as Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977); namely the idea that the psychological problems of individuals, and of society as a whole, can be represented by physical entities like tumours, diseases and in this case, foetuses. If you think this is going to be a simple film about killer midgets running amok, think again. These are not mutant dwarfs but the literal spawn of a very unstable woman’s rage.

The themes are of sorrow, bitterness and physical abuse. It’s rare that a horror movie handles such complex themes with the panache that Cronenberg employs here – and that’s why I say this movie is intelligent. The way the breakdown of the grandparents’ marriage is chartered against the horrific chaos around Hingle and his wife is remarkable; it’s as if history is repeating itself, and Cronenberg bleakly shows us that the family’s disintegration means it will pathetically  happen all over again- to the young daughter, her mind pushed to the extreme by the horror engulfing her.

'natural' births are not what they used to be.....

Admittedly, for most of the movie, Cronenberg relies on cheap shocks to generate terror – there are plenty of killer midgets flying out of kitchen cupboards for instance – but latter on in the film, there is a real sense of dread and this is where the film comes alive. Moreover, Hindle, Eggar and Reed are all excellent – especially Reed, who seems to wallow in his role as Dr Raglan.

Overall, a very good horror film – but not a happy one. For maximum effect, watch alone.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10.

overview of the Halloween series…..

I love all of the movies in this series but some are pretty terrible films in their own right. a guilty pleasure of mine I suppose. So, instead of reviewing all of these individually….here’s the full lot.

Halloween (1978)

Synopsis:

October 31st 1963. Haddonfield, Illinois. A young boy in a clown costume brutally murders his elder sister.

Octobr 31st 1978. That ‘young boy’ is a now a grown-man and has escaped from the nut-house. He heads back to his hometown, dons a halloween mask and begins to stalk and hack his way through a group of teenage friends….However, his psychiatrist follows him and endeavours to end the murderous rampage.

Review:

By no means the first slasher movie, but in every respect, the cream of the slasher crop. Undeniably one of the most influential horror movies ever made.  It’s simplicity, atmosphere and score have never been surpassed.

hotdog rating: 9/10.

Halloween 2 (1981)

Synopsis:

Following immediately on from the first movie, Michael Myers traces Laurie Strode to the local hospital where the rampage begins all over again….except this time, Michael has an array of medical instruments at his disposal.

Review:

A well-made sequel, which is basically a re-run of Halloween 1. Carpenter’s no longer behind the camera but, as Producer, his hands are all over this. No marks for originality but if you want Halloween 1 plus a bit more gore and a higher kill count, you can’t go wrong.

hotdog rating: 7/10.

Halloween 3 (1983) : see earlier review. https://hotdogcinema.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/halloween-3-season-of-the-witch-1982/.

hotdog rating: 3/10.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Synopsis:

It’s October 31st 1988, and guess what? A ‘braindead’ Michael Myers escapes from the hospital….(I mean really, transferring Michael Myers of all people to another hospital on HALLOWEEN is just silly) Of course, everyone knows where he will go. Back to Haddonfield for some more slicing and dicing. This time he’s on the trail of Laurie’s daughter….his niece.

Review:

After the debacle of halloween 3, it’s good to see Michael back. This movie is a bit more brutal than other sequels but it’s a very ordinary slasher save for the performance of  Donald Pleasence and THAT score…

hotdog rating: 5.5/10.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Synopsis:

Apparently, Michael Myers didn’t die at the end of Halloween 4. Having been nursed back to health by a strange hermit, he returns on October 31st 1989 to get up to the usual mischief.

Review:

Starting to go  a bit pear-shaped now. Poor performances and a director with a liking for dark camera angles really hamper this one. Plus, an ending which seems like it was thought up down the pub on a boozy Friday night.

hotdog rating: 3.5/10

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Synopsis:

Difficult one this. A very strange plot. Michael, of course, isn’t yet dead and is after another of his ever-dwindling family members…..but is someone controlling him?

Review:

An occultist script and over-zealous use of mumbo jumbo leaves the viewer a bit bemused. Some good set-pieces cannot save a series which had clearly gone too far ….a great shame that Pleasence’s last movie was this piece of slasher history.

hotdog rating: 3/10.

Halloween: H20 (1998)

Synopsis:

Set 20 years after the events of Halloween 1 and 2 (and thus disregarding the events of 4, 5 and 6). Laurie Strode has a new identity and a new life but still suffers terrible nightmares about that night. On October 31st 1998, her nightmares become reality as she is confronted once again by Michael Myers.

Review:

In some ways, a welcome return to form for the series. Jamie Lee Curtis is back too whilst Josh Hartnett gets his screen debut. A well-directed slasher from Steve Miner (who also gave us Friday 13th parts 2 and 3) which unfortunately doesn’t completely capture the air of the first two movies. Nevertheless, a vast improvement on parts 5 and 6.

hotdog rating: 6.5/10

Halloween: Resurrection (2001)

Synopsis:

A group of people stay in Michael Myers’ house overnight. Their experiences are broadcast over the internet. Things get predictabley nasty…

Review:

Oh dear, Halloween meets big brother. A bit of a farce, and a film which really doesn’t seem necessary. The rating is bumped up by a number of well-staged shock sequences.

hotdog rating: 4/10.

Voting time

Preminger’s classic 1959 movie, “Anatomy of a Murder” at BFI in July

http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/events/passport_to_cinema/anatomy_of_a_murder

  • 3 Jul 20:00 NFT3 BOOK
  • 5 Jul 18:10 NFT2 BOOK

 

 

 

My favourite hitchcock scene…

 

From 1937’s Young and Innocent. The killer in this movie has a very identifiable ‘twitch’…but at this point in the film, no-one knows who he is….and that is all set to change.

“no-can like the drummer man…” pure genius.

Spellbound (1945)

starring: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G Carroll

released: 1945

Certificate: U

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis:

A female psychiatrist attempts to uncover the true history of a patient whose amnesia may be hiding a murderous streak…

Review:

Whilst Spellbound (1945) contains many of Hitchcock’s trade-marks, it is not one of his best films.

We have an innocent-man-on-the-run, a hopelessly romantic lead couple and a murder mystery to solve. Sounds like a recipe for a classic Hitchcock movie. Not so. The film is laden with inappropriate melodrama, misguided visuals and too many hokey references to psychoanalysis (which cannot be wholey put down to the film’s age).

Surprisingly, the director makes scant use of the setting in a psychiatric institute, instead he chooses to focus on Peck’s dream sequences which reveal certain aspects of the traumatic past he has forgotten. Indeed, much is often made of Salvador Dali’s dream sequences in this film, and although they are memorable, they seem tedious and over-done, adding relatively little to the movie’s plot. Taking them out would have added rather than removed the element of mystery. One could not however remove either Peck or Bergman, who carry this movie from start to finish. Hitchcock veteran (appearing in more of the director’s films than any other actor) Leo G Carroll does well too, as the quiet yet menacing retiring psychiatrist, Dr Murchison.  Hitchcock’s films rarely rely exclusively on the performance of his actors, but this one does.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t entertaining – it certainly is – and there are some cracking scenes between Peck and Bergman, who genuinely seem to have a degree of chemistry. The look in Bergman’s eyes when Peck hits rock-bottom is priceless.

Set against the director’s own-standards – the likes of Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rear Window (1954),Vertigo (1959) and Psycho (1960) – this movie is a let-down. On the  other hand, it’s no “bomb”.

hotdog rating: 6/10

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait

Released: 1982

Certificate: 15

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace

Synopsis:

An evil toymaker (O’Herlihy) plans to use masks to murder children across America on Halloween night…..

Review:

In a nutsell, the movie is much like a cross between Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and The Wicker Man.

In other words, an original take on the Halloween franchise which disregards the killer from the previous films, Michael Myers, in order to peddle a dark fairytale. Halloween 3 is a stand-alone movie in this respect and whilst it is admirable for the producers to try and do something different, the end-product is intensely disappointing.

The plot is interesting but does feel like a piece which would be better-placed on The Twilight Zone  – it certainly isn’t clear to me that the big screen was the best way to present this visually.  Furthermore, the execution is poor – primarily this seems to be down to the very bizarre scriptwriting, but isn’t helped by the hammy performances of O’Herlihy – who has a very strange role as an evil Willy Wonka type – and Atkins.

Carpenter’s synth-score and the memorable, if graphically sickening, set-pieces showing the effects of the demonic masks (you’ll know what I mean…) save this from a very low-rating indeed.  An unpleasant fairytale which drains the viewer.

hotdog rating: 3/10.

Terror Train (1980)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, David Copperfield, Hart Bochner

Released: 1980

Certificate: 18

Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

Synopsis:

A group of medical students throw a fancy-dress graduation party on an old steam-train.  As the train speeds through the night, one-by-one the students are butchered by a forgotten figure from their past…..

Review:

Easily one of the best 80s slasher movies and the film which probably cemented Jamie Lee Curtis as the original  ‘scream queen’. Noted western actor Johnson adds a touch of real class as the bemused but heroic conductor.

There are some genuine scares – most important, in any  horror flick –  and the cinematography on-board the train of death is genuinely impressive – the rocking carriages, dark corridors and claustrophobic compartments heighten the tension to fever-pitch levels at times. The fact that the killer changes disguise as the film develops furthers the sense of mystery and is an interesting departure from the usual zombie-killer-dismembers-teens formula akin to the low-grade slasher movies such as The Burning (1981).

Moreover, there are some little twists and unusual red-herrings which keep the viewer engaged with the plot throughout – a real achievement in this genre. More broadly speaking, gore is sparse – simply because the film doesn’t need it – apart from a quite nasty scene where a young man gets his head smashed in during a trip to the train lavatory. So, if you are looking for a splatter film, look elsewhere.

Overall, an ‘A’ grade slasher which does what it sets out to do – it frightens you. Much better than Jamie Lee’s other 1980 slasher flick, Prom Night.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10