Monthly Archives: November 2011

Best horror sequels

According to most, sequels to horror films are  notoriously poor. This is a sweeping generalisation.
Here’s hotdog’s top 5 selection of some of the better sequels in the horror genre.

Exorcist 3 (1990)

Forget the terrible Exorcist 2: The Heretic; this is the true sequel to the oft-stated “scariest movie of all time”. George C Scott plays Kindermann perfectly and Brad Dourif is mesmerising as the Gemini killer….a truly intelligent horror film.  Beware though, this picture is only loosely connected to “The Exorcist” (1973) – as should be – and happily functions as a stand-alone movie in itself.

Damien: Omen 2 (1978)

A sequel which although inferior to the original, is still as worthy a successor as can be; benefiting from an unbelievable score and some hollywood legends in lead roles (William Holden, Lee Grant, Lew Ayres and Silvia Sidney).

The opening theme is here – it’s my favourite musical piece of the series…haunting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DkH0tv3ulc&feature=related

Poltergeist 2: The Other Side (1986)

Far darker in tone than the slightly disney-like original. Some impressive set-pieces, fascinating cinematography of the indian desert and a genuinely interesting sub-plot make this film a sort of second-hand tour-de-force. not to be overlooked.

Psycho 2 (1983)

Surprisingly, a great little film which honours rather than mocks Hitchcock. Although it was obviously made to cash-in on the 80s slasher genre, this movie manages to emerge as a tribute to the great director himself; a feat which is even more impressive when you realise that this is not only down to the returning Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles but also to a tense and  mind-bending script.

And now perhaps for the surprise:

Puppetmaster 3: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

This franchise is enjoyably poor but part 3 is the most imaginative and mature of the series. It’s a prequel to the first movie but even the most discerning of fans will find something to like here – and the acting is far superior to anything else you are likely to find in this sub-genre. Under-rated and unfortunately tarred by the brush held by inferior entries in the franchise.

Voting Time for “killer doll” movie fans!

The Tin Star (1957)

Synopsis:

A bounty hunter (Henry Fonda) teaches a young inexperienced Sheriff (Anthony Perkins) a thing or two about how to handle a gun and keep law and order in a town. Things get complicated when the much-loved town Doctor is murdered and a trigger-happy mob attempt to apprehend the killers……

Review:

A “nice” film with an interesting story of a rookie Sheriff attempting to maintain law and order in a small town.

Great lead actors in the genial Henry Fonda and the neurotic Anthony Perkins; you can see here the sowings of the career-defining performance Perkins would give in 1960’s “Psycho”.  John McIntire as the good doctor is a welcome addition and a  joy to watch. Watch out also for Lee Van Cleef as Ed McGaffey, one of the killers. Horror fans will of course recognise Betsy Palmer (famous for playing Jason’s mother in “Friday the 13th” (1980)) as the lady who takes bounty-hunter Fonda in and becomes his love-interest (although the audience see nothing of this).

This picture concentrates on relationships, bigotry and the motives for what men do. There is a lot of dialogue compared to other westerns of a similar era with large elements of the script dedicated to discussions about morality between Fonda and Perkins as well as Palmer. Such dialogue seems a bit excessive and isn’t alleviated by any smoking guns or saloon brawls.  Somehow however, “The Tin Star” does not come across as deep and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

The film honesty lacks the number of set-piece action sequences which are required to set the viewer’s pulse racing – and this leaves a hole in the second half of the movie.  Without Fonda and Perkins, this would probably score below 5/10 but I just love watching these actors.

Overall, a sentimental western which is a little too gentle for me and quite frankly, I struggle to see why this film is regarded as a classic of the genre.

hotdog rating: 6.5/10

Wake Wood (2011)

Synopsis:

The parents of a deceased girl, savaged in a dog attack, resurrect her for 3 days with the help of some Irish villagers. However, there are rules to obey……and they break them.

Review:

An old-fashioned and “cute”  horror story.

The plot is engaging and director David Keating manages to re-create the atmosphere of a vintage 70s British horror film. The mysterious pale-faced villagers; bleak rural locations and the all-knowing town patriach, played by the gentle but creepy Timothy Spall, are all homages to a bygone era in British cinema.

I like the idea of re-inventing classic horror movies and this film owes more than a bit to “Don’t Look Now” (1973) and to Stephen King’s short story “Pet Semetary” too. The editing of the sex-scene is taken straight from Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” as is the image of the little girl running around in a  bright rain-mack;  although the colour yellow and the name of the demonic little girl  in this movie are quite explicit  nods to 1977’s cult favourite “Alice, Sweet Alice”.

For gore and splatter fans, there are some graphic set-pieces, some nasty murders and a quite gratuitous “ritual” scene.

However, you can’t get away from the fact that this has all been done – and to much better effect – before.  In addition, aspects of the script are simply unbelievable. Our heroic young couple seem all to easily to accept that the dead can be brought back to life and are quite happy to ransack their daughter’s potted grave on a rainy-night. Aside from Spall, I wasn’t very impressed with the performances of the cast who remain largely forgettable. In particular, the girl who plays “Alice” (the dead daughter) was not well-cast and this significantly drags the picture down since so much screen-time is afforded to her. The pacing of the film is all wrong too; once our grieving couple have resurrected their daughter, the director doesn’t seem to know what to do with her – apart from to kill people at what seems to be random and with little purpose.

Despite the above, the nostalgia-drenched finale and an unsettling conlcusion make for a watchable if unoriginal genre movie.

hotdog rating: 5.5/10

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Synopsis:

An aging senator (Jimmy Stewart) returns to the town in which he is famous for killing the notorious Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), in order to attend the funeral of an old friend (John Wayne). The story of what really happened to Liberty Valance is then told through flash-back….

Review:

Not so much a review this time, more of a love-letter.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has a stellar cast and a legendary director in John Ford. It’s unfortunate that on release in 1962 this movie was mostly derided as a “has-been” picture by an “over-the-hill” director. A bigger critical mistake has not been made in cinema history.

On the cast, John Wayne needs no introduction (he’s the hard-man) and nor does James Stewart (he’s the lawyer) but it is the character actors and members of the “John Ford Stock Company” who make this film so endearing.  Starting with the ‘good guys’ behind Wayne and Stewart; we have Edmund O’Brien as the alcoholic newspaper man who likes nothing more than the sound of his own voice; Andy Devine as the cowardly lard-arse town marshall; Woody Strode as Wayne’s dilligent right-hand man and Ken Murray as the only half-sober town doctor (Murray’s lines in Valance’s death scene are immortal). All of these actors are simply fantastic in this picture yet I would single out Edmund O’Brien’s performance as being of almost hypnotic quality – you just can’t take your eyes off him and his booze-fuelled rantings.

Edmund O'Brien as the drunken "Dutton Peabody Esq"

Now, turning to the  ‘bad guys’. Lee Marin plays the grizzly Liberty Valance with an air of such menace and violence you can almost smell him through the screen. Valance’s stooges are the hawk-faced Lee Van Cleef – who does nothing more than squint through the dark, but does it so well, that he terrifies you – and the somewhat crazed prairie-scumbag Strother Martin. Both Van Cleef and Martin would go on to great careers – Van Cleef with Sergio Leone and Martin with Peckinpah –  and watching this film, you can see why. Lastly, John Carrdine’s sardonic role as the voice-piece of the cattlemen is wildly amusing and  the beautiful Vera Miles completes the set as Wayne and Stewart’s love interest.

L to R: Van Cleef, Marvin and Martin - this is COOL

Ford’s camerawork is stunning but atypical. Gone are the panoramic landscapes of his early career and in are the soundstages with all the claustrophobic trappings they come with. Most of the movie takes place in darkened streets, hectic kitchens, smokey saloons and a ramshackle newspaper office; there are no open plains to be found here.  The shadows the soundstages create play a major role in Ford’s picture. Lee Marvin grins maniacally out of them, Wayne uses them for both physical and emotional cover whilst Vera Miles spends the film running from them. This is so much more than a run-of-the-mill western.

There are some unique, but by now classic, scenes. The killing of Liberty Valance is shot magnificently, but the stand-out sequence for me is a drunken Wayne throwing himself through his front door and burning down his half-built house in a vain attempt to rid himself of the love he harbours for Miles, now that she has fallen for Stewart. Retrospectively, there is a poignant funeral scene in which Stewart, Miles, Strode and Devine sit-in-silence around the pauper’s coffin housing Wayne himself, a scene which reminded me very much of Wayne’s sombre final movie “The Shootist” (1976).

"Put his boots on Clute"

One can over-analyze this film. Many critics have claimed that this shows Ford’s increasingly jaded view of the western legend, a legend which the film basically debunks (note one of the final lines in the movie, “This is the West. When the legend becomes fact. print the legend”), but I just reckon this showed how Ford had changed as a director as he had as a man – everyone becomes cynical as they get older. You don’t need an in-depth critical analysis of films like this and Ford always baulked at the auteur theory of film-making. Just enjoy the story-telling, the performances and the terrific black and white visuals.

In summary, it’s a ripping yarn and you won’t find a richer tapestry of actors in any other western ….in the humble opinion of hotdog, the best John Ford cowboy movie – and that’s saying something.

hotdog rating: 10/10

ps. for a great “music-video” of the movie to Gene Pitney’s classic song see below
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TljIfAjx-eI

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Synopsis:

Baron Frankenstein, returns from the ‘dead’ and starts swapping bodies and souls all over the shop. He puts the soul of his former assistant, Hans – wrongly executed for murder – into the body of a disfigured young girl, patches her up and things start to go pear-shaped when Frankenstein’s rather beautiful creature begins to hunt-down those actually responsible for the murder he/she/it (?) swung for…..

Review:

Oddly enough, the one Frankenstein movie in which Baron Frankenstein himself is not particularly pivotal. The movie is less about the Baron himself and more simply about the revenge of an innocent man executed for a murder he didn’t commit; thus, looking almost like an episode of “The Twilight Zone”  in historical dress. This movie is full of ghastly images in bright technicolor – the opening sequence is  notably brutal.  Furthermore, the guillotine on the hill outside the town seems to haunt the cinematography …..and I love the way the camera jerkily moves back to that image, set against the bleak sky, throughout the film.

I always like the characterisation in Terence Fisher’s films and this picture is no different. Thorley Walters plays the loveable, boozed and ‘muddled’ Dr Herz; a real contrast to the cold and efficient Baron (Cushing in his usual splendour) but unfortunately under his terrible spell. Hans is played by the competent, if melodramatic, Robert Morris.  The 3 town playboys who bear the brunt of Hans’s bloody revenge are a joy to watch – watch out for a young Derek Fowlds  as one of them – and add an element of childish excitement to the whole thing. The ‘woman’ of the movie’s title is Susan Denberg who really does nothing more than walk around and look pretty….a bit of a waste.

The movie is well-edited (murder scenes in particular) and the script very tongue-in-cheek – even for a hammer production.

On the downside, a predictable if abrupt ending and a bit of a pot-holed plot bring the film down a notch or two. More could have been done with a female monster too; the sexual themes are alluded to but left mostly unattended…we are left feeling the ‘woman’ is just a bit of a gimmick.

But, overall, an enjoyable old-fashioned hammer romp and despite his comparatively minor role, Cushing still manages to bowl you over. The quintessential Baron Frankenstein indeed.

hotdog rating: 7/10

A fascinating documentary on John Ford

Listen to John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda discussing John Ford’s westerns.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXCV9iH_2fY&feature=related

Some of the footage of Ford and Wayne on-set is quite spectacular. They don’t make ’em like this any more.

The Nanny (1965)

Synopsis:

Ten year-old Joey is released from a disturbed children’s home and returns to his family, where he is under the care of nanny Bette Davis. Joey accuses nanny of being responsible for his sister’s ‘accidental’ death, the event which put him in the children’s home in the first place. But is nanny responsible? Things take a further turn for the worse when Joey’s mother is poisoned….was it the nanny or Joey?

Review:

A vintage hammer horror movie which, put simply, is nothing more than a gothic “Tom & Jerry” cartoon pitting our evil nanny against an innocent child. Edgy, dark and extremely well-shot, this is a film which plays on the mind for hours.

Nevertheless, it is dated and if you aren’t fond of the British cycle of 60s horror movies produced by hammer studios, this certainly won’t change your mind. So, if this applies to you, what I am saying is that you should stop reading here….

Bette Davis plays the nanny perfectly – but hers is no brilliantly grotesque (i.e. over-the-top) performance as in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (for my review of that film see https://hotdogcinema.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/what-ever-happened-to-baby-jane-1962/) – Davis acts it cool with a complete absence of the melodramatic tension of her earlier “psycho-biddy” roles.

how's it hanging>?

In contrast, the child actors whilst cute are almost cringing in their performances and this is where I think the film falls down, making the film appear stuck in a 60s London timewarp. Specifically, Will Dix as Joey is annoying and cheekily wooden.

The B & W camerawork throughout is almost exhibitionist and creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere, heightened by the fact that the vast majority of the film takes place in a single flat in a London townhouse.

Howard Hawks once said in response to the question “What makes a great movie?” : “3 great scenes and no bad ones” and I think this applies here. There are, at least, three fantastic scenes in this picture.  The first being the the prank played by little Joey on his nurse at the children’s hospital; the second being the flash-back sequence of the “accident” and the third, well let’s just say that’s the finale.

A chilling,  if flawed, take on “Mary Poppins” with some extremely disturbing shots of children in peril. Watch after 12 with the lights off….

hotdog rating: 7/10

The Awakening (2011)

Synopsis:

In post-World War One  Britain a grief-stricken woman  seeks to disprove ghosts ( in an effort to convince herself that her fallen lover really is gone forever…..). The latest investigation takes her to a boarding school, seemingly haunted by the spirit of a murdered boy. Once there she begins to question her underlying scientific beliefs.

Review:

A film which harks back to the vintage period in British horror and could have come straight from a 1960s hammer studio. Director Nick Murphy shoots a bleak England licking its wounds of war and disease with considerable ability but seems unable to capitalise on his promising first hour.

Nevertheless, there are some intricate shock set-pieces and genuine chills – including a fantastically well-done opening gambit involving an emotional séance led by charlatans. Furthermore there is a scene, which I think is sure to become iconic, in which our intrepid investigator chases the ghost through the house only to encounter a model of the building itself,   complete with hand-made figures inside – including those of herself and the ghost standing right behind her. The ghost figure itself  is terrifying and reminiscent, strangely, of the victims in the Japanese horror classic “Ringu” (1998).

The cast is strong with Dominic West giving an exhilarating performance of a self-hating war veteran. TV regular Shaun Dooley also deserves acclaim for his minor role as a teacher on the verge of both  mental and physical breakdown as a consequence of his experience in the trenches.  However, Imelda Staunton’s housekeeper/matron character is a bit too much to handle and very hammy in parts.

The movie has a completely unnecessary  sequence with a child’s ball rolling down a staircase, in an almost exact replica of a scene from Peter Medak’s haunting picture “The Changeling” (1981). There are also heavy comparisons with “The Innocents” (1961) and “The Others” (2001).

When all is revealed close to the end, it’s all a bit sickeningly sentimental, dispelling the elements of fear and tension, which both cast and crew have worked so hard to generate.

Unfortunately, a picture which promises so much but ultimately fails to deliver. The viewer is left a bit disappointed – what initially looks like a great return-to-form for British horror is revealed to be only a mediocre yet competent re-hash of the movies that haunt our past.

hotdog rating: 6/10

The House by the Cemetery (1980) trailer

I just love this trailer, the voice-over is aptly tongue-in-cheek for this most gruesome of Fulci’s early 80s efforts. A great splatter film with a slow, pounding soundtrack which makes you shudder….