Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I recently completed my masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.
We are still in January and most of the films currently in the cinemas are holdovers from last year. So I’m here to showcase five films from 2018 that didn’t get the appreciation they deserved.
In the year when superhero movies, Bohemian Rhapsody, Disney and the battle between A Quiet Place and Hereditary ruled the conversation, these are the films that got a little lost in the shuffle and deserve their time in the spotlight.
The Other Side of the Wind
Netflix scored big hits this year with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and positively received seasons of Bojack Horseman and Daredevil. They also acquired the rights to many interesting films like Cam, Roma and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. But two films among their catalogue definitely deserved more attention, this being one of them. The Other Side of the Wind did garner attention before it’s release as the final film of legendary director Orson Welles. Since then it seems to have had little discussion, which is baffling as it’s a posthumous credit from a revered director. Other side of the Wind is a scathing look into the life of a well-regarded filmmaker, as well as the people and media landscape that surrounds him. Alternately, a fascinating semi-autobiographical glimpse into Welles life and opinion of himself. It’s an interesting look at the origins of archive footage and a cinematic trip through a haze of egos and scorched refined visuals. While not the next Citizen Kane it is still a satisfying film that adds a great epilogue to the tale of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures.
Here’s the second Netflix release you should all check out. The director of The Raid brings us an effective horror story about a man going to find his kidnapped sister. But his life is put in danger when he learns the secret of the island she is on. That summary sounds generic for a horror movie, but Apostle does some things so well that it’s easy to forgive a lot. It’s a film of two halves. The first half is incredibly tense, as our hero sneaks around investigating the island. In the second half, the film goes nuts as the blood flows and surprise reveals pile up. For this reason, it’s understandable why the films second half may lose some people. After such effective tension building, the change to blood and gore and the introduction of fantastical elements, feels somewhat disappointing. But the first half is so well done that I’m willing to go along with it. It is still very entertaining. And it’s refreshing to see a horror movie made with genuine passion. Sometimes enthusiasm is enough.
Knife + Heart
I am not surprised this movie was underappreciated. Knife + Heart had a limited release at film festivals so general audiences will not have seen it. Even when I saw it, it divided the audience. The plot concerns a gay porn director trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. While her crew are killed off by a masked figure. That description alone indicates this movie will not be for everyone. It’s a movie that deals with frank depictions of sexual themes as well as (depending on your interpretation) showcasing a conflicting attitude towards its characters sexuality. It’s also a movie that goes for dream logic and magical realism over cause and effect reality. Which some viewers may not like. It’s destined for cult stardom. Some will love it others will detest it. For me, it was a one of a kind experience. It showcased great affection for a cinematically underrepresented group and I saw nothing like it all year.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Of all the listed movies, this is the most difficult to watch. Tigers Are Not Afraid tells the story of a girl who loses her mum in the Mexican drug war. She receives a piece of chalk which she believes will grant her wishes. She then uses these wishes to help her and several other children made homeless by the feuding. But all her attempts to help have dire consequences. I saw this movie listed at several horror festivals this year and heard buzz about it from the community but no one else. Having seen it I understand why. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to showing the impact that the drug war has on the Mexican people. Even children aren’t safe. Because this movie deals with such a sensitive and relevant topic it is not likely to be for everyone. Some may find the movie to be in bad taste or just too much to handle. But, like the movie shows, sometimes we need stories like this to help us process the world around us.
The Hate U Give
My favourite release of last year was a film that I knew nothing about going in. I saw no trailers; none of the actors on talk shows and no one I knew was talking about it. But when I emerged from the cinema I felt so drained and excited. For the first time in a while, I felt the power of cinema. I cared about the fates of all of the characters. I never knew where the story was going. There were moments that affected me on an emotional and physical level and I felt like I was watching something important. This film speaks so much to this generation and this point in time that it is truly a feat. Because of this I want you guys to experience the film the same way I did. Don’t look up anything about it. Just know that the story concerns a teenage girl named Starr trying to navigate the ups and downs of growing up in modern America. It’s a film that deserved way more than it got and one that I will continue to fly the flag for as long as I can.
Thus ends my list of five little seen gems
from last year. I hope that you will check all of these out and hopefully you
will find at least one that you enjoy as much as I did.
What was your favorite underappreciated 2018 movie? Let us know in the comments. I look forward to seeing the underappreciated gems that this year will bring us.
A new year is upon us, and very little is out in cinemas at the moment. So it’s the perfect time to catch up on films that passed us by last year. So, I watched a Netflix title I had long been interested in. And because the animated Disney film holds a special place in my heart, I decided to review Andy Serkis’ much delayed Jungle Book adaptation, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.
Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is left alone in the wild after the tiger, Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) kills his parents. The panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) brings him to a wolf pack for protection. He, the wolves and Baloo the bear (Andy Serkis) agree to raise Mowgli as their own and protect him from Khan. As he grows older though it becomes clear that Mowgli will not survive in the wild. But he is too accustomed to jungle life to live as a human. With, a human hunter stalking his friends in the jungle and Shere Khan out for blood, can Mowgli find a way to survive and bring peace to the jungle?
What did I like?
Firstly, I will briefly contextualize this review by sharing my thoughts on Disney’s live-action version of the Jungle Book. Because the Disney version had a large impact on Mowgli’s production and the audience reactions that accompanied it, so I think it bears commenting on. Personally, I found the 2016 Jungle Book disappointing. The cast was great and the mix of CGI and live action looked amazing, but the 2016 Jungle Book was a supposedly dark adult movie, that clogged up the runtime with constant references to the original movie, including bizarre out of place musical numbers and lacked any sense of threat or growth for the main character.
The Disney versions success delayed Mowgli’s post-production, with Netflix eventually claiming the rights to the film. Personally, I think this helped the film. After the safe blockbuster Disney film, I found myself craving something different. As Netflix is less restrictive (according to Serkis) this allowed the film to be just that. Different.
From the beginning this film sets a bleak tone. We see Shere Khan attack Mowgli’s parents and later threaten to kill him. Only deterred by the ferocity of the wolf pack banding together. This version is not about the Bear Necessities. This version is about survival and how harsh and unforgiving the world can be. Make no mistake; this is not a film for young children. This movie contains blood, violence that affects even the younger characters and scenes that seem ripped straight out of a horror film. There are light moments that allow respite from the horror and give personality to the characters but importantly these moments do not detract from the overall tone. They do not overstay their welcome and the brevity feels like it fits each character’s personality. It is a taxing experience but a well-done and worthwhile one.
The film’s also well crafted. Quickly absorbing us into this world. The film tells a classic underdog story. Mowgli is an outcast in both the human and jungle world but he has strong ties to them both. So he tries his best to live life his way, but the ferocity of man and nature constantly beat him down. Giving us a hero that we can easily root for and a good challenge for him to overcome. All of the supporting characters are engaging, have their own show stealer moment and feel integral to the story. And the animation used to bring the world to life looks mostly stunning.
Finally, the acting from everyone is great. All the voice actors add so much personality to their characters. Christian Bale’s Bagheera feels stately and wise, which greatly contrasts with the savage nature he tries to keep covered up. Andy Serkis gives his Baloo the temperament of a drill sergeant, an incredibly refreshing take on the character. And Benedict Cumberbatch instils terror every time Shere Khan is on screen. With his growling, angry inflections adding so much menace to him.
What I do not like?
One of the big hindrances that Mowgli has is the way it uses motion capture. The film uses facial capture technology to record the nuances of the actor’s performances. Later transposed onto animals. While this is an interesting idea, it’s practical use is quite jarring. Because the animal characters look realistic, the combination of an animal’s face with the recognizable features of a real-world actor, creates a striking disconnect that can often take viewers out of the experience.
Star Rohan Chand also shows himself to be the weak link of the film. Not to say that he is wholly bad. He does a good job for a young actor and shows that with more training he will grow to be a fantastic actor. But he is asked to convey a lot. And when he is asked to show raw emotion, he shows his limits.
Finally, the film does have some editing problems. The first half flows smoothly. But just before Mowgli’s jungle expulsion, it feels like significant portions of the movie were cut. Many crucial events are not shown. Such as Shere Khan taking over the wolf pack and Mowgli going to find his friends. We also don’t get enough time to feel Mowgli’s growing fondness for the humans in the man village. So the idea that he is the champion of both worlds does ring a little hollow. And several characters feel like they needed at least one more scene to fully realize their purpose, such as Kaa the snake (Cate Blanchett). The movie is ultimately satisfying but I would love to see a longer version.
Mowgli, at it’s weakest, shows some of the hindrances of motion capture. As well as Rohan Chand’s limitations as an actor. And the problems of not giving a project enough time to breathe in the edit. But at it’s best Mowgli is an engaging, thoughtful and terrifying coming of age movie.
Like Watership Down, Return to Oz and Dark Crystal, Mowgli uses traditionally family friendly story tropes to tell a tale for adults. It’s destined to be a film that scars children for life when unsuspecting parents put it on. But it treats its characters and mythos seriously without becoming laughably overbearing. Every one of the voice actor’s performances is amazing and invests so much personality into the proceedings. Although he sometimes struggles, Rohan Chand shows that he has a bright future ahead of him. The story and action is gripping and intense and at the core is a relatable story about an outcast finding his purpose in the world.
And so, Christmas has come and gone. But with everyone still celebrating I am going to use this opportunity to review my favorite Christmas film. A film I watch every year and one of my all-time favorites. But this one contains very little holiday cheer. In fact, as the trailer said, after Black Christmas, those traditions will never be the same again. So, while everyone is partying, I will be listening with dread for every creak on the stairs. Today I look at Bob Clarks, festive slasher classic, Black Christmas [Minor Spoilers Ahead].
The ladies of Pi Cappa Sig are getting
ready for the Christmas holidays, but someone keeps making prank phone calls to
the house, setting the girls on edge. But what they don’t know is that the
caller is actually hiding in their attic. When he kills sorority sister Clare,
the rest of the ladies try to find her. The police also begin investigating the
case due to a link with another missing girl. But with everyone battling their
own demons and the killer so close, will the girls escape before it’s too late?
What did I like?
It’s hard to review one of your all-time
favorite films. Not only do you have to justify why this movie deserves credit as a favorite, but you also must be
professional and not gush just because you personally love the film. I say this
to give the following review context and state that I tried my best to not be
The main reason I always return to Black
Christmas is for the expert way it builds tension and atmosphere. Jump scares
aren’t used every few minutes to keep the audience awake. This is a slow burner
that uses the Hitchcockian technique of letting us know more than the
characters. We know the killer is in the house long before our leads do, so we
are constantly on edge. Hoping the ladies realize before another is killed. But
it also never drags. From the beginning we are placed in a paranoid state of excitement
as we watch the killer break into the house and skulk around upstairs. And Carl
Zittrer’s score, though used sparingly, sends chills down the spine due to the
angular and off kilter sounds he uses. Making any scene with the killer near,
very uncomfortable. So, we are always nervous about what is coming. Lastly, the
film remembers a key ingredient that other horror films forget.
It takes time to develop its characters, so
we care about them and don’t want them to die. Unlike many slasher films that
would later adapt its techniques, the characters in Black Christmas are not
simple archetypes. And have multiple layers to them. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is a
great lead because she is driven and flawed but never unlikable. Facing a
pregnancy, Jess wants an abortion because she still has things she wants to do
with her life. This causes her boyfriend, Peter (Kier Dullea) to become angry. He
believes she is being selfish and as the film progresses, he becomes more
unstable. Giving him ample motive in the characters eyes to be the killer. But
you, slowly realize, all he wants is a family, giving him a reason for his
The supporting characters are also quite nuanced. Barb (Margot Kidder), the groups bitchy alpha is shown to have family troubles that impact her emotionally and even blames herself for Clare’s disappearance. Phil (Andrea Martin), although looking like the stereotypical nerd, is just a regular person who acts as a voice of reason for the other characters and she provides some of the most endearingly personal moments in the film. Other greats include the humorous Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon), Sergeant Nash (Douglas McGrath) and Mrs. Mack (Marian Waldman), the house mother. Each character is humanized, and all the performances feel real. Consequently, it becomes easy to invest in them and harder to watch when the killer begins prowling again.
Another reason this film succeeds as a
horror film is how it handles its killer. The killer is very much grounded in
reality. But what makes him scary is that nothing about him is explained. We
never get a reason for why he chose this sorority to attack. And the only
insight we get into him are the insane ramblings that we are privy to while he
hides in the attic and what he says over the phone. But even that could be lies
to scare the girls or the products of a damaged mind. The fact that nothing
about him is certain makes him even more terrifying.
The story also features great use of symbolism. The abortion aspect acts as both a reference to the Roe Vs Wade case and ties into the Christmas theme. The idea of birth and family is at the heart of the Christmas tradition. But this film shows that the traditional family way of life is fading. Many of the girls would rather spend time with each other than their families and the unwillingness to accept this is what drives Peter, and arguably the killer, to the depths of despair. But importantly, without reading into it, the film still works as a well told crime story. The characters act in realistic ways, that never contradict their personalities. And everyone is given motivation for their actions, but never are they obviously spelled out for the audience.
What I do not like?
There are things that many may not like
about this film. For example, the story has several large contrivances. These
include the fact that the police never check the attic for the missing girl and
Barb’s false nightmare scare.
Many may also feel the films comedy does
not gel with the rest of the film. Because such serious subject matter is
juxtaposed with jokes about mating turtles, some may feel the tone is
Lastly, because of all the films that took inspiration from this movie, the film may lack the bite it had when it was originally released for modern audiences.
But these aspects never detract from the
overall experience and in several ways, enrich the experience. The extra comedy
makes the characters feel more real. The contrivances are either never big
enough to dwell on or draw attention to and enrich other aspects of the story.
And although modern audiences may recognize a lot of the film from other
places, it is gratifying as a piece of history to see the origins of these
clichés and how they are supposed to be used.
Some may find certain aspects of the film dated, contrived or perhaps out of place. But Black Christmas (1974) remains a fine example of how to make an engaging and chilling horror film. Relying on suspense, character, mystery and telling an engaging story rather than viscera, jump scares and shock value. It’s a film that, for me, has aged like a fine wine and every time I revisit it during the holidays I always find something new to appreciate and love about it.
Verdict: (5 / 5)
And so that wraps up my Christmas reviews. I hope you enjoyed them and that you have all had a Merry Christmas. Hopefully, these reviews have given you some new films to add to your Christmas rotation. I will be returning in the new year with more retro reviews, so, for now, I wish you all a Happy New Year.
With the big day fast approaching its time
to review another one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. But this is not
just any Christmas movie. This is arguably not only the greatest Christmas
movie ever, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period. So, join me as
we look back at Frank Capra’s seminal classic, It’s a wonderful life.
Clarence, an angel hoping to get his wings, is tasked with saving George Bailey (James Stewart) from committing suicide on Christmas Eve. To figure out how to help him, Clarence looks back over George’s life. He finds that George has always put others before himself. From saving his brother from drowning when he was a child to taking over the family business when is father died. Thus, saving the town from being monopolized by the cruel Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). But because of this he always missed out on personal opportunities. When the threat of bankruptcy emerges, George snaps. Abandoning his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and children, George slowly begins wondering if the world would have been better without him. So Clarence decides to grant George’s wish. Can Clarence save someone who has seemingly given up?
What did I like?
It’s hard to condense all the positive
aspects of It’s a wonderful life into a review that doesn’t run on for over
2000 words. But I will try my best.
Firstly, the film has connected with so many people over the years because everyone can relate to the story. Everyone at some point has doubted their place in the world or had to forgo their dreams because life just gets in the way. It’s a story that really grounds the film and helps us easily relate to the situation and the characters. It is not always an easy film to watch, especially when George’s depressed attitude comes to the forefront. Which may hit some viewers a little close to home. But it’s message that no matter how small you think you are, everyone matters to someone, is something everyone wants and deserves to hear, especially at Christmas time.
With it’s grounded story, you would think the supernatural aspect would feel jarring. But it never does. Because It’s a wonderful life both smartly sets up the supernatural presence early on, effectively informing the audience about what is coming and keeps the mystical happenings low-key. The world is re-arranged without George off-screen and the biggest power Clarence exhibits is the ability to teleport by asking his boss for help. Thus, the film can be both mystical and realistic without either seeming to betray the other.
And the story is helped along by well-written characters inhabited by great performances from every member of the cast. No one puts a foot wrong. James Stewart’s George and Donna Reed’s Mary are fantastic leads because they feel like normal people. Everything about them, from their dialogue and the way it’s spoken, to how the actors look at each other and the way they imbue great personality into the smallest gestures, makes them feel like normal people you could see walking down the street. And they wring every ounce of emotion out of all their scenes.
The supporting players are also great. Making the film feel like part of a real community, rather than actors simply playing roles. Special praise goes to Ward Bond and Frank Faylen who provide great comedic relief as loveable cop Bert and taxi driver Ernie. Lionel Barrymore also exudes sliminess as Mr. Potter. Who easily makes you hate every minute he’s on screen. But, aside from when he “acquires” George’s money, he never comes across as cartoonishly evil. He just feels like a man doing all he can to stay in power. And Henry Travers’ Clarence has a sense of childlike hopefulness and absentmindedness. Which combine wonderfully to easily make him cinemas most lovable angel. Even Gloria Grahame’s Violet, who doesn’t contribute anything major to the plot, feels like she belongs in this story. And her playful flirting feels charming, especially at a time where unmarried women were often demonized.
Surrounding a fantastic, relatable story, wonderful characters and amazing performances there is some gorgeous production design. The town of Bedford Falls looks accurate to the times and feels very much like a lived-in world. But also manages to feel timeless because of the lack of technology on display to date the film and the picturesque way it captures the idea of small-town America. And Dimitri Tiomkin’s beautiful musical score perfectly compliments and heightens every scene. With joyful and haunting strings and festive sleigh bells that really give a sense of the characters pain, triumphs and festive mood.
Honestly, I’ve barely begun to scratch the
surface of everything that makes this movie great. But I have to move on. Or else
my editor will hate me for making his job even harder at Christmas.
What I do not like?
How do you find fault with one of the most
highly regarded movies of all time? Well it isn’t easy, and it makes me feel
awful, but there are still minor issues that may bother some people.
One problem is that the films pacing feels slightly uneven towards the end. Because all the action revolving around Clarence and George’s journey to affirmation only comes into play in the third act, the build-up to the climax feels a little rushed. The emotional payoff is still great and the third act is the most memorable part of the film. But the final portion could have used a bit more room to breathe.
Also, some points make the film feel slightly dated. The revelation of what happens to Mary if George was never born is a good example of this. In this darkest possible timeline, where gentle Bert and Ernie are cynical and hostile; playful people like Violet are abused and shoved around, the idea that the worst thing that could happen to Mary is that she is not married and works at the library, feels a little too old-fashioned. And you can look at the Bailey’s family housekeeper and see examples of racial stereotyping.
Finally, the use of banking and building
and loans as a central plot thrust may leave some people perplexed at times.
Sometimes the minutia of the profession does feel a little inaccessible. However,
these scenes never go on too long and you are still able to follow the story.
It just might mean you momentarily zone out when talk shifts to banking matters.
Despite slight blemishes brought on by age, a finale that may have benefitted from a bit more time and the sometimes impenetrable banking subject matter, It’s a wonderful life is a film that deserves to be watched every festive season. It’s grounded story with a wonderful festive message, loveable characters, flawless acting, production design and emotional score make it a true masterpiece. And it deserves its reputation as the best Christmas movie ever made.
Verdict: (5 / 5)
But…it is still not my favourite Christmas movie. What is? You will have to wait for my next review to find out.
Debates are currently raging across social media and news outlets regarding a certain movie and it’s status as a Christmas movie. So when would be a better time to run down a list of the 5 most debatable Christmas movies ever?
For the purposes of this list, a Christmas movie is a movie that pays particular attention to the holiday season. And also focuses on delivering the festive message of goodwill. As such, movies on this list don’t pay close attention to the holiday or deliver messages of despair and misery. What a fun way to counteract all the forced gaiety of Christmas time. So for those of you looking to watch something different this year, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s begin.
Black Christmas (1974)
Many un-Christmassy Christmas movies like to use Christmas as an ironic or dark setting. To exemplify their stories horrific or absurd nature. One of the earliest films to do this was the original Black Christmas. Bob Clark’sseasonal chiller tells a familiar story. A group of sorority girls are killed off one-by-one by someone hiding in the attic. But it sets itself apart in a myriad of ways. Not least by how it uses Christmas as its backdrop. When juxtaposed against the snow, lights and carolers, the films violence and adult content becomes extra effective. And the perversion of Christmas iconography like birth, family and having the killer breaking into the house like Santa Claus, transforms the film into both a well-told deconstruction of Christmas mythology and the best Christmas horror film ever. But when watching it, goodwill will be the furthest thing from your mind.
Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece is a sci-fi reimagining of George Orwell’s 1984, except more concerned with corporate bureaucracy, the power that corporations hold over us and how fantasy is a far more attractive prospect than reality. And it is set at Christmas…I wonder why? Like Black Christmas, Brazil uses the bright trappings of Christmas to accentuate the darkness of its world. But this time with a more darkly satirical edge. Like many of Gilliam’s films, it finds absurd humour in combining jolly childish fantasy with bleak adult reality and both of those things very much fit the Christmas motif. Making for an experience that captures not so much the fantasy of Christmas, but perfectly captures the pain of growing out of Christmas.
The Hunt (2012)
And continuing from Brazil’s use of grim adult reality to offset childhood innocence, comes the ultimate example of how assumed childhood innocence can have grim repercussions on adult life. The Hunt is a Danish film from director Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen. The story focuses on Lucas, a schoolteacher accused of something during the holidays. He then spends the season attempting to clear his name. While also trying to save his relationship with his son and surviving persecution from his neighbours. This truly is one of the most challenging films set at the most wonderful time of the year. Watching a man being driven to near-suicide, for something he didn’t do, by “civilized” people is as far removed from Christmassy as you can get. But the message of forgiveness and the dangers of pre-judgment is one that everyone should hear, especially at this time of year.
Die Hard (1988)
The movie everyone is currently discussing for its holiday relation. The classic action movie concerns New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis). Who attends his wife’s Christmas party which is later hijacked by “terrorist” Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). The story then becomes pure white-knuckle action as John tries saving the day, while desperately trying to avoid being killed. It is so easy to get absorbed in the action, brilliant acting and dialogue, that Die Hard’s Christmas setting seems incidental. But again the festive trimmings lend extra catharsis to the blood spurts. And the themes of greed and honesty that permeate the film still shows a clear affinity for the holiday. So we may have Bruce Willis instead of Santa. Delivering death instead of presents. But Die Hard deserves to be seen as a Christmas movie. Let it Snow’s presence on the soundtrack also helps.
Finally, for our list of seasonal antithetical movies, we have the filthiest holiday movie of the century so far. Filth stars James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson. A cop with dreams of promotion, investigating the murder of a foreign exchange student. But he has some serious demons to deal with. Including drug addiction, a disparaging voice in his head (Jim Broadbent) and being separated from his wife and child. Consequently, he spends the Christmas season making life miserable for himself and his colleagues. Pitch black in every sense, Filth is only recommendable to those with strong constitutions. Even seasonal goodwill may not get you through it. This is a film intent on showcasing humanities selfish and destructive side. But McAvoy’s brilliant performance makes it hard to turn away from. If nothing else, this film shows, however bad you think your office Christmas parties are, they could be much worse.
So, I hope this list has given all of you some new festive treats to check out. To help provide a different perspective on this wonderful time. It may not always be holly and jolly, but all are a great cure for a silent night at home. Happy watching.
With the Christmas countdown officially underway, this is the time of year when old favorite holiday movies are wheeled out to get everyone in the festive spirit. For me, there are three movies that I always watch during the most wonderful time of year, and over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing them for you. The first of which is my families Christmas eve tradition, The Muppets Christmas Carol.
On Christmas Eve, Charles Dickens (The Great Gonzo) and his partner Rizzo the Rat, regale us with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine). Scrooge is an old skinflint who makes life miserable for his employee Bob Cratchit (Kermit the frog). He shuns friendship and family and, detests Christmas, preferring to be alone with his misery. But this night the ghosts of his old partners Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf) visit him. They tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways, eternal suffering awaits him in the afterlife. From there he is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who makes him confront the root of his Christmas hatred. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him what Christmas means to everyone else. And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him what Christmas will be like if he does not change.
What did I like?
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted stories of all time. The tale has been adapted countless times in many mediums and there is a new adaptation at least once every few years. So it becomes hard to stand out. But Muppets Christmas Carol defeats this problem. Not only by remaining mostly faithful to the original text, even cribbing prose from the actual story but also investing the story with both the Muppets trademark sense of humor and a real sense of pathos.
The story is delivered with gusto. All the muppets suit the roles assigned to them. This allows for hilarious sight gags upon seeing how characters from A Christmas Carol were changed to fit the muppets. But it also allows this version to have a broad family appeal. The kids can enjoy seeing the muppets and the parents get to laugh at seeing the muppets in a serious literary tale. Anyone can enjoy it. The voice actors all do great work, imbuing life and fun personalities to their puppets. And the human actors are delightful to watch. Michael Caine is clearly having a blast playing the old miser. Adding great relish to his hateful lines. But what makes it better is that the human roles are played entirely straight. There’s no self-awareness, the human actors play against the muppets with 100% seriousness and that makes it all the funnier.
But remarkably, the cast and crew also know when to tone the humor down. The sequences that need to be scary or emotionally impactful always hit their marks because they are played with 100% sincerity.
And while the film would deserve praise simply for making a muppet movie both gut-bustingly funny and tear-jerking at the same time, the film also does a lot of other things to ensure that it deserves its place as one of the best Christmas Carol adaptations. The inclusion of catchy musical numbers adds an extra layer of charm to the proceedings. Allowing exposition to be delivered creatively and keeping the films pacing up. The puppeteering is also very impressive and still holds up today. The puppets have many little facial ticks and movements that make them feel like real creatures rather than props. The set design is also spectacular. Recreating the novels Victorian setting very well. And taking influence from German expressionist horror films, which help the place feel oppressive. And finally, the inclusion of Gonzo as the narrator.
While only a small addition, the inclusion of a narrator adds to the nostalgic feeling I mentioned in my overview of the Grinch. It makes the story feel like it’s being imparted by an older friend. Thus making it more personal to us, the audience. The inclusion of Rizzo as an audience POVcharacter furthers this as he, like us, is cynical, constantly trying to disprove Charles and making snide comments. This makes it easy to get invested and gives us a personal sense of attachment to the story. Making it all the easier to return to this version again, and again and again.
What I do not like?
It breaks my heart to find faults in all the movies I will be reviewing this season. But they are never the less there and it doesn’t make melove these films any less.
Firstly, the story is heavily synopsized. While this improves some aspects of the story, which in other versions can be a bit plodding, the flashback to Scrooge’s relationship with his fiancé Belle suffers for it. Because we only have a short time to get to know Belle, we don’t feel as invested in her relationship with Scrooge. As such the reveal that this is the major reason why Scrooge is a loner doesn’t carry as much weight. The actors, however, do a fine job of selling the scene, which does manage to salvage it.
Another problem is the fact that Scrooges change of heart comes a little too soon. In many other adaptations, Scrooge changes gradually, only really cracking when he sees the effect his actions have on Bob Cratchit and his family. But here he seems to be a happier person by the time he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. Which could lessen the impact of the Tiny Tim scene.
Finally, towards the end of the film, the musical numbers stop, and the film just focuses on the action. Which, while appropriate, gives the impression that the musical numbers are a crutch to hold up the first part of the film.
Despite its flaws, The Muppets Christmas Carol is, for my money, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale. The acting is so much fun. It delivers the story in a way that is accessible to everyone. It has charm to spare, with its musical numbers, the nostalgic and relatable use of narration to tell the story and the insertion of the muppet’s giant personalities into the proceedings. But it’s also not afraid to let things breathe and get serious when it needs to. If you only see one version of A Christmas Carol this year, make sure it’s this one.
At the time of writing, Christmas is just over three weeks away. The streets are strewn with lights, classic Christmas songs are on the radio and everyone is struggling to find a gift for their loved ones. But fear not. If you are buying for a film lover, Big Picture Film Club has your back.
Today we are going to give five categorical recommendations of gifts that will please any film fan. Hopefully, this will give some of you an idea about what to get. So, let’s begin.
Collector’s edition DVD’S/Blu-rays
Nothing makes a film fan happier than owning the best editions of their favourite films. Regular DVD’s/Blu-rays are nice but there is a certain pleasure in unwrapping a collector’s edition with filmmaker commentary, documentaries, interviews, analyses, and a gorgeous transfer. Although collector editions are available from various sources, in the UK if you want the best, you can go to one of five companies:
Arrow Video – Specialises in cult releases (see also, Arrow Academy which specializes in critically acclaimed work and Arrow Films, which focuses on new releases)
The Criterion Collection – Specialises in releasing important films from world history
Eureka’s Masters of Cinema and Eureka Classics label – a UK counterpart to Criterion which puts out works of cultural importance and well-regarded niche films. If criterion doesn’t have your film, Eureka probably will.
BFI – They provide gorgeous transfers of historically significant work from Britain and around the world
Curzon Artificial Eye – Provides extra ladened releases of world cinema titles, new and old.
If your friend loves a film released by one of these companies, you owe it to them to get it. They are a little more expensive than other DVD/Blu-ray releases but for the quality of the content, it’s worth it.
(Also recommended 88 films, 101 films, Powerhouse Films, and Second Sight Entertainment)
This category really has the power to surprise and delight. Film fans adore minutia to brighten up their homes and there are so many options for what to buy.
You could get them a classic poster of their favourite film to give them something gorgeous to hang on their wall. You could buy them a Funko Pop of their favourite film characters to liven up their work desk. Or, why not buy them replicas of famous movie props. To allow the recipient to live out the fantasy of being a part of their favourite films.
These items vary drastically in price but no matter what you pick, your film loving friend will have a big grin on their face.
There really is nothing better to get your friend to ensure that their movie viewing needs are cared for all year. But, what service should you get them? Well, what do they like?
Netflix – For a range of well-known classics, critically acclaimed modern and original films (£5.99-£9.99 monthly)
Amazon Prime – Provides modern favourites and many obscure older titles. Also includes prime next day delivery for those who frequently use Amazon (£79 a year or £7.99 monthly)
Shudder – A streaming service for horror fans. Stocked with well-known and obscure horror titles from around the world (£47.98 a year or £4.99 monthly).
Now TV with Sky Cinema subscription – Provides a range of classic and little-known Hollywood favourites (£55 a year)
Mubi and Mubi Go – For those with a taste for auteurs, independent and foreign language films. And Mubi Go allows the owner to attend one specially selected film screening a week at selected cinemas (£59.88 a year)
Or perhaps if your friend likes visiting the cinema, you could get them a subscription card for their favourite cinema chain. Cineworld has unlimited, Odeon has limitless and many cinemas have their own loyalty program. So, if your loved one likes visiting the cinema, this could help them keep up to date with new releases.
You won’t see your friend for a few weeks after they get their gift, but be assured, they are appreciative.
Home Cinema Equipment
What’s better than getting a good quality Blu-ray or DVD of your favourite film? Watching it on good home media equipment. Whether it be the latest 4K television that allows you to see a higher quality image or a home surround sound system to provide a more immersive sonic experience, it makes a nice little addition to any film watchers home.
Finally, every film fan likes watching films, but do they also want to make their own films? Well, this year why not give them a helping hand.
Firstly, find out what the person you are buying for is interested in. Do they make films solo or are they interested in one particular area of filmmaking? Once that question’s been answered, we can proceed.
If they want to make films themselves and you have a bit of extra cash, then you could buy them a nice DSLR camera. Which allows them to shoot their own stuff on the go and have a great input into how the image will look. If you don’t have enough cash for that, why not try a nice phone gimbal? To allow them to use their phones in a more cinematic way.
Do they want to be an editor? Why not buy them some editing software like Final Cut X or Premiere Pro? Hopeful directors can always use a viewfinder. For those interested in sound maybe a new microphone may be in order. And there is a myriad of other equipment available online to help start your friends on their journey towards becoming the next Spielberg. So, I encourage you to look around.
So, there are just a few suggestions of what to get your cinephile for Christmas. I hope this has at least given you some idea about what is available out there and wish you all the best of luck with your Christmas shopping. If you have any further ideas of what to buy, then please let us know in the comments and stay tuned for more festive articles coming soon.
Sir Lenny Henry has had a long career in entertainment, dating back to the 1970s. He began doing small appearances on New Faces (1973) and TISWAS (1974). But found success in the 1980s with the likes of the sketch comedy show Three of a kind (1981) and his own show. Aptly titled, The Lenny Henry Show (1984). Since then, he has been a busy man. He turned his hand to films, starring in True Identity (1991). While also moving into dramatic television with Alive and Kicking (1991) and recently Broadchurch (2013). He has made documentaries, his own production company specializing in products that spoke to black lives, such as The real McCoy (1991) and he even co-founded comic relief alongside Richard Curtis. Using comedy to help raise money to fight poverty. In summation, Lenny Henry has done a lot throughout his career but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Growing up in Dudley and being the son of Jamaican parents, Henry was a minority in his community. He has said that he was one of only three black children in his school and when he began performing on stage as a comedian in the 1970s he was the target of many racist comments. At the time opportunities for black people within the entertainment industry were so small, Henry even appeared on The black and white minstrel show (1958), one of the most racist shows in British shows in history, which he has expressed regrets for. Over the years Henry has begun shifting away from comedy, towards serious acting roles and activism for underrepresented people within the entertainment industry.
This culminated earlier this month when the star delivered a letter to Downing Street calling for tax breaks for industry companies who employ more women, BAME and disabled people. In hopes of encouraging diversity, he delivered this letter alongside Meera Syal and Adrian Lester. The letter was signed by 80 prominent figures in the UK film and TV industry including, Dame Emma Thompson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, David Oyelowo, and Jodie Whittaker. So what does this letter mean to the UK entertainment world and what could it lead to?
Film & TV Representation: Positives and Negatives
While Henry himself has been quite vocal about the industries “atrocious” representation for women, BAME, and disabled people, the industry has begun taking steps towards better representation in front of and behind the camera. Organizations such as the BFI have made it so that films applying for funding must demonstrate a commitment to diversity through on-screen representation and creative leadership. The BBC also plans for “its employees to comprise 50% women, 8% disabled people, 8% lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and 15% people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds” by 2020. And there has also been a big push towards shows and films fronted by underrepresented parties. The new series of Doctor Who is probably the best example of this. With Jodie Whitaker leading a diverse cast of different races, genders, and ableness. Which is a big step forward for one of the cornerstones of British television history.
But Henry’s letter points out “only 2% of UK television is made by directors from BAME backgrounds”. Meaning the UK industry still lacks significant input from non-white creative voices. And the latest statistics show that the representation for women, BAME and disabled people in the industry is still shocking. So, in modern times, what are the barriers that are still halting progress towards a truly diverse workforce?
According to research from the Work Foundation, there are several obstacles that impede underrepresented groups from succeeding in the industry. These include the lack of visible screen role models. Which make others from similar backgrounds hesitant to work within the industry. Lack of clear knowledge about opportunities that are available. Employers are often inflexible about adjusting to suit certain candidates. The prevalence of networks that support nepotism over skill, perceived cultural prejudices and of course finance. So, what could these tax breaks do to help future underrepresented media workers?
Tax Relief: Positives and Negatives
The extra money will allow companies to make adjustments to suit disabled candidates as well as pregnant candidates and those with families. And the tax breaks call for more diversity in front of the camera may help break the aspirational barrier. As viewers will be given more diverse role models they can aspire to be like. The promise of financial relief could even encourage companies to provide clearer advertisements to allow for a wide range of applicants for available positions.
However, the inclusion of financial incentives for businesses does not deal with the other problems mentioned. Such as exclusivity within the industry, which still leaves a large proportion of applicants, particularly women, feeling locked out. The lack of financial support for workers still favours people from more advantaged backgrounds. And while position advertisements may become clearer, this may have the unfortunate side effect of making applicant choices feel like obligations for extra money rather than a genuine desire to promote diversity. Which helps to further, perceived cultural prejudices. It is a step forward for representation but one that helps the companies more than it does the workers and the public.
In conclusion, Henry’s proposal for industry tax breaks provides a great opportunity to boost representation for non-white, male and abled people. But potentially only serves a short-term solution to benefit entertainment businesses rather than current and future workers. Representation is important, and tax breaks would be a good start. But more long-term plans are needed to improve overall diversity within the industry. Should this be done through education? Dedicated work programmes to drive diversity? Investment in services to help those with specific needs? Or should the organizational structure of the industry change? I cannot say. But as the outcry continues, things will need to change. And solutions will have to be found sooner rather than later.
Christmas is fast approaching and to celebrate, Illumination Entertainment has released their take on the classic Grinch story. The original Dr. Seuss book about a reclusive grump who wants to steal Christmas is just as inseparable from the modern identity of Christmas as Santa Claus and Scrooge.
The story has received three high profile adaptations over the years. The 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon starring horror legend Boris Karloff as the titular green menace. The Ron Howard directed live-action retelling in 2000, starring Jim Carrey, and 2018’s animated offering with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead. But with so many different versions which one is the best?
Today I will compare the different grinch films by breaking them down into categories and analyzing which version did the best job with their portrayal of the Grinch and Cindy Lou. As well as which version had the better music, the best production value, and which version tells the story the best? With that said, let’s dive into this festive feast.
Who is the best Grinch?
The Grinch, of course, gets the star treatment in all three films and it is hard to choose between the players. Karloff’s Grinch is an angry, mischievous trickster. Carrey’s version is a bombastic ball of energy. The child in all of us that never quite grew up. And Cumberbatch is a modern-day cynic who just wants Christmas to stop getting so big. Since we must choose though, I would say Karloff’s version is the best of the three.
Cumberbatch’s version is just too nice to accurately represent the character of the Grinch. His social interactions are too awkward and his kindness to animals over people makes him seem like a lonely single guy resentful that his date never called back, rather than the antithesis of all thing’s holly and jolly. And Carrey’s version, although fun, is just Jim Carrey, playing Jim Carrey. Karloff being a horror star makes the Grinch feel imposing and hateful, but he also manages to excel with the softer side of the character during his transformation and makes it all feel genuine. Karloff feels like the truest representation of the character as he was intended to be.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Who is the best Cindy Lou?
This category is interesting because in the original story Cindy Lou Who is not a pivotal character. She is merely emblematic of childhood innocence at Christmas. As such her part in the 1966 short is minor. But with subsequent adaptations, Cindy Lou has become as important to the narrative as the Grinch himself.
In the 2000 version, Taylor Momsen does a good job at being the voice of reason to the grownups old-fashioned outlook. She even saves the day in the end, convincing the Grinch and the rest of Whoville that Christmas is about people, not presents. Meanwhile the 2018 Cindy Lou is trying to help her family through a tough time in their lives. Her mum is working hard to provide for her and her brothers, and she only wants her mum to be happy. All three versions are interesting or narratively fitting, but Cindy Lou in the 2000 version is the clear winner.
Unlike her 1966 counterpart, she is actively involved with the plot, being the audiences primary POV. And unlike the recent version, her character arc is integral to the proceedings. Going from disillusionment with the commercialism of Christmas to having her faith restored when everyone realizes, she was right after all. The new version is an interesting reflection of the attitudes of children in single-parent families. But her story feels like padding because without it the story would have largely remained the same. Giving the 2000 version the clear win.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Which version has the best music?
A part of the Grinch’s legacy that goes underacknowledged is the use of music. All the films use music to effectively place us in the characters heads, give a sense of place and help set the general mood of a Christmas tale. However, the 2018 version fails instantly because of its persistent use of gimmicky pop music throughout the film. This instantly takes the audience out of the experience as the setting ceases to be fantastical. Instead becoming a merchandising exercise. The presence of classic crooner hits like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” attempts to win us back but unfortunately, it comes too late. The 2000 version also has a few modern songs in there, but it feels less egregious, as commercialism is a central aspect of the story. As well as this the updates to the songs “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” are pleasing to listen to and the addition of the song “where are you Christmas?” for the character of Cindy Lou nicely compliments her character’s arc. But I would trade all of that for the subtlety of the 1966 soundtrack. Sometimes simplicity is best. There is no pop music to take you out of the fantasy, no overblown production, just charming lyrics, the smooth tones of Thurl Ravenscroft and the MGM chorus; simple melodies that make the story feel like a folktale passed down from generation to generation. It’s timeless and has yet to be beaten.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Which version is better made overall?
This one really comes down to personal preference. None of the Grinch movies are badly produced. Chuck Jones’ version has the charmingly lucid animation one expects of old Looney Tunes shorts. The Ron Howard version has impressive (if slightly creepy) makeup work and impressive production design courtesy of Michael Corenblith. And the new film being from Illumination contains slick modern animation and very pleasing character designs. But again, since I must make a choice while both animations look nice, the 2000 version just edges them out for me.
Not only for the sheer gall it took to try and realize Dr. Seuss’ drawings in live action but also for the imagination on display in the set design. The Grinch’s lair looks straight out of a 1920’s German expressionist horror film. The muted colours give Whoville a tinge of melancholy despite the festive trappings, perfectly fitting with Cindy’s, feelings. And the minutia that mixes the fantastical with just enough modern that it isn’t distracting makes for a film that feels very much in tune with our world while also being nothing like it. And for me, that just gives it the edge.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Which version tells the story the best?
And now we must decide which film delivers its narrative more effectively. All the films use a narrator to deliver the story. But all the films do different things with the source material. The 1966 version is a straight adaptation of the story with Boris Karloff providing the narration and voices for the characters. The 2000 version mixes in social commentary about the modern worlds disillusionment with Christmas; the voice of Sir Anthony Hopkins. While the new version aims itself at modern children who have grown up with the continual expansion of Christmas and had to contend with its impact on their families. Accompanied by Pharrell Williams voice over. So which film does it best?
The 1966 version is as stated a faithful adaptation. No side plots or updates, just an animated version of Dr. Seuss story. And Karloff’s grandfatherly voice gives the special an extra layer of warmth. However the special is on the short side because of its adherence to the text. With some of the slower animated sections feeling like padding to fit the necessary time slot. The 2000 film focuses on the Grinch’s backstory, explaining his hatred of Christmas and taking jabs at how overblown the Christmas season has become. Which is surprisingly relevant today. And Anthony Hopkins is a fine compliment to Karloffs original narrator role. Even surpassing him in some regards, particularly in dramatic flair. But the backstory takes away from the simplistic mystery of the Grinch. His heart was two sizes too small was all the reason we needed for his hatred of Christmas. The adage of childhood bullying turns the Grinch into an antihero rather than a villain and makes most of the humans unlikable as a result. So the final revelation never quite rings true. These people have spent most of the preceding film tormenting the Grinch, yet he instantly forgives them. In summary, the story is a little confused and feels too mean for what the story is supposed to teach. Lastly, in the new version, the folktale vibe is subtly diverted. Pharrell’s voiceover sounds more like a friend than an elder. And the decision to deal with themes of neglect and generational doubts is an effective choice for this moment in time. But it never feels like it amounts to anything. Pharrell’s voice is a distraction due to his status as a musician, not an actor and the themes as previously mentioned feel like window dressing more than anything.
So, in the final analysis, all of the stories have flaws and their strengths but the only adaptation where I would argue it’s merits outweigh its flaws is the short version. Due to its concise nature, lack of painful extraneous diversions and focusing simply on telling a charming story in a way that appeals to all, not just to misanthropes or single parent families.
Overall Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
This article was not intended to discredit of the new Grinch movie. Illuminations the Grinch has some good aspects to it. The voice cast all do their jobs well, with Benedict Cumberbatch being the best part of the film. The visual design is pleasing and some of the story updates are a nice change of pace. But ultimately what it comes down to is the new Grinch movie never entirely justifies its own existence.
For an entertaining movie, with lush production design, modern social commentary and a well-rounded female character, with Cindy Lou, stick with the Carrey version. And for the purest representation of the original story, with perfect music, charming animation and the best version of the Grinch go with the Karloff animation.
Modern horror owes so much to the original Night of the Living Dead. It ushered the zombie away from voodoo towards flesh-eating, tackled socially relevant issues like racism and the apocalyptic overtones that permeated the 60’s. Something not many horror films did at the time. It challenged audiences’ expectations with its story, and like Halloween, showcased what can be accomplished on a low budget. But legendary films are often lost in the legacy they create. Years of continual praise can put newcomers off and throws the film’s flaws sharply into view. So, on its 50th Anniversary let’s see how kind time has been to Night of the Living Dead.
While visiting their father’s grave, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are attacked by a ragged man. Johnny is killed, and Barbra flees. Coming across a local farmhouse, she eventually meets Ben (Duane Jones). As night comes, the house is swarmed by creatures, later revealed to be re-animated corpses. Ben and Barbra also discover Harry (Karl Hardman), Hellen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick daughter Karren Cooper and a young couple, Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) held up in the basement. And soon arguing erupts as the people in the house must decide whether to barricade themselves in or run for it? Soon it becomes clear that the zombies may not be the biggest danger to the living.
What did I like?
Night of the living dead is a film we truly take for granted. Because the film influenced every zombie story that came after, it is easy to see it as “another zombie movie”. But NOTLD does many things that help you see why it set the standard for its genre.
The zombies, although quaint by today’s standards, are perfectly realized through the makeup and black and white cinematography. Helping the undead look like truly damaged humans. And the escalating tension they create as the night continues helps us feel the characters peril. The story is also a well-told exploration of the breakdown of communication in extreme circumstances. Reason and emotional concerns are brushed aside by survival driven macho posturing or destroyed by the uncaring zombies. The film firmly believes, human nature is the most destructive of all things, with the film’s ending is the perfect summation of that, Still having the power to shock even now. But the film owes its success, primarily to its independent edge.
The actors were not big names and the film was shot for only $114,000. As a result, the film has so many little elements that set it apart from the mainstream horror being offered at the time. The dialogue flubs that hurt other films make this one feel more genuine. The seemingly unrehearsed nature of the fight scenes and the zombie’s movements make the film feel less staged and the dialogue and characters all feel distinct.
Night of the Living Dead takes a subtle approach to its characters. In the film, Ben’s race is never once mentioned in dialogue. There is no racist language or drawing attention to his skin colour. Ben is just another person. His race is a part of him, but it does not define his role in the story. And some may view Barbra as a typical female in distress, but the film makes it clear that none of these people are heroes. They are just people and the actions that they take are an almost perfect reflection of who their characters are. As a result, the film creates a unique world with interestingly flawed and relatable characters that we can easily see as reflections of the real world.
What I do not like?
However, all movies, no matter how iconic have flaws that future filmmakers can learn from. The films biggest flaw is the explanation for the zombie’s creation. In this case, radiation from a crashed space station. Although it may have seemed appropriate at the time, with the space race still in full swing, now it serves only to demystify the zombies and takes away from the terror of the unknown. In the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, the zombie’s origins became much more shrouded in mystery and hearsay. But Night presents the space station as the only viable factor in the zombie’s creation. And with such attention paid to it, the fear of the flesh-eaters diminishes.
The film also has a quite boring second act. The beginning perfectly sets up the characters and the threat and the ending is a brilliantly sour note that leaves the audience reflecting on the film long after they have finished watching. But the second act feels a bit repetitive by constantly going back and forth on the same disagreements between Ben and Harry. The scenes are well acted and relevant. But as a whole, the second act feels like the bland filling to the tasty bread that populates both ends of the story.
Finally, there are presentational elements that are likely to be distracting for some. The flubs and limited choreography for myself make the film feel more real. Some viewers, however, will view them as amateur mistakes, and they are not wrong for doing so. And the use of still photos to present certain sections of the narrative, while effective for the films ending, giving it the disturbing look of dispassionate war photography, serve only to distract in the television scenes. As they feel entirely separate from the rest of the production.
All in all, Night of the Living Dead still holds up from a modern perspective. The flaws of being too exposition heavy regarding key plot points, a slow second act and some of the corner cutting necessitated by the budget do not damage the overall project and the legacy it left behind. The film is a deft exploration of the worst side of humanity, that never lets its social commentary diminish the entertainment. It has memorable characters, set pieces, a fantastic beginning, and truly devastating ending. If you are a fan of zombies or films in general and you have not watched night of the living dead, you need to fix that right away. Because like the undead themselves, NOTLD may seem old and decrepit, but once it sinks its teeth in, you will find yourself becoming a fan.
With the new film already hailing a triumphant return for the series at the box office, on this most spooky of weeks, it is time to look back at the original film that started it all. A film hailed by many to be the grandfather of the slasher genre and one of the scariest films of all time. But after all the sequels, reboots, rip-offs and increasingly violent films that came after it, how does the original Halloween hold up?
On Halloween night, 1963, in the small town of Haddonfield, a young boy named Michael Myers murders his sister, Judith Myers for seemingly no reason. Michael then spends the next fifteen years locked up in Smiths Grove Sanatorium under the eye of doctor Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). But on one fateful night, Michael escapes and returns to his hometown. He then begins stalking teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. With Dr. Loomis hot on his trail, will the girls be able to survive Michael’s onslaught? And more frighteningly, can Michael actually be stopped?
What did I like?
I have an odd history with the original Halloween. When I first saw it, I dismissed it because it seemed like every other slasher movie. Over the years, however, I now appreciate what the original Halloween is. A stripped down, supremely suspenseful horror classic.
Halloween does not need gory kills to set its audience on edge. Because Halloween effectively generates a thick atmosphere of creeping, unknown dread. There are several factors for why it is able to build this so successfully. Chief amongst them being the films iconic killer.
Michael Myers is terrifying in Halloween because there is no rhyme or reason to his actions. The opening revelation that he was only a child when killed his older sister, is truly haunting. Especially since he shows no remorse or comprehension of what he did. He then stalks and murders the high school friends simply because he can. Tapping into our fear of the unknown. This is helped by other various touches. For example, Michael’s mask is a blank, expressionless parody of a human face (a white painted William Shatner mask) that is troubling because of its indifference to the slaughter Michael commits. And there are things about him that never sync with reality. His average build and almost superhuman strength, as well as his undying nature and his ability to disappear at will, transforms Michael into a nightmarishly surreal figure. And he has terrified generations of moviegoers ever since.
The performances are another way the movie evokes a feeling of dread. Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis is one of cinemas greatest harbingers of doom. Despite hardly interacting with Myers during the movie, he instils a sense of fear in the audience for how calmly assured he is of Michaels evil nature. He knows what Michael is capable of and that he is the only one who can stop him. Jamie Lee Curtis also makes her film debut as one of the horror genres most fondly remembered final girls. Curtis plays Laurie with humility and innocence that makes her easy to root for. And all the other performers, despite some occasional cheesiness, come across as likeable, everyday people. Making it all the more tragic when the bogeyman rips through their lives.
Lastly, the films production elements help to elevate the unease. The film had a shoestring budget and could not afford lavish location work and set design. So, the film was forced to economize. Thus, the set design is minimal and the action confined to a handful of locations. Making the audience feel a sense of claustrophobia and helping the setting feel more intimate than the overblown nature of many of its higher budgeted counterparts. John Carpenters score and directing are also excellent at building tension. The simple but effective score gives Michael a great sense of presence and constantly sets the audience on edge. And the way Carpenter builds suspense through having Michael in the background of shots without lingering on him is masterful. It puts the audience one step ahead of the characters and makes the scenes where the shape slowly creeps towards his prey nail-bitingly taut.
What I do not like?
While Halloween is a classic, there are aspects that will not satisfy everyone. The films loose connection with reality regarding Michael works. It makes him more unpredictable and the characters feel more vulnerable. But some of the characters actions also have a loose connection with reality and can remove the audience, momentarily from the experience. For example, during the finale when Laurie drops Michaels knife right next to him, it seems like a leap of logic. Especially, as she is still not sure if Michael is actually dead.
The plot can also feel a bit meandering at times. The teen’s story is necessary thematically and Loomis’ scenes are always effective. But at times the plot leans too hard on the teenager’s story to engage the audience. Which can be a problem if you don’t find the teenagers and their dated slang interesting. And as a result, Loomis does not directly affect the plot aside from at the beginning and end of the film. Making Loomis seem like an afterthought.
Finally, while the score is iconic, it does become a crutch after a while. Often during the films second act, the score will dramatically increase to ensure that the audience knows that Michael is still around. And to make sure they have not lost interest. Which feels very cheap. A little goes a long way after all.
Despite my minor misgivings, the original Halloween is nothing short of a classic and a testament to what can be done on a low budget. The combination of a great production crew, fantastic performances, and a scary villain helped Halloween become one of the most profitable horror films ever made. And while the sequels, remakes and slasher derivatives may have weakened it in the eyes of general viewers over the years, Halloween is essential viewing. Especially around this time of year. Because on Halloween, everyone is entitled to one good scare.
The Celluloid Screams horror festival has just wrapped for another year and it was a privilege to be at this year’s show. Ever since I first became aware of the festival back in 2014 I have wanted to go. Unfortunately, due to prior commitments, I have always been unable to attend. But this year I finally got to see what Sheffield’s answer to FrightFest had to offer.
Whilst there I was enthralled by the friendly atmosphere and pervasive sense of fun. Horror fans are always a delight to be around. Every screening was packed, almost every audience member was well behaved and the ability of horror audiences to jump, laugh and squirm at the right time makes experiencing each film a true communal bonding experience. Supported by friendly organizers who were always happy to engage with the audience and a myriad of extras. Including a DVD, Blu-ray, book and merchandise stalls, Q&A’s with film directors and stars, novelty drinks and karaoke at the bar. With the heart-warming cherry on the cake being how everyone came together and donated money to help the wife of a friend of the festival after her tragic loss. It was a remarkable display of solidarity. And everyone should be proud.
But the atmosphere of a film festival is only half the experience. Films are of course also needed. So here are my thoughts on all the feature films I managed to see. All kept at 50 words or less and ranked from worst to best. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of the festival as I was unable to see everything. But I hope this gives you an idea of some films to check out in the run-up to Halloween.
You might be the killer– A cinematic eye-roll, that thinks it’s too cool for its genre. Content to point out slasher clichés and nothing more. It’s nice seeing Alyson Hannigan again and Scream fans may enjoy it. But this makes me miss the days when slashers were fun and funny without being glib and self-effacing. Verdict: (1.5 / 5)
What Keeps You Alive– A movie that substitutes unrelenting building tension for lesbian exploitation and torture yarn, because it does not know the power of subtlety. The first half is a tense build but once the twist happens it swiftly falls as a steady pace gives way to cartoonish over the top villainy. Verdict: (2 / 5)
Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh– Making shouting funny, is hard. The thick of it can do it. It’s always sunny in Philadelphia can do it. This movie cannot do it. Despite Taika Waititi’s presence and the cult plot providing great opportunities for dark comedy, the film is too light and undisciplined to fulfil its potential. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Nightmare Cinema– Subpar slasher satire, plastic surgery horror and catholic demon slaying, a terrifyingly surreal odyssey through depression and a survivor’s guilt ghost story make up this uneven anthology film. The final two films, however, elevate it into the realms of watchable. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Puppet Master: The littlest Reich– Welcome to your new guilty pleasure. The Puppet Master reboot features a silly plot, subpar CGI and very politically incorrect jokes. But has charming lead characters, impressive practical effects and if like me, you have a twisted sense of humour, Puppet Master will have you laughing till the end. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Assassination Nation– A gonzo, violent and righteously angry middle finger to Trumps America, that at times is very annoying and is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. But never the less it is worth the price of admission for sheer entertainment value. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Mandy– The artiest excuse to make a Nicolas Cage movie ever. The first half is a visually beautiful but narratively boring excuse for when Cage goes full blood-drenched psycho. If you want Nic Cage insanity this delivers. And the visual inventiveness may make up for the lack of dramatic engagement. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Halloween (2018)– Everything a Halloween sequel should and shouldn’t be. The Laurie Strode/Michael Myers story gives you everything you’ve wanted since the original. But the time in between that is padded with high school dope comedy that becomes obnoxiously overbearing. Tension and character work make it a must-see despite its flaws. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Summer of ’84– A great example of a fantastic ending saving an otherwise by the numbers nostalgia trip. This fun mixture of Stranger Things and The ‘Burbs starts as a fun distraction but at the end reveals itself to be a lot more thought-provoking and unnerving than expected. Verdict: (3.5 / 5)
Cam– This film began by giving me unfortunate flashbacks to Unfriended, but soon turned into an intriguing look into the world of online cam girls that deals with themes of identity, female empowerment and sexuality in the digital age in a mature, non-judgemental, and intensely gripping way. A welcome surprise. Verdict: (3.5 / 5)
Wolfman’s got nards– This documentary about the sub-cultural impact of The Monster Squad is an affectionate analysis of fans, cult movies and their effect on the creative forces behind them. Although occasionally self-aggrandizing and waffly, its subjects’ humanity always shines through and will even have Monster Squad newcomers and haters shedding tears. Verdict: (4 / 5)
Knife + Heart– A psycho-sexual, magical realist, giallo seed-fest, with no shame and the power to enrage “moral” and storytelling puritanical’s but to those who can get past that, they will find a beautiful, frightening and often darkly hilarious mood piece which although it explains a bit too much, feels like pure cinema. Verdict: (4 / 5)
Tigers are not afraid– An unrelentingly grim coming of age story that pulls no punches regarding the impact of the Mexican drug war on children. A magical realist edge, reminiscent of Devil’s Backbone helps to underline the tragedy of a tale that was undoubtedly the best film of the festival. Verdict: (4.5 / 5)
So ends my personal retrospective of Celluloid Screams 2018. It was truly wonderful to share a cinema screen with so many likeminded people for four days. Even when the films let me down, a smile was never far from my face. I definitely hope to return next year. Until then I hope I have given you guys an idea about some upcoming releases that you can check out and hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy viewing.