fbpx

Author: Josh Greally

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.
Editorials

5 Horror Films And The Real Events Behind Them

August 17, 2019
Horror movies based on real events

“Based on a true story”. While those words should always be taken with a pinch of salt these claims of truthfulness do contribute to the audience’s experience. The idea that what you are watching isn’t far removed from reality makes the narrative feel more real and immediate, which horror films need to be effective. And these real-world horrors should be known alongside the movies they inspired.

So, today we are looking at the real-life stories behind five famous horror films. Warning, there is upsetting content ahead.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) & Ed Gein

In 1973 Sally and Franklin Hardesty and their friends head to Texas to check that the Hardesty’s grandfathers’ grave hasn’t been the victim of a series of grave defacements and robberies. But while there, they run afoul of a group of vicious killers’ intent on killing them all.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre drew a lot of inspiration from the story of Ed Gein. Gein was a killer and graverobber who operated in Wisconsin in the late 40s and early 1950s.

Gein was apprehended in 1957 as a murder suspect. When the police searched his home they discovered many disturbing sights. These included lampshades and masks made of human skin and a heart in a plastic bag near the stove. This lead to rumours of cannibalism, though this was never definitively proven. These elements were subsequently filtered into TCM’s set design and the characters of Leatherface and his cannibalistic family.

Real life killer Ed Gein (left) was the inspiration for leatherface (right)
Real-life killer Ed Gein (left) was the inspiration for Leatherface (right) in the original TCM

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) & The Phantom Killer

An early proto-slasher and pseudo-documentary, The Town that Dreaded Sundown tells the joint narrative of the Phantom Killer, as he stalks and kills several residents of the town of Texarkana, and the police working to track him down.

The film was loosely based on the 1946 Texarkana moonlight murders. Where, over 10 weeks the Phantom Killer attacked 8 people and killed 5, sending the town into a panic. The state police did investigate, but the killer was not caught.

After it’s release several lawsuits were filed against the film. The brother of one of the victims sued the production over the derogatory portrayal of one of his family members. And Texarkana officials themselves filed a complaint against the movie’s marketing, which apparently unnerved the townspeople (including the victims’ families) by saying that the killer “still lurks” around the town.

Poster for The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Amityville Horror (1979/2005) & The Lutz’s Story

Both the 1979 and 2005 Amityville Horror’s tell the story of the Lutz family, who moved into a new home where the previous residents were murdered. They soon begin experiencing many spooky goings-on. And it becomes apparent that they are in very real danger in this house.

Both films are based on the book of the same name, which claimed to be a true story. Several story aspects, including the DeFeo killings, where Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered 6 members of his family in their home, and the Lutz’s moving into the former DeFeo house for a short time are true.

After the 1979 film’s release, the judge presiding over a case involving the fraudulence of the book declared that he believed the book to largely be fictitious. Later, the real George Lutz sued the makers of the 2005 remake (which claimed to be based on a true story), for defamation. But he passed away soon after.

Photo of 112 Ocean Avenue. The setting of the DeFeo murders and The Amityville Horror

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) & Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome

The 1984 horror masterpiece concerns a group of friends plagued by horrific nightmares. All involving the razor glove wielding, burn victim Freddy Krueger. But while their parents think they’re just nightmares the kids soon realise that if they die in their dreams, they die for real.

Wes Craven stated that the inspiration for the film came from a string of LA Times articles about south-east Asian refugees in the 1970s. Many of these people refused to go to sleep after suffering from disturbing nightmares and were later found to have died in their sleep. Craven then took this inspiration and imagined that a dream figure was responsible. Thus birthing one of the most iconic killers in all of cinema.

Headline from a newspaper used in Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

Silent Night (2012) & The Covina Massacre

Silent Night, the remake of 1984’s Silent Night Deadly Night, focuses on a police officer who must hunt down a killer who has come to her town for the holiday season. But being dressed as Santa, the killer will be difficult to find.

While most of the film is typical slasher movie fair, during a flashback we learn of a man believed to be the killer who took a homemade flamethrower to a Christmas party and used it to kill his ex-wife.

This part of the story is based on the 2008 Covina Massacre where Bruce Pardo killed 9 people at his ex-wife’s Christmas Party while dressed as Santa using a homemade flamethrower and several handguns.

Silent Night’s Santa killer is not far removed from the perpetrator of the Covina Massacre

And, so ends my look at the real-life stories behind 5 famous horror movies. Proof that sometimes reality is more terrifying than any movie.

Also Read: Horror On Horror Sets

Reviews

Review: The Great Hack

August 10, 2019
The Great Hack Poster

The idea of everyone being connected by the internet once had positive connotations. The films that showed the supposed dangers of the digital world like The Matrix seemed so preposterous. But in a post-Edward Snowden and Wikileaks world, the dangers of the internet are now all too real.

There have been several documentaries in recent years about the acquisition of private information online and today we are going to be looking at Netflix’s newest offering to this particular subject, The Great Hack.

Synopsis

Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of several world-altering campaigns in the last few years. Leave.EU in the UK Brexit debate and the Donald Trump Presidential campaign in the USA. But while they had a huge impact on these campaigns, their methods were far more nefarious. Analytica harvested personal information from thousands of Facebook users, without their consent, and then used this to create targeted marketing.

The film follows several people involved in the unravelling of the CA scandal. Including David Carroll, who sued CA to get back the data CA had on him. Former CA employees such as Brittany Kaiser who have decided to blow the whistle on the company. And journalist Carol Cadwalladr.

What did I like?

There are two things that The Great Hack does very well. The first is the way it uses graphics and montages. Throughout the film, graphics are used to impart/illustrate information quickly in a way that doesn’t intrude on the action. And along with graphics the film also uses montages of websites and news stories to give a sense of mood. The montage of various targeted Facebook adverts showing how CA was able to manipulate how people see the world and the use of small square particles to indicate the passage of online info, effectively illustrates how much of our personal daily life is part of and reliant on the internet. Making the points made about CA more threatening.

The second positive is the presentation of the emotional arc of one of the principal participants, Brittany Kaiser. Kaiser, once a key player inside Cambridge Analytica, later came forward with information about how CA conducted their operations. The presentation of her arc from an idealist working on the Obama campaign to being part of the unethical practices of CA is fascinating. Because her motivations are so human. She switched sides in political marketing because she needed money to support herself, which the Obama campaign apparently would not give her. She enjoyed working with who she worked with, so she didn’t see all the negative implications that we can see as outsiders. But she admits her flaws and in the end, stands up for everyone’s right to privacy. Honestly, the film owes much of its success to Kaiser’s inclusion.

However, this leads me into The Great Hack’s problems.

What did I not like?

The Great Hacks first major problem is its pacing. The films key arguments: The dangers of companies using personal information to target you with marketing on social media; Our overreliance on the internet & What CA was up to and how it impacted the world. Are all covered within the first hour. The film then spends another hour repeating the same points. And it begins to get frustrating. This wouldn’t be so bad if the film employed new ways to engage us. But the camerawork is standard, the music is unengaging and the visual flourishes are too infrequent.

Secondly, because the documentary focuses on peoples journeys with CA, it’s critical to get the audience on side with the participants. But Kaiser is the only participant who manages to engage with the audience because she acts like a normal person. Carol Cadwalladr isn’t given enough screentime for us to care about her involvement. And David Carroll, who blatantly tells the audience, that companies having access to private information without consent is bad as if we didn’t already know, projects a very condescending attitude. Which is nothing but off-putting. Not helped when he consistently takes jabs at Kaiser.

There is also a problem with some points being over and underexplained. It expects you to already subscribe to the belief that Trump and Brexit were a bad idea, without giving any contextual information. But they spend an inordinate amount of time talking how information is gathered online and the dangers it poses to privacy. Something that is common knowledge by this point.

Finally, The Great Hack appears to argue that the Trump and Brexit campaigns were wholly won by targeted social media. Ignoring the larger issues of social division and the growing disillusionment with so-called experts and politicians. Electing to solely focus on technology as the purveyor of misfortune. Which seems a little reductive of a complicated issue.

Verdict

Overall while The Great Hack does have some minor visual flair and one incredibly well-told arc, it’s not enough to carry the film. Perhaps as an hour-long TV special it would have faired better. The stripped-down, just the facts version of the story would have been at least novel as a piece of unfolding news.

But as a film, The Great Hack is severely sloppy as it drags its points out and operates from a condescending and in some ways reductive viewpoint, that ultimately will leave most viewers either cold or frustrated.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Also Read: Five Documentaries To Watch On Netflix

Editorials

Top 10 UK Box Office Movies of 2019 (So Far)

August 4, 2019

It’s not been a bad year for the UK box office. With the total takings of 2019s top 10 highest grosser’s (at time of writing) being approximately £388,967,274 (according to Box Office Mojo and google money converter).

So today we are going to look at how the top 10 currently stands. Which movies have earned the most in the UK so far? And what have critics and audiences had to say about them?

10. The Secret Life of Pets 2 – £19,570,258

The latest offering from Illumination managed to rake in the box office, despite a rather lukewarm reception.

Audience Thoughts: 90% – Rotten tomatoes / 6.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “A sequel that feels less necessary than willed into being, but that doesn’t mean it’s not pleasantly entertaining.”

Illuminations latest offering kicks off the UK’s highest grossers

9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – £21,219,615

While the concluding How to Train Your Dragon movie wasn’t as successful as its predecessors at the box office, it continued to impress both audiences and critics in equal measure.

Audience Thoughts: 87% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Who would have thought that DreamWorks’ “How To Train Your Dragon” would end up as one of the best film trilogies out there?

The How to Train Your Dragon series performs one last hoorah

8. Rocketman – £23,572,360

The Elton John biopic followed in the footsteps of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody and became a smash hit across the UK.

Audience Thoughts: 88% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John’s music and his public image.”

Rocketman managed to blast off at the UK box office

7. Dumbo (2019) – £26,964,177

The first of Disney’s live-action remakes this year, left an odd taste in the mouths of cinemagoers. As despite its high takings, no one really seemed overly enthused about it.

Audience Thoughts: 51% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.4 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “The problem with this latest entry in Disney’s ever-expanding range of recycled classics isn’t that it hews too close to the studio’s original animated masterpiece, but that its many departures only muddle the original’s nursery-rhyme simplicity

Dumbo (2019) flies into the number 7 place

6. Spider-Man: Far From Home – £31,524,501

The most recent film in the ever dominant MCU, like many of its predecessors, deftly managed to please both audiences and critics.

Audience thoughts: 95% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.9 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “It’s not quite the home-run of Homecoming, but Far From Home isn’t far from matching it, with heaps of humour, energetic action, and the answers Endgame left you craving.

Number 6 in the UK’s highest-grossing films of 2019? Spider-Man approves

5. Aladdin (2019) – £37,496,448

Back with Disney’s live-action remakes, unlike Dumbo, Aladdin did manage to please audiences, critics however were very mixed.

Audience Thoughts: 94% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.4 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Another lavish and largely entertaining Disney re-do, with strong turns from Massoud and Scott. But…Smith’s genie performance feels disappointingly constrained — both by overdependence on the original and some ghastly CGI.”

Aladdin (2019) soared on it’s magic carpet to the number 5 spot in the UK’s top 10

4. The Lion King (2019) – £37,816,339

The latest Disney remake has, in only 2 weeks, already proven to be Disney’s most successful solo developed project in the UK. It also managed to capture the love of the general public. But critics have been less kind to this effort:

Audience Thoughts:  88% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.2 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Unfolding like the world’s longest and least convincing deepfake, the new “Lion King” fatally misunderstands what once made Disney special.

The photo-realisitc Lion King (2019) is the UK’s 4th highest grossing film

3. Captain Marvel – £42,632,688

Despite its divided reception by both audiences and critics, Captain Marvel continued to prove the power of the MCU’s marquee value.

Audience Thoughts: 55% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.0 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Captain Marvel is … a solid enough movie, but it suffers from an overbearing need for its agenda to be pushed – had it been handled with a little more care, it could have been fantastic.

Captain Marvel storms into 3rd at the UK Box Office

2. Toy Story 4 – £53,611,537

9 years after Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 finally made it to cinemas. It continued the high standards set by the original Toy Story films, opening to almost unanimous praise across the board.

Audience Thoughts:  94% on Rotten Tomatoes / 8.2 – IMDb (#170 on IMDb’s top 250 films)

Critics Thoughts: “This franchise has demonstrated an impressive ability to beat the odds and reinvent itself…It’s a toy store of ideas, with new wonders in every aisle.

The Toy Story gang still managed to bring in the numbers despite a 9-year absence

1. Avengers: Endgame – £94,559,351

Lastly, we come to the highest-grossing movie of the year (and of all time). After over a decade of build-up, the MCU finally culminated with a fond farewell that pleased almost everyone.

Audience Thoughts: 91% – Rotten Tomatoes / 8.7 – IMDb (#24 0n IMDb’s top 250 films).

Critics Thoughts: “Avengers: Endgame is all that you hope it’ll be and a bag of chips. The Russo brothers hit all the right notes from start to finish, and the ending in particular is thoroughly satisfying.”

Avengers: Endgame has beat down all the competition to become the highest-grossing film of the year (and of all time)

So ends the UK box office top 10 of the year so far. And with big releases like IT: Chapter 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker coming up, this year’s top 10 may even beat last year’s top 10 gross (approximately £523,006,040). We’ll just have to wait and see.

Also Read: What’s Next For Disney?

Editorials

Holy Fan Films, Batman

July 23, 2019

Batman. This single word has inspired so much over the years. Beginning as a simple vigilante hero in the pages of Detective Comics, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s iconic creation has spawned some of the most well-loved movies, TV shows, video games and comic runs of the past century. Everyone knows who Batman is and his world has become a permanent fixture of popular culture. And like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, many fans have been inspired by the caped crusader to pick up a camera and make their own batman stories.

So, put on your capes and cowls and come with me as I countdown five Batman fan films that are worth your time.

The Dark Knight Returns – An Epic Fan Film

In 2016 director and star Wyatt Weed decided to translate the first part of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns comic into a short film. And it truly is a testament to his enthusiasm for the material.

The story is of a future where Batman retired after Jason Todd’s (The second Robin) death and crime has overrun Gotham’s streets. Now Bruce must put back on the cowl to save Gotham from destroying itself.

On a budget of $2500, Weed admirably captures the story’s wide scope. He makes Gotham City feel like its own character. With news reports and detailed interiors doing a lot to illustrate the kind of world Batman is returning to. Weed also gives an interesting performance as Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Showing him as aloof and disinterested with life, even having a potential death wish. He portrays Batman as a habit that Bruce can’t seem to shake, which gives the short some great dramatic weight.

Some aspects do let the film down. Many of the performances alternate between too theatrical or too restrained, never finding that magical sweet spot in between. And the presentation looks a bit bland. But nevertheless, an enjoyable watch for fans of the comic and a lesson in how to make a limited budget go far.

The Dark Knight Returns – An Epic Fan Film

The Dark Knight Legacy

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has had a major impact on how many people see Batman and his world. And Nolan’s influence can be seen in every frame of The Dark Knight Legacy.

Taking place after The Dark Knight Rises, the disappearance of Batman has allowed not only criminals but also copycats wanting to carry on the dark knight’s mission, to flourish. Though in the case of new vigilante Red Hood he has much more flexible ethics than Batman when it comes to killing.

Although it has a limited setting and somewhat flat visuals, this film does a great job at carrying forward the dark aesthetic of Nolan’s trilogy while also being unique unto itself. Introducing the Red Hood in a way that is sure to leave an impact, with some fantastic performances and a very impressive action centrepiece, Batman may not be in this short but it deals with his world and characters in a way that will leave you hungry for more.

The Dark Knight Legacy – Red Hood Fan Film

Project Cadmus

A refreshingly heartfelt take on the Batman mythos, this recent short sees DC universe stalwart Amanda Waller recruiting Batman to track down and kill a powerful psychic before Deathstroke can find her and sell her to the highest bidder.

While the story is a little obtuse and confusing, the short really shines when it comes to everything else. The cinematography is very moody and engaging, the choreography during the fight scene with Deathstroke is amazing and the acting is truly outstanding, with each player managing to inhabit their roles perfectly. Special mention goes to John Crawford III and Jaci Jones, who gave Batman and Ace a great sense of relatability and Kyle Klein plays a very menacing Deathstroke.

An entertaining and well-produced effort, with some fine performances and worth seeing, if only for the surreal sight of Batman, Superman and Wonder woman standing side by side with Spider-man and Captain America.

Batman Evolution

Now we leave behind the serious entries to celebrate the fun side of Batman. Many people nowadays are only familiar with Batman as the dark and brooding defender of Gotham. But there was a time when Bats was a dispenser of joy as well as justice. And Batman Evolution acts as a fitting tribute to that.

Set in the Adam West Batman universe, the relatively light-hearted fare that batman is used to is upended when Black Mask kidnaps Robin. Batman goes to find him, doling out “Biff’s”, “Bam’s” and “Kapow’s” on Black Mask’s henchmen. When he has an experimental compound dumped on him, transforming him into the Dark Knight trilogy Batman. Will Batman be able to rescue Robin and keep his humanity intact?

While essentially just an extended action scene, Evolution is able to deliver some great moments. The fight scenes are well-staged, the music is cool and the dialogue and acting are incredibly fun. Everyone plays their roles with just the right level of self-awareness so it never becomes irritating and the level of humour derided from both the camp and dark side of Batman makes this the perfect treat for any hardcore Bat-fan.

Batman: Dead End

We finish with the oldest short on our list and without a doubt the most fun.

Dead End begins as a straightforward story about the batman trying to catch the joker but quickly turns insane when a second and third antagonist enters the fight (No spoilers here. Watch it and experience it for yourself. It’s worth it).

Like Batman Evolution the film could be considered just one long fight scene, but this short does so much to set itself apart. The visuals are positively cinematic, with great use of atmospheric lighting and well-composed shots. The performances are fantastic with Clark Bartram and Andrew Koenig giving, for my money, one of the best live-action performances of the Batman/Joker dynamic. The action is very well-choreographed, with great editing to help everything flow naturally. And, it is worth a watch because this film exemplifies what is best about fan films.

There is a clear passion for the story being told and the art of filmmaking, but it also gives you something that you can’t get anywhere else. The filmmakers made the film they wanted to see and poured their heart and soul into making it as entertaining as possible.

Also Read: Superhero Stand-Off: Superheros Vs Art

Editorials

Horrors On Horror Sets

July 13, 2019
Real Skeletons on set of horror movie "Poltergeist"

Sometimes horror films can become all too real for the people on set. Over the years several horror movies sets have been the sites of unfortunate, weird and in some cases fatal accidents and incidents that make you question the luck and safety standards of the production. Today we will look at seven famous incidents where a film set turned into a real-life horror film.

Warning, there is upsetting content ahead.

The Bunny Game

A shock-horror film about a prostitute being kidnapped and tortured by a truck driver, the BBFC rejected The Bunny Game, fearing that its portrayal of violent and dangerous acts may harm audiences. This wasn’t helped by the presence of extreme unsimulated acts within the film.

While filming a nude scene in a junkyard, actress Rodleen Getsic received several injuries from shards of metal sticking into her body. And during one scene, she was actually branded.

Through trying to create an authentic atmosphere, the filmmakers created one of the most disturbing movies of the past decade, from a health and safety perspective.

Eery shot of branding in The Bunny Game

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Like the Bunny Game, 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s production is a tale of a horrific working environment. Because of the films low budget, the effects were minimal, and often employed workarounds to accomplish them. But when coupled with hundred-degree weather, rank working conditions (dead animals were used as set dressing) and a stressed crew, something was bound to happen.

Notably, the scene where Sally’s finger is cut was supposed to show stage blood coming out of a tube. But when the mechanism didn’t work, Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) cut actress Marilyn Burns’ finger with a razor. Also, during the scene where Leatherface kills the character Kirk, Hansen brought a real running chainsaw down three inches from actor William Vail’s face, making the film’s title very nearly prophetic.

The insanity of the dinner scene may have been reflective of life on set of The Tecxas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Exorcist

Often considered the scariest film of all time, the Exorcist has several on-set horror stories to go with it.

As well as most of the MacNeil house set burning down (eerily, aside from the scenes where the exorcism would take place) actress’ Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair both suffered back injuries during filming. Burstyn was pulled back strongly by a rig for a stunt, injuring her coccyx, which she has said still bothers her to this day. And Blair was hurt when the lacing of her back brace came loose when she was being thrown around on a bed. Ironically the takes where both actresses received these injuries were used in the final film.

The shot of Ellen Burstyn injuring her back (The Exorcist)

The Omen

The Omen’s filming was also plagued with problems.

When the filmmakers charted a plane to get some aerial shots of London, they allowed another party to use the plane first. Shortly after the plane took off it crashed killing 6 people. The filming also had several serious incidents with animals. A rottweiler injured a stunt double when it bit through his protective padding. In the zoo scene, the baboons used by production attacked the car that actors Lee Remick and Harvey Stephens were in. Remick reportedly feared for her life. And a zoo handler who had been working with the production was killed by a tiger after zoo shooting wrapped. And those are just the incidents that happened during production.

One of the dogs used as hellhounds in The Omen (1976)

Maximum Overdrive

When people think of Stephen King, they think of some of the most terrifying novels of the last century, but cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi probably thinks of King very differently.

During the making of King’s sole directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive, for a low shot involving a lawnmower all safety equipment was removed from the mower, exposing the blades. When the lawnmower met the wooden stand the camera was on, it sent a large number of splinters into Nannuzzi’s face which resulted in him eventually losing an eye. He later sued King and the crew for unsafe working conditions.

Even everyday objects can be dangerous when not used with care (Maximum Overdrive)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

During the making of the final movie in the long-running action-horror series stunt woman, Olivia Jackson was injured when her motorbike collided with a malfunctioning camera crane at high speed. She was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks and suffered several injuries. Including crushed facial bones, a degloved face and a paralyzed left arm that was eventually amputated.

Following this horrific accident crew member Ricardo Cornelius was unfortunately killed when a hummer fell off a rotating platform and crushed him.

Poster for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Finally, we come to the film that started modern Hollywood’s move for better safety regulations. Twilight Zone: The Movie was an anthology movie based on the classic tv series.

In John Landis’ segment, Time Out, we follow a racist man (Vic Morrow) forced to witness the consequences that such attitudes have had throughout history.

However, while filming the segment’s climax where the main character saves two Vietnamese children (Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Che) from a warzone the helicopter they were using flew too close to a pyrotechnic, causing it to crash on top of the three actors, killing them instantly.

The aftermath of the horrendous accident which claimed the lives of three (Twilight Zone: The Movie)

Thank you for reading and always remember, stay safe.

Also Read: Video Nasties: The History of Censored Films in the UK

Editorials

Video Nasties: The History of Censored Films In The UK

July 2, 2019

The UK film industry has encountered countless censorship controversies over the years. Some date as far back as 1925 and they continue well into the 21st Century. Considering that the definition of censorship is to suppress speech that is obscene, politically unacceptable or a threat to security, this raises considerable questions for freedom of speech.

Well, today we are looking at the history of UK film censorship. We will look at the video nasties scandal and the role they played in British film and law history. And we will look at examples of British film censorship throughout the years and the reasons behind their censorship. But first, we will look at the body responsible for the regulation of British film, the BBFC.   

Who are the BBFC?

The BBFC was founded in 1912. Their acronym stands for British Board of Film Classification, originally the British Board of Film Censors. Its purpose is to certificate films shown in UK cinemas. These certificates are legal guidelines for who should be able to see a film The film classifications are U, PG, 12A/12, 15, 18 and R18. This is done to prevent potential harm to the public, especially children. Under the Licencing Act 2003, all cinemas must restrict admittance of anyone under 18 in accordance with the BBFC’s age ratings.

The BBFC’s logo

The BBFC can also advise film distributors on how to reduce their classification by listing potential cuts. Censoring any material that may be harmful to the British public. Later they became responsible for classifying video releases. A responsibility brought about thanks to…

The Video Nasties

In the late 70s/early 80s, the video market in the UK was unregulated. The BBFC originally ran a voluntary regulatory service. Meaning that the video distribution companies had to submit their film and pay for classification. Usually these videos were heavily cut to meet the BBFC’s guidelines. So many companies chose to avoid it.

Many conservative outlets, including the Daily Mail, campaigned against the slew of violent horror films being released. And how children could easily acquire them because of the lack of regulation. The Director of Public Prosecutions subsequently made a list of 72 titles that he thought would be liable for prosecution under The Obscene Publications Act, The Video Nasties. Meaning that he saw them as capable of depraving and corrupting the British public. The DPP also listed another 82 titles, called the section 3 titles. These films contained offensive material, but they were less likely to get a conviction.

The Video Nasties List

Several films listed by the DPP were successfully prosecuted, but several cases were unsuccessful. Meaning that there was a lot of conjecture as to what was classified as “obscene”.

This eventually led to the creation of the Video Recordings Act 1984. This required all videos to be classified by an industry body, resulting in the BBFC classification of home video releases. Many of the banned titles were later released. Although they were heavily cut. Though years later many of the films have since had all cuts waived.

Examples of Censorship

But of course, battles over films potentially harming viewers is nothing new in the UK. One of the first films the BBFC banned was 1925’s Battleship Potemkin, for political reasons. Because of the films function as communist propaganda, it was seen as having the potential to provoke violent revolts. Potemkin wasn’t released in the UK until 1954.

But even in the past decade, the BBFC have encountered problems with several controversial films. Most notably Human Centipede 2. Which the board initially rejected due to its portrayal of sexual violence and encouraging a dehumanizing view of others. The BBFC only allowed a release after they cut 2 minutes of footage. Which displeased the film’s fans, though it greatly pleased the film’s director.

The Human Centipede: Second Sequence (Six Entertainment)

But the board have also received flack for occasionally being too permissive. For example see Crash, which depicts the lives of a group of car accident fetishists. Upon release, several newspapers called for it to be banned. Westminster actually has a ban on the film, but the board passed it uncut. A rare example of local councils overturning the BBFC’s decision.

The Results

The BBFC has changed a lot over the years. It is now the overseer of Britain’s home entertainment industry and the legal arbiter of the cinemas. They have gone from consistently demanding cuts from films, to being more concerned with film classification. To see their changing attitudes look no further than the video nasties themselves. Once seen as potentially obscene many are now available uncut.

But like the nasties, there are newer movies that aim to push what is acceptable. Making things very difficult for the BBFC. “If they’re too heavy-handed the liberals don’t like them. If you’re too light-handed, then the conservatives don’t like them” – Christopher Frayling. And the internet makes it easier and easier for the public to circumvent the board’s decisions.

Ultimately, times change. What is obscene one year is next years punchline.  The board’s mission is, of course, important, to protect the vulnerable from potential harm. But does that give it the right to tamper with someone’s work? Please let us know your feelings in the comments below.

Also Read: Great Scenes with No Dialogue

Editorials

The Formula For A Successful Film

June 16, 2019
Successful at the box office

Films are a big part of modern life. We quote, discuss and review them daily. But with thousands of movies released each year, what makes certain movies into a phenomenon? What is it about select movies that capture the public’s attention and makes them successful? Is there a formula to it?

Today we are going to explore a recent study and see what conclusions they have come to about how to make a successful film. We will look at the purpose of the study, highlight their findings, their methodology and highlight examples of where their findings can be seen today and places where the study falters.

Purpose & Method

The paper we are looking at is called, The Data Science of Hollywood. This study was made to see how certain emotions can affect the types of media that people want to watch. And how production companies can customise their products to meet the preferences of audiences.

To accomplish this the authors compiled 6174 feature film scripts and charted the emotional journeys presented in each. They did this by analysing the sentences used within the script, declaring them as either emotionally negative, neutral or positive and then charting their use over the course of the script.

The movies were then grouped into one of six categories:

  • Rags to Riches – A film that continually builds positive emotion
The Shawshank Redemption is used as an example of rags to riches stories
  • Riches to Rags – The film is about a continual emotional decline
Toy Story 3 is a riches to rags story
  • Man in a hole – The film follows someone falling emotionally before rising out of it
The Departed is a man in a hole story
  • Icarus – The film charts an emotional rise followed by a fall
Mary Poppins shows the Icarus journey
  • Cinderella – This film begins building positive emotions, before declining and then rising again at the end
For a modern Cinderella story, look no further than Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Oedipus – This film begins with an emotional decline, followed by a rise and finishing with a decline
Little Mermaid is a great example of the Oedipus narrative

They then compared this data with various sources to see how successful these different journeys were with audiences. They looked at box office takings, IMDb audience and critic ratings, award nominations and wins and number of viewers. So, what did the researchers find?

Findings

Of the six narrative categories, the researchers found that the Man in a hole stories tended to have a higher average box office gross ($37.48 million). Cinderella was the second highest ($33.63 million on average) and Oedipus being third ($31.44 million on average).

Particularly successful examples of the man in a hole story from the past year include Black Panther and Halloween (2018). Both were among the top 25 highest grossing films of 2018 and began with the characters leading relatively normal lives before something turns their existence upside down. But they eventually fight to reclaim their happiness.

The Other Side

However, there are less successful films in this category, such as Mortal Engines. Which charted the journey of a privileged citizen as he is exiled from his city and eventually destroys its corrupt government with the help of the rebellion. It was one of the biggest box office bombs of 2018. And garnered an IMDb audience rating of 6.1 and a critical rating of 44/100. Halloween (2018) also did not perform greatly with IMDb users and critics, only garnering a 6.6 from users and 67 from critics.

On average the study found that Man in a hole films received the lowest average ratings from IMDb users and critics. IMDb Users usually rated Rags to riches stories highest. Successful examples include Avengers: Endgame, which charts the emotional rise from the low point of Infinity War, and is both the most successful film of the year and currently ranked as the 19th best film of all time on IMDb. This shows that films associated with positive emotions tend to work well with general audiences.

Meanwhile, movies with higher critical ratings tended to be Riches to rags stories. Showing that critics favour tougher emotional journeys. Examples include Jordan Peele’s Us. Which charted the continual emotional decline of its characters and has an 81/100 rating from IMDb critics compared to a 7.1 from regular users. But still managed to gross $175,005,930.

The Studies Failings

There are however several areas where this study opens itself for criticism. Firstly, relying on IMDb ratings to gauge public opinion can cause problems as people only tend to leave feedback/reviews if they’ve had a negative experience which can slightly skew the results. And IMDb scores are usually given by a different audience than those who see the movie in theatres. Meaning that an IMDb score doesn’t necessarily measure the satisfaction of people who saw the film in cinemas and contributed to its box office.

And the oversimplification of the emotional arc categories is very confusing. For example, The Shawshank Redemption is given as an example of the rags to riches story which supposedly continually builds positive emotions, but the film still has several emotional low points throughout. Meaning that the categorisation of these films is somewhat flawed.

Successful?

From this research we can conclude that the words of William Goldman hold true, “Not one person in the motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work”. A film’s success at the box office does not guarantee audience or critical satisfaction. The use of IMDb as a method for gauging public opinion is also flawed. And the categorization is oversimplified and there are continual examples that prove the study wrong on an individual basis.

But this study did raise interesting points with its research. Showing that the most successful films may not be aimed specifically at critics or general audiences. Instead, they are the ones that generate the most discussion. And the mixture of positive and negative emotional arcs ensures the box office success of the man in a hole films because they appeal to the preferences of critics and audiences.

Also Read: Spoiler Etiquette: To Spoil Or Not To Spoil…

Reviews

Retro Review: It Follows

June 8, 2019
It Follows poster

Over the past several years horror fans and critics have tended to pick an independent horror film and lavish huge amounts of praise and attention on them. Often declaring them as instant classics of the genre. But these films often prove very divisive. With other audiences claiming the films are overrated, not true horror films or simply not good. Examples include Hereditary (2018), The Witch (2015), The Babadook (2014) and the subject of today’s review, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014). Does it deserve its divisive reputation? Let’s find out.

Synopsis

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager enjoying all the foibles of growing into adulthood. One-night Jay decides to sleep with her new boyfriend for the first time. Afterwards, she is knocked out and taken to an abandoned building. There her boyfriend reveals he has passed a curse on to her. A shapeshifting creature which can take the form of anyone has begun following her and it wants her dead.

Her boyfriend then disappears leaving Jay to deal with the threat on her own. The one positive is that the creature only follows her at a walking pace, so Jay decides to use this to her advantage.

Along with her friends, she tracks down her boyfriend to get an explanation out of him and they learn that the only way the creature can be stopped is to transfer the curse to someone else. But can Jay bring herself to put another person in harm’s way or will she try something different?

What did I like?

The hyperbolic claims that It Follows is simply not a good film is baffling. Purely from a technical point of view, the film is great. As a horror film, It Follows has a firm grasp of how to create tension through its presentation. Using long takes, interesting camera movement and good actor direction to build anxiety about where the monster is and when it will strike. The score also builds a tense atmosphere through creating both a confrontational and quietly eerie soundscape.

The acting is also superb. With the story centred around teenagers, the film could easily become laughable if the cast weren’t believable. But all the main actors feel like real teenagers. Maika Monroe particularly stands out as an incredibly likeable, sympathetic and genuine lead. Her monologue about remembering her youth near the film’s beginning carries great weight because of her delivery. And the way all the friends talk about their childhoods and the antics they get up to gives a feeling of true friendship, allowing us to easily invest in their situation.

The film also pays tribute to older horror films in effective ways. With a synthesizer-heavy score, a stalking camera and an unknowable slow moving, shapeshifting monster, evoking the feeling of John Carpenters older horror films. But the film also has a very modern outlook.

Instead of simply killing characters for having sex or exploiting them for pointless nudity, It Follows is more a tale about teenagers coming to terms with the vulnerability of their bodies. Many scenes have Jay looking over her body and showing how she feels different now because of the danger brought on by the monster. But she never shies away from sex. Her challenge is choosing what to do with the burden she’s been given. As an extension, the women are not solely victims, like in many other horror movies. They take an active role in dealing with the threat, and they call the shots when it comes to sex. While most of the men are cowardly or self-centred. A far cry from the puritanical traditions of many older horror films.

This amalgam of traditions makes the film almost timeless. Ensuring most generations will be able to get something from watching it.

What did I not like?

But there are a few things that let the film down. There are a few weird editing choices throughout the film where the focus will instantly shift to another point of focus instead of giving a payoff to what came before. This is particularly noticeable in the finale which, although it gets a point across, does feel somewhat out of place.

Another problem is that despite the film using its narrative in an interesting way, the beats of the plot are still very familiar to anyone who has seen a passing-on-the-curse movie. And there are very few surprises to freshen up the formula. Which may put off some audiences.

Finally, while the film provides positive female representation with its characters, the film does occasionally feel very leery. With long shots of the female characters in their underwear, swimwear and revealing clothes. While both a staple of the genre and somewhat justified by the theme of body image, it is telling that we never get similar shots for the male characters. And this can leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth, especially with everything the film does to paint its women positively.

Verdict

Despite a few hiccups in editing, a familiar story and tending to slightly leer at its female characters, It Follows remains a great example of how to do modern horror right.

It gives us time to get to know the leads, who are all relatable and down to earth. While focusing on building tension rather than using jump scares, which the film does through interesting uses of music, camera movement and actor direction; It Follows celebrates the horrors of the past while updating some tropes to tell a modern story.

It Follows follows in the tradition of Carpenter and gives us a modern retro gem, that I can see audiences enjoying for years to come. Check it out and judge for yourselves.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It Follows is available for free on BBC Iplayer for the next 2 months

It Follows (Trailer)

Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror.

Reviews

Retro Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

May 24, 2019

And so we return once again to Stanley Kubrick. As I stated in my Eyes Wide Shut review Kubrick was one of the most highly regarded film directors of the 20th Century and much of his work displayed the real potential of what can be done with cinema. And nothing epitomizes the qualities of his work better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.   

Released in 1968, 2001 initially polarised critics and moviegoers alike. But in the years since it has been reassessed. And is now heralded as one of the greatest and most influential science fiction movies ever made. But does it really deserve that title? Well, today I head on the ultimate trip as I dive into 2001 and see what all the fuss is about.

Synopsis

2001 begins at “the dawn of man”. We see tribes of apes that will become humans fighting over resources in the wilds of the earth. Suddenly a large black monolith appears. Inspiring one of the tribes to use the bones of a tapir as tools to kill their fellow apes. We then jump to a time when we have used tools to make space travel possible and have conquered the moon. Another monolith is soon discovered, emitting a signal originating from Jupiter. So a team of astronauts go to investigate. Accompanying the team is the worlds most advanced computer system, HAL 9000. But does the artificial intelligence have other motives? What is the purpose of these monoliths? And what lies in wait beyond Jupiter?

What did I like?

As I said earlier there is no movie that gives a better introduction to Stanley Kubrick as a director than 2001. Because it demonstrates what his films do best.

Firstly, this film pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible with visual effects. The amount of sheer effort that went into creating the visuals in this film is unbelievable. Despite being over 50 years old the space sequences in this film still manage to blow modern productions out of the water. Everything looks and feels real, because of the lack of digital enhancement. The spaceships look authentic and the zero gravity sequences have weight to them because of the lingering shots and expert behind the scenes craftsmanship on display. Many newcomers and even old fans can still marvel for hours at how the filmmakers managed to achieve these feats without CGI. But importantly they also feel like part of the narrative, never intruding on the story.  

His films also asked complex questions, such as are we really the masters of our domain or is something else guiding us? Will technology eventually grow beyond us? Is conflict part of our very nature? Kubrick was not afraid to tackle big subjects. But the great thing about 2001 is that it invites different interpretations because of the little details packed into every frame of production, which some may notice and others won’t. Thus it provides a rewarding experience for multiple watches and everyone who sees it will come out with something different.

And, most importantly, Kubrick’s films were uniquely cinematic in their storytelling. The cinematography looks stunning and is packed with unique stylistic choices that make the film more engaging. The dialogue is also used carefully. The first and last 20 minutes of the film has no dialogue. But the audience is never confused because the information is always clearly conveyed through visuals. But even with less dialogue focus, the actors all shine. Whether fighting to get inside a spaceship or pretending to be apes, all the performances feel natural and well-integrated. The highlight being Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL. Who despite his monotone delivery evokes genuine menace and sympathy for his character. Lastly the films classical score is beautiful. When juxtaposed against savageness of the past and the wonders of the future, it gives the feeling of a true epic, spanning all of human existence and is very emotionally engaging.

So if the film is this good, what could possibly drag it down?

What did I not like?

First and foremost, if you are looking for an easy movie, that explains everything, with a simple plot structure and well-developed characters this is not the movie for you. The movie is more about themes and the bigger picture than it is about a character’s journey. It can, therefore, be frustrating to some viewers when the plot keeps jumping forward in time. With only thematic links and minimal dialogue to explain it; and no character to anchor the experience for the audience.

But it’s not just the lack of clear exposition and traditional presentation that may turn people off. The film has a slow and deliberate pace to it. Often lingering on the mechanics of how things work in this world. And while that does link in with the theme of technology getting ever grander and was very impressive for 1968, it does sometimes feel that the movie is stalling for time. And with a runtime of nearly 2 and a half hours that can be incredibly frustrating.

Finally, just like Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick employs a colder directing style that will keep some viewers from engaging with the film. Because he is more fascinated with the mechanics of technology than on the human story much of the characters seem, unengaging. Not that the actors do a bad job. The characters just seem more focused on business and basic survival, which can be emotionally uninvolving for a film audience. Not helped by Kubrick again focusing more on wider shots and a cold colour pallet. Keeping us as viewers at a distance and can keep us from becoming involved with the action.

Verdict

It is easy to see that 2001 will not be to everyone’s liking. The non-traditional narrative, lack of exposition for key plot points, the tendency to linger on minor details for a long time and cold, uninviting presentation may understandably turn a lot of people off.

But if you are looking for a unique cinematic experience that encourages debate and analysis with some of the best special effects ever put on screen and has such a polished level of craftsmanship in terms of cinematography, acting, soundtrack and editing, that even those who hate it can not help but admire it in some way, then do yourself a favour and go on the space odyssey. It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

2001: A Space Odyssey is available for free on BBC iPlayer until Monday 27th May 2019.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Editorials

How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror

May 13, 2019

Certain horror films define their era, because of their impact on the genre or on general popular culture. And many horror milestones have been low budget surprises. Night of the Living Dead spawned the zombie apocalypse film on a $100,000 budget. Halloween took $325,000 and popularised the slasher film. And today we’re going to look back at one of the last horror milestones of the 20th Century, and ask, what made it so impactful? The film that took a $60,000 budget and helped birth the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project.

Summary

The Blair Witch Project follows student filmmakers, Heather, Mike and Josh who set out to make a documentary on the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, the creepy legends about the surrounding black hills; their supposed connection the Blair Witch. But when the team venture into the hills they get lost and begin witnessing strange things, like cairn’s and stick effigies appearing around them. Eventually, Josh goes missing. Upon investigating Mike and Heather are attacked by unseen forces and are never seen again.

How The Blair Witch Project Stood Out?

It’s hard to believe now, as found footage is a staple of the horror landscape, but the style was once both new and credible. The Blair Witch Project was among the first movies to use an unprofessional style to create an air of authenticity. Audiences were used to slickly produced horror films. But the low-grade film stock, shaky camera, realistic audio, with no score, and no monster made this movie seem like someone’s home movie, not a professional film. And the film furthered its connection to reality by employing a different kind of filming process to get its performances.

To push the film’s realism, the directors cast unknown actors and wanted them to improvise all their dialogue. To do this, the actors were sent into the woods to film with the filming equipment and a GPS tracker. According to co-director Daniel Myrick, “Using GPS, we directed them to locations…where they’d leave their footage and pick up food and our directing notes”. Which often encouraged the actors to bicker amongst one another. And the crew would pull gags on the actors at night such as shaking their tent. Meaning that much of the acting feels close to reality because, for most of the production, the cast really were living like their characters.

The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first found footage film of course. Cannibal Holocaust and The Last Broadcast used many of the same tropes to appear real. But Blair Witch reached a wider audience and cemented its authenticity in the public’s eyes through its promotional material.

The filmmakers made a website before the film’s release to play up the legend behind the film. The website showed pictures of police investigations, interviews with Heather’s mother and “uncovered” audio clips from their expedition. The filmmakers also put up missing posters at film festivals and directed a short mockumentary, disguised as a traditional documentary which aired on the sci-fi channel called The Curse of Blair Witch. All this material combined, made many audiences believe that the film was real and that the actors really were missing, presumed dead. IMDb even listed the actors as missing.

Missing Poster for The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Which eventually resulted in a film with a $60,000 budget, making back $248,639,099 – Over 4000 times its budget. Making it one of the most profitable movies ever made.

The Blair Witch Follow-Ups

Inevitably for a film that successful, franchise appeal came calling. The film spawned a sequel in 2000, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and a soft-reboot/sequel in 2016’s Blair Witch. Which despite their financial success, never received the same recognition as the original. And it isn’t hard to see why.

Book of Shadows traded in the found footage conceit and was shot like a conventional horror movie. It also attempted to satirise and explore the impact of the first movie and the power of media to influence people. But many didn’t appreciate the typical presentation after the ground-breaking feeling of the original.

And while Blair Witch went back to the found footage conceit, even following the originals lead with a viral marketing campaign capitalizing on the secrecy of the production, the film didn’t garner much praise upon release. Because despite its nods to the original the film, this film focused more on jump scares and was more slickly produced. Using professional actors and multiple high-quality cameras. Making it ironically seem again like a conventional movie. And because of the prevalence of found footage films released since the original, Blair Witch 2016 ultimately seemed like pointless brand reinforcement.

Blair Witch (2016) Poster

The Influence and State of The Blair Witch

Because everyone is now fully aware that found footage films aren’t real. And with the atmosphere of the marketing campaign forgotten, many feel that the original Blair Witch Project doesn’t hold up today. But it is important viewing from a historical standpoint.

Of course, all modern found footage movies owe their existence to Blair Witch. With Paranormal Activity, Unfriended and The Visit all becoming box office success using small budgets and found footage tropes to tell their stories. But there are also movies like 28 Days Later, which took stylistic influence from Blair Witch by using low-quality footage to make the film more gritty and real and made back over 10 times its budget. And it was, of course, the forerunner of viral internet marketing, which has since become so prevalent. With every movie and TV show using their online presence to get viewers interested.

However, even with everything that came afterwards, the original Blair Witch Project remains a testament to ingenuity. It proved you don’t need a big budget or a monster to frighten an entire generation. Just an idea, an internet connection, a camera and a committed cast.

Also Read: The Human Centipede: A Love / Hate Story

Editorials

Top 5 Stephen King Movies Adaptations

April 28, 2019

Stephen King – a name synonymous with frightening fiction. Though primarily known for writing horror, he’s had an incredible impact on popular culture since he released his first novel in 1974. He is a regular fixture of the New York Times Best Seller list and has influenced generations of creatives in many different mediums. And one medium that certainly has a fascination with King is film.

Stephen King movie adaptations are currently experiencing a resurgence. With IT parts 1 and 2, Pet Sematary (2019), The Dark Tower, Geralds Game and 1922 proving that King’s name can still attract new talent and audiences. But this is no new thing. Film adaptations of King’s work have been a fixture of release schedules ever since the late 1970s.

So today I am going to look at what I consider to be the five best film adaptations of King’s work. But because there’s over four decades worth of material to choose from, to make things more interesting I will be picking only one film per decade. So let’s see which Stephen King adaptations manage to float above the rest.

1970s – Carrie (1976)

Although there aren’t many 70s Stephen King movies to choose from, Brian De Palma’s adaptation of King’s first novel is still a true classic. And deserves mention on any best adaptations list.

Carrie tells the tragic story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). A shy, introverted girl who is bullied at school and lives under the control of her religiously fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). One day, however, Carrie learns that she has telekinetic abilities. As she begins to discover more about herself her sympathetic classmate (Amy Irving) gets her a date for the school prom. But some of the girls want revenge on her for putting them in detention. Leading to a prom that no one will ever forget.

Carrie is iconic. The prom scene is permanently etched into our culture. But many often forget how good the rest of the movie is. All the performances are incredible. Sissy Spacek is, of course, the standout. She is incredibly sympathetic and easy to relate to as Carrie. But there are so many subtleties to the rest of the performances that make everyone feel real and not like caricatures, which many lesser quality King works often fail to do. Then there’s De Palma’s direction that wrings incredible suspense from every situation and makes everything flow so naturally. Topped off with beautiful visuals and a mesmeric score, you have a movie that set the bar high for all king adaptations to come.

Carrie surrounded by fire in Carrie (1976)

1980s – The Shining (1980)

The 80s is where selecting a single film becomes difficult. Many 80s King adaptations including Stand By Me, Christine and Pet Sematary are remembered fondly. So some may disagree with this selection. Especially given King’s open dislike of this particular adaptation. But for the best 80s Stephen King movie, the honour has to go to The Shining.

The Torrance family are looking after the Overlook hotel for the winter. They have all the food they can eat, space for young Danny (Danny Lloyd) to play and a lot of time for Jack (Jack Nicholson) to work on writing his novel. But as isolation sets in ghostly apparitions start appearing, affecting Jack’s sanity. Eventually, Jack breaks down and decides to “correct” his family, chasing them through the hotel with an axe. With the winter snows closing the place off, can Danny and his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) escape?

Like Carrie, I can say nothing about the Shining that hasn’t already been said. King purists will protest its deviations from the source material but for me, it does what good adaptations are supposed to do. Take what works about the source material and add a new distinct voice to it. And you can’t get more distinct than Stanley Kubrick. The film is a marvel of atmosphere. The lingering camera, some of the most disturbing images ever captured on film, the unnerving score, the cold lonely location and performances that feel just a little too real. It all goes together to create a haunting portrait of madness and generational guilt that lingers in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Jack Nicholoson’s iconic turn as Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)

1990s – The Shawshank Redemption

Again the 90s had several films that could have filled this spot. Including Green Mile, Misery or the IT mini-series. But I would be lying if I didn’t put The Shawshank Redemption in this spot on the list.

Red (Morgan Freeman) is a prisoner at Shawshank penitentiary. He’s spent a long time inside. But despite his placid nature, he’s never made parole. He seems to be ready to just run out the clock in Shawshank. But when he meets Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), he begins to rediscover what it means to feel human again. Only Andy doesn’t intend to stay inside. With the corrupt system poised against them will the two men ever be able to find a way to escape the harsh reality of Shawshank?

The Shawshank Redemption is not only a testament to King’s adeptness at writing in genres other than horror, but it’s also one of the most beloved movies of all time. It has held the number 1 position on IMDb’s top 250 films since 2008 and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a film that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride. The story of escaping the prisons we make for ourselves is one that we can all relate to. All the actors are also fantastic. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give career-best performances and manage to make you empathize with criminals of dubious moral fibre, Which is no small task. And when combined with Frank Darabont’s confident direction and incredible character interplay, the result is a genuine classic, that will enchant many generations to come.  

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins giving the best performances of their careers in The Shawshank Redemption

2000s – The Mist

This is both Frank Darabont’s second appearance on this list and yet another no brainer for the time period. After Darabont’s success adapting Green Mile and Shawshank he proved himself yet again as possibly the best director to put King on the screen with The Mist.

The Mist concerns a family in a small Maine town. One day the town is engulfed by thic fog. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem but inside the fog are otherworldly creatures intent on killing all in their path. The family hold up in a supermarket with most of the town and what follows is a two-hour meditation on the nature of humanity in crisis.

The main reason why the Mist is so effective is because it keeps it simple. For most of the movie, we are trapped inside the supermarket with our main characters. And as the film progresses we slowly learn more about them and the situation. This intrigue coupled with the tension brought by the agendas of the other captives and the monsters outside helps keep the audience on the edge of their seat as the movie heads towards an ending that will play on your mind for a long time.

Poster for The Mist

2010s – IT (2017)

As the 2000’s went on King film adaptations began to decrease. His stories became more the domain of TV shows. But in 2017 King came back in a big way with two Netflix original movies (Geralds Game & 1922) and two theatrical releases (IT & The Dark Tower). And of those releases, IT was definitely the most significant.

It concerns a group of friends called the losers club. Over the course of one summer, we follow Bill, Eddie, Richie, Ben, Stan, Mike and Bev as they form lasting friendships with one another and battle the dark forces that hide in their home town of Derry. All of which are linked to a child-snatching spectre. Which mostly manifests in the form of Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard).

IT accomplished a lot. Not only did it prove that a remake can in many ways improve on its predecessor. But it also proved to be a very fun movie in its own right. With fantastic performances from the child cast, inventive ideas and cinematography and an incredibly creepy turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise who managed to equal the iconic nature of Tim Curry’s performance from the 1990 mini-series. IT also managed to tap into the nostalgic magic that made properties like Stranger Things popular. And acted as both an affectionate tribute to and critique of people’s nostalgic memories for the 1980s; because of IT we can look forward to many more adaptations of King’s work on the big screen.

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT (2017)

Conclusion

So ends our list of the top 5 Stephen King movie adaptations. As I said many times throughout this list, it was incredibly hard to narrow down my choices when there are so many good movies based on Stephen King’s books. So please let me know your opinions.

Do you agree with my choices? What are some of your favorite King films that I missed? Sometimes, other opinions are better.

Reviews

Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

April 17, 2019

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most revered film directors of all time. His films were championed as art which displayed the power of cinema. And many are held as some of the greatest movies ever. However, his final film Eyes Wide Shut has often slipped through the cracks.

Many critics were left disappointed when the film came out. Which is understandable. When the film was released Kubrick hadn’t made a film in 12 years. And with his great track record, many were probably expecting a masterpiece. With such high expectations, it’s understandable why the film didn’t fare well upon initial viewing. But with the film celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year, today we will be looking back to see if Eyes Wide Shut deserves its reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.

The Story

Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a well-regarded New York City couple. Bill has a good job as a doctor, the couple has a child together and is very active in high society. But after a series of intimate flirtations with other people at a Christmas party, they begin to have doubts about how secure their relationship is.

After Alice admits to having sexual fantasies about another man, Bill embarks on an odyssey around New York to find out more about himself. His curiosity leads him to several encounters that will test his commitment to his relationship. Eventually causing him to cross paths with a secret society who don’t take kindly to strangers.

What did I like?

If you are a fan of cinema Eyes Wide Shut delivers something truly unique. It uses its basis as an erotic thriller to ask some interesting questions about relationships. What does marriage mean to people? Is it possible to truly know someone? And does true love really exist? And these interesting thematic points are accompanied and conveyed through great performances and a confident script.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s performances are some of both actor’s best work. They have fantastic chemistry, which makes the films questions about relationships more impactful because theirs feels so genuine. They were of course dating at the time. Tom Cruise being Hollywood’s go to charming leads makes Bill easy to like. But he’s equally effective when the film shifts and shows him in more vulnerable or compromising positions. And he makes each character shift work by wholly committing to the emotion required from the role. And Kidman shows her strong dramatic capabilities and how committed she can be. She’s willing to commit to nudity and brings dramatic weight to her simplest actions. The scene where she and Cruise discuss their relationship is incredibly powerful, because of her performance. And all the supporting performers although given limited screen time, manage to make their characters feel like fully rounded people.

The script is also one of Kubrick’s best. It creates a seamless world that blends both the real and surreal perfectly. The dialogue between the characters all feels natural. It doesn’t seem pretentious or forced. It feels like these are characters voicing their opinions, and aren’t just actors reciting dialogue. Even the exposition, although there can sometimes be a lot, fits what the characters are going through. And it allows room for interpretation, with so much being left unexplained for the audience to interpret. While also being a complete narrative. With all of the major characters arcs completed in a natural way.

And the cinematography is some of the best of Kubrick’s career. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes every scene look like a painting come to life. The colourful lighting and smooth tracking shots make the film a joy to look at. And he creates a palpable atmosphere through adding a haziness to many of the shots. Making the film feel like a dream. Which makes the more surreal frightening parts of the film all the more plausible.

But there are still elements that may bother viewers especially those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work.

What did I not like?

Firstly, the slow pace that favours character interaction, mood and visual metaphors over an efficient, traditional narrative can make the film a chore for people simply wanting to watch a story unfold rather than trying to decode what the movie means. Many will also be dissatisfied with the directions the story takes. The payoffs to many of the story’s arcs happen off-screen and are explained away in dialogue or favour intimate images over big spectacle, which can make some audience members feel cheated.

The direction doesn’t help. Kubrick’s films often lack intimacy. Favouring wider shots over close-ups and cold/washed out colours, which keeps the audience at a distance and inspires a depressing feeling. Coupled with the actors slower, more methodical delivery, this can make the film seem stagey and un-real. Which may keep you from becoming engaged with the drama.

Alternately there are times when some might feel that the movie is patronizing them. Some scenes literally vomit dialogue about what has occurred. Which is necessary for the characters but not for the audience. The pool scene being the worst offender.

Finally, it is easy to see some take against the portrayal of women in the film. Many may feel the film paints all women as being obsessed with sex and are portrayed in an enticing way for the male viewer. Which is not an inaccurate conclusion. Though it is worth pointing out that the film does hold Bill’s character accountable for his chauvinist views. And many of the films male characters are controlling, manipulative and driven by self-interest (though they have significantly less nude scenes).

Verdict  

Twenty years after it’s release, it’s easy to see why some audiences took against Eyes Wide Shut. Because it favours atmosphere over tight narrative structure. Goes in directions that many may not expect. While also offering up a possibly unflattering view of women and to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s style it can seem alienating and hard to read.

However to those looking for something different or are familiar with the directors work the film delivers a one of a kind experience. It asks big philosophical questions in a way that allows the audience to think and come up with their own conclusions while still functioning as complete narrative. The characters are memorable and interesting. All of the actors commit themselves in ways that are very admirable and play to and against their strengths. And the film is a feast for the eyes with a vibrant colour scheme that attracts and repels at the same time.

It’s a hard nut to crack. But once you have, it is a rewarding experience and a worthy swan song for one of cinemas greatest voices.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)