Scream (1996)

Rating 18

Length 1Hr 51

Release 2.5.1997

About Wes Craven re-invented and revitalised the slasher-horror genre with this modern horror classic, which manages to be funny, clever and scary, as a fright-masked knife maniac stalks high-school students in middle-class suburbia. Craven is happy to provide both tension and self-parody as the body count mounts – but the victims aren’t always the ones you’d expect.


First Thoughts

I saw the sequel before I saw this one. Watching it while playing Cluedo. So when I came to watching the film that started the franchise, I thought perhaps the suspense would be ruined.

Treat

  • It’s a meta horror feast complete with Easter egg visuals and references, but it does also work as a movie in its own right. By that, I mean that I watched it back in 1998 which minimal knowledge of the genre and it didn’t hinder my enjoyment. There’s the obvious (Halloween) and there’s the subtle (Billy’s surname being Loomis).
  • There’s a clear victim that becomes the focus, but this is very much an ensemble movie which allows this film to be more than your typical slasher. After all, everyone’s a suspect.
  • Skeet Urlrich must have been cast for his resemblance of Depp in Nightmare. It’s scary how much he looks like Johnny Depp and it certainly helps the audience believe that he’s innocent. Until of course he goes all psycho on us in the final act.
  • The opening scene and its Psycho connection is a multi layered reference. The film opens up to child star Drew Barrymore, a relatively known name at the time. She appears on the promotional material, making you think that she’s a lead in Scream. However, taking her last scream in the first 12 minutes is not dissimilar to Janet Leigh’s role in Psycho. A well used tactic like this would undoubtedly put the audience on edge from the start.
  • Neve Campbell’s Sidney is a Scream Queen hybrid; she’s the wholesome youngster with that innocent vibe, however, she’s traumatised and holds her own to almost stand apart from the Queens of Halloween and Elm Street. Having her call Ghostface’s bluff upon receiving her first phone call is something an audience would like to think they would do when faced with a situation like this and it’s Sidney’s seemingly unrelated back story that allows the audience to believe that she is just that tired of this kind of shit.
  • The music and score are on point. From Red Right Hand, School’s Out and Drop Dead Gorgeous to the incorporation of Halloween’s score and it’s own original score, the film uses music to foreshadow and further support the subversion of the genre.

Trick

  • Dewey ruins a lot of the scenes he’s in. There’s a comedic element to the film and there’s no doubt about that. However, Arquette really does make me wonder how Dewey graduated from high school, let alone gained his police badge.
  • The film’s success gave birth to a resurgence of the spoof movie, starting with Scary Movie. The problem with these types of films is that they take it a million steps too far and root the narrative in current culture that ensures the references lose all impact by the time they reach dvd sales. They are the Primark or movies: disposable fashion that falls apart not too long after you bought it. Yeah, thanks Scream for Epic/ Date/ Disaster Movie, we really needed those in our lives.
  • While Courtney Cox gives a surprise, and solid, performance as bitch reporter Gail Weathers, it’s a character that suffers in hindsight by the sequels. Much like her face, Cox’s performances because ridged and tiresome. The woman Cox portrays here is a character, whereas when we meet her in Scream 3, she’s a caricature that has melded into Cox’s shouty Monica performance. It makes this encore viewing a little bitter.

Final Thoughts

A film that can be watched on many levels and is ageing much better than its sequels.

American Werewolf in London (1981)

Rating: X/18

Length: 1Hr 37

Release: 8.11.1981

About: David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), two American college students, are backpacking through Britain when a large wolf attacks them. David survives with a bite, but Jack is brutally killed. As David heals in the hospital, he’s plagued by violent nightmares of his mutilated friend, who warns David that he is becoming a werewolf. When David discovers the horrible truth, he contemplates committing suicide before the next full moon causes him to transform from man to murderous beast.


Treat

  • The visual transformation of David is mind-blowing and a work of art even now. It’s aged incredibly well and looks so much better than any CGI transformation Hollywood can provide today. It’s still the best transformation I’ve ever seen. Thanks to David Naughton’s acting, I believe it’s painful.
  • This is a film that has a perfect balance of character, relationship and plot. I love the relationship between David and Jack and I’m actually a little sad that we lose that relationship so early on. I know Griffin Dunne continues to play Jack, but there’s a dynamic shift.
  • Speaking of Jack, he has a transformation of his own and it’s amazing. Visually it’s gruesome and may cause you to flinch but it’s expertly done to gain that response.
  • I have, of late, become rather disenchanted by movie love, however this Florence Nightingale effect is actually well plotted and delivered. Their relationship is quite possibly one of the most believable from a supernatural movie perspective.
  • The opening sequence that utilises the Western’s ‘stranger walking into a saloon’ to great effect. I’m not sure all films could pull it off, but racks up the tension.
  • I could go through this film frame by frame, I love it so much. Instead I’m going to end on the dream sequences because it’s the one time where I’ve appreciated the dream fake out. The imagery is rather odd and random; I find that it’s something films forget about when it comes to dreams.

Trick

  • I’m struggling to be critical of Werewolf. It a film that has aged really well, both in terms of story and effects.
  • There perhaps is an element of gratuitous nudity (the porno theatre) but then I feel as if I’m censoring to my own tastes. At the end of the day, the movie was going to gain an X rating, so it could do what it wants.

Final Thoughts

An incredibly fun, yet gory movie that will have Londoners begging for those days. It’s a werewolf movie snout and tails above the rest.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Rating 18

Length 1Hr 58

Release 31.5.1991

About Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI’s training academy. Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.


Treat

  • This filled in some blanks in terms of films that reference this movie. Not the obvious, but the subtle.

  • Dr Lecter is an interesting character and Hopkins embodies him well. His escape sequence is the best part of the film. If the film had continued with this camera work and pacing it would have been a much more engaging movie.

Trick

  • I found the close-up, almost but not quite, POV shots too stagnant and caused me to disengage from the film. I’m sure it was intended to give a sense of intimacy but for me it does the exact opposite. It feels like a documentary and rather clinical.
  • Clarice feels a little like a ‘Mary Sue’. She’s a trainee left to do so much on her own that it’s baffling. What was told to her at the beginning seemed like smoke being blown up her cootch. Whether that be because of the camera angles, Jody Foster’s portrayal or the writing I can’t quite tell. The flash-backs did nothing for me and in a film that feels overly long, it’s the first thing I’d edit.
  • The score, for me, doesn’t fit the film. It’s too melancholy, morose and more suited to a drama than a killer thriller.

Final Thoughts

Lacking any connection with the characters it makes for a boring watch.

Howling iii: The Marsupials (1987)

Rating: 18

Length: 1Hr 34

Release: 13.11.1987 (US)

About: An Australian scientist (Barry Otto) finds marsupial werewolves, one of whom (Imogen Annesley) finds work in a horror movie.


Treat

  • It had a skeleton werewolf attack, even if it was brief. I felt it was something new to the sub genre while reminiscent of some of the Greek Myth films.

Trick

  • Everything else. The acting was painfully bad, which just showed you quite how bad everything else was.
  • The plot made no sense and part of that was brought to light by strange scenes, shitty transitions and absolutely no concept about how humans work and behave, let alone mythical beasts.
  • The story is absurd and that’s without considering the fact that the main female werewolf has a hairy pouch in which her ugly assed were-baby grows. The “birth” scene is just fucked up.

  • The script would have made better toilet paper. The number of times “we need to get out of here” is uttered, for the same people too build a camp Fire in the exact same place they need to get away from is head scratching.
  • The music is odd synth-like 80s noise that is just as nauseating as the bad camera work and random POV shots. Literally random. They start as Werewolf POV, then for no reason we’ re seeing through the eyes of passer-by number two.
  • I did a unit on third cinema in uni which is best compared to guerrilla film making. Footage would be filmed on different quality of celluloid, simply because that’s what was available. I’ve seen better quality filming in Third Cinema. Actually, I’ve seen better YouTube videos produced.

Final Thoughts

Bad film. Bad, bad, film.

IT (1990)

Rating 15

Length 3hr 12

Release 18.11.1990 (no UK date given)

About In 1960, seven preteen outcasts fight an evil demon that poses as a child-killing clown. Thirty years later, they reunite to stop the demon once and for all when it returns to their hometown.


The Good

  • Tim Curry is unrecognisable and perfectly chilling as Pennywise. The film also makes use of ITs ability to shape shift which adds to the horror.
  • Presenting the story as it does in the book; revealing the past as the characters remember makes it a smoother narrative.
  • They stay together, the adults I mean. Not splitting up which is against every horror rule going like the new film.
  • John Ritter! The late, great John Ritter is one of the better casting choices and it was wonderful to see him in a horror role that didn’t scare the bejesus out of me (my first experience of Ritter was playing Ted in Buffy and it’s taken me a long time to warm to the actor as a result). I was expecting him to take on the role of Richie, so I was surprised to see that it was Ben. One that he did very well.

The Bad

  • Much like the film, it’s too long. It was intended to air as two episodes and that might have improved things, but I am certainly leaning towards the opinion that I’m no longer a fan of films that go much beyond the 2Hr mark.
  • Richard Thomas was a good choice for Bill, but whoever had the idea to give him the hair needs to not work in movies! Also, he surprisingly didn’t have the leader power I expected him to have. Yes it’s an ensemble, but he is the leader of the Losers and the actor should have a presence of that.

The Ugly

  • It simply wasn’t scary enough. Perhaps this is a version that was hyped way too much over time, but I was bored. Possibly even more so than when I read the book, if that’s even possible.

Final Thoughts

A mini series for its time and not something I’ll rush to watch again. Time has not been kind to the scares and perhaps the subtlety and restraint of Curry’s performance does not match the expectations brought about by modern horrors.

Jaws (1975)

Rating A/12

Length 2Hr 4

Release 26.12.1975

About When a young woman is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping near the New England tourist town of Amity Island, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will cripple the town. Ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled ship captain Quint (Robert Shaw) offer to help Brody capture the killer beast, and the trio engage in an epic battle of man vs. nature.


First Thoughts

I remember seeing it for the first time on a midweek school night when it aired on ITV. I very much remember being scared.

I remember it being one of the last films I watched as part of my course in the first year, going to the seminar and being one of two students that showed up.

My last viewing before today was for my brother’s birthday, in which I got us tickets for an outdoor screening in London.

The Good

  • It’s a Visually stunning movie. There’s a reason why it’s on so many university courses. This is the go to film for camera shots, framings and movement. The night time shots appear to be filmed in the day with a tonal shift placed over it, allowing you to get a sense of time and still be able to view the action.

  • Much like Creature From the Black Lagoon, it’s a film of two halves. We open in a New England island town and explore tourism politics and economics. Okay, that sounds a bit boring on paper, but it gives us some epic scenes with the Mayor and the townspeople as they ignore the horror that unfolds. The second half is a much more intimate affair and deals with man’s relationship with sharks. What I love more than anything though, is the fact that you learn something new each time you watch.
  • The dialogue is artful and meaningful. Something that has perhaps been lost over the years is visually rich films. Just because there’s a spectacle, doesn’t mean the audience can do without quotable sound bites.
  • Words are not the only audio that has an impact. Much like many horrors, John Williams has created a score that prepares you for the scares Spielberg has in store. The best example being when Hooper goes into the water and he reached the hole in the boat. The music has already, by this point, conditioned you in a Pavlovian way to expect Bruce to make his appearance. It’s been lampooned and referenced so much now that you don’t need to have seen the film to know the association.
  • The trio of Brody, Hooper and Quint. They normal men who are not ripped, they’re not carefully cast to ensure a particular demographic take their seats. The fact that you can’t really pick one of them out as the MVP says everything about the ensemble.
  • The fear factor will never diminish. The film keeps our ‘monster’ so well hidden that it’s really our imaginations in charge. While perhaps the physical effects of ‘Bruce’ the Shark may not be what they once where (speaking more of the commentary of others) I do feel it’s such a well crafted film that you may just be distracted enough.
  • There are so many scenes that you can pinpoint as being iconic but my favourite will forever be the comparison of scars. It’s everything that you need in a scene; it’s a showcase of character, it’s humour disarms you and right out of nowhere there’s a gut punch from Quint. That monologue! Visually, having Hooper’s out of focus reactions is haunting. The scene is brilliant at that point and ending it on a downward note would have been fine. Spielberg however pulls it out of the macabre with a rendition of ‘show me the way to go home’ and it’s that upward lift that perfects the scene.

The Bad

  • While I do love the ending and the casual conversation that we fade out to, I can’t help but wish we could see a Brody family reunion.

The Ugly

  • The popularity and success of this movie has resulted in so many rip offs of varying quality. For every ‘good fun’ The Meg that reaches the cinema, there’s a Sharknado in a bargain bin or 3am time slot on a random channel. Not to forget the sequels… of course we all wish we could.

Final Thoughts

What can I say, it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s the reason why Spielberg’s work pre-Minority Report is my favourite of any director.

The Frighteners (1996)

Rating: 15

Length: 1Hr 50

Release: 24.1.1997

About: Once an architect, Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) now passes himself off as an exorcist of evil spirits. To bolster his facade, he claims his “special” gift is the result of a car accident that killed his wife. But what he does not count on is more people dying in the small town where he lives. As he tries to piece together the supernatural mystery of these killings, he falls in love with the wife (Trini Alvarado) of one of the victims and deals with a crazy FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs).


Treat

  • Michael J Fox and Jeffery Combs are perfectly cast. Fox’s role is a little bittersweet knowing that it’s his last as a Hollywood leading man and a career cut way too short. It’s a character that allows Fox to show give a much more layered performance.
  • Combs looks like he’s having the best time playing the messed up FBI agent. There’s nothing I’ve seen where he doesn’t bring his a-game and this is no exception.
  • The feel of this film not only recalls Back to the Future, but Goonies, Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters as well. I went into the film knowing it was directed by Peter Jackson however it really does have the tone of a Zemeckis film.
  • I quite like the romantic sub plot of Frank and Lucy. Perhaps a little in bad taste, what with him still being at the table and all, but their chemistry works and her dead husband was a dick.
  • The cameo of R Lee Ermey as a loud and shouty sergeant Is a subtle stroke of genius. I haven’t seen Full Metal Jacket, but I’ve seen enough clips to get the reference. If it had been someone else doing it, it would have been a lovely nod. To get the original actor on board is awesome.

Trick

  • Not the fault of the film. It was an amazing task at the time, but there is slightly too much CGI for me. I love the construction of the etherial ghosts, but the form coming out of the wall and the apparition cloaked as Death seem to lack the same quality.
  • I did not like the ghost fucking the mummy! Just weird. I am also aware, however, I could watch this another time and the exact same scene could have me pissing myself laughing.
  • It’s about 20-30 minutes too long for me. Perhaps it’s because recently all the films I’ve watched have rarely passed the 1 hr 30 mark, but I don’t think anything is gained with the added half an hour.

Final Thoughts

A film that is better than its box office suggests and a perfect watch for Halloween. It’s also a must see for fans of Jackson’s follow up films that relied heavily on the technical achievements from this movie.