Given my love of all things horror I’m often asked at this time of year by numerous people – sometimes upwards of three – which scary movies are worth watching.
Rather than go through the minor inconvenience of advising this tiny handful of friends, I’ve instead decided to put myself through a significantly larger inconvenience in the hope it helps out many others with a similar quandary.
Naturally, the issue here is that there’s no catch-all “good horror movie” – everyone likes different things, and one man’s Scream is another man’s Scream 3.
Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin
“Tonight, you pukes will sleep with your rifles. You will give your rifle a girl’s name because this is the only pussy you people are going to get. Your days of finger-banging ol’ Mary-Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over. You are married to this piece. This weapon of iron and wood. And you WILL be faithful.” (Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket)
I always find the classics are the hardest to review. After all, what can you say about Full Metal Jacket that hasn’t already been said?
As a film widely believed to be one of the greatest war movies ever made, by adding my own critique to the never-ending onslaught of adoration it’s received in the 26 years since it was originally released, I might as well be spitting into a swimming pool. Continue reading “Full Metal Jacket (1987) review”→
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija
BRYAN – “If I kill you, your other sons will come and seek revenge?” MURAD – “They will.” BRYAN – “And I will kill them too.”
When the hero in an action movie ploughs his way through countless baddies, butchering and slaughtering them in the name of our entertainment (as well as whatever cockamamie reason the plot’s given him, of course), we never spare a thought for the families of the recently deceased.
After all, for every nameless terrorist, anonymous criminal and nondescript thug there’s a mother, a father and maybe even a wife and children somewhere mourning the death of a man who may have been a bit of a prick in real life but was always good to them at least. We’re usually never shown these devoted family members in films though, because it humanises the enemies and makes you feel sorry for them, when all you’re supposed to be thinking is “YES, chuck that fanny over the cliff”.
This is the thinking behind Taken 2, which takes place a few months after the events of the first film. Naturally, in order for me to describe the plot you’re going to have to accept that there are a couple of very minor spoilers from the first film ahead (nothing that you couldn’t reasonably predict yourself though).
After Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) killed a load of Albanians on the way to his kidnapped daughter in the first Taken, the families of the deceased receive the bodies and vow to get revenge on the man that, in their eyes, butchered a village’s worth of young men. Through the traditional Taken plot methods (i.e. absurdly unlikely coincidences) they find Bryan on holiday in Turkey with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Continue reading “Taken 2 (2012) review”→
Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso
“Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us.” (Cary, Super 8)
I’ve complained a few times on That Was A Bit Mental that they don’t make films like The Goonies or The Monster Squad any more – films where children act realistically, talk over each other, swear from time to time and are in genuine danger throughout their adventure. Super 8 is proof that, though rare, these films can still exist in modern cinema.
Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of a group of 13-year-olds who meet up on occasion to shoot a low-budget zombie film using their Super 8 movie camera. While filming a scene near a railway line they manage to catch film of a train speeding past them, colliding with a truck on the line and causing the mother of all train crashes. Running over to the truck they find their biology teacher behind the wheel, who cryptically tells them that they and their families are all going to die if they tell anyone what happened. Little do they know that the train contained a huge alien life form – one who’s now free, not too chuffed at the way it’s been treated, and well up for a shitstorm.
Put bluntly, this film is superb. The first half-hour is charming as you instantly fall in love with all the kids in the group (not in that way you maniac). Their dialogue is completely believable and you completely buy into the idea that they’re a bunch of close friends, in particular the main character Joe and his chunky chum Charles (the director of the kids’ film). The introduction of Alice (the wonderful Elle Fanning) makes things even more entertaining as you see this group of young teenage boys swooning over her but still trying to act cool. It’s all just so genuine. Continue reading “Super 8 (2011) review”→
Starring: Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Stephen King, EG Marshall
“You see that crap? All that horror crap? Things coming out of crates and eating people? Dead people coming back to life? People turning into weeds, for christ sake? Well, you want him reading that stuff? All right then! I took care of it. That’s why God made fathers, babe. That’s why God made fathers.” (Stan, Creepshow)
If you’ve read my previous review of Creepshow 3, you’ll have noticed that it has the dubious honour of one measly Trevor mask as its rating. This wasn’t just because Creepshow 3 is bad – it most certainly is – but also because its predecessors were so good that the third film let the entire series down. To cheer myself up then I decided to re-watch the original Creepshow over the festive period.
If you’re not familiar with it, Creepshow is a collection of five short stories written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero (back when he was still good and not slapping his name on any old shite for a fiver). It’s an homage to the old EC comics of the 1950s like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror, and as such each story starts and ends as if it were in a comic book, with garish colours and speech bubbles. It’s an interesting style that not everyone will love but it’s fun and keeps things light-hearted. Make no mistake, this may be a collection of horror stories but (much like the EC comics themselves) its tongue is planted firmly in its rotting cheek and its five tales of morality are much funnier than they are scary. Continue reading “Creepshow (1982)”→
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis
“I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” (Dr Loomis, Halloween)
There are a sacred handful of films that will forever be considered horror classics, films that revolutionised the genre and influenced the creation of countless others that followed in its wake. Look inside the wallets of Night Of The Living Dead, Psycho,The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you’ll find they’re all card-carrying members of this elite club, but John Carpenter’s Halloween was the one who went to the printing shop and had the cards designed. Shite metaphors aside, the influence Halloween had on horror is one that continues to this day, largely because it was the first film to successfully introduce the slasher genre to the mainstream public.
While it’s often wrongly credited as the first ever slasher movie (the likes of Black Christmas, The Driller Killer and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came before it), there’s no denying that Halloween was the first to nail it and the one that would inspire the endless stream of low-budget slashers that followed it (a stream that would flow right through to the present day). Its simple premise – a babysitter stalked by a faceless, unstoppable killer – made it easy for the viewer to relate and as such made it terrifying to the teenage audiences that came in their droves to see it. Simply put, Halloween changed horror cinema forever.
It tells the story of Michael Myers, a young boy who suddenly snaps one Halloween. Putting on a clown mask, Michael grabs a kitchen knife and goes upstairs, stabbing his older sister over and over. When his parents get home and find that young Mike’s turned his sister into a human colander, he’s sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life.
Naturally, someone sitting in a cell of 90 minutes would make for a fairly shit movie, so Michael (now aged 21 when we catch up with him) has the common courtesy to escape the asylum and head back to his home town of Haddonfield to raise some hell again.
Halloween is bloody impressive given its shoestring budget. Jamie Lee Curtis and the actresses playing her friends had to go to a charity shop to buy their own outfits, director John Carpenter also composed the music on a cheapo piano and synthesiser, the cast are complete unknowns (other than Donald Pleasance, who plays Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis) and there isn’t a special effect to be seen throughout. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) this, it’s one of those rarities – a horror film that remains genuinely scary more than 30 years later.
Michael Myers is the perfect bogeyman. With his expressionless white mask (a painted William Shatner mask, incidentally) it’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking. He doesn’t just kill like Jason or other slasher villains do, he stalks his prey, watching them and waiting for the right moment to attack, catching them off guard then studying how they react as they die. He’s chilling.
Even his mere presence in the background is enough to cause a fright, a fact taken advantage of by John Carpenter’s clever direction. During some indoor scenes there are occasional subtle glimpses of the white mask outside the window as he stands in the darkness. This keeps the audience on edge and puts them in the odd position of actually hoping to see complete darkness outside. What other film makes its viewers NOT afraid of the dark?
Halloween may be near-perfect but there are one or two tiny elements that make it fall just short. While the young Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastically believable in the lead role of Laurie – giving a real girl-next-door feeling that greatly adds to the film’s authenticity – and PJ Soles is funny as her friend Lynda, the same can’t be said for the third member of the group, Annie (played by Nancy Loomis). She’s so wooden they might as well have put a charity shop skirt on a table and wheeled it alongside the other two, and while her character’s fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, she’s the sole reminder that we’re dealing with a low budget film here. Her stupidly hammy facial expressions during her strangulation scene are ridiculous, cheesy garbage and as a result she ruins what should have been a classic moment in horror cinema.
This is made up for by the amazing Donald Pleasance, who steals the show as Dr Sam Loomis. The only real star in the film, Pleasance only signed up for the movie because his daughter was a big fan of Carpenter’s previous movie, Assault On Precinct 13, but it’s a good job he did because it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
While it could be argued that the point of film reviews is to give opinions on – among other things – the likes of plot development, to say much more about Halloween would be to spoil it. It’s the sort of film where, if you’ve been lucky enough to come this far without finding out what happens, you should track it down as soon as possible and enjoy it. All you really need to know is that it’s a true horror classic and is essential viewing for any fan of the genre.
WHERE CAN I GET IT? There are loads of ways to get Halloween so here are a bunch of links: UK DVD
“There is a way we can stop this thing. Virgin sacrifices. Yes, the Mexican Fish & Game Commission assures me the only way to appease this beast is to offer it a beautiful virgin, preferably 18-25 years old. I repeat: Sharktopus wants our virgins. ” (Captain Jack, Sharktopus)
For those who don’t know, the slew of “mutated animal” creature features that have been doing the rounds for the past few years is partly thanks to the folks at SyFy (formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel), who help fund them in return for exclusive premiere rights. That’s why many of them seem very similar.
Take Sharktopus, for example, and compare it with Dinoshark, which I reviewed recently. Both films feature mutated sharks, both films have atrocious CGI scenes where the shark in question attacks and both films, for some reason, take place in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. I’d like to think money’s probably exchanged hands between the filmmakers and the Puerto Vallarta tourism board, but considering the films are essentially saying Puerto Vallarta is packed with killer mutant sharks I’m not so sure.
Anyway then, Sharktopus. As you may be able to deduce with your keen mind, it’s about a half-shark half-octopus monster. Rather than hatching from ice like Dinoshark did, Sharktopus is the result of a dodgy biological experiment to create the ultimate killing machine. Naturally, it breaks free and heads to Mexico– where the women are hot and the budget is cheap – meaning it’s up to the scientists who created it to stop it.
The big boss of the scientists (played by made-for-TV maestro Eric Roberts) wants Sharktopus kept alive because he’ll lose his contract with the military if it dies, so he hires Andy Flynn (Bursin), an ex-Iraq War veteran, and offers him a whole heap of money to catch it without killing it. And if you think he’s not going to change his mind later and instead blow it to smithereens when it gets out of control then I appreciate your optimism but you’re obviously delirious.
Some of the deaths in Sharktopus are actually fairly impressive, especially given the sort of off-camera rubbish we’ve been “treated” to in other movies of its ilk in the past. Expect to see some decapitations, tentacle impalement, and of course the odd chomp or twelve to keep things moving along. There are even times where the Sharktopus leaves the sea, using its tentacles to waddle along the coast in a big up yours to the snarky “well, why don’t you just stay out of the water” argument people often use during shark movies.
The most curious moment for me is the scene with the two ship painters sitting on scaffolding above the water, painting the side of a boat. The Sharktopus attacks them both, but as the second one dies he yells “Nooooo, not like this”. Are you kidding me? Being killed by a Sharktopus is clearly one of the most awesome ways to go. Imagine your wife at your funeral talking to people:
“I’m sorry to hear about Jake, ma’am. You have my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say.”
“If you don’t mind me asking ma’am, how exactly did Jake leave us? Was it a heart attack? In his sleep?”
“No, he was pulled into the sea and eaten whole by a Sharktopus.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, ma’am, that is fucking epic.”
Of the countless killer animal films currently doing the rounds, Sharktopus is one of the better ones… not that that’s saying much. The CGI effects and story are still hokey garbage but at least there are some clever death scenes in there, which is more or less what these otherwise mindless films are all about.