FIVE FILMS FROM...1992
(Directed by Peter Jackson)
Okay, so you're Peter Jackson, and you've just made a silly low-budget sci-fi horror with your friends ("Bad Taste"), which has unexpectedly become a big deal on the festival circuit and turned into a cult film. What do you do next? Well, Meet the Feebles actually, the filthy and funny Muppet satire. But what do you do after that? Meet Braindead, or Dead Alive in the USA, or Your Mother Ate My Dog in Spain. This splendidly OTT zombie comedy is alleged to have been (and perhaps still is) the bloodiest film of all time, with over 300 litres of blood sprayed across the screen during its running time! And yet despite that, It was nearly given a "15" rating in the UK, mainly because the BBFC saw what a jolly funny romp it was! Belly-laughs negates gore in Blighty, you see. The rest of the world apparently doesn't have much of a funny bone when it comes to genre, and various countries (like Germany and the USA) showed it in mainly censored versions, at least initially. Back to the set-up though, directed and co-written by Jackson, the plot is a clever mash-up of genre tropes and slapstick kiwi humour, with a dose of romance chucked in for good measure.
Set in 1950s New Zealand, Lionel Cosgrove (well-known soap actor Timothy Balme) is a decent mild-mannered chap, absolutely dominated by his hideous mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody). Vera blames Lionel for the premature death of her husband and won't let him forget it. However, Lionel shows some backbone and takes out local beauty Paquita Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) to the zoo. Vera sneakily follows him but gets bitten by a new exhibit (a stop-motion Sumatran Rat-Monkey). This causes her to deteriorate grotesquely, eat a dog (hence that Spanish title), and eventually, become a member of the Living Dead. She starts a zombie infestation, mostly centred on the Cosgrove manor. But Lionel has found out he has some real guts… and they're all flying off the rotary blades of his lawnmower! Where to start with this daffy dead-headed delight. It's bloody brilliant, as long as you're not expecting a serious zombie-apocalypse. The story is nuts (the Rat Monkey comes from "Skull Island". Yes, Kong's gaff!), there are plenty of quotable lines (Kung Fu Vicar: "I kick ass for the Lord!"), and the amount of gore and throwaway gags are astounding.
It also pleasingly, contains a bit of heart. For all the knockabout humour, it's quite sweet in places. The initially wimpy Lionel is easy to root for, as is his unlikely romance with Paquita. Balme also exhibits some superb comic-timing. Just check out his hilarious excursion to the playground with zombie baby "Selwyn", as he kicks the hyperactive little sod all over the place! That's another thing to enjoy, as Jackson plays hard-and-fast with zombie tropes. Selwyn? He doesn't come from a pregnant woman made into a zombie. He's the result of a zombie nurse and priest getting jiggy-with-it and a very quick gestation! For more showstopping "eew" moments check out the ear in the custard, and Lionel's "born again" confrontation. And of course, the lawnmowing scene is now legendary in the annals of genre "splat-stick". Sadly enough, it wasn't a big hit on its first run, but if you can see an uncut version, it still nails the horror funny-bone and has hardly aged. Fun fact: "Dr Bob" from the UK's "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" designed the prosthetics and make-up! Great, great fun and showed the world a fraction of Jackson's grab-bag of talents before the Kong remake and LOTR
(Directed by Leslie Manning)
Most genre fans will be aware of the War of the Worlds scare that Orson Wells orchestrated just before Halloween in 1938. The radio drama emulated a news report about landing Martians, and a good percentage of the listening public bought it and promptly freaked out in droves. The UK equivalent didn't take place until 1992, when the good old Beeb caught everybody with their proverbial pants down with this “TV drama” and suffered years of abuse for it, instead of having it recognised as the work of brilliance that it was. It was directed by Lesley Manning and written by Stephen Volk, both of whom are now better known for other supernatural dramas. The real genius thing about Ghostwatch is that it was sold itself as a good-natured "live broadcast" from a supposedly haunted house. The clues that it was a piece of scripted entertainment were there, but only if you were looking for it or paid attention. Dame Judi Dench wasn't fooled because she knew the actress playing a medium and "scolded" her for ruining the premise. Otherwise, the show starred genuine celebrities who were well known for this type of factual programme. There was Michael Parkinson (the trusted waspish veteran interviewer), the husband and wife duo of Sarah Greene and Mike Smith (both well-known for kids TV and live reports), and Craig Charles (just before Red Dwarf but still known as a comedian and reporter). All of them were "playing" themselves, and although it might seem strange saying so, they do a surprisingly good job of it…
The actual "plot" takes shape as a live TV special that BBC1 is recording for Halloween. Parkinson helms the whole thing and interviews paranormal experts from the "safety" of a TV studio. He also remains in contact with the three presenters who are onsite at a seemingly ordinary urban house in London. The story is closely based on the Enfield Poltergeist case (recently filmed as The Conjuring 2), and other true-life UK ghost stories. The resident family are allegedly being tormented by a ghost called "Pipes" (because the mother says that hot water pipes were causing the ghostly banging noises. Hah!). The presenters slightly mock the situation, and viewers call in with other ghost stories. But it suddenly goes from a suspected hoax and bit-of-fun to the countries biggest unintentional seance, releasing an evil force. Yes, folks, this TV drama gave genuinely diagnosed PTSD to kids and adults alike! Because the "live TV" aspect is played out so expertly, viewers were unprepared for Sarah Greene to be pulled to her "doom", Parkinson to be possessed by a guttural ghost, and a "paranormal invasion "of Britain via its TV sets!
Achingly imaginative, it should have been repeated every year and hailed as a British classic. Unfortunately, the BBC had to apologise for making the unsuspecting members of the UK crap their pants, and the watching kids suffer from years of insomnia! It was only in later times that it became less demonised and more appreciated. Shudder, and other genre channels have had great success with it for a start. And it deserves it for many reasons. Allegedly the Blair Witch gang used it as a reference point when filming (although this was later denied). The show does a brilliant job of subliminally showing "Pipes" (as a bloody-faced spook) in some scenes. According to Manning, he appears 13 times, although most viewers can only spot nine if they try. It's no Haunting of Hill House, but it shows the early creativity and ambition of the project. It's worth pointing out that the performances of Greene and Parkinson, while not BAFTA-winning, also add a great deal of authenticity and atmosphere to the whole thing. It became a legend to genre fans of a generation, and it still exudes that quality. To this day, fans watch the show at 9:25 pm GMT every Halloween and tweet about it. From derided "experiment" to beloved drama, catch it when you can.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
(Directed by Anthony Hickox)
How many Hellraiser films are there? Come on, admit it, you don't know, do you? The correct answer is ten, with the last official one being Hellraiser: Judgement in 2018. We'll gloss over the variability of these entries (and whatever the future brings us). But "Hell on Earth" was the last one to play theatrically, and (to be honest) is underrated. Yes, it is a more Americanised and more commercial effort than the previous two films, but it's still hugely enjoyable with some cool moments. If Hellraiser brought Cenobites into the house, and Hellbound gave us a gloriously untypical version of Hell, then Hell on Earth gave us brand-new Cenobites fighting on streets and mocking God in church. How can you not react to that? We even get more background to the "Pinhead" origin story delivered into the bargain! Co-written by Tony Randel and Peter Atkins, it fell into the lap of Hickox, after his work on the Waxwork movies. Not without some finger-wagging from Clive Barker beforehand, to ensure the tone remained non-campy.
After the weird mix of US/UK nondescript locations of the first two movies, the plot for this one takes place in America (North Carolina to be exact). Douche club owner J. P. Monroe buys a hellishly carved artwork, called The Pillar of Souls. This is presumably the same cursed pillar that rose from Hell, after the apocalyptic shenanigans of Hellbound. Unfortunately, this includes the spirit of Pinhead, who has become freed from Hell's "rules" after being split from his human essence, Captain Elliott Spencer (Doug Bradley in both parts of course). He manipulates Monroe into murder to resurrect his body and then aims to raise an army of Pseudo-Cenobites to cause havoc across the land. But he reckons without the feisty resistance of TV reporter Joey Summerskill (an excellent Terry Farrell from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). It is the most unashamedly commercial and slick entry in the franchise, which is mainly why it doesn't work for some people. But that doesn't mean that it strays too far from the mythology or sells-out in any way. Bradley comes to the forefront (always a good thing) and eulogises marvellously. There are some wonderfully poetic lines from Pinhead ("Human dreams... such fertile ground for the seeds of torment. You're so ripe Joey, and it's harvest time.") and it would be the last time a Hellraiser film would concentrate on him as the main antagonist.
While the film is a little uneven, it makes up for it towards the end when a club full of victims get graphically massacred, and Pseudo-Cenobites (half-human versions mocked up by Pinhead) start to stalk the streets. Particularly "Camera-Head" (zoom focuses into someone's skull) and "Piston-Head" (whole body juddering under the movement of a moving gear in his bonce). It takes away from some of the raw S&M motifs of the first films, but it's still enjoyably ghoulish and bloody. Farrell's "Joey" makes for a good Kirsty Cotton replacement (especially with her response to the priest who tells her that demons don't exist!) and a cool final girl. Even better is the brilliantly controversy-baiting moment where Pinhead storms a church and performs a nose-thumbing "Black Mass", outraging the priest within. It's not earth-shattering, but it's a nice continuation of the saga, and another chance for Bradley to shine in a lead role. There's even a clever little stinger that would have been fun to explore in more detail at a later date—still, rather good stuff and very much underrated.
(Directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
Dracula is undoubtedly one of the big icons of horror. He may not have been the first on-screen vampire (Count Orlock from Nosferatu takes that accolade) but he is certainly the most famous. English-Irish author Bram Stoker wrote the original Dracula tale back in 1897 but it took nearly forty years for the eponymous villain (or anti-hero) to make an appearance on the big screen – in the 1931 Tod Browning movie starring Bela Lugosi. It's perhaps the most classic version of the charismatic bloodsucker, despite numerous attempts to reimagine the character since then. However, if you are going to talk about the greatest interpretations of the character and his story, you don't have to look much further than Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version.
The fact that Dracula is based on a real actual person. Although Vlad III (also knows as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula) was obviously not a vampire, he was known for his barbary and especially for his trademark way of dispatching enemies on the battlefield – by impaling them on spikes. He also lived in Transylvania too. If you have spare ten minutes, look him up, his life story is like an extreme Game of Thrones spin-off or something. Anyway, I digress. Ford Coppola's version is pretty faithful to the Stoker novel and begins in the 1400's with Dracula (Gary Oldman) defeating the Turks on the battlefield only to find upon his return that his wife (Winona Ryder) has jumped to her death. She was incorrectly told that her husband had died in battle (the original FAKE NEWS) and couldn't bare to live without him. Obviously, when Dracula returns he is distraught and doesn't take kindly to the local Priest telling him that his wife's soul is damned to hell. He then does what every loving husband would do – he desecrates a chapel and swears he will rise from the grave to avenge his wife's death. Flash forward to 1897 and young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent out to Transylvania to deal with a certain Count Dracula's real estate acquisitions after his previous solicitor is sectioned. When Jonathan arrives at the creepiest motherfucking castle you've ever seen, it's obvious that there's something up with this Dracula dude. Ah yes, he's an immortal bloodsucker and he looks like something out of a nightmare. To make matters worse, he spots a photo of Harker's fiance, Mina – who looks a carbon copy of the wife he lost four centuries ago. Whilst Dracula's sexy vampire brides keep Harker occupied, he travels to London to find Mina and rekindle their love...
Although Francis Ford Coppola will be best remembered for Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, Bram Stoker's Dracula is the one where he feels most free to flex his directorial guns. He removes some of the bloodlust from the source material and makes his Dracula a more romantic and tragic figure. Dracula is almost a sympathetic character here. Oldman's portrayal is simply wonderful too. He manages to make him dreadful creepy one moment, charismatic and charming the next and is able to oscillate between romance and horror with ease. The Lugosi version may be more iconic but there's something much more powerful and haunting about this one. The first time you see Oldman in the red gown with the white powdered face is unforgettable. And those nails...(shudders). He actually takes many forms during the film and each iteration is the stuff of nightmares.
It's the way the film looks though that makes it so special. Eschewing digital effects, Coppola utilised Méliès style techniques from decades past giving the whole thing an antiquated storybook feel. He also dedicated a sizeable amount of time and money to the costumes and gave production designers paintings and drawings to take inspiration from. The result is a rich, gothic and baroque aesthetic that is brimming with colour and style gore and sexuality. The film is also quite frantic too and there's an energy to the storytelling that makes the 130 minutes fly by. Aside from Oldman, Winona Ryder is very good as the conflicted Mina and Anthony Hopkins gives a fabulously over the top performance as Van Helsing. Yes Keanu Reeves can't do an English accent AT ALL but he's not actually in it enough for it to really cause any issues.
Critics often claim that Dracula is a perfect example of style over substance and you know what, they're not wrong. But when the film is as stylish and gorgeous as this, that's not a criticism. If you haven't seen it for a long time (or at all) – it's on Netflix. Put it on, turn off the lights and revel in the gory beauty of it all.
Fun fact: In August 2018, Winona Ryder expressed concern that she might be legally married to Keanu Reeves. Apparently, Francis Ford Coppola wasn't happy with their wedding scenes in the movie, and to achieve greater authenticity, re-shot the sequence with a real priest
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
(Directed by David Lynch)
David Lynch is a film-maker who is hard to pin down in terms of genre. Quite often they are a weird mix of drama and fantasy and surrealism and thriller – but there is undoubtedly an undercurrent of horror in a number of his features. He's perhaps best known for the fantastically weird TV series Twin Peaks, which has baffled and delighted audiences in equal measure for several decades now. He even returned to oversee a new series in 2018, which was just as inexplicable and intriguing as you'd expect. But to go back to the beginning of the mythology, you'd have to go back to Lynch's controversial – but brilliant – Twin Peaks prequel movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
The film opens with a couple of feds sent to a town called Deer Meadow to investigate the murder of a teenage drifter. One of the agents is taken by an unseen force after searching for evidence underneath a trailer. Agent Cooper (MacLachlan!) is sent to Deer Meadow to investigate, but returns empty handed. We then switch to one year on, where in Twin Peaks, we're introduced to a girl named Laura Palmer, a troubled young woman who is cheating on her boyfriend and is addicted to cocaine. We then witness the events that lead up to her tragic demise.
The film had a bit of a troubled beginning and nearly never got made. Lynch was determined to revisit the world of Twin Peaks after the series ended and was especially interested in exploring the life of Laura Palmer, whose murder was the unsolved mystery that propelled the TV show. However, trying to get the cast to reprise their roles was no easy task and Kyle MacLachlan initially wasn't interested. However Lynch finally managed to persuade him to sign up, albeit in a slightly reduced role.
TP: FWWM is kind of famous for the reception it received upon its release. It premiered at Cannes and instantly polarised critics, with some in attendance walking out or booing the film at the final credits (although co-writer Robert Engels has denied this since). Interestingly, it was British film critics and audiences who reacted more favourably than their American (or French) counterparts and not wanting to buck the trend, we bloody loved it too.
Lynch movies sometimes have to be viewed as viewing 'experiences' and to some extent, you either 'get' his stuff, or you don't. It's perfectly reasonably to see how someone might not warm to his surreal disquieting style but there's a reason that Lynch – and this film – have something of a cult following. No one else makes films like he does and his Twin Peaks movie is perhaps more David Lynch than the TV series. The film is undoubtedly darker and more brutal and virtually free of the quirky charm that the series is known for. We don't really get to see much of Sheryl Lynn (Laura Palmer) in the latter because, well, she's dead. But in TP: FWWM she is terrific and it's great to delve into her backstory. A lot of it is uncomfortable viewing and the film gets rather depressing in the latter stages. But then again it is a film that explores heavy themes like incest, murder and drug addiction. However, Lynch's direction is so mesmerising and weird that it's impossible not to be seduced by it.
It is a little inconsistent in parts it's also too long. Some will also lament the fact that this is an altogether more sinister and less enjoyable return to Twin Peaks than they hoped. But for Lynch fans, this film is right up there. It's a fascinating, terrifying and surreal descent into madness and we can't get enough of it.