George A Romero directs Jan White, Raymond Laine and Anne Muffly in this low budget supernatural drama where a put-upon housewife explores witchcraft and sex during a moment of crisis.
Boring. A few trippy dream sequences aside, this takes an age to get going and then only offers queasy rolling around on the carpet with zero nudity and the occasional reference to Wiccan practices. If you rocked up to your local grindhouse fleapit expecting sleaze, violence or even magicking then you’d be very, very disappointed. Can be approached as a feminist drama but one so dated and outmoded there proves little value there either.
Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez and Taishen Cheng in the awards bait, tragedy porn where a despicable exploiter of immigrants in Barcelona deals with his terminal cancer, police bribes, his father corpse, his bi-polar ex and his angelic but bratty kids.
Misery Guts The Movie… showcasing a committed lead performance by Bardem at the expense of all others and a couple of squalor glory shots. Otherwise, it is a voyeuristic defence from a “poor me” scumbag which grates and devalues as it vomits out at length. Who is this overlong pap for apart from the tourist luvvies who made it?
Atom Egoyan directs Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson in this psychological drama where a middle-aged gynaecologist hires a high class younger prostitute to test her husband’s faithfulness.
I saw the original French Emmanuelle Béart version, Nathalie, on release and this variation is actually the superior incarnation. A great showcase for up-and-coming star Amanda Seyfried who vamps, teases and unsettles the film. The main thrust of the movie is watching her seduce different members of the family and us figuring out which hook-ups are real and which are fantasy or paranoia. So the film can be approached as a late reprise of the yuppie in peril sub-genre like Pacific Heights or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or perhaps most pertinently… Fatal Attraction. Though the prositute you hire for your husband FROM HELL maybe isn’t the most vanilla or relatable hook for this form. Egoyan does rather commendably stick to stalking, mind games and temptations… rather than going the full bunny boiling, knife wielding lurch into violent mania. Moore is superior to the material but clearly attracted to exploring the sexual worth and experimentation of a straight laced, “dull” woman who has been defined as too old by society. Seyfried is surprisingly game as the manipulating enigma… delivering her best lead performance in this neat little gem.
Rod Hardy directs Chantal Contouri, Max Phipps and David Hemmings in this Ozploitation horror where a committee of blood farming vampires try to convert the descendant of Elizabeth Bathory.
A pretty dry look at what a conspiracy of vampires might resemble if they decided to emulate the model of the Australian Milk Board. It is more Tale of the Unexpected than a bite-fest like The Hunger or Near Dark. Apart from legacy, you are never sure why they are so eager to brainwash housewife Kylie-look-a-like Chantal Contouri. She puts up far too much rebellion, resistance and struggle for it to be worth their while. Finally gets around to some Grand Guignol deaths during the final escape attempt. A score by Mad Max’s Brian May gives vintage pleasures to this curious throwback.
David Lynch directs Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise and Chris Isaak in this dark prequel to the quirky murder mystery TV cult classic exploring the build up to Laura Palmer’s murder.
How To Approach A David Lynch Film And Keep Your Sanity. First time you watch one just do it for the experience – let the unfathomable horror and the unabashed sexiness and sincere kitsch just wash over you. Second or third or fourth time… forewarned that there are bits and swathes and symbols that defy easy comprehension, try and match up the puzzle pieces. Then every subsequent watch know you are still lost but with a better idea about the world you are lost in… take solace you are less lost than the eyeless naïf you were when you watched this the first time.
If you haven’t seen either TV series of Twin Peaks… god only knows what you’ll make of this. As a teenager I had half remembered memories of sleepily watched late night episodes. No boxsets back then, and if there were, I couldn’t afford them. All I knew as I set myself adrift in the prequel film was that this was going to be a darker, more terror orientated take on the phenomenon I was too young to fully consume and everyone else had abandoned within a year. It absolutely shat me up. I didn’t understand it but the sequences where a monkey’s face appeared behind a boy’s mask or a framed photo becomes a portal into the Black Lodge made me too repulsed to even go near the screen to turn the VCR off. Even now when I’ve watched this alone as an adult late at night, I am at unease and fearful in a way that no other film makes me. This is my scariest film.
Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise are fantastic here. The scene where Leland interrogates Laura over her broken heart necklace at the dinner table churns up feelings of helplessness and vulnerability that must be too close to home for survivors of domestic violence or incest abuse. The soundtrack of jarring discordant jazz composed by Angelo Badalamenti infuses scenes with an overwhelming dread. Some scenes the soundtrack overpowers the dialogue so much that the illicit goings on make zero sense. Like the plot has been raped by a Marshall amp, the oblivion party becomes more important than the lives attending it. We fully explore the Jean Cocteau-inspired Black Lodge… not just the familiar denizens in the red curtain waiting room but also glimpses of the monstrosities who congregate above a convenience store. They thump on floorboards, feast on cream corn that is fear solidified and… Holy Shit!… was that Jürgen Prochnow in a blink and you’ll miss it shot as a dirty old woodsman? There’s always something new to spot within the chilling madness.
A self-consciously abrasive film, Fire Walk With Me wasn’t embraced on release in 1992. The TV show had been cancelled as casual viewers gave up after Laura Palmer’s murder was solved and the new plotlines felt hokey or obscure. The film meant to resolve loose ends was boo’d at its Cannes premiere… and Cannes loves obscure Lynch any other year. The reviews were resoundingly awful. The cinema release was limited and unprofitable everywhere except Japan. The film is determinedly awkward and distasteful and 18 certificate. 40 minutes wasted with new FBI detectives investigating the occasionally half mentioned grisly murder of Teresa Banks (BOB’s / Leland’s previous victim) in a town with none of the charm, comfort or quirkiness of Twin Peak. Deer Meadow has no curvy hotties or warm tones… it is populated by the unwashed, abrasive and senile negative images of the beloved cancelled show. Nothing is solved or resolved, the opening act serves as a kitchen sink recap of the famous investigation. It even ends with the Kyle MacLachlan counterfeit disappearing into thin air.
Then the genuine Agent Cooper pops up for a cameo in a short but unnerving sequence involving a dimension hopping David Bowie prophesying what will happen in 25 years time! It is almost an hour before we get to Twin Peaks to watch Laura Palmer’s heartbreaking descent into hell, madness and plastic wrapping. And that ain’t watch with mother viewing either! It is powerful, bleak and shocking. You can see why everyone didn’t embrace it.
But the curious thing is among all this stunted weirdness and petulant rebellion against the unprepared fanbase and network TV censor restrictions is the amount of clues and bridging information Lynch seeds between his and Mark Frost’s hit TV show and the belated sequel series. The original cliffhanger episode saw Laura Palmer’s soul tell a trapped Agent Cooper (and those of us who were still watching) “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” It felt like a Lynchian non-sequitur, another red herring. But then we eventually got Twin Peaks: The Return. Again it was all over the shop – obtuse and brilliantly unhinged. But we were gifted with more landmarks on the map, more significance to clues, and the confidence that if Lynch says he’ll return to all this nonsense a quarter of a century later… he fucking well will.
So maybe he cast Jürgen Prochnow as a woodsman in a fleeting few frames in Fire Walk With Me as he knew the astute and the puzzle solvers and the obsessed might see a famous name in the credits, work back through the film and figure out which background character the disguised star is. Then know dirty old woodsmen are worth keeping an eye on. Low and behold, 25 years later they definitely were. It is a long game with Lynch but his intentions are deliberate. Maybe in 2042 we’ll get an explanation as to where Special Agent Chester Desmond disappeared to? Or whether Josie got out of the hotel drawer knob? The fact Lynch has proven his difficult weirdness has consequential pre-planned meaning if you patiently wait it out proves that even the most unpalatable entry in the Twin Peaks franchise is invaluable to fully enjoying it.
10 (Or let’s say a 5 if you don’t watch Twin Peaks)
Joseph Losey directs Alain Delon, Juliet Berto and Michael Lonsdale in this holocaust mystery where a Parisian art dealer who exploits the Jews finds himself mistaken by the authorities for a Jew with the same name.
Listen… I get Mr. Klein. I get the Kafka-esque homage where a man is hounded by an uncaring bureaucracy searching for an insidious doppelgänger while changing into something undesirable in society’s eyes. I get that he is so caught up in hunting the other he doesn’t recognise that he is setting himself onto a track to genocide. The exploiter is so over confident in is his invulnerability, society chooses to turn a blind eye to their compatriots turmoil, everyone who silently lets the system get on with this round-up that everyone knows is coming has blood on their hands and guilt on their soul. I get how nightmarish and real and foreshadowed the disturbing final moments are. It is a rigorously constructed piece of allegorical cinema. Right down to the Alsatian that equally might belong to a disappeared Jew or a goose stepping guard herding the innocents on to trains. Bit boring though, ain’t it?
Shin’ya Tsukamoto directs Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara and himself in this Japanese body horror nightmare where a salary man is infected with circuit boards and mechanical joints after leaving a metal fetishist for dead.
One of those films I’ve known about for as long as I’ve been into movies. Shocking stills of it lingered around the back pages of movie mags I read as a child, it was incongruously the only live action film in Anime video section of HMV and imagery from it is continually being co-opted by graphic designers and graffiti taggers still to this day. As a DIY shot over years of weekends labour of love, Tetsuo is an admirable achievement. I wish I had made something like this in my twenties. Painstaking and piecemeal but punk and psychotic. This is the Japanese Evil Dead or Eraserhead in so many ways. But beyond inspiration it is a difficult watch. The plot is incomprehensible… the mutations endless with very little change of register. I like stop motion metamorphoses and industrial noise soundtracks as much as the next man but this offers minimum respite. It is always on up at 11, storytelling and character development be damned. The best moments are when it feels slightly more like a traditional horror and a rabid cyborg chases another. The subway sequence is pretty engrossing and the hyperspeed race montages are spectacular. There are also strange explicit moments that suggest that this is more about suppressed homosexuality than merely a chance to showcase what would happen if your dick became an industrial drill. But it ain’t a pleasant or easy or varied enough watch. Experience any 10 minute slice of fused nasty and you’ve seen it all really. Too grating to recommend.
Jean Renoir directs Jean Gabin, Simone Simon and Fernand Ledoux in this thriller where train station workers enter a web of jealousy and murder.
Gabin and Simon exude star power. The noir-ish plot feels more enamoured with characters behaving contrarily to their best interests or true natures. This makes the film a little too unpredictable as either drama or romance. The love affair based around alibis never convinces, while Gabin’s dark shifts feel like a device not fully established. Maybe they are given more room to convince in the book?Hard to blame Emile Zola for a genre movie’s weaknesses but there we have it. The best moments depict working life on the steam train and the micro-community who work around it. To see the pneumatic ins-and-out captured with a documentarian’s eye is pretty cool. To see the recent past hurtling around like the future is a strange sensation.
Jean Renoir directs Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo and Erich von Stroheim in this WWI prisoner of war drama where French pilots plot their escape.
Sometimes the problem with watching an early classic is that you are watching a base source. The text has been copied and improved on so much over the decades that the original is important only to film historians. I had that fear watching the opening act of Grand Illusion. It felt like a bloodless initial draft of The Great Escape or Stalag 17. Too stoic except for a ratty jester, lacking grit and dynamism. So it got there first… great… I knew Jean Gabin wasn’t going to be flying his motorcycle over barbed wire fences. But then Renoir moves a few of the established character apart to a deeper war camp. The mood reboots. Class and race are tugged at with a playful ridicule. The next big escape attempt allows for a daft little scheme. The antagonist warden, played by von Stroheim, is a layered and fascinating character. The final third is the gold… an exploration of freedom and solitude. Renoir had won me over, pulled my heart strings. The final moments are perfect cinema.
Mitchell Lichtenstein directs Jess Weixler, John Hensley and Josh Pais in this horror comedy where a True Love Waits teen finds her virgin vagina has a nasty bite.
All men are rapists and useless. So you’d think their deaths and castrations to a snapping pussy might be a bit more satisfying or silly. The severed penis FX are effective. But the jokes aren’t. The tone wobbles between scare-free gore and laugh-free humour. Which is a shame as it looks better than most low budget flicks and Jess Weixler puts in a committed and light comedy turn… subtler than anything the script rewards her with.