Clive Barker directs Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins and Ashley Laurence in this demonic horror where a puzzle box opens a gateway to hell and the cenobites who guard / persecute its victims.
One of my favourite horrors. The practical FX especially the make-up are unnerving and fantastic. The cenobites are truly fearsome creations that sear themselves into your nightmares with only a garnish of actual screentime here. It wouldn’t be until the third film that they take centre stage.
Yet all of Barker’s creation is enthused with convincing expansive mythology. The seductively ornate design of the lament configuration with its gilt edged, torturous shapes and animated lightning by-product. The keepers of the key who orbit the story… the curious oriental antique dealer waiting to pass hell on to the next fated owner, the bug eating harbinger tramp who stalks our heroine and the monster within the walls between our worlds. A whole universe of terror is hinted at on a limited budget but a limitless macabre imagination. That Clive Barker is some boy.
Now there are problems with Barker’s debut. Occasionally the cheapness takes you out of the otherwise impressive body horror and oppressive atmosphere. A post-production decision to dub a few extras with thick American accents to suggest this taking place in New York rather than North London fudges the gothic effectiveness of the location work. Back street suburban London works well for this tale of murderous stepmothers and rapey undead uncles.
The Snow White and Evil Queen dynamic between Laurence and Higgins labours particularly well at making this videoshop shocker feel like it is of wider import. You can read allegories of abuse and AIDS and incest and BDSM into the runny spills of blood and exposed carrion. The demonic curse of eternal damnation is passed down between generations of a family and spread to random men via one-off sexual encounters. Hellraiser is one of the few Eighties horrors where it doesn’t feel pretentious to add deeper meanings to the violence and carnage. We are confident Barker is toying with fears ancient and contemporary.
Rob Zombie directs Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sherri Moon in this horror exploitation love letter where four annoying kids find themselves in a farmhouse with a family full of psychos.
First time I watched this on release I was disappointed. It was too extreme and cartoonish and distracted… promising much in the Sid Haig dominated prologue then only really delivering in the final 10 minutes when all hell seemingly breaks loose and every metal cover from my youth comes alive with convincing aplomb. Now we’ve had a couple of decades to get used to Rob Zombie’s house-style and favoured ensemble the bulk that I found underwhelming then works absolutely fine now. There is a sleazy threat constantly seeping out of the Fireflys as they tease and taunt their new captives. The ADHD editing is oppressive. And moments like the prolonged death of Walton Goggins’ deputy have a bravura that Zombie would grow into in later films. I no longer have any misgivings, Zombie’s debut is one of the very best horrors of the new century. Brashly funny too.
Federico Fellini directs Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimée in this Italian arthouse classic where a journalist spends a series of nights encountering the famous and feckless of Rome, slowly being corrupted.
The voluptuous Ekberg frolicking in a fountain. La Dolce Vita is a cinematic god, iconic for a five minute scene. It is also a three hour film. The remainder is waves of boredom, disappointment, grating bonhomie, isolation. All of it is very beautiful, peaks of it are very affecting… Marcello’s father’s night on the town ending in exhaustion and self realisation. Or another man coming to kiss and grope Maddalena moments after her disembodied voice has asked Marcello to marry her as he sits abandoned in another room. And then there are the glorious metaphors like Christ hanging from the helicopter over the city or the dead fish with its ever watching eye. What art or humanity can happen with the paparazzi always watching, the party guests always clamouring for attention and the streets always full. There is no solitude for grief, or writing, or romance…. no escape from society when it is so packed and constant.
Steve James directs William Gates, Arthur Agee and Gene Pingatore in this groundbreaking documentary about black working class teenagers with the talent to earn basketball scholarships being churned up in the competitive high school system.
Possibly my favourite documentary and indisputably one of the very finest. If you ever have trouble articulating how racism operates and restricts lives then just show someone this perfect film. Witness the unremarked upon back foot and disadvantages the black kids start with when they are just taking shots in their local playgrounds. Watch how the white suburban school system recruits then exploits or abandons these kids. They only have one value, to win trophies, and if they can’t the school ain’t keeping them on. Note the switches in William and Arthur’s home lives as threats to their welfare, grades, street violence and family stability start to encroach in on their dreams to be professional athletes. See how the one lad who does stick with the more prestigious school has his confidence knocked out of him and his self worth emotionally beaten by being one of the few black faces in that environment. Acknowledge the grim reality of the college scholarship the other lad who has coasted his way through the public school system (with zero support from the school who discarded him) finally earns. A MDF divided house populated by the few black boys. They are clearly being unofficially segregated from the white students in the middle of nowhere. That ain’t no university experience where these kids can network and learn professional interaction. They are never being prepped for a future that doesn’t involve them playing college ball but both their horizons shift away from earning from the sport. It is a film with true life villains: the bullying, hectoring, unsympathetic Coach Pingatore makes a terrible show of himself. The filmmakers present all this without comment. The captured evidence speaks for itself. And there are as many moments of triumph as there are adversity and plenty of character arcs that will surprise you as they unfold. My favourite minute came in the final half hour when we see Arthur and William interacting on camera for the first time and, rather than acting like rivals, they clearly have developed a fraternity and affection from being part of this revolutionary four year project. A very sweet, unexpected scene. It has been 25 years since I last watched this… I’m not going to wait that long again.
Jack Hill directs Pam Grier, Sid Haig and Robert DoQui in this Blaxploitation classic where a nurse turns vigilante to take down the syndicate who got her sister hooked on drugs.
Pam Grier is stunning in this. She handles the shotguns and the undercover personas and the looking sexy even when she has clearly been rolling around on highway hard shoulder garbage with A-Grade magnetism. She gets a score and a humpin’ n thumpin’ soundtrack to match her cool and all the action. The movie delivers on the violence and the nudity and the sleazy. Pimps are keel-hauled and brothels have catfights that only end once everyone’s breasts have been exposed. So why am I not giving Coffy a higher score? Well… for every scene that is tasty as fuck, there’s another two that tread water or fill time. It ain’t a sophisticated thriller but in its best moments it does thrill.
Kate Mulleavy & Laura Mulleavy direct Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole and Pilou Asbæk in this languid art film where a grieving woman experiments with some deadly pot.
Dully beautiful. Nothing happens, but often nothing happens with Dunst looking dazzling in $1000 lingerie. Asbæk does his enjoyable Oliver Reed resembling schtick again. A very muted take on Repulsion that somehow remains just about watchable due to the fashion mag visuals and a gorgeous cast.
Spike Lee directs Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra and John Turturro in this issues drama exploring the racism churned up when a black architect starts an office affair with his Italian secretary.
…Also THE CRACK EPIDEMIC! Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever is a messy, wayward, unfocussed movie. By the midway point the central plot and above-the-title stars are relegated to extras as Lee seems more fascinated by Samuel L. Jackson’s crackhead and Turturro’s sweet open hearted Italian boy. And why wouldn’t he be? Their subplots and performance are remarkable. But they aren’t the hook or the actors we have bought a ticket for. The Snipes / Sciorra romance has heat for all of five minutes (it is hardly the interracial sex romp the poster guaranteed) and after that an ensemble NYC state of the union begins. What we get is histrionic, vibrant, heartfelt. And I’m not going to say almost to a fault. It may have been packaged wrong but this is a powerful, experimental studio film. A melodrama with true grit. Those flavours often settle strangely in the mouth. Like when Stevie Wonder’s brilliant soulful soundtrack awkwardly scores scenes of distressing violence. But I’d take the big lunges and popping colours of Lee at his most unrestrained over classier, prestige productions on big topics any day of the week.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead directs Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker and Francesco Carnelutti in this romantic body horror where an American tourist falls for a Lovecraftian immortal.
Before Sunrise meets The Fly. Impossible to pull off but this has a pretty good stab. Good, off kilter chemistry between the complex leads helps. The nasty stuff often takes a back seat to a talky, dishy seduction. But the creature FX when utilised are good. Only the finale drops the ball… the conversation gets bogged down in the pseudo-science of the mutations and immortality of the gorgeous Louise. Not the most interesting way to land an intriguing flight of fancy.
David Twohy directs Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant in this thriller where a backpacking couple begin to suspect they are sharing an island paradise with a pair of killers.
OK… you’ve had 10 years but POSSIBLE SPOILERS! A Perfect Getaway is a potboiler a little too self satisfied with its big twist. It is a pretty daring con to pull off and when it does it labours and savours showing the audience just exactly how they were was tricked. Slowing down the action just when the handsome pair we are rooting for finally realise just how much danger they are in. Twohy even bungs a ton of meta hat tips about twists and red herring being on the horizon. But what if you saw the big reveal coming after the second scene? What if you listened carefully to the dialogue and realised a couple of scripted lines were a bit too cute and ambidextrous? Turns out this is still pretty, pretty, pretty slick and enjoyable even if you can see that rabbit pull a mile away. Zahn and especially Olyphant are perfect big screen presences and this gifts them more focus than they often get in grander productions. The location work is gorgeous. And when Twohy stops being pleased with himself and lets the violence begin it becomes a very gripping rollercoaster finale. I personally would have had the chase and deadly stand-offs last a little longer, the toying and secrets and suspicions put to bed by the midway point but… hey-ho. This is a cracking little throwback thriller, one I would have rented the fuck out of in the early Nineties if it starred… say… Anthony Edwards and Ray Liotta.
Nanni Moretti directs Margherita Buy, John Turturro and himself in this drama where an Italian director deals with a troublesome American star and her mother’s terminal decline.
Handsome if unmemorable adult drama. Turturro is fantastic value, as always, as the big name who grinds each day’s filming to an awkward halt with his behaviour. Moretti does his standard melancholia with some unsettling lurches into dreams and nightmares.