The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenburg) & Amityville II : The Possession (Damiano Damiani) – The Lutz family move into their dream house, and all goes well until a series of bizarre events, climaxing in Lutz Sr. cracking up and attempting to kill his family (never have happened if they’d bought a Barratt home). Contains some good shocks and is supposedly based on fact – Rod Steiger puts in an appearance as a priest who discovers the house is evil. The sequel, made in 1982, is actually a prequel, which tells the story of the previous occupants who weren’t so lucky; their son is possessed by the house and shotguns his family to death, tho’ not before the usual things happen (taps drip blood, spooky noises, etc). These all contribute to a film which is as good as, and perhaps slightly better than, the original, even if the climax is a rip-off of ‘The Exorcist’. 5/10 & 6/10 respectively.
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick) – The story goes this was pulled from circulation by it’s director when the BBFC wanted it cut for a re-release, after passing it first time round. The death threats he received didn’t help things. In the 18-odd years since, it’s been ‘unobtainable’ in Britain, yet has still acquired a huge cult status – witness it’s high position in the Time Out poll. I’m no great Kubrick fan, but this oozes style and unsettling imagery. especially the opening, which is a nightmare plunge into the ‘hero’ Alex’s ultra-violent world – things calm down after he is betrayed by his gang and sent for rehabilitation, with the prison scenes adding little to the film. Kubrick has remained faithful to the novel’s spirit, except at the end where he dropped Burgess’s ending (annoying the author) and there are flashes of genius such as dropping the camera off a roof to capture Alex’s suicide attempt. Malcolm McDowell captures the character of Alex perfectly – “Singing in the Rain” will never seem the same again. Interestingly, in February next year, the Royal Shakespeare Company are putting on a play based on the book, with Phil Daniels (“Quadrophenia”) as Alex, and music by U2’s The Edge. It promises to be notably different to the film by all accounts – I may well try and get to see it. Oh, and 7/10 for a film, real horror-show in chunks.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Peter Greenaway) – Cannibalism, fork stabbings, people eating dog-shit, vomiting at the dinner-table & screwing in the toilet. Ah, but this is Art, and the director is an Artist, so he can get away with it! Michael Gambon is the Thief, a psychopathic boor who eats every night with his cronies in the restaurant he owns. His Wife (Helen Mirren) meets her Lover there, and they snatch brief, torrid moments together. Then the Thief finds out about it, and swears to kill and eat the Lover. Sumptuously shot with gorgeous use of colour, stunning costumes (by Jean-Paul Gaultier) and sets, good performances, especially from Michael Gambon who projects an aura of seething insanity, and a haunting score make this about the artiest ‘video nasty’ I’ve seen. 9/10 for pushing the limits.
Dead Time Stories, Vol 3. (David Wickes/Paul Verhoeven) – 3 episodes of a Canadian (I think) TV series. The first has Robert Vaughn as a plastic surgeon who cocks up an operation because of a sex & drugs session with Sybil Danning the night before – his mutilated patient takes revenge; also in it is Sonja ‘Videodrome’ Smits. Part 2, (Verhoeven’s), has a director relying on odd methods to get a performance out of his Linnea Quigley-ish leading lady, and the third stars Klaus Kinski as a musician whose hi-fi takes a dislike to him. The plots are all a little thin – none could be stretched to a full-length movie but at 25 mins each they’re fine. Good acting all round and plenty gratuitous nudity : 1st episode 8/10 (bonus point for Sybil), 2nd 7/10 (Verhoven directs well), 3rd 5/10 (plaintive cry of ‘not enough Kinski’!!).
The Doctor and the Devils (Freddie Francis) – Based on the Dylan Thomas play, with the names and ending changed for no good reason. Full of British actors (Jonathan Price, Timothy Dalton, Sian Phillips + Twiggy as a Cockney tart – what she’s doing in Edinburgh isn’t clear!) and directed by a Hammer stalwart, this still has an American air, perhaps due to Mel Brooks being the executive producer. Fortunately, it’s not too intrusive – most of the performances are good and the sets & costumes seem appropriate. Pity it never breaks the ‘TV drama’ mould. 6/10, mostly harmless.
Earth Girls Are Easy (Julian Temple) – The best way to describe this indescribable film is as a musical version of “Revenge of the Teenage Vixens From Outer Space” with the sexes swapped. That was, unsurprisingly, several orders of magnitude worse than this, which isn’t bad at all. Jeff Goldblum is the lead alien, his wife Geena Davis is the Valley Girl who finds ET’s in her pool, and introduces them to life in California. Some very silly moments and a good soundtrack outweigh the odd dullish chunk and you have to keep on your toes to spot all the references and background joke. 7/10 and a good time was had by all.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling) – Amiable teen romp, now out on sell-through, that meanders along amusingly enough without going anywhere. Worth watching for three reasons: Sean Penn (of all people) is great as a vacuous surfer dude, Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh are pleasantly scenic and there is one awesome, pointless moment of poor taste : a guy jerking off in the toilet while fantasising about Miss Cates is rudely interrupted by the entrance of his object of desire. 6/10, takes me back to my schooldays (tho’ not, of course, the last bit!).
The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven) – This predates, is completely different to, and is even better than his other works, “Robocop” and “Flesh & Blood”, which is saying a lot since they were by no means bad. A bisexual writer (Jeroen Krabbe), obsessed with death, shacks up with a beautician (Renee Soutendijk) so he can seduce her boyfriend. He has visions and premonitions of death before he discovers she has already buried three husbands. Will it be him or her boyfriend who gets to play the title role? Disturbing use of religious imagery, ‘real’ hallucinations and brilliant camerawork combine with believable, frightening performances (especially from Soutendijk as the Black Widow) to make this one a real find, though not one the whole family can enjoy, shall we say! Whether it has the required staying power to last repeat viewings is unknown – until then, let’s make it the first film to get ** 10/10 **
Getting It Right (Randall Kleiser) – Another very British film, with ‘class’ written through it like a stick of rock. Jesse Birdsall plays a 32-year old, virgin hair-dresser who gets entangled with three totally different women. Helena Bonham- Carter shows again why she’s about the best actress around, as the anorexic daughter of a millionaire seat-belt manafacturer, played by Sir John Gielgud – he’s about the only one who out-acts her, though all the cast are excellent (with the exception of Lynn Redgrave as the Older Woman, who’s oddly out of synch). A lot of needle-sharp observations on the British class system, love, art and life in general more than balance a schmaltzy ending, leaving this one I enjoyed. 8/10
Heathers (Michael Lehmann) – Veronica (Winona Ryder) is in with the in crowd, but doesn’t want to be. Egged on by JD (Christian Slater), she poisons one and then finds things are getting out of hand. Described everywhere as ‘black’, I felt it was a little tastefully done; only one sequence hit really low, where Veronica and JD execute two jocks and make it look like a homosexual love pact, after the jocks claim to “have had a sword-fight” in Veronica’s mouth. How much of this is due to studio intervention is uncertain – they insisted on a less bleak ending than the director wanted, where Veronica blew herself up! Still, nicely acted – Slater’s been watching old Jack Nicholson movies and Ryder is fine too, but Shannon Doherty as Green Heather out-acts (and out-cutes!) her, transforming from meek to bitchy when opportunity knocks. Teenage angst with a body count. 7/10
Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) – I last met any Shakespeare at school, where sitting down, reading it out aloud did a damn good job of putting me off, though I did enjoy Polanski’s ‘Macbeth’. This is similar – real ‘ac-tors’ doing real ‘ac-ting’, nearly all of them household names. It takes a while to get used to the prithey-ing and thou-ing and Branagh’s added scenes which added nothing for me. However, it gets better as it goes on; the battle scenes are well staged and it’s easy to see why Branagh has been critically acclaimed. 7/10 for being different.
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (Keenen Ivory Wayans) – It’s always interesting to note how Mel Brooks can get away with things, such as “The Hitler Rap”, because he’s Jewish. Similarly with Wayans, director, star & writer of IGGYS – no white man would dare stage a “Pimp of the Year” contest, featuring a poem called “Ma Bitch Better Have Ma Money”! The film parodies the blaxploitation movies like “Shaft”, but you don’t need to be black or know anything of the films to find this broad, ‘Airplane’ style spoof funny; platform shoes with live goldfish in them are bizarre enough to make anyone laugh. Wayans resembles Eddie Murphy a little, tho’ fortunately he knows there is more to comedy than saying ‘fuck’ every second sentence. 8/10, Spike Lee with a sense of humour.
Lethal Weapon 2 (Richard Donner) – The most outstanding things about this movie are Patsy Kensit’s nipples. Neither the action sequences nor the characterisations are as good as in the original; Mel Gibson especially has lost all his suicidal sharpness. And the plot!! South African diplomats running drugs stretches even my credulity, and when the US government fails to take any action at all, such as expelling them, said diplomats then declaring war on the Los Angeles police for no good reason, I’m afraid it’s all too much. 5/10, including two for Miss Kensit.
Nightmare City (Umberto Lenzi) – This is also known as ‘City of the Walking Dead’ and contains the fastest moving zombies ever seen. The film is directed with Lenzi’s usual flair and some scenes are funny (unintentionally, I think) – witness with horror the scenes of flesh-hungry zombies invading a TV station full of dancers; gasp with amazement at the ‘surprise’ ending; die laughing at the terrible dialogue and crappy acting. Criticism aside, in fact I did like this one. The six cans of Harp did help a little. 5/10
Phantom Empire (Fred Olen Ray) – Look at any article on Sybil Danning and there’s a good chance you’ll see a still from this movie, with SD showing phenomenal amounts of cleavage. Don’t be conned. This is another Fred Olen exploito-pic, with SD not appearing at all in the first half of the film and even she is hard pressed to resuscitate this movie. An expedition into some caves meet monsters in cheap costumes, scream and run away into a land at the centre of the earth, ruled by Sybil. They scream & run away from HER, she stalks them, they get back to the surface. The usual cast and budget of Ray’s plus a less than average plot, even by his standards, leave this one looking like a bad Dr Who episode. 3/10.
Pray TV (Rick Friedberg) – A lost opportunity here. What could have been a savage satire on American religious TV runs out of steam after 20 minutes and peters out into a limp drama. Starts off hopefully enough, when a cheap & shoddy TV channel is bought up by a Murdoch-style entrepreneur and turned into KGOD-TV. A couple of the skits – an “Exorcist’ parody, a Hare Krishna barbershop quartet – are witty, but these are too few and far between. Not even a brief appearance by Devo can save this wimp-pic. 3/10, someone should be nailed to a cross for this.
Psycho III (Anthony Perkins) – Norman Bates is back to normal, but Mother’s off her rocker again. The usual mix of kooks at the Bates Motel – a suicidal nun who sees ‘Mother’ and thinks it’s the Virgin Mary, an investigative journalist and an insane C & W singer – help Norman out with the usual mix of murder, mayhem and mother-fixation. None the less enjoyable for it, with Perkins good value for money as ever and showing a few neat touches from the director’s chair too, even if the film doesn’t get into top gear until five minutes from the end. 6/10
Sante Sangre (Alexander Joderowsky) – Not shown at Shock for contractual reasons, maybe a good thing, as I don’t know what the crowd there would have made of it. Not to say it isn’t good – you just don’t realise until the end how it all fits together and at Shock, they might not have had the patience! The first third tells of Fenix, an 8-year old living in a circus, whose mother finds her husband with the tattoed lady and pours sulphuric acid over them – he responds by cutting her arms off, in imitation of the religious martyr she worships. This, understandably, traumatises Fenix and he spends years pretending to be an eagle before his mother returns and she compels him to be her ‘hands’ and extract revenge. Or is she dead, and he merely hallucinating? A slow starter, spends most of the flash-back building ‘atmosphere’ with a lot of irrelevancies – when Fenix & Mother get together, it livens up fast and the sequences of the son/mother pairing are astonishing. The director’s son Axel and Blanca Guerra are excellent in the lead roles and even if it does bear a certain resemblance to ‘Psycho’, there are more than enough original ideas and thoughts to make this one worth seeing. 8/10.
Stage Fright (Michele Soavi) – The first feature from the director of ‘The Church’ (see TC2) is ‘A Chorus Line’ crossbred with ‘Friday the 13th’ – a group of actors is locked in a theatre with a homicidal maniac, who picks them off one by one; an almost plausible plot compared to some Italian films. Though that aspect lacks originality, lots of directorial flair helps overcome the deficiencies and some scenes are startling; an owl wielding a chainsaw!??! It’s almost Mario Bava quality, and it certainly isn’t Lamberto – sheer gratitude for that alone gets it 7/10.
Surf Nazis (Peter George) – Having managed to lose the “Must Die” suffix on its title, this Troma film is a post-apocalyptic beach movie; California has been wrecked by an earthquake (sorta topical) and the beach gangs rule – the Surf Nazis want to take over and are generally not nice to everyone else. Padded out with lots of surfing sequences, it steps up a gear when the mother of a victim of the gang’s Nazi-ness (well played by Gail Neely) heads out for revenge. 6/10 for running over people in motor-boats, a couple of original ideas and general tastelessness of the characters & subject matter.
Zombie Oasis – As opposed to ‘Nightmare City’ (see above), this one contains perhaps the SLOWEST moving zombies ever seen, almost as lethargic as the film’s pacing. When the final, ‘exciting’, ‘climactic’ battle arrives, the knackered zombies are killed with ease. Maybe they ought to rename this one ‘Zombies – Yawn of the Dead’. 1/10