Incredibly Bad Film Show: Dr Who and the Daleks

Dir: Gordon Flemyng
Star: Peter Cushing, Roberta Tovey, Roy Castle, Jenny Linden

The revival of Dr. Who by the BBC, beginning in 2005, has been one of the most spectacular successes of recent years. It resurrected a series which had, for all practical purposes, been dead and buried since 1989 – the previous reboot, in 1996 with Paul McGann, having been a one-shot TV movie flop. But McGann wasn’t the only person to play the Doctor outside the well-known regulars from the series. Indeed, if you add in Comic Relief spoof, The Curse of Fatal Death, and the list includes Richard E. Grant, Joanna Lumley, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant – all of whom would have been interesting choices as the permanent incumbent.

Back in the 1960’s, Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two spin-off movies. The potential here was huge: after all, Cushing had already become the canonical Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as, arguably, Winston Smith and Sherlock Holmes. The concept of him playing a stern, Frankenstein-styled Doctor appealed enormously. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got: rather, the words “disastrous misfire” come to mind, particularly for the first movie.

I can’t categorically state this is not due to my expectations having been radically revamped by the new series. Much as I loved Tom Baker growing up, I haven’t dared watch any of the earlier series since we fell in love with the reboot – it could be a disaster, in line with the re-viewing of Blake’s 7, which only succeeded in shattering forever, my fondly-held teenage illusion that it was a good programme. Certainly, it seems likely the sixties Who was aimed more directly at kids, not the general audience for the new version. But even so… Sheesh, this is pretty bad.

And it’s bad, right from the opening credits. Excuse me, where is the Dr. Who theme? Y’know – OOO-weeee-ooo… Instead, we get some smooth jazz, over which it was just about possible to fit the “real” theme, if you hummed it loudly. And, trust me, we did. When we get to the Doctor, things get even worse, for he is simply a doddery old human, reading a comic in his arm-chair. Hello! Alien? Two hearts? Gallifrey? Time-lord? Not here. Cushing was only in his early fifties, but plays the part about twenty years older. And “Who”? Here, it’s his family name. I’ll repeat that: it’s his family name. Pause to roll eyes. Though unfortunately, his grand-daughters are named Barbara (Linden) and Susan (Tovey), rather than Cindy-Lou.

There is still the Tardis, here invented by the Doctor, and it whizzes the three of them, along with Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian (Castle), off to a distant planet, after Ian sits on the lever which operates it. That’s basically his role: to be a clumsy, inept and generally useless sidekick, and this may be the way in which the film differs furthest from the current series. The planet has largely been destroyed by a nuclear war, with the two races then diverging. One has retreated inside a city, donning metal suits to avoid the radiation and rolling around as the Daleks. The others, the Thals (above right), appear to have reverted to a culture based on a Las Vegas floor-show. They have a medicine allowing them to withstand the radiation; the Daleks want that, and when they discover it doesn’t work on them, prepare to explode another nuclear bomb that will jack the radiation up to lethal levels.

The Daleks are, frankly, a bit crap, and I speak as someone terrified of them as a child.  A major plot point is that they get their power through the floor, like dodgem cars, so have all the mobility of Scalextric models and can be stopped by pushing them onto anything insulated. When the humans works this out, it leads to Ian climbing into one, though the Doctor and Barbara then have to drag him around by the exterminating nozzle. It still proves capable of fooling the other Daleks. One wonders how they ever conquered the universe, since slopes and open lift shafts also prove… troublesome.

They… speak… very… very… slowly… and don’t even redeem themselves by yelling “Exterminate!” Their taste in interior design is interesting, with the decor including flanges made out of gold tin-foil and, of all things, lava lamps. Yes, lava lamps. As the screenshot above shows, we’re not kidding. We wondered if, perhaps, they also had one of those swing chairs and a few Roger Dean posters elsewhere in the complex.

Of course, this Doctor and his companions are a match as far as sharpness goes. After they escape, they head back to the Tardis to leave, everyone completely forgetting – teehee! – that a key component was still in the possession of the Daleks, having been taken when they “searched” the Doctor following his capture. Quotes used advisedly there, since it doesn’t even qualify as a cursory patdown from a bored night-club bouncer at the end of his shift. In their defense, you can’t do much, when you have a sink plunger and a pincer instead of opposable thumbs.

They team up with the Thals, who need to be convinced they must fight the Daleks. Again, this runs absolutely counter to the modern Doctor, to whom violence is abhorrent, to be avoided at all costs. Here, not so much: Cushing basically calls them a bunch of fags and makes clucking sounds until they agree to attack. Just in time, too, as the Daleks have started their 100-second countdown to exploding their nuclear weapon.

Two things stand out here. Firstly, it’s very accommodating of the Daleks to use Earth units – heck, they label their control panel in English, too. Secondly, what follows is the longest 100 seconds in cinematic history, the timer apparently only working when the camera is on it. The countdown runs for a full five and a half minutes before Ian causes the Daleks to turn all their weapons onto their own control panel, destroying both it and themselves. Oops. Like I said: how the hell did this lot ever become the terror of the universe?

Undaunted, much the same team created a sequel the following year, Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, whose main distinguishing feature is that it doesn’t entirely suck. The storyline is better thought out, some of the flying saucer special effects are surprisingly good (except for the crash at the end, which is clearly about eight inches high), and the supporting cast is helped by stalwarts such as Andrew Keir and Philip Madoc. There’s a nice resonance with the current series, in that one companion is Bernard Cribbins, who plays the grandfather of new companion Donna Noble for the reboot. Mind you, I could really have done without seeing him and Cushing in black PVC catsuits (left). That sort of thing needs to be strictly reserved for Honor Blackman.

Even by the low standards of mid-sixties science fiction, they are marginally tolerable at best, and the intervening near half-century has not been kind. Often reaching the jaw-droppingly bad level, it’s no wonder both films are treated with contempt bordering on loathing by Whovians, with the series canon denying their existence, due to the changes made to the beloved series. I’ll close with this exemplary example, from Invasion Earth, demonstrating how you can dispose of a massively-superior alien threat.


The Art of the Remake


It’s remake week here at Trash City, so as well as reviewing a few examples of the “genre”, figured I might as well put together a few philosophical notes on the topic. Remakes tend to come in for a lot of flak, but they are something of a double-edged sword. Some of my favorite films have been remakes, and you might be surprised to learn that highly-regarded movies as diverse as Dangerous Liaisons, The Maltese Falcon, Against All Odds, Fatal Attraction and A Fistful of Dollars, all fall into the category to some extent. It is a somewhat nebulous group: technically, every film version of Hamlet ever made is a “remake,” but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere – so if it’s in the public domain, it’s fair game.

That said, there do appear to be certain guidelines which influence the remakes that are successful, from those that are regarded as cinematic abominations. After the jump, here are some thoughts on these rules.

1. Remake movies where there is room for improvement.
The better the original, the less point there is in remaking it. Any remake is always going to be compared to the original, and the better this was, the more likely your version is going to be found wanting. No matter what you may think, you are not Martin Scorsese. You are not Steven Spielberg. And you are definitely not Albert Hitchcock, Gus Van Sant, please note. This is where remakes like The Blob can hardly fail, because the original was not exactly viewed with reverence. Same with Piranha 3-D. The lower the bar was initially set, the less chance of failure. I still reckon a Creeping Terror remake could kick ass, because, to quote John Huston:

“There is a willful, lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures – I’d love another shot at Roots of Heaven – and make them good?”

2. Bring something new to the party.
There’s no point in doing something that’s a slavish remake, otherwise, what’s the point? Sometimes, there is an aspect which was obviously missing from the original, for reasons that made sense at the time – in the original Cat People, the sexual tension had to be underplayed, even though it was obviously a major theme, because of the censorship climate. Paul Schrader took that aspect, turned it up to eleven and made it in your face. Same with David Cronenberg and the body-horror aspect of The Fly.

3. The times, they are a-changing…
It should be obligatory for every horror remake to include a scene in which a character waves a cellphone above his or her head, and mutters, “Dammit! No service!” To steal from another song, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be: so if you’re bringing your remake into the current day (as almost all do), you can’t pretend it’s still the seventies. People are now more connected than they were, and the ceaseless march of technology potentially affects not only horror movies but thrillers and even romantic comedies (You’ve Got Mail updated The Shop Around the Corner with email replacing letters). But some things just won’t translate. For some reason, this seems to affect movies based on remaking TV shows in particular: Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad and The Avengers all failed miserably to work in the present day, regardless of whether they retained the period setting or not.


4. Some things are sacred.
Even contemplating a remake of Casablanca should be grounds for flogging [unless, of course, you’re going to make it star Pamela Anderson and call it Barb Wire. In which case, go right ahead] As a general rule of thumb, if you want to remake movie X, you need first to have proven that you can make your own film as good as movie X. So, if Tim Burton wants to remake Planet of the Apes or Willy Wonka, that’s fine.  When Scott Derrickson wants to remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, and his track record extends no higher than The Exorcism of Emily Rose… Not so much. Just because you can remake a classic, doesn’t mean you should.

5. The world is shrinking.
Stop with the foreign remakes. Sergio Leone could get away with producing knock-offs of Kurosawa movies, because just about no-one outside of Japan had seen them. Nowadays, thanks to an unholy combination of the Bays [and I mean E- and The Pirate, not Michael], any half-decent movie is available anywhere in the world, usually within a few days of release. Some genres are particularly on the ball here: anime and horror, for example. Do not expect fans to be enthusiastic about your remake of a film they have already seen and either a) know and love, or b) don’t think is very good to begin with. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring has a lot to answer for in this area: namely, the line of inferior J-horror knock-offs foisted upon the American public.

6. Show some respect for the original.
It won’t help your cause to have the creator of the movie on which you’re basing your work, sniping from the sidelines. Witness the spat between Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog over the latter’s “reimagining” of Bad Lieutenant. Ferrara said “I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar, and it blows up,” and Herzog – a man who had some epic battles with Klaus Kinski, of course – replied “Wonderful, yes! Let him fight…I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is.” That kind of thing is likely to alienate the people who most liked the original, and they could be your core audience.

7. Why are you remaking this?
The reason behind the remake is probably the crux of the matter. There are times when it’s obviously little more than sheer laziness: there’s no need to bother coming up with a new story, when there’s a script here which already proved (more or less) successful before? So is this because you think you have something new you can add? Because the original had a great plot, but the FX of the time weren’t up to the necessary level? Because the old story now has a new resonance? Or because it’s a job, given to you by a studio intent on raping its back-catalogue of titles for a quick buck?

Like anything else – adaptations, sequels, etc. – remakes are a tool, and as such can be used for good or evil cinematically. Into which category the results fall probably depends more on the talents of those involved in the project than anything else. But knowing this won’t stop me from calling in an air-strike on Hollywood, if the mooted remake of Blade Runner ever comes to pass.

Incredibly Bad Film Show: The Creeping Terror

Dir: “A.J. Nelson” (Vic Savage)
Star: Vic Savage, Shannon O’Neil, William Thourlby, John Caresio

“Anyone who experienced that catastrophe and survived, would never go there again…”

The above line is one of the many lines of narration spoken during The Creeping Terror, but is just as appropriate a summary for the entire movie itself. While there can never be a unanimous choice for the worst film ever made, going forward I will refuse to take seriously the views of anyone who does not at least acknowledge the credentials of this as a worthy contender. I’ve seen films with bad sound, poor special effects, amateur performance or any other number of flaws. But this tale of alien invasion is so inadequate in so many areas, it’s difficult to conceive how it could ever have seem adequate.

Almost from the get-go, you get a sense of how bad things are going to be. The shot of the alien spacecraft descending to Earth is, very obviously, stock footage of one a V-1 rocket taking off, played backwards. Yes: really. That the makers thought no-0ne would notice, or that the craft seen on the ground bears no resemblance at all to the the stock footage, sets the bar of expectations appropriately. The next thing to kick in is the narration, and its use may mark a new low-water mark. Even at best, it’s a dodgy technique, usually a replacement when the director’s skills aren’t up to the task of showing the necessary emotion or conveying the plot points in a less-clunky manner. Here, it seems a technical necessity caused by insurmountable audio issues: two characters will be having an animated conversation, but rather than hear them, the narrator describes what’s being said. It feels like the narrator is reading an early script treatment.

Let me provide a couple of samples to show you what I mean:

  • “Martin was outraged by the government’s intellectual approach to a monster that had already killed and caused the disappearance of his two close friends. Caldwell tended to agree with him, but stated that he had to follow his orders.”
  • “The Sergeant, a shaken man, returned babbling about what had happened. Realizing the full danger of the situation, Caldwell decided he had only one means left to stop the monster: grenades. Now Bradford made a drastic move. Acting on his superior authority, he forbade Caldwell to destroy the creature. The Colonel, more concerned with saving human lives than advancing science, told Bradford to “Go to Hell.””
YouTube video

However, what elevates this, more than any other aspect, lifting it from the realms of “Somewhat Sucky” into the pantheon of all-time greats, is the monster. I’d heard tales of this cinematic abomination, but nothing could prepare me for the amazing sight. At first, it was largely hidden behind some trees, but it seemed as if the makers finally realized the pointlessness of trying to conceal the thing, and opted instead to give the audience plenty of opportunity to play “Let’s laugh at the monster.” The general consensus is that it resembles a pile of carpet remnants, and who am I to argue with that? It appears to consist of a man under a blanket, pulling a large quilt behind him.

It’s reported that there were actually two different monsters used – if you look closely, you can tell the difference. The reason for this has also been explained: “According to actor/makeup artist Byrd Holland (who played the sheriff), Lackey was banned from the set by Nelson after a dispute over the ownership of the monster “suit”, whereupon the monster suddenly went missing. Lackey supposedly informed the crew that the monster was “in hiding” and would not reappear until he got paid. Apparently Lackey never got paid and Nelson decided instead to rebuild the monster on his own.” Hard to tell whether this was a boon or a bane: neither is exactly going to give Rick Baker sleepless nights.

There are two factors which render it particularly non-terrifying. While that half of the title is singularly inappropriate, there can be no doubt that it certainly lives up to the ‘creeping’ part. It moves at the pace of a reluctant sloth on downers, and the only way it can consume anyone, is because they stand still and let it. It is not necessary to run away. It not even necessary to walk away. You could amble, and still comfortably out-pace  the alien. The other issue is that the creature’s mouth – at roughly the level of the man in the front’s knees – is basically a hole. Due to this, the only way for a victim to be swallowed is if they obligingly climb into the mouth, then more or less pull themselves down its throat.


I am also somewhat confused by the sounds it makes, which appear to resemble stock audio from a big-game hunt, though I am impressed that it can make them even while swallowing its prey. However, the creature’s finest moment probably comes later in the film, when it attacks a group of cars parked in the local Lover’s Lane. While absorbing its victims, at one point it climbs into a convertible (shown, right), and for a glorious moment, we imagined the alien driving off in the automobile, the wind blowing in its…er, shag-pile.

This is, however, only slightly more entertaining than the preceding sequence where it attacks a local dance-hall, apparently managing to avoid the cover charge (probably claiming it was “on the list”).  The same people who were frantically fruggin’ their hearts out on the dance-floor, now find themselves incapable of any motion at all, and the creature eats its fill. A particular highlight is the guy who gallantly pushes his date towards the monster, though I also enjoyed the town drunk – one of the few people with an excuse for not being able to move out of the way. There is reportedly also a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ in this scene, with an escapee throwing a woman out of the way and accidentally tearing off her top. I can’t say I am curious enough in 60’s b&w boobies to investigate further.

There are any number of other aspects worthy of derision, but I’ll just mention these in passing. The way the alien craft contains very clearly terrestrial dials with Earthly numbers (below). The shot of the hyper-secure crash site, where you can see a kid playing in the background, oblivious to the camera.  The tactics of the army [or, at least, the single-digit number of soldiers we get here] against the monster: even though attacking across open ground, they bunch up into an area no larger than an elevator, so that it can gobble them up as well.  Gratuitous, and apparently serious, use of the word “hootenanny,” followed by offensive use of a guitar, the likes of which would not be seen again until Animal House. The way the hero and heroine invite the hero’s best friend over, simply it seems in order to make out in front of him. The fat guy who bears an odd resemblance to Harry Knowles, and is tripped up by some pesky river-bed gravel.


The weird thing is, there is actually the potential for a half-decent movie here. The creature is very different from most aliens of the time, and its purpose here – absorb humans to find out their weaknesses, so it can transmit them back to its home planet as data for a future invasion – is inventive too. It’s the kind of movie begging for a remake, perhaps with a nod to how the original was actually government disinformation, designed to cover up a real incident by creating a target of ridicule. However, I am fairly sure I came up with better ways to use a concept like this when I was writing stories aged seven or so. You can see why the MST3K crowd pounced on it, but it’s one of those cases where there’s not really much more they need add: the film’s insane stupidity doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. Not that, of course, this stopped us adding our own.

But as a bad movie, it’s an awful lot of fun, fully deserving its reputation in the field. After a spell where I’d been grinding my way through dull films, it was a refreshing delight to come across something like this, possessing in spades the loopy charm which attracted me to the field of incredibly bad cinema to begin with.

[February 2010]

TC’s Ten Best Films of 2009

Movies seen theatrically in 2009: three. Yes: you could count then on the fingers of one hand, while still hanging on to your large popcorn. This continues a trend noted in last year’s review, though was exacerbated by us moving house in the middle of the year. As well as the experience occupying us and then leaving us drained of energy for the summer blockbuster season, our new location doesn’t have quite the same easy access to cinemas. Though two of the three movies did make it into the top ten – the other being Avatar – I will also admit that four of the listed films arrived in TC Towers, shall we say, in unofficial ways.

Still, when the top five for the year included not only Avatar, but also Transformers 2 and Twilight: New Moon, Hollywood largely has itself to blame for my absence. But since overall American box-office was up 10% on 2008, and cracked the ten billion dollar mark for the first time, I doubt they noticed. However, I also think this does prove that any claims the downloading of movies is killing the industry are clearly nonsense, just as the music business somehow managed to survive audio-cassettes.

As usual, links go to the most appropriate review, which may be here or may be on, and I am limiting myself for the purposes of this list, to movies that got their first North American release in 2009.  But here’s also a list of films seen in the past, which might have merited cond for a previous year’s top ten (having been rated B or better]. Lights in the Dusk, Vantage Point, The Memory of a Killer, In Bruges, Let the Right One In, The Wrestler, The Insurgents, Singh is Kinng, Ils, Black Book, Traitor, Fermat’s Room, King Arthur, Stuck, El Rey de la Montaña, Man on Wire, The Strangers, Let Him Have It, Princess Aurora

10. Raging Phoenix
Following up on Chocolate, which made last year’s list, Jeeja Yanin proves that when it comes to action-heroines, the Thais have it. Though not quite as “untainted” [in the sense that this time, the lead’s undoubted talents were more obviously enhanced by some wirework], the action was gloriously hard-hitting, in particular the final confrontations with the scary Roongtawan Jindasing, whom Chris was convinced was a man. The clash of power and flexibility was a joy to behold.

9. Ghost Image
Initially seeming as little more than a lame rip-off of The Ring – a haunted videotape, not seen that before – this managed to get past that, and deliver a genuinely creepy effort, that had a solid script and performance that made it credible. The ghost story has been one of the most over-mined genres of recent years [and the success of Paranormal Activity means that is likely to continue in 2010], but Ghost Image proved that there is still potential for fresh and interesting angles on the area.

8. Monsters vs. Aliens
The trailers didn’t do this justice – it looked like another in the apparently endless line of formulaic CGI animated movies churned out by Hollywood. However, that hid some smart writing, which elevated the film well above its competitors e.g. Bolt, and delivered a loving throwback to monster movies of the 50’s and 60’s, both in the West and Japan. Enjoyable for kids of all ages, this never forgot that the most important point of entertainment, is to actually be entertaining.

7. The Hurt Locker
That is also important for this film, which succeeded where many previous attempts to make a movie centred on the Iraq conflict have failed. It didn’t bother taking sides, and there was no discussion about whether the bomb-disposal unit should be there. They were, and this concerned their efforts to survive, in a world where death conceivably lurked behind every pile of rubble or with each approaching bystander. With tension amped up to 11, it was the year’s most highly-caffeinated movie.

6. Zombieland
Continuing to show that there’s life in the old undead yet, this was probably less a true zombie movie, than a road movie set against a backdrop of shambling flesheaters. Certainly self-aware, but at no time sinking into self-parody [there’s going to be a Scream 4 coming out? Really?], and with four beautifully-drawn central characters, each possessing their own quirks and foibles. Add in an all-you-can-shoot zombie bloodbath at the end, and you’ve got another good entry in the reborn genre.

5. Star Trek
The term “reboot” gets thrown about a lot in Hollywood, and the results have been variable, shall we say. However, this one worked very nicely, managing to return to the two-fisted style of the classic series, while still respecting the original (not least in what was probably the year’s best cameo). They got the casting just about spot-on too, with the actors chosen credible as young versions of the well-loved characters. While I am still not entirely sure about the whole Uhura-Spock thing, this was still a fine re-start to the franchise.

4. The Machine Girl
This lurid tale of betrayal, deep-fried limbs and mechanically-enhanced revenge painted the walls red, at the kind of firehose levels of blood pressure only ever seen in Japanese splatter movies. OTT excess is all the better, when done with a perfectly-straight face, and that’s what we have here. It hits the ground running with an opening sequence (below) that can only be described as berserk, and hardly pauses for breath the rest of its 96 minute running time. If you saw only one movie featuring drill bras last year, this was probably it.

3. District 9
It’s interesting to compare this to Avatar. Both films are about a human who is sent into an alien race, initially with malevolent intentions, but he comes to realize that they are not quite as painted, and he eventually [spoiler alert] becomes one of them [end spoiler alert]. District 9, however, managed to do it with a great deal less ham-handed bludgeoning of the audience, even if the apartheid symbolism here was kinda obvious. Technologically, it was a seamless meshing of CGI – you literally could not see the join – and it was also among the most credible depictions of what might happen when/if we finally have our first encounter.

2. Princess
Denmark is not really regarded as a hot-bed of animation, but this piece of work certainly made up for in impact anything that it lacked in mind-blowing technical quality. Truly a film which could only be done in animation [due to some truly shocking scenes involving the very young child at the center of things], it packed an emotional wallop far greater than all the tentacle rape flicks ever to come out of Japan, and uses live-action flashbacks and fantasy sequences, pulling the viewer in, to the point where the wallops which the movie then delivers have all the more tragic impact.

1. Martyrs
After a stream of highly-touted foreign horror movies that failed to live up to the hype. this one finally delivered the goods on all levels. While not skimping on the gore, with some of the nastiest violence to come across the screen, it was the fact that there was more than sheer psychopathy at work which made it disturbing. The perpetrators truly believed what they were doing was entirely justified, believing the ends justified the means ( I imagine the Nazis probably thought similarly). The degree of man’s inhumanity to man – or woman to woman – shown here can only be admired, in an appalling sort of way.

The top 10 films of the 00’s

Everyone else is doing their top ten films of the decade piece, so why buck the trend? Though I’m not even going to start getting into the whole “Well, technically, the decade runs from 2001-2010…” thing. This is based entirely on movies released in years that start “200”, with Wikipedia being the source of information on the date of a particular film.  You may notice some differences from the year-by-year lists previously published. This is mostly because some films stand the test of time better than others. The year-end lists tend to be based on a single viewing, while all the titles listed below hall gone through multiple viewings [in some case, multiple-multiple viewings], and been found to be just as effective – or even more so – than when initially seen.

Links go to the most appropriate review, either here or on Honorary mentions [in alphabetical order]: The Animatrix, The Booth, Children of Men, Finding Nemo, Gladiator, Kung Fu Hustle, Nine Queens, The Returner, The Ring, Shoot ‘Em Up, Signs, Sin City, Sexy Beast, 300.

  • 10. Sick Girl
    Horror movies should make you uncomfortable. They should make you squirm in your seat. And even the jaded horror fans that Chris and I are were made very uncomfortable by this, more so than any other of the hundreds of genre entries that strayed across our eyeballs in the past decade. Martyrs made a late push to dethrone this, but Leslie Andrews’ performance here is just so disconnected and matter-of-fact, as she carries out the most unspeakable of acts on her victims. Horror – true horror, not torture-porn – is absolute indifference to the suffering of others, and it’s this chilling effect which lies at the heart of Sick Girl and its impact.
  • 9. The Dark Knight
    Would certainly have ranked higher, if we didn’t have a strong urge to clear our throat, every time Bale’s caped crusader spoke. Otherwise, however, this is near perfect, highlighted of course by the stunning performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Every time we come across the film on cable, we have to put it on, especially if it’s in time to see the sublime “How about a magic trick?” scene. The scope and scale of Christopher Nolan’s vision is the perfect backdrop for this larger-than-life performance, which succeeds in engaging both brain and heart in a way few “comic-book” movies have ever managed to do.

  • 8. Versus
    At the risk of mixing my metaphors terribly, this fuels up on adrenalin and goes full-throttle straight for the action jugular, Ryuhei Kitamura coming out of nowhere to deliver one of the most purely-entertaining action flicks of all time. Packed with characters who can best be described as “fascinating,” it combines impressive imagination with spectacular execution on a tiny budget, punches far above its weight as a result. Zombies, swordplay, really-big guns and martial-arts combine in a delightful and heady cocktail that is quite unique. Some of Kitamura’s subsequent work has been solid; nothing has quite matched Versus.
  • 7. Kill Bill, Volume 1
    Proof that, when Quentin Tarantino reins in his verbal diarrhoea and keeps himself off-screen, he is capable of delivering a thoroughly-entertaining piece of work. He is now 1-for-6 there [not see Inglorious Bastards yet], thanks to the best action-heroine film to come out of Hollywood in the decade. Uma Thurmann’s Bride was a tornado of revenge, chewing up and spitting out any and all who got in her path, be it old friends like Vernita Green, new enemies such as Go-Go Yubari or, in the film’s most impressive sequence, an entire pack of enraged, masked Japanese men wielding samurai swords.  A marvellous swirling of popular cultures.

  • 6. Wall-E
    Not the last Pixar movie you’ll see in this list, and the studio dominated the decade as far as animation goes, in the way Studio Ghibli did the mid-80’s to mid-90’s. After a bit of a road-bump with Cars [pun not intended], Pixar roared back with a tale about a garbage clean-up robot that falls in love with a probe. James Cameron could have learned how to make non-human characters – indeed, non-organic ones here – sympathetic. They could conceivably have made the entire film without a single word of meaningful dialogue, and it would still have been eqally as marvellous. Or possibly even more so.
  • 5. Borat
    I still have absolutely no idea how this subversive piece of surrealist theatre managed to get a massive release across the entire world [except, I suspect, Kazakhstan]. Too much of what passed as ‘satire’ in this decade was toothless, but Sacha Baron Cohen hit his marks with impeccable precision, as he tore across the United States from New York to Pamela Anderson. Great satire should offend people – especially its targets – but Baron Cohen exposed not just the prejudice inherent in Western society, but also its remarkable tolerance for and patience with outsiders. It made us laugh, cringe, and think, a unique triple-play.

  • 4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    The only martial-arts movie to ever make me shed a tear, because for once, equal attention was given to the characters as to the ass-kickery. The relationships between them had a genuine, timeless feel to them which meant the period setting was not a strait-jacket for the storyline. The amazing action sequences which punctuated proceedings, by Yuen Wo-Ping, had a lyrical grace and imagination to them which has rarely been matched: the duel between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zi-yi was probably the finest one-on-one fight in the period covered here, like watching water go over a cliff. Add the emotional punch of the end, and it’s a masterpiece.
  • 3. Monsters Inc.
    Oh, look – another Pixar movie. I could just copy and paste the paragraph above, about the ability to make non-human characters work.  However, this was not only a very sweet and innocent love story, it was also riotously-funny, and showcased a blizzard of pure imagination – the lifeblood of animation. This was apparent, not only in the construction of Monstropolis, but also the characters which populated it, and all the way to little things like the street signs [Stalk/Don’t Stalk]. CGI animation is no longer anything rare or unusual; however, this film transcends the medium and is simply great movie-making.

  • 2. Shaun of the Dead
    Probably counts as our most-watched film of the decade. Any time it’s on – even on a non-premium channel, where it has been been formatted to fit the screen, run in the time allotted and edited for content – we just have to watch it, rejoicing in the glorious dialogue and marvellous combination of horror and comedy, two notoriously difficult genres to combine well [many have tried – most have failed, and few things are worse than a horror-comedy that is neither horrific nor funny]. There is not a wrong step, weak moment or wasted sentence to be found in the entire thing. Makes me proud to be British.
  • 1. Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King
    To commemorate the end of the decade, I decided it was long past time to pull out all three entries in the series, and watch them back-to-back-to-back, see if they all held up. The versions in question were the extended cuts of parts one and three, and the regular version of part two – we really didn’t feel that it was a film particularly in need of additional footage of tree pontificating. The results of this furry-footed marathon are a separate article, which can be found here.