Category Archives: A Decade In Film

Half A Decade In Film – 2014

So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.

Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.

Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…


Kundo: Age of the Rampant

kundoToday, those who serve the people, serve only their own interests, and neglect their sworn duty. Isn’t that shameful?

Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.

I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.

The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.

He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.

The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.

Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.

It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.

There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.

A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Pride

prideI’ve had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line. And now I’m in a gay bar.

Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!

We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.

The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America The Winter SoldierBefore we get started, does anyone want to get out?

As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.

For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.

Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!

Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.

My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.

It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLERYou can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket.

Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.

Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.

It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgHe said that he may be an… “a-hole”. But he’s not, and I quote, “100% a dick”.

Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.

The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.

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Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

Half A Decade In Film – 2012

To bastardise a famous Eric Cantona quote: 2012 was a great year for film. Failed Critics was born.

Yes, this humble, modest, unassuming (what?) and shambolic film blog and podcast had its inaugural year less than a third of a decade ago. Beginning life as James Diamond’s personal blog, The Failed Critic, as he attempted to watch through the entire IMDb Top 250 list (and, suitably enough, failed to do so), it quickly expanded to include a weekly podcast and half a dozen other writers and contributors. Almost three years later and here we still are, if a little podgier larger than we were back then…

As we continue our quest to bring you the Failed Critics’ favourite films of the first half of this decade, it’s to 2012 that we look back on. A year when a James Bond film grossed over $1bn worldwide; when Peter Jackson introduced HFR to the mainstream with his first return to Middle Earth since The Lord of the Rings ended; and when people suddenly started to take Ben Affleck seriously again.


Dredd

Judge Dredd Still ImageNegotiation’s over. Sentence is death.

There’s a thing I do when I write something that someone else might read. If I’m reviewing anything, be it a film or a game or whatever, before I start writing I watch the trailer for it. Mainly so I know how far I can go with spoilers. If it’s in the trailer, it’s fair game to talk about. I do it when I’m spit-balling ideas on what to write and I can fully load my notes with stuff before I watch or play whatever I’m reviewing.

When I watched the trailer for Dredd to get the ideas flowing before I watched it that night, all the shivers I got the first time I saw it came back and I realised I’d made the right choice in my pick of 2012.

Judge Dredd was the only comic book I read as a kid. I still have my dog-eared copy of The Dark Judges on my bookshelf. So when I saw that trailer on a trip to the flicks, the teenager in me screamed! 13 year old me still hasn’t forgiven me or Sylvester Stallone for the abomination that was Judge Dredd. Stallone and his damn ego ruined the one comic book I love and seeing the trailer for Dredd showed me hope!

Turns out, that was pretty well placed hope. Dredd‘s story of a Judge and his rookie taking down a drug ring based in an apartment block is uncomplicated, brutal and just outstanding. Forget that awful “The judges are good guys really” thing from Sly’s film, Dredd is single-mindedly lethal and 100% the judge that fans wanted in the film adaptation of Mega City One.

Karl Urban’s Dredd is excellent. You can finally forget that terrible moment you saw Judge Dredd’s face (and it was Stallone) and place your faith comfortably on Urban’s gruff, uber-masculine chin and its outstanding acting ability. I had to fight against every fibre of my being wanting to stand and cheer when he says the iconic “I am the law”. Lena Heady is terrifyingly brilliant as the brutal head of the drug empire in the Peach Trees tower block. Going up against Dredd needs balls and smarts and Heady’s “Mama” has both, in spades. The two going at each other is a sight to behold for Dredd fans. Now, if we could only get a sequel.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


The West Memphis Three

unnamedIf I focused on the things I can’t change, the things that have hurt me, what people have done to me, then they would have already broken me.

2012 was the year of the documentary feature for me and I’m going to give them some love in this week’s Half A Decade In Film. Jackie Siegel in The Queen of Versaille, she had me shouting at the screen and holding my head in my hands. Joyce McKinney told her ‘Mormon in Chains’ story, in Errol Morris jaw-dropping and sleaze fuelled Tabloid. Things got even weirder by the time The Imposter hit our screens… this actually happened, really and truly. I’ve seen the dramatised version of this and they tone it down to make Frederic Bourdin’s tale even vaguely believable. Right there is a mind blowing triple bill, but its another triple bill that tops 2012. The West Memphis Three.

Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley & Jason Baldwin and their tangle (understatement of the decade dropped in there) with the Arkansas justice system. In three ground breaking and truly eye-opening films we follow their story in Paradise Lost (1996), Paradise Lost 2 – Revelation (2000) and finally Paradise Lost 3 – Puragtory arrives to conclude matters. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky had no idea how this project would pan out and even if you’d told them, they’d never have believed you. If you don’t know their story, then it has to be seen to be believed, don’t go Googling though – go in knowing nothing and you’ll take away so much more. If you’re curious, but not convinced by investing 7 hours of your time to watch all this, Peter Jackson (yes, that one) & Amy Berg put out another film West of Memphis in 2012; this covers everything in a couple of hours, but the reality is, that simply doesn’t do their story justice.

Incredulity, rage and many, many tears is what awaits you here. Two decades of story telling warrants seven hours of your time.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


El Ultimo Elvis (The Last Elvis)

the last elvisHave you ever felt that you’ve done everything? That you’ve reached all your goals?

The recent “Best Film” Oscar for Birdman will, hopefully, result in interest being shown in the back catalogue of Armando Bo, co-writer of Birdman and the writer/director of this wonderful drama from Argentina.

Despite the name, this is NOT a film aimed at Presley fans. I don’t, knowingly, own any Elvis records and yet absolutely love this film; it’s a story about fandom taken to levels that far exceed what most people would class as obsession.

Carlos “Elvis” Gutiérrez is a Buenos Aires based Elvis Presley impersonator. Other than the fact that he is a fat, sweaty, bloke crowbarred into a sparkly jumpsuit, he doesn’t much look like Elvis but he most certainly does sound like him. The problem is Carlos isn’t content to just sound like him, he’s focused on being Elvis.

He spends the day working in a washing machine recycling factory with headphones clamped to his ears. When he visits his, understandably hostile, ex-wife he constantly calls her Priscilla, her name is Alejandra. His daughter and his car are both, naturally enough, named Lisa-Marie.

When Alejandra is badly injured in a car crash, Carlos has to put his “big plan” on hold to look after his daughter. The bulk of the film follows the relationship he attempts to build with Lisa-Marie and his spiralling, deeply damaging, obsession starts to change the way you feel about him. Is he a harmless crank, to be allowed his passion, or is he a selfish jerk?

Carlos is played by John McInerny, an American professional Elvis impersonator. The producers initially hired him to coach an Argentinian actor for the live performance segments of the film, apparently he won them over to such an extent they gave him the part instead. Considering he is not an actor by trade, his performance throughout the whole film is nothing short of wonderful. He is completely believable in the part. He plays the numerous emotional scenes superbly and, needless to say, the musical performances are of a very high quality. The only part of his performance that is hard to judge is his speech. I do not speak Spanish so am not qualified to comment. It sounds authentic to me but could well be a Dick Van Dyke abomination to a native speaker, and we all know how horrific that is.

Infuriatingly, the polish of this jewel gets a little rubbed by the horribly heavy handed direction of the end of the story. There’s nothing wrong with the writing or the acting, but the way the climax is handled visually really does grate. That most dreaded of Crime Against Film-Fan Humanity, the montage, gets a pretty full work out, the accompanying music takes a distinct turn for the worse too.

It’s nowhere near enough to spoil the film but it’s an annoying feeling to take away with you at the end of a great watch.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Intouchables

intouchablesWe listened to your classics. Now it’s time to listen to mine.

During this year I had noticed a film advertised at the cinema, a French film called The Intouchables, yes even Cineworld were showing it. Yet the poster didn’t really inspire me to see it, just a standard promo shot of Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, it really was quite lacklustre. I remembered Cluzet from Tell No One back in 2006, but had no idea who Omar Sy was, I couldn’t even be bothered to look him up on IMDB; I was that unimpressed with the one-sheet.

During the films second week a friend turned to me and said “have you seen Intouchables?” I said I hadn’t. He just said “you really need to see it, it’s fantastic.” I had to take the next afternoon off to go and see it on this recommendation. I’m so glad I did. Intouchables ended up being one of my favourite films of the year, in a year which included Avengers, Skyfall, Amour and Rust & Bone, it really was a good year for French films.

Aside from the recommendation, my expectations were still very low. I really wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this film. From the opening sequence as Sy drove Cluzet through the streets of Paris, the stunning cinematography accompanied with a fantastic score; a wonderful piano piece from Ludovico Einaudi. I was hooked. The sombre opening the scene changed as Sy’s explosive personality coned the local police after been caught for speeding that they were in an emergency and needed to get to the hospital, the whole mood changed. Cue September from Earth Wind and Fire and Sy and Cluzet singing along in the car escorted by the police, from sombre to comical effortlessly. I was then taken back in time and to the story of Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) first encounter together and how the relationship between these two people turned into a truly remarkable friendship. I really want to be coy about the circumstances of both men, how they become friends because I really don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it. Also I don’t want to put people off either, I know people are not interested in films regarding certain conditions or situations, or even the poster…

Cluzet is remarkable as Philippe, it must have been one of his toughest acting jobs. I really did believe him, a sombre man due to his condition, the life sucked out of him. Then Sy as Driss is equally as good, filling the film with his personality, his fun and bringing life back to Philippe. There are scenes which make you howl with laughter, and scenes which make you want to cry, in both happiness and sadness. The emotional range I went through watching this film was incredible, with a perfect ending which always makes me smile.

The direction and writing from both Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is assured, they never over cook the drama or under cook the comedy, the balance is perfect. Along with one of my favourite mixed soundtracks of all time, the Einaudi score pieces are sublime and with a good mix of songs as well. A remarkable film and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do watch it.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Avengers Assemble

avengers“Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers. Avengers Assemble. “That film with Ironing Man and Captain USA and Thaw and that green dude Bulk.” Whatever you want to call it, the Marvel juggernaut finally hit full steam (if juggernauts are powered by steam?) crushing lesser comic book films in its path. It is actually one of four 2012 releases to have grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide (Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit being the others) and currently sits at 3rd in the all time highest grossing films list. Regardless of your opinion on comicbook movies, if you didn’t see Avengers, then I haven’t done the maths but I believe that means you simply weren’t on this planet upon its release.

Indeed, as voted for by listeners of the podcast way back when, it came out top of the pile in our first ever Failed Critics Awards. Whilst time and a rewatch has slightly softened my initially held incredibly high opinion of Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up blockbuster, it’s still a movie that I thoroughly enjoy. After leaving the cinema, thinking about what I’d just witnessed, I couldn’t think of a similar type of movie that I had seen done as well as this, nor one that was more fun. It had it all. Whilst the likes of Nolan and Snyder had tried to make superhero films that were gritty and a touch more realistic relatively speaking, Marvel had decided to stick more closely to what their readers and film fans wanted; a cartoony, humorous, ludicrously over the top actioner. Not only that but with Whedon at the helm, they had a guy who knew how to write light-hearted and entertaining characters. And who knew that he could direct action scenes involving multiple heroes, aliens and giant multi-dimensional worm things so well?

So, as mentioned, over the past couple of years, I’ve come to perhaps enjoy a couple of other movies released in 2012 slightly more, such as Looper and The Raid, yet none have ever topped that experience I had of walking out of the cinema believing I had just seen “my generations Star Wars“. The child-like excitement, the satisfying buzz and relief I felt that they had finally nailed what a comic book film should be has never left me and it still remains one of my favourite movies of its kind.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


And there we go, another year down, and only two more to go! As with previous articles, we’re more than happy to debate the relative merits of all the films above, or if you just want to contest our decisions entirely, simply leave a comment below and tell us where we’re going wrong. We’ll return next week with (yes, you guessed it) our 2013 article.

 

Half A Decade In Film – 2011

2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.

That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!

OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.


Source Code

© 2010 Vendome PicturesAny soldier I’ve ever served with would say that one death is service enough.

It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.

The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.

Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.

Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.

Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Super 8

super 8“According to my Uncle Seth, an accident like this is exceptionally rare.”

After the success of  JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.

Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.

Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.

There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise of the apesPlease, Mr. Jacobs! Lives are at stake! These are animals with personalities, with attachments!

I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)

At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.

I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.

The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Yellow Sea

the yellow seaDon’t forget it. If you forget it, your family’s all dead.

One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.

It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?

…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.

The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.

I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Le Havre

le havreYou don’t deserve such a good wife. You’re not worth her.” “No-one is, so I’ll do.

Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.

Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.

The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.

They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.

Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.

One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.

A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.

The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.

A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.

Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Noughties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month has seen us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format is much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

We’ve made it! Today is officially the spookiest day of the year, Halloween! It also sees us publish our final entry to the Decade In Horror series. Andrew, Liam, MikeOwen and Paul are back together for one last time to reveal what exactly is their favourite horror film of the noughties.

Following the technological apocalypse that occurred after Y2K, as predicted would happen by crazy sane people with ready access to billboards in the 1990s, only a few of the human race survived. Those of us who were smart enough to build shelters and hide in underground bunkers emerged in early 2000 to find a desolate landscape, occupied only by gruesome, fierce mutants and rogue machines hell-bent on destruction. It was up to us to rebuild humanity. And we did, one step at a time. First we tamed the machines, then we wiped out the mutants, leaving only a few of them to run our football clubs or become politicians (satire) leaving no trace of the worst fate to befall our kind in human history. Once we’d tidied up a bit, we got on with what we do best; i.e. making horror films. We created a whole new subgenre known today as “torture porn”, mainly thanks to the splat-pack; a group of directors who were raised on a diet of exploitation films and grotesque horrors. Films like Saw, Hostel and Wolf Creek defined the 00s’. Saw particularly so by really bringing the torture porn concept into the mainstream. Who didn’t at least know of Jigsaw and the infamous “I want to play a game” quote? But that wasn’t all that our new millennium had to offer. What actually were our favourites of this brand new era? First up picking his favourite is Liam, with something a bit different…


Ferpect Crime (2004)

ferpect crimeDon Antonio, this is not right at all. You are dead, you can’t chat with me.

This Spanish black comedy may appear an odd addition to a Halloween list but when you have a plot that contains; murder, dismemberment, psychotic obsession, arson, several attempted murders, blackmail and a belligerent ghost it’s pretty safe to say it belongs here. The title is a play on the Hitchcock classic Dial M For Murder released in Spain as “Perfect Crime”.

A revoltingly slick Super Salesman type has his perfect life smashed to pieces when he is left completely beholden to a woman he can’t stand the sight of.

There are a couple of problems with it. The first fifteen minutes are a bit worrying. It’s horribly mid 80s style American cheesiness. It even has Yello’s “Oh Yeah” playing in the background. But it does successfully show the man as a total moral vacuum and a sleazy, womanising jerk. The last fifteen minutes seem as though they were written by someone else, they don’t really fit and leave you wondering if he simply didn’t know how to end it. The middle hour makes it all worthwhile. His realisation that he is totally trapped, by this demented woman and her deranged family, starts a decline which only increases as he plots to find a way out. His paranoia and visions of a ghost are not helping.

This is an Oreo type of film. Don’t worry too much about the top & bottom, just enjoy the great middle bit.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

TDRBoy, the next word that comes out of your mouth better be some brilliant fuckin’ Mark Twain shit. ‘Cause it’s definitely getting chiselled on your tombstone.

Choosing a film for this decade was tough. There wasn’t much in the way of traditional horror to choose from. Rather, my favourites from the 00’s all kind of boiled down to ultra gory slasher style films or the newly founded “Torture Porn” sub-genre. With that in mind, my final choice is less a horror movie and more an ultra-violent thriller in the guise of a horror film.

The Devil’s Rejects is the sequel to Rob Zombie’s cult horror House of 1000 Corpses. But it’s a sequel with a twist, of sorts. The remaining members of the Firefly Clan (Sid Haig, Bill Mosely and Sherri Moon Zombie) are on the run from a maniacal sheriff hell bent on avenging the death of his brother in the first film. More of a road movie than a horror, the chase is on to bring the crazy hillbillies to justice.

The twist is that you aren’t siding with the cops in this film. Whether you want to or not, you’re going to end up rooting for the Rejects and you’re going to want them to come out on top. As they tear-arse their way across the county leaving an insane amount of carnage behind them, you still want them to get the better of William Forsythe’s sheriff.

The hillbilly horror has been around since a certain massacre in Texas shocked the world. But with brilliantly written characters; one of the scariest clowns in film history and some of the goriest deaths in quite some time, Rob Zombie’s darkly funny horror sequel stands as one of my favourites. Not just of the noughties, but of all time.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

trick r treatWhat in God’s name are you doing down there Wilkins? Hiding Bodies?

One of the hardest decisions of this project was the 00’s; so many great horror films to pick from! It helps that I’ve attended FrightFest for most of this decade. I’ve witnessed films on the big screen that many never have or will ever see again. It’s from FrightFest that my choice comes and one I was extremely excited to see when it was announced. Since that year, Trick ‘r Treat has become my Halloween film of choice.

I do like a good anthology film and horrors tend to work extremely well in this format. It’s rare to come across one where all the stories are rubbish as most work on some level. This one works on every level for me.

Trick ‘r Treat is a true Halloween horror; it’s not scary, it’s quite funny but it epitomises everything about the infamous holiday. The fun of dressing up, carving jack-o-lanterns, eating candy, urban legends and of course the real legends of that day. Then there is Sam, the spirit of Halloween, and the force of this film, taking his own story at the end, but always present as each of the previous stories unfold. Whilst his origins are never really explained, it’s fair to say that he maintains some sort of balance between the forces of evil and the human world. Those who disrespect Halloween – the dead and even the living – will feel the true force of Sam; and it very rarely ends well.

There are four main stories; The Principal, The School Bus Massacre Revisited, Surprise Party and Sam. It’s hard for me to choose a favourite, but pushed I would say it is Sam. It’s his look, dressed in an orange pyjama suit, wearing a burlap sack over his head and dragging his sack of candy and other feline treats behind him. He is one of my all-time favourite horror monsters. The way he appears through each story is rather creepy and retaining his mystery until his actual story just adds to his appeal.

Michael Dougherty has crafted a wonderful homage to Halloween. He has a great “monster” in the form of Sam, four excellent stories and the intelligence to interlink each story either by visuals or characters, giving a nice flow to the film’s timeline. Dylan Baker in The Principal and Brian Cox in Sam provide the stand out performances, whilst Anna Pacquin also has a decent role in Surprise Party. The rest of the supporting cast are fine, the script is great and the look of the film is outstanding due to Glen MacPherson’s brilliant cinematography. It never fails to entertain me and I really do look forward to watching it each year on Halloween.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


The House of the Devil (2009)

house of the devil titlesDuring the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic Cults… Another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover ups… The following is based on true unexplained events…

The 2000’s was the first decade that I was actually old enough to go to the cinema and watch horror films. Of course, like a lot of people, I grew up watching them regardless of their recommended age certificates. However, the thrill of being allowed in to see films such as Thir13en Ghosts or Jeepers Creepers made up for the guff quality of a few of them. These were gory, horrible films that I could no longer be turned away from by uppity cinema staff.

Nevertheless, my personal relationship with horror films did dwindle slightly through the 00’s. My wife (then girlfriend) had no interest in them whatsoever, so we hardly ever watched them together. Arguably, it was Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake that, watching on DVD sometime around 2006, rekindled my love for horror. If I dug deep enough, I could probably name 10 or so horrors from this decade alone that would be in my all time favourites for this genre.

Perhaps none more so than Ti West’s occult movie, The House of the Devil. Released in the US in 2009, it’s actually set in the 1980’s. Student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate for cash and applies for a job as a babysitter on the night of a lunar eclipse. It’s revealed the work is not exactly as described in the flyer, and against the better judgement of her friend (Greta Gerwig), takes on the job anyway. Far from the torture porn movies of earlier in the decade, or even some of  the absurd goofy comedy horrors of the 80’s, this is actually an incredibly atmospheric movie, rich in tension, mystery and psychological drama. It builds itself steadily towards an unforgettable final few scenes with an almighty killer blow for a finale. It established West as one of the directors I get most excited about whenever I hear he’s making a new movie and holds up well on every rewatch. A staple for my annual Halloween diet!

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Last House on the Left (2009)

last house on the leftJustin, you gotta start putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. You knew not to bring anybody back here, but you did it anyway, didn’t you?

The Last House on the Left is a notorious 70’s offering, that still shocks today, the BBFC shit bricks and banned it. This remake passed me by at first, but kept seeing it on ‘under-appreciated’ lists and decided to give it a poke. .John Murphy’s instantly recognisable score makes you realise this isn’t just another horror movie made by film company accountants and shit out like a hundred Lionsgate turds.

In this version the deranged escapees are led by Garret Dillahunt, and his performance is eerie, brutal and chilling and the utterly deranged Sadie is admirably portrayed by Riki Lindhome. Even Aaron Paul puts in his only decent turn outside of Breaking Bad.

It’s a simple premise, two girls fall into the clutches of the dangerous gang. They’re then subjected to a horrific and sustained attack and ultimately end up facing a final and brutal assault near their remote home. Their attackers end up staying in the home of one of the girl’s parents…

Then shit gets real. Cold, realistic, horrifying and emotionless. This is nasty film, but it all pans out in a way that just about keeps you in the realm of, ‘this could happen…..’, and that’s why it’s so terrifying. This is the film to see on Halloween for proper chills.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


…and that just about wraps up our Decade In Horror series! Thanks to everyone for reading and who knows, maybe we’ll be back in six years time to do the same thing again? You can find the rest of our Decade In Horror series (or even our main Decade In Film articles) by clicking the respective hyperlinks.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Nineties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Hey, dudes! It’s time for our 90’s article. It’s sooo going to suck…….. NOT! Radical dudes Andrew, Liam, MikeOwen and Paul are back to, like, give us a run-down of their totally awesome favourite horror movies of the bitchin’ 1990’s, man! Super sweet. If you have a problem with that, well I guess you better talk to the hand ’cause the face ain’t listenin’!

The nineties is the decade that took a leaf out of the previous 10 years’ book and decided to adopt the motto: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again with endless, repetitive, increasingly lame, decreasingly budgeted slashers. But it wasn’t all bad; there are at least five great films released and nothing Michael Haneke has to say about them will make us change our minds!

Towards the beginning of the decade, there was a commercial boom in the genre. The success of Joe Dante’s horror-comedy Gremlins meant a sequel went into production. Disney rode the wave with Arachnophobia released in the same year. Meanwhile, Tim Curry in Stephen King’s IT would become responsible for more cases of coulrophobia than John Wayne Gacy. Of course, The Silence of the Lambs was also a huge success; one of only three films to ever win five Oscars (sorry, it’s impossible to mention Jonathan Demme’s film without including that little bit of trivia at the end).

Despite the moderate success of a few cult movies like Cube, Cemetary Man and Event Horizon in the middle of the decade (and the success of one particular game-changer that we’ll come onto later), it wasn’t until later on in the 90s that horror films collectively upped their calibre. Part of this is down to the international market – and I don’t mean Peter Jackson! Despite the likes of Argento and Fulci in the 70’s and 80’s, world cinema had never truly penetrated the relatively mainstream horror conscious. However, J-horror (as it affectionately became known towards the end of the decade) did with such titles as Ringu (actually released primarily on VHS back then, would you believe), Ju-on (aka The Grudge) and Takeshi Mike’s Audition – not to mention one or two others, ahem. They forced the US market to change tact leading into the new millennium. Well, that and to remake as many of them as possible into the English language. Audiences woke up to what could be achieved and demanded more. But we’ll come onto that next week. Let’s start our reviews in chronological order, as always, and go back at the beginning of the decade with…


Candyman (1992)

candymanThey will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for, if not for shedding?

The 90’s was a strange decade for horror; trying to get away from the slash and dice of the 80’s, horror film makers looked for a more intelligent premise to their films, rather than some mad man running round cutting everyone to pieces. That said, one of my favourite films from this period is Candyman, a film with a resounding 80’s slasher feel to it, though with a much more adult tone, there are no teenagers getting sliced and diced in this film.

An urban legend shrouding the Cabrini-Green housing development in fear. Candyman is a supernatural killer summoned if you say his name five times into the mirror. He takes the lives of his victims by slicing them open with a hook, which has replaced his hand taken when he was murdered. Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is researching the legend and bringing the killer back to life, when she says his name… five times. Candyman (Tony Todd) returns to continue his reign of terror and predicts Helen will continue his legend once he is dead.
Bernard Rose directs his own screenplay from the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, with Barker attached as a Producer on the film. There is a constant feel of despair and dread as Rose delivers a screenplay which is dark and sinister. With some wonderful cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond adding a visual bleakness to the story, as he gives the housing estate a real nightmare feel. Candyman really does has some impressive production values. Phillip Glass provides a great score, while the gore effects and the scene with the “real” bees are all excellent.

Add to that an impressive cast as well; Virginia Madsen is superb, with solid support from Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons and Vanessa Williams. Yet it is Tony Todd with his truly frightening and brilliant portrayal of the Candyman which must put him up there with the likes of Freddy, Jason or Pinhead as one of our greatest horror icons. With Todd’s performance and the films great production values it makes this one of the finest horror films of the 90’s; definitely one of my favourites.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Body Snatchers (1993)

body snatchersWe’ll give ’em hell, Malone! We’ll show ’em what the human race is really made of!

Ah the 90’s. I thought this would be really tricky and so it was. A smorgasbord of mediocrity, spewed out across the decade. My DVD shelf confirming my fear as the few horror tiles I did buy, skulking and cowering in the shadows, fearing a trip to a boot fair. I was going to choose The Faculty, but that’s basically just Body Snatchers — wait… Body Snatchers…!

1956 version, that was great, loved it as a kid, 1978 was good too (but it’s really slow and Sutherland doing the scary scream only arrives at the end), 1993 and Abel Ferrara serves up a glossier, faster, louder and smarter version. You’ll remember it for Gabrielle Anwar falling asleep in the bath but that’s not why we’re here. Meg Tilly, she’s creepy. I mean really creepy. In all the versions of this story, her performance is the most unsettling. “Where you gonna go? Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere…….cause there’s no one like you left!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Scream (1996)

screamNow you’ve gotta die. Those are the rules!

“The 90’s sucked!” – Randy “The Ram” Robinson
And they really did. A flurry of b-movie guff and untold cash-in sequels diluted the waters so well populated back in the 80’s. Great horror movies were so few and far between that finding my favourite was less of a choice and more of a “there is only one answer” kind of decision.

Luckily, I don’t have to waste words on Scream‘s story and plot. It’s a satirised, high school slasher flick. Simple as that. A killer with a fondness for horror trivia decides that his time is better spent killing teenagers than, I don’t know, being the movie guy on a pub quiz team or taking his knowledge and hoping for a good subject on Pointless.

What makes Scream stand out, instead of its story, is its brains. Wrapped up in this generic looking slasher is a tremendously clever film. With Wes Craven at the helm, we got a movie that doesn’t shy away from satirising the genre that made its director famous. Written by rookie scribe Kevin Williamson, who expertly assembled a script with Naked Gun levels of self-awareness minus the silliness. Together they made a film who’s every scene is not only packed full of the genre’s tropes, but actively points them out to the audience.

Scream is a masterclass in horror from one of the best in the business. In the space of 111 minutes, Craven manages to introduce another icon to the horror movie Rogues Gallery in the form of Ghostface; he deconstructs, explains and then proceeds to break every horror movie rule that he helped create; and he revitalised the slasher film. All while wearing a Freddy Kruger jumper and without insulting the audience’s intelligence.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Cure (1997)

cureThis Japanese psychological thriller is one of the most engrossing and deeply chilling films of the entire genre.
A string of murders all share the same strange traits, a distinctive mark left on the body and the murderer is still nearby but unable explain their actions.

The story follows Detective Takabe as he tries to understand why these crimes are happening and just how a young drifter named Mamiya is connected to them. Police know that he has something to do with it but nobody is able to remember speaking to him. Neither medical nor psychological specialists are able to get through to him. He never raises his voice, he never displays any violent tendencies, he simply repeats a stock reply to each question posed.

A masterpiece of mystery and suspense, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and adapted from his novel, it builds a deeply unsettling tension layer by layer, revealing a little more detail with each crime. For every detail revealed another two puzzles are created and the mystery deepens. This is most certainly not for those who like things tied up in a neat little package but, for those who enjoy being left to do some thinking of their own, this confusing gem comes with the highest possible recommendation.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Blair Witch Project (1999)

blair witchI am so sorry. What is that? I’m scared to close my eyes, I’m scared to open them! We’re gonna die out here!

Come now. You didn’t think we’d do an entire article dedicated to 1990’s horror films and not mention the scariest movie of the decade, did you?

The most obvious place to start with here is how minuscule a budget this film was made for compared to how much marketing it received. I first came across The Blair Witch Project quite by accident. Staying up a bit late one school night, I was watching Sky One on Telewest with my mum when this documentary about the three missing members of some other documentary came on. For one brief night, until I spoke to the other kids at school the next day and found it was all just marketing for a movie, this naive 13 year old was honestly willing to accept that perhaps there was the possibility that such a thing as ghosts could potentially exist… maybe.

Even when my playground chatter was dashed by my mates, I still fell hook line and sinker for the marketing ploy. Despite knowing it was all fake, despite then watching it on a pirated VHS, despite all of that, I don’t think a film has scared me more than this found-footage horror. You could argue it was the birth of the modern sub-genre. Going back to 1960 with Peeping Tom, or Cannibal Holocaust in the 80’s, or even Man Bites Dog in the same decade, The Blair Witch Project is the film most often associated with these indie shaky-camcorder, low-quality, bunch of idiots wandering around in the dark bumping into stuff and scaring the crap out of each other type films.

I used to think that perhaps it was a case of nostalgia behind why I still love this movie so much. However, I revisited it a couple of years ago (two years ago exactly tomorrow, as it happens) when introducing it to my youngest brother. It scared the living daylights out of him; the ending even still creeps me out! Even with every third film being found-footage these days, perhaps diluting the terror it can induce (if not the influence), it still holds as much weight today as it did 15 years ago. And I’ll never, ever, ever open a handkerchief left outside my tent when I go camping again. Ever.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back on Friday (Halloween!) with our final entry in this spin-off series as we dissect the noughties.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Eighties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

They’re heeeeeeerrrrreeeeeee. OwenMikeAndrewPaul and Liam that is, who are back with yet another Decade In Horror! This time, the gory splatter-filled eighties is under the microscope.

Yuppies, wealth, greed, Thatcherism, consumerism, social realism, neoliberalism, capitalism and many other isms. All words and phrases synonymous with the 1980’s. Money and politics defined the era in the UK, whilst across the pond horror films had grown more popular than ever before. From the camp and ethereal horrors of the sixties, to the mainstream success of films such as Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Exorcist and Alien in the seventies, horror only had one avenue left to turn to. It became fun. A self awareness of the excesses of the decade seeped through to the genre as it began to poke fun at itself. Over the top levels of gore, grotesque melting rubber prosthetics and lift-fulls of blood were everywhere you turned. Whilst the dreaded word “franchise” reared its ugly mutated head, there was still space for the more intelligent horror. Although, Kubrick’s The Shining was but a mere distraction amongst the picnic hampers of evil twins, voodoo practising murderous children’s dolls and head-exploding psychic wars. First up on our list of favourites is this film from 1982…


Poltergeist (1982)

poltergeistCross over children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light. There is peace and serenity in the Light.

No list of 1980s horror would be complete without Poltergeist. It’s up there with The Shining for permeating modern culture and having the most recognisable, commonly used references. How many times have we heard “They’re Hee-re” parodied in other works?

It introduced a generation to the word and the concept of a Poltergeist as a spirit attaching itself to an individual person and, although it has its faults and technical shortcomings, there’s still an awful lot to like about it.

An ordinary family have their lives turned upside down when strange things start happening around the house. At first they seem fairly benign but they soon turn extremely sinister.

The sheer normalness of the targeted family gives the “It could happen to you” element and the fact that person most in peril throughout the entire ordeal is a young child adds another level of emotional reaction.

Zelda Rubenstein, as Tangina the psychic is extremely good. The best performance of the film aside from the children. The main fault, in my opinion, is JoBeth Williams as the mother of the imperilled youngster. Her acting during the early part of the film seems worse with each viewing. Thankfully, she does get better as the film warms up and the pressure mounts on her character.

Poltergeist is certainly worth seeing and revisiting once in a while.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Thing (1982)

betamaxWhether we make it or not, we can’t let that Thing freeze again. Maybe we’ll just warm things up a little around here. We’re not gettin’ outta here alive. But neither is that Thing.

More nostalgia as we reach the 80’s, as after Jaws the next most notable scare from my childhood was on a babysitting trip in 1983 with my mum. This family friend had something I craved, I wanted, I adored but surely would never be able to afford. Adjusted for inflation, these things would run to several thousand pounds today. A (Betamax) Video Cassette Player… with a copy of John Carpenter’s The Thing!

Rewatched many times, and again this week, it still holds up. The practical effects are simply brilliant for a film that is over 30 years old. The cast are all capable actors, the setting is utterly genius. Claustrophobia, tension, jump scares and effects driven gory mayhem, the dogs writhing and squirming in slime covered deformity, the head sprouting legs and being both horrific and funny… and that scene…

I can’t look at a defibrillator being used today without expecting the recipients chest to open up and bite off the arms to the elbows and fountains of blood to gush forth. I have never been or will ever be so terrified as I was that night as a just-turned 13 year old. Well played, Carpenter. Well played.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Day of the Dead (1985)

day of the dead 2I’m runnin’ this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I wanna know what the fuck you’re doin’ with my time! ’cause if we’re just jerkin’ off here, I’m gonna have my men blow the piss out of those precious specimens of yours, and we’re gonna get the hell out of here, and leave you and your highfalutin asshole friends to rot in this stinkin’ sewer! Is that food enough for ya?

When deciding on my choice for this list, I was torn between two films. Both of which are semi-sequels to George A Romero’s previous zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, as chosen in our seventies Decade In Horror article. It came down to either Fulci’s magnificent Zombie Flesh Eaters, or this. In the end, I thought about which I’d rather didn’t make the cut as opposed to which I love more, and thus Day of the Dead won.

I absolutely adore this final piece in Romero’s original Dead Trilogy. In my opinion, it has the best soundtrack from any horror film, something I’m listening to right now as I write this! But it’s probably Romero’s most intelligent movie. It switches things around as the humans become less humane and the zombies start to learn morality. Or, at the very least, instead of them simply being terrifying mindless hungry ghouls (as per Night of the Living Dead), or a snide joke (as per Dawn of the Dead), you’re meant to feel sorry for them. Given a chance, they could learn to be integrated back into society. They can learn. Or…. not. They might just choke as they chow down on your internal organs.

It has great characters and performances, perhaps none more so than Joe Pilato as the hot headed sergeant Rhodes. Romero also keeps up a tradition of having a black heroic central male character (Terry Alexander) and strong female lead. Lori Cardille as Sarah, struggling to stay sane between working on her research and coping with her PTSD suffering soldier-boyfriend, carries the film brilliantly. I also can’t talk about performances without mentioning Sherman Howard’s role as Bub, the saluting, pistol whipping, walkman wearing zombie. An iconic character in the genre; he even pops up as a cameo in The Walking Dead! Everything about this movie is fantastic. Everything.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Evil Dead II (1987)

TED2 - 1987It lives, out in those woods, in the dark. Something, something that’s come back from the dead.

The first Evil Dead is a masterpiece. An ultra-violent horror filmed on an ultra-low budget. Branded a “Video Nasty” and achieving near instant cult status, it is a film that should stand proud in any film lover’s collection. But The Evil Dead isn’t my favourite horror film from the 80’s. No, it’s Sam Raimi’s half sequel, half remake that gets my nod.

In the 80’s, when everyone was going for more blood and more gore, Raimi brought something interesting to the table. Something to cut through the tension and the scares, something to soften the shovel blows. Comedy. Real laugh out loud humour.

Evil Dead II sees our returning hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) back in the woods. A new girlfriend but the same old cabin with the same old demonic fiendishness outside just waiting for someone to stumble across the, now infamous, Necronomicon. As luck (?) would have it, the cabin’s previous occupant was an archaeology professor who handily recorded translations for Ash to play, releasing the demons to possess his girlfriend. Chaos and hilarity ensues as Ash is forced to decapitate her to survive. Joining forces with a research team led by the professor’s daughter, Ash and his new found friends spend the night trying to fight off the demons and get out of the woods alive.

The 1980’s is my favourite decade for horror. So many directors made their mark. Craven had Elm Street, Barker had Hellraiser and Carpenter remade The Thing. Friday the 13th, American Werewolf, Maniac and The Shining all shaped my love of film. But Evil Dead II, with its possessed hands, chainsaws and time portals is hands down my favourite from this particular melting pot.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


The Lost Boys (1987)

the lost boysNow you know what we are, now you know what you are. You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die. But you must feed!

Without doubt one of the most iconic vampire films from this decade. The Lost Boys stands the test of time, with its endlessly quotable lines, cool looking vampires and its awesome soundtrack. Joel Schumacher’s skilful direction allows the tone of the film to shift from horror to humour effortlessly, never feeling forced or out of place; Schumacher gets the balance just right.

The cast give some strong performances on the back of an excellent screenplay. Corey Haim and Jason Patric have a decent chemistry as brothers, mothered by the always dependable Dianne Wiest. Barnard Hughes as Grandpa adds some great comic relief along with the Frog Brothers; Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. Yet it’s Keifer Sutherland that steals the show, his David is superb; his ice cold look, the constant menace in his voice; David is one of the great on screen vampires of this decade. Well, any decade really!

A film which came out of the shadows for me in the 80’s. I just wasn’t expecting it all to be this good. Amid all the slasher frenzy, this easily beat down the rest and emerged as my all-time favourite 80’s horror film.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, picking our top five horror films of the nineties, the decade that thought it was smarter than it actually was.

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1995

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade

5. Clueless

clueless

My plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.

Less of a high school movie and more of a religious experience, Clueless charts the coming of age of me, and many other women now residing in their early thirties and still hopelessly in love with Paul Rudd. Meanwhile the twenty-something cast who played the students are somewhat older; Cher’s best friend Dion (actress Stacey Dash) turns 48 in a couple months. “Old people can be so sweet!”

Loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the cute but selfish Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) realises that tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people, and sets out on a mission to makeover, match make and mend herself, her friends, and the wider Beverly Hills community. A soundtrack of cheesy power ballads, maudlin cry baby music, and even a performance from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And a wardrobe that anyone who didn’t look like Alicia Silverstone would struggle to pull off, no matter how many different white shirts they tried under their knitted tank top. It’s been argued that Mean Girls had a bigger influence than Clueless on popular culture. Whatever.

4. Toy Story

toy story sid

The word I’m searching for, I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

I know. I tried to go a single year of this decade without picking an animation, but come on! You try not picking Toy Story. While Disney’s early nineties run of classics came to something of an abrupt end in 1995, with the release of historical Native American romance drama Pocahontas, a little known studio called Pixar turned up and blew us all away in the time it took Tom Hanks to say “Pull my string! The birthday party’s today?”

A stellar supporting cast including a shy dinosaur, a slinky dachshund, and a self-assured piggy bank. Barbie was originally intended to join the toy box as Woody’s love interest, however Mattel initially refused to license the character. So instead Woody hooked up with a porcelain figurine of Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts (Ghostbusters receptionist Janine Melnitz). This freed up Barbie for a fantastic guided tour of Al’s Toy Barn in Toy Story 2 and, more importantly, warranted the arrival of Michael Keaton’s outstanding take on Ken in Toy Story 3. Some things are just meant to be.

The first animated film to be nominated for a writing Academy Award. The start of genuinely one of the most flawless movie trilogies of all time.

3. Heat

heat

I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.

Proof that you shouldn’t get married without the ability to communicate via secret hand gestures. Most unnecessary inclusion of Val Kilmer on a film poster ever. Al Pacino saying “She’s got a GREAT ASS!”. Thanks to the dangerous combination of being an action movie and being set in LA, Heat was (to use Clueless terminology) brutally rebuffed by the Academy, picking up not a single Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, it remains almost 3 hours of crime thriller bank heist brilliance.

The first collaboration of Al Pacino & Robert De Niro in the same scene (both having previously starred in The Godfather Part II without sharing screen time). Creator Michael Mann describes it as “two protagonists…in deadly mortal combat with each other, (who) at the same time have a high regard for each other”, and based the relationship on the experiences of a real life Chicago cop from the sixties. Get Kilmer off the cover art though, seriously. He made Batman Forever the same year, for crying out loud. And then he celebrated by coming to Leicester for the premiere. No, not Leicester Square, actual Leicester.

Long term readers will, of course, have already seen Heat, after I instructed you to watch it on TV last April. One of the films I most enjoy pretending I am in, while doing banal things like walking down the street, and entering banks without robbing them.

2. Empire Records

empire

Welcome to Music Town, may I service you?

In a lifetime, you’ll get maybe a handful of films that really encapsulate you at various ages. Empire Records is my teen angst era. When I wasn’t hanging around the second hand cd stores of Leicester, or writing A level essays on Sir Robert Peel, I was watching this. And while I didn’t necessarily share their drug habits, mental health issues or compulsions to sleep with aging pop stars, I was all about their inner turmoil.

Another coming of age tale, this time set in the independent record store of my very dreams. Anthony LaPaglia and said bunch of angsty teens (including Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler) provide the public with music, and attempt to avoid corporate takeover. All the plaid skirts, baggy pants and swearing you’d expect from early nineties youth. With a soundtrack as eclectic as a movie set in a record store should be – this is the film that introduced me to Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet, for crying out loud.

In their wisdom, Warner Brothers made the only available version of the DVD a ‘Special Fan Edition’, adding 16 minutes of additional footage, and ruining the flow of the entire film for anyone who knew it off by heart having watched the VHS copy every morning for six months and calling it study leave.  I could be a little over-emotionally invested in this one, to the point where I would erroneously rank it above the first on screen cinematic alliance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But I doubt it.

1. The Usual Suspects

usualsuspects

Is that the one about the hooker with dysentery?

When Dan Hedaya wasn’t playing Cher’s litigator father in Clueless, he was the LA cop whose messy office had an unexpected role in a drug deal gone bad. Starring an incredibly youthful Kevin Spacey, with brilliant support from, among others, Pete Postlethwaite as terrifying ice cold lawyer Kobayashi, and Benicio del Toro as the truly captivating Fenster. Set in the aftermath of a ship fire, and told via a police interrogation and a series of flashbacks, The Usual Suspects is the story of a police line-up, and a Turkish criminal mastermind.

The screenplay won both the Oscar and the BAFTA, and the Writers Guild of American ranked it number 35 in their 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. The very epitome of a twist ending. I’d love to be able to play the piano, but only if I could be proficient in certain songs (I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Don’t Stop Me Now, Piano Man). Similarly, if I was going to be a screenwriter, I’d want to be churning out stuff of this quality on a semi regular basis. Imagine being the guy who sits down and writes Keyser Soze. I’m not even worthy of writing this two paragraph review of that writing. I should have just picked Bad Boys.

A Decade In Film – The Noughties: 2005

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

When I was putting together the longlist for this article, I realised that this year seems to be notable for the number of eminently forgettable films it produced. That is, films I’ve watched that I’ve never had a desire to watch again or, worse, had forgotten that I’d even seen. Examples include Syriana, Wedding Crashers (come at me bro), Jarhead, The Island, The Business, Casanova, War of the Worlds, Revolver, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Producers, Robots, The Longest Yard, Assault on Precinct 13, Just Friends, Lord of War, Match Point, Cinderella Man, Wallace and Gromit, King Kong, whichever mediocre interpretation of Harry Potter was due that year…

Oh and apparently someone made a fan-film about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? And they even pretended to be George Lucas?! What a crazy idea. I’m just glad it’s not part of the official canon – I’d hate for the legacy of the Star Wars trilogy to be tarnished.

Anyway, my conclusion is that I may have watched more films from this year than any other so far, and yet I’ve struggled to pull together 5 films that are really amazing. Usually selecting 5 films is an agonising process. I just have very little emotional connection to many films – I’d say my Top 4 are strong and I chose the other fairly arbitrarily out a number of ‘meh’ choices. And please, as always, bear in mind that these are not supposed to be the ‘best’ films of the year but simply the ones I enjoy the most.

5. Kingdom of Heaven

kingdom of heavenThere will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to do a greater good.

I know this may be fairly controversial as many people I speak to think KoH is boring, but Ridley Scott’s epic tale of the Crusades has a lot going for it. Orlando Bloom is as good as Orlando Bloom gets (which admittedly isn’t all that great) and the historical world is lovingly created. Really though, I like this film because it has some awesome battle sequences, a rousing, sweeping soundtrack, and simply because I find that era of history utterly fascinating.

I won’t go into the historical accuracy or controversy about the film’s message on Western-Arab relations at a deeply sensitive time; far more qualified people than I have covered this in much greater detail. If you’ve not seen the film before or haven’t watched it in a long time, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut Blu-Ray and strap yourself in to the home cinema system for the film and accompanying documentaries.

4. A History of Violence

a history of violenceThere. You see how cozy it can be when you decide to play nice? Now come, Joey. Get in the car. You won’t need your toothbrush. We’ll take care of everything.

Criminally underrated by the general population but loved by critics, David Cronenberg’s film stars Viggo Mortensen as a man in a quiet town who responds with extraordinary, lethal skill when two men try to rob his diner. While not the most surprising or twist-filled narrative, the story is still gripping and as the film unravels, it is a pleasure to watch Mortensen’s consummate portrayal of the protagonist.

I’m not going to say any more about this film other than this: if you’ve not seen it, rectify this immediately. If you have, you’re probably overdue another viewing.

3. Hidden (Caché)

hiddenIsn’t it lonely, if you can’t go out?

It took me far too long to watch this film and I suspect many readers will be aware of the film without having seen it. As I said when raving about the film on a podcast many moons ago, the main feeling I was left with was simply awe at Haneke’s direction.

At the heart of the film is a mystery, a frighteningly real and possible mystery that it would be detrimental to discuss in case you, the reader, haven’t seen the film. Nonetheless, the way in which the narrative is unwound, meticulously, thread by thread, is a joy to behold. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the mystery continues right up until the final shot – which unlike most films doesn’t give the viewer closure but instead opens up a whole other line of enquiry for the viewer to ponder as they walk away from the film.

The beauty is therefore in Haneke’s intention; no explanation is fully satisfactory. There are flaws in any theory to answer the film’s questions, just as in life. If you’ve seen Hidden though, I’m sure you will be bursting with theories of your own and will happily engage others in a discussion/argument about it. And that, really, is the beauty of good entertainment, of a fine cultural artefact – enjoyable in the moment, just as enjoyable when shared with others.

2. Sin City

sin cityThe silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her cheque in the morning.

Stylish, brutally violent and full of smart dialogue, Frank Miller’s graphic novel series is definitely worth a read. And as the film is arguably the most faithful interpretation of comic/graphic novel source material you’re likely to find, it isn’t surprising to find it here on this list. Robert Rodriguez had spent a few years directing kids films by this point (interspersed with Once Upon a Time in Mexico) so this represented a powerful return to type.

Still notable nearly ten years on for the striking visuals thanks to being shot almost entirely on green screen, Sin City explores the dark side of urban humanity. RR managed to pull together an all-star cast (who interestingly weren’t all signed up when some scenes were shot, so RR digitally swapped them in for doubles later on) and in particular a great turn from Mickey Rourke after years in the wilderness, an absolute must given the disparate nature of the multiple narratives woven together. Plus it has lots of sexy ladies in it who, much like in Planet Terror a couple of years later, kick a lot of ass and aren’t just there purely as eye candy.

Sin City is like the most archetypal film noir ever made and yet completely unlike pretty much every film noir at the same time. Mostly though, it’s just terrifically entertaining.

1. Batman Begins

batman beginsJim Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: And you’ll never have to.

There was only ever going to be one winner here and we all know it. Just a few weeks ago I found that a significant number of my work colleagues consider BB the best of the Nolan Batman films and I know they aren’t alone in feeling that way. Personally I think The Dark Knight is superior but Begins will always have a special place in my heart as a Batman geek.

It may be difficult to remember now but Begins came out when superhero films were reaching a difficult stage. We’d seen the DC heroes (Batman and Superman) decline by the late 90s with the genre seemingly dead until Raimi’s Spiderman and the original X-Men films smashed a big-budget hole in the cinematic landscape. Suddenly cinemas were awash with shiny, polished interpretations of a whole range of comic book heroes. New special effects technologies transported us to incredible, fantastical versions of the world time and again, with huge ticket and DVD sales for even the mediocre efforts (for instance, the distinctly average Hulk took $245m). Warner Bros took a look at their big ticket hero. And they had a problem.

What on earth were they to do with Batman? Since Schumacher took on the mantle, the Batman of recent memory was all style, no substance – and the style was questionable. Tim Burton’s Batman films in the late 80s/early 90s had been a huge success but the landscape seemed to have moved on. The WB execs found a way to get back to that darker vision of Bats and gambled on audiences being fed up of the more superficial treatment prevalent at the time. Enter Chris Nolan, still relatively unknown by mainstream audiences despite the relative success of Memento & Insomnia, with a bold vision: to make a film about Bruce Wayne, not about Batman.

The rest is history. I could write a very long article about this film, about the series it spawned, about the brilliance of Nolan’s interpretation (I kind of already have). I may still do. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of Batman Begins, a film that changed cinema for the better and kicked off one of the finest trilogies in recent film history.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Seventies

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Back again this week after successfully tackling the sixties (even if we do say so ourselves), our regular contributors to the series come up with a list of five-of-the-best for the nineteen-seventies. Owen and Mike are back along with our talented guest writers AndrewPaul and Liam, generously imparting their experience on us to tell us what are their favourite horrors of the 1970’s.

After the counterculture movement that occurred in the nineteen-sixties, what emerged in its place in the seventies (particularly with regards to the world of film) was something more artistic and radical. Directors were riskier, braver and perhaps even less subtle in their political motivations. There was no room for John Wayne to glamorise The Green Berets any more. Instead, the harsh reality of the toll the Vietnam War took was the topic of many films, from The Deer Hunter to Apocalypse Now. Director’s like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, John Carpenter etc etc emerged out of their shells and produced some of the greatest and most challenging works ever. Horror films became edgier, darker and more popular with a mainstream audience than they had ever been before. Halloween, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these movies terrified audiences and inspired film makers; and the best thing is, to this day they still continue to do so. We begin by looking at our particular favourites of this revolutionary decade, starting with…


 Jaws (1975)

jaws

Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity.

January 1976 and a visit to the Classic in Hastings to see Jaws. A stupidly excited 6 year old going to an evening showing of, “that film with the big shark in”. Circle seats (as was a birthday treat) secured, would’ve been a kia-ora and a choc-ice too. That music….even now sends shivers down your spine. Cinemas were pitch black during films in the 70’s, latecomers had to be shown to their seats by a torch wielding usherette. Booming audio, an enormous screen, total darkness.

Being transported to Amity, the terrifying opening scene, the respite as the sun drenched community springs into holiday mode. But always that sense of something unpleasant about to happen…..and when the underwater scene arrived. To this day, it’s still crystal clear, the heart stopping, terrifying moment that severed head bobs out. It’s just as effective now, as my daughter who was a similar age when I watched it with her, nearly jumped out of her skin. There are more horrific films from the era, and more frightening I’m sure, but to have been frightened by Jaws in its original cinema run was a real privilege that’s stayed with me forever.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Omen (1976)

the omenHere is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.”

I always remember liking The Omen as a kid; the dogs, the great music and of course quite literally the child from hell; the name Damien now etched in the folklore of horror films. Yet it’s only recently that I’ve come to see just how good The Omen actually is.

Richard Donner’s slick direction, his stunning use of wide shots coupled with some beautiful cinematography gives the film a fantastic look. Whilst it’s a little dated now, it still looks better than most films from that time. Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score is breath-taking, adding to the film’s constant dread, you cannot but think of this film when you hear “Ava Satani”.

Like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Donner doesn’t rely on gore or cheap scares as he allows the story to build to a frightful climax between father and son and one of the best endings in modern horror. Yet Donner still manages to shock with a number of well-crafted deaths throughout the film.

The screenplay is fine, but it’s the cast that truly makes this film work; there are strong performances all round. Harvey Stephens ‘Damien’ is evil personified; such a fantastic performance and pivotal to the film’s success. Peck and Remick as Damien’s parents are both excellent, while the supporting cast of Whitelaw, Troughton and Warner are all outstanding. Whitlelaw delivers one of the creepiest Nanny’s I’ve see in any film; a suitable ally for the evil Damien.

I liked The Omen, I like it more now I’ve grown up, my favourite horror film from the 70’s.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Dawn of the Dead (1978)

dawn of the deadSomething my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Vodou. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, ‘When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.’

If George A Romero defined what a zombie film actually is with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead (as chosen by Andrew in our last article), then it is with Dawn of the Dead that he reclaimed the mantle of master of horror from a succession of pretenders to the throne throughout the early part of the decade.

Wry and satirical, pre-empting the capitalist self-serving boom in the eighties by setting the majority of the movie inside a brand new shopping mall – “they’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here” – it is as biting in its message as the brain-munching zombies themselves.

From its explosive beginning as Kevin Foree and Scott H. Reiniger raid an apartment building infested with the undead, to the aggressive invasion of the fortified mall by a motorbike gang led by Tom Savini, when there’s no more room for zombies, the humans shall tear shit up instead. As friction rises between helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge) and his TV Exec wife Francine (Gaylen Ross), it impacts on the trapped foursome as a whole, forcing them to confront the horrors inside as well as outside of their confines.

Throw in a memorable soundtrack by Goblin, a sophisticated and darkly comical story (written by Romero) and a marauding horde of blood thirsty corpses and you’re left with not only one of the best horrors of the seventies, but possibly one of the best movies of all time.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Alien (1979)

AlienCrew. Expendable.

Towards the end of the 70’s, most horror sub-genres had their rules and tropes set in stone. But Sci-Fi horror didn’t quite find its feet until 1979, when Ridley Scott scared an entire generation into sleeping with the lights on with Alien.

Until then, the only real Science Fiction in “Sci-Fi Horror” came on the form of dodgy body snatching pods and the “Thing from Outer Space”. Writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon would change that by introducing arguably the most terrifying monster in horror movies. The “Xenomorph”.

Ordered to investigate a distress call on a strange planet, Tom Skerritt and his misfit blue-collar crew (including Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and John Hurt) find nothing but an arachnid with a desire to attach itself to John Hurt’s face. A quarantine and a few experiments later and the thing seems to fall off like an old scab, appearing to leave Mr Hurt unharmed. You know, until he decides to give birth in the scariest, bloodiest way possible at the breakfast table!

What follows is possibly the scariest hour in film history. A dark, claustrophobic hunt for a seven foot bio-mechanical looking tower of teeth and more teeth while it, in turn, is hunting for Dallas (Skerritt) and his crew. Alien’s genius is in its simplicity. There is no complicated reason the creature kills. It just does. It’s not angry at its mum or its school councillor. It’s a killing machine, plain and terrifyingly simple and it’s coming for the unarmed, unprepared crew.

Alien solidified so much on its release. It made Sigourney Weaver a household name. It gave Ridley Scott his first massive success. But most importantly, it gave film lovers everywhere a reason to be fearful of heartburn more than three decades later.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nosferatu – Phantom Der Nacht (1979)

nosferatuThe absence of love is the most abject pain.

This version of the oft told vampire legend has many highs and lows, yet still manages to come out head and shoulders above any other version I’ve seen.

It’s beautifully shot in some wonderful locations, the lighting, tension building, long and lingering scenes stay in the memory. Klaus Kinski’s performance in the lead role is one of his finest. He brings an agonised, almost pitiful quality to the Count, without losing the base nature of the creature.

Isabelle Adjani’s portrayal of Lucy is extremely good. Her appearance in this is why Alison Brie looked so familiar to me, the likeness is very strong. This version of Lucy is brave (once she stops fainting) clever and cunning in her attempts to save her husband, Jonathan.

It’s Jonathan that brings the main low point. Bruno Ganz just isn’t very good in this. Guilty of terrible overacting in parts, both facial & body movements seem farcical in some scenes.

A hugely enjoyable film, even its faults are oddly entertaining. I’ve used the German title deliberately, see the German language version rather than the English. It’s far better, the English one really accentuates the faults and dulls the brilliance.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, picking our top five horror films of the eighties, where things will undoubtedly be louder, cruder and cooler.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Sixties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Contributing to this series will be some names our readers will find familiar – and some not-so-familiar. Regular writer and podcaster Owen will be providing his thoughts, and we couldn’t very well go and make a horror related series without our resident expert Mike, now could we? Previous guest writers Andrew and Paul have been welcomed back with open arms and completing the line-up is newcomer Liam, sharing his eclectic taste with our humble little team. We five will each in turn pick our favourite horror film from the specified decade, in this case, the 1960’s.

The sixties gave horror a new edge. Young and ambitious directors like Roger Corman were able to make a name for themselves whilst Hammer Horror capitalised on their success in the late 50’s. Well established directors such as Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock could turn their hand to something more sinister. We even saw the rise of a new wave of film maker (Roman Polanski, George A Romero, etc) who would push the boundaries further than it had ever gone before. So, let’s begin with arguably the most iconic film of the decade and one of its earliest releases.


Psycho (1960)

psychoIt’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

I first watched Psycho when I was nine years old with the babysitter. I hid behind the sofa for most of it. I’ve only just come back to it this year, such was the effect it had on me.

Hitchcock has crafted one of the greatest horror thrillers ever put on film. From a perfect cast through to the nerve shredding music, Psycho delivers on every level. Hitchcock doesn’t follow normal film conventions either. With a twist in the middle that is both as shocking as it is pure genius; Hitchcock unsettles the viewer from this point on. We are never sure what’s going to happen next and that’s just genius. Hitchcock’s direction is outstanding – near enough flawless – his ability to frighten the viewer without resorting to cheap scare tactics or gore is a master lesson in film making and makes Psycho one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.

Along with the great direction is the superb cast, which is backed up by an outstanding screenplay from Joseph Stefano. Janet Leigh is excellent, but it’s Anthony Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates which is truly outstanding. One of the finest pieces of casting and acting I’ve seen in any film. Perkins’ ice cold delivery and dangerous glint in his eye is perfect; his Norman Bates is one of the most chilling characters ever put on film and that’s what makes Psycho my favourite horror film from the 60’s.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


The Innocents (1961)

the innocentsIt was only the wind, my dear.

The Innocents is chilling, psychologically disturbing adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Turn Of The Screw.

Starring, the always wonderful, Deborah Kerr as an eager new governess, Miss Giddens, employed by a wealthy but entirely selfish businessman to take over sole responsibility for the upbringing of his orphaned and unwanted niece and nephew.

Set on a country estate, run by a housekeeper and a few domestic servants, all seems idyllic, with the housekeeper, staff and governess getting along extremely well. The little boy, Miles, is away at school meaning the entire household revolves around the seemingly angelic girl, Flora. Things soon start to tumble out of control when Miles is dismissed from school for frightening classmates.

What follows is an increasingly rapid descent into chaos with Miss Giddens becoming convinced evil spirits are at work and a story of the children witnessing violent, sexually abusive former employees is built.

This is a superb, unforgettable film where all the terror is derived from the building of intense, suffocating atmosphere through clever direction, lighting and sound rather than any visual brutality. Kerr is at the very top of her game and it leaves you befuddled as to what was real, what was imagined, who was mad and who was bad.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Carry on Screaming! (1966)

carry on screamingThey would have to come tonight, just when I’m feeling half dead!

In true Failed Critics tradition, even in spin-off articles, we reveal just how much of an omni-shambles we can be. For example, this is the first article in a brand new series and we’ve started in a week where one of the writers is insanely busy.

However, we did manage to catch Paul for five seconds and squeeze a few words out of him as to why exactly this Carry On comedy about Dr Watt, stealing women and making them into mannequins, is his favourite horror of the 1960’s.

Making fun of Hammer, it’s the original horror comedy. Odd-job, Fennela Fielding and the famous….. “Frying Tonight” line from the wonderful Kenneth Williams. It was actually creepy too, the people taken and turned into mannequins.

So there you have it. We promise to plan ahead a bit better for next week’s article!

 by Paul Field (@pafster)


Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

rosemarys babyThey use blood in their rituals, and the blood with the most power is baby’s blood!

Rosemary’s Baby is a marvellous exploration of the psychological horror-come-thriller genre. Classier than a lot of its contemporaries and imitators have often tried to replicate the feeling of dread that Roman Polanski instilled without coming close. Especially not the appalling TV movie Whatever Happened To Rosemary’s Baby?.

Rosemary and her husband, Guy, an out-of-work-actor, move into an apartment in New York. Soon after, Guy gets close to an over-friendly elderly couple next door and mysteriously his career begins to turn around conspicuously as his rival suffers a tragic accident. With Guy’s ascent, he becomes increasingly aloof leaving Rosemary feeling alone in her big and empty apartment. She’s convinced that this is the perfect time to have a baby and after a bit of Satanic rape, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt and Lucifer’s your.. relative.

If you’ve ever had that sudden feeling that everybody is out to get you, then Roman Polanski’s horror will truly resonate. Moving to a new place can be a stressful time for anyone, but when your new neighbours force chocolate mousse on you, well that’s just not cricket. Even worse when it seems like they want to steal your unborn baby.

There isn’t a single bad performance from any of the cast. Not least of all Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the unnervingly pushy couple next door. Mia Farrow is utterly fantastic, portraying a woman teetering on the edge of insanity, not knowing if she’s paranoid or if they really are out to get her.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Night of the Living Dead (1968)

NOTLDThey’re coming to get you, Barbara.

Before Shaun fought the dead, Zombieland had its rules and the Pet Sematary was zombifying cats, there was George A. Romero. The man who, with this walking dead frightener from 1968, invented the zombie film.

OK, so maybe “invented” is kind of a strong word for a genre that had been around decades before this. But what Romero did, was redefine zombies. Before Night of the Dead, the undead weren’t the undead. Being a zombie usually meant to be under the influence of a voodoo curse, with 1932’s “White Zombie” being the genre’s defining film up to this point and the shift to the walking dead was George’s key to success.

On the outskirts of Everytown, Pennsylvania, Barbara and her brother are attacked in a graveyard by a walking corpse. Rescuing his sister, Johnny doesn’t make it and Barbara flees for her life.

Forced to take refuge in a nearby farmhouse where she meets fellow survivor Ben and forms an uneasy alliance with a handful of survivors hiding in the basement. The group fight to survive the cannibalistic horde outside and the insanity inside.

Not without its flaws, “Night of the Living Dead” is far from perfect. But no-one can say that this gory scarer isn’t deserving of its cult classic status. It’s inspired generations of film makers and is the foundation for its own sub-genre of horror film. Spawning four sequels, two remakes and countless imitations. George A. Romero is indeed the father of the modern zombie film. And while this may not be the best of them, it’s certainly the most important.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to comment below if you agree or disagree with our choices and we’ll be back soon with a look at our top five horror films of the seventies!

A Decade In Film: The Sixties – 1964

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

This list might have ended up a bit Vincent Price top-heavy, with potentially four out of my five choices being films he starred in from this year. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen three of his movies released in 1964 and to give some others a chance, I’ve only included two of them below. This is also the only year in the entire Decade In Film series in which I could’ve included one of my favourite directors, Carl Theodor Dreyer. I say “could’ve” because Gertrud is by far and away my least favourite of his films, as I explained in my review on this podcast. Two popular choices also missing out are: Goldfinger, as I haven’t seen it since I watched it on VHS as a kid (listen here or here for our James Bond special podcasts from 2012); and Mary Poppins, because I haven’t seen it since I watched it on a VHS as a kid – and didn’t think much of it then, either! So, onto the first Vincent Price movie…

5. The Last Man on Earth

last man on earthThis is Robert Morgan. If somebody can hear me, answer me. For God’s sake, answer me!

Warner Bros. announced this week that they will be rebooting the I Am Legend franchise.

a) Rebooting? Surely they mean they’re doing yet another adaptation of the absolutely brilliant Richard Matheson sci-fi novel, I Am Legend?

b) Franchise? How on Earth do you turn something about the last man alive, one with such an iconic ending, into a movie franchise?

I suppose the bigger question is, why do we even need another reboot of Matheson’s classic story? The answer would most likely be that there’s yet to be a truly faithful adaptation that captures that desperation of being the only one left in a world overrun with cannibalistic vampire-like creatures that makes the original book so magnificent. However, if any of the four film adaptations (I’m including the Asylum’s mockbuster I Am Omega in that) most closely resembles the novella, then it is this apocalyptic movie starring the unnecessarily dapper Vincent Price as “Morgan” (instead of “Neville”). A plague has swept through Europe, eventually reaching the US, killing off everybody and leaving Price as the last surviving human.

It’s split into three sections, with the beginning very similar to the book; it’s all about Morgan’s paranoia and loneliness, struggling to cope with his situation. It never really touches on his burning desire for human contact like the book does (particularly of the female variety), but it does set up the middle of the film quite nicely. The majority of which is told in flashbacks, showing you the plague first reaching the US and how it destroyed his friends, family and work (as a scientist, trying to cure the plague.) The final third is … well… I don’t want to give it away as it is better to go in knowing nothing about it.

There are flaws, particularly around the scripting of certain scenes. Matheson himself part-wrote the script, but it still feels like a slightly convoluted mess on occasion. Essentially, Vincent Price carries a lot of the film all on his own. If he was any less of an actor, then this film would not be as enjoyable as it is.

4. Lord of the Flies

lord of the fliesLet me speak. I’ve got the conch. Which is it better to be? A pack of panting savages, like you are? Or sensible, like Ralph is? Which is better, to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?

No, you aren’t mistaken. Vincent Price isn’t in this. Although I will refrain from comparing it to the book or any other adaptation, like I did with The Last Man on Earth, as quite ashamedly, it’s the only version of Lord of the Flies that I’m familiar with. And that is only because I watched it last week in preparation for this article. I somehow made it to 28 years of age without realising what the bloody hell people were referring to when they used phrases like ‘having the conch’. It’s best I don’t explain what I thought they meant.

Released in the UK in July 1964, almost one whole year since its initial release in the USA and three years since it first went into production, Lord of the Flies couldn’t be more British. Set during the war with a group of children from an array of backgrounds, stranded on a desert island, left to their own devices, they begin to revert into little more than tribal savages. Establishing their own laws and hierarchy, the film (and presumably the novel it’s based on) uses the children to highlight every facet of human indecency. Without existing society and morals to guide humanity, this cynical view of mankind is as disturbing as it is believable.

The acting may be a bit ropey from some of the children, but the friendships and bonds they form appear as natural as their tropical surroundings. Peter Brook does well to make sure the emotional beats are all in tune rather than sloppy or muddled, allowing the demise of certain characters to truly carry depth and meaning.

3. The Masque of the Red Death

masque of red death

The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.

My second (and final) Vincent Price film on this list. It’s actually the second Edgar Allan Poe inspired gothic horror movie that Price and director Roger Corman collaborated on in 1964; the other being the not-quite-as-good The Tomb of Ligeia. It shouldn’t be any surprise that this highly rated tale of the maccabre is listed here. After all, it features in the 1001: Movies You Must See Before You Die list as well as being described by Corman himself as one of his personal favourites.

Price stars as the Satan worshipping Prince Prospero. A plague is afflicting his town, which makes people start to bleed through the pores of their skin until they die. He brings all the local nobility to his abbey to avoid the plague. After treating them like garbage, he holds a fancy dress party and notices a strange guest who he believes to be his master, the Lord of the Flies (which neatly ties into my list! Cheers, Poe!)

If you’re expecting a camp Hammer Horror, you may be disappointed. The Masque of the Red Death is in fact a chilling and incredibly atmospheric film. It may be a little over-dramatic on occasion, even perhaps a tad “arty-farty” (as legendary b-movie director Sam Z. Arkoff described it) but it is one of Price’s best. The final 10-15 minutes during the infamous dinner party are despairingly grim. The whole film is a bit ‘off’, disturbing you and making you feel uncomfortable even when there doesn’t appear to be much actually happening that is too upsetting (by horror-film standards, at least). But that party… it sends shivers down my spine just remembering it!

I don’t recall it ever specifying when or where it is set, but being a Poe adaptation, it feels very 16th or 17th century European. With its gothic architecture and poetic dialogue, it goes some way to explaining why there is a very black / dark quality to it – as well as the fact that the always brilliant Vincent Price is a woman stealing Satan worshipping psychopath, of course! Other, earlier Roger Corman films, such as The Terror or A Bucket of Blood are enjoyable in their own right. However, this is clearly a much more refined, much more disturbing and, well, a much better film.

2. A Fistful of Dollars

a fistful of dollarsWhen a man with .45 meets a man with a rifle, you said, the man with a pistol’s a dead man. Let’s see if that’s true. Go ahead, load up and shoot.

In 1964, with his remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo transferred to the wild west, Sergio Leone forever redefined what it meant when you referred to a film as a “western”. Kurosawa himself was heavily influenced by the American western movies he saw, particularly those of the legendary John Ford. B-movie westerns were already a well established part of the genre’s history by the 60’s. Cheap to make and compelling stories, they were the backbone of Hollywood’s success through the 1930’s. It also wasn’t exactly unheard of to remake foreign films and set them in the American West. Hell, even in the same year that A Fistful of Dollars came out, another Kurosawa film, Rashomon, had been remade as The Outrage, starring Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit. But it was Leone and Clint Eastwood that turned the “spaghetti western” it into something unique and special.

Just like in Yojimbo, as chosen in James’ Decade In Film article for 1961A Fistful of Dollars tells the story of a town split in two, plagued by rival gangs. In his first appearance as The Man With No Name, later reprised in the rest of the Dollars trilogy, Clint Eastwood strolls into town looking to solve the dispute whilst at the same time profiting from it. Partly to amuse himself, partly because of his deep-down sense of justice.

There is nothing to dislike about this film. Well, unless you really want to see more hats shot off heads, which doesn’t occur until later Leone movies! Or unless you’d have preferred to see Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson as the man with no name, both of whom were preferred ahead of Eastwood for the role initially. Hard to imagine as he is so synonymous with these movies now – and deservedly so. He’s effortlessly cool and impossibly handsome in a movie full of style. From Ennio Morricone’s iconic score, to the expertly shot action sequences, it is easily one of the best films of the decade.

1. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

dr strangeloveGentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!

General “Buck” Turgidson: Hmm… Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain’t no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?
Mr. Staines: He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be Merkwürdigliebe.

Stanley Kubrick. If I have a favourite director, then Stan is that man. Even though he was inducted to our highly coveted prestigious Corridor of Praise last year, it still seems like he isn’t appreciated as much as he should be. For many people – critics, movie makers and fans alike – he is the greatest director of our time. Timeless movies like Dr Strangelove do nothing to dispel that reputation.

Essentially it’s Kubrick’s black comedy about a crazy general in the American army who orders a nuclear strike against Russia. The President and his lackeys then try to stop the attack after it’s revealed that the Russian’s have a Doomsday device. In probably his greatest role(s), Peter Sellers plays at least three different characters and he’s undeniably brilliant as each of them. He has some exceptionally funny lines that are endlessly quotable; when playing the titular Dr Strangelove, the moment he calls the president Mien Fuhrer by accident, he has me in stitches every single time thanks to his exquisite delivery. I cannot overstate his performance enough.

It is just an absolutely brilliant film. It’s funny, brilliantly acted (I often think George C. Scott is under-appreciated in this), full of great characters and iconic scenes. Every time I watch it, I know I’m guaranteed to laugh my arse off and it’s just further proof that Kubrick, no matter which genre he turned his attentions to, was a master at what he did.

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1974

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

I am fully prepared to get a bit of stick for this one. I know how popular Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are, but I just couldn’t fit them into the list. Similarly, whilst researching this article, I found a few films to watch specifically in preparation for writing this piece and none of those could break the top five either. A rather surreal coming of age / life retrospective Japanese film called Pastoral: To Die In The Country narrowly missed out, whereas Phase IV, about some scientists observing super-intelligent ants in the desert that are threatening to overthrow humanity, did not miss out by such a close margin. I also gave John Carpenter’s Dark Star another go having turned it off half way through on a previous attempt. I made it to the end this time but wish I’d switched it off at the midway point. Needless to say, the following five films just could not be topped, no matter how hard I tried.


5. The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue

living deadYou’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!

I’m slightly cheating by including this in my Decade In Film: 1974 list. Technically this low-budget Italian zombie horror, set in deepest darkest Cumbria (yes, not technically where Manchester is located, I know, I know, but don’t tell director Jorge Grau that) wasn’t released in the UK or the US until 1975. However, in its original limited theatrical run in its home country, it just scraped into 1974 by the rotten peeling skin of its blood drenched teeth.

If the title doesn’t sound familiar to you, then maybe you know of it by one of the fifteen other names it goes by? Let Sleeping Corpses LieDo Not Profane the Sleep of the DeadDon’t Open the WindowZombi 3? Or even the rather playful sounding Weekend with the Dead? Whatever you know it by, it is but one of the many dubbed Italian/European zombie movies that flooded out of the continent in the 70’s-80’s, like a ghost galleon full of flesh eaters ready to commit a cinematic zombie-holocaust. Some of which were better than others; specifically, this little English countryside graveyard b-movie.

Like so many good zombie movies, its real message is buried underneath the living dead that occupy the screen. An anarchic anti-establishment theme is predominantly the main focus, as a couple of kids on their way to the Lake District run into trouble. Accused of being murderers, just like every other good-for-nothin’ hippy cult like they’ve got in that there ‘merica, our protagonists fail to convince the authorities of their innocence as, quite frankly, the idea that the atrocities are actually being committed by walking corpses instead does indeed sound preposterous. Tonally it’s rebellious and youthful, whilst stressing the point that not all young kids are hoodlums. So just back off, dude! Never trust the man, man!

It begs, borrows and steals from a variety of other genre movies from the era, most notably the 1968 originator of the (then modern) zombie-movie, Night of the Living Dead. From the outbreak being caused by radiation, to the one building under attack in the middle of the countryside with no signs of escape – even to the fact that there’s a single zombie shuffling his way over to a woman in a graveyard – it owes a lot to George A Romero and is not ashamed of this. Yet it still manages to achieve a unique identity of its own on the whole. The gore (as these films are so often judged on) is top notch and very effective despite the obviously low budget. It may not scare your regular z-fan, but it definitely has something interesting to say and a lot to admire, even for the most experienced of dead-heads.


4. The Conversation

the conversationI’m not following you, I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.

Francis Ford Coppola’s first of two releases in 1974 coming out just weeks ahead of the other (that happens to be arguably his most celebrated movie – but I’ll come to that in a little while). The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a secretive, paranoid, surveillance.. erm, guy? A spy, if you will. He becomes riddled with guilt and suspicion when he begins to suspect that the people he’s spying on may be murdered, depending on the outcome of the work he’s been hired to do.

It’s quite a slow burning character driven drama, rather than a typical goofy espionage thriller of the era. There’s not a single belly-dancer to be seduced or secret criminal lair with its midget butler in sight. Whilst Hackman is very good, as you would expect, a lot of his role requires a steady calmness with twinges of desperation. It’s a convincing portrayal of a (perhaps) hypocritical but moralistic devout Catholic, and it’s through his performance as much as it is the writing that you understand why he doesn’t share his personal life with others. Not just because of the nature of his work, but it’s also down to his borderline schizophrenia; he’s obsessed with the notion that people just like him will be listening to and monitoring everything he says and does. And as well we all know, just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.

In that regard, whilst the supporting cast (John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr etc) are all excellent, it’s the character of ‘Harry’ who quite rightly dominates everything. He’s such a strong character to base the film around that the other members of the cast are sadly reduced to mere distractions.

There’s a tendency for The Conversation to get a bit trippy. Personally, the dream sequences weren’t my cup of tea, although it’s important to recognise their role in developing Harry. You could argue that the constant looping of the audio of the recorded conversation is necessary, but no less annoying when played for the 30th time. But there is no arguing that this Oscar nominated film is one of the best of the seventies.


3. Chinatown

chinatownLoach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?
Jake Gittes: Nope. Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?

Whilst investigating a seemingly routine adultery case, our P.I. finds himself embroiled in a case much larger than anything he could have expected. And I’m sorry, but if the thought of Jack Nicholson playing a private detective in a neo-noir thriller doesn’t at the very least even slightly raise your interest, then you might as well give up on watching movies altogether. That’s it. End of the line for you, pal.

Nominated for eleven different categories at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Roman Polanski’s mystery thriller is as revered by its peers as it is by critics and regular movie watchers alike. Criminally, it only picked up one of those awards, for its screenplay written by Robert Towne – who also happened to pen the screenplay for another Jack Nicholson film called The Last Detail, which featured in my 1973 list. The competition it was up against in 1974 was fierce, but in almost any other year, it would not be too difficult to have imagined it running away with every award going. From the classic crime-noir direction employed by Polanski with shadows and light in perfect harmony, to each and every spectacular performance (particularly Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) and even the costumes and cinematography. Every aspect of this movie is meticulously crafted into something extraordinary.

The plot is full of mystery and intrigue, which is in debt primarily to its wonderfully characteristic script. But the performances, the visual flair and snappy delivery of some tremendously witty lines of dialogue are all to be applauded. It’s packed to the rafters with homages and odes to the film noir genre, whilst itself being a gloriously entertaining genre-piece. The style, the look, it’s got it all. It seems unbelievable that there could be two better films than it released in the same year, but that just shows how tough these Decade In Film articles can be!


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

texas_chainsaw_massacre_1_lc_03Well now, look, you boys don’t want to go messin’ around some old house. Those things is dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt. You don’t want to go fooling around other folks’ property. If some folks don’t like it, they don’t mind showing you.

Tobe Hooper announced himself as a director to look out for in the 1970’s with this remarkably scary, intense, sickening and twisted original horror. The reputation it still holds today (in the UK especially) is that of one of the most notorious “video nasties”. A chainsaw wielding, mentally handicapped, leather-mask wearing, violent psychopath did not lend itself kindly to the rating systems of the 70’s and 80’s and thus grew a cult of die hard fans for what is unquestionably one of the most iconic and influential horror films ever made.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is completely and utterly horrendous – and not in a ‘it’s really bad’ way. No, when I say “horrendous”, I mean in a ‘truly scares you half to death’ way. One of the most important life lessons I think anybody could learn from Hooper’s horror is to never knock on a strangers door if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, where the locals have already warned you away, you’ve met a psycho hitch-hiking hill-billy already that day and you find some human teeth scattered around the front porch. I, for one, have followed this advice ever since seeing this movie and I’m still alive today. Let it never be said that this film is nothing if not educational.

There are plenty of scenes here to totally mess you up for a long time after seeing them for the first time, but without spoiling specific scenes, the worst moment that stayed with me for a while afterwards is most definitely the scene with the Grandpa. Just… Jesus. Wow. I’m sure anybody reading this who has already seen the movie will know exactly to which moment I am referring. The brutality of some scenes in the film towards a group of pretty much innocent kids, coupled with the almost nonchalant delivery of its violence via the nightmarish Sawyer family, is masterful and terrifying. The slamming of the metal shutters could send shivers down the spine of a polar bear. The sign of a great horror movie is in how long it lingers in your mind and subconscious after you’ve hit that “stop” button. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not leave your thoughts for days. It is just that good.


1. The Godfather: Part II

godfather 2 2In my home! In my bedroom! Where my wife sleeps and my children play with their toys!

As good as every film in this list is, how many can claim to have had quite as significant a cultural impact as Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster series?

Continuing from where the previous film (and best of 1972) left off, Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael Corleone, now the head of the Family (upper case ‘F’). He tries to expand and protect their business, whilst also keeping his family (lower case ‘f’) together. With no Marlon Brando in the sequel to play the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, we instead get to see his back story and arrival in the US in the early 20th century, as played by Bobby (oooOOOH) De Niro (aaaaAAAHH).

The debate that has raged over the decades since their release is mainly over which of the Godfather films is the best. Very rarely does ‘The Internet’ agree on anything, but it’s almost a unanimous decision that both movies are exceptional. Looking to see which of the two is the most well regarded, however, can induce fits of nausea. Just edging it between the two in the popularity stakes (according to IMDb’s Top 250) is the first film, which sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? As good as De Niro is and as brilliantly as Pacino steps up to being the face of the film, it misses a certain something that Brando brings. Him not being there perhaps means there’s more room for the other actors to expand into; and maybe he outshone everyone else in the original a smidgen. He was unequivocally the star of the film. I know it’s slightly unfair as there’s just no possible way to have included him in Part II without it overshadowing everyone involved in this sequel, but I missed the ol’ broken jawed mob boss.

Other than that one tiny personal niggle, there is practically nothing separating the two in terms of quality. I certainly can’t fault it. The development of Michael and the rich tapestry woven for Vito is impossibly complex and executed to near perfection. The third and final film in the trilogy is an utter embarrassment, but these two original movies made fifteen years prior are two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. From how beautiful the sets are, to how superb the music is; from how stunning the performances are, to how emotional the story is. Even, yes, the camera angles. They are unparalleled in the genre. Hell, they’re probably even unmatched by any film from the decade. Maybe even the century!

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1984

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1984, a year that had lots of good films but only a select few great films..

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

6R4GXbD“If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”

Based on the George Orwell classic of the same name and directed by Michael Radford, Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a dystopian alternative reality whereby the populous are enslaved by a totalitarian government under the watchful eye of the supreme leader known only as Big Brother.

Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a painful and all too realistic view of what big-government without restraint could be like. I happened to watch this for the first time after Netflix launched in the UK just a couple of years ago and I was taken aback by how relevant this is as a pre-cursor to a society that has been conditioned to accept mass-CCTV and government intrusion of their privacy almost as a given.

John Hurt is excellent in the lead role as Winston, a man who longs to love and lust and think for himself, all emotions that are outlawed by the state. The mighty Richard Burton makes his final silver-screen appearance as the state’s brutal iron-hand O’Brien and plays the role with just enough restraint to make him even more sadistically sinister. The film makes great use of colour to remove any touch of individualism from society, everything is steel, grey and cold which further establishes the mindset of a society bred to work for the exclusive benefit of the state.

Without going into spoilers, this isn’t a film to watch if you are looking for a happy-ending. Everything plays out with a ruthless and calculating efficiency of a state built as a machine. As I understand, the film may not quite live up to the splendour of the novel; however, when watched with a clear mind it is astonishingly profound as modern society continues to live under the influence of the metaphorical Big Brother.

4. Birdy

dwsedeg“You ever wondered what our lives down here must look like to a bird?”

Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. This is not a Vietnam movie, but I was somewhat drawn to it initially due to my interest in Vietnam movies. The 80s has a boatload of them, however Birdy is more of a psychological examination that just happens to feature a voyage into Vietnam for the two main protagonists, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al (Nic Cage).

The film follows 2 high school friends who are eventually separated and are sent to Vietnam. Birdy is already dealing with mental issues of feeling outcasted from his peers and has an unusually intense fascination with birds and flight. It later becomes apparent this is a metaphor for wanting to flee from the burdens of his life, however the trauma and mental fatigue of the war causes this rather innocent fascination to become an all-consuming fixation as his mental state deteriorates and he eventually winds-up in asylum.

Thankfully, the War element does not get in the way of a complex tale of friendship and adversity but merely acts as a vehicle to deliver to the mental breaking point for the Birdy character. Nic Cage, in an early and refreshing role, performs admirably as the linchpin buddy that keeps Birdy mentally balanced in the real-world. Given that he must act with his face behind bandages for the large parts of the film shows great acting dexterity that is lacking from some of his later performances.

Modine is more Private Pyle than Private Joker as a good all-american kid who finds solace through delusion and again has to dig deep into the actor’s toolbox to perform a role with no human persona during the most intense parts of the movie.

Director Alan Parker does a magnificent job in making a movie that is hard to remove from the psyche – again, for not especially positive reasoning. The story is far from triumphant and is quite depressing in places and is hardly box-office material. However, that is not meant to dissuade you from seeing this film. It is one that lingers in the memory and you’ll find few characters as interesting or as touching as Birdy.

3. The Terminator

terminator 2“Come with me if you want to live..”

If there are movies that can pretty much stereotype a decade, then The Terminator surely has to be on the shortlist. Made with little expectation for box-office success, the pressure was off to deliver a fully adult orientated science-fiction romp for a then little known director, James Cameron.

The film throws you into the deep-end right from the opening sequence, whereby Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to modern day Los Angeles and turns up butt-naked and looking to acquire his target, Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to the leader of mankind’s last line of rebellion against the enslaving machines.

At the same time, the rebels from the future send back one soldier to protect her, thus beginning a deadly cat and mouse pursuit between the 2 human targets and an unstoppable force brought menacingly to the screen by Schwarzenegger.

Where The Terminator succeeds is in convincing the viewer that this complex sci-fi story could indeed be a far-out possibility. The mythology is established very quickly in the film through the flashbacks of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) that portrays the bleak future that mankind has created in its pursuit of technological advancement.

That said, it’s popcorn friendly at the core. Arnie puts in a fantastic stone-cold performance as the villain of the film and given his enormous physique is entirely convincing as a killing-machine. Linda Hamilton shows great versatility initially as the 80s damsel in distress to slowly maturing into a heroine as she comes to terms with her role in mankind’s future.

The action satisfies, plenty of gun-battles and well choreographed car-pursuits ensure the momentum of the film is heightened throughout as the Terminator is in constant pursuit of the vulnerable human heroes.

Curiously, The Terminator doesn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year. This goes to prove what an incredible following the film drew from the home video market and a master-stroke (deliberately or otherwise) in Cameron waiting a further 8 years to give a baiting fan-base the sequel they so longed for.

The Terminator leaves a fantastic legacy in establishing James Cameron as one of the hottest directors in the business setting him up wonderfully for his like Sci-Fi extravaganza in Aliens whilst taking Biehn along for the ride as well as bit-parters Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, whilst firmly establishing Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s hottest action stars.

2. Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters-PS_612x380“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

Ghostbusters is a long standing love for many movie-goers, myself included. It’s probably the oldest memory I have of watching movies; those classic old RCA red-spine VHS tapes were pretty unique and haven’t left my memory in all this time. I could ramble on about why Ghostbusters is great and it only narrowly missed out on the #1 spot for 1984 in my assessment. However, Failed Critics has its very own Ghostbusters superman. So to tell you why Ghostbusters is so good and still so revered to this day, I hand over to Failed Critics own, Carole Petts.

On the occasion of Ghostbusters 30th anniversary, I wrote for the Guardian about why this silly science-fiction comedy has ensured in the public consciousness for so long. I’ve tried many times to pinpoint why this is my favourite film of all time, and honestly, it always comes back to the fact that it makes me laugh without fail; that every joke is as fresh now as it was when it was filmed. I’m clearly not alone in this – some of my favourite viewings have been with an audience, who clearly adore the film as much as I do (validating my devotion somewhat, it has to be said) and will quote and laugh along with me all the way through. You simply can’t ask for anything more from a comedy film.

The plot is actually an archetypal product of the early 80s age of Reaganomics. Three Columbia University parapsychologists – Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, at the top of his 80s comedy game) are stripped of their public sector funding and forced to start their own business hunting and trapping spooks. Coincidentally, a massive paranormal event is brewing which will bring about ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions’, so that’s handy. The aforementioned calamity is personified by two Central Park West neighbours – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, showcasing hitherto unknown comedic muscle) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis, underrated here but who then received many deserved leading roles as a direct result). The whole shebang is brought to a show stopping finale when the destroyer of worlds is summoned in the form of a giant marshmallow man trademark beloved of Boy Scout camps across America. Stupid? Of course it is. But it’s endearing, and funny, and touching at times as well.

I wasn’t old enough to see Ghostbusters when it was released at the cinema – indeed I had a VHS taped from a TV screening, and only saw the full, uncut version for the first time when I was 18 and received the DVD for Christmas (it still appals me that Egon swears and Ray appears to receive a blowjob from a ghost). I was the perfect age to be scared by the library ghost and the Class 5, full-roaming vapour in the hotel, named in the cartoon as Slimer. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Alien, and to know that Sigourney Weaver was the world’s number one female kick-ass action hero at the time this film was made. But I knew this film was going to stay with me for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s taken on many different meanings to me – I’ve known what it’s like to be part of a public sector organisation that suddenly no longer needs you, and to be thrown into the real world (although I hasten to add my departure was not precipitated by making up test results in order to impress pretty ladies). But if this film has taught me anything, it’s to have faith in my own abilities. And that everyone has three mortgages nowadays.

1. Once Upon a Time in America

ouatia“I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs. And it gives me a hard-on”

Once upon a time in America is a Sergio Leone film. No, it’s THE Sergio Leone film! Set in prohibition era New York, the film transcends almost 4 decades following a gang of young hoodlums who engage in petty crime and rise to eventual bosses of the local bootlegging industry. The film is told from the viewpoint of Noodles (Roberto De Niro) who after 30 years of exile returns to New York after a member of his former gang makes contact him with, simultaneously blowing his new identity.

The film segregates beautifully across a complicated time-line and fills the viewer in via well executed flashbacks on the gang’s struggles in a Jewish ghetto in the 1920’s as children and their progression to adults consumed by the greed, lust and power that eventually destroys the gang and their friendships. De Niro is slick and at the top of his game, whilst James Woods puts together what I think is his strongest performance as the overly ambitious and ruthless Max.

The placing of the film amongst the all-time greats is hotly contested, partially due to the varying number of cuts available for the film. On its original release, a heavily edited version was compiled at the request of Warner Bros. At only 139 minutes in length it was a commercial and critical disaster and was put together against the wishes of Leone to attempt to squeeze more screenings per day of the movie and remove concerns over the graphic content.

However, many a critic would praise alternative cuts that remained more faithful to the original Leone edit, with Sight & Sound polling the movie in their top 25 films of all (at #10) and director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc) ranking it as the best movie depicting the prohibition era. Given that Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather to work on this project, he had immense belief in the story and his ability to deliver a crime epic that would become his legacy.

I am often surprised at how few people I speak to that enjoy crime movies that have not seen Once Upon a Time in America. That said, to be enjoyed at its best requires a good 3 hours or so dedication making it a tough watch, but boy is it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of The Godfather or Goodfellas or other films of that variety, this is a must watch. Sergio Leone signs off with what is his final and greatest masterpiece, and without question is the best film of 1984.

You can find more of our revitalised Decade In Film articles so far here, from 1963-2004.