A Horrorble Month

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

I watch a lot of films. When I say “a lot”, I mean, a lot. I’m not boasting about this, I’m sure there are people who watch more and good luck to them! But there hasn’t been a week since the 20 – 26th August 2011 where I haven’t seen at least one film. In fact, the only week since then where I’ve only seen one film was 1st – 7th October 2011. Every week since, I’ve watched a minimum of two films within that seven day period. In 2012 I watched 464 films; in 2013 that rose to 555 films. So far this year, I’ve seen (according to Letterboxd + my private list of films I’ve yet to log on the site) 443 movies.

Yes. Exactly. For someone who doesn’t get paid to do this – who’s not employed by anyone as a professional film critic and holds down a full time job in a completely different industry – I’m fully prepared to accept that I do indeed watch a lot of films. A lot.

This month started no differently to any other from the past three years. I knew I was going to be writing a Decade In Film piece for 1964 soon and in the name of research had acquired a copy of the Vincent Price / Roger Corman classic from that year, The Masque of the Red Death. I watched it. I loved it. The following day, I had a look through my DVD’s to see if I had any other Roger Corman films floating about and there nestled in amongst the piles of unopened hard plastic cases on my shelves, on a three-films-on-one-disc collection, I stumbled across A Bucket of Blood. I watched it. I loved it. I began watching more and more Roger Corman and/or Vincent Price movies and before I knew it, by the 7th of October (amongst a few other movies) I’d seen at least one horror film per day.

It got me thinking; given that Halloween was a mere four weeks away, could I possibly make it to the end of the month, continuing on in the same vein; one horror film per day? I do watch lots of movies, but I am only human! Even I need a break every other day.

But there it was. A challenge had been set (by me) and I accepted (my own challenge). Fuck you, me! I’d show you (me) who’s boss (you/me). (Me.)

The key thing to establish before completing a challenge like this is setting what the parameters are. The most obvious thing to start with was to define exactly what I meant by a “horror film”. I did what any rational person would do and Googled it, taking the Wikipedia entry as 100% irrefutable evidence.

Horror is a film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears…

…Horror films often deal with the viewer’s nightmares, hidden fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown.

Seems quite broad, doesn’t it? In the end, that turned out to be quite a helpful thing. As anybody who has listened to any of our ‘triple bill’ podcasts knows, I’m not too reliable when it comes to sticking within the boundaries of a particular topic. A little wriggle room meant, in theory, I could stretch from classic 50’s sci-fi and psychological thrillers, to Hammer Horror and good old fashioned ghoulish monster movies, should the need present itself. TV shows (The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and so on) or short movies would most definitely not be applicable. By film, I mean a feature film (that is, over 2400 seconds (or 40 minutes) in length).

The only other parameter left to establish was what did I constitute as “one per day”. Rather straight forward, perhaps, but what if I watched half a film on a Monday, fell asleep, and never went back to finish it? I decided that would not count. It had to be watched in its entirety that day for it to count. A couple of times due to various issues (such as internet cutting out in the middle of streaming a film on Netflix and not coming back on that day) a film had to be abandoned. If that was the case, it broke rule number 2 and was therefore not allowed.

I didn’t do this project for some sort of self enlightenment. I didn’t do it as a social experiment, or to make some kind of commentary on the film industry or film criticism either. I am simply an idiot with too much time on his hands who happens to have ready access to a film blog. Plus, it was kind of fun.

Below, I’m going to list the weeks through October and name each horror film that I watched per day. I’ll pick out one film to talk about. Are you ready? Let’s begin.


Week 1: Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 October 2014

Wednesday – Cannibal (2014), The Masque of the Red Death (1964); Thursday – A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964); Friday – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960); Saturday – Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961); Sunday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)

witchfinder generalThis was not my first watch of Michael Reeves’ horror. Tragically dying from an accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 25, this would be his fourth and final movie. It details an episode in the life of the infamous Witch Finder Generall, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) in the 17th century. Barbarically torturing women he denounces as witches, the film was originally heavily censored and notorious amongst horror fans. Ian Ogilvy plays a young Roundhead whose fiancée is taken and accused by Hopkins. Even watching this film a second time, knowing what is coming, it doesn’t make it any less brutal and horrific. If ever an ending to a horror film could be described as chilling, then it’s the final thud, thud, thud of this classic folk horror. And it’s impossible to let a review slip by without mentioning what a true genius Vincent Price was.


Week 2: Monday 6 – Sunday 12 October 2014

Monday – The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971); Tuesday – The Fly (1958); Wednesday – THE FLY (1986), The House of Usher (1960); Thursday – Madhouse (1974); Friday – Premature Burial (1962), The Wasp Woman (1959); Saturday – Black Sunday (1960), Night of the Blood Beast (1958); Sunday – This Island Earth (1955)the fly

As you can see from the above, I watched the fun and disturbing original film version of The Fly on the Tuesday of this week. It was enjoyable, fun and just a little bit twisted. However, immediately after it is David Cronenberg’s 1980’s Promethean body-horror retelling of this science fiction classic and it just blew the original out of the water. Or rather, as it happens, blew it out of the telepod. Starring Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, a research scientist innocently working hard to invent a device that can instantaneously teleport an object from one pod to another, he accidentally splices his DNA with that of a humble fly. Thus begins 90 minutes of some of the most gruesome and memorable special effects in horror cinema history. An intelligent, well paced and horrifying sci-fi movie, it sits just one tier below the similar all time greats such as Alien and The Thing.


Week 3: Monday 13 – Sunday 19 October 2014

Monday – Tales from the Crypt (1972); Tuesday – Vampyr (1932); Wednesday – The Thing from Another World (1951); Thursday – Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), The Ghoul (1933), The Bat (1959), ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1980); Friday – City of the Living Dead (1980), King of the Zombies (1941); Saturday – The Silence of the Lambs (1991); Sunday – Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

zfeZombie, Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters, whichever of the 34 titles listed on IMDb that you may know it by, Lucio Fulci and Elisa Briganti’s exotic living dead film is one of the finest movies to ever grace the zombie sub-genre. It ticks every box and then draws a few extra boxes underneath with a Sharpe and ticks those too. Whoever knew that what they really wanted from a zombie movie was to see one of the undead wrestling with a shark underwater? Certainly not me until I witnessed it. Since then, I have rated every other zombie film by how many shark-biting-zombies it has in it. Suffice to say, it’s never been topped.


Week 4: Monday 20 – Sunday 26 October 2014

Monday – FRIGHT NIGHT (1985); Tuesday – Dracula (1958); Wednesday – The Intruder (1962); Thursday – House (1986); Friday – The House of the Devil (2009); Saturday – Black Sabbath (1963), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985); Sunday – Creepshow (1982), Vault of Horror (1973), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)fright night

What a week this was! I could’ve chosen virtually any of them to talk about. Of all the films listed above featuring iconic vampires, this typical 80s comedy-horror about a teenager who believes his new neighbour is a vampire was the clear standout. I’d seen the 2011 remake before and found it be enjoyable (perhaps surprisingly so) but as one might expect, the original is best. Director Tom Holland would go on to find further success later in the decade with his most famous movie Child’s Play, but I honestly don’t think I had as much fun with any new discoveries this week than I had with Fright Night.


Week 5: Monday 27 – Thursday 30 October 2014

Monday – Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970); Tuesday – THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957); Wednesday – Island of Death (1976), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954); Thursday – Ils (Them) (2006), It Came From Outer Space (1953)

curse of frankensteinThis has not been my favourite week. In fact, you might say it has been horrorble (hey, hey, see what I did there??) thanks mainly to two depressingly crap 70’s exploitation films. However, one of those other movies has more than made up for that  on its own. This Hammer Horror film, the first to unite long time friends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (and the studios first colour movie) was a real gem. A frankly quite astounding financial success for the British film industry at the time, the movie took as much as possible from Mary Shelley’s original novel, added its own new-wave horror flavour and tried as carefully as possible not to infringe on any Universal Studios rights. Unrecognisable as being anything at all to do with the James Whale / Boris Karloff classic (because, well it isn’t), it’s uniquely identifiable with two genuinely impressive performances elevating a film from ‘decent’ to ‘immensely entertaining’ virtually by themselves.


I guess all that leaves is today, Halloween! Should I make it home alive, then tonight I will be watching another horror movie to complete my self imposed challenge. If I’ve learnt anything from this past month of watching horror film after horror film, then it’s been:

  1. I am now a fully paid up member of the Roger Corman fan club
  2. Mario Bava just does not do anything for me
  3. No matter how good some horror films are these days, you just cannot beat the classics

What will you be watching tonight?

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

“Nancy: Looks like trouble..

Marv: Looks like Christmas.”

By Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

sin city 2 2Back in 2005, the world finally got an adaptation of the Frank Miller story that it didn’t even realise it was craving. Alas, it wasn’t a live action version of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, but was instead the pulp noir crime thriller, Sin City. After his RoboCop sequel scripts were butchered back in the 1980’s, it seemed Miller was destined to remain known as a successful comic book writer (albeit one of the most important and influential of our time) and not a successful script writer.

Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City came at a time when only five short years before, comic book movies received a successful revival; thanks in no small part to Bryan Singer’s PG-13 X-Men. Two years later, Sam Raimi got in on the act as he turned Marvel’s biggest property, one friendly neighbourhood web-swinging wall crawler Spider-Man, into a PG-13 movie. As ground-breaking, box-office record smashing and popular as they were, fans knew that the market for more mature offerings was lagging behind somewhat. Why did they have to all be PG-13? The promise of Batman-to-come (allegedly based on Frank Miller’s seminal Year One) never truly broke that cycle. Batman Begins, also released in 2005, may have been darker and seedier than your average superhero flick, dealing with crime families, murder and that long wispy moustache of Liam Neeson’s, but it too found itself restricted to a PG-13 audience. In the 5 years between X-Men and Batman Begins, the only two major R-rated comic-book movies to come out of America were Blade II and The Punisher. That’s pretty much it.

To say Sin City was a gamble would be an understatement. Hiring a director to make an R-rated, somewhat arthouse thriller, who at the time had seemingly moved on from his over-the-top action movies (the brilliant Mexico Trilogy) and bloody sci-fi horrors (From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty etc) to create the family-oriented Spy Kids trilogy, it was a risk. Yet it paid off in more ways than one. It may not have topped the box-office charts in 2005 ahead of the likes of Star Wars Episode III, King Kong and another bloody Harry Potter sequel, but it still earned praise from critics and fans alike whilst being relatively commercially successful. It may not have been the catalyst in turning studios on to a wave of adult comic book movies, but it was seen as a triumph on its own merits.

Quite why it took Rodriguez and Miller nearly 10 years to allow us to return to the filthy stinkhole that is Basin City seems almost unfair. With its saloon bars every ten feet full of drunk criminal louts, sleazy prostitutes on every corner and corrupt officials turning a blind eye to every crook looming in a shadowy doorway ready to take every dime you own and leave you for dead, perhaps it was a place of mind that Rodriguez and Miller weren’t keen to frequent too often! Nevertheless, I, for one, am glad to have had the privilege of another peak into the loathsome lives of Sin City’s inhabitants.

The four stories that comprise the run time are equally as entertaining as each other. Beginning with a tale from Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he comes to after a brutal accident, hunting down some despicable youths, the tone of highly-stylised ultra-violence is set very quickly. This is continued as Johnny (played by the always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces himself as the cocky young gambler taking on a game of poker that will only end one way, with his story intertwining with that of Jessica Alba exacting revenge for her lover’s (Bruce Willis) death. The atmosphere is continued in the next sequence, upon which Sin City 2 titles itself. Dwight (previously played by Clive Owen, now re-cast with Josh Brolin) sets out on a mission to save his nearly always naked femme fatale ex-wife (Eva Green) who is oppressed by her cruel husband. Feeling sorry for her, he agrees to help but as with everything in Sin City, it appears someone is manipulating the situation beyond his control.

Short snappy sentences that Billy Wilder would’ve been proud of litter the script, just as a classic crime-noir should. It’s immensely enjoyable, trashy and disturbingly fun. Shot entirely in black and white with colour only occasionally piercing the dreary shades of grey like a strike of lightning, it is a film with an abundance of style. Is it perhaps a case of too much style and too little substance? Debatable. There’s a chance that the co-directors may have papered over a few cracks in the plot with some pretty pictures – although, they are very pretty pictures. The cast and their performances are a step up from 2005’s effort, with returning faces Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and particularly Powers Boothe all revelling in their roles, as do the new additions. Eva Green especially steals the show as a siren-like Ava.

Whilst A Dame to Kill For has not followed suit with its predecessor, stuttering at the box office and picking up mixed reviews along the way, it still has plenty to enjoy for returning fans and new ones alike. You do not need to know everything that happens in the previous movie – in fact, some people seem confused by the chronology of both. Approaching it as a stand alone movie about some stuff that happens in this crime-ridden city may be the best method.

If Frank Miller’s stories have any message to tell, it’s probably a not very pleasant one. Everyone is corruptible, it’s just that some people are better at taking advantage of it than others. Yes the film’s morals and ethics are as questionable as the characters who entertain us; is vigilantism justified in a city like this? Is murder ever acceptable? Can you honestly have your strongest independent female character’s motivations bent around her love for a man? These are questions the film raises and leaves unanswered. But I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t half look cool as it poses them.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas nationwide right now in both 3D (not worth it) and 2D (totally worth it).

The Expendables 3: The Indispensables

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

expendables 3 5It’s fair to say that I’m a self-confessed action film nut. Give me a free 90 minutes and any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and I’ll smile and say “thanks very much”. It may be no surprise to learn then that I am also a Stallone fan; and with that, a fan of the Expendables franchise. Simon West’s light-hearted but immensely fun sequel to the more serious original (which was written by, directed by and starred Sylvester Stallone) is one of my favourite modern popcorn munching action movies.

Thursday saw the release of the third entry into Sylvester Stallone’s modern action franchise, the succinctly named, The Expendables 3. Whilst overall it’s perhaps not as impressive – in terms of critical success and box office success – as either of his Rambo or Rocky films of decades past, they do feature an impressive cast of 80’s and 90’s heroes as long as the protruding big blue veins in his large muscular arms. Amongst whom returning to Stallone’s side as he stops the latest megalomaniac (an incredibly intense Mel Gibson), are familiar faces such as the arse-kicking Jason Statham, knife-sharpening giant Dolph Lundgren and cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, a load of other recognisable members such as Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li pop up here and there.

Joining them are a bunch of young whippersnappers (Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz) whose careers are only just beginning. Whilst at the other end of the experience scale sees notable newcomers Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer join the crew. If nothing else, it shows how far the series has come when it can attract stars such as Gibson and Ford, as opposed to the early incarnations with the likes of Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke taking top billing.

However, a review of The Expendables 3 this is not. For that, check out Callum’s review from this weekend! Instead, I’m pitting the original Expendables cast against the latest big name additions. One film each, best of 5, let’s see who’s indispensable to the series and who is expendable.

expendables 3 4


1. Jason Statham vs Wesley Snipes – Crank vs Demolition Man

Often seen throughout this second sequel squaring up to each other with their knife skills (and knife puns) on display, they are arguably the two actors who have the most on-screen chemistry with our chief protagonist, ol’ Sly Stallone. But who has been in  the best action movie? Crank is an exhilarating non-stop self-aware adrenaline-junkie of a movie. The entire cast appear to be pumping energy drinks directly into their bloodstream. None more so of course than The Stath, spending the duration of the movie keeping his adrenaline flowing in every possible way you can think of. But what about Snipes? Demolition Man, released at a transitional time for action movies from the over-the-top kill-em-all era of the 80’s to the smarter, cooler 90’s, is everything Expendables wants to homage. Snipes’ charisma may be mostly responsible for why this movie is still so enjoyable, but let’s face it, it’s no Crank.

Originals 1 – 0 Newcomers

predator2. Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Mel Gibson – Predator vs Mad Max

To many, this won’t even be a debate. Arnie is arguably the greatest action hero we have ever seen. A genre is defined by his mere presence thanks to movies such as Terminator 2, True Lies, Total Recall and indeed the Vietnam jungle survivalist sci-fi horror, Predator. If the debate was “who is better in The Expendables 3“, then sugar-tits himself Mel Gibson would walk that contest. Unfortunately for the fresh-faced post-apocalyptic Australian Max, there is no comparison. Schwarzenegger can quite literally become an elected member of the Republican party and I’ll still turn up in the cinema to see whatever film he’s starring in these days. There’s still so much good will towards him thanks to films such as this all time classic of the genre. The man is a legend. Sorry, Mel.

Originals 2 – 0 Newcomers

3. Dolph Lundgren vs Antonio Banderas – Showdown in Little Tokyo vs Desperado

Yes, yes. OK. I am aware that Rocky IV is Dolph’s most iconic film and quite possibly his best – I won’t even entertain suggestions of Masters of the Universe or The Punisher. But we all know Rocky IV isn’t an action movie, don’t we. Never mind that, Showdown in Little Tokyo is massively underrated. Lundgren is as wooden as he ever was in these early roles of his, but there are some brilliant stunts, one liners and his final showdown lives up to expectations. Is it better than anything in Desperado? Well, no. That would be silly. Banderas is the epitome of cool in the film that really propelled him into the English-speaking public’s conscious. The direction from Robert Rodriguez is excessive, unrelenting and fantastic; Banderas is absolutely perfect as the sexy, dark and mysterious mariachi. Not only does he steal the show in the third act of The Expendables 3, he’s stealing a point for the newcomers.

Originals 2 – 1 Newcomers

4. Randy Couture vs Kelsey Grammer – Hijacked vs Transformers: Age of Extinction

Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the wrong reasons. Whilst you’d think the odds would be stacked against Grammer given the best action films he’s featured in outside of The Expendables 3 are directed by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Michael Bay (Trans4mers), it should be a cake-walk for his opposite number. But looking at the best films Couture has starred in, one appalling The Mummy spin-off (The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior) and a straight to video revenge movie where he’s out-shined by a 5 minute Vinnie Jones cameo (Hijacked), it’s not all that straight-forward. At least Grammer was entertaining in some rather average movies. The comeback is on!

Originals 2 – 2 Newcomersindiana jones

5. Sylvester Stallone vs Harrison Ford – First Blood vs Raiders of the Lost Ark

Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the right reasons. Saving the best ’til last was meant to make this challenge easier. Instead what I’m looking at is two of Hollywood’s legends, famed more for what they bring to the screen besides what is traditionally considered “great acting”, both duking it out until the 12th round. They have a swagger, a deserved arrogance, something unquantifiable that makes them both the iconic and charismatic performers we know them as today. Comparing First Blood (the beginning of the Rambo franchise and an action movie with real emotional depth) with Raiders of the Lost Ark (the beginning of the Indiana Jones franchise and an action movie with sophistication and undeniable amusement) is just as tough. Of the two, just edging it for me would probably be First Blood. I make no apologies for this either. As good as Indy is, he’s stilla nerd isn’t he? Rambo is just.. better.

Originals 3 – 2 Newcomers


And that’s the end of that! It seems the newcomers made a valiant effort but it’s the originals that have come out on top. We can only hope that if Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kurt Russell and Vin Diesel turn up in The Expendables 4, things might go a bit differently in the rematch!

Do you agree? Are you outraged by this outcome? Leave a comment below and wind Owen up.