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Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 10 – The Revenge of the Horrorble Month

Another month, another article as Owen’s ‘year in review’ series continues. On to October and Owen reviews a selection of the horror films that he’s been watching. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

lovecraft-from-beyond-1986-dThis time last year is where the idea of recording a whole month’s worth of movies began. I set myself the task of proving to myself that I could watch a horror film every single day during October 2014 in the build up to Halloween – and somehow managed to succeed. I dubbed it my Horrorble Month (geddit?!)

Once again, I thought that given how the inspiration for this year-long series started, I owed it to myself to give this experiment another crack.

It was made doubly difficult considering the change in personal circumstances. You know. Entering full time study for the first time since I was 15 years old, back in 2002. I spent a lot of time and energy on trying to work out how much spare time I had, never mind thinking about how to watch at least 31 different horror films. Between all the normal duties I had, like keeping a house from falling to pieces, spending time with my wife and running this website and podcast, I had to prioritise fitting in time to find a part time job (tick), get to grips with my course content (tick) and complete assignments at home (tick).

Needless to say, this month more than any, it has been a heck of a trial.

Nevertheless, I seem to have pulled it off. The trick, apparently, is to simply watch the shortest films you can get your hands on! Especially on those days where you have to spend time watching other movies for the podcast, like new releases and bloody Columbo TV episodes.

Anyway, here’s how the Revenge of the Horrorble Month turned out…


Week 1: Thursday 1 – Sunday 4 October 2015

Thursday – The Package (2015), Dagon (2001); Friday – Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972), Shine (1996); Saturday – CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954); Sunday – The Oblong Box (1969)

creature-from-black-lagoon-swim-aThere were a couple of things that I managed to do during the last Horrorble Month. One of those things was finish off a boxset of 1950’s sci-fi movies that I had. Most of them were actually pretty good, but amongst the best was Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, directed by the iconic Jack Arnold. As a sort of tribute to these discoveries, I decided to revisit it to make sure it was still as entertaining as I remembered. Short answer: Of course it was. From the cast of men all sucking in their bellies when they’re standing around on set in their swimming shorts, to the impressive costume design on Gill-Man, it’s a short but sweet creature feature that’s got a lot more subtlety to it than you might expect.


Week 2: Monday 5 – Sunday 11 October 2015

Monday – The Raven (1963), Macbeth (2015); Tuesday – Tales of Terror (1962); Wednesday – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), 28 Days Later (2001); Thursday – Day of the Dead (1985); Friday – Fright Night (2011); Saturday – The Pyramid (2014); Sunday – The Walk (2015), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Black-Christmas-2006-1Much like how fans and pundits talk about statistics for the top flight of English football by ignoring everything that happened prior to the inception of the Premier League in the early 1990’s, so too do slasher-films often get short-shrift if they were made prior to John Carpenter’s redefining foray into the sub-genre with 1978’s Halloween. Of course, most slasher fans are aware of the likes of Peeping Tom and Psycho in the 60’s, and the wave of giallo movies out of Europe by Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and so on. But in most people’s minds back then, slasher was synonymous with exploitation. It took until that stretched William Shatner mask first graced our screens for the genre to be taken seriously by the majority. However, there were one or two others that were often held aloft by critics and movie-goers – usually in hindsight after a poor initial box office run. One of those was Bob Clark’s festive-horror, Black Christmas, about a group of sorority girls who receive threatening phone calls and are eventually the subject of a series of murders. In never seeing, only ever hearing the stalker, it’s the complete opposite effect of Halloween – and yet it still manages to have as much tension and suspense. Whilst I would be exaggerating to say it matches up to Carpenter’s classic on a similar level, it’s still worth watching and definitely deserves its place in history as one of the best pre-Halloween slashers.


Week 3: Monday 12 – Sunday 18 October 2015

Monday – Night of the Living Dead (1968), Suffragette (2015); Tuesday – Grabbers (2012); Wednesday – The Haunted Palace (1963); Thursday – VIDEODROME (1983), Re-Animator (1985); Friday – Late Phases (2014), Beasts of No Nation (2015); Saturday – Masque of the Red Death (1964), Inside Out (2015); Sunday – Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

videodromeI definitely talked about David Cronenberg’s Videodrome on the podcast recently, but for the benefit of those who are hearing impaired, I guess… It follows the President of a controversial Canadian television network (James Woods) who unwittingly becomes the target of a conspiracy after discovering a series of snuff films with subliminal hallucinogenic side effects. Cronenberg, particularly through the 70’s and 80’s, picked up a certain reputation, but Videodrome is not just another body-horror. The Wikipedia page actually describes it as a Canadian neo-noir postmodernist science fiction body horror/psychological horror – if you can get your head around that. But don’t worry. There’s still some sexually explicit violence, insanely complex mysteries to unravel and some ambitious attempts to contort and distort reality through the use of various practical (and impractical!) effects. I really need to get a hold of the DVD again to give it another watch. I liked it a lot, but it gives the impression things improve even further a second time around.


Week 4: Monday 19 – Sunday 25 October 2015

Monday – Night of the Comet (1984), The Beast Within (1982), Dead Cert (2010); Tuesday – Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971); Wednesday – FROM BEYOND (1986); Thursday – Ghosts of Mars (2001); Friday – Thinner (1996); Saturday – Bad Grandpa (2013), Horns (2013), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997); Sunday – From Dusk Til Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999)

frombeyondI actually watched From Beyond for the first time in September this year, but enjoyed it so much that I had to re-watch it again during my Horrorble Month. It is genuinely brilliant. From the concept of a scientist using frequency resonators to see all the creatures that live in another dimension, but that we share space with all of the time, to its beautifully disgusting visuals, I loved every element of it. The first hour or so of the plot is compelling and frantically paced, which doesn’t really change or develop in the latter part, but is still just as entertaining in a different kind of way. Jeffrey Combs, Ken Foree, Barbara Crampton and Ted Sorel are extremely good value. It’s blackly comic but with a really terrifying concept behind it. From Beyond is one of my favourite discoveries of the year so far. Much like how Roger Corman and Vincent Price’s adaptations of Poe were in 2014, I think 2015 might properly be the year I delve deeper into the world of HP Lovecraft movies.


Week 5: Monday 26 – Saturday 31 October 2015

Monday – Trick ‘r Treat (2007), SPECTRE (2015); Tuesday – Tales from the Darkside (1990); Wednesday – Fargo (1996), The Prophecy (1995); Thursday – PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015); Friday – Child’s Play 2 (1990); Saturday – The Crazies (2010), Dawn of the Dead (2004), What We Do In The Shadows (2014), Fright Night (2011), Oldboy (2003)

la-et-mn-paranormal-activity-the-ghost-dimension-trailer-teases-the-end-20150624Halloween this year was a lot of fun. I spent the whole day exposing my youngest brother (18) to a host of horror films he hadn’t seen before. He came over a few years back now and I scared him to death with The Blair Witch Project and the original Paranormal Activity. It seemed only reasonable that I picked slightly more fun movies this time around. All the same, I am still a big fan of the Paranormal Activity films in general. I think found-footage still needs people to stand up for it with far too many prepared to write off a film without giving it a chance if it’s been made in that particular style. The latest – and quite possibly last – film in the series, The Ghost Dimension, once again sends us back into the world of Katie, Kristi and their invisible friend Tobi. Only this time, more than any other, we’re able to see more of the demon haunting another household thanks to a special kind of ghoul-capturing camera. It’s actually not a bad film, but is troubled by one crucial issue. It’s not scary. That’s a pretty big problem right there. But then again, which of the PA films have actually been scary? The first two? Maybe the third? The atmosphere and sheer creepiness of the original is what makes it unnerving, whereas the rest have relied on inflicting diversionary jump scares on the audience. Ghost Dimension is no different. However, it does compensate by rapidly increasing background on the families involved in this series of hauntings and wraps things up to a standard that I’m fairly satisfied with. Let’s not forget, there are six movies in this franchise. SIX. That’s a lot to try and keep a consistent standard throughout. I know they have their detractors, but I’m not one of them. I will be back at some point in the future, no doubt, to attempt a marathon viewing of all of the Paranormal Activity films and I’ll enjoy seeing the story play out in full.


And that’s it! I’m done. That’s a wrap and my second ever Horrorble Month is over. You can expect me back around about the same time next month to look back on the movies I’ve been watching throughout November. I can tell you already: It’s a much lower number. If you’ve any comments on this article or if you simply disagree with some of my choices – or if you want to chat to me about any of the other movies I’ve listed above – leave a comment in the box below and I promise to get back to you!

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Horror Channel Recommendations

As you may or may not already be aware, the Horror Channel has quite recently made the transition from subscription only services, directly onto your freeview box. This opens up a world of possibilities for the recommendations section of our podcast! To give you a flavour of the kinds of movies we might be pushing on you, here’s a selection of five of their best over the next few days:

Tuesday 17th March 2015, 21.00 – eXistenZ

existenzDavid Cronenberg’s meta-psychological sci-fi thriller eXistenZ – with its wobbly translucent organic squirming control pad game-pods that characters can plug themselves into via bio-ports in order to play a virtual reality game – is probably the best film they’re showing all week. The fact he has created something so hideous both in design and concept that it can still be recalled with disgust days, weeks, probably months and years after you first see it is testament to his skill and legend as the master of body-horror. Having a strange and unnerving atmosphere spawning from a strong script is one thing, but the imagery that is incorporated into this espionage-come-sexually-invasive thriller is what gives it an edge. It’s not just a clever film about what life is, about the creation and destruction of life, and particularly in its relation to religion and environmental issues; it’s also a visual feast. Some fantastic designs only add to the entertaining and complex plot.

Thursday 19th March 2015, 21.00 – DeadHeadsdeadheads

Zom-coms seem to have a genre all to themselves. Sometimes they are painfully funny (the go-to example is Shaun of the Dead), and other times… not so much. Whilst DeadHeads is some way off the quality of Edgar Wright’s British zomedy, it still has enough going for it to make it worth your time if you are a horror aficionado. The concept is perhaps not completely original, but it’s a nice twist on the genre to show the movie from the perspective of two geeky loser zombies who happen to be able to talk just like regular guys. They just also happen to be dead. It’s simply a road trip movie where the main characters are zombies and their pursuers are zombie hunting government enforcer types, but it does have a couple of laughs scattered throughout.

Friday 20th March 2015, 00.40 (Saturday morning then I guess, technically) – Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever

cabin fever 2Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Eli Roth’s first Cabin Fever from 2002 as much as the next sane (insane?) horror film fan did. I’m basically recommending this sequel from 2010 blind, purely based on the fact that it has Ti West’s name attached to it – even if he did publicly disown the project. This time, the flesh-eating virus has spread to a high school prom, which leads to a Not-Another-Teen-Movie-meets-Roger-Corman bonanza. Described elsewhere as “joyfully gross“, it’s a film you will either love or hate (apparently). But it’s a good example of the kind of gem that turns up on the horror channel from time to time, just when you’re in the mood to watch a properly naff but gory horror film.

Saturday 21st March 2015, 21.00 – Grave Encountersgrave encounters

Low budget. Found footage. Jump scares. These are all phrases that will either put you off the Viscous Brothers insane asylum documentary-gone-wrong horror, or, if you’re like me, sound irresistible. I first watched it late at night, in bed, with all the lights out, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it creeped me the fuck out at times. There are some original twists in the story; it’s a lot more than just a bunch of idiots sneaking around an old building being scared of creaking doors. There’s a few layers to the horror, starting out quite mild and eventually building to bigger and more ambitious things. If you can forgive the fact that the characters all make unrealistic or silly choices at times (which you really should in a film of this ilk) then you will probably find Grave Encounters best watched from behind a cushion.

Sunday 22nd March 2015, 22.45 – The Vault of Horror

vault of horrorA classic British anthology horror from the 70’s, featuring the likes of Terry Thomas and Tom Baker, which has endlessly been parodied. Perhaps by no-one more brilliantly than Steve Coogan in his under-appreciated ode to Hammer Horror TV series, Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible. As always in this sort of film, some of the stories are a bit hit and miss (mostly miss), but when it’s on form (such as in Tom Baker’s segment, Drawn and Quartered) then it is really bloody good. And who doesn’t love classic British horror films? Exactly.

The horror channel is now available on Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, Freesat 138 and TalkTalk 487.

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?

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.