Yesterday the iconic filmmaker, George A Romero, passed away. Owen Hughes tries to explain why the mark left on the horror genre by the creator of the Living Dead trilogy and other cult classics will be around for a long, long time yet.
Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast. As promised, Steve Norman is back in the host’s chair this week as the award winning duo of Jack and Phil from Wikishuffle depart to be replaced by Matt Lambourne from the award winning video-game podcast Retro Asylum, such is the quality of guest on our shows these days!
As ever, they are both joined by Owen Hughes for this week’s triple bill episode, where each member of the team pick three films made for one million dollars or less in a bid to prove that the quality of a movie is not always dependent on its budget.
Before all of that, the guys also take a look at the Primetime Emmy Award winners announced this past weekend and indulge themselves with the final round of our ongoing quiz – which, for once, isn’t as shambolic as you might expect! There’s also time for: Steve to tackle Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin amongst others; Matt blows the dust out of his Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie cartridge; and Owen joins him in continuing the video-game adaptation conversation by listing everything wrong with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Join us again next week for reviews of Sicario, The Intern, and The Martian.
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 Andrew, Paul 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…
“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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
I started this diary with a combination of high hopes and great ideals. The trouble is, I’m having so much fun at Glasgow Film Festival I’m struggling to find time to do the boring work of actually writing things down. Today was one of those rare days of relative rest; no screenings planned and just the one event to attend. Still, I somehow ended up watching a couple of films and writing up my diary at nearly midnight yet again.
I won’t bore you with the details of my non-festival life (I got a haircut, and handed in a lost phone to the police). What I will do is tell you what I’ve learned about Kick-Ass 2, and Mark Millar’s other projects in the pipeline.
I watched Kick-Ass in the afternoon, in preparation for the Mark Millar (creator of Kick-Ass, and comic-book writer extrordinare) event, and it was even better than I remembered. It’s one of the strongest comic-book adaptation storylines in a very long time, and the cast are uniformly excellent. It’s very funny, the action is brilliantly directed, and it has a killer soundtrack. Plus it has Nicolas Cage doing an Adam West impression. In short, it’s pretty perfect. So the news that original director Matthew Vaughn, and screenwriter Jane Goldman were no longer involved in the sequel, and that their roles would instead be carried out by the director of Never Back Down, worried me greatly. I went to listen to Millar talk about the sequel hoping he would allay my fears.
And to an extent, he did. Millar’s openness used to get him into trouble, and he told a few anecdotes that demonstrated his previous lack of media training, and willingness to ‘play the game’. He’s a big Hollywood player now though, and while the talk was very interesting with regards to his work and the film-making process, this wasn’t the place to come for gossip and unguarded comments.
Millar was very open with his thoughts on the adaptations of his work, and admitted that he would “rather kill a project than have it come out crap”. Apparently an American studio was very interested in adapting Millar’s American Jesus series, but he had to turn them down when they wanted to remove the Jesus aspect of the story. He is also sticking to his principles in writing just one more Kick-Ass book (which he all but confirmed would make it onto the big screen) and finishing the story there.
As a Nicolas Cage fan (yes, that is a thing), I was particularly interested to hear about his input on the first Kick-Ass film. Millar was full of praise for Cage, and told the audience how Big Daddy’s Adam West-style staccato delivery was Cage’s idea, as was the stroke of genius for his moustachioed character to disguise himself with a slightly larger moustache. Millar went on to say that Jim Carey is a similar presence in the sequel, and that his character, though not pivotal, ends up stealing every scene he’s in. It sounds like Kick-Ass 2 may be in safe hands after all.
Millar’s next project with Vaughn and Goldman is Secret Service, a story Millar describes as “My Fair Lady meets The Spy Who Loved Me”. Casting is complete, and shooting should start soon, although Millar is now getting too good at playing the game to reveal any more than that to a room full of strangers.
Other little tit-bits we learned yesterday:
- Plans for a Wanted 2 movie are “at a stage”
- Millar was four days into filming Miracle Park when he found out about Josh Trank’s Chronicle, and had to kill the project as the two were pretty much identical
- Although we sadly didn’t get a sneak peek at Kick-Ass 2, there will shortly be 3 “really good” teaser trailers online
- Most worryingly of all, Millar said that the Dawn of the Dead remake is his favourite of all of the ‘Dead’ series!
I spent the evening relaxing at home with one of my favourite Scottish films in preparation for a big day of screenings and podcast recording tomorrow.
“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you”.
Pick of the day for Wednesday 20th February – The Thieves
The surprise film has become a staple of the festival circuit in recent years, and Glasgow Film Festival usually delivers in spades. Recent choices for this slot have included David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and last-year’s mumblecore delight Jeff, Who Lives At Home. We’ll be recording our GFF Podcast Special directly after this screening with our instant reactions.
The only disappointment will be from those who miss out on a ticket for a screening that will almost certainly sell out.
The GFF 13 Surprise Film is showing at Glasgow Film Theatre at 8.30pm.
The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.
We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.
James reports back on the 6th annual UK Festival of Zombie Culture, including the world première of the HD restoration of Zombie Flesh Eaters.
There’s a heated discussion on what constitutes a zombie movie, and whether the zombies that run are proper zombies. And don’t even get James started on Danny Boyle’s view that 28 Days Later isn’t a zombie film.
Then in Triple Bill the critics choose their favourite zombie films of all time.
The 6th annual UK Festival of Zombie Culture (and in true zombie film tradition it has another title it goes by – The Day of the Undead) took place, as it always has, at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester. More than ever before, this year’s programme had a distinctly British feel to it, with four of the features (and many of the shorts on show) being home-grown affairs.
Scattered around the venue were numerous opportunities to meet the authors of zombie novels, buy various zombie games and DVDs, and even get yourself made-up to look like one of the undead horde. The real draw was the programme of zombie films on display in the state-of-the-art cinema.
First up was the world première of the HD restoration of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, known in the UK as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’. This unofficial sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead has been restored for a Blu-ray release (to be released next month), and it certainly looks fantastic. The images are clear, without ever looking too clean.
As a big fan of Dawn of the Dead, I went into this expecting a lesser film – and was actually very pleasantly surprised. Having seen some Italian giallo films recently I have started to get used to seeing dubbing in films, and if I’m honest – I wasn’t here to see realism. There’s plenty of melodramatic acting, and the musical cues almost parody themselves – but the real meat (if you’ll excuse the pun) is in the zombie effects, and the set-pieces.
Not only do the zombies look genuinely like decomposing corpses (sadly, many modern zombie films seem to think a bit of white make-up and a bloody chin will do) – but there are some genuinely horrific scenes of violence here, including the worst scene featuring an eyeball since Un Chien Andalou.
If you are a fan of Romero’s films this is a must for your collection. Actually, this is a must-own for anyone who likes the idea of a zombie fighting a shark.
Next up were a number of short-films, or varying quality. Ross Shepherd’s Victorian Undead certainly looked good, and would make a nice scene in a longer feature. However, as a short film it failed to convey much of a story or any characterisation. A local film made in Loughborough called The End also showed some promise, but the lack of a budget showed when the zombies finally appeared on-screen.
Velvet Road was my pick of the shorts, both stylistically and thematically head and shoulders above the rest of the unofficial competition. Set in the racially-charged US-south in the 1960s it certainly owned a visual debt to The Walking Dead.
The comedy side of the zombie genre was also well-represented. Smush, a short from the team that made last year’s Deadheads, was a rather sweet story of a young girl befriending a hungry zombie. We were also treated to a couple of episodes of Bumbloods – a four-part web-series about a couple of room-mates trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. What it lacks in budget and story-telling, it makes up with in some great jokes and a home-made charm.
The headline film of the shorts section was Muralim (Poisoned), the first ever state-funded genre film from Israel. A ‘zomedy’ in the style of Shaun of the Dead, it tells the story of army base gardener (and son of a war hero) Danny who has to face down a horde of zombie soldiers on during Passover, while trying to win the heart of his high-school sweetheart. As well as being very funny, it is also an interesting exploration on the way the military can ‘poison’ the minds of soldiers into becoming a homogeneous group of mindless beings who follow orders without question. Deep.
Next up was new British zombie film Before Dawn directed by, and starring Paddy from the UK soap opera Emmerdale (Dominic Brunt, who introduced the screening), and his real-life wife Joanne Marshall.
It tells the story of an estranged couple getting away for a weekend in the country to make one last go of their marriage. Then, obviously, some zombies turn up.
The kitchen-sink set-up of the film actually works really well (as you’d expect from a soap opera veteran), and Brunt and Marshall are believable and sympathetic.
The fact that Brunt has gone for running zombies was always going to upset a traditionalist like me. It’s not that I don’t see them as ‘proper’ zombies, it’s just that I don’t find these modern zombies to be as scary as the shuffling hordes we know as ‘Romero Zombies’. I like the changing power dynamic you get in a film featuring the shuffling zombies. The fact that one or two of them would be reasonably easy to repel, and it’s only when you start getting overwhelmed that you realise the true horror of the monster.
Like most zombie films that don’t aim for all-out comedy, this is a pretty relentlessly depressing film. It’s a good-looking and well-performed piece though, although Brunt’s inexperience shows in the action/fight scenes which are more confusing in the shooting/editing than terrifying.
Before the next screening we were treated to a conversation with Charlie Higson, talking about his ‘The Enemy’ series of books for young adults. He admitted that he felt a fraud as the monsters in his books weren’t strictly zombies in the ‘risen from the dead’ mould, but rather an infected populace as in 28 Days Later. Of course, as he pointed out, I think we have come to accept that the definition of zombie in popular culture has changed to encompass a range of ‘changed humans’ in an end-of-the-world scenario. Higson is a friendly and engaging fellow, with a good-line in stories of scaring his own children.
Up next was The Eschatrilogy, an anthology of stories with a linking narrative arc set within the zombie genre. I was really looking forward to this, and I was sadly very disappointed. The opening 10 minutes of the film looks glorious, and the concept of a ‘watcher’ collecting stories from the zombie apocalypse intrigued me. The problem is that the film’s £15,000 budget is massively outstripped by the film-makers ambitions. Normally I would be able to overlook this, and even applaud it – but when one of the short-cuts they have chosen to make is in the acting department I just can’t get on-board. Nothing is likely to put me off of a film faster than amateur acting. The type of acting you see in the adverts that candidates in The Apprentice make. It didn’t help that the end of the film was cut short by technical problems with the Blu-ray. Unfortunately I don’t think I missed much.
Finally (for me anyway) was Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies. This low-budget film is basically ‘Lock Stock’ meets ’28 Days Later’. It’s derivative and unoriginal, but it does its best to win the audience over with some genuinely funny lines and some entertaining and sympathetic characters. One I think I might be tempted to watch again.
At this point I was zombied-out. I had to forgo Cockney’s Versus Zombies after 12 straight hours watching the undead, and I applaud anyone who made it to the very end. I really enjoyed my first UK Festival of Zombie Culture though, and I am sure I’ll be back next year.