Tag Archives: John Carpenter

Failed Critics Podcast: Take-a-Break Hour

the nice guys

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes were joined by both Callum Petch and Andrew Brooker to review three new releases!

Book-ending Callum’s film-reviewing life in education with trips to Wonderland, he reveals that Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is the worst blockbuster of the 2010’s – and why Alice Through The Looking Glass is no better. We also review Warcraft: The Beginning, confusing Steve no end as he can’t tell the difference between it and Warhammer (direct your outrage to @FailedSteve). Finally, we collectively agree that Shane Black’s noir-comedy The Nice Guys is nice, guys.

Before all of that in What We’ve Been Watching:  Owen puts on his shades and sees They Live for the first time (in years);  Brooker peels himself away from the PCC in London after a big-screen showing of True Romance;  Callum completes his own Tarantino collection with Inglorious Basterds;  and Steve stops watching football documentaries for two minutes to take in Will Smith’s portrayal of Muhammed Ali in the biopic of the legendary sportsman’s life.

The quiz this week was a little different to normal, as Steve, Callum and Brooker had the full length of the episode to work out the following 10 anagrams, all of which relate in some way to The Nice Guys:

1 – Teardrop
2 – Anal Hole Wept
3 – Usable Cyst Tooth
4 – Screw Sue Roll
5 – Inches Ye Tug
6 – Gas Ring Only
7 – Gamin Be Irks
8 – A Sank Belch
9 – Ah, Kiddie TV
10 – Iron

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Failed Critics Podcast: The UK’s 17th Best

tmnt2

Your official (not “official” official) 17th best podcast, Failed Critics, as designated by New Media Europe’s ‘Best UK Podcast of 2016’ award. Voting closed on Monday 30th May, with The Failed Critics Podcast ranked 17th out of 100 based on the number of Facebook votes we received. Thank you so much to anybody who helped us achieve this high a position by taking a few seconds to vote.

On this week’s episode, we draft in Underground Nights‘ very own Paul Field to help us run through a triple-bill of movie stars, where he and hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes each pick three actors whom they consider to be the very definition of the very subjective term ‘film star’.

Before all of that, Owen barely has chance to make himself comfortable before reviewing the new Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows after seeing it earlier that afternoon. Meanwhile, Paul introduces us to Victoria, a German film shot entirely in one take, and Steve catches up on some Shane Black with The Long Kiss Goodnight.

The news this week has the trio mulling over Tom Hiddleston’s imminent appointment as James Bond, as well as John Carpenter’s fabled return to the Halloween franchise. This, following a shambolic quiz that hopefully won’t sound as shambolic post-edit as it did pre-edit.

Join us again next week where we’ll be reviewing both Warcraft and The Nice Guys.

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Failed Critics Podcast – COP: John Carpenter

john_carpenter

He’s old, he’s cranky, and he’s got a legion of followers that adore everything he does.

At least one of those comments should give you a clue that I am of course referring to John Carpenter and not our special guest, James Diamond.

(When has James ever been known to be cranky?)

One of the few well documented benefits of not being awarded an Oscar is that it allows a person the privilege of being received in our illustrious Corridor of Praise. And James was only too willing to help Owen Hughes and Steve Norman to induct the celebrated genre auteur.

At least we assume it was James. It sounded like James. It looked like James(‘s Skype profile). He did spend the whole episode tied to his chair, just to be on the safe side, but was still able to run through Carpenter’s career like the pro that he is. We look at where it all began with Dark Star and Halloween, through his triumphant 80’s phase and the not-so-triumphant later movies.

Also on this episode, we discuss the Academy Award nominated Spotlight, with Owen proclaiming it as one of the greatest films he’s ever seen. Speaking of awards, there was room on the episode for a quick butchers at the Screen Actors Guild recipients and a short Carpenter themed quiz, with either Owen or Steve nudging ever closer to subjecting the other to yet more horrible movies.

Join us again next week as Chris Wallace and Brian Plank return to review the latest British sitcom to get a movie adaptation, Dad’s Army.

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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!

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.

Best Films on TV: 17-23 June 2013

We would like to apologise for being so quiet over the last few weeks, and we are hoping to be back to something approaching normality very soon. In the meantime, here are site editor James Diamond’s picks for the best films on free-to-air television this week. 

DieHardWillisMonday 17th June – Die Hard (Film4, 9pm)

It’s been our film of the day before, but there are horrendously slim pickings tonight. Watching it will help any poor unfortunate father whose family fell for the terrible ‘get your dad Die Hard 5 for Father’s Day’ marketing ploys. Talking of terrible films, one of the very worst I’ve ever seen is on True Movies 1 at 9pm: Runaway Car. It’s like Speed but with a family saloon car, and starring Judge Reinhold.

Tuesday 18th June – Lord of War (5USA, 9pm)

Another less than thrilling line-up of films today, but Andrew Niccol (writer of The Truman Show and writer/director of Gattaca) has crafted an interesting tale plotting the rise and fall of an international arms dealer. The film features an uncharacteristically subtle performance from Nic Cage, and one of the best opening title sequences of recent times. You’ll want to punch Jared Leto in the face more than normally though.

Wednesday 19th June – Hot Shots! (E4, 8pm)

Charlie Sheen stars in the last great Jim Abrahams (co-creator of Airplane and The Naked Gun) film, which has the rare distinction of being better than the film it is lampooning (the horribly overrated and criminally boring Top Gun). Averages about 33 and a third laughs per minute, and features a scene-stealing performance from Lloyd Bridges.

Thursday 20th June – Inglourious Basterds (Film4, 10.45pm)

This film is everything that is good and frustrating about Quentin Tarantino. It’s essentially four great scenes surrounded by over-the-top violence and immaturity, but what incredible scenes! Christoph Waltz commands your attention for every microsecond he is onscreen, and Michael Fassbender excels in one of my choices for Best Movie Bar Scenes

Friday 21st June – Fight Club (Film4, 11.10pm)

Arguably the most feted of David Fincher’s films (although Se7en still pips it for me), the first rule of writing about Fight Club is to reference the famous first rule of Fight Club. Check. You can also watch Fincher’s Panic Room beforehand at 9pm.

In the oddest piece of scheduling I’ve seen for some time, the family-friendly POW/football crossover hit Escape to Victory is on at 3am on ITV1.

Saturday 22nd June – Escape from New York (ITV4, 10.55pm)

The perfect Saturday night film, and the first of John Carpenter’s outstanding 80s collaborations with Kurt Russell. In the not-too-distant future (1997, to be precise) New York has become a no-go area teeming with criminals and led by a scary Isacc Hayes. When Air Force One crashes in this no-mans-land, the military send career criminal Snake Plisken in to rescue the President. Timeless action.

For the three of you who still haven’t seen it, Oldboy is also on Film4 at 1.40am.

Sunday 23rd June – Before Sunrise (BBC1, 23.25)

Quite simply one of my favourite films about love, featuring a brilliantly cocky-yet-vulnerable performance from Ethan Hawke and a please-God-marry-me turn from Julie Delpy. Basically a 90 minute dialogue between two strangers who find themselves sharing a day and night in Vienna, where nothing much happens, but the protagonists are changed forever. Watch this, hunt down the sequel Before Sunset, then count the days until Before Midnight is released next month.

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1981

A 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 1981.

5. Condorman

Condorman“Have you seen this report on this Condorman? He is an AMATEUR, do you hear? He is NOT an agent of the CIA! He is a WRITER OF COMIC BOOKS!”

Every so often, a movie comes to the fore that is so inherently bad, that it ends up being brilliant. There are a few that I particularly enjoy as guilty pleasures, such as Streetfighter and perhaps more recently Iron Sky. However the original film from my childhood that falls into this category is ‘Condorman’.

The plot surrounds comic book writer, Woody (Michael Crawford), who insists that all his creations must be able to perform their talents in real-life before he commits them to paper. However he is struggling to legitimise his latest creation, a flying crime-fighter called Condorman – as depicted in the opening scene where he fails to fly with mechanical wings from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Hilarity prevails as Woody bumbles his way into the affairs of the CIA & KGB as he pushes the real-life boundaries of his Condorman creation too far, posing as the former’s newest top agent. The action is awkward, yet stupidly funny, imagine Jason Bourne played by Basil Fawlty and you have a good idea of where this ends up.

The movie is anything but cold-war espionage coolness personified; after all it is a Disney movie. However the cast somewhat legitimises the erratic nature of the subject matter with the late Oliver Reed playing the leading bad-guy as Krokov the KGB operative and the lovely Barbara Carrera (Never Say Never Again) as the film’s love interest. It also adds some entertaining action set-pieces and a very cool car-pursuit scene featuring a fleet of souped-up Porsche 911’s that even the Fast & The Furious would be envious. Condorman’s own vehicle would impress even Bruce Wayne!

It goes without saying that this film gets nowhere near the IMDB top 250, it even has a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However it does hold a cult status amongst fans that keeps interest in the franchise alive and an updated version beckons as part of Disney’s new vision for the future. I personally, cannot wait!

4. Escape From New York

escape from new york“When I get back, I’m going to kill you”

Painted in the doldrums of a decaying future, revolutionists have hijacked Air Force One and crashed landed the jet into Manhattan Island. The island is now an impregnable fortress used to house all of America’s most dangerous criminals. The US authorities, unable to send in a mass force for fear of endangering the captive president’s life can only rely on one man.. Snake Plissken.

The role of Snake goes to Kurt Russell, who really shakes off his image as a pretty faced child actor as the down and dirty, super cool and unflappable ex-Special Forces operative. This movie is also a continuation of a mini love-affair between actor and the film’s director John Carpenter, the likes of which weren’t again seen until Tim Burton got his hands on Johnny Depp!

Escape from New York is all atmosphere. The film is shot entirely during the night time and danger lurks around every corner of the rotten Metropolis. It very much reminds me of the nihilist future as depicted in 1979’s ‘The Warriors’ and continued later this decade in ‘The Running Man’. The action is far from snappy, it’s somewhat clumsy and lacks finesse. But the slick nature of the characters, such as Isaac Hayes as the Prison Boss ‘The Duke’ allows you to really take in a rough 90min action ride.

Other notable performances come in the form of Western star Lee Van Cleef as the slimy police boss ‘Hauk’ and Adrienne Barbeau as the most distracting on screen cleavage for the whole year! It’s not hard to see why John Carpenter put a ring on it.

The Snake Plissken role sets a good model for movie anti-heroes, smooth lines, tough and fearless but ultimately doing bad things for good causes. The soundtrack adds to the dystopia portrayed nicely and encapsulates the period of time well.

The franchise spawned 2 sequels much further down the line, both with much bigger budgets, however Escape from New York delivers an unintended grittiness that can only be enforced by a lack of funds and ultimately delivers a much darker tone to the movie.

3. An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London“Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others”

Thoroughly British in it’s almost slapstick delivery, ‘An American Werewolf in London’ has everything, from awkward and uneasy comedy to brutal gore-scenes for hardened fans of the genre.

The film follows David (David Naughton), an American tourist who survives a Wolf attack that kills his best friend. Oddly some of the films most curious moments come from scenes were his dead friend re-visits him as a Zombie to warn him of his impending transformation into a Werewolf and that the bloodline must end for his victims to rest in peace.

Naturally, David does not take heed of the warnings, unsure of if his friend’s visits are a figment of his imagination or indeed the truth. Eventually the beast is unleashed upon London town and makes for a wonderfully cold trail of death that is uncompromising in its lack of fan-fare.

The whole movie is shot on location in the UK and I most admit that I find that the UK movie industry just does these movies far better than our Hollywood counter-parts, see ‘28 Days Later’ as an example. There is something far more sinister about the Middlesex moors and the cold, wet alleys of London than the steamy neon nightlife of New York for example.

No, AWIL does not over-complicate, it removes any unnecessary dramatics and creates frightening scenes of bloodlust, yet somehow you still feel charmed by our leading man. In a decade dominated by American Horror, this film collected an Oscar for it’s gruesome use of make-up and shows one of the most painful looking transformation scenes that I can recall. It’s very much a genre-defining classic and a must see for all horror fans.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark“I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the boogie man. Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am”

It goes without saying that Raiders could easily have been my #1 pick for 1981. Harrison Ford became probably the biggest Box Office star over a 5-year period in which everything LucasArts and Steven Spielberg churned out turned to absolute gold.

Ford plays the whip-wielding Indiana Jones, archeological & occult expert who is sent on a mission to recover the lost Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the hands of Nazi Germany. I should not need to go into itty-bitty details about the plot; we’ve all seen at least one Indiana Jones movie. Partly this misses out on #1 movie for 1981 mostly because it’s not actually my favourite film from the original trilogy.

Alas, however Raiders is a magnificent piece of action-adventure cinema. Shot in many luscious and beautifully exotic locations, it’s oh so easy on the eye. Ford brings charisma to the Indiana Jones character in equal measure as he did Han Solo, perhaps even more so.

The film is renowned for some of its action set pieces, such as the rolling bolder booby trap during the opening sequence and the hilarious standoff between Indy and the Sword wielding Egyptian soldier. It’s a great story of exciting action, peril in abundance and a story of good vs. evil, as the Nazis are ever willing to take up the bad guy role.

The now famous John Williams assortment is the final piece of the jigsaw although he sadly lost out to Vangelis’ score for Chariots of Fire in the Oscar prizes. The movie however did collect 4 Oscars and cemented the credentials of Spielberg and Lucas, setting up a golden area for the two during the early 80’s, as well as spearheading Harrison Ford for a career beyond StarWars.

Raiders takes its place high amongst its peers on the IMDB top 100 as one of the most memorable and fun movies of the decade.

1. Das Boot

Das Boot“Cheeks together, balls in their hands and belief in the Fuhrer in their eyes. They’ll calm down soon enough..”

It goes without saying that ‘Das Boot’ is one of the toughest watches of any film I’ve ever happily enjoyed watching. For starters, I am reviewing the extended version of an already epically long movie, weighing in at over 3 hours which for any film is a tough ask! However being a sub-titled movie it requires a certain dedication that adds to the viewing experience as you are slowly sucked into the despair felt throughout the movie.

The movie follows a German U-Boat crew who depart on a mission to intercept Allied convoys across an already faltering and mis-directed Axis line of blockades in the Mid-Atlantic. As the film begins we find the fledgling crew celebrating in a debauched leaving party, seemingly unaware of the miserable existence that awaits them under the Ocean’s surface. However, Ship Captain Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow) is starkly aware of the dangers that await his inexperienced crew.

The movie quickly plunges from indulgence to desperation as our crew is continually faced with overwhelming odds against the Royal Navy and mis-direction from their superiors. Gradually the viewer is proverbially grabbed by the throat and dragged into a nerve-wracking journey of strained human relationships and the mental breakdown of a threat that you can often only hear, but rarely see.

Prochnow is superb as the battle-weary Captain and director Wolfgang Petersen makes so much from so little real-estate in the claustrophobic metal tube. This would be regarded as Petersen’s 1st great work and perhaps his best ever before eventually working on more mainstream titles such as The Neverending Story, Troy and The Perfect Storm.

However it really is ‘Das Boot’ that delivers his most heavyweight punch and sets the benchmark high for other great Submarine movies that followed, such as Hunt For Red October and K-19: The Widowmaker. The movie ends on the most sombre of moments. After suffering heavy damage and effectively been sunk, the crew manage to revive the crippled boat and reach sanctum at La Spezia port, only to be attacked and destroyed by an Allied Air-Raid as they leave the ship.

The credits roll as the Captain lives just long enough to watch his boat sink at port and keel over and die with the rest of his crew. Like any good war movie, Das Boot reminds you at all times during war just when you think there is light at the end of the tunnel, all hope is brutally snatched away.

Das Boot is not just a great Submarine movie, it’s a fantastic movie in it’s own right which rightfully takes it’s place amongst the IMDB Top 100 and is my movie of 1981.

See the five films Matt picked for 1980 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.