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FrightFest 2017 – Day Four

“They’re slipping away” – Paul McEvoy on Tobe Hooper

At a point where it appears that the quality of atmosphere and company is topping the overall quality of the horror films, it’s clear that while we are over the halfway point of this year’s FrightFest, it’s going to be a bit of a slog to the end for writer Andrew Brooker.

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A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Eighties

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

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

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


Poltergeist (1982)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Thing (1982)

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

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

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

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

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Day of the Dead (1985)

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

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

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

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

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Evil Dead II (1987)

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


The Lost Boys (1987)

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

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

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

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

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


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

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1974

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

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


5. The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue

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

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

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

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

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


4. The Conversation

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

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

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

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

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


3. Chinatown

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

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

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

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


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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

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

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

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


1. The Godfather: Part II

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

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

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

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

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