Diabolical Angels

ad1Angels & Demons (2009),  Blu-ray

Hmm. What exactly was this film about, exactly? Some Irish priest who wants to usurp the Catholic church for Reasons Unknown and become the Pope by stealth, murder and intrigue? Or was it about some scientific discovery regards the ‘God Particle’ and how its existence proves and/or disproves the existence of God? Or is it about an assassin hired to kill four cardinals in elaborate fashion on the hour every hour as a distraction from a massive bomb nuking most of Rome and the heads of the Catholic Church? I ask because I think its all of the above, but I’m not entirely certain. Whatever it is, it finally collapses into complete farce with the bad-boy priest seizing control of a convenient helicopter and flying the bomb into the heavens in an act of saintly sacrifice, only to conveniently parachute down from the massive explosion and certain Popedom, until hero Robert Langdon discovers a handy secret camera confirming the imminent Pope is really a James Bond villain in the wrong movie.

Yes its the elaborately nonsensical sequel to The Da Vinci Code (although the book is actually a prequel as it was written first, but… well, never mind)and like that film this is a fiendishly staged and competently structured thriller that eventually unravels under the weight of an increasingly preposterous plot. Until its final twenty minutes it might even be a better movie, as its race-against-time story does have some measure of tension and mystery until everything is finally revealed to be shockingly stupid.

Its the fascinating thing about the Dan Brown books, their popularity and that of the films- its like  everyone’s Dirty Secret. They are utter tosh and we know it, but we read them and the films become some kind of Modern Event, complete with major star actors, major  league director (Ron Howard) and talented crew behind the scenes (the visual effects are convincing and spectacular). The films are made with such sincerity and conviction its almost heartbreaking when you realise the crass stupidity of it all.

In the end, although this film has its fans I do think the first film is the superior of the two (the ending with the helicopter is just a step too far for me, although the book is actually even dafter as I recall). The conspiracy behind The Da Vinci Code is just too seductive and enjoyable compared to this films strange arc of Catholic politics and fiendish murders. I’m still not certain if these films are just silly fun or horribly insulting.

Long Live the (Betamax) Flesh

vid1Videodrome (Blu-ray)

We’ll spice up this October Horror fest with a bit of body horror, and no-one does body horror quite like David Cronenberg. So its another welcome slice of the unwatched Blu-ray pile with last year’s Arrow release of Videodrome finally getting put in the player.

In much the same way as Field of Dreams always seems to me to be the perfect Ray Bradbury movie, though he never wrote the story it was based on, so Videodrome always feels like the definitive Philip K Dick story. Okay, PKD never dealt with deviant sex or body horror in his stories, but Videodrome’s faltering sense of reality and perceptions of time and self, and its dysfunctional every-man hero, seems to be pure Philip K Dick. As chief protagonist Max Renn’s reality disintegrates you’re never sure what’s real or what isn’t, increasingly hallucinatory sequences twisting reality so far that, for much of the movie, the viewer is questioning everything he sees and the nature of reality itself. Indeed, one of the characters, Brian O’Blivion, is actually dead, only existing on hundreds of videocassettes in a sort of virtual existence: what could be more PKD than that (memories of his Mercer-ism from his story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep spring to mind)?

Decades after its release, the film remains a visceral experience, tactile in its analogue horrors (fleshy, ‘breathing’ videotapes and CRT televisions), compared to the digital-streaming world we live in today. There is something cosy and familiar about the old technologies of my youth, loading cassettes into top-loading video players, video drop-outs and tracking errors.Its also incredibly prescient too, with television ‘lives’ more ‘real’ than reality, predating celebrity culture and having hundreds of satellite/cable channels- back when this was released, the UK only had four channels and I don’t believe any of them were 24-hour transmissions, either. Feels like a different world.

Tim Lucas in his commentary track refers to a circular element of the film that was new to me- he describes the final shot of Max shooting himself in the head being followed by the start of the film with Max waking up in his apartment, stirred back to reality by the voice of his assistant’s wake-up message on his television. Its a new interpretation of the film to me and quite a seductive one. A very-noir horror, Max caught in a never-ending loop of hallucinatory reality. Videodrome is still a startling, strange and mystifying film, and James Woods is utterly brilliant. Great stuff.

Into The Storm (2014)

storm22016.77: Into The Storm (Amazon VOD)

I was going to write this review… I will write this review… but first, a sombre observation.

Its a drag. Sometimes, it’s an utter drag, trying to marshall any enthusiasm for writing yet another negative review about yet another bad movie. I mean, time is valuable; my time spent writing this, and yours, dear reader, for reading this. Regardless of how worthless any of this blog of mine really is, there is a certain amount of time and effort on my part invested in it -I hate to quantify that considering the number of years spent on this and my previous blog- and it all gets rather depressing when I consider how much of that is bitching and moaning on my part about bad films. And I consider how many different ways I have tried to describe why something is bad while keeping it informative, maybe entertaining. I refuse to simply post a three-line review that just says ‘this is shit, move on’. I really try to make some effort on every  post I write here- you are making the effort to read it, so I figure I should do my part and try to write something worth reading. God knows it must be a painful reading about yet another bad movie. There must be a temptation to just move on and try find a review of something good, of something worthy of the time.

Into The Storm is my 77th ‘new’ film/tv season of 2016. I made a decision, at the end of last year, to invest considerably more time on this blog this year, which has resulted in my busiest regards number of entries and reviews (I think I passed the number of posts in all of 2015 sometime around April or May this year). Part of that was my intention to try reach the magic 100 that Richard seems to breeze past each year in his own blog. Who knows, I may yet manage to hit that number. I’ve suffered a few setbacks during the year, particularly back in June, when we suffered a tragedy that has cast a long shadow over this year as a whole, but I may yet make it- it doesn’t feel particularly important anymore but I might.

The trouble is, trying to hit 100, you have to watch a whole load of shit. Its two films a week, on average. Thats not too bad a target, you might think. It gets a little messed up when you include tv shows ‘per season’ because that’s not as much a cheat as you’d think, considering how many hours a tv show encompasses- a tv season requires more time/effort/discipline than a two hour or ninety-minute movie, certainly. The problem is finding two quality ‘new’ films each week. Its really harder than you might think. There’s a whole lotta shit movies out there and I refuse to watch too  much of it. I much prefer to maintain some kind of quality filter. But its hard. Sometimes I think a quality, ‘good’ film is the rarity- indeed, the evidence of this year’s posts seems to prove it.

So here we go again. Into The Storm. Its a bad movie. Yeah, another one. I intend near the end of this year to do a series of year-in-review series of posts; it will be interesting to see what I have been watching, the connections between them, patterns of interest that can be seen. But I worry about all the bad movies; that year-in-review is going to be pretty grim.

A thought springs to mind, that I have written here before- does anyone really intend to make a bad movie? Do all film projects start with the best of intentions but, due to the law of averages or worst-case scenarios, many just wind up bad? Or do people just make bad films because they need the money, because it’s the easiest path to make? I’d like to know.

So anyway, Into The Storm is a shit movie. Its a cynically-made, imaginatively-bereft piece of garbage featuring quality actors and great expense on sets, practical effects and CGI wonders, but its a piece of shit. The script spends all its time and effort on ensuring every character has either a smartphone or camcorder recording pretty much everything we see; it uses every cliche in the book, whether it be estranged parents, sibling rivalry, teenage romance, single-parent career anxieties, internet get-rich-quick schemes, crass stupidity, you name it, this script mines it. Everybody has a reason to be filming just about everything. Yes, its another found-footage/POV movie and I’m utterly pissed off with it all; it was done to death years ago and yet Hollywood doesn’t seem to have seen the memo.

storm1Into The Storm is ninety minutes of Definitive Bad Movie. Its actors reading bad dialogue from a bad script full of predictable twists and turns (it NEVER surprises, not once) that ensures the vapid spectacle never has any drama or emotional involvement. Film Schools should just screen this movie as a lesson in How Not To Do It; and yet on a budget of $50 million, this film grossed $161 million, so even though it hardly set the box-office alight, it clearly made some kind of profit, so the studio likely thinks Job Done, pat on the back of the lazy producers who made it, lets have some more.

Its so depressing. I could write a better movie. I’ve never been to any Film School but I’m certain I could write a better script with better characters and better arcs and better dialogue and some actual emotional worth and drama and likely requiring less CGI spectacle/expense too. But I’ll never have the opportunity and in anycase maybe it would never have managed to gross $161 million had I wrote it. But really, there are some very stupid movies being made from really stupid scripts these days and I have to wonder why, have to wonder What’s Going Wrong. Whats the Shit Ratio of 100 movies in a year these days? Anybody?


Something’s missing in the code…

davinci1The Da Vinci Code (2006) (Blu-ray)

With Inferno coming to the cinema next week, it seemed timely to revisit the earlier films in the franchise, so to make a start I dug out my old blu-ray of The Da Vinci Code.

Okay, guilty admission time: I quite enjoyed the Dan Brown book, and have a soft spot for the film. I remember reading the book on a summer holiday, thinking it was a great (albeit daft) page -turner surely destined to be a movie (in a similar fashion when reading The Martian years later).Of course the success of the book inevitably had the Hollywood big boys attention and what might have been a successful minor film turned into a triple-A talent blockbuster starring no less than Tom Hanks in the lead with Ron Howard directing.

Now, regular readers of this blog will know  I have my issues with Ron Howard- he’s a competent director with some box-office hits behind him, but his films are generally functional, well-crafted but lacking any personal ‘voice’ and thats true of The Da Vinci Code too. It tells its story and technically its competent, but it never gets under the skin of the characters or what makes the central conceit of the story so beguiling; it isn’t based on the book or a commentary on the book, it simply is the book.

Its a standard thriller/page-turner/potboiler and feels rather soulless. Its as lazily presented as the book is lazily written, full of both interesting and preposterous ideas, tantalising possibilities and gaping plot-holes, all swept up in a driving rush to the finale (the whole point of the hot pursuit and relentless pace of the film is simply to stop the audience having time or opportunity to think too much about what they are seeing).

Its a Hitchcock thriller by way of art history notes/conspiracy angst and religious dogma- Stanley Kubrick might have added some personal commentary or examination of what exactly attracted people to the wild fancies of this book, and what that might tell us of Western Civilization in a new millennium. Howard though, is no Kubrick, he’s a director with a job to do; to simply put the book onscreen, which he manages admirably. I would have liked a bit more but it’s likely unfair to criticize Howard for doing his job. Its doubly unfair of me to compare Howard to Kubrick too.

The film does have an above-average Hans Zimmer score though, which is something, but even that feels fairly routine -there’s no humour in the score at all, something which might have enlivened the film a little. The whole thing is deadpan and serious, treating the story with a reverence that is almost confounding. Not once does Hanks give the audience a wink that he knows it’s all daft hokum. Instead the film threatens to collapse under the weight of all that reverence and rigidity to a book that doesn’t really deserve it, or is able to support it.

That said, there is an old-school, Hitchcock thriller feel to the film that is rather endearing, and it’s certainly a change from all the CGI-dominated superhero heroics dominating Hollywood today, so yeah, despite my misgivings, I do have a soft spot for it. One of those guilty pleasures I guess. And nothing with Tom Hanks in can be all bad.

The Quiet Ones (2014)

q12016.76: The Quiet Ones (Film Four)

Its  another October horror film, and this one’s a horror for all the wrong reasons.

Its an odd one in so many ways. Partly it’s a period film, of demonic possession obviously inspired by The Exorcist, albeit with a more scientific bias akin to Altered States (I know, I know, at this point it actually sounds like it might be interesting), and its also one of those found-footage character POV films like Blair Witch Project and the early REC. films. Its a weird combo that doesn’t really work. It certainly doesn’t need any of that found-footage nonsense – the conceit of all those found-footage films is that they are based on camcorder footage or webcams etc, which is a hard sell set in the ‘seventies with a character lugging around film reels, projectors and a bloody big film camera. The whole point of that found-footage movie genre was that thanks to modern everyday technology they were somehow realistic/rational, setting it up in the 1970s is a bit of a stretch.

So the film is basically about a  young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who is either mentally ill or possessed, and is the subject of experiments by obsessed Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris chewing up the scenery like a storm) who rather than subscribe to paranormal explanations such as demonic possession, rather subscribes to it being a quantifiable mental or physical disorder that can be extracted and cured. Cue all sorts of mad scientist cliches as Coupland refuses to ‘see’ anything that doesn’t agree with his own hypothesis. Of course being a modern horror film there is no pretense of ambiguity here, which is a pity, as the central drama is interesting. A film about scientists arguing about what they believe/reason/see from differing perspectives while all sorts of strange shit is going on, a sort of horror-themed Altered States, would indeed be very interesting and possibly quite challenging had it stayed ambiguous and possibly even inconclusive to the end, but filmgoers don’t like ambiguity or having to come to their own conclusions. So instead, and this being, at its heart, very much a Hammer film, its fairly obvious to everyone but the characters in the bloody movie what is actually going on.

It doesn’t help that, on the whole, none of the characters are particularly interesting. There’s all sorts of varied relationship nonsense amongst the ensemble which adds nothing to the story other than padding out the running time. The period setting doesn’t in itself have any importance either, other than perhaps making the science basic enough to maintain the ‘mystery’ a little longer (we don’t have the internet or mobile phones to make life awkward for the screenwriters).

Which is really the confounding thing about it- why indeed set it in the ‘seventies (lots of period pop songs infect the soundtrack if only to enforce the period setting) and why bother with the found footage nonsense if it’s so technically awkward? You could tell this story in the present-day and still get away with it. Maybe its all a ruse to maintain a ‘based on a true story’ subterfuge to keep audiences hooked. I don’t know, but none of it really works. Ambiguity is lost and things become increasingly literal and obvious as the film progresses towards its non-climax. Well, I say non-climax; its loud and violent but it’s quite emphatically non-involving.

A rather sad stumbling block then for what was a promising Hammer revival.


Carrie (2013)

c12016.75: Carrie (Film Four HD)

We get the films that we deserve, and this one surely is a prime example of where films are right now. When horror fans heard about this remake of Carrie I guess most rolled their eyes in disgust at Hollywood’s ability to reboot/remake absolutely anything for the mighty dollar, and in all honesty this film really doesn’t further the argument for the validity of such remakes.

It can’t be denied though that there is a morbid fascination in watching them. Throughout it feels simply unnecessary, a pale shadow of the 1976 De Palma film- with its use of social media, Internet and mobile phones it is certainly bringing it up to date for the modern cinema crowd, but I don’t think it really has anything new to say. Maybe I’m missing the point- I never read the original Stephen King book so I cannot say that this film is any more faithful to it than the De Palma film. Something feels wrong though; the film seems to race by, hurtling towards that inevitable Prom Night horror that everyone will recall from the original film. And its there that the film finally implodes. Suddenly it seems to realise it isn’t a horror film at all, but a superhero movie.

Maybe its the intention all along, but there aren’t really any scares in this film at all, and when Carrie finally unleashes her powers she is less a reluctant nightmare than an avenging superhero- she just lacks the fancy costume or cape. She unleashes her powers with balletic grace, arms gracefully performing arcs in the air, looking like a bloodied Scarlet Witch from a Marvel film, and it suddenly dawns on me that I’ve been watching an origin movie for a Stephen King Marvel comic. Indeed, I’m almost surprised we haven’t since seen a Carrie 2 being announced (I guess this didn’t do too well at the box office).

c2Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie is fine, although perhaps a bit too pretty to really qualify as a nerdish Outsider who has been socially maladjusted by a crazy mother. I guess she gains our empathy well enough and has our sympathy, but, well, she just looks too pretty. I always thought the whole thing about Carrie was that she didn’t stand out in a crowd, that she could pass by unnoticed like she was never even there, but Moretz is just too pretty, with too much screen charisma, to really carry any of that off. She’s a beautiful actress playing a lowly Plain Jane/Outsider and it always feels like it- its not her fault, but Moretz simply glows in everything she is in, and does so here.

Julianne Moore, playing her crazy mom, is, well, suitably unhinged/borderline maniac, veering a bit too far over that line that Jack Nicholson crossed in The Shining.  There’s an intimation that she is real the victim, but we lack any prologue showing her own youth and how she became corrupted (pregnant) and how this impacted her, or how her own upbringing (in a highly religious background?) may have dominated her- maybe the book delves into this, but the film doesn’t.  From the very start she is batshit crazy, thinking her pregnancy is cancer until the baby pops out, and even then she’s inclined to stab it to death with her scissors.

Carrie never has a chance to be normal. But a super hero? I don’t know. Maybe there’s just too many popcorn blockbuster superhero films theses days, and too much reliance on spectacle over characters and drama, that it was inevitable that this film went this route. Maybe the filmmakers thought it was the best way to differentiate it from the 1976 film. Maybe I was expecting a different movie. Its not a bad film, just not the film I thought it would be, and besides, Marvel does this stuff better, so it all feels rather pointless and horribly misguided. A Stephen King superhero movie- who’d have thought it?


Blade Runner 2049…

br209…is the confirmed title for the Blade Runner 2 film currently being shot in Budapest.

Actually, I don’t like it. I guess they really felt the need to get ‘Blade Runner’ in there as a marketing device and didn’t think the simple ‘Blade Runner 2’ was imaginative enough. I think its going to take awhile for it to grow on me. (well, we have twelve months from now until release so there’s definitely time). Its the first really unconvincing step the project has taken- up to now its been pretty rosy regards director, cast etc.

My first reaction to this title was negative though; I actually thought it was a prank at first – Blade Runner 2049 sounds like a tv series (didn’t they do something identical with a Total Recall series a few years back?) or even a videogame. I think I’d have preferred something else, like maybe Replicants Dream or the original film’s Dangerous Days title. Oh well, we’ll have to wait and see. I guess the first set photos will land soon enough and maybe a teaser shortly after Christmas. But yeah, that title’s going to have its work cut out to win me over. I keep thinking about ten years from now, talking about the two films, and how awkward it will feel saying “… yeah, Blade Runner was great and Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t too bad…” I guess we will shorten it down and refer to it just as 2049, like we do with 2001.

Whats the third film going to be- Blade Runner 2054? Where does it end?  “…yeah, 2049 was okay, but JJ Abram’s  2054 was a stinker…. and don’t get me started on James Cameron’s 2082 with its blue Replicant aliens…”

John Carpenter October film..?

hall2Halloween (1978) – Blu-ray.

Well, October’s a fairly topical month to be watching horror films, and if you are going to watch a John Carpenter film in October, then odds are it’s going to be Halloween. Fortunately I had a copy of the blu-ray 35th anniversary steelbook sitting on my shelf in the unwatched pile, so not only did it tick off another October horror movie but it also got that infamous pile down by one.

There’s not much to be said about Halloween, its surely all been said already. Separated from its iconic status over the years and its franchise of endless sequels and reboots (which beyond Halloween 3 I have never watched), the 1978 film remains a great little horror movie. Its a small, lovingly-crafted, nicely acted, wonderfully scored horror film. Like Alien and Jaws, it’s a great film that begat many (often inferior) sequels but remains perfect all in itself. Its a lesson in tension and the implied threat of violence- indeed, in gore/violence terms it’s a very restrained film, and its also a masterclass in using the widescreen frame in its shots. Carpenters films -particularly his early ones- are beautifully composed, he really knew how to use the widescreen frame.

hall1Donald Pleasence- isn’t he wonderful in this? He was always a great talent that graced genre films like THX 1138 and Escape From New York, and channeled all sorts of Peter Cushing vibes in this, perhaps his most famous role as Dr Sam Loomis. He was the kind of actor we seldom see these days, but his twitchy, nervous bald Everyman convinced he’s hunting the Devil Incarnate (and who’s to say he isn’t?) is a joy here as he is in most everything, really. I miss him, and as with Peter Cushing, with his passing we as film-fans suffered a major loss that grows more pressing as the years pass.

One thing I will note regards this 35th Anniversary disc -and I don’t know if this appears on the films many other home editions- is a great little documentary, The Night She Came Home, which features Jamie Lee Curtis attending a Halloween/horror convention and spending a weekend meeting and greeting fans, the proceeds going to a hospital charity.  Apparently she distanced herself from horror fans and the Halloween fanbase for some years so her attendance here is a rare event and warranted this video record. Its a nice doc. I quite like this kind of thing, related to the film on the disc but not restricted to being a making-of talking heads piece, rather it’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the event, the actress, the fans who share their stories regards love of the film etc, and we see other actors and behind the camera staff from the film series. Its not often I really bother with extra features on discs these days (much to my shame) but this was a nice one that sucked me in immediately after watching the film.




Loving the Alien

alien1.jpgAlien (1979) – Blu-ray

So I watched Alien again. The last time I watched the film was just before Prometheus was released. Back then I was cautious about what Prometheus might be, what its effects on Alien might be. This time, well, I was pretty much of the same mind, watching it for the first time since Prometheus, wondering what it would like with the knowledge of Space Engineers etc sullying my experience of it.

I won’t go on about Prometheus, it’s a divisive movie and certainly not all it might have been. As time has gone on, I look back on it with a some disappointment- it is really two films conflicting for supremacy. Its partly a (‘proper’?) science fiction film about human evolution and how that was orchestrated by alien Engineers, and it is partly an Alien prequel, handicapped by having to put all those references to Alien in it whilst maintaining some kind of logic. I hope Ridley Scott’s next attempt, Alien: Covenant, gets it right next time by being either one or the other (it certainly seems to be going the route of  full-on Alien prequel, which isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself).

So Alien. Well, thankfully I can report it isn’t ruined by Prometheus, even my favourite scene of the Space Jockey reveal. Fortunately Alien is its own thing, a utterly gorgeous Lovecraftian horror, and no meddling of the chronology/mythology can spoil that. To be honest I’m of a mind that everything else -prequels, sequels, everything- is all some other alternate universe anyway. Alien works best as its own, unique thing. Its a beautifully shot, wonderfully designed, perfectly cast/acted film about space truckers stumbling upon an alien derelict and unwittingly unleashing their own doom. Thats all that it is. Rather like fans of Jaws (and I count myself among them) can watch that film blissfully discounting the existence of its own horrible sequels.

Its the conflict between art and commerciality.  Each is a perfect work of art and each has been subjected to the normal Hollywood methodology of milking a successful property for every dollar it can make. As fans we are always tempted by the prospect of ‘more’ but rarely is that ‘more’ ever properly realised, rarely does that ‘more’ really mean more of what we love and admire. I think one example of where that worked was Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, or maybe Back to the Future 1 & 2, but such examples are rare (I rather hope Blade Runner and its as yet-unnamed sequel proves to be another, but we’ll have to wait and see).

alien2I think that what helps Alien remain so unique, so indomitably unaffected by Prometheus or the sequels  is that it is so much a product of the 1970s. It looks and feels and sounds so different to everything else that has followed. The cast is middle-aged, down to earth and ‘real’, they don’t seem like a cast of actors, and even the usual roles each performs seems against type (so very 1970s). Tom Skerritt’s Dallas is the nominal leader but he’s really an ineffectual one, laid-back to the point of being disinterested in what is to him just another job. That tired, job-like attitude to travelling between worlds infects most of the characters, at once a Dark Star-inspired commentary on the soulless astronauts of 2001 and riposte to the heroes of Star Trek.  If the audience expects Dallas to be the leader, the hero by example, the source of a solution, they are rather mistaken. In most of his decisions, Dallas is usually proved wrong. Its an example of authority being fallible, another ‘1970s thing’ I think in the post-Nixon era.  That last point is further echoed in the conspiracy of Ash and ‘the Company’ using the crew as expendable pawns in an investigation of the alien- it’s not a plot point really convincing or successful but its a further example of the film being a product of its time.

Of all the films that have followed it, I don’t think there has ever been as convincing an ensemble, it’s a major part of the sense of reality of the film.  Likewise the slow pace, or the (mandated by the limits effects tech of the time) strictly functional visual effects that don’t pull us out of the film by being ‘wow’ moments. The horror of the Giger-designed creature is more from what we don’t see than what we do. A film today would feel more inclined to show us everything and ‘wow’ us with impressive visuals, as Prometheus did. If characters in Alien behave dumb, we don’t really mind, they are ordinary people who are terrified or not aware of their real situation; if the characters in Prometheus behave dumb, its because they are stupid (or written badly).

And the Jerry Goldsmith score; what a wonderfully unsettling, perfectly toned work. Even the uses of his earlier score from Freud, something Goldsmith himself was annoyed by, seems perfect- that fragile, haunting melody that accompanies Dallas crawling through the air ducts (I bought the soundtrack to Freud on CD some years ago- it sounds very much like the score to an Alien sequel that never was).

Well here’s a reality check:  Alien is some 37 years old now. That fact alone feels scarier than anything in the bloody movie but yeah, 37 years old and yet to be equaled as a sci-fi horror film. I’m not going to suggest it is a classic like Citizen Kane or Gone With The Wind or 2001 but its surely up there in that group of films as far as being  in a league of their own, never to be really equalled.

ff137 years ago… I remember picking up this issue of Fantastic Films, arrested by the image on its cover and the unsettling pictures inside of strange alien places and unusual-looking spacesuits. It was the start of a long love affair with what would be one of my very favourite films. I remember reading the Movie Novel of the film, in hindsight a remarkable way of experiencing a film that has sadly been made redundant by home video (I would have loved, and would still love, a Movie Novel of Blade Runner for example).

So Alien lives on, in spite of and utterly independent of, Prometheus and any of the other Alien-themed spinoff films. Its an unsettling, powerful piece of work that somehow transcends its b-movie origins. Long may it reign.



To The Devil A Daughter (1976)

devil12016.74: To The Devil A Daughter (TV Airing)

Until the recent revival of the studio’s fortunes, I believe that To The Devil A Daughter was the last Hammer film produced for theatrical exhibition. Its had a pretty poor reputation, but it wasn’t this film that ‘killed’ the studio- the damage had been done long before this film was released to indifferent/scathing critical and popular response.

I must confess that when watching it, well, the first half quite impressed me. I think it was all the location footage, not a dodgy gothic set in sight.  Indeed it seemed quite an atypical Hammer horror, set in contemporary times and in real-world locations with some quite interesting cinematography. Losing the period gothic sensibilities of so much Hammer output felt like something of a culture shock though. The film was clearly an attempt to ride on the success of films like The Exorcist, being an occult horror (ostensibly based on a book by Dennis Wheatley) set in the real-world with much of the old Hammer gore and titillation  lacking (there’s one moment at the end, when Nastassja Kinski undresses as a temptation to Richard Widmark’s character, that ‘feels’ like a proper old Hammer with a bit of fire in its veins, but it’s hardly a momentary diversion). It feels like an Hammer film lacking its own identity- if it had maintained the gore and sexual intimations/nudity of the Hammer classics but brought that to the real-world scenario here, then it might have been more successful. As it is, its pretty lacklustre, a horror without real bite, almost more old-fashioned than the Hammer classics of the 1950s and 1960s.

Oddly, it features a birth sequence (and a rather weird reverse-birth dream sequence) that prefigures the chestburster of Alien but it is presented so ineptly it looks funnier than it does scary, perhaps a sobering reminder of what Alien might have been had it not been handled so well with an A-list director and budget.

devil2What really sinks To The Devil A Daughter is the script. It doesn’t seem to have one. Instead it seems to have rough ideas and plot-points, like an early draft that needs refining. Characters come and go and there are hints at a Satanist cult/mystery with Christopher Lee looking menacing, but really it doesn’t make a lot of sense and, crucially, the film lacks a credible conclusion. It just ends. Its really quite bizarre and the film-makers must have known they were in terrible trouble when they had the final edit. The big bad devil-worshipper Christopher Lee just… vanishes… off-camera too. He’s just there, has a stone thrown at him, and then he’s gone. Its appalling. Its as if no-one had quite finished that last page of the screenplay… it was just blank, and they kind of went with it. I’ve seen some crazy non-endings but this one is quite maddening.

So frustratingly, here’s a British horror film that might have been something great but ends up rather pretty terrible and forgettable. Most everyone seems embarrassed to be seen in it (besides Nastassja Kinski, who seems to be enjoying herself regardless) and the effects boys had a budget more akin to a BBC Dr Who show of the time. It needed more time, a proper finished script and a bigger budget to manage the films obvious aspirations to be a British answer to The Exorcist. Instead it is really poor, and cheap. A sad end really. At least with Peter Cushing in Richard Widmark’s part it might have been a bit fun.