Party like it’s 1989: Pet Sematary

pet1I saw Pet Sematary back in 1989 at the cinema, and while I enjoyed it the thing I took most from it was the films gorgeous, ghostly score by a then-new rising star among film composers, Elliot Goldenthal: the score was part-Poltergeist, part something else entirely, and was a big part of the film’s success for me. Strangely enough, I’ve never seen the film again since… which raises the question-  just how well does it hold up today?

Well, I must say it’s really rather mixed. Biggest issue for me (but possibly a bonus for others) is the fact that the screenplay was written by the books author, Stephen King. Now, what makes for a great, engrossing horror book is quite different to what makes a great, engrossing film- books and film are entirely different media and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other, in just the same way as some things that work in a Marvel comic just don’t in a Marvel movie. The Pet Sematary film would be just perfectly fine without Victor Pascow’s ghost, persistent ghoul that he is, dropping in with regular ghostly warnings, or daughter Ellie’s own warning nightmares- it’s all quite unnecessary and threatens to tip the film into parody (it’s just a pity Ellie didn’t warn daddy not to buy the house in the first place). In the book I’m sure it’s all harmless and part of the creepy fun (it’s been a long, long time since I read the novel- well before I saw the film*) but in the film it’s just a little too much on the nose, more subtlety would have been preferable to me and helped avoid the film tipping into the fantastic. Also, does Rachel really need the hokey subplot about her deformed sister Zelda and the guilt over her death complicating things even further? Fans of King likely differ from my opinion, feeling that the film is more authentic as a King film, but it reminds me of King’s disdain for Kubrick’s The Shining, which works brilliantly as a horror film in its own right but differs from King’s source novel. Kubrick knew what worked in film, and must have struggled with some of King’s material- the film has a life all its own, as it stands, but is not by any means Stephen King’s The Shining- its really Kubricks, and that’s how it should be.

Coming back to this film after near thirty years and being older (maybe wiser) I must say, I was surprised just how thoroughly nasty and unnerving Pet Sematary is. The central premise- childhood experience of death, mortality and the overwhelming parents grief from losing a child and the almost blasphemous, Frankenstein-like horror of bringing loved ones back from the dead- it’s quite heady stuff and genuinely unsettling. King’s excess in having scary dead sisters, friendly ghosts offering dire warnings and chummy old men with dark secrets they just can’t keep to themselves just threatens to overload what should be a chilling and very personal horror. Its a relentlessly morbid film, for all its faults, and as far as horror films go, I find that oddly rewarding.

What really doesn’t help the film is some of the casting- both Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby, pretty as they are, are pretty dire, hopelessly wooden and not helped by sharing a shocking lack of chemistry while they try to carry off some of King’s dialogue and plot twists. Its almost hilarious how they are completely out-acted by then-two year old child actor Miko Hughes as their unfortunate son, Cage. He’s cute, charming and natural in ways that Midkiff and Crosby simply aren’t. To be fair to them, they would likely have benefitted without the film’s insistence of them having ghostly visitors and guilty childhood baggage.

Pet Sematary reminds me that Stephen King’s work exists in a world all of its own- hugely popular as his books may be, most of the time the situations and characters have no similarities to how real people would behave. I guess he can get away with it in books but in film, I really think he’s pushing it, and that’s where this film suffers for me. Sure, have a young family suffer a terrible tragedy and yes, let the grief and terror push them into trying to beat death and nature to a horrible end, but don’t chuck in the horror equivalents of the kitchen sink regards ghosts and nightmares and deformed sisters etc. In just the same ways as dead is sometimes better, so less is often more.

*I was a huge fan of King’s books back in the day, but over the years his prolific nature (and lack of a decent editor) meant I simply couldn’t keep up, and haven’t read much of his work for some years.

More Blade Runner art

brart1Here’s another poster for Blade Runner. I quite like this one, So much so, infact, that I’ve cropped it into square format and used it for the cover for an unofficial album (yeah, yet another Blade Runner bootleg, Vangelis might as well release the damn thing officially at this point) of the complete score in my Windows media/usb stick in my car:

brart1 (2)Hey, it’s not perfect but it looks kinda neat on the in-car dash screen when listening to the score on my commutes to work. I must have listened to the Blade Runner score, in its various forms, so many times over the years, it’s probably the most-listened to music of my life, now that I think about it. Which is possibly incredibly sad/profound (delete as appropriate) – really, I suppose most people read this wondering what all the fuss is about. Its an old movie with an old electronic score… and in just the same way as Orson Welles later in life was likely irritated/sick unto death about hearing about Citizen Kane, I would imagine Vangelis absolutely abhors any mention of Blade Runner at this point.

Which reminds me, it was Vangelis’ birthday back on 29th March. A very happy (albeit belated) birthday, maestro. I still think Blade Runner is your masterpiece.

This is the End (2013)

theend.jpgBest part of this thing is when the credits come up and you realise that you’ve finally reached the end of the horror, at last. Overblown and shockingly inconsistent, this supposed comedy has very few laughs and struck me as being wildly self indulgent (kind of ironic as the whole premise of the comedy is that our six ‘heroes’ are six real-life self-entitled, self-indulgent celebs).  Of course, I probably wasn’t in the right mood (or inebriated enough) to watch the film or familiar enough with the so-called celebs or their work (Pineapple Express? No, never seen it, or even heard of it) to get half the jokes or references. Really, I was possibly the furthest from this film’s target audience so it’s almost unfair for me to review it.

I did like the last twenty minutes or so (‘The Exorcism of Jonah Hill’, if only) when  the film finally managed to get a few laughs going, so it wasn’t a complete waste of my two hours. Biggest joke of all, though, is that I read this films budget was purported to be some $32 million, and the film somehow grossed some $126 million, so that last joke’s on me.  I’ll go get my coat…

While She Was Out (2008)

kim1.jpegDowntrodden housewife Della (Kim Basinger, as if) is unable to keep her house tidy despite her two children being simply angelic, and has neglected both her appearance (Kim Basinger, wtf?) and her stressed-out arshole husband Kenneth. She’s also forgotten to buy the Christmas wrapping paper and its Christmas Eve (I only hope she hasn’t forgotten the presents, too) so after settling the kids for bedtime she leaves Kenneth sulking and drives off to the Mall.

Naturally of course the Mall is packed and there’s no spaces on the car park (only, well, there is, just a few metres away) and Della takes such an exception to one car lazily parked using two spaces (oh the injustice) that she leaves a note under the cars windscreen wipers. So she goes shopping and finds out her credit card is declined only adding to her woes (seems finance wizard Kenneth has a reason to be stressed). So she gets back to her car to be set upon by the bunch of four punks (Chuckie, Huey, Vingh, and Tomás) who own the car that she so called out for being jerks re: their inconsiderate parking. How exactly they knew she wrote the note or which car is hers is not made clear. Suddenly the car park is deserted (so many parking spaces, oh the irony!) so no-one can raise any alarm when the Mall security guard is shot dead by Chuckie (Lukas Haas, that kid from Witness) for trying to protect Della. Della jumps into her car and flees and the four punks after a debate give chase. Somehow Della ends up at an isolated  housing development site near a forest and crashes her car, and a game of cat and mouse ensues, the four punks knowing Della is the only witness to the security guard murder. Unfortunately for the four punks, Della is about to go through a rite of passage from downtrodden housewife to ruthless killing machine. They should be afraid. Very afraid.

As Christmas movies go, this one is that bad I might make it a seasonal staple. Its a blast from start to finish, from questionable casting (KIm Basinger as a plain, downtrodden, useless housewife?) to weird plot holes (I wouldn’t know where to start, frankly), but as champion siren call for housewife wish fulfillment/self-empowerment, this film is in a league all its own. Its frankly bizarre, especially the scene where Della seduces Chuckie suddenly using her sexuality as a weapon (fair play, all men are jerks and can only think with their —-) so that she can steal his, er, other gun and blow him away.  No doubt if this film was mentioned on tv’s Loose Women (I can’t believe I just referenced that programme on this blog)  it would be raised as some kind of cult classic, especially for the coda when she returns home with the wrapping paper and uses Chuckie’s gun to rid herself of her abusive husband. Merry Christmas kids, daddies gone away…

Soundtrack Shelf: Edward Scissorhands OST (Danny Elfman, 1990)

int7146_booklet.inddSaw this just sitting there, looking awfully pretty as most of these score expansions do, and I hadn’t played the disc for awhile so I dropped it into the CD deck in the spare room to listen to a few tracks and… it took a longer time than usual to spin and read the disc and after awhile it refused to even play. Hmm, cause for alarm. Checked the disc, it looked fine, and fortunately a little later it played okay on my main player, so all was well (some players just don’t like certain discs, or maybe that old deck is on the way out).

The light was falling outside, damp and dreary, as if more Autumn than Spring, and I had the house to myself (other than Ed, who sitting by the window was more concerned with what was going on out in the darkening night than what I was doing). So I ended up listening to Danny Elfman’s magical score for longer than I had intended to, the music fitting the mood of the fading light outside and the warm glow of the lamp in the corner…

I saw Edward Scissorhands back when it released in 1990 at the cinema, and I really enjoyed it, although I haven’t really watched it many times since- it is likely Tim Burton’s best film, and it certainly boasts Danny Elfman’s best score. I recall, like most people I would imagine, being quite captivated by the score, a huge part of the film’s success. My cousin bought the original OST on CD, and as many of us did back in those days, I did a copy on cassette which would suit me fine. I didn’t buy it on CD until this edition was released by Intrada back in 2015, celebrating the films twenty-fifth anniversary (yes, another film anniversary). Its not massively expanded, as I think the original OST was about 50 minutes and featured the majority (and best) of the score- this disc totals 71 minutes, including the trailer music, an alternate and some Christmas source music and, er, that Tom Jones song. For once though, thanks to my cousin buying that 1990 edition, this was my first purchase rather than the dreaded double-dip upgrade that so many of these score expansions have been of late (it’s now OOP unfortunately, but I don’t know what the limited run was). I noticed that it was produced by the late Nick Redman, another sober reminder of how much fine work he did over the years.

Its a funny thing though, that I bought this disc when it first came out and have seldom listened to it over the three years since, even though the music is very beautiful and it remains one of the most distinctive film scores ever released- its music often features on tv commercials and you can tell when films have been temp-tracked with it, as Edward-like moments frequently turn up scores in a ‘I know what you’re doing there’ kind of way.

I really enjoyed just sitting back and listening to it. Years ago in my youth I used to sit back on my bed and listen to scores intently- maybe I simply had more time back then, maybe there’s just too many distractions now. Too often these days my soundtrack and general music listening is in the background or during my commute to/from work- perfectly fine but its not actually old-style ‘proper’ listening. I found the Edward Scissorhands score quite relaxing, and quirky and fun in that particularly Danny Elfman way.

So it occurs to me I really should dust off a few more CDs on my soundtrack shelf that I somehow fail to play much (instead of just looking at them all the time, thinking, ‘yeah, I really should play that again’ but seldom getting around to it).  So we’ll see; this then is the inaugural post of my ‘Soundtrack Shelf’ series, where I’ll make a point of listening to those scores and writing about them here- we’ll just see how successful I am in listening to them. But I think it’s rather fitting that the first one is Edward Scissorhands.

(I own only two Danny Elfman scores- the first being the original OST CD of his Batman soundtrack. Unfortunately, as thirty years of buying discs is wont to cause, I have no idea where that Batman disc is, and I never bought the expanded edition released by La La Land Records (twice), so unless something fairly miraculous occurs and it somehow arises from whatever dark corner/box it is in, this will be the only Danny Elfman score in this series.) 



The Highwaymen (2019)

highwayThere was something missing in this one. Its hard to put my finger on it- it was serviceable enough, if overlong, but somehow there was something just… off, somehow. Maybe it was a sense of an A-list cast just cruising- not exactly phoning it in, but maybe, veterans as Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are, they just sensed that something wasn’t working.

There is, for instance, a suggested subtext (and not even suggested really, but quite open at times) of the passing of  the torch, of the old meeting the new, of the old boys having one last mission, one last hunt, in the face of progress with technology and new systems replacing our heroes’ tried and tested instinct and grit. But it isn’t really examined or elaborated. Its not that I was expecting some kind of self-interrogation or self-doubt that, say, Unforgiven‘s William Munny had with his ‘one more job’… but, well, maybe I was. Costner is certainly capable of delving into Texas Ranger Frank Hamer’s soul, and the long bloody years of his past, but instead he cooly approaches this hunt for outlaws Bonnie and Clyde almost ignorant of the ghosts of the past. Maybe I was expecting some conflict, some sense of haunted isolation or being haunted by the past which simply wasn’t necessary here. I was just expecting some other movie. It happens.

Which was doubly frustrating, though, because this film was definitely not about Bonnie and Clyde – perhaps even refreshingly so, they were always on the periphery, their actions seen from a distance, generally even avoiding their faces. I don’t think they ever even spoke. The focus was purely on the two retired Texas Rangers brought back to hunt them down- Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), and yet the focus was wasted, we hardly really got ‘into’ them. I was expecting more intimate self-reflection, of the perspective of old age on youthful folly/waste/questionable deeds. We are told to question the public adoration that Bonnie and Clyde received from the poor (some kind of celebrities back then, as if subject to a mythic Robin Hood status) but we are not told to question the system or the lawmen that represented it. Costner is a Good Man. The outlaws are Bad. It feels very black and white where I was hoping for more shades of grey.