The Lost Boys: The continuing charm of a dated classic.

I saw The Lost Boys very late, in fact I believe I was in my mid twenties before I watched it for the first time. It was one of those films that I was always going to “get around to” and every time it was televised I’d always for some reason end up missing it. When I did finally catch it, I loved it. Sure it is probably as dated as a film can get and it is a bit cheesy, it is also an immense amount of fun.

Set in the fictional US coastal town of Santa Carla, standing in for the intended locale of Santa Cruz. The city council of Santa Cruz took exemption to their home being described as the “murder capital of the world” and insisted that the name be changed if the production wished to go ahead in their city, the film makers acquiesced to their request. The original vision for The Lost Boys was actually a lot different to what made it to the screen. The original screenplay played more directly with the Peter Pan story in that with the ability to fly, never grow old and only visit the Darlings at night, maybe Peter Pan was a vampire?! With the aim of loosely running with that premise, Kiefer Sutherland’s David was originally to be called Peter and the Emerson brothers to be named John & Michael, with the Lost Boys themselves also sharing names with J.M Barrie’s characters. Re-writes left very little of this original idea in place other than the film’s title and vampire premise.

If you were to watch The Lost Boys now for the first time, hell, even if it’s not your first time, it has REALLY aged! You’d be hard pressed to find a more 80’s film. Is it Corey Haim’s fabulous jacket? Keifer Sutherland’s blonde mullet? Tim Capello’s oily, sax led gyrations? possibly one of the most 80’s soundtracks outside a John Hughes movie? It is undoubtedly all these things and if you surrender and embrace them, it is gloriously cheesy fun. I wouldn’t even describe it as a guilty pleasure because although the aesthetic may have aged badly, the film’s writing, good humour and obvious love for the horror genre shines through.

The obvious dating of the film has become as much a part of the charm as any other facet, a warm familiar blanket of nostalgia for the age that taste forgot and that’s not intended as a backhanded comment, it does genuinely give me the warm fuzzies of brainless escapism and don’t we all want that from time to time?

Jesus Wept: Hellraiser and how Clive Barker changed Horror cinema forever.

British Horror received a pretty big shot in the arm in 1987 as an adaptation of Liverpudlian Author Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart made its way to the big screen. Rechristened Hellraiser, it became one of the most loved & respected horror debuts of the latter part of the 20th century and for good reason. Giving the world the considerable talents of Barker and introducing us to The Cenobites, the Lament configuration puzzle box and one of the most iconic movie monsters to come out of the 1980’s, Doug Bradley’s Lead Cenobite or Hell Priest as Barker dubbed him in his own literature, more colloquially know as ‘Pinhead’.

The first thing I found most striking about Hellraiser when I first watched it, considering the era in horror in which it was released was how serious it was, there’s no wisecracking Freddy Kruger here, no dumb OTT slayings, Hellraiser was delivered with straight faced dread and building tension. The first time you lay eyes on The Cenobites, you are completely transfixed by these eerie, almost ethereal beings who vow to take those foolhardy enough to summon them to new depths/heights of pleasure & pain and ‘tear their soul apart’. There is no knowing wink, no broadly humorous throw away line before a hapless victim is dispatched, this was the new face of horror, smart, vicious and pretty damn scary.

It’s not a film that didn’t have its production issues. Barker by his own admission was a complete novice as a director relying heavily upon his accommodating crew coupled with cuts made to the more violent scenes and the studio having issues with the erotic & sadomasochistic undertones present in the film also. The studio was also not happy with a UK setting, changing the film to have a more ambiguous location even going as far as to dub English actor Sean Chapman who played a pre-skinned Frank with an American accent, producers also didn’t like that ‘Pinhead’ didn’t quip before he dispatched of his quarry like Freddy although by the time the series hit the lamentable Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth (not just a clever title), he was a quipping, irritating parody of his former self.

Hellraiser was a critical & commercial success raking in $14 million, not bad for a film with a $1 million budget. It’s success prompted a slew of sequels, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 personally being about the only sequel of note, written & executive produced by Barker. Numerous others would follow of rapidly diminishing quality, none holding a candle to Barker’s original which is arguably, for me anyway, one of the finest British horror films of all time.

“We’ve Gone On Holiday By Mistake”: Withnail & I- The legacy of a comedy classic.

There are fewer iconic images in British cinema than that of a disheveled Richard E. Grant loudly proclaiming “I demand more booze!”, it’s a image from a film that is widely considered in many circles to be one of the finest British films of the last 30 years and for good reason. That film is the incomparable Withnail & I and it is probably one of my favourite comedy films of all time.

Written & directed by Bruce Robinson, Withnail & I concerns two actors living in abject poverty in 1960’s Camden. Disheartened by a slew of failed auditions, the pair decide to flee the city for the seclusion of the Lake District, a decision they both come to regret. A minimal yet perfectly cast production of Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown & Richard Griffiths, these actors deliver comedic performances of such absolute note perfection, tinged with pathos as only the best on screen comedic characters are, Withnail & I was an absolute revelation.

Shot for a meagre £1.1 million, the film utilises the picturesque Lake District to create a beautifully bleak setting for their ill advised holiday, the natural beauty of the locale juxtaposed by the constant rain that follows the hapless pair on their self-destructive retreat made for some arresting and memorable imagery. 

The real jewel in this film’s crown are the performances that are given by each of the principal cast, Richard E. Grant’s perpetually intoxicated & bitter Withnail delivering one of cinemas greatest drunks, ironic considering Grant himself is teatotal. Paul McGann’s long suffering and incredulous Marwood, the ‘& I’ of the title, is a masterclass in restrained, downtrodden resignation in being the voice of reason and caretaker to his unruly friend. Richard Griffith’s Uncle Monty is a character played for laughs but tinged with tragedy & pathos and is walked along the thinnest of lines by Griffiths to stop him becoming an offensive charactature. Ralph Brown’s Danny, inventor of the legendary Camberwell Carrot is a character so good he essentially played him twice, resuming the stoned, burnout characteristics one more time for Wayne’s World 2 even if it wasn’t necessarily the same character, he made such a strong impression in Withnail & I that it became ingrained in popular culture enough to be noticed by Hollywood. 

Withnail & I, like any well written comedy is eminently quotable, be it “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”, “Monty, you terrible c**t!” Or “GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!”, they are all moments so ingrained in the history of cinematic comedy now that they have become instantly recognisable and raise a grin just thinking about them. It is a testament to the writing talent of Robinson & the delivery by the cast to keep the broad comedy trope of the quotable catchphrase on the right side of tolerable.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Withnail & I and I must say that I personally am hard pressed to name a better British comedy in that time. Sure, there are many films that would come close but I can hand on heart say that there isn’t a British comedy that I believe eclipses it.

As You Wish: The enduring charm of The Princess Bride. 

Adapted from the William Goldman novel of the same name, The Princess Bride was as much a childhood movie staple for me as The Goonies, Ghostbusters or Back To The Future. It had it all, swashbuckling adventure, romance, very clever and slyly delivered humour and an excellent cast. I have probably watched The Princess Bride as much as those afore mentioned films and I have watched them many, many times. So what is it that draws children & adults alike to this film?

One of its prime benefits was that it was directed by Rob Reiner, hot off the success of such films as This Is Spinal Tap & Stand By Me, Reiner trying his hand at what was essentially a children’s film was an interesting prospect and one that paid off in abundance. With a diverse yet wonderfully complementary ensemble cast that grouped together the likes of Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn and one André Roussimoff, more commonly know as WWF wrestler André The Giant, Princess Bride got so many things right from its beautiful locales, predominantly filmed around Great Britain, it’s wickedly quirky & subversive sense of humour. It was a major Hollywood picture that in the grand scheme of things took some pretty big risks.

Like previous Reiner film This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride is a film that was massively quotable, quotes that still drop today from the mouths of fanboys. How many of us have drunkenly yelled “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die”? Or uttered “INCONCEIVABLE!” at moments of incredulity? I’m sure it is not just me. Author William Goldman took control of the film’s screenplay so can be thanked for giving a slew of generations some top notch movie quotes, coupled with the fact that it’s is just an incredibly well crafted and engaging story in the first place, to have its author work on the film’s screenplay certainly helped in The Princess Brides success.

Upon its release, The Princess Bride was a reasonable box office success but was always destined to become a cult classic, a film destined to be rewatched, discussed and passed on as one of those “you have to have watched..” films and almost certainly a film to one day introduce to your own offspring pretty much in the same way as those other aforementioned childhood cinematic staples.

From Small Seeds…: An Alien: Covenant review.

Directed by: Ridley Scott.

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, 

Plot: Nearly a decade after the disastrous Prometheus mission, the colony ship Covenant makes its way to a new world to begin a settlement. After suffering damage & losses to crew, The Covenant investigates a signal coming from a nearby world that is believed to be uninhabited until Covenant detects a sign of life.

Fans have been waiting with baited yet trepidatious breath for the next instalment of the Alien franchise. After the decidedly lukewarm welcome afforded to Prometheus, it remained to be seen if Ridley Scott could tie up the loose ends and fill in the plot holes left by that film. Add to the situation a reportedly cancelled Neil Blomkamp helmed Alien 5, a film that actually sounded promising and looked impressive from the concept art that was released, Scott’s next Alien film had A LOT to live up to. Finally, that time has arrived, was it worth the wait?

The answer to that question is, for the most part, yes. On a positive note, Alien: Covenant is a definite step up from Prometheus and it probably the strongest addition to the series since the Assembly cut of Alien 3. The series trademark grue is present in abundance and we finally have the Xenomorph back on the big screen, Prometheus suffered greatly for not featuring the Alien at all and instead tried to weave a much more philosophical tale of the nature of where they, and indeed, where we came from. Unfortunately in all the worthy metaphysical babble the actual thrills of the Alien series got lost in translation, thankfully that is not the case as much with Covenant, it is a much more thrilling affair.

Also a plus point of the film is its cast. It’s pretty safe to say that as with Prometheus, Covenant is Michael Fassbender’s film, he handles the dual roles of Walter & David deftly and with a quiet sense of creepy underlying menace and in David’s case, with a wonderful Machiavellian bent that is eminently watchable. Katherine Waterston is very capable in an almost proto-Ripley role and it is very refreshing to see Danny McBride lending his talents to something other than outright comedy with a character that feels like Brett & Parker from Alien were smooshed together. Both James Franco & Noomi Rapace are barely featured in the film at all and the viewer is left to wonder why money was spent to get two such high profile actors for such tiny roles when they could have been so easily glossed over in a rewrite.

The Xenomorph is back, or should that be Protomorph? Some fun license is taken to finally get the Alien back on our screen with a new backbursting variant to accompany the more traditional chestbursting toothy menace. The effects really are top notch and the Alien and all the gruesome carnage it creates has never looked better, it’s not just the Alien effects though, this whole film is utterly gorgeous to look at but that is no real surprise with Mr Scott behind the lens.

For the most part Alien: Covenant is a success, it’s is an engaging and thrilling return to form for a franchise that has struggled for a long time to capture the essence of the original trilogy, Covenant has managed to recapture that feel. It’s not perfect, it does suffer from some pacing issues at times but it is most certainly an assured step back in the right direction. With recent news that the next instalment could be in production within the year, I can’t wait to see where it will take us next.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Fly – My thoughts on a genre classic 31 years on.

This Fly is undoubtedly one of the benchmarks in modern horror, to this day it still holds the capacity to shock and disgust in equal measure and serves as a cautionary tale, particularly in these times of rapid advancement in the fields of technology, as to the pitfalls of trying to play god.

Loosely based on the 1957 George Langelann short story & 1958 Vincent Price film of the same name, David Cronenberg’s take on The Fly was a very different beast altogether from these previous, comparatively tame adaptations. Taking little more than the concept, Cronenberg moved to much darker places with his story, a tale of body horror & science gone terribly wrong and also, as observed in some critical circles, serving as an allegory of the AIDS epidemic of the mid-80’s, though Cronenberg attests this was not his intention, he say it was an analogy of disease and more primly, the fear of ageing and death itself.

Superbly acted by Jeff Goldblum & Geena Davis, Goldblum’s transformation during the film elicits both disgust and sympathy, even as he starts to lose his mind along with his body parts and becomes consumed by his new abilities and instincts whilst losing almost all semblance of his humanity. It is up there with the all time great movie monster performances because like all the greats that sense of sympathy is felt despite the monstrous acts they perform.

The Fly is a movie that has aged very well in the interceding three decades since its release. The practical effects work and make up by Chris Walas on the film, so good that it made The Fly an Oscar winner, still stands as an intimidating benchmark of excellence even today when the go to answer seems to more often be CGI. The Howard Shore score remains a genre favourite and you have only to hear the tagline “Be afraid, be very afraid” to know exactly what film is being referenced. It’s mere existence and the continued sense of reverence that follows it adds credence to the fact that not all remakes are a bad idea when executed with due care and attention, I would even say The Fly is most certainly a remake that far exceeds the original work by not dumbing itself down and speaking to its audience on multiple levels.

The Fly spawned a vastly inferior sequel in 1989 that is better left forgotten it was so awful, it however did nothing to tarnish the image of the 1986 film. The Fly was a brave, bold and fiercely creative piece of future shock fiction that captured the minds & hearts of a generation of horror fans and I am utterly convinced that it will continue to do so for the next 30 years and beyond.

Office Warfare: A The Belko Experiment review.

Directed by: Greg McLean.

Starring: John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, Sean Gunn, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker.

Plot: The employees of Belko Industries in Bogotá, Columbia turn up for what they believe is going to be another day at the grindstone, that is until events take a very sinister turn that see’s them fighting for their lives.

I saw the trailer for The Belko Experiment nestled in with a bunch of others on one of my many trips to the cinema when on the screen ‘Written by James Gunn’ appeared. Almost immediately, my interest was piqued. Featuring Gunn regulars, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn and composer Tyler Bate, I was already willing to give this film a whirl based on that pedigree alone.

Let me start by saying, The Belko Experiment isn’t groundbreaking, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before and a fair amount of people are probably going to dismiss it as generic crap. I however, quite enjoyed it. The story is engaging for the duration, thanks in no small measure to the imagination of James Gunn in penning it and keeping the dialogue witty and humorous to counter the quite considerable amount of violence onscreen, some wonderful allegorical subversion that office workers may enjoy is employed effectively. The film is also aided by an able cast in the likes of John Gallagher Jr, Adria Arjona and Tony Goldwyn & John C. Ginley on villain duties, also in no small measure by the inclusion of Gunn’s regular collaborators in the shape of his brother Sean, a welcome measure of comic relief and deftly delivered dialogue and a small part for the ever wonderful Michael Rooker, a man with a talent of never being front and centre in a picture but always being one of its better facets merely by his screen presence.

It’s not all good, there are some pacing issues in the final 3rd where the story starts to wade in the mire of blood and body parts, however if you go in with an open mind & don’t expect too much from it, you may just find some enjoyment in this Battle Royale amongst the cubicles.