Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Abe Sylvia

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Mucho Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Holy Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Young Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon) wakes in the bed at Leonard’s (Michael K. Williams) place, a bit disoriented and rightfully scared. Then he runs into the old man from the van. He chases the boy, but Ivan gets the jump on him. The old man finds something hidden in a vent on the wall, like an old lunchbox.
Ivan escapes then waits in the weeds for a chance to run. Only he can’t once a bag is thrown over his head and he’s whisked off.
Pic 1ALeonard’s in jail, of course. Fingered in a lineup by Melton (Sedale Threatt Jr), who got pissed on last time by Mr. Pine. He meets with his attorney Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) and Hap (James Purefoy). Things don’t look great. They’re okay, for now. Except he’s got to ride out the weekend in jail. The police are also flooded with lots of black women, looking for their missing children, wanting to know more about the investigation. Heartbreaking and tragic.
Florida and Hap try to rally the mothers, all of them knowing the police aren’t doing anything for the missing kids. So it’s another case of Hap being placed in a position to help; both the community and his best friend Leonard. However, the mothers all reveal that Chester Pine came to them in a suspicious way, every last one remembering his name. Very troubling. We discover Chester put Florida through law school. Huh! Then again, as she notes: “Thats what they do.” As in those who prey on children.
One of the officers interviews Leonard, along with a sac of oranges, a hammer, some books. Old torture techniques. In the meantime, Hap tries to get in to see his buddy with some Nilla wafers. He’s too drunk. And Leonard takes a hard beating before Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) stops the psychopath cop.
Pic 2At a black church Hap shows up to sit with Florida, stopping the congregation in their tracks. She refuses, so Meemaw lets him have a seat in her pew. Hilarious to see him clap with no rhythm next to all those happy, celebrating black worshippers. Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood) preaches about the sheriff’s department not helping. And right then Sheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) strolls in to take the pulpit. He and Judge Beaut Otis stand up there together, Valentine talks about trying build bridges, blah, blah, blah. Nobody’s buying it; not the congregation, not Hap, either.
Meemaw (pointing to Hap): “You see that man standinthere? That is the only white man I like.”
Otis: “What about Jesus?”
Meemaw: “Jesus wasn’t white
In his cell, Leonard gets a visit from a creepy old man. Is he the man from the van? He does some voodoo stuff, sprinkling a line of salt in front of the cell. He hands over a book. One about cowboys, from Leonard’s childhood. Inside are hollowed out pages containing a chicken’s foot. Next day is court. No bail for Leonard and a trial in six weeks. Judge Otis is definitely one of the racists running things behind the scenes in East Texas.
The bombshell? Otis is the one who ran down Mr. Collins and Mr. Pine on that dark, rainy road. Holy fuck. Hap now has something he can hold over the judge’s head to get Leonard out on bail.


With Leonard out, Florida and Hap try to get him laying low. He isn’t happy. Worse still, he doesn’t like that they’re leaning towards Chester being involved in some shady shit. Either way the truth is coming out. Whether it’s a truth Leonard can handle dealing with is another story. But he packs up and gets ready. Meanwhile, Paco is worried about Ivan. This leads Leonard to discovering his broken cowboy that’s been there since he was 9; the one Ivan smashed on the man’s head. This and the pennies on the windowsill, a chicken foot hanging from the ceiling, all leads them to a man named Elia Moon – the eerie old man, who also spends quite a deal of time near children.
Off go our two brave self-made detectives. They find a shack up in the woods, booby trapped, the entire place covered in dead animals and skins. They stumble onto the old man hiding in a closet. He’s been waiting. An odd duck, though seemingly harmless. He says Chester was actually trying to figure out the mystery of the missing boys before he died.
At the same time, it’s revealed Melton is the one holding Ivan. And he wants the boy to hide something at Chester’s house.


Over at home Leonard sees Ivan is back, acting like nothing’s wrong. Later, Paco also reveals to Leonard he’s been seeing somebody. Upstairs, the kid a box Melton gave him: is there incriminating evidence inside? I’d bet on it.
Hap gives an alibi for Leonard in 1986. They were seeing a Howard Hawks double feature: The Big Sleep and Red River. Or y’know, that’s what he says. “Devotion” as Florida puts it.
Back at Elia’s place the old man is worried about “bad mojo” in the air, as all his hung up beer bottles start falling from their strings and smashing all over the ground. An omen? It sends Elia off in a rush. He sees a vision of a little black boy, covered in blood. Right before he drives into the river. Another blow to the case for Leonard.
Pic 5Just a perfect followup to the first episode in Season 2! SO MUCH MOJO.
Bring it on, baby. Give me more.

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Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Eskimos” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
Pic 1AThere’s a dark secret buried, one that Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) will soon stumble upon. This season we open on someone disposing of a young person’s body, tying them, then dumping their corpse in a lake. Terrible things go on unseen. But it doesn’t take long for them to emerge for all to see.
Back again to the world of the ever fantastic Joe Lansdale!
Hap’s picked up the remains of Trudy; ash in a box. And while he loved her, that’s one less giant mess in his life. Everything for him is messy, from relationships to his piece of shit car door. He gets by for now working as a mechanic. In other news, Leonard’s at home getting a hard back massage from his boyfriend Paco (Neil Sandilands). He’s got problems with neighbours, too. Nothing that a cane can’t stop, or a bit of piss in the face. What I love about Leonard is he’s gay and black in the late ’80s, so there are bound to be more situations that arise from that, living in the South and all. A little later, he steps through a floorboard in his dead uncle’s old place: now he’s found the secrets long ago covered up, forgotten about.


Leonard: “The dead dont give a shit about what happen toemtheyre dead.”
The two friends go digging under Chester’s floorboards more, inspecting the skeleton they’ve found. It’s a child, a small one.  Same sneakers as the one dragged from the lake. Now Leonard wonders if his uncle knew, especially considering how long Chester lived there and how decomposed the body is currently. So, what next?
A kid runs off with Trudy’s ashes, sending Hap and Leonard on a chase. Then the box gets tossed into a garbage truck driving past. Instead of letting it get away, Leonard stops the truck to get Trudy back.
The boys alert the police to the body under Chester’s house, which marks the place as a crime scene. But you just know them two are gonna get up to something soon enough. The old lady across the street doesn’t believe Chester had anything to do with the body, though the police – Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) in particular – are investigating with suspicion. And someone in a van lurks around the neighbourhood. Very likely the one responsible for that body’s existence.
Leonard talks with Dt. Hanson at the precinct, as Hap talks with another detective. Some uncomfortable conversation comes up when Hanson says “you people” enjoy little kids; he means homosexuals. Nasty. Likewise, Hap faces scrutiny about his status as a conscientious objector during Vietnam, all the mess they got into with Trudy and the rest of her friends. After all that they discover there were no feet or hands or sneakers on the body. Was this the work of the man in the van? Hmm. Either way, a lawyer named Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) arrives to help the boys in their predicament.
Florida: “Dont underestimate mecause Im beautiful, Mr. Collins.”
Pic 2I love watching Hap watch Leonard and Florida pass the hot sauce between each other, putting a load on their food. Such a perfect look, as he tries to get himself a taste and they just keep on shaking the bottle.
After food they start picking through the mystery in their neighbourhood. Meemaw across the street offers what little help she can. Hap and Leonard keep an eye on Chester’s place from hers, and they also have a heart to heart about Trudy. In the morning they meet Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood), who does a bit of preaching, though neither Hap nor Leonard are too interested in religion. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, fittingly foolish with a proud gay man at the table.
When Leonard goes over to check on his house, he finds Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), the kid who stole the ashes. He’s nearly dead from an overdose. Unable to locate the kid’s parents, Paco convinces Leonard to take care of the boy for now in their place, to which he very reluctantly agrees.
One of the detectives goes to meet Hap at the garage where he works. He wants to know more about the sneakers they saw on the body. On top of that he’s suspicious of Leonard being a “darkie” and all. And you know are man doesn’t approve of that shit, so he dismisses the detective rather fast.
Pic 4Trying to dump Trudy’s ashes off a bridge, Hap drops the box in the river. Like the man he is he goes in after it diligently. Then he scatters them onto the water around him, soaking in Trudy, and strangely happy.
At home, Leonard puts Ivan to bed. When he takes the boys shoes off he sees his name written on them, similar to the BB on the red sneakers. Suspicious? Or nothing at all? Either way, right now Leonard’s being taken in by police. Great, now Hap’s going to have to get his ass in gear while his friend is locked up behind bars.
And outside the house sits the man in the van, watching. Who is he?


What a spectacular start to Season 2! Love, love, love this series. Lansdale’s writing, his characters, the atmosphere, it is all palpable in the adaptation by Damici and Mickle.

Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

Father Gore’s Top 205

In no particular order, these are 205 of Father Gore’s favourite films. Crossing all genres, sub-genres, and decades, not only limited to the love of horror. A little blurb added for each entry on the list.

Before you start, remember: it’s great if you have movies you think I should love, and if you do make a list. Otherwise, stick to telling me if you hate or love the choices I’ve made. I’ve seen over 4,000 films, I know there are plenty choices aside from these 205 picks.
But these are MY picks.
So here we go.


The Long Goodbye (1973)longgoodbyeAltman has many great pieces of work. The Long Goodbye is forever my favourite for a few reasons. One of those is Elliott Gould. Another is Leigh Brackett’s adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, adjusted for the ’70s. And of course Altman’s style gives this film a feel very much its own.

Bullhead (2011)bullheadA contemporary Greek tragedy, set in Belgium amongst the world of the hormone mafia. Matthias Schoenaerts is intense and perfect as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a man who suffered a terrible assault as a boy which left him battling against violent masculinity for the rest of his life. One of the most devastating, tender, conflicted films I’ve ever seen. Masterpiece.

Antichrist (2009)antichristI know that Lars von Trier is a hugely divisive name even to mention in conversation, let alone in a discussion for one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. But, here we are, and he’s at the top of my list as a director. Antichrist appears, on the surface, a misogynistic film in and of itself. Therein lies von Trier’s genius, as he uses the film to effectively dissect the many ideologies in which misogyny thrives, from psychiatry to Catholicism and more. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are fearless to have taken on these roles.

Don’t Look Now (1973)dont-look-nowCertain horror films don’t have to drown you in blood or jump scares or masked killers to be terrifying. Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story Don’t Look Now is one of those movies that can trick you into feeling like it’s one thing, then shifting to reveal it is something else altogether. Great performances, masterful direction, and powerfully written, this is an examination of grief gone tragically wrong.

Videodrome (1983)videodromeIn this Croenenberg classic, one of his many, philosophy meets horror meets the human body, when James Woods’ Max Renn stumbles down the rabbit hole of a strange program called Videodrome. Also features a stellar performance out of Blondie’s Debbie Harry. And out of this world special makeup effects accomplished by the legendary Rick Baker.

Catch Me Daddy (2014)catch-me-daddyThis one stunned me. It’s a quietly unsettling thriller with characters coming together from various walks of life in a cultural melting pot which we see in all its beauty and all its darkness. Trust me: go into this one without knowing much, appreciate the depth of the story, its characters. Some films can help you understand people, other cultures, and the world better.

The Night Porter (1974)the-night-porterI’ll write about this one at length some time. Right now I’ll say that I can understand why some might not enjoy this film, especially if connected personally by family to the Holocaust. I can never understand how watching a film like this as a Jewish man or woman might feel. Nevertheless, from my perspective, I do enjoy this film because I believe it exposes uncomfortable truths, or at least presents them for us to see in the cruel light of day.

La Dolce Vita (1960)la-dolce-vitaI don’t care if people think it’s snobbish to love Fellini. Fuck that. One of the most revolutionary cinematic artists of the 20th century. I love this movie so much I have the title tattooed from my hip up to my arm on my right side. Just see it.

Talk Radio (1988)talk-radioWhen people talk about free speech, my mind never fails to sweep to thoughts of Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. There might never have been an actor better suited to a role than Eric Bogosian to that of Barry Champlain. A searing look at free speech in its many forms, as well as how far people will go to silence it (in many ways). An important piece of cinema from a director who’s made several incredibly important films.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)a-lizard-in-a-womans-skinLucio Fulci is so well known for his various nasty horror efforts, whether Zombie or The House by the Cemetery and others. For me, outside of his campy horror fun, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is objectively his most interesting and well made movie. It’s a mind bender, so there are a lot of spectacular visuals, showing that Fulci wasn’t a one hit wonder on the same horror note for years. He was often capable of real good stuff, camp or otherwise.

Last Night (1998)last-nightWritten and directed by Don McKellar, this is possibly the most Canadian vision of the end of the world you’ll likely ever see. With a top notch cast including Sandra Oh and McKellar himself, David Croenenberg, Sarah Polley, you can’t go wrong with this one. Not only that, it’s one of those end of the world scenarios you’re never totally clued in on, and so part of the film’s joy is the ultimate mystery of things, leaving the focus totally on all the people scrambling to enjoy their last night on Earth.

Seconds (1966)secondsOne of the greatest sci-fi films in existence. John Frankenheimer – legend – directs Rock Hudson in this fascinating, and equally horrifying, story of what it might be like to start life over, literally, and take on a new face, a new path. Except things aren’t always as good as they seem at first. There is such gorgeously inventive cinematography that you’ve got to see it to believe that it was made in ’66. But of course it was, because artists were thriving and starting to open themselves up to anything and everything new. A great instance of innovative cinema.

Carnival of Souls (1962)carnival-of-soulsHerk Harvey’s low budget chiller is one of the few movies that genuinely makes me want to turn all the lights on. At first you feel like it’s going to be a generic bit of horror, then everything gets spookier and spookier until the nightmarish finale refuses to let you go.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)aguirreThere’s an aura surrounding every one of Werner Herzog’s films, no matter if it’s a documentary or a fictional feature, historic, whatever. He has a special feeling. And when you add Herzog to Klaus Kinski, it’s a game changer, in every film they worked on together. Their fiery friendship provided excellence on screen. This movie in particular hits the perfect notes with me, as you get to see the cruelty and madness and greed of man set against the gorgeous, humble qualities of nature.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)picnic-at-hanging-rockA horror mystery without any explicit horror. Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of Peter Weir’s finest, is a haunting look at the loss of innocence, the transition between when girls are girls and when they become women, among other themes. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, this is a classic, and one that will probably remain with you long after the credits finish rolling.

Tyrannosaur (2011)tyrannosaurSeveral reasons why this is a cinematic heavyweight. First, you’ve got actor turned director Paddy Considine giving us his all (and a deeply affecting screenplay), next to Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman in equally powerful roles. Second, the importance of the story is unimaginable until you’ve seen it for yourself, I won’t give any of it away. Just know that it isn’t an easy watch, there are a few moments of traumatic violence, though most is either suggested or after-the-fact edited; still, an at times tough experience. But again, an important experience.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)the-thin-blue-lineA handful of documentaries, maybe more, have actually changed the world, in various ways. This 1988 Errol Morris classic didn’t just give a boost of energy to the crime documentary as a whole genre, it also helped the case of a man in jail for a murder he insisted he did not commit. Saying anything more will ruin it. Trust me, Morris’ style mixed with the extraordinary details of this specific case makes for one of the most compelling documentaries you’ll ever watch. I can put this one on back to back. Also due to the fact Philip Glass gives us an original masterpiece of a score to enjoy along the way.

Spoorloos (1988)spoorloosMystery, tension enough to choke you. A fantastically written screenplay that defines the idea of intricate storytelling, and somehow manages to reel you in while also showing you (almost) everything. The remake is absolute garbage, don’t bother. This original is fierce, moody bit of horror that works on your psychological state with deliberately rough hands. And it works a charm. This is one of those films I’ll never forget as long as I live.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)beyond-the-black-rainbowSome say there’s no real plot, or that this goes nowhere. I say Beyond the Black Rainbow is the most original film of the decade. Like a fever dream, a collage of ideas moulding into one, director-writer Panos Cosmatos brings a unique vision of the 1980s and New Age psychiatry, feeling like part David Cronenberg, part David Lynch, part Ridley Scott. Yet somehow all its own beautiful thing.

Exotica (1994)exoticaAtom Egoyan; national Canadian treasure. There’s an Altman-esque cast of characters in this film, all of whom connect, each with their own desires and emotions running wild. I can never get this one out of my head. Egoyan is someone whose films I dig, very much, though Exotica constantly sticks out because of its simultaneous strangeness and normality rolled into one.

Scarecrow (1973)scarecrowSometimes a pair of actors come together complimenting one another in the perfect ways. Scarecrow is a truly classic American movie, joining the ever awesome Gene Hackman with an up and coming Al Pacino, as two down and out types trying to make their way in the world, despite their problems. There’s one especially harrowing moment, but other than that this is a heartwarming story in places, even if it’s as much a sad one at times.

Bulworth (1998)BULWORTHOthers might pass this off. I wouldn’t if I were you. Warren Beatty is just too funny in this political satire. As a politician ready to give up, Senator Jay Bulworth takes out a hit on himself, only to want to take the offer off the table when he meets a young black woman who inspires him. After which he becomes a rapping political sensation, turning his back on his previously Conservative ideals to a more socially progressive outlook. True perfection, one of the best comedies in history.

Three… Extremes (2004)three-extremesThis is a three-for-one deal, with three short films from three impressive Asian directors – Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, and Chan-wook Park. I won’t say anything else because these need to be seen fresh, you won’t see it coming! I will say this much, they’re all great. But if pressed to pick I’d choose Miike’s chilling short “Box” as my top pick. Nevertheless, they’ll all make you feel strange.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)paradise-lostIf, like myself, you grew up enjoying the darker side of life – horror movies, heavy metal, reading about serial killers and Aleister Crowley and other strange things – then HBO’s Paradise Lost is all the more chilling. A look at justice in small town America, where three young boys, one of whom has an IQ so low he is legally mentally disabled, were charged with a vicious crime they did not commit. This is every bit a documentary, though certain moments feel genuinely theatrical. Such a devastating movie, each time I watch it I can’t help imagine how these young men felt at the time.

Killing Zoe (1993)killing-zoeRoger Avary directed and wrote this 1993 gem, and its original feel, its strangeness, they suck you in quickly. When American Zed (Eric Stoltz) turns up in Paris to help his old friend Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade) commit a robbery, events spiral out of control, and what once seemed a foolproof robbery descends into chaos. There’s excitement, there’s snappy dialogue, another solid performance from Julie Delpy, plus more! A weird, wild thrill ride from start to finish.

Absentia (2011)absentiaWith a string of great films already, Mike Flanagan is a fresh breath in the world of horror. His little flick Absentia is one that haunted me deeply after seeing it for the first time. There’s a quiet terror about the story, allowing for plenty eerie imagery alongside marvellous characters and even better performances. The human qualities of this ghostly, supernatural story are what anchors it in reality to make it get under your skin even further.

Pusher (1996)pusherBefore coming into his elevated style (which I do love), Nicolas Winding Refn explored the bare grittiness of Copenhagen’s underground, the drug dealing scene, through the eyes of a pusher named Frank (Kim Bodnia). There are all kinds of seedy characters, and as Frank makes his way through a hellish day or so he comes into contact with the worst of the worst. Refn takes us into his life with a cinema verite-type focus, making the audience feel like they’re right there in the streets.
My reviews of the whole trilogy are here.

With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II (2004)pusher-iiRefn continues his series with another entry that touches on issues you might never expect to see in most crime/drug-related films. Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) returns after the first film, fresh out of jail, and faces a life on the outside where his father hates his existence, he has an unexpected child with a woman who hates him, and everything is different than it was once upon a time. This is like a hard smack in the face, as we move just slightly adjacent to the first film to explore something other than drugs: a family under the pressure of hard living, from criminality to addiction to the longing for acceptance and love.

Brotherhood (2009)brotherhoodA beautiful, brutal, tragic film about two men entrenched in the violent ideology of white nationalism while also falling in love with each other. Brotherhood explores a topic we don’t often see, and does so with a rare tenderness. There are difficult ideas at play, but above all it’s a love story about two men wanting something they know they can have and rejecting it outwardly because they’re lost, lonely, looking for anywhere to belong. See this. Recommend it to racists and watch them seethe.

The Third Part of the Night (1971)the-third-part-of-the-nightAndrzej Żuławski is well known for his ’81 horror headtrip Possession. My personal favourite of his work is The Third Part of the Night, which takes us into a strange, internalised look at the effects of living under fascist rule. This is equal parts horror and equal parts philosophy. Go in with an open mind. Worth your time.
Need a full review? Click here.

Infernal Affairs (2002)infernal-affairsI’ll always dig Scorsese’s remake. The best, without a doubt, is the original Infernal Affairs. There’s so much perfect directing, editing, dialogue, tension. Scorsese had a bit more comedy in there, which worked. But this one takes a hardline, serious look at its plot, in turn giving the whole thing an added, thick air of suspense from top to bottom.

The Crucible (1996)the-crucibleOne of the greatest plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible takes on a new life on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal, as are the rest of the cast; he takes the cake, from execution to preparation. Most of all, the analogy of the Salem Witch Hunt and the American witch hunt for Communists during Miller’s era is always compelling, and even when you’re fully sucked into the period piece story, the contemporary political leanings of the story are never, ever far.

The French Connection (1971)the-french-connectionThere are good directors, there are great directors. There are also directors in the pantheon of cinema giants, near the top of which sits William Friedkin. Several of his films are on my Top 200+ list. The French Connection is one of the best examples of pure action, and one which also exemplifies how to make an action movie with excitement, heart, and intelligence. Throw in a stellar bit of Gene Hackman, some Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider; what more could you want? And that fucking car chase. God damn.

Brick (2005)brickAs if Raymond Chandler wrote a YA novel. Rian Johnson’s Brick hit me like a ton of them. It is totally infectious in every way. Directed, written, acted, edited to perfection. Don’t read much about it. Go in unknown. The mysterious plot will keep you riveted, I can just about guarantee. Always love an eccentric cast of characters, too.

Maniac (2012)maniacIs it blasphemous to love a remake more than the original? Fuck it. Whereas the 1980 original is disturbing in its own right, the 2012 Maniac remake takes you into the eyes of a killer, literally. Shot in 1st person POV, Elijah Wood takes us inside a psychopath with chilling results. Not everyone’s cup of tea. To me, an inventive piece of horror that challenges our idea of empathy towards characters.
My full review over here.

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)bringing-out-the-deadAn unheralded Scorsese gem, same goes for the Cage performance. This is a weird journey through Manhattan with a burnt out paramedic who starts questioning his efficiency as a lifesaving agent. There are existential questions abound, as well as questions about how people handle the dangerous and nasty careers not everyone is cut out to do. Cage is like a tour guide through the dark depths of Manhattan and the human soul at once.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)millers-crossingThe Coen Brothers are treasures, so many great films under their belt. This one makes the list because it’s a gangster movie, yet it is so unlike most in the genre. There’s the typical wit and charm of the Coens’ writing, then the performances give impressive weight to the screenplay. Best of all, Miller’s Crossing is hard to pinpoint, and the story continues unfolding in such a fun, unexpected way that by the time it’s over you’ll wonder how you got there.

The Seventh Seal (1957)the-seventh-sealIngmar Bergman made plenty of quality films, several masterpieces; many, even. Forever, his depiction of the Medieval Age and the inevitability of death, its looming certainty, is one of the best visions of when the Black Plague took hold in Europe. There’s such a high degree of symbolism that you can find so much to enjoy. The two lead performances are magic, as well.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)dawn-of-the-deadI actually love Day of the Dead most of all. However, Dawn of the Dead is Romero’s most important zombie film. It takes subtle (and not so subtle) shots at the rabid consumerism of American culture, even just the setting itself stands in for sociopolitical commentary if you want to see it that way. Most of all, the strange look and feel, the zombies, Tom Savini, and lots of other fun makes this a memorable bit of horror. There’s also a palpable air of ultimate dread, and not many can tap into that like Romero. Even some of the other great zombie flicks can’t come close to touching its atmosphere.

Barton Fink (1991)barton-finkAnother Coen Brothers classic. This is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be a writer. But there’s more to Barton Fink than that. At once it touches on the madness of the film industry, the futility of being an artist in the Hollywood system, as well as dives into issues of anti-Semitism and identity. There’s too much to love about this one, not the least of which is one of John Turturro’s finest moments on screen.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)the-last-temptation-of-christRaised in a Catholic house, I eventually was given the choice to do what I wanted around 12 when my parents asked whether I wanted to keep going to church or not. I chose not, and for the past 19 years and counting I’ve been a non-believer. That being said, I still find religion and its stories intriguing. Scorsese dives deep into the humanity at the heart of the faith with which many identify. And at the core of this film are certain things I understand, despite my lack of religion. A testament to Scorsese’s power as a filmmaker and visionary.
Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing the religious humanism of Scorsese’s film with Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Proposition (2005)the-propositionMy personal favourite Western, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition takes the genre over to the Outback in its early days, as the law attempted to rein in the madness of an untamed land. The story and its execution are impressive. What I dig most about this Hillcoat film is its focus on aesthetic. Never will you feel so utterly filthy after watching cinema than when this is over. You can all but smell Guy Pearce. This is a disturbing, emotional, tension-filled Western which features a few fine tuned performances from Pearce, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, and the great Danny Huston.
And yes, I have more to say.

High Tension (2003)high-tensionA brutal slasher with a psychothriller twist, Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is an atmospheric bit of horror. Even after you’ve experienced the twist watching the film over again is a lot of fun. You can try piecing together the mystery afterwards from the start, and it may even help you notice some little clues. No matter – just as a gory slasher, the whole thing works.
Props to Cécile De France in particular for her performance, which required emotion and nuance at every turn. Also, Philippe Nahon does well as the serial killer at the centre of the plot.
Rip through a review with me here.

Sound of My Voice (2011)sound-of-my-voiceThis atypical look at a fictional cult is simultaneously creepy and heartwarming in doses. Two of The OA‘s producers-writers Zal Batmanglij (also director) and Brit Marling co-wrote this mysterious 2011 thriller, so if you’ve seen the Netflix show and haven’t yet seen this: dig in. There are common threads in the show and Sound of My Voice, although ultimately they’re vastly different. Above all, Marling plays a wildly believable yet out there cult leader, as Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius round out the cast with two characters trying to get to the bottom of this cult.
What happens throughout verges on something between dream and reality; it’s up to you to decide, in the end, which is which for each character.

The Man from Nowhere (2010)the-man-from-nowhereAsian films of all genres are amazing, there are so many of them that it’s hard to pick a favourite, or even a top ten of favourites (or a top twenty…). But on this list of 205 films, The Man from Nowhere deserves a spot. There’s a wonderful air of mystery surrounding the titular man, whose past – for much of the film – is kept under wraps, until it’s obvious he is a man with whom you shouldn’t trifle. We also get a beautifully loving story, as well as kick ass action and fight scenes. This one has everything. As the plot evolves, you’ll get sucked in tight to the screen until the final moments.

Nosferatu (1922)nosferatuThere’s simply no denying that F. W. Murnau made one of the greatest horror films in the history of cinema. Almost a whole century later, Nosferatu remains terrifying. Some film fans, though I question their validity, don’t dig on older films as much as more contemporary works. And that’s a major mistake.
Murnau utilised plenty of innovative techniques in order to make this unofficial Dracula adaptation a beacon of German Expressionism and a horror that would never lose its power. There’s an altogether eerie atmosphere from the first scene to the last. Another 100 years, people will still find this frightening.

The Jerk (1979)the-jerkOne of the funniest comedies ever made. Steve Martin is a hilarious tour-de-force as a white boy adopted by a black family, who believes that when he gets old enough his skin will change to match his parents, brothers, and sisters. When he discovers the truth and then sets out on his own, there’s no telling where he’ll end up.
But the fact is, Martin carries every single moment of the film in which he appears, and is the major reason why so many of the gags and jokes work to perfection.

Persona (1966)Persona (1966) Filmografinr: 1966/18My favourite Bergman experience is, bar none, Persona. Many of his films are so human that they hold immense beauty. Something about this one is both human and also otherworldly, as the characters played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann slowly merge into one entity. Exactly why, how, all those questions, are left to the viewer to understand. As I said – this film is an experience. Not just that, since ’66 this Bergman classic has influenced everyone from David Fincher to Denis Villeneuve to many more, and will continue to do so until people don’t have eyes or hears.

The Chaser (2008)the-chaserHong-jin Na has since made The Yellow Sea and most recently The Wailing, however, it’s his 2008 film The Chaser that captivated me most. Inspired by the story of real life South Korean serial killer and cannibal Yoo Young-chul, this thriller is crafty and it’s likewise a thrilling 125 minutes. To say anything further would do you a disservice. Watch, enjoy, be disturbed and elated by the mystery, the tension. You won’t regret this choice.

Prince of Darkness (1987)prince-of-darknessThere are many John Carpenter flicks I absolutely love. None more than 1987’s Prince of Darkness. Because Carpenter merges the ideas of religion and science, making the concept of Satan into something far more ugly, sinister, threatening than just a name in a book meaning evil. The special effects, the score, Alice Cooper’s unsettling cameo, the creeping plot; everything adds up to a top notch bit of horror. Yet another JC gem!

Lady Vengeance (2005)lady-vengeanceChan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy is great, all around. One of my favourites is Lady Vengeance. It takes on the female perspective and also dives into a raw, disturbing story which culminates in the expected revenge we’ve seen from Park in his other films from the trilogy. Parts of the crimes involved are about as eerie as some of the disturbing bits in Oldboy, so buckle up.

Oldboy (2003)oldboyI remember hearing Quentin Tarantino rave about Oldboy after it was released, and he’s always been an inspiration to me as a writer/director hopeful. So I checked it out, fell in love. Sure, it is wildly disturbing particularly at the end. Something within that nastiness is riveting.
More than that the directorial choices of Chan-wook Park are so beautiful. No matter if he’s got his main character wielding a hammer and bashing people up, eating a live octopus, or learning about the world through television, Park makes every moment worth relishing in. Pure odd and wild delights to be had.

A Prophet (2009)a-prophetPrison films are a dime a dozen. Because of that there’s a wide variety of shitty ones. Just as many great ones, too. A recent amazing story set inside prison walls is A Prophet. When a young Arab man is sent to jail he has to do whatever it takes to survive, and after receiving an offer – either kill someone for one of the gangs, or the gang kills you – he ends up on a fast ride to the top of the food chain.
If you’re looking for a more realistic gangster movie, and one that takes place in jail, this is the ticket. Like parts of Scarface (the Arab’s feeling of being an outsider reminds me, a tiny bit, of Tony Montana’s struggle), Bad Boys (1983), and Animal Factory mixed together. But nothing’s lifted from any of the classics, nor its inspirations. A Prophet gives the goods, with flashes of absolute brilliance and violence in spades.

Altered States (1980)altered-statesWhatever Ken Russell does is, often, borderline genius and madness. Sometimes he falls off a bit. For the most part he’s a legendary director worth his weight in gold. The first time I saw Altered States was when I used to do drugs (been clean now as of this writing for almost 9 years), I took mushrooms and, boy… what a trip.
Later when I got away from all the drugs and I actually stopped drinking too (7 years sober), I revisited this Russell headtrip. Because I knew that there was something worth the effort. I watch it at least a couple times a year, finding new things to love. The heart of it never changes for me, and Paddy Chayefsky’s words beam like that first star in the night, never failing to catch me, grab hold. William Hurt is one of my favourite actors; here, he does amazing stuff, and in his first feature film no less. There’s nothing bad about this movie. Even in its zaniest scenes.

Caché (2005)cacheOn the list of my favourite directors, near the top sits Michael Haneke. He’s also a terrific writer to boot. Caché is my favourite of his, though that’s a hard choice either way. I sort of feel like Haneke is a less surreal version of David Lynch, and vice versa. They each deal in ideas that are hard to pin down, not necessarily easy to understand. And they make you think.
Caché takes on ideas of white guilt, colonialism, and inevitable vengeance. It deals with the stories people tell themselves, the narratives they create in order to live with the stories of their lives. All the actors are equally as wonderful in their respective roles, giving depth to their characters as an eerie tale precipitated by voyeurism wraps them up.
You want more?

Bug (2006)bugFriedkin takes a Tracy Letts screenplay, based on Letts’ own 1996 play, and transforms it into a psycho-thriller full of drama and horror alike. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are unforgettable, as they go on a dual transformation fuelled by paranoia. What Friedkin does best is retain the aspects of the stage play which made it tense. He then amplifies everything using the medium of film, making the performances larger than life and the atmosphere thick with a terror not usually seen. Shannon, in particular, is part of that terror, bringing it on with every breath.

Shorts Cuts (1993)short-cutsLike a marriage made in Heaven – Altman and Raymond Carver. Perhaps best because of the director’s affinity for weaving around a multitude of characters. This fits so perfectly due to the fact Altman takes nine short stories and whittles them into a 3-hour film, encompassing 22 different characters altogether. Zipping through the various spaces of Los Angeles – changed from Carver’s Pacific Northwest settings – the legendary director makes every character interesting, worth watching. Some stories are more disturbing than others, yet they all hold both the sweet and the sour; something Carver was great at in his writing. This is one of the greatest films, not just my favourite. I genuinely feel this is one of the best ever made, certainly one of Altman’s best, too.

The White Ribbon (2009)the-white-ribbonAgain, a Haneke film appears on the list. I could’ve put a bunch on here, but needed to make room for other cinema I love. What’s so interesting about The White Ribbon is how Haneke explores the origins of evil, set in a German village just prior to World War I. He dives into an entirely universal way of seeing evil, through the lens of this strange place and its inhabitants. There’s a blanket of dread that Haneke lays atop every scene, never letting up. Even those not huge on black-and-white cinematography might find themselves drawn to the images on screen from one minute to the next.

Mysterious Skin (2004)mysterious-skinOne of the most difficult, if not THE most difficult films on this list to watch. Trust me though, if you can get through this Gregg Araki tale then it’s worth all the effort. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving away parts of the plot. Just understand that, while disturbing during certain scenes, Mysterious Skin was filmed in the best way possible to protect the young actors. Plus, the story dissects the effects of child abuse on people as they start to age with a haunting, nuanced blade. Not many directors other than Araki could have made this film, definitely not as good or – believe it or not – as tender as him.

Kill List (2011)kill-listAnother of my favourite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley, turns up on this list a couple times. All his flicks are spectacular, in my eyes. Kill List takes the cake for me. Not just for its crime and horror mix n’ match story, but also for the way Wheatley slow burns through the plot. To the very last moment there’s a curiosity, a dark one, about where things are headed. And you’ll never guess where. That’s part of that dark excitement.

In the Bedroom (2001)in-the-bedroomThis Todd Field feature is powerful. So much potent drama involving families, the want for justice – or revenge – and all kinds of other themes. There’s a realistic feel to the people in this film, and the story is so organic that it flows in front of you like you’re hearing someone tell a story. Field is a fine director, and writer. Mainly he’s capable of taking us steady through a weaving set of lives which all make up the life of a small town, where everyone knows each other and what’s happening with everybody else. You won’t ever forget the climax or the resolution of In the Bedroom.

The Devils (1971)the-devilsYet again, Mr. Russell and his excellence returns to the list! This is one of those fabled films, blasphemous and wild in content, based on the true (dramatised, obviously) story of 17th century Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who was executed for involvement in witchcraft. Alongside Oliver Reed as Grandier is the ever perfect Vanessa Redgrave playing one of the mad nuns accusing the priest of having influenced them with black magic.
Put it this way – there’s a sequence called The Rape of the Christ, and if you can track down the uncut version of the film it’s a proper treat. A devilish good time.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)the-treasure-of-the-sierra-madreIf ever there were a story of greed, this one is king. John Huston is forever one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. There’s so much to love about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. From its wonderful cinematography courtesy of the magical Ted D. McCord (East of EdenThe Sound of Music; nominated for 3 Oscars), to Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel, to the fact Huston directed his father Walter alongside Humphrey Bogart.
Today, this movie still stands as relevant. I know that’s said a lot. Just take a cold, hard look at what the film is saying, how it navigates the brutality of greed in the name of the supposed American Dream. Nothing has really changed, only the medium of greed.

Possession (1981)possessionAndrzej Żuławski is one of my other favourite directors. Such an auteur, especially in his niche, which is somewhere between surreal horror and psychological horror, mixing in significant points of history now and then. Possession throws all those things into the bowl, though Żuławski goes into a Lovecraftian mode and takes a staggeringly frightening look at the nature of relationships in terms of how people – men – often wish to possess their mate.
But what happens when someone, or something, else possesses the person you want to possess? Dig in with me.

The Lords of Salem (2012)the-lords-of-salemNot everybody loves Rob Zombie. For me, he’s one of the more fun horror filmmakers post-2000 because he does the whole retro thing well. Not just that, he gets to the savagery and the nastiness many horror fans seem to want, and yet people are so fickle. I do understand, he isn’t for everybody.
The Lords of Salem is a different film out of his catalogue, though. This is a wild look at witchcraft, addiction and recovery, and the imagery is perhaps the best Zombie’s offered to date. This is different than his throwback pieces – still dig them, all the same – giving us another side of artistry than we’ve ever seen out of him. Weird, disturbing, horrific; a wonderful genre mix!

Inside (2007)inside Not many horrors should come with warnings. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside is one that ought to tell pregnant women: turn away! If you’re even squeamish about pregnancy, in any sort of sense, it’s likely best to watch through your fingers, or not watch at all.
When a crazy woman stalks a pregnant lady in her home, trying to break in, trying to kill her, one night becomes a fight for survival in the most visceral way. I won’t say anymore because you have to see it to believe the horror. Bustill and Maury are a fascinating team with a bunch of great titles to their names; they’re also the directors of the upcoming Leatherface many of us horror enthusiasts are dying to see.

I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III (2005)i-am-the-angel-of-death-pusher-iiiWhile I love the other two films of Refn’s trilogy dearly, this third film might actually be my favourite, and my vote for the best of them. Zlatko Buric returns as the drug dealing gangster/hopeful chef Milo, likely the best performance of his career. There are a lot of things happening. However, watching Milo trying to balance a new sober life, his drug business, his daughter getting married (and him agreeing to cook for everyone) is a mesmerising experience. Refn keeps the gritty, realistic style of the first two movies and brings back characters we’ve seen before. The best of the film is Buric, as he allows a penetrating look into an ageing criminal whose guilt is catching up with him more everyday.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)monty-pythons-the-meaning-of-lifeEven some of Monty Python don’t think this movie was so great. Me? I fucking love it, every last segment, each second. There are too many funny characters to even gloss over in a paragraph. What I dig about this film is the scope: the meaning of life. Might’ve been a lofty goal. There’s something perfectly fitting, though. Watching the Pythons in all their glory navigating every aspect of our daily lives, including drips and drops of hilarious history, is breathtakingly funny. From “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the hymnal “Oh Lord Please Don’t Burn Us”, to John Cleese’s schoolteacher and his wife demonstrating sexual intercourse for the class, to Eric Idle’s “Penis Song” and the grotesque Mr. Creosote, every inch of The Meaning of Life is perfect to me.
Above all else, this Python flick contains my favourite Graham Chapman moment, as he rails to his wife (Idle in drag): “Look at them, bloody Catholics, filling the bloody world up with bloody people they cant afford to bloody feed.” After that his Protestant condom pride is enough to make me choke with laughter. Even before that when Michael Palin’s Catholic dad tells his many kids it’s “medical experiments for the lot of ya” I can’t get through it without a few chuckling tears.

The 400 Blows (1959)the-400-blowsFrançois Truffaut’s got a bunch of excellent films to watch. This one resonates with me because, although it was made in ’59, there are inescapable truths about youth. The 400 Blows takes a close look at how loneliness can become something else, when young people are left to their own devices they do learn things; just not all the right things. Still, watching Antoine struggle with figuring out independence is thrilling. As Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does.”

Ravenous (1999)ravenousThis Antonia Bird historical horror film is the stuff of dreams. The cast is outrageously great, the writing is so interesting you won’t want to miss a single moment. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography; all of it so well executed. On top of that is a uniquely odd score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and well versed composer Michael Nyman, you’ll never hear anything like it.
Also, Ravenous provides a unique look at manifest destiny, the desire to conquer, wrapped up inside a bloody cannibal story set not long after the Mexican-American War. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle shine in two vastly different roles which crash together, providing relentless suspense until the climactic and brutal final scenes.

Sightseers (2012)sightseersMr. Wheatley, a master of many genres. As opposed to the nihilistic (and awesome) Kill List, 2012’s Sightseers is a strange cross of drama, comedy, and very real horror. When an odd couple – Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) – decide to go caravaning for a few days in the country, things take an unexpected, homicidal twist. What starts as a vacation tumbles into a mess of bad timing and even worse decisions after Chris turns out to be quite different than who Tina knew before. But then again, Tina’s not exactly the woman he first met, either.
One of the darkest, funniest bits of comedy in the last decade or more. Wheatley knows how to hit the weirdest notes, no matter what genre he tackles. Check this out when you’re looking for something out of the way.

Festen (1998)festenThis Dogme film is my favourite of the bunch, if pressed to choose. It’s well conceived in the Dogme vision, touching on just about every base they hope to cover. Thomas Vinterberg (originally uncredited as per the Dogme manifesto) breaks through the uncomfortable exterior of a family with hidden secrets. The performance of all actors comes to make this an interesting – and tragic – experience, though it’s Ulrich Thomsen whose shine is brightest. He’s perfect, hauling you directly into his inner life to the point where even while the rest of his family questions his motives the audience feels firmly rooted in his perspective as truth.

Cruising (1980)cruisingThis is my favourite Friedkin film. That’s saying something, because he’s one of those classic masters of cinema in the director’s chair. Cruising is an incredibly intriguing film for a number of reasons. One thing I love is that, in the name of not exploiting the gay community, Friedkin got into a jockstrap and frequented the clubs instead of standing back like someone looking down on the BDSM culture of the story; in all fairness, he was later banned from a couple of the gay clubs, for whatever reason. Also, the screenplay is based on actual murders of gay men happening in the late ’70s. The production and release of the movie were both plagued by protests from the gay community. Personally, I don’t feel Friedkin ever meant anything in this work to feel anti-gay. Rather he wanted to make a movie concerning the gay community simply because of the murders, their impact on gay men, and so on. Either way it’s a twisty psycho-thriller, it’ll get its hook into you.

Halloween (1978)halloweenThe first appearance of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s horror classic is still to this day, and always will be, a horrifying creeper of a film. Nothing else to say. If you want more, I talk about it at length here.

Thief (1981)thiefMichael Mann’s debut feature Thief was an announcement of a passionate, talented, innovative filmmaker on the scene. He’s made a bunch of quality movies; at the top of his heap for me sits this one and Manhunter. In this James Caan-led flick, featuring Willie Nelson and Tuesday Weld, we get a realistic look at a criminal hoping for a bigger dream and a better life comes up against forces beyond his control. Like a microcosm of the elusive American Dream, Thief depicts what happens when the obsession of a criminal to find that last big score gets in the way of better sense.

Repulsion (1965)repulsionI don’t want to talk about Polanski, because that’ll require a whole other massive article. I can’t deny the power of a few of his films, Repulsion in particular. This is a hypnotic, haunting vision of what happens to a woman after an unnamed trauma in her past; or was there any? Until the end we’re never entirely sure, nor does the film provide us with any actual concrete answers, avoiding exposition at most points. What matters most is the imagery. The one above still passes through my mind ever so often, more than you might imagine. At the centre of the film’s powerful force is Catherine Deneuve in the lead role, taking us through a phantasmagoria of the pain in her mind.

Ichi the Killer (2001)ichi-the-killerTakashi Miike is a twisted man, whom I love dearly as a filmmaker. His adaptation of this manga title works me over, so much so I can’t watch it as much as other movies I dig a ton. That doesn’t change the fact it is a legendary piece of cinema. This is one of the most spot on manga adaptations you’ll find, simply for the fact it doesn’t shy away from painting the walls ridiculously with blood, nor does Miike shy from a bit of semen, either. Real stuff, too. Gross. Nevertheless this story is infinitely interesting and nasty.

Bad Education (2004)bad-educationPedro Almodóvar will go down in history as one of cinema’s best. No doubt in my mind he’s already attained such status. I could’ve chosen several different titles of his for my list – The Skin I Live InTalk to HerMatador, or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – but there’s a truly compelling story that Almodóvar tells in Bad Education from which I can never avert my eyes. A courageous central performance out of Gael García Bernal, an actor who’ll likewise be seen as a great from his generation, makes everything even better. Directed to perfection, Bernal acting circles, a screenplay to wow. Just an outright classic.

Black Christmas (1974)black-christmasI find many movies terrifying, and I’m glad I still do after seeing over 4,000 films – lots of them horror. Black Christmas is one that never fails to creep me out. The voice over the phone alone is the stuff of nightmares. A fantastic cast of women each goes up against the terror of an unseen killer. Nothing more I can say except dig into this vicious little slasher.

Dead Ringers (1988)dead-ringersCronenberg is the Canadian Jesus. Just kidding; Jesus isn’t real. But Cronenberg is, and he’s one of the best out of our country. The way he’s made body horror his own genre in a sense is a feat of unimaginable talent. Perhaps one of the eeriest of his works is Dead Ringers, loosely based on a story of identical twin doctor brothers who were found dead together in their apartment. It features Jeremy Irons, legend in his own right, as both brothers, next to Geneviève Bujold as the object of their creepy obsessions. This movie chills me and it’s not all the time I get genuinely unsettled; certain stories linger, this being one. Just like some of the characters, the audience will feel violated. This is Cronenberg’s intention.

A Bittersweet Life (2005)a-bittersweet-lifeJee-woon Kim is a stellar filmmaker, all around; he’s a powerhouse writer and director combo. This is his best film. Don’t get me wrong – I Saw the DevilA Tale of Two SistersThe Quiet Family, they’re all knockout cinema. I love them all.
A Bittersweet Life is a revenge story for the ages. Beautifully captured by Ji-yong Kim, the look will dazzle you. The characters are rich and they aren’t merely a bunch of people dropped into the plot for garnish. Best of all the climax and end are pure thrill. South Korea has plenty of talented filmmakers. You bet your ass Jee-woon Kim is in the lead of that pack.

The Woodsman (2004)the-woodsmanI enjoy difficult cinema. It doesn’t have to be glossy-looking, it doesn’t need to be artsy. It must, however, be well told from a storytelling perspective. One of the most difficult films I’ve ever seen, yet in a way one of the most rewarding, is 2004’s The Woodsman. Kevin Bacon plays the complicated lead as a man who once committed an unforgivable offence, though one for which he’s served time. Afterwards, facing life as a registered sex offender under watch of a crafty detective (played brilliantly by Mos Def in a career best role), Bacon’s character is faced with redemption or regression.
The way this sensitive material is handled, how it’s handled, is heartbreaking and important and yes, even beautiful. There’s no way to forgive people ultimately for certain acts. Problem being we’ve set up a series of institutions, from jails to hospitals (et cetera), in the name of not just housing criminals, but also rehabilitating them, we’ve already accepted the idea of giving them a second chance. This story digs into all sides of the issue at hand, from how a sex offender actively trying to change himself integrates with the local community and at his new job, to how even those who appear willing to accept them have a breaking point. A must see.

Spring (2014)springJustin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are fresh, fun new voices in the horror genre. I don’t want to say too much about Spring, for fear of ruining even the slightest bit of its surprise elements. It’s a great mix of romance and terror. There’s a weird fiction feel, like reading an awesome story somewhere between a romantic tale of adventure and an H.P. Lovecraft short. You won’t soon forget the wildest moments.

The Boxer (1997)the-boxerMy boy Daniel Day-Lewis is on this list a couple times. This is my top pick for his best role. A story of Belfast, the IRA, the human damage of the cause. Jim Sheridan is the right director for the material, too. There’s nothing fancy here, but the lens through which we see different sides of the IRA and the cause they say they’re fighting for is what makes it all worthwhile. Seeing the struggle of a man trying to live his life in spite of his former life nipping at his heels makes for an intense drama, especially with Day-Lewis bringing out the lead character’s soul with an electric performance.

Silkwood (1983)silkwoodI’m a big time Meryl Streep fan, so fuck the Donald.
But in all seriousness, Streep + classic director Mike Nichols + a screenplay from Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen = possibly the best biopic in the history of film. Honestly. Because it’s well made, well acted – including some Cher and Kurt Russell and Fred Ward and Craig T. Nelson and a dash of David Strathairn – and the steely focus is the tragic true tale of Karen Silkwood.
In a day and age where the conversation surrounding heroic whistleblowers is hotter than ever, with Snowden and Chelsea Manning and more, Silkwood requires a revisit.

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989)elephantUp there with the likes of Ken Loach is Alan Clarke in dissecting socioeconomic spaces other filmmakers don’t bother to go. There are a few worthy entries in Clarke’s filmography. None better than Elephant.
On the surface this is a very basic short film, less than 40 minutes in length. You see a series of killings. Some short, quick like a shot in the night. Others are more intricate, more difficult. What Clarke does is present the ‘elephant in the room’ which were The Troubles and all the violence in Northern Ireland. The anonymity of the people in the film, characters killed without any development whatsoever, stand in for all the nameless who’ve died in the name of the cause. Another important bit of cinema, not to be missed or dismissed.

Sauna (2008)saunaThis Finnish historical horror is a total mindblower. Within a story about borders being drawn after a two decades long war between Russia and Sweden, director Antti-Jussi Annila weaves haunted imagery and creates an atmospheric period piece that defies explanation. There’s not just spooky horror, there is a slice of history, from the border drawing to early eyeglasses it’s fascinating to watch. Trust me, if you go in with only this little bit of knowledge it’ll prove a rewarding horror experience.

Left Bank (2008)left-bankI can’t say a lot without ruining this eccentric horror. Or is it a horror?
You’ll have to see for yourself. If you want to read a detailed review and be spoiled, head over here.

Beauty (2011)beautyRepressed sexuality is human dynamite. It is dangerous and even life threatening. This 2011 drama dissects the life of a man who exists entirely in the closet, unable or unwilling to let himself come out. He meets with other men in a group for secret sex. He’s a bit of a racist, too. He also lusts after a college-age young man, the son of a friend, which eventually tears open the repression under which he’s lived so long.
Beauty is are hard one to suffer. Make it through the film and there’s much to learn, in my opinion. The road may be hard, but the lessons understood are why the journey’s necessary.

Trainspotting (1996)trainspottingDanny Boyle’s a firecracker full of talent. The reason I love Trainspotting so much is due to the fact I was once addicted to drugs; not heroin, still hardcore addicted. I was also an alcoholic many years. Some of the depths of despair, between ridiculousness and dead seriousness, in the characters is recognisable when you’ve spent time around junkies, of any sort. The acting is impeccable, the story sobering. Irvine Welsh’s novel was tough to get through because of his use of Scottish slang. Once you break through that, similar to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, it’s a treat. Boyle brings so much of the enjoyable qualities in the book to screen, and most of all makes the cast of often times pathetic, yet marvellous in their own sense, characters leap off the screen with the help of solid performances.

Alien (1979)alienAny horror and science fiction cinema fans who don’t love Ridley Scott’s Alien, to my mind, are utterly insane. I just don’t get it. There’s such terror, such quietly horrifying material that it makes no sense why people wouldn’t find it effective. There’s not much more I can say, other than that I could watch this at any given moment. It’s one of the first movies that made me fall in love with practical special effects work and set design because of its ingenuity in both costumes, the effects, and the many cool sets which Scott frames perfectly in this dark, gorgeous classic.

The Lobster (2016)the-lobsterA dark comedy and dystopian vision of human relationships in the all too near future. Yorgos Lanthimos, a peculiar director and writer. This is my favourite of his stuff, so far, though that may change when he and Colin Farrell get together again. This takes some work to understand fully, but if you let the weirdness flow and take it in one scene at a time, The Lobster proves rewarding.

The Godfather (1972)the-godfatherI love Coppola’s The Godfather for different reasons than most of the reviews I’ve ever seen. Mainly, it’s because Coppola and Mario Puzo wrote a perfect screenplay out of Puzo’s own remarkably mediocre novel. I read the book once, years ago, while out in the middle of the woods in a cabin, I remember it vividly. There’s a fair degree of nasty, lengthily described sex, which I found strange. But it’s just as a whole, the novel didn’t catch me, I finished it only to finish what I started. Coppola uses all his talent to make this an undisputed classic. Everything from performances to the locations to the music and cinematography is constructed with great care. And it shows, every inch of the way.

Prisoners (2013)prisonersAn intricately written mystery-thriller. I love Denis Villeneuve and here he proves how thrilling he can get, with a masterful script from Aaron Guzikowski. Hugh Jackman sears the screen like a burst of fire, actually scary at points. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms into Dt. Loki with every nuance his mind can manage. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard play a couple at the end of their rope, yet trying not to fall over the edge.
There’s too many things to love about this dark film. Prisoners, when first released, played on my Blu ray player about five times in one week.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray ScreenshotOne of the most genuinely perfect crime-thrillers that will ever grace the screen. Ever. Also, a unique film in the ’90s with a heavily feminine perspective under the nasty bits of serial killer horror out of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
In the meantime, check out my review here, as well as a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry.

Se7en (1995)se7enYou’d be hard pressed to find another serial killer flick as horrific as David Fincher’s Se7en. The dark, moody cinematography. A brutal screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker. One surprising killer reveal, as well as two fabulous performances out of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. There’s a sick thrill of watching this movie, each time I see it. In an unnamed, rainy city, Pitt and Freeman’s two detectives are thrust into solving a series of murders which defy the imagination. I vote the ending as one of the top ten endings of any film in history.

Black Swan (2010)black-swanNatalie Portman gives a performance for the ages in this Darren Aronofsky work of magic. The film involves themes of womanhood, and the transition of a girl to a woman, sexual awakening, obsession. There are unforgettable images, such as the one above, and a lot more.
What Aronofsky does so well is get inside the mind, which he does in every one of his efforts, even Noah. He gets into the head of his characters, in the best of moments bringing the audience right inside with them. Black Swan is beautiful, terrifying, exasperating. It is many, many things, all of them of the highest excellence. Mix ballet, body horror, psychological horror, you’ve got a fraction of what this movie offers.

Taxi Driver (1976)taxi-driverI mean, what else can I say? Scorsese, baby.
My full review. Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing Taxi Driver‘s depiction of PTSD and that of Alice Winocour’s Disorder. Tuck in!

Mystic River (2003)mystic-riverClint Eastwood has shit political opinions. His movies? Aside from that Chris Kyle masturbatory fantasy, they’re incredible. He’s a solid director. Mystic River, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, is a subtly soul crushing drama and mystery. The story concerns a group of kids, one of whom was abducted at a young age by predators, who become adults and find their lives intersecting all over again.
This is like a Greek tragedy set in contemporary Boston. If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour. The trio of performances at the centre – Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon – all deserve the credit they’ve received, and more. So do the smaller performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapmna, and Laurence Fishburne. Just a powerfully directed and acted movie, one I can watch a couple times a month and it never tires, every bit as potent as the first time I saw it.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)eyes-wide-shutNot everybody was sold on the final film of master auteur Stanley Kubrick. For me, it reached a strange place inside, one that partly touches on the emotion of love and also on the shadows of the dark nature within human beings. There’s all the recognisable traits of a Kubrick flick – massive tracking shots, visual symmetry, a proper use of fitting music. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise do well as the couple whose marital issues set off the plot’s events, proving they’ve each got the acting chops to carry such material. You may not get it right away, but trust me: there is a concrete plot, the story flows like a curious dream. Don’t get lost and you’ll figure it out. It’s not as elusive as some make it seem.

Amadeus (1984)amadeusMilos Forman has done great things. None better than Amadeus. Based on Peter Shaffer’s original stage play, this story about Mozart and supposed secret rival Antonio Salieri is riveting in its scope. You can never take your eyes off the screen. Even if manage to, the music will sweep you back. Tom Hulce does well bringing Mozart to the screen, as does F. Murray Abraham with his depiction of Salieri. If you don’t like classical music, this may not be your thing. Yet I feel there’s something universal in this story that’s capable of touching anybody. Give it a shot. If anything, the look and sounds and the production, it’s all enough to keep anybody interested.

The Game (1997)the-gameThis is my vote for Fincher’s best. It’ll drop you down the rabbit hole, pull you out again. Then toss you back down for another ride. Michael Douglas carries this with ease in a fantastic role, as a man who has everything is given a strange birthday present by his wayward brother (a solid Sean Penn performance) – an immersive experience, a game. Except you don’t ever know when it’s started, really. It begins out of nowhere. And Fincher will fuck your brain, too. Hard.

Terminator (1984)terminatorArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are perfection here, as is Michael Biehn. This is one of those action classics that’s nowhere near overrated, and its many legions of fans, including myself, have made sure it won’t ever be underappreciated.
Terminator is such an exciting piece of sci-fi and action put together. Hamilton is so good, she’s really one of the anchors of it all, even if Arnold and Biehn are rushing around beside her. The effects, the writing, and every aspect puts other films of its kind to shame. Every time I put this on I almost forget how damn fine of a film James Cameron and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd gave us.
We’re not worthy!

Batman (1989)batmanBest Batman. Period.

Magnolia (1999)magnoliaPaul Thomas Anderson is one of his generation’s greats. He is fantastic. Again in Magnolia he channels the spirit of his mentor Robert Altman, weaving together a bunch of characters from all walks of life into a serendipitous, epic-feeling story crossing the San Fernando Valley.
The performances are the best part. Then there’s the editing and Anderson’s wonderfully exhilarating style that keeps ever segment of the film fresh. Drop in a strange though fitting musical moment, a sky of falling frogs, you’ve got yourself a gem from the tail end of the ’90s.

 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)close-encounters-of-the-third-kindI saw other Spielberg movies before seeing this one. Most of his work is just magical stuff. This is my favourite of his, simply because of my interest in life outside of Earth, the possibilities of what’s out there in the rest of the universe, et cetera. There’s a palpable feel of reality mixed into the science fiction, and there’s a humanist message to this idea of aliens coming to our planet, our connection with them. Many things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind to love, dearly.

U Turn (1997)u-turnI’m a huge fan of Oliver Stone. U Turn is weird, surreal, a different type of flick for him to handle. Stone churns out this weird bit of Americana with the help of a great screenplay by John Ridley, based on his own book. Along with a cast of colourful characters. Penn gives a paranoid performance to make his character feel as desperate as the situation into which he tumbles out in a desolate desert in a forgotten corner of the country.

Jackie Brown (1997)jackie-brownNot a typical pick for Tarantino’s best, this Elmore Leonard adaptation (from his novel Rum Punch) contains some of my favourite characters he’s brought to screen, namely Jackie herself (Pam Grier), Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). But everyone’s good.
The dialogue’s slick, the comedy is both outright hilarious and darkly comedic. A dash or two of violence. Most of all I love the twisting, turning plot that gets better and better right to the finish.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)the-blair-witch-projectIf you want my full opinion, click here.
This is a horror I’ll never forget. I got it on VHS soon as it was released, then watched it to death. Still scares the life out of me; the end does my head in bad.

Vertigo (1958)vertigoHitchcock was a master. Vertigo captures a strange mood and the atmosphere throughout is one of unease, as we navigate a retired detective’s newfound obsession with a woman he’s meant to watch, keeping an eye on her for the fearful husband believing his wife is maybe suicidal. What follows is another trip into the rabbit hole, like many of my favourite psychological thrillers. Not only is the story and its plot enough to grab you, Hitchcock provides a handful of visuals that are forever iconic, such as that monumental shot of the spiralling staircase; just one of a few.

Brazil (1985)brazilPythonite Terry Gilliam made a cracking dsytopian picture with Brazil – a movie I remember seeing late in the afternoon one day as a teenager, on Showcase here in Canada. I only caught the last half hour or so, which is strange enough, let alone when you have no context.
Years later I tracked it down from vague memories of strange Asian-faced masks, a coffin, a vast and dilapidated building with a stage at the center where a man is held in a modified dentist’s chair. I scooped up the Criterion Collection DVD, coming with its several alternate cuts and a backload of exciting features, commentary, so on.
This is a dark and brutally satirical look at a future in which bureaucracy has buried us all.
Here’s my review.

Menace II Society (1993)menace-ii-societyA terrifying look at the lives of young men growing up in the Watts projects, suffocated by their desire to be something and their lack of resources (not their capabilities). Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) are two guys that get hauled into the drugs lifestyle, the type of living where every corner is a possible death sentence, and the next bullet is only a block away.
What fascinated me most is to see the lives of these men depicted in such a way that’s realistic, honest. Although it’s rough and disturbing more often than that, Menace II Society shows us the bittersweet side of Caine’s experience when he finally tries getting away from the gangs, the drugs, hoping to start a new life.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissouLots of good Wes Anderson movies, I pretty much enjoy his whole body of work.
But a special quality of comedy exists in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Every bit of Anderson’s stuff is quirky, with its own unique flare. This film has so much to offer. A central, hilarious Bill Murray performance, amongst a cast of equally funny characters played by a group of stellar actors from Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston to Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, to name but a few.
Check this out, don’t read about it. Let its strangeness and its dry humour surprise you as Anderson takes you through another one of his microcosms of odd lives.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)THIS IS SPINAL TAPThe team of Rob Reiner as director, plus Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer is comedic gold standard. There are too many funny lines to even begin to mention.
Probably my personal choice for funniest scene is when Nigel (Guest) is taking about the sustain and he goes on and on about how good it is, just absolutely slays me.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)leaving-las-vegasSay whatever you will about Nicolas Cage, he gave a huge performance for Mike Figgis in this film. It’s a horribly depressing piece of work, yet there’s something liberating in it; definitely part of that is Cage’s unleashed spirit. He and Elisabeth Shue are good together. Head into this one with an open mind. Sure, it’s grim, but not every inch of it’s so dark. There is a gorgeous human heart driving Leaving Las Vegas.

Hellraiser (1987)hellraiserI’ve always read lots of Clive Barker, ever since I was a kid and mom let me read him + Stephen King. There are many great Barker short stories, novels, et cetera. Hellraiser is based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, and he brings every last ounce of terror that his regular writing usually holds.
There are many things at play in this horror film, it isn’t only an excuse to show off blood and gore and depravity. No, it’s about the nature of sin, what it might mean in its true context. Regardless of anything else, Barker makes all that brutal horror exciting, weaving a mythology involving the dreaded Cenobites into 90-odd minutes of pure fear.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)cool-hand-lukeWhat we have here is a failure to communicate
Where does the human spirit lie? Where does freedom come from, and can it exist under any conditions? Paul Newman’s Luke takes authority to the limit in this undisputed classic, directed with grace by Stuart Rosenberg (BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village). There’s heaps of iconic material in this single film. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, snatch up a copy of this prison film that’ll leave you smiling at the spirit of a rebel like ole Luke.

Network (1976)networkChayefsky’s prescient screenplay for Network might be the best in film history, in my humble opinion. Because even in ’76, when media was already working its claws into the American psyche and not in the right way, he knew as a writer what was happening, and that it would only get worse.
One scene later in the film featuring Ned Beatty – an extremely brief role which netted him a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination – sort of jabs at both sides, not only the one Chayefsky rails against most of the film. You’ll know what I mean when you see it (or remember it if you already have). Peter Finch won the first posthumous acting award at the Oscars for his role; so it should’ve been. He lights your mind on fire as the prophetic suicide case who transforms from a man at the end of his wits into a TV prophet on during prime time. And you can’t forget the subplot involving Faye Dunaway’s character venturing into business with rebel groups, exploiting their causes purely for ratings without care for them or what their causes end up becoming in the end.
So much going on that it’s amazing how coherent the entire thing plays. A pure classic in every sense of the word. Amazing filmmaking, Sidney Lumet in his finest hour.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)who-framed-roger-rabbitMy full review of this fun and thematic film can be found here.
Always one of the best. Better than it’s ever gotten credit for being, more heart and innovation than ten movies combined.

Manhunter (1986)manhunterThe visionary aesthetics of Mann, the acting power of William Petersen and Tom Noonan and Brian Cox and Joan Allen, the eeriness of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon.
What else is there to want, to need? Mann does great work with this adaptation. Not my favourite of the Harris adaptations, though close. Certainly at the top of my list of Mann’s best. The fever dream qualities of certain sequences, the neon and the shadows. This is just plain wonderful ’80s cinema.
All my Thomas Harris-related stuff is located here.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)the-texas-chain-saw-massacreTobe Hooper will, for eternity, be a scary fucking dude.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while having a title that isn’t spelled correctly, is the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed. To this day, that’s not changed. I saw this for the first time about 18 years ago, as of this writing. I’ve seen tons and tons and tons of horror since, yet nothing will top Hooper’s nightmarish backcountry tale.
The first appearance of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is a shock. Once the family takes Sally (Marilyn Burns) inside their decrepit backwoods, two-story house, the shock keeps working you over until a numbness creeps in. Never does the terror stop. And when it’s all over, like the sole remaining character of the massacre, you might even want to laugh the fear away, too.

Blue Ruin (2013)blue-ruinEver wanted to see a revenge movie starring a character who’s not well acquainted with guns, or violence, or revenge?
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a story of vengeance at all costs. We don’t see the Hollywood version of a revenge thriller. Rather, Saulnier offers an alternative look at a situation we’ve seen time and time again. Like his latest film Green Room, Saulnier uses Blue Ruin to create a heavy load of tension, letting it unravel in a messy, savage way that’s as unexpected as it is satisfying.

The Piano Teacher (2001)the-piano-teacherNever satisfied unless the material he works with is challenging, Haneke takes his reluctant though willing viewer into the hidden masochistic proclivities of a piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives a lonely life with her mother at home.
There’s no way to describe what happens in the film without ruining the plot. You may want to turn it off halfway through. If so, fight that instinct. Hupper is always a talent to watch, here she unleashes herself in an emotional tour-de-force that’ll leave your head spinning. When you get to the end there may also be a feeling of the film having really gone nowhere. Yet if you know Haneke, this is simply not the case. So dig in deep, listen, watch closely. There isn’t a big twist or reveal or hidden meaning here like some of Haneke’s work. There’s a penetrating character study of a woman on the fringe, yet one who seems to sit in the middle of normality; often the case with those who hold sexual impulses below the surface. And sometimes those things bubble up from under the surface in threatening ways.

Life of Brian (1979)monty-pythons-life-of-brianFor a review, jump over here.
Python are the perfect group of comedians to take on a searing religious satire. They not only make you laugh, they make fucking excellent points.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)the-devils-rejectsZombie’s latest, 31, is pure brutality, and I dig that. The Devil’s Rejects is both brutal and full of interesting characters; the latter is something his newest movie lacks at certain points.
What I love here is that House of 1,000 Corpses is continued on in a more gritty, even more realistic sense.
We see the Firefly family move out into the world after their ranch is raided. Now, Baby, Otis, and their father Captain Spaulding go on the road trying to evade the authorities. In their wake they leave depraved murder and mayhem, every step of the way.

Mommy (2014)mommyXavier Dolan is a talented young man, younger than myself and he has a string of quality cinema under his belt already. Mommy is another riveting, emotional piece of work, examining a mother-son relationship plagued with issues.
Best of all, Dolan’s empathetic storytelling combines with his use of a 1:1 aspect ratio, very rare particularly for a feature film – these elements make the movie a unique experience, as the ratio forces us into closer quarters with the characters, always feeling directly in their face even without a close-up shot. I continually love Dolan’s films and this one is his best yet.

This is England (2006)this-is-englandI always said it’s a god damn shame the shitty white nationalists appropriated the skinhead subculture for its own use, making skinheads forever, sadly, synonymous with the idea of neo-Nazis and other white hate groups.
This is England is a study of socioeconomic groups left behind, and how they then become susceptible to the influence of hatred. Stephen Graham is electrifying in his role as Combo, the fierce white nationalist who corrals a bunch of people into his dangerous ideology. He’s also a man not totally convinced in his own view of the world. When he takes a young boy under his wing, a devastating act will make him question whether or not it’s worth continuing with so much hate in his heart.
The story is actually focused mostly on the young boy, played by the charming and confident Thomas Turgoose. Yet Combo is a massive part of everything important that happens.

Little Children (2006)little-childrenHow often can we all fall in love with Kate Winslet? How many times can one develop a man crush on Patrick Wilson? Who the fuck knows.
What I do know is that Little Children, another great feat by director Todd Field, will make you feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from disgust to fear to love and everything else in between. An Atlman or Anderson-like cast of characters takes us through the walks of life of many in a small neighbourhood. Go in blind, drink in the heavy drama.
Also, Jackie Earle Haley’s greatest work. Until the end of time.

Solyaris (1972)solyarisAndrei Tarkovsky is another giant of cinema, an auteur. This is his most compelling work, for me personally. It’s the one I resonate with most. Because humanist science fiction is my favourite type of science fiction, stuff where at the heart of the story lies a veritable human element. Something that reaffirms our soul. There’s a haunting quality about Solyaris, one that isn’t easy to shake.

Memories of Murder (2003)memories-of-murderDark. Mysterious. Based on a real serial killer case. Thrilling. Even funny in specific scenes.
This Joon-ho Bong feature is one I’ll never forget, no matter how long I go between viewings. Memories of Murder is spooky in such a realistic manner, it takes you through one of the single most frustrating cases in the history of South Korea. The performances will keep you hooked, and not a single second of film is wasted. Style and substance combined.

Role Models (2008)role-modelsI’m still not totally sure what it is exactly that kills me about this comedy. Both Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott do make me laugh, same goes for Jane Lynch. Bobb’e J. Thompson, too. But there’s an inexplicable quality that I wish I knew how to articulate.
Role Models is so fun, to me, because unlike other comedies about men who are either immature or just plain terrible boyfriends, it doesn’t condescend to women. A lesser film might have a more stereotypical nagging woman in the main character’s life, which is nonsense. Here, you can wholly understand why a woman wouldn’t want Rudd’s character around. He’s a childish and unhappy man, the latter most of all. So from there, it really does become a redemption story, and the lead isn’t entirely unlikable like the same types in other similar flicks. We want to see him do better, not just for laughs but because of an emotional connect.
So I guess that’s why I love the movie. It has a genuine feeling, instead of hilarity for hilarity’s sake. That’s not always bad. Sometimes disingenuous. Role Models comes off as real, even at its most outrageous. Herein lies the fun.
I wanna rock and roll all niiight, and part of every day.”

In the Name of the Father (1993)in-the-name-of-the-fatherPerhaps because of my Irish roots I often gravitate towards dramas and thrillers in a big way when they involve the IRA and the Troubles, so on. Then again, injustice and inequality and any of these concepts are things I’m interested in.
But you put Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, and Jim Sheridan together, a screenplay based on Gerry Conlon’s book Proved Innocent, this will compel anybody with sense to watch.
The performances, Day-Lewis above all, are so powerful that it will rock you. In terms of DDL, this is what I’d consider his second best performance – behind his best in The Boxer and just in front of what I consider his third best, Plainview in There Will Be Blood. See it, relish every moment of him and Postlethwaite as father and son. Revel in the strength of the human spirit, the bond of family, the conviction of one man to stay the course of truth at all costs.

You’re Next (2013)youre-nextI love Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as a director-writer team. They’re interesting filmmakers together, bringing us new takes on genres with their fresh, inventive eyes. Everybody who likes slasher horror always wants something different. My feeling is, You’re Next took home invasion horror and turned the sub-genre on its head. Not that the twist isn’t foreseeable by those with the smarts. Not to say it’s the bloodiest thing you’ll ever see. Simply put, Wingard and Barrett give us good kills, dark comedy, fun characters and in particular one kick ass female lead to take us through to the vicious end.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)dead-mans-shoesThe most bleak revenge thriller ever conceived, this Shane Meadows-Paddy Considine collaboration hits all the right, if not horrifically dark notes. Without spoiling any of the plot, Dead Man’s Shoes takes you along as a man returns home from the army and plans on visiting those who’ve hurt someone close to him. After that, all bets are off. Blunt and realistic, Meadows haymakers the viewer until there’s nothing left to do but submit to the onslaught of raw, vengeful violence.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)midnight-cowboyIm walkinhere!”
Speaking of bleak, the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight before descending into Republican madness) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman showing early on that he’s a top notch character actor) in the big city is a heartbreaking venture. There’s a disturbing, repressed portion of Joe that lingers throughout the whole story. You can never escape it, just like Joe who runs anywhere and everywhere to try and do so. A movie so iconic that even Seinfeld parodied its final scene. While Jerry and Kramer make it funny, Joe and Ratso leave you with an empty, terrible feeling in your gut, as the ever elusive American Dream hovers just out of reach once more.

Sexy Beast (2000)sexy-beastJonathan Glazer’s 2000 crime film starring Ben Kinglsey and Ray Winstone is in a league all on its own. There are some dreamy scenes peppered in amongst the intensity of its many scenes featuring Kingsley’s gangster of savage proportions. Also featuring Ian McShane and Amanda Redman, Sexy Beast has all of the artsy qualities you might find in an indie flick, in addition to a solid story about criminals; some of whom hope for more in their lives, some of whom wallow in their bestial nature.

Vampyr (1932)vampyrCarl Th. Dreyer made several masterpieces, including The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath. Ahead of those in my books is the fantastical, ghostly Vampyr. I love the use of light and shadow in old movies because it was less an artistic ideal, more of a way for filmmakers to show off their genius by manipulating the only elements they had at their disposal. Not to bash modern filmmakers who’ve had their choice of colour v. black-and-white for many, many years.
What Dreyer does with this classic piece of horror is create an atmospheric landscape of shadow which is like a waking nightmare. The Criterion Edition comes with the screenplay, as well as other great features. I recommend it for any film lovers, the transfer is fucking beautiful work. Makes Dreyer look even better, as all the expert directorial work he did shows up in high definition glory.
Note: I believe Criterion does good work most of all due to the fact they make old films more accessible for younger audiences, and of course the die hard film lovers. But they do a service to those who want to see these landmark films and can only come across bad copies that survived the years.

Marathon Man (1976)marathon-manJohn Schlesinger is a director whose career gave us a handful of wonderful movies. The best of those being, while in stiff competition, Marathon Man. Featuring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier, even a bit of Roy Scheider, this is an acting clinic. It’s likewise an exercise in tension. Schlesinger knows how to really take you to the limit, and the excitement never actually lets up. To say much of the plot is to spoil your fun. Although it’s worth noting this has stolen diamonds, an ex-Nazi, a government agent gone rogue, Hoffman being a charming bastard, in combination with directing, editing, and writing of the highest calibre.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)synecdoche-new-yorkI can’t begin to explain anything about this movie for you. To see is to understand, even then you might not. Took me a couple viewings before I knew I really enjoyed the film, then a few more until I feel like I understood what director-writer Charlie Kaufman was aiming towards. Centred on a theatre director struggling with work, Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest his beautiful soul) gives one of his best performances as Kaufman weaves another strange world around him. Existential questions everywhere, the movie deals in themes of art v. life, the weight of loss, on top of many further ideas. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. A visual stunning and emotionally gripping bit of drama, garnished with dark comedy.

Silver Tongues (2011)silver-tonguesA pair of lovers escalate a series of thrill seeking games to a dangerous point. Beyond that description, my lips are sealed.
Find this film. Watch. Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham show up for life altering performances. A relatively unknown drama, this one caught me off guard. The chemistry between the two leads is unreal, to the point you’ll want more after the credits roll. As far as finales go, Silver Tongues left me in a state of euphoria and simultaneously I felt walloped by the heaviness of what I’d just witnessed. You won’t see this one coming, neither first nor last.

Soft for Digging (2001)soft-for-diggingJ.T. Petty has since gone on to other things, bigger films. It’s his 2001 feature Soft for Digging which will never stray far from my darkest thoughts. A simple plot of a man looking for his cat in the woods and witnessing a murder spirals into something out of this world. The story is unique, which I love. The visuals of Petty’s spooky little plot are imprinted on my brain. Regardless of how you feel about the screenplay, those images are likely to burrow deep and settle in your unconscious, waiting to pop up again one day when you least expect. It stays with you, like the main character’s own experience.

Clean, Shaven (1993)clean-shavenDepictions of mental illness are almost always flawed. I can’t say the same for those in the films of Lodge H. Kerrigan. This is a disturbing, genuine, deep look at a young man with schizophrenia, whose struggle to get his daughter back from the family by whom she was adopted is tough to endure.
Kerrigan never condescends, he never tries to make his main character look bad. He simply shows the depths of the mental affliction through which he suffers. Peter Greene cements himself as a great actor, despite his many roles he never got as big as he should have; as evidenced by his career making performance in Clean, Shaven. If it weren’t for him, and Kerrigan’s tact, this might feel like an exploitative story. It isn’t, not even close. You’ll feel how real it gets almost immediately.

A Horrible Way to Die (2010)a-horrible-way-to-dieI love some films people actively hate. One of which is the Wingard-Barrett serial killer flick, A Horrible Way to Die. A frequent collaborator actor A.J. Bowen stars as the madman, and multi-talented Amy Seimetz as his ex-wife trying to move on after he’s put in prison.
This might feel like a typical movie, or just another slice and dice effort. The handheld camerawork, the inventive story with its jaw dropping twist, the chilling ease with which Bowen’s killer moves through the world; these are bits of the film’s greatness. Lots will talk shit about this one. That’s fine. Doesn’t change its ass kicking qualities. A slow burning, violent, human piece of serial killer horror.

Down to the Bone (2004)down-to-the-boneYou must see this Vera Farmiga-led, Debra Granki-directed story of a woman on the edge. I don’t want to reveal any more. This is a tale of woe, though one not totally devoid of hope. Farmiga shines in a role that isn’t easy, not because it’s so tough but because it’s a character we’ve seen so many times before. She brings out the best of the screenplay, allowing us a window into a woman juggling the weight of life all on her shoulders, trying to get by and barely able. Testament to the power of humans, both to overcome and to bury themselves in pain.

Race with the Devil (1975)race-with-the-devilSatanists. An RV attacked by a cult. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. Guns.
Need more? If so, you need to look elsewhere. Race with the Devil is a thrilling slice of action mixed with horror. Enjoy!

A Bay of Blood (1971)a-bay-of-bloodMario Bava, one of the masters of gorgeously disturbing horror. This 1971 mystery is the precursor to slashers like Friday the 13th and its sequels, as well as other movies of its type. The plot concerns an heiress killed by her husband, devolving into a murderous rampage as people try to get their hands on the inheritance left behind for themselves. A shocking, nasty, glorious horror classic that won’t soon lose its impact, if ever.

The Selfish Giant (2013)the-selfish-giantInspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, The Selfish Giant is a look at two boys who want to make money in their rural, working class little town, so they get involved with a criminal and local scrap dealer.
I don’t want to spoil the plot. This is directed with amazing depth, and the tragedy which eventually boils over feels like something you’d easily see in a small place. Also, you’ll revel in the performances of the young kids, as they prove you don’t have to be an adult or even a young adult to wow with a soul baring human performance.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)big-bad-wolvesTo the last minute, you’ll stay wondering: is this man evil?
That is all. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Revenge has never been so intriguing or darkly funny as in this gem out of Israel, another Tarantino recommendation I’m glad I took seriously.

Angst (1983)angstThis 1983 shocker, based on real life killer Werner Kniesek, is viscerally powerful, if not one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made. Hands down. Inside the gore and the depraved murder are impressive use of film techniques, inventive camerawork (from Academy Award winner Zbigniew Rybczyński). You literally go inside the headspace of the horrific bastard you follow through a couple days of carnage.
Want more? An in-depth review with spoilers, here for your (dis)pleasure.

Rolling Thunder (1977)rolling-thunderI’d see anything if Paul Schrader’s name is on it. Considering his recent Dog Eat Dog and his atrocious Bret Easton Ellis-penned The Canyons, sometimes it’s not great. Despite a couple misfires there’s a compelling aspect to Schrader, he always gets to the dark side of humanity.
1977’s Rolling Thunder was written by Schrader, directed by John Flynn (The OutfitBrainscan), starring a slick William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first few film roles. A unique war story come home, as Devane’s Major Charles Rane and his family are assaulted, robbed one evening. Afterwards his wife and son are dead. His hand mangled after being stuffed into the garbage disposal. Major Rane recruits his army buddy Johnny Vohden (Jones), and they head off to find some vengeance.
A nasty, brutish piece of exploitation cinema that’s not simply a bunch of violence, it has plenty to say.

Cure (1997)cureUnrelated to the other fascinating director of the same name, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a special talent. One of his more recent films, Creepy, was solid. His 2001 horror-science fiction hybrid Kairo eventually got an American remake when the trend got big (original is definitely better). Point being, Kurosawa has several great movies.
Cure has haunted me for years. I saw it in 2003 while at film school. Ever since I’ve had several scenes stuck in my mind, little bits of the dialogue. This is a favourite of mine, yes, but I’d consider it objectively one of the best films of any I’ve seen. The pacing, the suspense, its unnerving story about a series of murders – Xs carved into the victims’ skin, though the killer different every time; there’s nothing about this film that disappoints. The way Kurosawa lets us see everything, watching from a distance as the events unfold, is fascinating to me.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)the-killing-of-a-chinese-bookieThere’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that John Cassavetes shaped independent film. He was keen at finding the humanity in every situation, not just the grandiose, Hollywood-type stuff that gets pumped out of studios constantly (not saying all that’s bad, at all). He looked into the everyday lives of men and women, as if they were people he knew personally.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie means a lot of things. To Cassavetes it was an allegory for his own struggle as an artist. To me, it’s a thrilling, artistic bit of crime cinema about a man caught between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)lets-scare-jessica-to-deathI say it so much, this time I’m sticking right to it: not ruining anything.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a haunting movie in the eeriest sense of the word. A slow burning bit of Gothic horror for which I am extremely grateful.

Affliction (1997)afflictionSchrader’s back! Writing and directing, as he should.
His screenplay is based on a Russell Banks novel, also the author of The Sweet Hereafter (an amazing film). Affliction is some of the best from the ’90s. It’s a gritty rural story of a sheriff in New Hampshire whose demons haunt him, just as his abusive father does in his still living never ending rage. One thing piles on top of another, and another, and another, until the poor sheriff is left with not many options left except either go insane or keep going against the grain.

Black Sunday (1960)black-sundayIf you need Gothic horror, or maybe you just want to see one of the best horror films ever made, Mario Bava has you covered. Black Sunday plays like a story off the page, something you’d find in a dusty old tome at the library, in the creepy part.
See it. I won’t say a word. Bava’s film is perfect.

Rome, Open City (1945)Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, Italy 1945, 100 mins)There’s a special quality to this Roberto Rossellini film. Filmed in a still beaten up Rome, a year after Allies ran the Nazis out, Rossellini used this to make one of the early and greatest examples of neorealist cinema.
Rome, Open City isn’t what you’d expect, or maybe it is at times. This is another film ending that won’t ever be forgotten. The neorealism focusing on the fear of the Roman people is compounded by the final moments. A powerful movie.

The Swimmer (1968)the-swimmerFrank Perry’s adaptation of the short story by John Cheever, starring Burt Lancaster (my favourite of his performances) as Ned Merrill is a classic American film. On the surface, you’d think there’s no way to turn a story this short, though a great one at that, into 95 minute film. But the symbolism of Cheever turns into a surreal journey for Ned in the medium of film. What was already a spectacular story transforms into a cinematic tale of decadence and decay in the upper classes of American society.
I did an extensive piece on the film for Film Inquiry here.

13 Tzameti (2005)13-tzametiBeneath the threatening exterior of 13 Tzameti is a parable, about how the lower class and immigrants and those less fortunate are pushed to insane extremes in order to survive, how the promise of a fortune at any costs can lure vulnerable people into horrible situations. Or, is it just a story about a depraved game promising a huge payout?
You decide. Let me know.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)noroi-the-curseThis has my vote for best found footage horror. Scares the life out of me, every damn time.
Crossing together the lives of several people, each haunted in their own way by a malevolent spirit, a documentary filmmaker tracks down a woman supposedly cursed by a Japanese demon. And what he finds is far more horrific than anything he anticipated.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)bad-day-at-black-rockJohn Sturges’ 1955 crime-mystery was important upon release, important again in today’s political landscape 2017 and beyond. A man with one hand arrives in Black Rock, immediately getting the cold shoulder from the various locals, all of whom have something to hide. When the one-handed man makes clear he’s looking for a friend, a Japanese-American farmer, the locals are even more intent on icing him out. Whether with words or by force. This movie’s honestly perfect, and Spencer Tracy in the lead role (supported by the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) gives us a classic tough guy American performance.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)assault-on-precinct-13At first, John Carpenter’s lean action-crime-thriller combo feels like it has a tenuous plot that could fall apart. But then the master director-writer drenches the film in tension, making each character’s move possibly their last. Even better this feels like an old school Western, something which Carpenter intended, as his big inspiration was 1959’s Rio Bravo. The score, the cinematography and Carpenter’s direction, the stellar cast, they’ll impress you.

In a Better World (2010)in-a-better-worldSusanne Bier’s In a Better World stunned me the first time. The story deals with forgiveness, revenge, different worlds colliding. Its themes are powerful. Through a series of events the lives of two Danish families intertwine, and within the bonds of a new friendship forms the spectre of danger and violence.
Don’t read too much about this one. A small description like this is best. Go into it head on and experience this drama for its raw force.

Happiness (1998)happinessDon’t get it twisted – Todd Solondz isn’t out to make anybody happy with this one, despite its title. More so he uses the title as a way to indicate the deeply meaningless existential search for some elusive quality called happiness. Because most of these characters, almost every one of them, isn’t looking for it in the right places.
Happiness will disturb you. If not, you’ve probably got a head in your basement. And there’s no actual horror in this one. All drama; an intense, vexing, even sinister bunch of shit. The men portrayed by Dylan Baker and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two of the top ten worst people of all time in film. They’re rotten to the core, though in the way they could be living right next door in the next house, the next apartment, wherever. That’s one of the really disturbing bits to me. The normality Solondz injects into the depraved actions of his cast of characters.

The Fog (1980)the-fogAnother Carpenter flick I absolutely love. An American ghost story, if there ever were one to love!
The writing is so stellar, with Carpenter and Debra Hill conjuring up a neat little story that you could tell around the fire; ironic, considering the opening moments. Plus you’ve got Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh… what more could you ever dream of? I really can’t spoil even a drop of the story. My favourite thing is that it’s absolute American Gothic. If Carpenter and Hill put this in a book only as a novel, I think I’d still dig it as much as I do on film. One of those stories that reminds you of great, creepy literature.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)the-sword-in-the-stoneI do love animated films, they’re just not my favourite type to watch. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some I don’t absolutely die for, such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. I always loved it, but then I came to enjoy it more while doing my degree. I took two courses required for my Honours that were in Old English and Middle English. In both of them were a lot of works inspired by Arthurian legend. So after that my respect and admiration for this Disney flick grew, intensely. Not that it’s filled with all these academic references, that’d be stupid. After reading about Arthur so much, this movie hits the spot with a combination of what I’ve read recently and enjoyed, and the bits of why I loved it as a kid.
From Merlin to Archimedes, to the wild Madam Mim sequence, there’s something to remember out of every scene. I couldn’t even begin to choose a favourite moment.

Once Were Warriors (1994)once-were-warriorsAlan Duff’s novel of the same name dealt with domestic violence in New Zealand. His characters are a Māori family plagued by issues of alcoholism and poverty, leading to the violence.
Part of why I’m drawn to this movie is because I live in Newfoundland, a small island on the far East Coast of Canada. I live in city, though come from a smaller town where it was a mix of urban and rural. Though the family are Māori and they have their own particular complexities, their struggle reminds me of people I’ve known, families I grew up with and near. So despite its regional feel, compounded by Duff’s original material exploring issues specific to New Zealand, there’s also a universality in the story with which many can identify. A heartbreaking, tragic. But there’s a little hope, just a glimmer.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)mr-sardonicusHuman greed is a theme explored in literature since time immemorial. William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus uses greed as a vessel for this modern Gothic horror. The whole thing is macabre. Darkly thrilling. Original Ray Russell story “Sardonicus” was published in Playboy Magazine, then Castle snatched up the rights and had Russell do the screenplay, which is part of what makes the story so damn fine. A favourite horror I watch near Halloween. You should, too!

The White Sound (2001)the-white-soundNot many movies express the true feeling of taking drugs, nor do many get depictions of mental illness correct. Daniel Brühl stars in Hans Weingartner’s The White Sound as a young man named Lukas who takes a horrible trip on magic mushrooms. So intense that perhaps Lukas might never make it back from where he’s headed.
Paranoid schizophrenia is often depicted in violent ways, both through film and other media like certain biased news channels who aren’t sensitive to the mentally ill, and so on. What Weingartner does is produce an experience which takes us into the head of a man suffering from the inability of his brain to filter the world, precipitated by the mushroom high. A scary little film.

Vengeance is Mine (1979)vengeance-is-mineThis is a cold, sterile look at the crimes of Akira Nishiguchi (renamed for the film). The events of the film come to us through flashbacks, as we piece together the life of this man who is now in police custody. Even a dose of dark humour along the way. I can’t say much more, you need to get hold of the Criterion Edition. Perfection, all the way. What’s most interesting, above the style and feel of the film, is the dissection of this serial killing thief and his motivations, or lack thereof. A terrifying and provocative story.

Casino (1995)casinoI love just about every Scorsese film. He’s a master at work every time he works his magic.
Casino‘s my personal favourite. I know I’m in the minority, most likely. But can you deny the lure? We begin in media res with a shocking act of sabotage and violence, then we work back through the story as Scorsese takes us into the rise of Las Vegas with De Niro playing Ace Rothstein, based on Frank Rosenthal. There’s intrigue, betrayal, murder, brutality. There’s Joe Pesci stabbing a guy in his neck with a pen. There’s Joe Pesci squashing a guy’s head in a vice. Don’t understand how anybody couldn’t love this Vegas gangster picture. A crime classic.

The Breakfast Club (1985)the-breakfast-clubReleased the year I was born, this is such a great John Hughes movie. Resonates with me, and y’know, half of the world, because it’s the ultimate anthem for losers and at the same time for those in the popular crowd who never actually like they belonged.
Whenever the last scene plays I feel my heart start skipping beats. Always emotional when I watch, maybe more so as I get older. There’s a little bit of Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald in all of us.

Boogie Nights (1997)boogie-nightsThe opening sequence of PTA’s Boogie Nights is proof positive he’s the cinematic son of Altman. From there, we dive into a sordid tale out of the L.A. porn scene in the ’70s and ’80s. Starring a prosthetic-cocked Mark Wahlberg and a maybe never better Burt Reynolds, a knockout Julianne Moore performance to boot – and a host of awesome supporting roles from Don Cheadle and William H. Macy and more – this is just a mesmerising drama. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be grossed out. Just as I’d imagine many did during these days in the porn industry.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)brokeback-mountainI can’t speak for how the gay community feels about this film. For me as a straight man, Brokeback Mountain changed my perspective, even as someone who’s always accepted gay men and never had a problem (because why would I?). But I remember loving this movie, seeing it in theatre, then buying it immediately on DVD. Friends – men, insecure with their own sexuality no doubt – made fun of me when they’d see it in my collection. A few woman, too. They’d ask “Why do you own this?” and I’d reply: “It’s a great fucking movie.”
Ang Lee is excellent. What he does with this beautiful yet bittersweet love story is so wonderful, and devastating, as well. There’s nothing else to say. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both tremendous, as are Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in their roles. Powerful and timeless cinema.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)the-neverending-storyThis is like a dream that never fades. Wolfgang Petersen has done such great stuff, especially his powerhouse Das Boot. For me, The NeverEnding Story makes me feel the feelings I did during childhood, the sort you can only vaguely remember. The way you felt before responsibilities and the state of the world bore down on your psyche, when all you had to worry about was a bit of school and your imagination. Alongside little Bastian Balthazar Bux, avid reader, we engage in a tale that’s prophetic in way, but one that mostly whisks you into fantasy where you can take control, like Bastian, and help change the world.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)dr-strangeloveBlacker than burned toast. The only description fitting for this dark political satire.
With characters named President of the United States Merkin Muffley, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, General Buck Turgidson, Colonel Bat Guano, Lt. Lothar Zogg, it’s hard not to see the utter hilariousness. At the very same time it’s about the possibility of all-out, accidental, nuclear war between America and Russia. Perfect Cold War comedy.
If you’ve never seen this Kubrick gem, get to work. The funniest film ever made.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)the-wizard-of-ozFeel the excitement and enjoy!
Great songs, even better performances. The whole production is pure magic.

Philadelphia (1993)philadelphiaGetting his break like many others in the industry from Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme made several masterpieces. One of which is Philadelphia, telling an important story about HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against gay men with the disease which persisted for so long, no doubt still does in many circles sadly.
Tom Hanks does perfect work, but don’t forget Denzel Washington – he plays an equally tough role that cannot be discounted. They’re magnificent, each presenting some of the many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in the everyday lives of regular people.

Natural Born Killers (1994)natural-born-killersLong live Mickey and Mallory! Two depraved and motivated serial killers, each with their own troubles. Oliver Stone made such a damning comment about the state of media and celebrity in age where true crime was (and still is today, more so) exploited by any outlet with a voice, big or small. What we get is a vicious, macabre tale of Mickey and Mallory tearing through America down the highway, stopping here and there to kill, eat, fuck. Along for the ride later is a sleazy TV host willing to do anything to get a good story. Little does he know where that will lead him this time.
This is one wild ride. So get ready.

Being John Malkovich (1999)being-john-malkovichAnother film exploring the concept of celebrity, as well as our worship of those who attain such status, is the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman collaboration Being John Malkovich. This is up there with the best, most innovative films in history. Such a strange movie in many ways and at the same time it is pure genius. Catherine Keener gives a fantastic performance, as do the others, but she’s just a real hit. And the sequence where Malkovich goes inside his own head is a psyche out, entirely surreal, such an accomplished bit of filmmaking. The whole thing is like having your favourite meal, it hits the spot every time.

Pinocchio (1940)pinocchioThe second animated feature film by Disney after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A whopping bit of animation, too. Gorgeous drawing. Story comes from an Italian children’s book. Groundbreaking movie all around, most of all in terms of the artistry. Light and shadow here is used as well as a live action bit of cinema.
One section stuck with me from when I was a kid – Pleasure Island. It frightened the shit out of me. Today when I watch it’s still an unsettling portion to an animated adventure. Poor Pinocchio. Just wants to be real, man.

North by Northwest (1959)north-by-northwestOpening titles may never be topped, credits to Saul Bass. Bernard Herrmann gives us a load of wonderful compositions to make up a classic score. And of course, master of the thriller Alfred Hitchcock takes us for a loop. There are too many scenes that WOW to get anything done here, so maybe if you want share your own with me in the comments!
Is this Hitchcock’s most exciting film? Is it his best? Which scene gets your adrenaline flowing?

Sling Blade (1996)sling-bladeWritten and directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, a movie that makes me weep. Also, a rural drama that’s actually got one of the most villainous characters ever in its workings, a.k.a Dwight Yoakam. There’s a lot to love about this little story. John Ritter plays an atypical Southern man to great effect. Natalie Canerday gives a great performance as a woman in the best situation she can muster, and you can’t ever forget young Lucas Black as the kid befriend by Thornton’s Karl Childers.
You’ll be hard pressed to get better drama in the ’90s, a feat by Thornton to do such good work from the page to the screen and behind the camera.

Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)boratThe genius of Sacha Baron Cohen lies in the way he exposes the bias and ignorance (and racism in this case) of others is by satirising, but in the way he looks to others as if he’s borderline being offensive. When his dressing up and acting as Borat Sagdiyev is actually a mask in order to get under the skin of others, helping to bring out their inner feelings about foreigners and foreign ideals. And like many of the greatest, Cohen borders on nastiness, outright riotous jokes, and gallows humour.
Not sure if anything’s funnier than Borat doing Driver’s Ed. Too, too ridiculous and perfect.

Battle Royale (2000)battle-royaleThis film has more guts than 20 other horror-thrillers combined.
When Japan becomes a nightmare, the youth overrunning the adults with chaos and disorder, the government implements the BR Program, where students from school are taken to an island then left to fight to the death. The last remaining young person is then reintegrated into society. Hugely controversial because of its sensitive subject matter. I’d imagine in America it was a bit sensitive, too; only a year after the Columbine High School massacre. But this is a dystopian vision of the near future, when class isn’t a big issue anymore, only age. It’s a unique vision based on the 1999 novel of the same name. If you’ve not seen it, snatch up a copy. This is exciting, nasty, brutal. Everything a horror fan wants.

Elena (2011)elenaI love films which explore socioeconomic situations, whether in my own country (Canada) or abroad. This 2011 Russian drama Elena follows the titular lead character as she navigates her own personal Hell. Elena, a woman from a working class background, marries a man she met while working as a nurse in a hospital, Vladimir; he is a rich businessman. Problems surface when Elena wants to help her son from a previous marriage to put his boy through school, so that he doesn’t have to go into the military. But Vladimir will not loosen the purse strings, neither for Elena’s family nor her even after he passes.
This story opens up issues about modern Russia, as well as its treatment of women.

Mother of George (2013)mother-of-georgeWe can’t just have diversity in casting, behind the camera, et cetera. What we need is diversity in stories. That conversation needs to be made even bigger, evidently.
Mother of George blew me away because it takes the audience inside the lives of Nigerian-Americans in Brooklyn. We’re brought into their cultures, traditions, the way they live with their families. And out of that comes a cultural problem many of us white people might not understand, or have ever known about. I won’t spoil a second, it’s worth going in knowing only the basics.

Lost Highway (1997)lost-highwayMany David Lynch films entice me. All of them, really. None of them so penetrating and scary as this headtrip. What starts as something like a paranoid thriller crossed with a story of mad jealousy eventually morphs into a psychotic journey across space and time. Is the man who goes to jail and wakes up another person still the same man? Or is it all a way of dissociating from reality? Or is it something more sinister?

Trouble Every Day (2001)trouble-every-dayClaire Denis. Vincent Gallo. Béatrice Dalle.
Tindersticks.
Love. Horror. Sexual cannibalism.

Van Diemen’s Land (2009)van-diemens-landStory of the infamous Irish convict Alexander Pearce, filmed with gorgeous cinematography in the wilds of Australia. A dark look at what happened when Pearce and other convicts at the penal settlement in Van Diemen’s Land escape into the untamed bush in Tasmania. What followed is a gruesome tale of man v. wilderness, in which man – or one man – loses his mind entirely. This is a bit of history we haven’t seen much on film. Glad to see such an exciting, grim retelling of the well-known Tasmanian story.

Images (1972)imagesThe intersection of Robert Altman and the psychological horror sub-genre is what makes up my dreams!
Susannah York stars as a children’s author who has mental troubles, undergoing a horrifying experience while staying in a vacation home far out in the country. She suffers from mysterious apparitions, which beg the question: what is and isn’t real? The whole film will have you reeling, right to the shocking finale. York carries everything so perfectly, as Altman does his usual dance. Not a typical film of his, yet there are landmarks of his style. What we get is an eerie spiral towards insanity where we’re never sure what’s happening and what is a figment of her excitable imagination.

Homicide (1991)homicideThere’s a reason I’ll always love Joe Mantegna and David Mamet’s Homicide from 1991.
Mamet has a body of work that could make even accomplished writers weep with shame, from the stage to the screen he’s undeniably a master of his craft, both as a director and a writer. This one is different. Wedged in between the crime and the drama which works as the catalyst for everything else is a biting take on anti-Semitism and other issues surrounding Jewish people in America. Best is the struggle of Mantegna’s cop character, not quite fitting in at work and simultaneously not quite fitting in with his Jewish people. Unique perspective for a crime movie.
Again, too much would ruin the fun. You get to see Mantegna, William H. Macy, Ving Rhames. In particular it’s Mantegna, his character stuck between duty and faith, who impresses. This isn’t just a favourite of mine, it’s a ’90s classic which somehow gets overlooked too often. Don’t make that mistake, and definitely not if you dig Mamet.

Revanche (2008)revancheThis 2008 Austrian thriller gives its all in weaving a story through several characters, as we witness the various sides of revenge – from the side of the one seeking vengeance, and from the side of the one who caused such a need. The beauty of the film’s look is juxtaposed against its human cruelty and ugliness. You don’t need to hear another word.

The Last Wave (1977)the-last-wavePeter Weir: fucking magician.
The Last Wave masquerades for a long while as a straight up piece of cinema, one that’s full of drama and mystery to the brim. During the lead up to what the Aboriginals of Australia believe will be a devastating storm of cosmological influence, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) must defend four men in the case of a suspicious death, an Aboriginal man. Soon, Burton unearths in himself the belief that the storm coming is indeed catastrophic, and he also starts having prophetic, disturbing dreams.
You’ll never, for sure, what happens. Weir leaves us in the last frames with a decision for ourselves.
Is the storm real, is it the coming apocalypse? Or maybe it’s all inside Burton’s head after being wrapped up tight in his own madness?

Feed (2005)feedPicture enough?
This is a uniquely disturbing bit of horror. Find it. Hate it, or love it. But you’ll never see anything else even close to its strangeness.

Los sin nombre (1999)los-sin-nombreI can’t get more creeped out than Los sin nombre (English title: The Nameless). A whole mix of horror, history, psychology, and Gothic Literature. Based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, this early Jaume Balagueró feature chills with each scene, every revealed piece of plot. Enough creeping moments to make anybody shudder. And once the old smiling man turns up? Forget about it. New pair of shorts, please.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a happy ending of any kind, don’t look here. Nothing but a horrific and depressing conclusion. So fitting for the material.

 Keane (2004)keaneLots of people came to love Damian Lewis for his performance in the grotesquely racist series Homeland. He’s much better in Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane.
Again, the director-writer focuses his lens on the topic of mental illness and its struggle. Never are we sure if what he claims is real, or if it’s a product of his schizophrenia, with which he battles daily and fiercely.
William Keane (Lewis) has lost his daughter at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Except we can’t tell if he really has a daughter. And is his interest in little girls something else? These questions wrack your brain while witnessing the near total breakdown of William as he searches for the daughter he knows he’s lost.

Surveillance (2008)surveillanceJennifer Lynch followed sideways in her father’s footsteps, making her own brand of weird movies. Most of deliciously macabre.
Surveillance is a twisty little slice of crime and horror put together. When two serial killers terrorise their way along a highway, through various towns, the lives of a bunch of travellers. The cast of characters is spectacular. Although it’s Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman who steal the show in their roles as two FBI Agents who come into town after a police officer is killed on the side of the road with some tourists.
You may see some of it coming. Maybe. I didn’t, and even if I did, watching it now getting to the finale is still cool. Just good filmmaking, a fun script, several solid performances. Even French Stewart plays a great role as one sleazy cop. Trust me, at the very least you’ll find yourself surprised at some of what Lynch does with the story.

Animal Factory (2000)animal-factorySuch a top notch prison flick. Steve Buscemi directing, from a screenplay Edward Bunker and John Steppling (based on a novel by the former). Then, one of the actors I most admire, Willem Dafoe in one of the lead roles opposite Edward Furlong. Add in guys like Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold? C’mon!
A simple tale of a young convict being helped out altruistically by an older criminal in the same prison isn’t the typical or expected film in Buscemi’s hands. He gets to the grittiness, showing us the brutality. Yet the story Bunker wrote also allows him to show us a different kind of con in Dafoe’s Earl Copen – a man who cares, if only not to see another soul washed down the drain. An interesting, real view of life on the inside, courtesy of Bunker who spent major time in prison throughout his life.

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)werckmeister-harmoniesCo-directed by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, Werckmeister Harmonies is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. Also beautiful, dark, elegant. Many things.
In a small village, near madness occurs after a circus shows up with an odd attraction: the massive, bloated carcass of a real whale. Then people from elsewhere start to come, the town itself becomes bloated, and its natural order disturbed. A wild movie, I’m mesmerised by it every time I watch. Tarr is a genius, though I do find watching some of his works tiring, have to admit. Also love The Turin Horse; this film still takes the Tarr cake for me.

The Signal (2007)the-signalThis is the best romance movie. With a fine twist of infection horror, science fiction, lots of thrills. The story takes hold when two lovers are trying to meet across town after an outbreak of a signal across all electronic devices, proving difficult as the whole of mankind goes insane with savage violence around them. It’s a unique movie in so many ways. Great performances by A.J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, Scott Poythress. Best of anything is the way we get the story in three parts, three directors on board, and the story comes at us from three different perspectives. A whole bundle of exciting, horrible, romantic events lumped into one great flick.

Sisters (1972)sistersDe Palma is up there with the other greats. Sisters, to me, is in his personal best. Even early on he had a style of his own, a look and feel cultivated from his talents. This horror-thriller never fails to unsettle me. Not just that, it’s thrilling; not in the way some thrillers claim to be then come out only half exciting. As it is in many of his works, De Palma uses his storytelling skills to make his plot so interesting. It’s a bizarre, Hitchcockian horror with Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, and Charles Durning, all in fine form.

Tom à la ferme (2013)tom-at-the-farmOn, Xavier Dolan! If I were a gay man, this guy would be the ultimate catch: he can write, he can act, and fuck me can he ever direct. Mommy‘s his most accomplished feature. Next to that is Tom à la ferme, though it’s no less incredible.
When Tom (Dolan) goes to see the family of his deceased lover, grieving and hoping to find some comfort in their company, he soon discovers they were unaware of him, as well as their son’s sexual orientation. After an uncomfortable welcome, Tom slowly awakens feelings in all of the family, maybe even himself. But there’s no telling if he’ll even make it off the farm once things get tense.
I can’t recommend this enough. Dolan works his way under your skin, in every one of his films in different manners. Here, you never know if this is going to turn out a vicious thriller or merely remain a tense drama. Either way, it’s so god damn perfect that I hate Dolan (just kidding, man: love you) for being this talented in all his roles. Based on a play, he lifts this into a whole other medium and gives it a breathing, snarling life off the stage.

Immortal Beloved (1994)immortal-belovedWorship, kneel at the altar of Gary fucking Oldman! DO IT!
Just kidding. But seriously, he’s up there on the Mount Rushmore of Character Actors.
Immortal Beloved tells the story of the famous letter to his ‘Immortal Beloved’ that Beethoven wrote, never naming the object of his amour. The always interesting Bernard Rose directs this gorgeous period piece, whisking us back through points in the great composer’s life to try and figure out: who was this elusive, nameless love of his? You’ll never see Oldman better, no matter how many awesome movies he does. There’s just such passion to the work he does energising the spirit of Beethoven.
That scene when he has to put his ear to the piano, playing what became his “Moonlight Sonata” later? Enough to take the breath out of your chest.

Hard Core Logo (1996)hard-core-logoAn impressive Canadian feature. Bruce McDonald greatness. Punk rock. Mockumentary. The origin of the band for Billy Talent.
There are things you’ll never see coming. This is NOT Spinal Tap, though it has its moments. It’s the chronicle of a band with its trouble, how it moves on or stays stuck in place, and we witness the tension, the love, the hate, all of it. Front row seat.
Oh, by the way – Hugh Dillon is a Canadian legend!

He Got Game (1998)he-got-gameThe best of Spike Lee, as he examines a father-son relationship plagued by a terrible act of violence by the former, and also he eviscerates the way young basketball stars – in the spotlight are those from urban neighbourhoods like Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) – are treated by recruiters and schools like paid peaces of meat, offering up irresponsible amounts of money + gifts to entice these young men away from their homes and their lives, their loves.
There’s so much to love, not least of which are the performances from Allen, a huge surprise to me, and of course the always charming Denzel Washington. I think Denzel’s performance and role are the best, the toughest, because the character of Jake Shuttlesworth is very unlikable. You don’t want him to be redeemed, though by the end you forget his original intentions and start to see him as a human again. I love Spike’s work because he never shies from the truth.


Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far. Cheers!
Let me know what you thought in the comments, whether you hate or love the films I’ve mentioned.

DON’T BREATHE or You’ll Choke on the Tension!

Don’t Breathe. 2016. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Screenplay by Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues.
Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, & Emma Bercovici.
Screen Gems/Stage 6 Films/Ghost House Pictures.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Thriller.

★★★★1/2
poster-dont-breatheFede Alvarez did a bang up job with the Evil Dead remake. Not only did he and co-writer Rodo Sayagues come on like a couple madmen upping the bloody horror, they also took the story and made it their own with a twist on the original. Coming into Don’t Breathe, I knew that with Alvarez at the helm and Sayagues in the seat again alongside him writing once more, chances are this film would be exciting.
And they did not disappoint. For most of the runtime this is a movie totally reliant, for good reason, on suspense. There’s an inarguable tension that Alvarez rarely, if ever, lets up. He gives us an ebb and flow of the suspense, a rise and then a fall; all to lull us in for the bigger jumps and surprises and jolts of pure adrenaline.
With three fantastic actors leading the way – Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, and Dylan Minnette – the story’s in proper hands. Added to that is the textured, gritty cinematography of Pedro Luque (The Silent House), capturing the Blind Man’s home in a spectacular spectrum of darkness and light, all shades of colours. There’s so much to enjoy, even when we’re taken down the rabbit hole of depravity after the secrets of the house are finally revealed.
dont-breathe1There’s something thrilling about beginning in media res, as it sets the stage to either reach that pinnacle of terror exactly as we see it, or take us on a winding road to explain it to us differently, to show us the truth and perhaps make things more intense than they once seemed. So the ominous opener of the Blind Man (Lang) hauling an unconscious Rocky (Levy) down the road in a dilapidated Detroit neighbourhood is a powerful way to start the film, as it brings up a lot of questions, ones that remain unanswered right to the last minute.
Nice character development in the beginning. Rocky isn’t just a female character, she doesn’t get tossed in and used as a generic part of the story. Some horror movies do the Final Girl trope, and not to say that doesn’t happen to a certain extent here. But before any of that happens we’re introduced to her life, the hell from which she wants to escape. It isn’t a case of young girl wants to run away and start a new life, it’s a case of young girl lives in near squalor with a horrible mother and her neo-Nazi boyfriend and she’s got to get her kid sister OUT.
What’s more is that I like the relationship between Rocky and Alex (Minnette). It gives the film a romantic sort of story, as Alex pines quietly for his good friend. And we get it without any of the forced romance, there’s no cheesy love story. Rather, Alvarez and Sayagues make it part of the characters and use it mostly as the basis for Alex’s character/his motivations. Truly a solid bit of writing in the screenplay. Too many movies fall prey to the supposed need for romantic intrigue and in the course of that ruin characters, drag out portions of story to unneeded lengths, among other mistakes. Don’t Breathe gets this angle right, part of why it’s one of the better written horrors in the last 6 or 7 years.
dont-breathe-2This next part might need a disclaimer. I’ll just say that I’m not trying to be insensitive, because I don’t meant to be, this is merely an opinion.
I’ve seen a few reviews stating they wished a blind actor were used for the part Lang plays. And I have a problem with that. This isn’t the same as a black character being whitewashed, an Asian character being replaced with a white woman, or anything racial. Logistically, could they have used an actual blind person to fill the role? Maybe. I’m not saying there’s no blind actors who couldn’t handle the part. What I’m saying is that this is a movie. There’s only so much time they can film, there’s only so many takes a crew can do, and at the end of the day I think that acting is called acting for a reason.
Lang does some of his best work as The Blind Man. Furthermore, Alvarez and Sayagues don’t write him as a cliche, trope-ified blind character in that they don’t make his sense of smell and hearing A MILLION TIMES BETTER, because while no doubt some who are blind come to use their other senses with a keen edge, being blind doesn’t make you into a superhero of some sort. Between the character as written and the way Lang portrays him, I’d hope that it comes off as genuine. Also, I applaud the fact the Blind Man is, in essence, the villain of the story. The filmmakers don’t pose as trying to put all sorts of pity on this man, instead this disabled veteran is the monster in the shadows, the big bad. And that’s a lot of fun. Able bodied people take for granted the fact we see ourselves in all lights represented through cinema. What I love here is that, for anyone disabled, they get to have the experience of being represented as the villain, and through fiction these types of scenarios and characters allow us to understand the humanity of everybody; the able bodied and the disabled alike can be heroes and heroines, villains, any kind of character. Something often times forgotten by writers.
dont-breathe-3The nature of Don’t Breathe‘s plot – robbing the home of a blind man – allows for easy suspense. The choice of shots, the tension as the would-be robbers move through his house, the dead quiet of many scenes which raises the heart rate; these put that suspense up on blast. Alvarez draws it all out as the Blind Man’s home unleashes upon us the horror held within its walls. Keeping a story basically in one location for a whole film isn’t always easy. He does so with a feel of true claustrophobia which never eases.
What a finale. The final 20-25 minutes circles around a depraved edge. The bulk of Lang’s lines come here, the delivery and the writing together are like a sledgehammer. Lang has a special, subtle way of being ferocious, which he uses to full advantage in these moments. For a minute or two you feel anything, even the most brutal possibility, is wholly possible. Accompanied by the eerie score from Roque Baños (Sexy BeastThe MachinistCell 211) these are dreadful scenes worthy of awe.
I can’t stress enough that Don’t Breathe is one of 2016’s best horror films, the consensus is astounding. There will always be detractors, of any movie, but especially horror – so many fickle fans. Many of whom love to hate movies other horror fans enjoy a ton, like they get a thrill from being a contrarian. There are certain undeniable things about films, particularly horror, that aren’t subjective, and Alvarez – by all honest accounts – gives us amazingly palpable suspense the likes of which don’t come around often enough. Let this movie sink its hooks in, I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER: Step Into a Place of Madness

The Blackcoat’s Daughter. 2016. Directed & Written by Oz Perkins.
Starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, James Remar, Peter J. Gray, Emma Holzer, Jodi Larratt, & Douglas Kidd.
Paris Film/Travelling Picture Show Company/Unbroken Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-14-52-amBetween this and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, director-writer Oz Perkins (son of the great Anthony Perkins) has had a couple great years. He’s proving to be a master of the slow burn. Some might not be keen on that type of horror. Myself, and plenty others, find it fascinating; when done correctly.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (also renamed as February throughout its drawn out release) is a compelling, almost hypnotic fever dream. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it hinges on a big twist, a grand reveal. However, Perkins does tell his story through a curious lens, one that kept me thrilled to the last beat. Part of the way through the pieces start coming together and when they do the climax hits like kick in the teeth, bringing us towards a tragic and violent end.
Not everyone will find the film their cup of tea; no film’s going to touch on everything, it’s impossible. If you’re a fan of those slow burn horror efforts, Perkins offers nothing but the best. The central performances, specifically Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka, are totally engaging, and honestly if you can’t give them that then you’re not being honest. Above all, the style of the film, its gradually revealed plot, the score, they’ll haul you into this world and haunt you, too.
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-12-44-amThe film moves in what feels like an erratic fashion, jumping between the three main young women in the story – Joan (Roberts), Rose (Boynton), and Kat (Shipka). For a little while I actually felt the screenplay wasn’t coming out smooth, then after several scenes things came together and made clear the story was non-linear. Once you settle into the plot and its progression, the film gets even more interesting; the vagary of its elements become clearer and clearer.
What I dig most is the sparse dialogue and the sense of subtlety throughout. It’s a quiet film until the madness of the last half hour. Even then it’s gentle, in a way. A genuinely unsettling atmosphere is provided through gorgeously captured, dark cinematography making the boarding school particularly, the main location of the film, feel ominous at every turn. Kudos to cinematographer Julie Kirkwood, who also worked on Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and also on Bryan Bertino’s spectacular little flick The Monster last year.
Something which gives presence to the eerie darkness of the film is also the score. Beautifully strange music. Certain parts sound like a theremin, off playing in the distance somewhere. Other times an echoing, grating sound of strings, and so much more. The score altogether, every piece, fits where it sits. Just great stuff that takes the sombre mood and tone of the film to another level.
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-53-19-amPerkins could’ve told this story through a straightforward presentation of scenes, moving through all the expected moves one anticipates in a film such as this one. Again, I don’t necessarily feel that the ‘reveal’ of the plot is a twist, or that it’s meant as a huge surprise. But the slow burn leading up to it makes that revelation exciting, in a darkly enticing manner. Perkins writes well without exposition, telling his story through imagery, which in turn makes the whole thing more captivating as we move through its murky mysteries.
He does a fine bit of work as director. The quick shots of a strangulation. Then a gunshot in the darkness. A view of Joan’s bullet scar. Blood on a door frame. Kat sees Rose in the corner, as an evil entity rises up nearby. All these things are so finite, brief, all vague and unnerving respectively. Specifically I love when we’re introduced to Joan. As we figure her out, the flashes of her memory are pure storytelling without the need for words.
And this is, once more, part of why the revealing moments of the story hold their weight. Because even if you’re not actually surprised by the – for lack of a better word at this point – twist, at this point there’s an anticipation built up that has you expecting something fierce. Does Perkins ever deliver. Tension snaps, then art and nastiness collide. Believe it or not, Perkins opts to show very little in comparison to what he could have shown for the sake of gruesome horror. The relatively tame nature of the final 20-25 minutes is what makes it such a gruelling experience. Then all those cryptic memories of Joan, her odd giggle in the bathroom, the scar, Kat and Rose’s situation at the boarding school, everything tangles up into a vicious burst of blood and terror.

This is absolutely one of the best horrors I saw from 2016. Perkins is a talented director and storyteller, his writing is the sort which draws me in, keeping me glued. Not everyone likes that slow burn aesthetic. I do. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is expertly written, and through that comes its gorgeous, devilish imagery to tell the story on its own. There’s no substitute for great artistry, Perkins has it in spades.
You can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the massive talents of Roberts and Shipka. They’re both utterly fabulous, gliding through the material with what looks of ease. They make their characters feel real, which isn’t only necessary it is wholly disturbing. The story comes down hard on the audience not only because of the writing, but because these two young women make Joan and Kat come off the page with terrifying results.
I keep telling people about this one because it deserves to be seen, it deserves to be studied in terms of its visuals and learned from for those who write and want to tell a story without only resorting to dialogue; this aspect I love and can’t stress enough. So many people want this type of horror, then when they get it they don’t know what to do with it. Not saying everybody has to love it. Just try and let the images and the flow of the film take over, listen to the sparsely placed words carefully. I hope that maybe you’ll get even a fraction of the same enjoyment I did, and will continue to as I watch it over and over again, relishing in its horrific glory.

Lower V. Upper Class: THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK

The House on the Edge of the Park. 1980. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici & Vincenzo Mannino.
Starring David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio, Karoline Mardeck, & Lorraine De Selle.
F.D. Cinematografica.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
posterRiding on the coattails of The Last House on the Left, Ruggero Deodato came on hard with 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park, another violent and borderline vile film starring David Hess as one of the aggressors. Of course Deodato is forever infamous for the found footage which started it all – Cannibal Holocaust. But this movie has some equally brutal bits, as well as has a few things to say amongst all the violence.
This is another movie that found itself on the Video Nasties list; sometimes this is a badge of honour for certain films worth the effort, others it’s simply a way of telling whether a horror is outrageous. The House on the Edge of the Park is part of the former group. Not all of its scenes play right, the screenplay could use a nice bit of work to tighten things up. Apparently Hess re-wrote lots of his dialogue, he was given half the film’s rights in order to secure him as a star, so I’m willing to bet the script suffered a bit with so much of the actor’s control exerted over the production. Despite any of its faults, this is one horror-thriller that hits deep with hints of class disparity, cruel violence, and a disturbing look at how tragic events push people into becoming someone far from themselves.
pic1As opposed to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, this one starts out with brutal violence. Instead of lulling us into a bit of complacency Deodato begins in nastiness, then transitions into a more unsuspecting film with shades of class division in its themes, as we watch two men from a much more street life come in contact with the bourgeoisie in nasty, supremely violent ways.
Hess’ character Alex is the physical representation of hedonism – food, sex, violent delights, and more. He only cares about getting off, getting his; whether that’s rape or murder or whatever else. Regardless of this side to Alex, he is aware of his separation from the upper class; he understands his supposed place in the chain of class command. In parallel, his less menacing buddy Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is like a more unaware, less conscious member of the lower class. He doesn’t see the people making fun of him for his apparent differences. It takes Alex to make him realise this is what’s happening, thrusting him into that violence he knows well.
When Alex and Ricky crash the party, this borders on Les Liaisons dangereuses in the form of an exploitation flick. The best way to see the class disparity is how the upper class torture Ricky, they act from a privileged position and treat Ricky like a sideshow to watch instead of someone with whom they can party. But then their treatment of people they perceive as lower class is regrettable, as Alex rises up and makes them regret their privilege and how t leads them to treat others. After this the night spins out of control.
pic2SPOILERS AHEAD!
All around the movie’s chilling. During the assault Alex begins this feeling amplifies. Everything is so quiet, there’s an absence of music. Fear is so viscerally present. However, the plot is slow going, and not in a good slow burn manner. The tension dies out after awhile which kills things. It isn’t even as violent as you’d expect, outside of a couple moments that stick. Almost a softcore porn at times, a bit boring. Although the film makes up for these missteps once Alex goes wild near the end.
One of the best moments of tension is the difference between Hess and his partner. This provides a sense of relief from some of the horror involve with the home invasion, though not much.  The ending is bittersweet – it isn’t great, Alex gets shot in the dick followed by a hilariously fun slow motion scream. But the two criminals get what’s coming to them, despite their differences and Ricky’s reluctant complicity with the crime.
In the end, the partygoers take their own revenge. Question is: are they any better for wanting to hurt and kill Alex particularly? They taunt him, pushing him into a pool, and plan to cover up everything afterwards. Not that Alex doesn’t deserve what he gets; he does, indeed. It’s simply that there’s no moral high ground for the victims by choosing to let Alex die, almost killing his partner with a dose of brutish, violent revenge. So what’s left in the end is a group of upper class people dragged down to the level of the disgruntled lower class. But following this encounter, they’re forever changed, and some aren’t sure death wouldn’t be better than living after such viciousness.
What matters is that its all over
But at what price?”
pic3Deodato could’ve done more. Once more, I feel like Hess being too involved, being given such a wide berth as to what he was able to do re: dialogue and the screenplay, this hindered The House on the Edge of the Park. He does wonderfully devilish things with the role of Alex, no doubt. Simply put, Hess should’ve stuck to the acting instead of trying to hard to take control over the writing.
Through it all there’s a sense of violent class warfare above all the nasty bits. Deodato didn’t really focus on that much intentionally, not that I can tell. Outside of using it to drive the violence. Then again, I can’t count him out. When many see no point to Cannibal Holocaust I feel Deodato, in his best works like that dangerous bit of found footage, he’s getting at what are just as dangerous ideas and messages.
Give this a chance. Although there are a good many flaws, The House on the Edge of the Park is one of those movies on the Video Nasties list that’s actually enjoyable. I consider this one of the better Deodato offerings – up there with Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManCut and Run, and of course Cannibal Holocaust. You might not discover your favourite movie in this one, but if you’re a horror hound it’ll tickle that urge to indulge something disturbing.

There’s Twice the Psychosis WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

When A Stranger Calls Back. 1993. Directed & Written by Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Babs Chula, John Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jenn Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, & Kevin McNulty.
Krost-Chapin Productions/MCA Television Entertainment/Pacific Motion Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
poster1979’s When A Stranger Calls is a favourite of mine. There are far too many people who either don’t know it, or they don’t appreciate it enough. Tony Beckley’s performance as Curt Duncan, the titular stranger, is the stuff of pure nightmare. And somehow, 14 years later, Fred Walton’s sequel When A Stranger Calls Back nearly hits all the same eerie notes with a different story and some of the same characters.
Walton gets a bit wilder in this sequel, although just about every bit of it works. Charles Durning and Carol Kane return again as John Clifford and Jill Johnson respectively, each hardened and experienced due to their experiences with Duncan in the first film. In the position of Kane’s Jill this time around is Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz, a woman whose life becomes a horrorshow at the hands of a demented, relentless stalker.
The sequel goes for a more outlandish stalker. His psychosis is much stranger than that of Curt Duncan’s urge to kill. Some might find the stalker’s gimmick cheesy. Me, I find it terrifying.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-25-amMimicking the original, Walton starts off with a suspenseful opening sequence with Julia babysitting. However, he sets it apart from the first film by not opting for an outwardly foreboding, unnerving phone call. So much so that Walton’s actually taken the phone out of the picture by literally having it cut dead. This allows the sequel to tread its own ground rather than march straight through the original material all over again. It’s the same, yet isn’t, and the familiarity solely helps as a jumping off point for the tension. At one point Walton cuts back to shots of the doorknob, ratcheting that tension to a maximum. The viewer waiting on seat’s edge to see it turn, or move even in the tiniest way. This moment never comes. Sidestepping the payoff leaves Walton with unresolved tension, poised for a wicked crash once the perverse and threatening action of the titular stranger breaks loose.
When it gets genuinely disturbing is the second stalking. Like Duncan, this stranger comes back again after the first time. But what this guy does as opposed to Duncan is play a far more psychologically threatening game with Julia than Duncan did with Jill; not to say she didn’t suffer, but boy, this stalker is a doozy. Here, the stranger plays sick games to ingratiate himself with Julia, to put himself in her life, somehow in a twisted frame of mind. When you find out what he’s doing later in the film, it is a trip.


Having both Kane and Durning back brings with them credibility, as well as a degree of continuity instead of a sequel that feels like a cash in, put together to get a quick payday for everyone involved, maybe boost the sales of the original. This way, their characters make the story more interesting; there’s more depth, more at stake. Of course it works out well because Jill’s experience in When A Stranger Calls is sort of how we also saw Sydney Prescott in the Scream series eventually become a victim counsellor over the phone – she provides a unique perspective that plays into Julia’s predicament with her own stalker. While the stalker feels weirder in a spooky way, this sequel is less psychological horror – even though there’s plenty of that – and more a dark, emotional thriller full of mystery.
Still, Walton does play well with the psycho-horror of this screenplay. He makes Julia’s apartment into an ominous, paranoid location where each shadow means potential danger. With lingering shots and choice edits, the apartment is like a haunting character in and of itself, which lurks around the viewer, and of course Julia. Walton and cinematographer David Geddes (Legends of TomorrowHalloween: Resurrection) give the film a great look, especially considering this sequel is a TV movie after all.
There are quite a few spectacularly creepy moments and scenes. At one point, the stalker stands over Julia as she lies in a hospital bed – he slaps her over and over, and it’s so horrific because you can clearly see the psychotic behaviour brimming along the edges, past ready to break out fully. SPOILERS! SPOILERS AHEAD! When we get a look at the stranger in his element – a ventriloquist painted black, a dummy on his knee with no facial features – there’s a shocking element to this revelation. Suddenly you understand, all of it. Honestly, this scene starts out funny. Then gradually it becomes unbearable. Totally unsettling shit. Particularly once people start leaving, weirded out by this ventriloquist act, and the owner of the club all but kicks the hell out of the stranger, there’s a sad, pitiful aspect to this man. Sort of emotionally crushing because he’s obviously got issues. Although there’s no connection, no empathy for him – we’ve seen what he does. The final showdown between him, Jill, and Julia is crazy. Very fitting and just as intense. A legitimately frightening finish, at times as frightening as Curt Duncan from the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-57-amI’ll always love the original most, and I do feel that it is rightfully the better film. That being said, When A Stranger Calls Back is one of the more underrated sequels to a classic horror that, for whatever reason, never gets its due. That’s probably in part because this went out as a TV movie. Not sure why it ended up that way, because it has the makings of a genuine film and Walton follows his own footsteps lightly, treading carefully in most of the right places.
My only complaint is that I wish we were given a bit more insight into the stalker. We do get plenty later once everything kicks up a notch. But there easily could’ve been more. Perhaps that’s part of it being a TV movie. If we got a full fledged theatrical release movie from Walton on this sequel, there may have been changes in that department. We’ll never know.
Despite any small complaints, this Halloween you need to see When A Stranger Calls Back. This one gets a bit more disquieting simply for how it gets a bit more out of control with a stalking stranger even more unhinged than Curt Duncan; if you can believe it.

Science Fiction Icarus in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. 1963. Directed by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Robert Dillon & Ray Russell.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, & Don Rickles.
Alta Vista Productions.
Not Rated. 79 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterRoger Corman helped a lot of young directors and writers, as well as actors, get their start in an often ruthless business; one he knew plenty about. We can’t forget his genius as director, though. He might not get the praise he deserves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here praising him. I’ll gladly add my name to that list of folks.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, as I see it, one of his best pictures. It’s such a unique and fun, old school movie with a sci-fi brain and a horror heart. The script comes from Robert Dillon (French Connection II) and Ray Russell (Mr. Sardonicus), together making the character of Dr. James Xavier one of the more tragically mad doctors of cinema.
While special effects heavy due to the nature of the plot, Corman does a fine job directing this to make it stand out as one of the more interesting films of its kind during the 1960s, when sci-fi had already been pumping out for years and only continued to more so afterwards. The psychological nature of this tale and its examination of a doctor with a God complex, to an extreme length, is a personal favourite of mine in the science fiction genre.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-33-43-pmWe start with a macabre opening on a loose eyeball, which is then bobbing in a test tube of fluid. Followed by the hypnotic spiral that pulls us into this strange film. As if preparing us for the oddities to come; the weird and unexpected are about to unfold. Corman’s best films, of which X most certainly is one, are amazingly vivid in terms of visuals. Especially those shot by Floyd Crosby, including this film, and the Corman Poe adaptations The Fall of the House of UsherThe Pit and the PendulumThe Premature Burial, and the loosest of all Poe movies The Raven. The gorgeous, colourful widescreen beauty is in full force here. More than that, Corman and Crosby used some interesting techniques to visualise the x-ray vision of Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland). Hell, even when the doc has eye drops put in Corman opts to include a point of view shot from the eye itself, blinking lids and all. This serves as a method of immersing us in the experimentation of Xavier along with those fun x-ray shots and other similar sequences.
The inevitable seeing people naked is a fun moment, if not a tad disturbing as Dr. Xavier finds his ability to control the x-ray vision slipping. Moreover, he’s a constant invasion of privacy, privy to your most private birthmarks. That ethical breach then extends, as the doctor uses his vision in order to push his way into surgery, to prove himself as the best in the profession. Of course this proves correct when Dr. Xavier can see exactly what’s wrong with a patient by looking inside her; this is the definitive commencement of his newly formed God complex – or at least recently exacerbated complex – which only gets worse, the hubris building him to scary heights. So high, in fact, that the only fall imaginable is on the same tragic level as that of Icarus, plummeting out of the sky.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-59-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-11-46-pmI consider the plot on par with great sci-fi literature, the likes of which Richard Matheson might dream up on a dark, stormy night. There’s wonderful thematic material. Most importantly, great power – no matter how beneficial – when mishandled and disrespected can lead to nothing except woe. The proud doctor goes from top surgeon to sideshow carnival freak to a desperate gambler at the end of his rope. Another doctor tells him during the first scene: “only the gods see everything.” Almost as if taking that as his mantra, a challenge to achieve, Dr. Xavier makes the God complex of doctors into something which ultimately proves near lethal; at the very least, capable of destroying one’s sanity.
In the end one of the biggest concepts is, essentially: if/when man finally witnesses something so much bigger than himself, god-like, will he then also be able to handle the sight of such pure, magnificent power? At the centre of his new vision Dr. Xavier can’t seem to see that one last radiant glow of some Other right behind the wall. It drives him mad. Partly, this speaks to an idea that religion, in whatever form (Christian, Muslim, Pagan, anything else), doesn’t have all the answers, nor does science. When Xavier gets to the point he thinks he’s utterly at the top of the food chain, in a manner of speaking, he discovers there’s still a final dimension which he cannot see. At least not in life.
During the final scene, the doctor proclaims to a pastor and his flock that at the core of our existence lies “the eye that sees us all.” And this is what drives him over the edge, that he – merely a man – cannot ever rise to the level of a god. He can be a doctor, perhaps the closest literal occupation to that of a god, wielding life and death right in his hands, but he will never be god-like, not really. That is still something too powerful for even his scientifically engineered eyes to grasp wholly.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-16-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-18-19-pmThere’s much to love about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland does a fantastic bit of work as Dr. Xavier, making us feel sorry for him even after watching his out of control hubris get the best of his better self. The progression of his intent on becoming a god is at times uncomfortable, simply because we can smell a downfall coming a mile away. But that doesn’t mean this story is predictable.
Corman is a great director, whose interest has always been to make the films he’d like to see, in hopes that others share his macabre sensibilities. He runs the gamut of pure horror to more sci-fi-type stuff such as this flick. His influence on genre filmmaking is nearly unparalleled; truthfully, nobody else has touched as many movie making lives as him. He deserves the genre community’s love as much as any other director in the business.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes in this day and age probably looks, in title, cheesy to people. To me, there’s not an ounce of cheese in this movie. There are little funny moments, such as the dialogue from Xavier at a party when a woman says she’s noticed him across the room and he replies that she has “sharp eyes” – the screenplay is not void of humour entirely. Mostly, this is a serious look at a doctor falling headfirst into the deep end, sinking quick and harsh into the mess he’s made fro himself. The God complex in doctors has never before felt so tragic because at the end of the day Xavier did all this to himself, rather than test it on another person. So, in line with poor Icarus and his ill-advised flight, the doctor with his x-ray eyes is more sad than scary, although no less horrific in psychological terms.
All I know is that this film doesn’t ever get enough love, and more people need to see it. We should all be talking about this when the conversation about top science fiction crossed with horror comes up; in Corman we trust.

TASTE OF FEAR: Gothic Family Secrets

Taste of Fear. 1961. Directed by Seth Holt. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster.
Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, & Fred Johnson.
Hammer Films/Falcon Films.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterFrom about the mid ’50s up and into the ’70s, Hammer Films were known well for their often Gothic-styled horror movies, known affectionately then and certainly now as Hammer Horror. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who plays the role of Dr. Pierre Gerrard in this film, were staples of these movies, as well as directors like Terence Fisher and others. Too many good titles to name. However, those of us horror hounds who’ve seen more than our fair share probably know Hammer best from their versions of stories about the classic monsters like Dracula (in various forms), Frankenstein, The Mummy, and then there’s stuff like One Million Years B.C. and Rasputin, the Mad Monk.
In fact, Lee is quoted as saying that he felt Taste of Fear was Hammer Films’ best production, from the top on down. And I have to say, much as I love a lot of Hammer Horror this Seth Holt-directed, Jimmy Sangster-scripted Gothic mystery is at the top of the heap; if not the decorative star.
Both chilling and also sly, the further you get into the plot, the less sure you are of who’s keeping the biggest secret from whom. And that’s not frustrating, it is totally compelling. With a grimly fun story that keeps you guessing and the backdrop of a perfect Gothic estate, Taste of Fear also contains a measured performance from Susan Strasberg as the wheelchair-bound Penny Appleboy; her journey towards the truth is the viewer’s next nightmare.
pic3That Gothic feel is twofold. First in terms of the large house, the type of place you’d expect to be in a film such as this one. It gives Holt and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (1945’s Dead of Night, later went on to do Raiders of the Lost ArkIndiana Jones and the Temple of DoomIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade; plus plenty more) one huge location to turn into a haunted playground of memories. Furthermore, the characters make for a perfect Gothic cast, from the jet-set father supposedly away on business, his paralysed daughter who gets left with her new stepmother, a chauffeur who may or may not know of deeper, darker family secrets, and a suspicious doctor. Sangster’s writing is excellent. These characters alone are interesting enough to propel the simple plot. And in no way is simple a bad thing. Sangster is able to give us interesting characters and tons of suspense, which Holt draws out to grasp the viewer.
Cinematography is the biggest reason to love this movie. Slocombe is a genius, and Holt’s directorial choices only help make his work better. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is striking. More than that the camerawork itself should be noted. At certain points in a few scenes, Slocombe puts us directly in the perspective of Penny using POV shots. One is after she topples into the pool, a very neat shot from out of the water; another while she rolls in her chair, slowly, so that you almost feel your heart pound in place of hers. Also, there are these intense closeup shots of eyes and faces throughout the film, such as when we watch Penny discovering the corpse of her father around the house and her scream literally fills the screen. But what these shots of the eyes and faces, notably in fear, do is make that fear real for the viewer. It’s a great technique and heightens the frayed emotion of Penny at every turn.
pic1The overall haunting imagery is what will keep this movie fresh in your mind. After Penny starts to see her father’s corpse, apparently, staring at her in a deathly pose, she naturally begins to have emotional and mental troubles. This begins her awful paranoia, the questioning of her own sanity. Using those POV shots, Holt and Slocombe place us in a very psychologically fragile perspective. This imagery helps us feel embedded in the story and the idea of secrets. Everybody is hiding something, and until late in the story we’re not entirely sure whose is what or exactly why they’re hiding anything. Without spoiling anything, as the story unfolds nobody is who they seem, and the writing keeps us figuratively in the dark, right to the most tense, effective moment when the rug gets pulled out from under our feet. There’s a reason for everything.
Even if you feel a little tricked by what you’ve seen, isn’t that the job of a film: to trick you into believing that what you’re seeing is real?
My favourite scene is the underwater pool scene when Mr. Appleby is seemingly found at the bottom. The cinematography is perfect, as we wade through the water with the character. The actor playing Appleby is stone-faced, eyes open, with a snarl which slowly settles over the viewer. We gaze into his stare to a point it becomes terribly unsettling. This scene has always stuck with me since seeing the film a few years back.
pic2-1Taste of Fear has a great performance as its crowned jewel: Susan Strasberg. She doesn’t oversell the screams or the paranoia, she hits every note so beautifully on the head. Moreover, her convincing portrayal of a young woman going mad – or is she? – plays to the writing so well that most viewers, now and then, probably would never guess the big twist. If you do it’s still an enjoyable ride.
Too many people pass over classic movies these days because they’re far too immersed in shitty modern style. Lots of great modern horror, I don’t mean there isn’t, but I’ve come across too many supposed film fans who’ve barely seen anything before 1985. It’s absurd. So go back and watch some of these Hammer flicks, especially this one. I forgot to mention that it’s also got one of my favourite scores from the ’60s, so that’s another added bonus – Clifton Parker (Night of the Demon) gives us a load of cracking pieces that pound away, relentless, attacking the nerves and at other moments whisks us away to a dreamy landscape.
Do yourself a favour, experience Taste of Fear, which is also known under the title Scream of Fear. It’s a Gothic horror with a solid dose of psychological terror to boot. The actors will keep you sticking around for the story, and the writing’s fantastic. A underrated bit of cinema from 1961 that we should all be revisiting. Particularly during late October.

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER: A Flashy, Slashy, Trashy Good Time

I Know What You Did Last Summer. 1997. Directed by Jim Gillespie. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson; loosely based on the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan.
Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Heche, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, & Stuart Greer.
Mandalay Entertainment/Summer Knowledge LLC.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2posteriknowwhatyoudidlastsummerAfter Scream, horror fans out there seemed to only want similar movies. That’s fine, because I see stuff all the time and think “I wish there was more of this!” Problem is you have to draw the line. At a certain point we just need something different. And not every slasher, or horror in general, has to break the mould. Now and then it’s nice to just have a plain ole slasher, a simple ghost story. Whatever the case. So for Kevin Williamson, part of I Know What You Did Last Summer undoubtedly meant to show people he wasn’t intent on solely doing metafictional, self-referential horror. He also liked the slasher sub-genre that his screenplay for Scream took its jabs at, which is great! Why can’t a writer poke fun at a genre that he enjoys? Having a sense of humour about your own tastes is a mark of intelligence in my book.
For all its glaring flaws, I Know What You Did Last Summer has its fun with a loosely adapted story from the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan. It’s unfortunate that Duncan’s own daughter was murdered, she really didn’t like that they made this into a slasher, not one bit. Having all the empathy in the world for her, the book is one thing and her life is another.
Williamson’s script isn’t twisting and turning in the way we’re necessarily spooked by the reveal of the killer or anything. That’s not what this film is about. He examines the lives of four pretty, privileged, young white people who made a hideous decision not to report a murder, choosing instead to assure their promising, bright futures are not derailed. What follows is a wave of revenge, the consequences of guilt come back to punish them all. Like watching the conscience wreak havoc in horror form.ikwydls1The opening scenes before our flash forward a year or so set things up well. When horror has a palpable atmosphere, the story can be forgiven a few faults, even the acting. Director Jim Gillespie does great work with his debut feature, adding atmosphere that’s full of suspense and tension so quickly. From the first scene up until the flash forward, everything is dark, the mood and tone feels so ominous. Once the flash forward happens we’re plunged into the light. There’s a fascinating contrast between the dark subject matter and the sunny seaside town in which the story is set makes for an unsettling feeling, part of the film’s quietly creepy atmosphere.
Once the changeover between dark and light happens, the danger is everywhere. Constant. Around every last corner and each little turn is the potential for any various brutal death, in the name of the slasher sub-genre. We get a bit of brutality, too. Although not quite as much as you’d expect. One moment I always enjoy is how when the unknown, hook-handed killer chases down Barry (Ryan Phillippe), and we know he’s about to get killed barbarically. Only he doesn’t get killed, he’s left alive. Usually this isn’t the case for slashers unless dealing with a Final Girl situation. So that’s a nice little spot in the screenplay which works. Then, the delay of a kill amps up the tension a bit. Another shot I find effective is when Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) opens her trunk, a dead body inside covered in crabs; so fast, short, like a shot to the brain. Awesome horror moment.
ikwydls2One major weak link is Phillippe. Strange to me because, honestly, I usually dig him. He overplays the character, there’s no nuance at all. Surprisingly, someone I don’t often enjoy saves the acting: Ms. Love Hewitt. I’ve never really found her that interesting. The character of Julie James is one devastated by guilt of not stopping the cover-up of her friend’s crime, although no less guilty than any of her counterparts in the fateful act on that deadly summer night. She express the guilt without going into psychosis mode like Phillippe. Definitely helps to have her in the cast, as she remains the foundation of all the drama.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is decent here, as well. The sequence featuring her going to bed then waking up to a tiara on her head is sinister, totally drenched in suspense with great shots. She sees the tiara, the SOON in lipstick across her mirror. Such a beautifully executed sequence that leaves a dry lump in the throat. Gellar sells it well, going appropriately wild when need be.
This is also the gateway to more suspense, as the pace picks up speed. The movie builds steam from here to start churning on the terror. Slasher kill scenes don’t really open up much until late in the plot, which is fine. That’s a plus, as this gives time for everything else to develop. One of the best death scenes is that of Gellar: like our wait for more blood, this draws out awhile, until the Hook corners her and the killing blows are punctuated by fireworks in the sky. Amazing. Because at its base, this film is a warning to the rich, disaffected kids of America – they may not get caught by police, but the killers out for revenge in slasher pictures will find them, no matter how many summers pass. As Gellar’s Helen Shivers is stabbed bloodily to death, the Fourth of July fireworks in the sky, you can’t help but see this slasher as a deeply American movie on many levels.
ikwydls3There are a bunch of ways I Know What You Did Last Summer could’ve been improved. For one, that Phillippe performance needed toning down. Secondly, there needed to be more slasher gore, in my opinion. Part of me feels Williamson went a bit soft instead of going full-on slasher madness because he felt necessary to separate from Scream in any way possible.
But I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me because there’s still a decent movie in there. A couple performances work, and the bloody bits we do get are worth the time. That July 4th scene is so good, so subtly terrifying. There’s some trashy stuff, a couple slick and flashy sequences. There are a few lessons to be learned on top of everything else. These young, privileged white boys and girls opt to try covering up what they did, not knowing the full story, and everything imaginable comes down upon them in return. I Know What You Did Last Summer is a slice of slasher cinema which aims to freak you out, simultaneously preaching to the teens who flock to see these types of movies about shady morality. Unexpectedly, the moral message works while other pieces don’t, and I dig enough of it that every Halloween this movie makes an appearance on my viewing list.

ALICE SWEET ALICE’s War on Catholicism

Alice Sweet Alice. 1976. Directed by Alfred Sole. Screenplay by Rosemary Ritvo & Sole.
Starring Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Lillian Roth, Brooke Shields, Niles McMaster, & Jane Lowry.
Harristown Funding.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterAlice Sweet Alice has been released as Communion and also Holy Terror. There were lots of worries about what the film might do to the religious community. Poor Catholics were worried because of how it made them look. Rightfully so, as Alfred Sole’s underrated 1976 slasher takes brutal shots at the Roman Catholic Church through juxtaposition of murder and Christian iconography.
From the haunting opening credits – a whispered prayer, sweeping music, as well as the creepy image of someone stabbing with a knife and the bloodily written title scrawled down the screen – to the last chilling shot, this is a great bit of horror cinema. With homage to a genre classic, plus plenty of eerie mystery and a strong resemblance to Italian giallos, Alice Sweet Alice brings the business. More often than not people discount this slasher. Either they think it’s no good, not strong enough, or they don’t realise how good it is at the core. Part of the charm is in the ambiguity. Even when you think the film is headed toward its finish, the killer all figured out, you can never be sure
All we can know positively is that people die.
Is Alice the killer? Is it somebody else? And in the name of God; why?
pic2The biggest target of Sole’s slasher is clearly Catholicism. First of all, Karen (Brooke Shields) is killed in church; this is our big plot point which kicks everything off. It’s not enough that the murder takes place within the church walls, Sole makes sure to start in on the Christian iconography. After the masked murderer kills Karen, dragging her body, we see the looming face of Jesus on the cross – a crucifix hangs above, Jesus’ pain-filled face looking down. As if religion in that moment is helpless, unable to actually save anybody; the statue as effective as Catholicism itself. Later, there’s even a drop of dark humour. Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) insists on getting to mass on time, superseding her sister Catherine’s (Linda Miller) crying over the death of her daughter; darkly funny, especially how Lowry plays the scene (she is amazing in general as the hysterical aunt). No time for emotion when you’re running late for church. That Catholic guilt and rigidity come out, full force.
One of the real frightening scenes involving the Christian symbols is when the killer calls Catherine. Only briefly do we see them, hidden in shadow and holding a telephone receiver. Nearby are the symbols: a red cross on a candle holder and what looks like an small angel statuette. Literally, Sole shows us how the killer is steeped in Roman Catholicism.
pic2Sole hired his friend William Lustig to take care of the bloody practical effects during the murderous scenes; this was four years prior to Lustig giving us the demented Maniac. He did amazing stuff, as well as worked in the capacity of assistant cameraman. Some mad moments make for nice slasher sub-genre fare. For instance, Annie’s stabbing on the stairs is nasty and well edited, too. Her crawl into the rainy street, screaming, is especially memorable. Nice, vivid blood. Dom (Niles McMaster) gets himself a knife to the shoulder, followed by a truly gruesome bludgeoning to the head with a rock. Savage. Not only that, the shots afterwards are so tense. The killer pushes Dom, slow and agonising, and rolls him, tied, over the side of a building – when Dom hits the ground it’s sickening, against a bunch of glass, and then eerily a faded reflection of the killer is visible. All around the violence of the movie is brutal and rough, yet it’s stylised. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason many critics and reviewers have compared this to the Italian giallo films of Dario Argento and others.
A hugely enjoyable element for me is the fact Sole references Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now – masterful cinema, a haunting one at that. The yellow St. Michael’s raincoat we see Alice (Paula Sheppard), the killer, and other girls wearing is a parallel to the slick red raincoat that pops up again and again in the Roeg film. Moreover, the coat serves as a way to throw us off, and the characters. Like yellow herrings.
I’ve got to say that Paula Sheppard – Alice – was downright fantastic. Her acting was frantic in the right moments, calm in others. What I didn’t know the first time I saw this film is that Sheppard was actually nineteen play twelve. That’s probably why she has a sense of maturity about her while playing a young, lost girl. So much good writing goes into the character, little bits and pieces we’re never given exposition on totally but play out in the eyes of little Alice. And there’s also Alphonso De Noble, who plays the paedophile landlord Alphonso – there are a couple stories on this one, the most reliable being director Alfred Sole came across him pretending to be a priest in a cemetery and cast him in the movie. Regardless of how he was found, De Noble plays the character to utterly bizarre effect. Not a major character, he does add a strange quality which works.
pic3There’s much to love in this slasher. It’s one of my favourites, one I find actually close to the perfect sub-genre flick. With Sole injecting lots of anti-Catholic sentiment, Lustig providing gnarly gore, on top of enjoyable acting, Alice Sweet Alice – CommunionHoly Terror, whichever title you see it under – has a horde of likeable qualities. Sure, it’s a very early Brooke Shields movie. There’s a manic performance out of Jane Lowry. But the horror is visceral, it feels real and terrifying. Prominently placing Catholic iconography in certain frames, Sole does violence to the idea that Christ is the redeemer of anything; least of all our sins.
I’ll leave you with this: judging by the almost fourth-wall-breaking final shot, can we say for sure the murderer is caught? Or did Alice use the murders to pass of her own attempted murder on Aunt Annie? Or, are we seeing the literal carrying on of the killer, as Alice walks away with the murderer’s bag, bloody knife and all? I only wonder where Alice ended up years later. If someone could give us a sequel, I imagine her all grown up and living in the city, confused about herself, her religious belief. And who knows how she’d work it all out…

LEFT BANK: A Horror Allegory on the Eternal Return of Existence

Linkeroever (English title: Left Bank). 2008. Directed by Pieter van Hees. Screenplay by van Hees, Christophe Dirickx, & Dimitri Karakatsanis.
Starring Eline Kuppens, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sien Eggers, Marilou Mermans, Frank Vercruyssen, Robbie Cleiren, Ruth Becquart, Tinneke Boonen, Tom Dewispelaere, & Bert Haelvoet.
Caviar Films/Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
posterThe following discussion will be filled with MAJOR SPOILERS
Trust me when I tell you: you’ve never seen a movie like Pieter van Hees’ Left Bank.
Okay, maybe you have. Who knows. But not many horror movies start out with an unknown happy ending just waiting to be discovered at the end of the terror-filled rainbow.
Van Hees aims for lofty goals. The screenplay touches on everything from the ancient concept of Ouroboros to Greek mythology, to bringing Samhain into the mix. Best of all, the plot hides what juicy story lies at its centre. When you think you’re watching one thing, the finale – and what you go back to think about afterwards – switches up the thought process to encompass something altogether different.
The first time you watch Left Bank it’s a mystery. Then, if you dig it, you watch again. True meaning shows itself. Slowly there are themes of reincarnation, the rebirth of existence and nature in a cyclical process. You find all the tiny moments, the bits of dialogue, which point towards more than your average horror. And after watching a few times, the dark beating heart of the film suddenly blossoms to reveal a shockingly positive tale.
screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-33-25-pmHees consistently goes back to images of nature. Specifically, the first few are all instances of nature in its primordial stages – a messy, muddy shore by the water near the Left Bank apartments, fledgling grass amongst a cold, dry landscape. Then the imagery changes to show us a tree, although it’s wilted. However, you have to recognise the way it’s changing behind everything; or better yet, why. After the first time Marie (Eline Kuppens) and Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts) make love, she later finds dirt in her underwear. A gross, odd image, indeed. There’s more to that. It’s after this event we see the nature begin changing. The restoration of the nature in Left Bank runs parallel to Marie and her body horror-like experience. Soon after an injury, a swollen knee is a manifestation of her body building up all the negativity surrounding her life, and the trees become more prominent now, green grass nearby. During the final scene we watch as a mouse – a symbol of fertility – crawls out of the busted knee, right before Marie goes for an eerie trip through the Diabolic Vagina, as it’s called in the film. Essentially, she goes into the birth canal this dragon cult Bobby’s involved in have created.
These ideas are best exemplified when we take a look at the first and last shots, as well as the progression between them. First is that muddy shoreline; awhile later there are glimpses of the Left Bank tenements where no plant life is thriving, nothing green. By the time we’ve reached the last shot, after the climactic and revelatory finale, nature is all but exploding out in front of the apartment complex. We finish on a gorgeous shot of flowers starting to bloom, vibrant green grass, sitting right out front of the ugly building. The beginning is a sombre opener. And even though by the end we’ve journeyed through a chamber of horrors, the resolution is positive, happy; a literal reincarnation ends us not on that muddy shore, but on a lush field of green with flowers of spring fresh for a new beginning.
screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-35-22-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-37-05-pmPeople have knocked this online for not being coherent enough. I argue that you have to dig into the plot and the imagery in order to find the answers. So, naturally, this isn’t what the majority of horror viewers out there are probably seeking out. Not shitting on anybody. It’s fine if you’d rather something more concrete. But don’t take a movie down simply because it isn’t your bag. Left Bank is impressive in scope, as Hees takes on the idea of reincarnation through a twisting, turning, labyrinthine horror rife with mystery.
His best clue is the necklace Bobby wears: the dragon eating its tail, perpetually rebirthing itself, over and over and over. This is the symbol of Ouroboros – in Greek this is “oura” (tail) and “boros” (eating). Ultimately, this symbolises the ‘eternal return’ that posits existence has been recurring and will continue to do so in a self-similar form an infinite amount of times across infinite time and space.
screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-39-08-pmAn example from the film? In the end, Marie is reborn as a child through the Diabolic Vagina. When she comes out, she is a baby in the arms of Hella (Ruth Becquart) – the woman who disappeared at the start, Dirk’s partner. In fact, her parents now seem to be Hella and her coach Gilbert (Frank Vercruyssen). Why, exactly? Earlier, and a few times, Bobby tells Marie he wants to fix her life, to make her happy, and even talks about how she’s never truly happen when she runs. This links back to Gilbert telling her not to be so hard on herself for not winning races, that “winning isnt everything,” and he’s more positive than her mother has ever been. Gilbert is a father figure to her, and Hella was hoping to get pregnant (while Dirk wasn’t prepared for children). After her reincarnation, life has been fixed, and Marie’s existence renews, beginning once more. Just like the dragon eats itself constantly, life through the Diabolic Vagina allows human beings the same gift.
One thing I kept thinking about is the mouse in Marie’s knee. This is a purge of all the negativity. In line with the idea of Ouroboros, Carl Jung said that this concept is the idea that one “slays himself” and “brings himself to life” through this view of existence. So while Marie must enter the pit, basically drowning (as others turned up dead having supposedly drowned over the years in that same pit), she simultaneously is bringing herself to life, just a new one yet in the same ever flowing process of existence. A head trip, but a good trip.
Also note that Bobby, in those last moments around the pit, is dressed – in terrifying fashion – like a kind of dragon.
screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-39-45-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-41-05-pmNot everyone will agree with what I think about Left Bank. To me, these theories make the film a unique one amongst the horror genre. It is mysterious, exciting, and grim. Somewhere along the line it crosses over from being horrific into something beautiful. If you understand the concepts behind the cult at the centre of the story, if you pay attention to the finale, you can’t ignore that.
There is a ton of amazing horror imagery. Just the pit itself, the basement, is a production design dream! Plus, van Hees does well with his co-writers to craft an interesting, cryptic, and tough though rewarding thriller. Those who don’t like to think may as well turn around and never bother watching this Belgian flick.
I give this a 5 star rating because I genuinely feel it’s perfect. If you don’t like what it’s saying, fine, or if you think it doesn’t execute the aims appropriately – that’s fine, too. Although I urge you, big time – read what I’ve said. Watch Left Bank. Write down some notes if you have to, I don’t care. But come back for a real discussion once you’ve dissected this one a bit. There’s way more beneath the surface than anyone else leads you to believe. And I’ve only touched on the tip of the iceberg.

Make America Kill Again in THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR

The Purge: Election Year. 2016. Directed & Written by James DeMonaco.
Starring Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Adam Cantor, Ethan Phillips, Raymond J. Barry & Christopher James Baker.
Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 109 minutes.
Action/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterI loved The Purge when it first hit theatres, didn’t take me long to find the concept scary and partly rooted in real American anxieties. Once The Purge: Anarchy came out I was getting impressed with director-writer James DeMonaco because instead of doing a second film just to make a bit of cash, he genuinely fleshed out a look at his little universe. And a pattern emerged – the original was from an upper class perspective, the sequel from a more middle class to poor perspective. So what comes next?
The Purge: Election Year dives into the political point of view. We’ve risen to the level of government, after looking hard and long at the socioeconomic world in which the American Purge takes place. The implications of such a policy are a sort of trickle down idea in itself, in that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer; worse than that, a lot of the poor die.
My love for this third film even over the other two (which are both excellent in their own right) has a lot to do with the writing: we don’t simply up the ante on the political side, the characters are more rich and developed. Frank Grillo’s Sergeant returns to become a bigger part of the trilogy, which I can’t argue with because any Grillo is good Grillo. Most of all I admire DeMonaco’s focus on white nationalism, the rule of the upper class, revolutionary action (with a returning Edwin Hodge from the other two entries; finally gaining a name and a true purpose), and so much more. A cracking modern horror, maybe one of my favourites this year.
pic1The opening threw me off, honestly. I wasn’t overly pleased with how DeMonaco came off the blocks with a creepy yet cheesy sort of scene. The killer, purging in the annual nastiness, taunts a family – a little later, we understand the only survivor grows up to become anti-Purge Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), crusading against a policy that took her entire family. What I don’t dig amongst all the eerie bits is how the purging killer talks. It is just bad, poor dialogue. There could’ve been much more done with this, and it’s likely to throw off other viewers. I love these movies, but even I started questioning whether I’d enjoy this one after the first few minutes.
Fortunately, this doesn’t extend to the rest. The plot gets into gear quickly after the opening and we’re immersed into the world of America’s Purge once more. The scale of DeMonaco’s concept gets wider, opening up the political angle. Not only that, DeMonaco makes a great inroad to a disturbing addition of “murder tourism” where foreigners come into the U.S. for the sole purpose of killing on Purge Night. The socioeconomics are still at play, as the lower classes see the worst brunt of the Purge policy. The character of Mykelti Williamson, Joe Dixon, is one of my favourite additions to this threequel. He’s an average store owner. He needs Purge Insurance, which gets revoked because of lax payment. Once Senator Roan and Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) must go on the run, they all end up together. This all leads into meeting the Stranger, except now we know his name: Dante Bishop (Hodge). And he’s leading a revolution underground, hoping to assassinate one of the Founding Fathers in order to gain political edge, to end the Purge. This cast is full of great actors that each have a chance to play an interesting character. Running the gamut, DeMonaco writes from the blue collar side (represented here mostly through Joe Dixon), the lower class (Laney Rucker, played by Betty Gabriel, is a former gangster cum Purge Night EMT), right to the upper echelon of power in Senator Roan and her political fight to change American legislature.
pic2The writing is just fantastic. Many scenes are rife with suspense and tension. Better than that, each character’s situation plays well into the overall theme and the film’s message(s). Laney Rucker is super compelling because of her choice to hit the streets as a paramedic; it’s part redemption, part Good Samaritan. Would someone really be good enough to do that, on a night when almost every other person out on the street is looking to commit evil? An interesting juxtaposition. There’s a consistently deeper level of character in this third film; a wide array of people with various lives and different perspectives. One favourite moment of mine isn’t even horror-centric. Joe Dixon helps his new friends on the run with his invocation of the Crip Whistle, which is an excellent bit of writing to include. This takes us away from a typical horror. Not often do the Crips get a shoutout in the genre, nor do they usually help out the good guys. So using Joe’s vague past (a moment DeMonaco could’ve slipped into exposition but instead keeps cryptic) as a means to move the plot forward is solid work. Then there’s Dante, who we formerly saw as The Stranger in the original, being chased and almost subject to a Purge murder; in the sequel, he turned up again. Here, he’s come a long way, as a vigilante philanthropist due to his own personal experience. He’s a great parallel to Senator Roan in that sense. They’ve both experienced terror on Purge Night, only to head off on uniquely divergent paths. And only to come together again. So much smart writing on DeMonaco’s part. Definitely the best written of the trilogy.
pic3So many creepy bits. Definitely some of the creepiest of the three films. Like when Candy Bar Girl’s Christmas light-covered car arrives, the women in their outrageously unsettling masks. Terrifying stuff. Never has Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” been so spooky. Afterwards, the group of Eastern European killers dressed in American-themed costumes – Uncle Sam, Abe Lincoln, Statue of Liberty – are even more sinister, unsettling. There’s also a high degree of violence, of course. Laney blasts someone away with a shotgun; a deliciously savage and impressive practical effect. The action is even bigger this time around, as we’re treated to a few large action pieces throughout. Yet the horror reigns, as Purgers rally in the streets, some with a makeshift pendulum blade to cut people into bloody pieces, some sitting in a trance as bodies burn in the streets. The wildest is when we see the Purge mass, an unnerving combination of church and state: “Purge and purify!” Also, you can clearly note the New Founding Fathers are all old, greying white men. No surprise, right? So perfect.
I’ve rated each of the other two films with 4 stars. This one is different. I have to note that The Purge: Election Year is better because it plays harder into the socioeconomic policy at the centre of the movies, in many ways. I looked online to see what people were saying, and so many people seemed to lament that this was ‘too political’ or something similar. Really? This has ALWAYS been a political-themed series, right from the get go. And if you missed that, well I’m not sure why you’re even bothering to watch or comment. This is a series rooted in real life, even if it’s outrageous and over-the-top. This would never happen, though what we’re able to see – and what scares me most personally – is how the America people know today could possibly lead to something so wild. Taking on a bunch of different perspectives, James DeMonaco reaches a height of epic proportions. Excited to see what happens with the newly planned television series.

DAHMER: The Eerie Psychological Biopic

Dahmer. 2002. Directed & Written by David Jacobson.
Starring Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Great, Matt Newton, Dion Basco, Kate Williamson, Sean Blakemore, Christina Payano, Tom’ya Bowden, & Mickey Swenson.
Blockbuster FIlms/DEJ Productions/Peninsula Films.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-7-50-50-pmI’ve long been interested in the criminal psychology of serial killers. In no way am I ‘fans’ of them, as certain sick puppies out there describe their interest. What’s so compelling is trying to figure out how the human mind could possibly warp so savagely, twisting into the wretched form we find in serial and spree killers, vicious murderers, criminal sociopaths, so on.
Jeffrey Dahmer is someone I studied in high school, as well as university. I wrote a long paper on him for a Law course, which brought me into the hideous world of his crimes. He is one of the most reprehensible of all American killers; that’s saying something, too. A lethal concoction of alienation, an inability to accept his own homosexuality as normal, and a deep, sick desire to find a willingly compliant sexual partner led Dahmer into the darkest path possible.
Director-writer David Jacobson’s Dahmer is far more powerful than most give it credit for, and if this was your first time seeing Jeremy Renner – as it was for me – the quiet intensity of his performance is a massive part of that power. The film takes us headlong into obsession, cannibalism, on a journey through Dahmer’s memories of a dangerously wasted existence.


Starting out we get a brief view of Jeffrey Dahmer (Renner) working at the Milwaukee Ambrosia Chocolate factory, where he was employed in January of ’85. It isn’t simply the job that makes this starting point interesting. A few minutes into the film Jeffrey sits in the break room. He has three chocolate men (Santa maybe) in front of him on the table, as he starts in on chowing down on a sandwich; saving the chocolate fellas for a succulent dessert. An uncomfortably scary moment. A bloody, chocolatey metaphor for his crimes, like we’re about to see a horrific Willy Wonka prequel. Perhaps the best way to start out the events of Dahmer’s life.
What’s scariest to me about the screenplay is how well it makes Jeffrey appear outwardly normal – quirky, odd, though normal. And the disarming looks of Renner, his charm, they him all the more worrying; his seemingly normal qualities to the outside world are what many peopled noted about him later in real life. Before the first 15 minutes are out, the viewer’s been immersed in the criminal life Dahmer crumbles into, already too familiar with his nasty routines. The first turning point is when Jeffrey eyes a department store mannequin, long before those who don’t know his real story discover his affinity for mannequins – and why – further leading into his ultimate fantasy of an unmoving, quiet sex partner, or a sex zombie, as Dahmer himself believed.
screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-7-53-58-pmI love that Bruce Davison plays Lionel, Jeffrey’s father. He and Renner have wonderful chemistry. Their scenes together ratchet up the suspense because there’s this wait, a hope that maybe Lionel will discover these atrocities. Yet, as we know by the real story, this will never come. For instance, the box scene where father and son, alongside grandma, argue over a little box the former kept as a boy – clearly, Jeffrey has something inside he doesn’t want his father, or anybody, to see. There’s so much tension here, a lot of emotional acting from both men. A real heavy dose of personal drama, likely akin to what Lionel truly experienced with his son. It’s the revelation of what’s actually in the box afterwards which truly shocks, disgusts, and the tip of that Dahmer iceberg suddenly grows into a mountain.
However, the gay bar scenes are the most unsettling. This is one of the really psychological scenes, as Jeffrey seemingly steps outside of himself. He sees the image of himself, a bit younger and nerdier, standing alone across the street. He then heads inside the gay bar. While this is an exploration of Jeffrey’s sexuality, worse than this it is his discovery of the perfect hunting grounds. Jacobson directs this to perfection, as the alienation of Dahmer becomes painfully clear. The social awkwardness of Jeffrey is evident, and then his menace reveals itself after he starts initiating non-consensual encounters with gay men he drugs. Moreover, Jeffrey longed for a willing sexual partner, one that goes beyond consent: he wanted a lifeless man, to use, to not be judged by, and to degrade at his own will. The sexual violence here is sickening, although there’s a slight bit of restraint. During this sequence, Andrea True Connection’s “More More More” playing over top, the editing and the lighting, everything is so eerie. We watch as Jeffrey finally transforms from that awkward, shy, closeted gay man into an unfeeling, drunk, hideous monster right before our eyes. Later, the monstrous qualities of Dahmer come through even better – the lighting in his apartment, his bedroom and bathroom specifically, are tinted red, like a men’s room in Hell’s basement. And while the movie wears on, the lighting gets darker, as we get a further grip on this man’s evil.


What I love most is the screenplay. Jacobson gives us a full look at Dahmer’s life in the way that we follow the killer through his mind. Flashing from past to present, back, forth, is not only a narrative choice. Jacobson gets the viewer into the headspace of Dahmer. The past events of his life obviously affected his psyche deeply, and so we slip in and out of memories – mostly bad to rotten – in order to make the film feel like an experience of Jeffrey’s life through his thought process. Notice the significance of the events which bring him back to specific stories. Through this, we see the uncomfortable pain that at least partly dragged Jeffrey into a life of depraved murder.
Dahmer is a hugely underrated bit of horror. The entire film as a whole is upsetting because you’re forced to both watch Dahmer commit horrible crimes and simultaneously peer through the window of a despicable man’s undoubted, deep sadness. You’re never asked to like him, but the narrative makes us have to watch his story from a certain standpoint. A great move from director-writer Jacobson.
There’s a lot to enjoy about such a macabre horror, from cinematography to the music (which really helps the atmosphere; the score and soundtrack alike work well in combination). It’s the imagery I find most striking. So I leave you with this: watching his first murder, Jeffrey becomes a tragic sort of figure (even if he was an inexcusable cyst on the human race), and skipping to the present timeline of the film after witnessing that event we then see him cut a dead man open, reach inside, all to literally try touching someone’s heart. Maybe not a pretty image. A deafening image in its own right.

EXHIBIT A Offers Emotionally Superior Found Footage in a Sea of Mediocrity

Exhibit A. 2007. Directed by Dom Rotheroe. Screenplay by Rotheroe & Darren Bender.
Starring Bradley Cole, Brittany Ashworth, Angela Forrest, Oliver Lee, Jason Allen, Charles Davies, Emily Button, & Belinda Lazenby.
Warp Films/Bigger Pictures/Screen East/UK Film Council.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★
posterThe found footage sub-genre is filled with movies which range from awful to great. I’d likely say found footage has a bigger ratio of bad to good than most other sub-genres out there. Depending on the premise, a movie using this style can really grab you. Too many try emulating the most popular offerings, such as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project (as well as Paranormal Activity in the post-2000 landscape), rather than forge new ground on their own.
Exhibit A is a fascinatingly horrific look at the regular lives of a British family, whose patriarch is hiding a secret; one that proves to be devastating. Like a socioeconomic found footage movie. Instead of looking for ghosts in the woods or having a group of people filming while running away from an unknown force/serial killer/something else, this little flick, with chilling focus, peers into a normal world that may even hit uncomfortably close to home for some viewers.
Because of the plot’s humanity, director Dom Rotheroe (My Brother Tom) is able to tap into an element of us all, touching deeply on fears many feel – of rejection by our own family, of failing those we love; the fear a father may have of not being able to provide properly for his family, as well as what that does to his imagine in the eyes of his wife, his children, his friends. Within the normality of these peoples lives, Exhibit A manages to burrow under the viewer’s skin, scene by scene, until arriving at the shattering and shocking finale.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-43-42-pmOne of the major reasons I love this film is how it really plays up to the sub-genre of found footage. There’s lots of found footage teetering along the edge, playing with the conventions (or merely forgetting them a moment), which still ends up being excellent. What Rotheroe does is keep things consistent, as we view the entire film through the lens of the family’s daughter, Judith King (Brittany Ashworth). In fact, the immediate first scene shows us an official-looking stamp and print from the Yorkshire Police. This lays out the plot as actual evidence from a crime scene at the King family home. There are no opening credits. The title comes directly from the police report as Exhibit A, which is what you’d normally see when a tape is viewed in court. All of this helps work towards a genuine effort of found footage, pulling us into a natural atmosphere, as if it’s all real, actual people, instead of a contrived film’s story. From there, we witness all sorts of moments through Judith’s eyes, or that of the camera’s more specifically. This encompasses her own private moments, such as the burgeoning crisis of her sexual orientation, and then casts an eye on the private moments of Judith’s father Andy (Bradley Cole), as she tapes him secretly when he goes out to the shed by himself, when he’s confronted by an angry man from the office in which he works, and so on. Instead of wondering why the camera is always filming in this slice of found footage, there’s a perfect reason at all times, and as opposed to a lot of found footage already out there this is a welcomed addition to everything else enjoyable.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-44-20-pmThe biggest and most effective portion is how well both Cole and Ashworth play their characters. If it weren’t for the performances this could easily have become a dragging endurance test of boring scenes. The entire cast are fairly believable in their roles, but it’s these two who shine most. Ashworth is great because she has a difficult character to play, a young woman growing up in a family with hidden problems and at the same time trying to figure out herself sexually. The character Judith’s development is expertly presented through the images her camera captures – for instance, she stalks (too harsh a word but the only good description I can think of now) a girl next door by watching her through the video camera, and when confronted with her face to face Judith all but freezes completely. Later, the fact she is likely lesbian becomes a larger, more significant family event, although I’m not going to ruin that for you.
But this leads to Cole’s performance as the King family father, Andy. Truthfully, this may be at the top of the list of great performances in the sub-genre. All too often we’re treated to the same screaming, bickering, shaky cam (et cetera) and the performances are only mediocre (if we’re lucky). Cole transforms into a wildly charming yet secretive family man, his energy with his kids and his wife is evident from the get go. Gradually as the film progresses we start to see behind the mask, and Cole is the gatekeeper to let us in. He starts becoming more and more strange, both to the viewer and his family (especially daughter Judith). When the last 15-20 minutes come around, Andy King turns into a monster of epic proportions. It’s the way in which Cole as an actor draws us towards the semi-delusional state of living that Andy falls into throughout the course of the plot, making you feel for him even if he’s a liar and imagining how tough it must be for him to accept what’s happened in his life. The final moments are nerve wracking, in large part because of Cole’s emotional acting; you still feel for him, but the finale’s events erase any sympathy for his situation, as he brutally wipes out any chance of that.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-47-10-pmCole as Andy King is one of the best performances in any found footage film I’ve seen. His convincing portrayal of a man losing a grip on his family and his entire life, his career, is both sad and incredibly grim. One scene particularly, involving a party in his backyard, pushes you to the limit of being uncomfortable, as he dances around like an idiot, trying his hardest to be NORMAL and yet falling far outside of any pattern of normality. This is the turning point. After this, Exhibit A dives headlong into the morbid thrills of watching a family self-destruct at the hands of dear ole dad.
There are a number of intense scenes, ranging from well-meaning father behaviour to the desperate clinging of a man trying to make sure he never loses his family. So many scenes are perfectly played to make you feel the maximum amount of ruination. Ultimately, the position of trusted parent is at the middle of the violent cyclone and we’re privy to an examination of how Andy violated that position.
Exhibit A is a cracking film, one of the greater efforts in found footage since The Blair Witch Project. The acting, even how it’s shot (most camerawork was literally done by the cast), is near perfect. Ashworth and Cole as the daughter and father respectively are fascinating to watch; they lead us down the garden path into terror. The finale is completely unsettling because of how far we watch Cole’s character fall, comparing the end to the beginning is like watching two entirely different men. I suggest if you’re looking for a found footage movie to wow you, or at the very least step outside of the typical format and plot we see on the regular, this is one you have to check out. But I warn you: the end is disturbing, and those sensitive to family issues might actually find it tough to watch. Yet I urge you, watch. This is a gem if there ever were one.

Rubbish Film of the Year: YOGA HOSERS

Yoga Hosers. 2016. Directed & Written by Kevin Smith.
Starring Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Adam Brody, Harley Morenstein, Ashley Greene, Jack Depp, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Justin Long, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Genesis Rodriguez, Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Conroy, Stan Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Haley Joel Osment, & Johnny Depp.
Abbolita Productions/Destro Films/Invincible Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror/Thriller


posterI was one of the few who actually enjoyed Tusk, a ton. It was cheesy, but it was also fun, creepy, and totally wild. Before that, Kevin Smith brought me back into the fold of those that enjoy his films (he lost me for a few years) with Red State; I honestly fucking love that movie, endlessly. So when he announced Yoga Hosers, even the concept had me chuckling. Although I worried maybe the one note Canadian jokes from Tusk might not translate well into an entirely other whole movie.
And worried I was, rightfully.
Listen, when it comes to Smith, I do feel like he’s got a skill for quirky writing that doesn’t go overboard, keeping things silly enough while still staying hilarious. But sweet lord, does he ever shit all over the page on this one. I get that he feels like this was a labour of love, that it was sort of a film for him. Kudos. That doesn’t make the movie any good.
Yoga Hosers has fun bits, although rare. The lead performances from Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith are the best part, their energy and charisma are some of the only things that make this movie even bearable. Most of all I worry about the next part of Smith’s True North trilogy, Moose Jaws, simply because he’s applied for funding. I mean, maybe if he were trying to make something else it’d be different. Tusk was a movie I loved; it wasn’t actually a great movie. Quality seems to have diminished wildly in this second instalment. Makes me curious what will happen next in the hard to tolerate adventures of the two Colleens.
yogahosers2My biggest beef is the Canadian stuff. I thought the briefness of that material in Tusk was enough, even that pushed it. Coming from a brutally self-deprecating Canadian, a Newfoundlander at that, these jokes wear thin, mighty quick. I love when good jokes come across, and they do at times. I feel like Smith could’ve hit a lot better notes as a comedy writer. Maybe if he’s going solo on the next one, bring in a Canadian writer to give you a bit of help. I’ll admit, when Justin Long does the “Namaste, eh” line, I fucking cracked up. I don’t even like Long. Other than that, his character and accent are awful. Sounds like a cross of Irish and North Dakota. So many lines from him are awful, so many lines from EVERYONE, simply due to the fact no Canadian would ever say this shit. Ever. Ever. Ever. The constant repetition of “aboot” does not make me laugh, it only gets annoying. To the point I wished Smith would just give up.
I dig the style of the film overall – the special effects during each character introduction, sound effects galore, those funny and eerie flashbacks to the French-Canadian Nazi Party. All that is enjoyable enough. It’s unpretentious, silly, which is what Smith was going for obviously. The only truly enjoyable part of the whole movie is that you can see Smith had fun shooting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about silliness! At all. Problem is that there’s not enough smarts or real, genuine laughs to make the whole debacle worth it.
yogahosersThe hockey stuff, the “aboot” over and over, how the accents don’t hold up across dialogue and certain characters, a couple terrible performances – including Ralph Garman, as well as the dialogue written for him that was excruciating – a whopping, terrible finale and final fight… this all adds up to a real turd.
What I loved, as I mentioned before, are the two performances from Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith. They’re charming and awesome as the two convenience store girls, for the most part; they can’t help what Papa Smith wrote, they do their best. At least their energy is infectious enough to keep the viewer’s attention.
Likewise, Johnny Depp’s return as Guy LaPointe is fucking riotous. His makeup, the entire attitude, that French-English accent, he’s drop dead funny. LaPointe’s one of my favourites of his characters. Sadly, one of the only very few aspects that are decent about Yoga Hosers. Definitely not enough to make the experience enjoyable.
yogahosers3This is what happens when you publish a poop
When people say they want to like a movie, and then don’t, I understand. This is one of those films for me. Yoga Hosers, I wanted to like. Desperately. I do like Smith, even if a few of his efforts are junk. Part of me was hoping he’d prove people wrong, make another weird yet actually enjoyable piece of work like Tusk (even if I’m in the minority here). Too bad.
Guy LaPointe and the two Colleens make for the sole moments worth your time. Not near enough to love. I don’t know. Maybe someone out there digs this kind of thing. In my mind, Smith wasted his time, as well as his fans. Not even some of the die hard Smith lovers are going to find this any good. Striking in too many directions, suffering from poor writing, Yoga Hosers falls flat even in one of those so-bad-it’s-good ways.
Please, Kevin: do something better with Moose Jaws. If not, don’t apply for funding. Especially if it’s Canadian. I know a bunch of filmmakers that could and would put the money to better use than “For my own enjoyment” projects like this is so clearly. And even then, no excuse for this kind of dreck.

BURNT OFFERINGS is Near the Apex of Haunted House Movies

Burnt Offerings. 1976. Directed by Dan Curtis. Screenplay by Curtis & William F. Nolan; based on the novel by Robert Marasco.
Starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, Lee Montgomery, Dub Taylor, & Bette Davis.
Produzioni Europee Associati/Dan Curtis Productions.
Rated PG. 116 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2posterThere are certain spectacularly enjoyable haunted house movies in horror which are unforgettable. A few of those, everyone knows. Some are a little less touted by the general horror fans. One of those on top of my list is Burnt Offerings, a 1976 haunted house chiller from Dan Curtis (of Dark Shadows fame) starring powerhouses Oliver Reed and Karen Black, featuring smaller roles played by the legendary likes of Burgess Meredith and Bette Davis.
Curtis directs this sub-genre piece with finesse, but it’s mostly his writing, along with William F. Nolan, that catches the viewer. One of the two novels Robert Marasco wrote serves as material for this adaptation. Curtis and Nolan make the drama of the family within the haunted house just as interesting as the eeriness of the structure itself. Better yet, Black and Reed perform their asses off as the married couple dealing with an unexplained haunting.
Burnt Offerings combines good drama with better performances. Better still, the haunting of the house is a little different than other similarly styled plots. Whereas other movies focus on ghosts, Curtis’ film uses the house as the ghost, the monster, the creature. And the Gothic-ness of this story makes it feel like a story out of Edgar Allan Poe, like something you’d find filed away in a dusty old tome on a library shelf.
pic1An element of the frights come out of the fact this is the first film to be shot in the Dunsmuir House and Gardens located in Oakland, California. Three years later, Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm was also partyl filmed there, played the part of funeral home. The house’s Neoclassical-Revival architecture makes for a great place out of time feeling to Burnt Offerings and is naturally conducive to being the primary location for a haunted house picture. On top of the location – which Curtis claims was the single location for the entire film, no sets built or used – the music from Bob Cobert (Dark Shadows, House of Dark Shadows, & other Curtis works) is relentlessly foreboding. A perfectly classical and creepy addition that does wonders for the atmosphere. Alongside the score is the cinematography of Jacques R. Marquette, who shot Roger Corman’s 1959 A Bucket of Blood. Seeing this mysterious horror film through Marquette’s lens is like a foggy dream, a weirdly compelling nightmare on a hot evening. There’s so much mood to just the look itself that even without the score everything looks ghoulish and properly ghostly.
Apart from the look and atmosphere, Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart really take the viewer into the haunted house’s sinister feel, playing Arnold and Roz Allardyce, owners of the house, like two apparitions more than people. They’re the first inclination of something not being quite right in the old place. They don’t feel scary, they simply act as the gatekeepers of the house, the film, and all of the macabre delights in them both.
Some of my favourite, most atmospheric moments in the film are the visions Ben Rolf (Reed) has of a chauffeur he remembers at the funeral of his mother when he was a boy – a vicious nightmare, the black-and-white dream feels real, vivid. This also pushes Ben towards something evil in the house, the start of his real troubles. Seeing the chauffeur turn up time and time again, the car rolling up the driveway, drives Ben almost completely mad. The smiling look of the chauffeur is etched on my mind; the black clothes and glasses, the pale complexion, his creeping smile. These are a few of the greatest bits in the entire movie.
pic2Reed was a fascinating actor, if not a real asshole. But still, his talents were amazing. Ben Rolf is a great character for him to have tackled. Perhaps never more evident, the pool scene exemplifies why Reed is so versatile. He can act even the most nasty scenes with an air of subtlety which makes things intriguing. In the pool as he torments his son, the evil of the house taking hold, these are chilly moments acted with smug, sinister zest out of Reed; the way he cradles his bloody nose before slinking back into a swim is another scene from the film I can never, ever forget. And you can’t ignore Black, either. Especially later on when Ben discovers his wife upstairs, she is downright stunning and the look on her face alone is worth the price of admission. A lot of actresses might’ve played the part differently yet Black brings class and emotion to the role, as well as giving all the horror and ghostly business her whole heart. She and Reed are beyond wonderful. Not to mention those extra additions of Meredith, Heckart, and the always lovely to see Bette Davis. Really can’t beat that cast in ’76.