The Firm (1988)

firm 1988

 

5 out of 5 stars

 

Picture 2Within the realm of ‘made-for-TV’ film, British efforts have continually proved to be both the most audacious and intriguing.  Screen 1 and 2 was the BBC’s response to channel four’s unprecedented theatrical television dramas, which brought bold new concepts to unwitting audiences.  With directors like Alan Clarke working on Screen 2, it’s no surprise that the grittier elements of British life are glorified within the series.  Perhaps Screen 2’s greatest work, Clarke’s ‘The Firm’ was released in 1988, a raw portrait of Britain’s modern football hooligans in the midst of a dispute.  Running at just over an hour’s length, Clarke’s picture is taut and fast paced, leaving little time for superfluous dialogue or narrative, while successfully presenting a complex and multi-faceted working class tragedy.

the firm 1988

the firm 1988

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Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

bunny lake is missing 1965

 

4 out of 5 stars

Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965Bunny Lake Is Missing,’ despite having fallen into relative obscurity by today’s standards, is a dark, beautifully shot, British Invasion era thriller from filmmaking titan, Otto Preminger.  Released in 1965, between classic war drama, ‘In Harm’s Way,’ and the lesser acclaimed, ‘Hurry Sundown,’ ‘Bunny Lake Is Missing,’ channels Hitchcock in its suspenseful scenes depicting the frantic search for a missing girl.  Featuring an all-star cast, Preminger’s picture certainly hasn’t spoiled with age when judged through the rubric by which we view classic cinema.

Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965

Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965

Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965

Like Hitchcock’s thrillers, a complex plot relying primarily on suspense doesn’t translate well into a synopsis, but regardless.  Recently arrived in England, Ann (Carol Lynley) and Bunny Lake are staying with Steven (Keir Dullea), Ann’s brother.  After dropping Bunny off at her first day of school, Ann begins unpacking before going to market, planning to cook fried chicken for her family.  Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965Everything appears to be blissful, despite an unexpected visit from the landlord (Noel Coward), who creeps about pryingly.  The circumstances for dropping off Bunny are slightly odd, but nothing worth dwelling upon at that point in the film.  The conflict begins when Ann returns to Bunny’s school that afternoon to pick her up, finding that she is missing, never having been seen or even enrolled.  Superintendant Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) arrives after Steven and Ann scour the school’s halls, meticulously deconstructing the day’s events.  Bunny Lake Is Missing 1965With no clear evidence (not even a photograph) proving the girl’s existence, Newhouse becomes skeptical that Ann and Steven aren’t attempting some bizarre scam.  He is aware that something doesn’t quite add up, and while police search the city, individually questions all of the suspects involved, hoping to find a lead.  The film’s plot is taut, with one never truly knowing Bunny’s whereabouts, or if she even exists.  Re-watching the film allows viewers small hints as to the film’s resolution, yet most are too subtle to be noticed upon the first viewing. Continue reading

Threads (1984)

Threads

 

4 out of 5 stars

threadsFilms made for television are widely discounted as inferior, often assumed that with heightened censorship comes childish derivatives or tawdry feel-goods.  Yet Mick Jackson’s bleak apocalypse film, ‘Threads,’ was aired September 23, 1984 to an unknowing Britain, simultaneously shocking and depressing an entire country.  In many ways, ‘Threads,’ can be seen as England’s response to the disaster craze, most notably the nuclear holocaust sub-genre, with films like ‘The Day After,’ or ‘Testament’.  threadsBut where many of these other films depict the struggles of post-apocalyptic survival, ‘Threads,’ obliterates even the most meager hopes for its characters, plunging viewers into a hellish realm of eternal despair.  Written by Barry Hines, who seems to have a slight proclivity towards both aviculture and the hopeless, was also behind the British classic, ‘Kes’ (1969).  Jackson’s ‘Threads,’ is the dreary, toxic wind-swept, and soot stained paradigm for effective feature television, didactic, yet haunting, infecting audiences with disturbing imagery like radioactive fallout, long after the credits roll.

threads‘Threads,’ is most successful in its accurate depiction of nuclear war’s effects on a sampling of Sheffield’s bourgeois, most too wrapped up in their daily frivolities to consider the possibility of bomb-fall, its complete and total annihilation.  What begins as kitchen-sink neo-realism, not uncommon for British film of that time, quickly becomes a horrid account of groveling survival, continually prodding the audience, asking what would be the point, to survive in a ruinous, diseased wasteland.  ‘Threads,’ is structured similar to a documentary, with an opening shot of a spider spinning its web to a voiceover that acts as a preface, binding the film’s title to its content.  Appearing almost like a nature documentary initially, ‘Threads,’ soon begins the tortured tale of Sheffield and several of its unfortunate inhabitants.

threads

threads

threads

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Scanners (1981)

Scanners 1981 poster

 

5 out of 5 stars

scanners 1981David Cronenberg’s 1981 film of dueling telepaths, ‘Scanners,’ is a widely acclaimed cult classic and a shining example of a skillful director coming into his own.  Cited as being his most frustrating film to create, Cronenberg’s efforts coalesce into a truly unique work, touching several sociological issues, while showcasing a keen eye for surrealistic atmosphere and explosive special effects.  scanners 1981Originally based upon a fragment of William S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch,’ a novel Cronenberg would later go on to adapt into a feature film, ‘Scanners,’ is reminiscent of the ‘senders,’ within the book, a telepathic community bent on world domination.  It’s no surprise that a film this bizarre should arise from the collaborative effort of these two creative powerhouses.  ‘Scanners,’ offers a bleak look into a dystopian Canada, big business scheming, and the eternal battle between light and darkness. Continue reading

Rabid (1977)

rabid 1977 poster

 

4 out of 5 stars

rabid 1977Imagine being separated from your spouse during a citywide epidemic, driving through the streets, corpses litter the sidewalks, some hanging limply from cars, their mouths agape in eternal pain.  At a red light, an infected man approaches, foam pouring from his mouth as he convulses on the windshield of your vehicle.  A rifle’s shot breaks the horrible silence, bursting through the man’s chest, making him another corpse.  Men in biohazard suits emerge, lifting the man into the compactor of a trash truck, atop many other dead bodies.  A sanitary solution sprays your car, washing the glass in a red ooze of viscera and disease.  After turning on the windshield wipers, you’re ushered to continue along.

rabid 1977

This simple scene in ‘Rabid,’ David Cronenberg’s 1977 follow up to ‘Shivers,’ is perhaps the most haunting within the film, offering a realistic account of surviving the apocalypse.  rabid 1977With the streets a breeding ground for disease, no one is truly safe, martial law reigns, policed by men in suits with eager guns.  ‘Rabid,’ can be seen as a larger production of ‘Shivers,’ promoting the epidemic to city status.  While still relatively tame in regards to Cronenberg’s later productions, ‘Rabid,’ true horror lies in the concept of a rabies outbreak.  But there are clear signs of growth from the preceding ‘Shivers,’ including several gory scenes. Continue reading

Shivers (1975)

shivers poster

 

4 out of 5 stars

shivers 1975David Cronenberg’s 1975 directorial debut, ‘Shivers,’ or ‘They Came From Within,’ is a sexual infection film, offering a glimpse into the visionary mind of Canada’s most daring filmmaker.  Themes of abnormality course through this picture, beginning Cronenberg’s long running fascination with the bizarre qualities of every day life.  shivers 1975‘Shivers,’ is a modestly constructed film, clearly showing young Cronenberg’s monetary constraints at the time.  Much of the work was financed by Canada, offering a twisted account of the horrors of venereal disease for potential young viewers.  Pairing well with ‘Rabid,’ Cronenberg’s following film, both works display Montreal in disaster, harkening plague/zombie films like Romero’s Living Dead series.  Like Romero’s efforts, both ‘Shivers,’ and ‘Rabid,’ possess underlying political or moralistic messages about society and ourselves.

shivers 1975 The entirety of ‘They Came From Within,’ is set around a luxury apartment complex on Starliner Island near Montreal.  Following a renegade doctor’s attempts to create an infectious parasite, in the hopes of revolutionizing the world of organ transplantation, ‘Shivers,’ shows the futile attempts to quarantine the quickly spreading plague.  Transferrable at the slightest physical contact, the parasite lives within the innards of its host, exiting through the mouth as a slimy sluggish creature.  Strangely, once infected, the host becomes a sex-crazed zombie, allowing numerous scenes of perverse debauchery.  Unfortunately, the disease cannot be contained, giving ‘Shivers,’ most memorable scene a haunting, reflective aspect upon viewers.  After the plague spreads to the entire community, a shot is given of the residents leaving the parking garage and driving away, one by one, sharing the infection with humanity. Continue reading

Phantasm (1979)

phantasm poster

4 out of 5 stars

phantasm 1979Don Coscarelli’s ‘Phantasm,’ released in 1979 has become a household name in horror, often included in Halloween film series and marathons.  Originally a bizarre dream of Coscarelli’s, ‘Phantasm,’ is an inventive horror picture with sci-fi elements, working together to create a unique experience, and a long lasting dynasty, whose installments are now released in comic book form.  phantasm 1979‘Phantasm,’ was initially over three hours long, but was trimmed down to a modest 88 minutes, allowing Coscarelli to use pieces of the cut material in, ‘Phantasm IV’.  Between the ‘Halloween,’ franchise and ‘Re-animator,’ Coscarelli’s ‘Phantasm,’ has earned its place amongst the American horror classics of the late 1970s/ 1980s.  Unlike most long-running horror series, Coscarelli acted as director for each of the first four sequels, a position usually left to obscure or young filmmakers.  Although there are several references to Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune,’ ‘Phantasm,’ is an entirely original piece, long lasting and fresh, even by today’s standards. Continue reading

Nekromantik (1987)

nekromantik poster

5 out of 5 stars

nekromantik 1987Often considered the poster child of German Splatter Cinema, Jörg Buttgereit’s 1987 shocker, ‘Nekromantik,’ quite nastily earns its gruesome title.  While certainly not a picture for everyone, Buttgereit’s genuine efforts clearly show, making ‘Nekromantik,’ a favorite within the horror community.  When carefully assembled special effects are met with a disturbing plot and gritty cinematography, a cult classic is born, something truly unique.  It’s no wonder that Buttgereit’s work has withstood the test of time, few films approach its taboos, and even fewer accomplish what he has quite so artfully, a gore flick about one man’s search for happiness.

nekromantik 1987

nekromantik 1987

nekromantik 1987

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Nekromantik 2 (1991)

nekromantik 2 poster

3 out of 5 stars

Nekromantik 2 1991Nekromantik 2,’ the 1991 follow up to Jörg Buttgereit’s cult classic, is a film that predominantly cashes in on the success of its predecessor, yet a few key scenes still enable this picture to stand on its own.  Beginning shortly after ‘Nekromantik’s end, Buttgereit’s sequel is set in the same realm, with the corpse of the first film’s main character also acting as a central figure in this piece.  While still shocking and plentifully gross, ‘Nekromantik 2,’ misses the charm of its original, and certainly doesn’t possess the complexity of Buttgereit’s earlier, ‘Der Todesking,’ or ‘Schramm’.  Unlike Buttgereit’s avant-garde movies, this picture is a brilliant example of classic German Splatter Cinema.  But for what it is, ‘Nekromantik 2,’ doesn’t disappoint, leaving viewers with some memorable moments and a particularly shocking ending, similar to that of the first ‘Nekromantik’.

Nekromantik 2 1991

Nekromantik 2 1991

Very few sequels have the ability to overshadow its source, and Buttgereit’s effort is no exception.  Following a depraved nurse’s necro exploits, ‘Nekromantik 2,’ is set in a more realistic Germany than the former, although the setting still feels surreal.  Nekromantik 2 1991Often sequels are judged solely against their original work, which poses several problems, and in a way is an unfair rubric for assessment.  Buttgereit attempts to turn this common human tendency into a clever plot point, binding both films together with a continuation of the same story line and re-introducing familiar characters.  But of course Buttgereit often references his other works within his films. Continue reading