To say that things have been quiet for the genre fan is an understatement, unless you are a fan of stuff like Downton Abbey, Power Rangers Mega Dino Ninja Force and films like Shame, then really it’s been a quiet month or so. Blinkbox has ceased to offer the free films that they offered mere weeks ago with a promise that this service will return in January. YouTube on the other hand is revealing itself to be a goldmine for all the ‘80s VHS not readily available on DVD titles from your childhood.
Below I have tried to capture all of the goodness that’s been added to your various services from when I last did this column up until the weekend before the big C. Perhaps the biggest crime of all is that none of these services are currently offering National Lampoons Christmas Vacation or Gremlins. I’m pretty sure Rare Exports is on LOVEFiLM though should you like your Christmas movies just that much darker.
The Woman in Black (2012) – Netflix
I quite enjoyed this film earlier in the year and it was creepy and suitably dark in all the right ways. The only problem I have is with Daniel Radcliffe in this role, he looks uncomfortable and when picked to play a grieving father, things don’t really hang together as they should for him. If they had gone for someone a bit older with experience outside of the Harry Potter franchise then I think that the film would be far more memorable. The start of the film is also kind of a muddle and only really falls into place about 30 minutes in. This film made a ton of money and yet there are far superior films of this type out there that deserve more attention. Last years The Awakening for one is a similar set up but a superior movie.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) – LOVEFiLM
It still amazes me that director Christophe Gans isn’t currently enjoying the same career as Luc Besson. Gans started strong with Manga adaptation Crying Freeman and made the underrated first Silent Hill film. Between those two he directed this mixture of martial arts, monster movie and period drama which shouldn’t work but somehow does. It’s stylish and well-acted with great performances by a never better Mark Dacascos, Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. If you haven’t seen this yet then you need to remedy that right now and then join the rest of us in wondering what the hell Gans is doing these days (apparently an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast).
The Divide (2011) – Netflix
In a way one of my biggest disappointments recently was this apocalypse thriller from director Xavier Gens. Not that the film is bad, it’s actually pretty good, but people hyped this up as some kind of nasty, unwatchable meditation on how low we will sink to survive and really it’s not like that. There is some violence but it’s only occasional. What people may have tapped into is the film having an overall atmosphere of hopelessness and griminess with everyone slowly being poisoned by the radiation outside of the bunker below a New York apartment building and being all too willing to kill over the rations. Some of the people trapped who suddenly become monsters are a little unbelievable and some who act rationally seem to get treated worse. It’s a film with very few likeable characters and a pretty bleak view of humanity but manages to be entertaining and stylish.
Inception (2010) – LOVEFiLM
What can I say about Inception that hasn’t already been written elsewhere? There was an interesting attempt at a backlash against this film about six months after it came out but the argument basically amounted to people whining about the lack of fantastical dream beasts and that the film wasn’t really surreal enough for the dream world it portrays. I think these people are clutching at straws and missing the point. The point of the film is that this is an elite crew of professionals who do this for a living and are highly skilled at what they do. Therefore the lack of personal demons is something that is intrinsic to the characters as they are portrayed. The whole point of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s flaw, his inability to forget his dead wife, is that it threatens the entire crew and every job they do by introducing a wild card into the missions. Ok rant over. Anyway Inception is a brilliantly structured puzzle box of a movie that, just like the dreams presented in the narrative, works on lots of different levels. The film is the first bona fide big budget classic of this decade and you need to see it. For a moment it looked like we might get a whole number of years of intelligent SF product because this was such a hit, so far though, not so much.
Machete (2010) – LOVEFiLM
Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Manquis’ spin off from the Grindhouse fake trailer isn’t without moments of joy. Cheech Marin’s character, Robert De Niro’s Senator and fat Steven Seagal are all good for a chuckle, as are most of the action scenes and violence. The problem is Machete takes itself far too seriously, trying to make a point about the plight of illegal immigrants whilst at the same time presenting many of the female Mexicans as whorish warriors who use their bodies to get what they want leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This should have been more Hobo with a Shotgun and more concerned with entertaining you. However if you wanted to see a movie where a man’s intestines are used as an escape rope then this is that movie.
Warehouse 13: Season 3 (2011) – Netflix
You probably haven’t been watching Warehouse 13 and why should you? This is a Sy Fy Channel series, has a cast you have never heard of, a budget to match and it’s a well out of date riff on the old X-Files formula. The problem is that Warehouse 13 is a lot of fun, a lot of breezy fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously, is actually quite well written and funny and feels like the natural successor to Joss Whedon’s TV work. Now that we are into the third season, arcs are taking place with recurring villains (including a female Jules Verne) popping up every now and then and whenever it seems like life or death for our crew then something funny will happen to allow them to get out of it. Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly are likeable handsome leads and… just watch it ok?
Leviathan (1989) – YouTube
Something I caught very recently was this forgotten late ‘80s underwater horror film made in the wake of The Abyss, starring Peter Weller, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson and the awful Amanda Pays who was the ‘80s equivalent of Saffron Burrows. Leviathan is basically The Thing underwater, with a mining crew intercepting a crashed soviet sub that has some kind of experimental organism on-board their habitat on the ocean floor that goes ahead and mutates the crew. Thing is, it’s pretty well done and looks very expensive although it probably wasn’t and director George P. Cosmatos does a solid job with a B movie cast.
Despicable Me (2010) – LOVEFiLM
In 2010 there were two animated films that revolved around animated super villains. One was DreamWorks’ Megamind and the other was this from Universal Pictures. Despicable Me is more consciously aimed at the kids rather than the family but manages to be sweet, clever and hilarious all at the same time without becoming a pop culture laden disaster. Steve Carell voices Gru, a criminal genius who with his minions has various ‘take over the world’ schemes that consistently fail. When he meets a trio of orphans then things start to change and the audience goes awwwwwww. A sequel is due next summer too.
Class of 1999 (1990) – YouTube
Straight to home video auteurs in the late ‘80s predicted that by the end of the next decade we would be in war zones for schools with robot teachers being a necessity. One of those films that was greenlit because of The Terminator, Class of 1999 is brutally violent in a fine grindhouse tradition and has a real feel of rebellion about it as war cyborgs are adapted to modern schools and start taking their job a little too seriously leading to a group of punks having to take them down. Even now this is still pretty violent and I’m shocked and appalled at my parents for having let me watch this when I was 11. Still, the effects don’t really hold up but this is still a fine example of a great straight to VHS title from a golden age of clag.
The Fisher King (1991) – LOVEFiLM
Possibly Terry Gilliam’s most mainstream film is The Fisher King which concerns Jeff Bridges’ shock jock who inadvertently causes a massacre and in his suicidal grief meets Robin Williams’ Parry, a homeless man questing for the Holy Grail in modern New York City. Although the fantasy elements are limited compared to something like Brazil or Time Bandits, they are still present but this is carried through on the strength of a career best Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges bringing their A-game and the touching relationship between the two of them as their connection becomes clear. One of the standout films of the early ‘90s which seems to have had very few genuinely great films.
Videodrome (1983) – YouTube
Probably my favourite David Cronenberg film is his 1983 warning to all of us what video nasties and unchecked cable television were doing to our brains. Aspects of this seem quaint now in these days of Human Centipede and A Serbian Film. The core brain washing plot though is still compelling and most of the practical effects work still impresses. Funnily enough when I first got cable television back in ‘94, this was one of the first films I watched and it’s stayed with me ever since. Videodrome was completely unaware of DVD and the Internet but the core concept is still strong and probably why a remake is on the way.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – LOVEFiLM
Spike Jonze’s third film from the end of the last decade is massively underrated, probably because it’s unlike anything you have ever seen and thus was hard to market. Taking its cue from Maurice Sendak’s celebrated 30 page children’s book, the film manages to be a wonderful adaptation as well as a pathos filled meditation on childhood. To my mind there has never been a more accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a child, the emotional tantrums, the fear, the joy and the fun. Jonze also manages to make this visually accomplished as well with seven foot tall hairy suits with men inside and CG animated faces which blend seamlessly with the real locations and forests. Possibly hard going for the younger kids that it’s aimed at, adults and older children will love this and appreciate what the story is saying. It’s impossible not to shed a tear at the finale.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) – YouTube
One of the better anime films of recent years is Ninja Scroll director Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s animated interpretation of the beloved manga and novel character Vampire Hunter D. This finds the titular vampire bounty hunter hired to track down a missing girl who has fallen for a centuries old Dracula like figure and is heading towards a castle ruled by an even deadlier vampire. A trio of heavily armed hunters clash with D along the way. What stands out in this film, apart from the action, is the surreal world which is a meeting of technology and western and the weird sometimes spine chilling creatures. It’s a mystery why this hasn’t been snapped up by Hollywood for the live action treatment yet.
Eight Legged Freaks (2002) – LOVEFiLM
Positioned as a big blockbuster in the summer of 2002 was this film about a town under siege by giant spiders. It didn’t turn out quite as planned despite a great marketing campaign. This may be derivative of films such as Them and Tremors but it’s massive fun and never takes itself seriously. The spider effects are still quite impressive as they range from the size of a dog to the size of a caravan and mostly they are skin crawling until they make weird sounds. Also features a performance from a young Scarlett Johannson, a year before Lost in Translation catapulted her to stardom.
Invaders from Mars (1986) – YouTube
In the last slot where I like to place all my childhood memories that probably won’t stand up is Tobe Hooper’s remake of the 1953 cold war era B movie. When I was nine I caught this on TV around dinner time and because I had an irrational fear of alien invasion thanks to V, it scared the absolute bejesus out of me. Parents were getting replaced, teachers were eating frogs and the aliens wanted to kill us and not befriend us like ET. So this film has been quite hard to find for some years and now has popped up on YouTube to scare us all anew. I later researched and found out this film came from cheapskate Cannon films and producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan so I may just leave well enough alone and not tarnish that first terrifying viewing.