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RetView #63 – Re-Animator (1985)

Title: Re-Animator

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Stuart Gordon

Length: 86 mins

Starring: Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs

It’s been at least a couple of months now, so I think it’s about time we had another 80’s cheese fest. Re-Animator, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator on account of being loosely based on Lovecraft’s 1922 work ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ fits the bill perfectly. Directed by Stuart Abbott, who also directed From Beyond (1986), Dolls (1987) and wrote Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Dentist (1995), it was originally intended to be a stage play, before given The Treatment, and that sense of intimacy has largely been preserved. With it’s a small cast, tightly-woven plot, and snappy dialogue, it’s easy to see why Re-Animator is now considered a bona fide cult classic. Shot in only 18 days, it is the first film in the Re-Animator series, and was followed by Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), neither of which hit the heights of the original.

After leaving his last place of education under something of a cloud, medical student called Herbert West (Combs) enrols at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts (a fictional educational establishment in a fictional town in a real state), moves in with fellow student Dan Cain (Abbott), and then proceeds to turn the apartment into a laboratory. His experiments include killing and then re-animating Dan’s cat Rufus several times, much to the horror of Dan’s girlfriend, Megan (Crampton). Don’t worry, cat lovers, Rufus gets his own back. Dan tries to tell the Dean of the university (who happens to be Megan’s father) about West’s experiments but he is ridiculed, and the pair kicked out. They then hatch a plan to sneak into the morgue to use the reagent they have developed on a human subject to prove it works. It does, except the dead guy returns as a zombie-like crazed person. That’s when the Dean stumbles upon the scene, and shit gets really wild.

Producer Brian Yuzna (who played one of the hospital corpses, largely for his own amusement) described the film as having the “sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of The Howling.” There are more than a few scenes to keep the gore hounds among you happy. My absolute favourite shows Dr Hill (Gale) in a role that the great Christopher Lee allegedly refused, removing skin from a corpse’s head on the way to extracting their brain, which he does with the words, “It’s very much like peeling a large orange.” According to IMDB, the special effects department went through 24-gallons of fake blood during the shoot, special-effects guru John Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past he had never used more than two gallons, which has to be some kind of compliment. Upon release, Re-Animator received an X (adults only) rating, and was later edited to obtain an R rating for video rental stores because some stores’ policies prohibited them from renting ‘unrated’ films with an MPAA rating of X. In the R-rated version, much of the gore was edited out and replaced with various scenes which had been deleted for pacing purposes, including a subplot involving Dr. Hill hypnotizing several characters to make them more suggestible to his will. A short scene was also added showing Herbert West injecting himself with small amounts of the reagent to stay awake and energized, which may have affected his thinking over the course of the film. On the other side of the pond, British Film Censors weren’t impressed with the scene where the severed head Dr. Hill attempts to rape Megan and refused to pass the film for release in the United Kingdom until the sequence had been cut. In Japan, the film is titled “ZOMBIO” though the title is dropped for the sequel because it translates as “Drifting Spirits” and makes no sense in the context of the film.

Re-Animator was received well, winning over many of the more arty critics. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary movie-going crowd.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said, “The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration,” and David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, an influential New York tabloid that closed in 2017, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list. In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write, “Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation!”

Trivia Corner

In December 1986, the year after Re-Animator was released, Barbara Crampton did a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine under the title, “Simply Beastly. Behind every successful monster, there’s a woman.” In an October 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the then 61-year revealed that she was only given a second round of auditions for the role of Meg because the girl who won the part the first time around turned it down after her mother read the script and said “Oh, no. You’re not doing this.”


Where’s my F***ing Sweatband?

I really like Dire Straits. You could say they are my guilty pleasure. I don’t think they are as respected or as widely known these days as they probably should be. Most of the people who do know them are left with that eighties caricature image of Mark Knopfler in the Money for Nothing video, wearing a jacket with shoulder pads and the sleeves rolled up, and a fucking neon headband. That’s more a representation of the eighties as a whole than the band.

The first DS record I ever bought was Brothers in Arms, which I sought out largely as a consequence of the copious amounts of TV advertising that went into promoting it. I mean, when it was £5.99 in Woolworths (which would probably amount to around £15 in ‘today’s money.’) you fucking knew about it. I only found out years later that most of the songs had been horribly edited down to fit on the vinyl.

brothers-in-arms-album-cover

Released over 35 years ago, Brothers in Arms, their fourth and most successful studio album, was a bit of a double-edged sword for Dire Straits. It was their Born in the USA. Actually, a lot of parallels can be drawn between Dire Straits (essentially singer/songwriter/lead guitarist Mark Knopfler with some other blokes) and The Boss, not least that both have working class roots and traded off the same kind of ‘everyman’ image. Of the two, Knopfler is without the doubt the better guitarist. He has a distinctive style, as do many of the greats from Jimmy Page to Brian May, in this case developed through ‘picking’ at the strings with his fingertips rather than using a plectrum. You wouldn’t even have to know the song to know who was playing guitar on it. On the flipside, The Boss is by far the better showman and probably the more consistent (and prolific) songwriter.

Another common denominator is that in effect, the Born in the USA and Brothers in Arms juggernauts alienated huge swathes of the respective artists’ existing audiences and attracted the ‘pop crowd.’ In the eighties, much like today, the Pop Crowd brought money, but no loyalty. They weren’t going to stick around. You’d be lucky to keep them interested for two albums, after that they’ll be into Fergal Sharkey or the Blow Monkeys for six months. The vast majority of bands don’t even get that two albums worth of grace.

It’s not enough to have talent and great songs. To attract the Pop Crowd and plug into the mainstream you need something else, some X Factor. In the case of Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms arrived within the eye of a perfect storm. It was released just as ground-breaking new tech was emerging in the form of CDs and CGI graphics, and MTV was just taking off. It soon became one of the bestselling albums of the era.

Dire Straits ended up paying a price for that success. By the time grunge hit a few years later they were typecast as a bunch of try-hard dad rockers and became a virtual laughing stock. Grunge, well, mostly Nirvana who spearheaded the whole thing, had a seismic effect on rock and metal. It almost killed off hair metal on its own, like a nuclear blast. Overnight, bands like Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Warrant, and approximately seven million others, all became irrelevant and then turned into shocked-looking parodies of themselves as they were reduced to playing 250-capacity rock clubs again instead of 20,000-capacity arenas they’d been used to. Def Leppard tried to fit in by recording Slang, for fuck’s sake. It was ugly.

Most of the artists who were left retreated into themselves. To use Springsteen as a yardstick again, he fired the E Street Band and released the limp one-two punch of Human Touch and the only-marginally better Lucky Town on the same day, just to try to stay relevant, and in 1991 Dire Straits put out On Every Street, their last studio offering. It’s not a bad album, just a bit tired-sounding in places. At best it was comfy and warm, at worst vapid and unrewarding. It was the sound of Dire Straits desperately trying to tread that middle ground between being true to themselves and pleasing their new legion of fans. The result was a big long sigh. Afterwards, the band fell into live archive releases and odd compilation territory and Mark Knopfler went solo.

Bloated and overlong, On Every Street was made for the CD market and it may be no accident that my top two Dire Straits studio albums, 1980’s Making Movies and 1982’s Love Over Gold would both fit on a single CD with room to spare. Although for the most part typically restrained (only Industrial Disease, Expresso Love and Solid Rock attempt to lift the mood a bit), those albums are focused and precise, a lot of the music dark and brooding yet filled with restrained passion. The musicianship is exemplary. I must have played those albums thousands of times. Earlier albums 1978’s self-titled and the following year’s Communique both had their moments, there were just fewer of them. Probably my favourite DS track of all time is Telegraph Road. At over 14-minutes long, it’s a stroke of genius. It takes a lot to keep me interested in anything for that long. I’ve had shorter relationships. I prefer the version found on Alchemy Live. I love the narrative, and how the song builds from little more than an understated whimper to a furious scream. Those power chords.

Alchemy, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1983 on the Love Over Gold tour, is pretty much the perfect live album if you can overlook the weak opening. Once Upon a time in the West to open a show when you have ready-made firecrackers like Tunnel of Love in your repertoire? Really?

Dire Straits are the consummate live band. But more the kind of band you’d like to see in a smoky club, or at a push, a theatre. They were a bit lost in those stadiums. the bigger the venue, the bigger the entourage and when you have a touring band numbering in double figures, it all gets a bit dramatic. If you’re interested, and you should be, there are also a few excellent bootleg recordings floating around. Koln ’79 is recommended (notable because they play Sultans of Swing twice having fucked the first one up), as is On Location – Live in Wiesbaden 1981 and Live in Sydney 1985. Recorded on the Brothers in Arms tour, that one is worth seeking out if only to hear the band wowing audiences at their commercial peak. For a while there, nowhere was safe from the Knopfler shoulder pads and sweatband.

500full-mark-knopfler

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy my recent tribute to London Calling or one of my several Springsteen posts.  I’ve also written about my personal musical odyssey and various other related shit.


RetView #60 – Death Ship (1980)

Title: Death Ship

Year of Release: 1980

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Length: 85 mins

Starring: Richard Crenna, George Kennedy, Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid, Saul Rubinek

I’d never even heard of this Bloodstar Films production until I read about it in an issue of the venerated Fortean Times magazine (FT396, if you’re interested). I’ve always had a thing for Nazi zombies, as referenced before in previous RetViews Shock Waves and Outpost. I also recently discovered that I have a thing for horror set on ships. I have no idea why that is. It could be something about the bleak, all-encompassing emptiness of being at sea, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that if some supernatural shit befalls you in a house, or even a cabin buried in the woods, you can always just count your losses and run. You can’t do that on a ship. You have to stay and face whatever evil shit is about to befall you. Anyway, the potential for Nazi zombies and an evil sea-faring vessel combo suckered me right into Death Ship. Throw in Richard Crenna from the Rambo films, Saul Rubinek from True Romance (and Frasier) and George Kennedy from, er, Cool Hand Luke and Earthquake, I was already sold. And if all that wasn’t enough, just look at this poster!

So what’s it all about?

Well, stuffy Captain Ashland (Kennedy) is on his final cruise before handing over the reigns to Trevor Marshall (Crenna) who has brought his wife (Howes, in her final film appearance) and kids along on the trip. At a glitzy on-ship party there’s a band playing, some drunk people, and lots of terrible dad dancing. Everyone is having a great time. Except Captain Ashland, who you doubt could have a great time anywhere. But all the decadence and debauchery comes to a sudden halt when the cruise liner smashes into something and sinks, leaving just a handful of survivors unfortunately including Marshall’s annoying kids, a lecherous young officer, and a near-hysterical passenger, floating around on a makeshift raft. The next morning they find the grumpy captain in the water, which is a stroke of luck, or maybe not, then they come across a massive, ominous-looking black ship anchored in the middle of the ocean with a ladder down ready to receive them, which seems like another mad stroke of luck but turns out to be quite the opposite. Thinking they’ve found salvation, the survivors board the strange ship to find it deserted. Still, it’s better than being on the raft, or so they think. The first sign that something isn’t right comes when ship’s entertainer Jackie (Rubinek) is suddenly scooped up by a possessed winch and dumped screaming head first into the sea. Bye, Jackie. It was fun while it lasted. Things degenerate from there. The remaining survivors, whilst trying to navigate this mysterious vessel full of disembodied voices, creepy shadows and inanimate objects that take on lives of their own, get picked off one-by-one, until only the good-natured Trevor Marshall, his wife, and those annoying kids are left and ultimately find themselves back where they started on another flimsy-looking rafty-thing in the water. There’s probably a message there.

Life and soul of the party Captain Ashland and the underlying friction between him and his would-be replacement Marshall is instrumental in all this.

“You don’t know how to handle a crew or passengers!”
“Maybe so, Marshall. But I know how to handle ships.”

At one point, Ashland even dons a discarded German navy uniform and appears to channel the ship’s long-dead and rather sadistic head honcho whilst embarking on a murderous rampage. It all leads up to the highly anticipated revelation, which ties things up nicely and makes for a nice, satisfying conclusion. Especially after the evil Captain Ashland comes to a suitably sticky end and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

It’s easy to see why Death Ship got lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have the immediacy of other popular horror flicks of the day like Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th or Prom Night. It could, however, be a distant cousin of The Fog. It has a much more brooding atmosphere and, dare I say, slightly more substance reinforced by some remarkable cinematography, an impressive plot, and a killer (sorry) cast. It’s picked up a few retrospective reviews like this one on Warped Perspective, which is a real indicator as to whether a movie is truly attaining cult status, and review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes gives it an overall score of 4.2 out of 10 based on 5 reviews, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. One review states, “Death Ship is a terrific, low-budget cheesy supernatural tale that should definitely appeal to midnight movie horror fans. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I feel that this is one of the most underrated films in the genre.”

It’s hard to argue with that, and those sentiments are echoed by Jeremy Blitz of DVD Talk, who said, “It isn’t a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one, especially for fans of the somewhat lower tier horror efforts of the late seventies and early eighties.” Its flaws, however, are plain to see. Many called it unimaginative or derivative, with a shower scene in particular said to mirror the famous one in Psycho a little too closely. Incidentally, the shower scene in Death Ship was shot in one take, as it was deemed too expensive and troublesome to clean up the blood and shoot it again. It wasn’t all plain sailing (boom!). Damningly, TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. It’s probably safe to say that despite its considerable merits, this won’t be something that many of it’s stellar cast will look back on with much pride. For one delightful moment whilst researching this piece, I thought I’d stumbled across a modern(ish) remake. But that turned out to be nothing more than the result of some artwork someone mocked up in Deviant Art. Good effort, though.

Trivia Corner

As the ghost ship collided with the cruise liner, brief scenes of an explosion, a grand piano falling between decks, and the engine room flooding were cut in from another movie entirely. The movie in question was The Last Voyage (1960).


RetView #56 – Fright Night (1985)

Title: Fright Night

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Tom Holland

Length: 106 mins

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys

Something occurred to me recently. So far, I haven’t covered many vampire movies in the RetView series. In fact, the only ones I’ve featured have been Lost Boys and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Personally, I just find the whole vampire thing a bit naff and predictable. If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s been done to death. Hurrah! That’s why, to my mind, the vampire legend is best done with a splash of humour, like both the aforementioned did with great success. Another vampire comedy horror classic is Fright Night from 1985, the year of Brothers in Arms, Live Aid and Miami Vice. It became the second highest grossing horror movie of the year behind A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and is notable for being the directorial debut of Tim Holland, who went on to direct Child’s Play (1988) and Thinner (1996) as well as episodes of Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt. The movie also benefited from a Big Eighties Soundtrack featuring the likes of the J Geils Band, who performed the title track, Autograph, April Wine and Ian Hunter, the irony being that most of these artists were already streaking into irrelevance having peaked long before. Much like the vampire itself. If the producers had been a bit more adventurous and signed someone a bit more contemporary (like the Elm Street franchise did a couple of years later when they hired Dokken to record the seminal Dream Warriors, or when the makers of Shocker persuaded Megadeth to get involved) it could’ve made all the difference. Still, Fright Night didn’t really need the Big Eighties Soundtrack, it was a massive hit anyway, winning three Saturn awards and grossing over $24 million, despite Columbia having very low expectations of it.

17-year-old Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) is a fan of horror films and a late-night TV series entitled Fright Night hosted by former ‘vampire hunter’ Peter Vincent (McDowall). One evening, Charley discovers that his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandrige (Sarandon) is the blood-thirsty sucker responsible for several mysterious disappearances. In desperation, he alerts the authorities but, unable to find any evidence, they brush off Brewster’s claims and leave him at the mercy of an angry and vengeful Dandridge. Fearful for the safety of himself and his girlfriend Amy (Bearse) and with no other choice, Brewster goes to best friend Evil Ed (Geoffreys) and his idol, Vincent, for help. Together the motley crew battle the forces of evil. Or try to. But far from being a fearless vampire hunter, Vincent turns out to be a bit of a scaredy cat, as well as a fraud, Brewster’s best friend is a bit of a dick, and his girlfriend appears to have the horn for his nemesis.

The writing in Fright Night is top-notch, as are some of the performances. Stephen Geoffreys (who, ironically, went on to star in 976-EVIL a couple of years later) is brilliant as Evil Ed, but it’s Roddy McDowall who steals the show. One of those saturn awards went to him for ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ His character was named after horror icons Peter Cushing and Vincent price, for whom Holland had specifically written the part. However, at this point in his career, Price had been so badly typecast that he had stopped accepting roles in horror movies. Hollywood badboy Charlie sheen auditioned for the part of Brewster, and I can’t help feeling he would have been amazing as the bumbling teen, but Holland thought Sheen was a ‘hero’ while Ragsdale was, quite literally, “the guy next door.” For her final transformation as a busty vampire, Amanda Bearse wore a prosthetic breast plate to enhance her cleavage. Legend has it that in 2012 she took it to a horror convention and encouraged fans to ‘feel her boobs’ while she signed autographs. Brilliant.

Fright Night as a franchise has grown to include a sequel, imaginatively entitled Fright Night Part 2 (1988) and a remake in 2011. When later asked his thoughts about it, Tom Holland said, “Kudos to them on every level for their professionalism, but they forgot the humor and the heart. They should have called it something other than Fright Night, because it had no more than a passing resemblance to the original.”

Ouch.

The remake was itself followed by a sequel Fright Night 2: New Blood (2013), as well as numerous comics, graphic novels and a video game. Interestingly, the movie even made the crossover to Bollywood in 1989 with a version called Kalpana House (1989), and was adapted for the stage in 2018. Proof positive that, just like the vampires of myth and legend, Fright Night lives on. And on.

Trivia Corner

The makeup for Evil Ed’s wolf transformation took 18 hours to complete. While he had the wolf head on, the crew began pouring what they thought was Methylcellulose into his mouth to create the illusion of saliva, but when Geoffreys began to complain about the taste, the crew realized they’d been using prosthetic adhesive, which was gluing his mouth shut. Doh.


RetView #54 – The Burning (1981)

Title: The Burning

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Tony Maylam

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian B, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexanda

Like The Slayer and the original Evil Dead, this is another film that got caught up in the whole ‘video nasty’ storm of the early eighties. Not that it did The Burning any harm. Quite the opposite, actually. Directed by Englishman Tony Maylam and featuring an original score by Rick Wakeman of Yes fame, it was partially based on the Cropsey Maniac urban legend and produced by Miramax, but let’s not talk about that. Yet.

One night at Camp Blackfoot, some teenaged fun-seeking campers pull a thigh-slappingly funny prank on an alcoholic caretaker named Cropsy (David) by placing a skull next to his bed with candles in the eye sockets and banging on the window to wake him up. Being a bit pissed (the British version, which means ‘drunk’ rather than the American version of pissed – angry – though by this point it’s very possible he’s both) he accidentally knocks the skull onto his bed starting a fire, which soon engulfs both him and his cabin. Still ablaze, the caretaker runs outside and stumbles down an embankment into a river as the boys flee. Years later, the disfigured and vengeful Cropsy is released from an extended stint hospital, where he had also become the butt of jokes (“This guy’s burned so bad he’s cooked. A fucking Big Mac!”) and goes on the warpath with a set of garden shears. Marvellous.

The early eighties were the peak of the slasher film, and The Burning almost got lost in the crush. As slasher films go, it has to rank near the top end of the scale, if only because there have been so many worse ones. The effects are sketchy and it seems formulaic and derivative at times, but the plot has enough about it to it to keep you entertained. Plus there are some textbook jump scares and a kill every ten minutes or so. Which, incidentally, is by design rather than happy accident. It’s also notable for marking the big-screen debuts of Holly Hunter, who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1993 for her role in The Piano, Jason Alexanda whose greatest triumph was playing George Castanza in Seinfeld, and Fisher Stevens, who appeared as Ben in the Short Circuit films.

These days, however, The Burning is probably most famous (or infamous) for launching the career of one Harvey Weinstein. In 1980, he was a fresh-faced young concert promoter desperate to break into the movie business. Recognizing the success of low-budget horror films such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978), he began swapping horror stories with various acquaintances, including producing partner Michael Cohl. Having heard about the aforementioned Cropsy legend as a youngster, Weinstein sounded out the concept to Cohl, who loved the idea. They roped in Weinstein’s brother, Bob, as a screenwriter and together the trio came up with The Burning. It would be the first film put out by Miramax, the production company named after the Weinstein brother’s parents, Miriam and Max.

In light of the later Weinstein controversy, there are several uncomfortable themes running through The Burning; horny boys forever trying to coerce unwilling girls into having sex with them and voyeurism being just the tip (sorry) of the iceberg. There are more than a few uneasy moments, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, like the camera lingering on a topless girl in the shower far too long and the wholly unnecessary premature ejaculation scene (“I’ll do better next time, baby.”) I don’t know, maybe this movie is just a product of its time. As the cliché goes, things were different then. Sure, you could say Weinstein and his crew were simply portraying teenage life, testosterone-driven urges and all, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s definitely full of creepy vibes and it’s difficult to imagine a world where any of this was ever okay.

The film originally had a vastly different ending, and Maylam has since said that there was talk of a sequel around the time it was wrapping. However, Maylam was weary of being type-cast as a horror director and the disappointing box office performance of the original stalled the sequel’s production. It has since attained cult classic status, but upon release it made back less than half of its $1.5 million budget in the US. It was, however, very popular in Japan, which probably tells its own story.

Trivia Corner:

To create Cropsy’s distorted POV shots, the cinematographer rubbed Vaseline on the outside edges of the camera lens. I bet he didn’t learn that in film school.


Retview #44 – Predator (1987)

Title: Predator

Year of Release: 1987

Director: John McTiernan

Length: 107 mins

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves

The story goes that after Rocky IV came out, a joke circulated around Hollywood that since Sly Stallone had levelled all earthly opponents, he would have to fight an alien if a fifth film were to be made. In the event, he fought Tommy Morrison instead, but screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took some inspiration from the joke and wrote a screenplay around it. When the latest instalment in the franchise, unimaginatively called THE Predator, dropped in 2018, it did so to a chorus of disapproval and a slew of negative reviews. Much like the first instalment, which was labelled “Grisly and dull” by the New York Times. Ouch. Not to be outdone, the LA Times wrote that it was, “Arguably one of the emptiest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie.” Double ouch. Also like the first instalment THE Predator was still a… wait for it… monster hit. The main criticism of the franchise as a whole are the thin plots, papered over with explosions and witty one-liners. Therefore, you might be wondering why Predator merits inclusion in this series. Well, because it’s fucking brilliant. That’s why.

Admittedly the plot, what there is of one, is as weak as wet tissue paper. Dutch, a US Army Special Forces Major Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team, which includes Dillon (Weathers who, ironically, had just played Apollo Creed in Rocky IV), a former CIA agent who has a lot to hide, are charged with the task of rescuing an official being held hostage by some insurgents in some generic Central American setting. However, when they arrive they find a crashed helicopter and a bunch of skinned corpses, which kinda sets alarm bells rining. After a textbook firefight with some bad guys, the mission is revealed to be a set-up and Dillon’s deception is laid bare. But that’s just the start of their problems. Before they can make it to their extraction point, they realize that something in the jungle is stalking them. Yep, it’s the predator, a vicious, war-mongering alien entity with dreads that hunts people (and, apparently, other species of alien) for sport.

The first Predator movie not only laid the foundations for three sequels, but also a spin-off franchise (Alien v Predator) and a torrent of comics, novels, videogames, action figures and even theme park attractions creating a multi-billion dollar cottage industry. That’s something most movie franchises can only aspire to. Though they flatter to deceive at times and benefit from bigger budgets and better tech, the truth is none of the other entries in the Predator franchise ever reached the dizzy heights of the 1987 original. Arriving just as Schwarzenegger was riding high on show-stealing performances in the likes of Terminator, Commando and Raw Deal, Predator was very much a feather in his cap. He got to run around in the jungle with some mates covered in mud sporting unfeasibly large weapons and even larger biceps. What was not to like?

One thing I found interesting about Predator is the way it gives the alien interlopers some depth of character, whereas most movies of this type are content to just paint them as bad guys and be done with it. We even get a glimpse of their motivations. Granted, these motivations don’t amount to much, they hunt for ‘sport,’ but it’s a start. No doubt all the eighties bombast was a recipe for success, as Predator raked in almost $100 million at the Box Office against a modest $15 million budget. It also made a lasting impression, earning an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to a score of just 34% for the 2018 instalment, and as recently as 2015 it was named fourth in a Rolling Stone reader’s poll to ascertain the best action movies of all time. All of which is worthy acclaim.

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Trivia Corner:

Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator, the idea being to match his martial arts skills with Schwarzenegger’s muscle, but he wasn’t happy being crammed into the suit all the time and constantly complained about it. The part eventually went to Kevin Peter Hall who stood over seven feet tall. He died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of just 35.


Brothers in Arms at 35

“Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler’s terrific guitar work catching the best light.”

Rolling Stone

F

Brothers in Arms, the fifth studio album by English rock royalty Dire Straits was released 35 years ago this week, which probably makes it older than most of the people reading this. If you do remember it, you are no doubt feeling old as fuck right now.

You’re welcome.

Brothers in Arms was an instant phenomena, hitting number one in 12 countries (though weirdly, it didn’t even crack the top 100 in France) and holding the top slot in the UK for an incredible 14 consecutive weeks, where it became the first album to ever be certified 10 x platinum. It also became the first CD to sell over a million copies, and is still the eighth best-selling album in British chart history. Even considering how the music industry has evolved, you just don’t get numbers like that these days. The album not only represented the pinnacle of the band’s career, but is now recognized as one of the defining albums of the era.

For his guest appearance on the single Money for Nothing, Sting recycled the vocal harmony from The Police’s hit Don’t Stand so Close to Me. Despite containing what is often referred to as homophobic lyrics (based primarily around the use of the wrd ‘faggot’) the song became the band’s signature tune and biggest ever hit, reaching the top 40 in 15 countries, even France. Money for Nothing was one of five singles released from the album in the UK, along with the title track, So Far Away, Your Latest Trick, and the disco-enthused Walk of Life, which peaked at number two and became the band’s fourth gold single. While the singles were strong, and carried Brothers in Arms a long way, it has to be said that the rest of the album is filler at best. Only the melancholy Why Worry is worth repeated listens. It’s a mystery to me that with so many great songs in their arsenal, Dire Straits chose to start most of the gigs on that tour with Ride Across the River, a nondescript mid-tempo plodder buried on side two. This suggests that far from being a truly classic album, Brothers in Arms was more a happy coincidence, benefiting enormously from a convergence of outside factors like the emergence of MTV, the arrival of the compact disc, and the implementation of CGI technology. In my opinion, previous albums Making Movies (1980) and Love Over Gold (1982) outstrip Brothers in Arms both in terms of songwriting and musicianship, if not commercial success.

Many of the songs on Brothers in Arms had to be edited to enable them to fit on vinyl, which can only comfortably accommodate 23-minutes or so per side before the sound quality is severely compromised. Hence the total running time of the original vinyl version is 47:21, while the full length of the album as heard on CD, cassette and later double-vinyl versions, was a much more indulgent 55:07. When I heard the album again on MP3 years later, it was like discovering a whole new set of songs.

However, despite the album’s epic achievements which will forever guarantee it a place in rock history, there was a considerable downside.

Not only was its runaway success impossible to replicate, but it transformed Dire Straits into a different beast. No longer were they considered the rootsy, innovative, blues-based outfit that gave us Sultans of Swing, Lady Writer and Private Investigations. Despite being suddenly elevated to Springsteen and Madonna-esque heights of megastardom, after ’85, the very name Dire Straits became a by-word for boring, middle-of-the-road dad rock, epitomized by Mark Knopfler himself. Never really what you would call a looker, the reluctant frontman was nudging forty by then, and trying desperately to keep abreast of the fast-moving MTV generation by literally rolling up his sleeves and sporting a wacky neon headband. Cringe. Still, it was the eighties, and the whole decade was one big fashion crime.

There were also other, less obvious difficulties during the recording process which suggest that all was not well within the camp even before mainstream success came knocking. According to a later interview with producer Neil Dorfsman, the performance of drummer Terry Williams was deemed unsuitable, and his parts later re-recorded by a session musician though Williams retains a credit on the album liner notes and played on the resulting world tour. Interestingly, the recording process was carried out against a backdrop of conflict in a wider context with many of the lyrics influenced by the Falklands War. The emotive title itself came from something Knopfler’s father said about Russian and Argentinian soldiers having similar ideologies and hence being, “brothers in arms.”

Yeah, Dire Straits were never the same after Brothers in Arms. Apart from the customary slew of compilations, they didn’t release anything of note until 1991’s sub-par On Every Street, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin. That particular opus is now only talked about in hushed tones.

Maybe they were never really cut out for superstardom.

B


RetView #31 – Christine (1982)

Title: Christine

Year of Release: 1983

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 110 mins

Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Prosky, Kelly Preston

christine-movie-poster-1983-1020489472

A major reason behind this series of posts is to look at movies that had an impact on my childhood and adolescence not just from a whimsical, rose-tinted view, but through the cold, hard, unimpressed eyes of an adult to ascertain how the films stand up and how my perceptions have changed. From that perspective Christine, the second Stephen King adaptation I have looked at following Thinner, is perfect fodder. I was in my early teens when I first read the book, which was released the same year as the film (unusual in itself, as the journey from publication to silver screen is usually a lot longer) and I think I saw the movie around the same time. Both are shot-through with nostalgia, and though set in the late 1970’s, feel as if they could have been placed in a much earlier time. This is perhaps a result of Christine’s radio being permanently tuned into 1950’s, the era she was manufactured (or ‘born’) rock n’ roll. In many ways, both the book and the movie also capture the angst and confusion of being a teenager, which often goes hand-in-hand with the thrills and naked optimism. All of which is testament to King’s sublime storytelling. Something else that comes through loud and clear is how intrinsic cars and driving is to American teen culture. It’s probably important to most teenagers, wherever they are from. Obviously, cars represent freedom. But they mean so much more in America.

It’s unlikely that any of this would be so prevalent had it not been for the direction of John Carpenter, who had been exploring the horror/suspense genre ever since 1978’s classic Halloween, most impressively on The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981) and the Thing (1982), a run he continued with Christine. His trademark sinister musical score, on this occasion cut with rock n’ roll classics, is a permanent reminder of his involvement, but his influence is immediately apparent during the opening credits, which roll over the sound of a throbbing engine. Overall, Carpenter brings a kind of savage warmth to proceedings, which is surprising as in later interviews he said the film was more of a ‘job’ than a personal project.

The plot is simple enough, but when you think about it most great plots are. Things are usually only complicated by sprawling, convoluted storylines which you have to concentrate so hard on following, everything else falls by the wayside. Arnold ‘Arnie’ Cunningham (Gordon) is an unpopular and socially awkward teenager living in the (fictional) town of Rockbridge, California. He has only one friend, Dennis (Stockwell). However, things begin to change when he purchases a beaten-up 1958 Plymouth convertible named ‘Christine’ from a used car dealer. He invests all his time and money in the car, and slowly develops a new image, that of a 1950’s greaser, to go with it. He even lands his first girlfriend, Leigh Cabot (Paul). But then things turn ugly. Arnie isn’t the boy he used to be. These days he’s an arrogant dickhead, and when Leigh almost chokes on a hamburger whilst sitting in his prized car, his friend Dennis does some investigating. He discovers that Christine has a long history of death and tragedy tied her. But that can’t be right. It’s only a car. Isn’t it? Dennis’ worst fears are confirmed when, after an altercation, Christine begins to hint down a group of local bullies. As the violence escalates, Arnie is sucked further and further into his now-murderous alter-ego. Is there any way back for him?

As ever, the thing that stands out most in both the book and the film version of Christine is the characterization. You actually feel for the characters, and despite many of the film cast being novices (an attempt, you feel, to portray the fresh innocence of youth) the acting is impressive right across the board. Word is that the role of Arnie was originally offered to Kevin Bacon, who declined it to take his career-defining role in Footloose, which came out the following year. The exception to the novice rule is the casting of grizzled veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky, who are superb as Detective Junkins and Darnell respectively. Producer Richard Kobritz had first been introduced to the work of Stephen King through his involvement on the ‘Salem’s Lot TV mini-series, and in the aftermath of that project was presented with several other novels King wanted to adapt for the screen. Among these novels were Cujo and, of course, Christine.

Trivia Corner

Because only 5,303 1958 Plymouth Furys were ever made, by the time filming began in April 1983 they were in short supply. Carpenter decided to place ads seeking two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, and eventually got hold of 24 of them in various states of disrepair. These were then used to build a total of 17 versions of the Fury.


Retview #16 – The Howling (1981)

Title: The Howling

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Joe Dante

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Elisabeth Brooks

1981-the-howling-poster1

I’ve already covered several werewolf movies in this series (An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers). However, previous entries tend to verge on horror/comedy. I don’t know why, but someone way back in movie history must have decided there was something knee-slappingly funny about people transforming into humungous wolf-like creatures and ripping innocent bystanders into bloody pieces. Not so the Howling. Despite a script dripping with satire (“You were raised in LA, the wildest thing you ever heard was Wolfman Jack.”) adapted from Gary Brandner’s novel by screenwriter John Sayles, who had previously worked with director Joe Dante on tongue-in-cheek classic Piranha, there are precious few chuckles here. Except right at the very end, which we’ll get to in good time. Even now, almost four decades after it was first released, The Howling is still a brutal, terrifying, and deeply disturbing journey into the dark heart of the lycanthrope legend which has long been considered a metaphor for the beast lurking inside all of us, something which is hinted at several times throughout the movie. If you’ve never seen it, that’s something you need to rectify post haste.

Karen White (Scream Queen Dee Wallace, star of horror staples Cujo, the original Hills Have Eyes and Critters, but probably best known for her role in E.T.) is a television news anchor in LA who is being stalked by a serial killer. In conjunction with the police and TV crews, she takes part in a sting operation, agreeing to meet the murderer in a sleazy porno cinema. In the ensuing kerfuffle, the serial killer is shot dead by cops, but Karen is left severely traumatized by it all and suffering from amnesia. Her therapist (Macnee, that bloke off the Avengers) suggests she and her husband (Stone) should spend some time at an exclusive retreat in the countryside to aid her recovery, something they are only too happy to do. Big mistake. The Colony, as they call it, is full of colourful characters, one of them being a nymphomaniac called Marsha (Brooks) who tried to bed Karen’s husband. When he rejects her advances, she follows him into the woods one night and scratches his arm, thereby ‘turning’ him. They later do it next to a bonfire (snigger) in one of those scenes that you probably rewound way too much as a horny teenager, before getting creeped out by the fact that by the end you are essentially watching a couple of Furries getting some. Anyway, Karen soon begins to suspect that something sketchy is going on not just with her husband, but at the retreat as a whole, and calls in a little help from her friends. That’s when things get interesting, if they weren’t interesting enough before.

There’s no getting around it, by today’s standards The Howling does seem awfully dated in parts. But the script is extremely well-written, the cast is a who’s who of the era’s acting talent and, though Rick Baker deservedly won an Oscar for his creature effects on An American Werewolf in London a year later, Rob Bottin’s work here is just as impressive. You can achieve quite a lot with tiny inflatable air bags under latex skin. He lets the side down somewhat in the final scene where Karen morphs into something resembling a cross between a Spaniel and a Golden Retriever live on air, but we’ll let that one slide. I prefer to think that particular scene (a late addition tagged on to the end while Wallace was filming Cujo) is meant as one of those tongue-in-cheek moments. An earlier section where the werewolf attacks Karen’s friend at a secluded cabin in the woods is utterly terrifying, as is the part where our heroine comes face to face with the monster for the first time and watches transfixed as he changes in front of her. The suspense is maintained throughout, and the action rarely lets up. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity which led to some reviewers, somewhat unfairly, dubbing it erotic horror. Dante (who also directed Gremlins, Innerspace and Burying the Ex, amongst others) fits all the pieces together nicely, and shows neat little touches like having Little Red Riding Hood playing in the background.

Unsurprisingly, due to its success, the Howling spawned a sequel (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) in 1985. What is surprising, however, is that despite the sequel being a total flop it then led to a bunch more, none of which were very good. The most recent was the eighth installment released in 2011. Word is that a ninth is in pre-production, a remake of the first, which you would think would round things off nicely. Just as long as they don’t decide to remake the other seven.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone were married in RL, having met on an episode of CHiPs before filming started on The Howling. They were together until his death from a werewolf bite (not really. It was a heart attack) in 1995.


Gary Holton, RIP

Gary Holton  22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

Gary Holton
22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

His name might be unfamiliar, but today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Holton’s death. The English entertainer’s list of achievements is considerable. He lived life to the fullest and did things most of us can only dream about. For starters, he once toured as lead singer with the Damned in place of Dave Vanian, he had a number one single in Norway where he was a massive star, appeared on Top of the Pops and the Tube, was the subject of articles in NME and Melody Maker, and fronted the glam rock band Heavy Metal Kids and later Casino Steel, who were signed to Polydor records. A year to the day after Bon Scott’s death, Holton auditioned to join AC/DC, turning up at the venue with a crate of whisky. Rumour has it that the sole reason he didn’t get the job was that the band didn’t want another alcoholic singer.

Despite his love of rock n’ roll, it was Holton’s acting endeavours that really made his name. He had minor roles in Quadrophenia, Minder and Shoestring, before finding fame as flash cockney carpenter Wayne in the classic comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about a group of British builders working abroad. His character displayed a penchant for wine, women and song, something which by all accounts mirrored his off-screen persona. At the peak of his career he was offered the part of ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton in the long-running soap Eastenders, but declined for reasons unknown. By some weird twist of fate, the part eventually went to one of Holton’s best mates, John Altman. By some even weirder twist of fate, in 2010 Altman took Holton’s place in a revamped version of Heavy Metal kids.

Gary Holton died from an overdose of alcohol and morphine in his flat in London before finishing the second series of the show that made him famous, his parts being completed by clever use of body doubles and sound editing. The cast all went to his funeral, and resisted attempts to make a third season for 15 years despite increasingly-lucrative offers. A recovering heroin addict, the inquest into Holton’s death revealed his blood contained almost twice the lethal level of morphine (o.8 mg per litre). Poignantly, the last single he released shortly before he died was a song called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ and when the grim reaper came knocking he had been declared bankrupt twice. A tragic, sad end to a life that promised so much. Still, he probably packed more into his 33 years than most of us could in several lifetimes. His ashes were laid to rest next to his grandparent’s grave in Welshpool, Powys.

Since his death, Holton has achieved cult status. A hard-living, hard-loving rocker with a prodigious talent who loved the pub, when he wasn’t off being famous, he could often be found pulling pints at the establishments his parents ran, or playing dominoes with the regulars. Apparently, his records still outsell the Beatles in Norway. What a legend. RIP, Gary Holton. I hope you caught that falling star.


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