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RetView #3 – An American Werewolf in London

Title: An American Werewolf in London

Year of Release: 1981

Director: John Landis

Length: 97 mins

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

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Some films you see during those impressionable childhood years make an indelible mark on you. Others scar you for life. For me, An American werewolf in London undoubtedly belongs in the latter category, and not just because I was obsessed with Jenny Agutter.

It should need no introduction, but for the uninitiated, the film starts with a pair of American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) hiking across the Yorkshire Moors (actually the Black Mountains in Wales). When night falls they take refuge in a charming little pub called the Slaughtered Lamb, where they find Rik Mayall having a game of darts and Brian Glover in a particularly prickly mood, but leave when things turn frosty and find themselves lost on the moors. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things take a huge downward turn when Jack is ripped to pieces by a huge wild animal, later revealed to be a werewolf. There’s no helping Jack, but a crowd from the pub arrive and kill the werewolf just in time to save David.

David wakes up in a hospital in London. We don’t know how he got there, or why he was taken there rather than somewhere closer as it’s about 200 miles from Yorkshire to London. But let’s not focus too much on pesky common sense and practicalities. It’s a werewolf film for fuck’s sake. Jack returns from the dead to warn his friend that next time there is a full moon, he too will turn into a werewolf. The banter between David and Dead Jack, fast, witty, and shot-through with humour, form some of my favourite parts of the film (example: “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”).

The anticipated change does indeed occur in a gut-wrenching yet iconic sequence which won an Academy Award for special effects (creator Rick Baker went on to win six more from eleven nominations. A record) and David goes on a bloody rampage across London. One of the defining scenes was set and filmed at Tottenham Court Road tube station, and anyone who has ever used that particular transport hub will surely agree that the only time you are likely to see it quite so empty is when there is a blood-crazed werewolf riding the escalator. David wakes up naked in the wolf enclosure of the zoo, and then sets about piecing together the events of the night before with the help of Alice (Jenny Agutter), a nurse who he somehow managed to pull at the hospital. It has to be said that she takes all the werewolf stuff remarkably well, which was just one more reason to love the woman.

One of the most terrifying scenes ever committed to celluloid is the dream sequence where David witnesses his family being brutally slayed by a bunch of mutant Nazi demons with machine guns in a home invasion. It’s as weird as it is shocking, and has been the cause of endless debate over the years. Was it included just for the shock factor? An extra element of controversy (as if it were needed)? Or is it a remnant of a sub-plot which was otherwise edited out?

It’s interesting to note that earlier on in proceedings, nurse Alice and her friend make what appears to be an off-hand Jewish remark dressed up as a dick joke, and the movie has been lauded in certain circles as a significant piece of Jewish cinema. A little digging reveals John Landis was born into a Jewish family, and with that kernel of knowledge, the sub-text swims into focus. David (the name of the first monarch of the Israelite tribes) is a walking allegory for Judaism itself. A displaced, wounded hero, a stranger in a strange land, struggling to come to terms with a tragic past. This article does a pretty good job of further exploring the Jewish connection. Personally, I’d never even considered the possibility until I re-watched it recently and started wondering what the fuck those mutant Nazi demons with machine guns had to do with anything.

When it was released in 1981, An American Werewolf in London formed one third of a holy trinity of werewolf films, which all came out the same year, the others being Wolfen and The Howling. Director John Landis (who is more commonly associated with comedy having been involved with such seminal films as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places) claimed he was inspired to write the script after working on the film Kelly’s Hero’s in Yugoslavia. Whilst out driving, he stumbled across a group of gypsies performing a ritual on a corpse so it wouldn’t ‘rise again.’ At first he had trouble securing finances, with most would-be investors claiming the script was too frightening to be a comedy and too funny to be frightening, before PolyGram Pictures eventually put up the $10 million budget. Happily, their faith was repayed as the movie became a box office smash grossing over $62 million worldwide.

In contrast, a 1997 sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, which featured a completely different cast and crew, was a critical and commercial failure. As a curious postscript, in late 2016 it was widely reported that John Landis’s son Max would write and direct a remake. There’s been nothing but the sound of crickets ever since.

Trivia Corner:

In the Piccadilly Circus sequence, the man hit by a car and thrown through a window is none other than John Landis himself.

This is part three of my monthly #RetView series, following Lost Boys and Shock Waves.

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RetView #1 – The Lost Boys

Title: The Lost Boys

Year of Release: 1987

Director: Joel Schumacher 

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

It’s a conversation which comes up every so often. There you are, semi-drunk with a group of colleagues, or on one of those awkward Tinder dates, when in an effort to lift the tension and find some common ground, somebody asks, “So, what’s your favourite film?”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely subjective. But it’s still a bit of a loaded question. Say the wrong thing, and it could cloud someone’s opinion of you forever. What would your peers and prospective lovers think if you gave the accolade to Human Centipede 2? Or even worse, the Adam Sandler disaster Jack and Jill?

For me, there are a few contenders (neither Human Centipede 2 or Jack and Jill is among them, you’ll be glad to know). But for as long as I can remember, my answer has always been the same.

The Lost Boys.

It’s not always a popular choice. Horror buffs and 80’s film aficionados usually nod with appreciation, while others, especially the younger crowd, invariably frown and say ‘You what?’

Given that The Lost Boys came out exactly thirty years ago (July 29th 1987 to be precise) I suppose that’s an acceptable reaction. Upon release it was a modest hit but was no Top Gun or Dirty Dancing, and has since passed into the ranks of ‘cult classic.’ That said, it has certainly aged better than most 80’s movies. Have you seen Weird Science recently? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, directed by Joel Schumacher and made on a budget of just $8.5 million, the Lost Boys was a triumph of style over substance, in many ways encapsulating the 80’s as a whole. It was big, brash, gaudy, and ever-so-slightly camp. A bit like a 98-minute 80’s pop video. Yet by the same token it was funny, slick, and immeasurably cool. In the case of Kiefer Sutherland, it might also be one of the very few times a lead character rocks a mullet and gets away with it.

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The producers originally wanted to call the town where Lost Boys is set Santa Cruz, because during the 1970s Santa Cruz gained a reputation as being “the Murder Capital of the World” after three infamous serial killers (Kemper, Mullin, and Carpenter, aka the Trailside Killer) hunted victims there. However, the Santa Cruz council ‘strongly objected’ to the town being portrayed in such a negative manner and allegedly withheld filming permits, forcing the producers to change the name to Santa Carla.

For the uninitiated, The Lost Boys is the story of two brothers, Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patric) who move with their recently-divorced mother (Dianne West) to stay with her eccentric father in Santa Carla, California. Cue lashings of teen angst and despair about feeling isolated and not fitting in and stuff. At a local comic book store, Sam bumps into the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) who warn him that the town has become overrun with vampires and give him comics to educate him about the threat, while big brother Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz) who happens to be in a relationship with a local gang leader called David (the aforementioned mullet-sporting Sutherland). Yup, you guessed it, David’s gang is actually made up of the very same vampires that have been terrorizing the town and making people disappear, and they want the star-struck (sorry) Michael to join their ranks. The story builds to an epic showdown between good and evil featuring a few fantastically creative kill scenes and some better one-liners.

At the time, Lost Boys represented something of a gamble by Warner Bros. Horror comedies aimed specifically at teenagers was an unexplored genre. To make things even harder, at the time, the main cast was comprised mainly of untested wannabes and even director Joel Schumacher was a largely unknown quantity with only The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) and St Elmo’s Fire (1985) on his resume.

Even with the benefit of having 30-years to think about it, it’s hard to pinpoint what makes Lost Boys work so well. The plot itself is a little thin with not many surprises, but the script is sharp and witty. A piece of marketing genius, the slogan (‘Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die. It’s fun to be a vampire’) captured both the imagination and the mood of a generation, while the sleek MTV-style visuals are positively spellbinding, Kiefer Sutherland made the coolest villain ever, and Jami Gertz playing the little girl lost role sent pulses racing. As sultry and vulnerable as she appeared, you just knew she was as dangerous and ruthless as a coiled cobra. The haunting soundtrack, an essential component of any 80’s movie, was also a contributing factor. Even the dog Nanook deserves special praise for several show-stealing scenes.

However, despite all this, Lost Boys was much more than the sum of its parts, making an undeniable impression on the psyche Generation X and paving the way for everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga. The movie did spawn two low-key sequels of it’s own, Lost Boys: the Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: the Thirst (2010) but neither set the world on fire, and a rumoured proper sequel, the Lost Girls, also directed by Joel Schumacher and which sounded fucking amazing, failed to materialize. The enduring legacy of Lost Boys ties in neatly with the source of the title, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who, just like vampires, never grew up. To my knowledge he didn’t end up dissolving in a bath of holy water and garlic or being impaled on a fence post either, so there’s that.

Trivia corner:

Actress Julia Roberts started dating Jason Patric just days after cancelling her wedding to Lost Boys co-star Kiefer Sutherland in 1991. Ouch.

This is the first installment of the RetView series.


Film Review – The Chamber (2016)

Tension is the name of the game in this low-budget survival thriller from debut writer/director Ben Parker which premièred at last year’s Frightfest. The film opens with news reports that the nation of North Korea is becoming increasingly hostile, and has successfully test-launched ballistic missiles in an act of ‘clear provocation,’ conveniently playing on our newly-instilled suspicion of Kim Jong Un’s lot. Once it was the Russians, now it seems as though the North Koreans are the ones we should be scared of.

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With every other country in the world uniting in panic, an American special ops team led by the pragmatic Alice Edwards (Charlotte Salt) enlist the help of a research vessel in the Yellow Sea to help them complete a mysterious ‘mission.’ The research vessel is equipped with a submersible craft called the Aurora (yep, the ‘chamber’) reluctantly piloted by Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) which is dispatched to search for something. The special ops team won’t say what they are looking for, which is helpful, and as you can probably imagine doesn’t make for a good working relationship with the poor civilian roped into doing their dirty work for them.

All this is compounded when the mother ship is boarded by the North Korean navy, leaving them stranded hundreds of meters beneath the surface. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a serious error of judgement leaves them upside down on the ocean floor letting in water. Don’t ask.

Random dialogue extract:

A: That wasn’t part of the plan.

B: The plan’s coming loose.

A: You’re coming loose.

All the action takes place on board a tiny submarine, so you naturally get that icky sense of, creeping, claustrophobic dread, which is just as well because the military espionage-based plot is wafer-thin, and seriously lacking any of the twists and turns that usually make this kind of film worth watching. Instead, you get an insanely improbable love angle. Because when you’re trapped in a tiny submarine on the ocean floor facing certain death, everyone gets the horn. Don’t they? There are, however, a few shocks toward the end, and eventually justice is seen to be done. Kind of.

Another point of interest is that Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield did the musical score. It’s not exactly Motorcycle Emptiness, more of a dark, sinister plod, but it’s still pretty effective. Bradfield’s appearance isn’t a complete surprise, given that the movie was filmed in Pencoed rather than the Yellow Sea and was produced in association with Ffilm Cymru Wales, making it possibly the first ever underwater thriller made in the Principality. Something tells me it might also be the last.

The original version of this review can be found in the free Morpheus Tales supplement.


Film Review – The Evil in Us

A police unit is called to a house party to find a bunch of dumb horny teenagers have literally torn each other to pieces. When the lone survivor is giving a police statement from her hospital bed, she pukes up someone’s finger. So far so good, right?

The police eventually work out that the party-goers had ingested some very, very sketchy coke, and through the magic of police work manage to trace the supplier who happens to be a very nasty individual indeed. What’s more, they find out he’s heading off to a secluded cabin by a lake with a pocketful of said sketchy coke and another group of dumb horny teenagers in tow. Just what would horror movies do if it wasn’t for dumb horny teenagers? Anyway, as you can probably imagine, things degenerate pretty quickly. As the genius dual-meaning tagline says: Worst. Trip. Ever.

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This film reminded me a lot of Eli Roth’s classic Cabin Fever. It has the same claustrophobic feel, and is shot-through with the same kind of smutty humour and devil-may-care attitude. It’s actually three story arcs in one: the police investigation, the bunch of dumb, horny teenagers at the cabin, and the obligatory origin thread about where this batch of coke came from. It gets pretty gruesome in places and if you can overlook some cringey dialogue and general predictability, there are certainly some shocks on offer. Considering what we essentially have here is a first-time director working with an unknown cast on a limited budget, the results are extremely impressive and could herald the start of at least one very promising career. Remember, don’t take drugs, kids.

Get the original version of this review, as well as many others, in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement.


Film Review – The Darkness (2016)

Last summer, I attended what was billed as the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance.’ What happened? Nothing much. It was hosted by ‘celebrity medium’ Mistica Maria Louisa and Britt Griffith, the volatile gun nut who once got himself fired from the cast of Ghost Hunters. Britt invited virtual participants to ask questions, which Madam Mistica would then attempt to answer. I ask who killed JFK. Disappointingly, my question was ignored. Other, equally valid questions from curious observers included, ‘Is Hillary Clinton the antichrist?’ ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Can ghosts use Facebook?’ ‘Am I going to get laid tonight?’ ‘ ‘Should I wear my black shoes or the brown ones?’ and, hilariously, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Another participant doesn’t ask anything, instead typing I WANT BLOOD into the comment box repeatedly, which was a bit worrying.

One of the few questions Madam Mistica did choose to answer read, “My mother just died from lung cancer. Is she doing good?”

Personally, I don’t think a medium is needed to answer that particular question. And on it went. The point of the exercise? It was a publicity stunt for this movie.

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As a marketing ploy, the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance’ seemed to work. For a while, at least. It generated a lot of online discussion, even if most of it was tongue-in-cheek, and I wrote about it for Fortean Times. But the fact that the broadcast lost almost 50% of it’s viewers before it ended, and the organizers didn’t seem to know what a séance actually entailed, meant that ultimately the event had to go down in the ‘epic failure’ column. I couldn’t wait to see if the movie itself would join it.

The short answer is no. It’s not the best film ever made, as we all know, that title will forever belong to Lost Boys, but the Darkness isn’t as bad as feared, or as some critics would have you believe. Starring Kevin Bacon as the patriarch of a family who inadvertently take something else home with them after picking up a rock as a souvenir from the Grand Canyon, it’s a bit like a mash-up of Poltergeist and Stir of Echoes. On their return to the family home, mysterious events start to occur. Taps turn on by themselves, there are disembodied shadows all over the place, hand prints keep appearing everywhere, their slightly-weird son Mikey has conversations with ‘Sky People’ and most bizarrely of all, what appears to be a portal to another dimension opens up in the middle of Weird Mikey’s bedroom.

Finally accepting that something might be amiss, the family discover that the Anasazi Indians believed demons could be bound to rocks hidden in underground caves. Rocks just like the one they’ve brought into their house. Director Greg McLean claims the story is a true account relayed to him by members of the family in question, but we only have his word for that. The Anasazi certainly existed, they are the ancestors of several Native American tribes and are most famous for living in fortified cliff dwellings and suddenly fleeing their homeland sometime around the year 1200 for reasons unknown. Few events have provoked as much discussion and controversy amongst scholars of American history. Traditionally, it’s also not uncommon for visitors to want to return objects taken as souvenirs from supposedly cursed places because they feel some negative force has invaded their lives as a result. So, silly portal aside, this film is slightly more believable than a lot of other supposedly true stories given the Hollywood treatment.

The original version of this review appears in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available free HERE.


The Forsaken (2016) – film review

K, lets get one thing straight right off the bat. This isn’t the 2015 western starring Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore. Neither is it the 2001 Australian vampire movie starring, well, nobody you will have heard of. It is, in fact, a brand-spanking new release from Justin Price, best known for last year’s Dark Moon Rising. You might say it’s a new film with an old title, but let’s try not to get judgemental. Not yet, anyway. They had to call it something. On review sites and message boards it has been drawing comments like ‘Completely unwatchable,’ and ‘Worst movie ever!’ which kinda piqued my interest a little. Surely it can’t be that bad? Folk on the internet can be really mean sometimes. I thought at the very least, it might fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

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As a rule I’m not a big fan of possession films. Boring. Every single one of them follows the Exorcist blueprint – Person gets possessed, someone calls a priest, priest unpossesses person. They usually have a touch of difficulty along the way, just to fill the paper-thin plot out a little. There is invariably some swearing, vomiting, flying Bibles, and more often that not, some walking backwards up walls and shit. But in the end, good triumphs over evil, you breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.

This latest Forsaken stars David E Cazares as a priest with jowls and sad puppy-dog eyes, a rebellious daughter, and a gravely ill wife who may or may not be possessed. I know, just what you need, right? I mean, the guy comes home one day and finds his missus cooking pieces of her arms in a frying pan for dinner. Obviously, something has to be done. But this is where the priest gets it completely wrong and starts looking for help in some of the sketchiest places imaginable. There are a few jumpy moments, and for a low-budget flick the make-up and effects are pretty impressive. However, even for one so simple, the plot is a bit muddled. All the flashbacks and dream sequences are distracting and worst of all, sad, puppy-dog eyed priest insists on fumbling around in the dark, whispering all his dialogue and crying all the time. Come on, dude! Put the damn light on, have a shit, shower and a shave, sort yourself out and man the fuck up. In days of old this would be a straight-to-video release. Now it’s probably going straight to your nearest streaming device, where it will no doubt stay, neglected and Forsaken.

This review originally appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement


The Forest – Film Review

At the foot of mount Fiji in Japan lies the deeply mysterious Aokigahara forest, widely known as a popular suicide destination. In 2010 alone, there were 54 confirmed cases. Nobody is quite sure what draws people from all over the country, and even further afield, there to end their days, but it has a long association with the Yurei of Japanese mythology, similar entities to what we would call ghosts. Yerei pray on the sad, lonely and vulnerable, using their own negative emotions against them. Sounds more like the script of a horror movie, right? Well, now it is, thanks to producer David S Goyer (the Blade franchise, Da Vinci’s Demons, and cult noughties TV show FreakyLinks) reading about the forest on wikipedia.

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Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer plays an American woman who recieves a phonecall from the Japanese authorities saying that her identical twin sister has ventured into the Aokigahara forest and has not been seen since. Obviously, she gets on the next plane to the land of the rising Sun and rocks up to the very same hotel her sister was staying where she meets a western journalist who seems just a little too eager to help. Together with a guide, they head into the forest in search of the missing sister. All in all, it’s a good premise for a film. It’s atmospheric, well-produced, and for the most part well executed. It’s a pity the film lets itself down in other areas. The plot kinda drifts off and cannibalizes itself toward the end, and there are some mildly annoying oversights. For example, when Dormer’s character first meets the journalist (Taylor Kinney, aka Mason Lockwood of Vampire Diaries fame) she tells him how the sisters lost both their parents in a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was never caught. But… if the driver was never caught, how did anyone know they were drunk? They could just be a really shit driver. You would think with all the untold millions lavished on film production these days, somebody somewhere along the line would notice such a gaping plot hole. Evidently not. Sigh.

As you would expect, the film is laced with the kind of creepy, unsettling horror you would expect from something so Japan-centric, though it has minimal input from anyone actually Japanese apart from a few actors, which you would think was the minimum requirement. For the most part, it wasn’t even filmed in Japan. The Japanese government don’t allow filming in Aokigahara forest so apart from a few scenes shot in Tokyo, the bulk of the movie was filmed in a warehouse Serbia. I shit you not. The forest is suitably creepy, though, and there are some sleek touches.

On its release, The Forest was met with an avalanche of criticism and almost universal bad reviews. It has an overall rating of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more rotten than that. Even the regrettable Rocky V managed 28%. Does that mean the film most Rocky fans refuse to acknowledge is three times better than The Forest? Not at all. It could be better but plot holes aside, for the most part I actually enjoyed it. It’s a crazy world.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement, available FREE


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