It’s a truth universally acknowledged that The Matrix is a great science-fiction movie, but there is more to it than that. For its 20th anniversary I’m going to take a look at all the elements that made The Wachowski’s movie such a cinematic milestone and how it raised the bar for all subsequent genre movies. When The Matrix was released in 1999 it opened up new vistas of imagination in screen science-fiction – a domain of cyber existence that no film had yet explored. It was a sci-fi movie that changed the genre. It was, in fact, a movie that changed film-making in general.
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. However, I decided I’d take the opportunity to look back at some movies that didn’t particularly float my boat and see if I can find some good points in them. With the best intentions in mind, I picked the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street as the first movie to give a second watch. I was aghast when I heard this movie was being made. But, I like to have an opinion about things so, I gave it a watch. On that first go I was just as disappointed as I expected to be. Let’s face it, the original film is a genre defining classic…
“Welcome to your new nightmare.”
When I interviewed the esteemed Producer/Director Roger Corman for Claudia Jennings’ biography, he said Unholy Rollers was his favorite of the four films Claudia appeared in for him. As Claudia’s breakthrough film, Unholy Rollers established the character she would be identified with until her death. Beautiful, fearless and ruthless, Karen Walker epitomized the Hollywood Bitch Goddess that many thought represented Claudia’s true nature. The film is noteworthy because it marked Claudia’s debut as a major B movie actress.
“A locker room look at the toughest broads in the world!”
Masks, dressing up and spooky Halloween tunes. When you think of Halloween your mind turns to, what will I wear? I need to look good for trick or treat. This was before you watched Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Tommy Lee Wallace creates a nail biting movie which plays on all the main things that make Halloween and trick and treating fun. He turns it on its head, pardon the pun and terrifies the life out of anyone choosing to wear a mask and watch TV during the Halloween season. This classic horror uses three different types of mask; a pumpkin, a ghost and a witch.
“The night no one comes home.”
At the outset of American Animals the words “This is not based on a true story,” appear onscreen, then three of those words disappear leaving the statement – “This is a true story.” Although American Animals is a heist film at its core, British documentarian Bart Layton, in an impressive feature debut, relies closely on a factual account of real events which took place in 2004. Intercut with the dramatization of the robbery played by actors, are interviews with the actual men who committed the crimes. This makes for an interesting and unusual combination of documentary and dramatic fiction.
“The perfect heist is a work of fiction.”
Arrow Video are quickly becoming heroes to horror fans that cut their teeth on the genre in the 80s. Regularly releasing the type of titles that you would be fascinated with in your local independent video shop, it gives those of us who excitedly gorged on the type of low budget horror these shops stocked a chance to re-watch them with modern eyes, and those too young to rent them a chance to finally get their hands on them.
“They ooze. They slime. They kill.”
When you think back to the 80s, the true golden age of horror, there are certain films that define their sub-genre. I’m thinking of Fright Night and The Lost Boys defining the Vampire sub-genre. And the ones that (for me at least) defined Werewolf films are the likes of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling! One of the downsides from making a genre defining film though, is that there will invariably be a sequel (or sequels) that just can’t live up to the original’s quality. This has happened with Howling II …Your Sister Is a Werewolf.
“It’s not over yet.”
I’m not a fan of action films. You know the ones, purely ‘Action’. I hate car chases. DESPISE ‘em! I hate things exploding left, right and centre. I hate overly-long gunfights. They annoy me and make me all fidgety. John Wick is an action/thriller, directed by two stunt men and stars Keanu Reeves. “WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THIS, YOU FUCKING MASOCHIST?!!” I hear you shout, and you’d be right to ask. I dunno. But I’m SO glad that I did! John Wick is an ex-hitman, grieving for his recently deceased wife. When the son of a mob boss takes a liking to Wick’s car and decides to take it, bad things happen.
“Revenge is all he has left.”
This late 90s vampire tale is an essential watch for any fan of low budget indie gore and Hammer classics. Lilith Silver is the ‘girl power’ embodiment of modern vampires. In skin tight PVC, Silver is an ass-kicking, sexually confident vampiric hit woman, using her undead attributes to carry out the most daring executions. But life is never simple and her choice of career brings her to the attention of occult group The Illuminati who are hell bent on preserving their own existence against whoever is hiring her to eliminate them. Armed with their skills in dark magic and with Mason-like influence in the police and government, The Illuminati set out to take down Lilith ‘The Angel of Death’ Silver, in a gory, sexual game of cat and mouse.
“Part Seductress. Part Assassin. All Vampire.”
Remember the days when films were captured on, well, film? You don’t? Whippersnapper. Respectable and reserved editor Eddie Swenson does. So when he’s transferred from his quiet, restrained art house section, to the brash, blood soaked vistas of the splatter and gore department, he realises why watching hours and hours of video violence may cause one to lose their head. You see, his predecessor went out with an, errrm…bang, after chowing down on a hand grenade. So Ed’s boss Samuel Campbell ‘promotes’ him to a domain that produces the ‘Loose Limbs’ series.
“It’s a no brainer.”
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I love Rob Zombie. From his early days in White Zombie, his carnival-like album covers, concerts and music videos, right up until his 1st feature film in 2003, House Of 1000 Corpses. This was further enhanced by the excellent and gritty The Devil’s Rejects. Then came 2012’s The Lords of Salem a refined, mature mixture of his previous attempts that has not only made me change my opinion on where Zombie was headed, but also on what I now expect from cinema itself every time I sit down to watch a film with a low-to-modest budget.
“Heretic. Witch. Devil.”
As a British kid who had little interest in American High School movies, I was shown the original 1988 film Heathers by an American friend and was much surprised and amused by the sly subversiveness of its pitch-black satire. It offered the conventional ‘Mean Girls’ social dynamics, but offset that with extremes of murder and suicide.
Made a decade before the tragic shootings at Columbine high school, Heathers is a film that appears more controversial now than it was at the time that it was made.