In 2020 it’s impossible to approach Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien as a first-time viewer and feel anything resembling its original impact. Everyone has seen Scott’s vision of space taken up by countless sci-fi films and most people know each of Alien’s iconic scenes, whether they’ve seen the entire film or not. After several Alien sequels and spinoffs, countless imitators, and the wholesale cinematic plundering of Giger and Scott’s visual sci-fi language, it is hard for latter generations to imagine a time in science-fiction before Alien – a time before face-huggers, chest-bursters, and strong heroines.
A Zombie Christmas Musical… Anna and the Apocalypse has it all, and no doubt that’s why it took 6 years to make after the release of the short film Zombie Musical. Sadly one of the writers (Ryan McHenry) died before this 2017 Scottish film was released and it never received a UK cinema run. So unless you are a fan of the genre who travels to independent festivals you may never have heard of it. But, you should do. The zombies and special effects are great with plenty of gore and some really interesting fight scenes; particularly in the bowling alley which is where my favourite kill takes place.
“She’ll Slash. She’ll Stab. She’ll Sing.”
Christmas time approaches, snow is falling and the once opulent and lively Butler House has now stood abandoned for many years following the mysterious death of its proprietor. Jeffrey Butler, grandson to the property’s namesake is in town to sell his inheritance but just why he has appeared after so long and what dark secrets lie within the Butler family history are a puzzle to the locals. An entertaining piece that often has a charm in its roughness, Silent Night, Bloody Night gives us some memorable kills complete with the help of that old favourite Kensington Gore.
“The mansion… the madness… the maniac… no escape.”
Dark, poetic and a visual masterpiece.
The Crow is a movie that is very much dear to my heart. Released in 1994 on the back of some very serious hype (for all the wrong reasons) involving the death of star Brandon Lee, it was billed as a sort of adult version of Tim Burton’s Batman. I can clearly see why people would perceive this as it’s a very dark piece. Audiences hadn’t really seen many movies stylistically like Burton’s Batman, so it was easier to class them in the same vein. Even more so with both being comic book incarnations…
“It can’t rain all the time.”
You know ’em, you love ’em; Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan…all beloved martial arts action stars. Discovered in the 80s, all of them have had interesting and varied careers, with plenty of highs and lows. There have been the duds and there have been shining moments of celluloid (and silver screen) magic. If you’re a fan of cult classics, these names ring a special bell, one with a resounding gong. It’s interesting to note that they’ve all displayed their serious sides as well as their comedic chops…
“You do everything they tell you, eh? You’re their little doggie!”
There can be few things as psychologically damaging as being trapped in solitary confinement with someone you hate. For his follow-up to The Witch, Robert Eggers delivers a grim, hallucinatory story about two men shut up in a lighthouse tower, going slowly mad in their mutual loathing. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are Tom Wake and Ephraim Winslow – arriving to work for a month-long shift at a remote, rain-lashed lighthouse, somewhere off the coast of 19th century Maine. Wake is a veteran lighthouse keeper (wickie), as salty a sea dog as one might wish to meet…
“There is enchantment in the light.”
There’s a very poignant line given by a therapist to character Arthur Fleck in the movie Joker that basically sums up its overall message: “Nobody gives a fuck about people like you.” The character of the Joker has been featured on screen four times previously, but this is the biggest change in dynamics than ever seen before. So too is the environments those previous incarnations have played in. This time around there’s no mention of superheroes or capes. This is the most grounded, gritty and most realistic take on the character and the city of Gotham ever.
“Put on a happy face.”
Conrad Radzoff is a horror icon passed his peak, consigned to resurrecting his celebrated cinematic vampire role for a tasteless advertisement for dentures. After he dies, a group of devotees break into his neon-lit, lavish mausoleum and, in a rather misguided attempt to celebrate the life of their idol, nick his body for a farewell shindig at their place – who wouldn’t?! Unfortunately for them, Radzoff was a dab hand at the ol’ black magic and rises from the dead, seeking payback on those who disturbed him.
“There was Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Conrad Ragzoff! They were all stars who lived and died. But only one returned…”
Rian Johnson is a director, writer and musician, but primarily one of the most unique, inventive and sometimes controversial, filmmakers currently active in both film and TV. In Brick, Johnson coaxed uniformly outstanding performances from a young cast, most obviously an assured and compelling turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, earmarking the young actor as one to be watched (a prediction that has since been eminently fulfilled). However, the movie’s most arresting strength is a script that reads almost like Shakespearean dialogue and sounds like music.
“A detective story.”
Five years after the nostalgia trip that was Escape Plan – a dream team of 80s action muscle; specifically Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – its sequel, imaginatively titled Escape Plan 2, replaces Schwarzenegger with former professional wrestler, Dave Bautista and Xiaoming Huang. Escape Plan 2 is a sequel that Stallone himself has called “beyond awful”, and yet I have to admit that I actually quite enjoyed watching it for the same reasons I enjoyed its predecessor: its excessive, over-the-top action; although this time there is a lot more martial artistry, courtesy of Xiaoming Huang.
“This isn’t a prison. It’s a machine.”
Directed by Mikael Håfström, and written by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, Escape Plan is a prison break thriller starring Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin; a former criminal prosecutor turned prison security expert. As co-owner of Breslin-Clark, Breslin specialises in testing the reliability of maximum security prisons. The weaknesses that are uncovered by Breslin-Clark can then be eliminated. Straight away Escape Plan presents Ray Breslin as a sort of quagmire; a former prosecutor turned security expert AND businessman, with expert knowledge of structural engineering.
“No one breaks out alone.”
It’s been thirty-one years since the release of Tom Holland and Don Mancini’s original Child’s Play, the notorious slasher-horror-comedy hybrid with an avid cult following. After six sequels under the Child’s Play and Chucky titles, director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton-Smith have delivered a complete re-imagining of the original, set in the modern day. The question that comes up is “is this necessary?”, a fair inquiry, as some may consider the franchise to be over-saturated. However, it’s important to say that I’ve never seen any of the previous films, including the 1988 original…