Class Act: Blade Runner (1982)

Last year the cinema going masses got smart and ate up the brilliantly entertaining yet complex brain-training Inception. It should hopefully see a change in how the studio's see their audience and invest future mega-bucks in more cinematic, large scale, large budget, large brained blockbusters. What better time to look at a film that was also big budgeted and had smarts but was never as lucky as Inception? A film which may have many followers now but on it's original release it's supporters were few and far between

Don't judge Ridley Scott for the mediocre fluff he's made recently, well judge him if you want, but also have pay some respect for he has directed two of the best science fiction's in film history, the terrifying, seminal Alien and of course Blade Runner.

Loosily based on Philip K Dick's mind bending Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Blade Runner is a vision of the future LA 2019, earth is over populated and over polluted, so much so that the rich have fled to other planets. This is a seedy world where robots are used used for business and pleasure. These replicants or skin jobs are very much humanistic with emotions etc. some even have implanted articial memories and are unaware that they are not human. The replicants are strong and smart and so rebel, to stop them getting too powerful they only have a four year lifespan. This is the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford) a Blade Runner, a detective who specialises in hunting these replicants, he's been put on a job hunting down a gang of replicants who have come back to earth to where they were made to find out a way to prolong their lifespan.

What follows is a dark journey into grimey future LA, rain soaked and dirty but cinematically beautiful. The cityscapes are full of large bursts of industrial flame, bright neon adverts and futuristic aircraft, all seamlessly merged together in a impressive, realistic view of the future. The special effects in this film are excellent and could stand up to most recent efforts. As Deckard tracks down and kills the replicants one by one, we see the line between human and humanoid blur, these replicants, feel, cry and bleed, in a way they are more human than the character who is killing them off (although he may not be entirely human himself). This is the film that made science fiction smart again, the genre had scene a revival thanks to Star Wars, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all of which are classics in their own right but no other science fiction film since 2001: A Space Odyssey made audiences think so much.

Spider Chaney Jr.

Have you ever watched Dragon the Bruce Lee Story and looked at the kid playing the young Brandon Lee and you sadly think of what happened to Brandon years later when he was shot dead due to a prop malfunction on the set of The Crow?

A stranger experience is watching Man of a Thousand Faces where a dying Lon Chaney played by James Cagney signals for his son Creighton to hand him his make up box inscribed with his name and with greasepaint he adds "Jr." to the "Lon Chaney". A Hollywood film signalling the start of Lon Chaney Jr.'s career of putting crap on his face for the sake of film.
The irony being that the mixture of a famous name, being connected with enduring painful make up techniques like his father and being a hulk of a man. Chaney Jr. was either a monster or a goon for 95% of his career and the pressures of Hollywood turned him to a life reliant on alcohol. You almost think Lon Chaney Sr. would have served his son better if he left the make-up box as it was .
No matter what Lon Jr. always remained under his father's shadow. Who was respected for playing tortured souls like Quasimodo and the Phantom and not just because he put on a lot of make up. However you could say his career blossomed, he is the only actor to play a vampire in Son of Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein's monster and of course the Wolf Man.
Playing The Wolf Man was one of the twelve step backs towards alcoholism. The make-up and effects in the film were gruelling 6 hours to put on 3 hours to take off, with some of the transformation in The Wolf Man series clocking up a shooting period of 24 hours. That's 24 hours of Chaney Jr, lying down while they slowly add more and more hair and prosthetics to his face. Who wouldn't want a tipple under those circumstances? It's fair to say that Mr. Wolf Man was pretty drunk by the end of those transformations.

Lon Chaney Jr.'s alcoholism became embarrassingly public knowledge when he turned up inebriated to play the monster in a live TV production of Frankenstein, you would think it's a character where the actor could get away with playing it drunk, but unfortunately Lon thought the live broadcast was merely a dress rehearsal, so instead of smashing things up like the monster is supposed to do, he picked up props, mumbled "break later" to himself and put them back down in one piece.
Lon Chaney Jr.'s career of playing scary things under layers of make up is bookended by two stand-out performances. Neither of them under disguise. Near the beginning of his career he played Lennie Small and near the end of his career he played Bruno in Spider Baby.
And for me, Spider Baby is what I'll remember him for. Not The Wolf Man (although I am a fan) . In Spider-Baby we see Lon's character wear his heart on his sleeve as Bruno, the elderly carer for the children of the Merrye family, a family stricken with an unfortunate disease called Merryre Syndrome, in which they devolve and regress mentally, socially and physically. His relationship with the children is interrupted by two distant relatives who feel they are entitled to the house and to put the children into care. Bruno's desperation to keep the family together and cared for by him as promised to their parents knows no bounds and it's in this he gives his most soulful performance.
The alcoholism was public knowledge at this stage, although some crew members claim they never saw him touch a drop, others were well aware that the oranges he seemed to love so much were injected with hard liquor. That's when you know an alcoholic has gone pro. Aware of his problem, ashamed almost, but still coming up with ingenious ideas of how to keep it up.
Lon Chaney Jr. was hailed to be a child prodigy and like his father become one of the biggest stars in the world (Chaney Sr. was just behind Chaplin) and ended up being used and spat out by the industry that embraced his father so much. Only to end up being an alcoholic in low budget horror comedies like Spider-Baby, without make-up, playing the straight man to the monsters. The irony is how this was his best performance, though unfortunately not his swansong, he went on to star in several more films, his final role being, fittingly a supporting one in Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

He died of heart failure aged 67.
Seek out a copy of Spider-Baby and raise a glass to Creighton Chaney, the fallen prodigy.

The Blair Witch Project : A Semi-Personal Reflection

The Blair Witch Project is 10 years old this year. In the UK and Ireland is wasn't released until October 1999 and I remember it well.

I was 15 and went to see it at the Screen on D'Olier Street in Dublin. I was and still am an avid reader of both Total Film and Empire and was closely following the phenomenon on the net,needless to say I was very excited.

First of all there was the rumours that it was real, genius! But even after that was proven nonsense it was still the most interesting film to come out that year. Reports of people running out of the cinema vomiting, amazing, there hasn't been such an intense reaction to a horror film since The Exorcist (the fact that half of those people were vomiting because the camera work in BWP was so shakey doesn't matter, the other half were scared).
The build up was unbearable. Channel 4 had a fantastic documentary about the film a few nights before it opened. I recorded it and watched it twice. The anticipation was killing me and I couldn't wait to get into that cinema and then it started...
I'm gonna pause here to say that this isn't another "The Blair Witch was hyped up shit!" rant.
I was breathless, I was shaking, I loved it, it was everything I wanted it to be, nauseating, unsettling, slow burning, disturbing, bleak, harrowing, infuriating. In other words it's not for the masses, it's not a mainstream film, it should have been a tiny little cult horror film that people would pass around to people who they knew would appreciate this experiment in terror.
Unfortunately that was never going to be the case, BWP became (regarding budget to gross income ratio) the most successful film ever made. It was shot 16mm black and white film as well as a consumer camcorder but was blown up on screens in multiplexes across the world.
This resulted in the crime that was the Blair Witch Backlash. People tore into it, calling it, boring, pointless, unscary and yes, nauseating.
And the ill advised sequel didn't help much.
I kept on loving it though as it also inspired me and thousands of other wannabe film-makers that thought they couldn't make a film on a camcorder.
On Halloween two years ago, we found out our friend was one of the few who never actually saw The Blair Witch Project. He wasn't attracted to the hype and the backlash put him off even more. So we slipped the rarely touched DVD into the player and sat down to view BWP again (despite my enthusiasm I've only watched the film 2 or 3 times in 10 years). At the end he was shaking and scared and speechless, it was great to see the film still work on a fresh viewer after the hooplah had well died down.
The Blair Witch Project remains a defining moment in cinema. It was a pure horror film when other's were ironic or CGI laden. Studios started looking for the next low budget horror that can make them rich, future filmmakers started making their own witch projects in the woods and the Internet really showed what it could do.
The creators went on to make their own separate straight to DVD films and the actors faded into obscurity but their influence goes on.

So pay your respects and revisit this fallen classic, chewed up and spit out by the audiences of the world because they were told they were going to see something different and for once they weren't being lied to.

Keep repeating: it's only a remake, it's only a remake, it's only a remake...

This year's The Last House on the Left is universally making audiences going "meh" unlike the original which made audiences go "ugh, yeesh...meh", I thought it would be suitable the write the 1,294,005th film nerd blog entry on the subject of remakes.

I'm not an anti-remake person, David Cronenberg's The Fly is one my favourite films of all time, The Hill's Have Eyes remake is a fantastic little horror film. It can however get a little out of hand, especially with many of the other horror remakes are treating the actual film title as commodity and remaking it just because people recognise the title My Bloody Valentine/Prom Night without having actually seen the original film. And in the case of My Bloody Valentine, the original wasn't very good. It's a clash between two anti-remake arguments.

"Why remake that film? The original is perfect!"
"Why remake that film? The original is awful!"
Why remake a bad film? Why remake a great film? What about remaking an okay film with a premise that has the possibilty of being great?! Like Westworld!...Quick check.... Yes they're remaking Westworld. Could be great!
I'm losing my point here. The fact is films are good and bad some remakes are bad, some can actually be good, some original films can be bad though. And if there was some law stating that a story can't be made into a film if it's already been done, we wouldn't have Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, The Wizard of Oz, The Fly, Scarface, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, High Society... and if you really want to get persnickety, what if someone told George Lucas he couldn't make Star Wars because it was just a space version of Hidden Fortress? Whether you like it or not no Star Wars means no ILM means no Pixar means no Toy Story, Finding Nemo or any of the other hugely original imaginative films Pixar have made.
How many paintings of the crucifixion are there?
Don't get me wrong though, I'm a bit of a complainer too. Especially when I hear that Ehren Kruger, the guy behind Scream 3 and The Skeleton Key is writing a remake of Videodrome as an action sci-fi thriller. My hopes aren't high. But what's the worse that can happen? Either we have a new version of Videodrome that's good or maybe even better than the original (not bloody likely) or we have a terrible film thats all flashy style with none of the nightmarish chilling tone of the original (likely) and all it will do is make people revisit and appreciate Cronenberg's film all the more.
So frown on about remakes, chances are if you're a complainer of them you've probably paid to see them and will pay again in the future out of curiousity or wanting to be righteous in your complaining. Either way the film is making money and the studio doesn't care what stance you watching the film under, just that you're watching it.

At least they're not remaking Robocop... quick check....


Makes you feel old when you can remember the originals being released.

Deadgirl in the Water

Here's a fantastic little horror film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, it showed to a pumped up crowd and blew them away. Nasty, shocking, scary, subversive, hilarious.

Deadgirl is about a couple of horny teenage boys who stumble across a naked living dead woman chained to a table in an abandoned mental institute. Do they run and tell the cops or are they tempted to have a little "fun" with her?
When I saw this film I thought it was the new Saw, in the fact that it was a nasty little low budget horror film that would usually be left straight to DVD but somehow got to the masses and became a cultural phenomenon. Not so, it went straight to DVD (in the UK and Ireland anyway) and despite being now available readily online and in HMV and having advertisements in Empire and Bizarre, I've yet to read an article about it or a review not online. Which is weird, this film at least raises some controversial issues and has a eye catching plot... it's about raping a zombie sex slave! How can you not write about that?

The film plays out straight faced but with some tongue in cheek, it makes some of the most inappropriate jokes and some off the wall stuff happens, yet it's ever so believable. And it also bravely has no good guys, everyone in this film is morally challenged even the guys who think they're good, aren't.

So gather some unsuspecting people pick up the DVD, turn off the lights and watch one of the most original horror films of the decade.

Inside French Horror

At Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear in 2008 a phrase that kept popping up was "French Horror", two director's who need no introduction Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper separately said that good things are coming out of France in the horror genre. I was baffled and in no doubt that there was some French horror films of note, mainly the astounding Eyes Without a Face or the ultra violent High Tension (aka Switchblade Romance). But if told to keep an eye on the horror output from the European continent, I would look towards Spain as both REC and The Orphanage had blown away audiences that year.

So I looked up what these French horror films are. I was surprised to find that the leader of the pack Inside has never been released in Ireland or the UK.

Inside is a very simple set-up, a young heavily pregnant lady is alone in Christmas Eve while riots rage in the city. A mysterious lady calls to her door with a pair of scissors and a goal. To cut the baby out. Violent, raw and visceral. The film takes over the top scenes of violence that other films might make light of but doesn't make light of it. So you get the crazy kinetic gore of an American 80's horror movie with none of the comic relief. It delivers exploding heads and various stabbings with a deadly straight face. Making for one gut-wrenching ride with a strangely emotional finale.
What you get is a weird mix of unrelenting violence of old school horror film, but with a great script and fantastic performances from some fine French actors, who fight and fight to a primal state, Plus very little CGI and a lot of practical latex, prosthetic work, that's the secret.

For more on the French Horror Wave see Frontier(s), Martyrs and Them. I may talk about them in the future. But yeah well done the French

SALO or the 120 Days of Sodom

The Original Aristocrats Joke

A film that has been banned in many countries, the ban has only been lifted in the past year with the arrival of a lovingly created 2 disc BFI edition. In Australia it is still banned. Twice. In Ohio a store owner was arrested for selling a copy only to have Alec Baldwin, Martin Scorsese among others signed a legal brief noting the film's artistic merit and the case was dismissed.

So why is his film so controversial? Is it the nudity?Rape? Feces consumption? Torture? Sodomy? Eye gouging? Tongue slicing? Golden shower? The many references to atrocious acts of paedophilia? Obviously these themes can touch a nerve with many people but I think what really pushes Salo over the edge from being offensive to downright disturbing is how it's played out.

Adapted from The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade (where the word 'sadistic' comes from) but based in Nazi Italy. When four rich and powerful men decide to marry each other's daughters they celebrate by kidnapping 18 young men and women, taking them to a palace and repeatedly raping, torturing and humiliating them. All for their own pleasure.

What is so disturbing about the whole thing is the attitude of the men. They seem to take their nihilistic pleasure vacation extremely seriously. As if there is some righteous goal. But there is no goal. Even their fake weddings and best arse competitions are dealt with straight faces.

It's also extremely objective, despite their acts these men are not vilified by the director through music or lighting. in fact very few cinematic tools are used making it all to easy to forget your watching a film. It's quite immersing and for me reminded me of a nightmare where something bizarre and atrocious is happening but observers aren't reacting in the appropriate manner. It's so objective that much of the climax is viewed through binoculars from afar.

It has been dismissed as pretentious exploitation, but there is usually a giddy thrill in exploitation, where you are entertained and can't wait to see what's going to happen next. Not here. It's hard to watch and quite depressing, it's not entertaining. A subject matter can only be as entertaining as the director wants it to be, Pasolinni has no interest in guilty pleasure here. He almost wants you to hate this film and wish the end would come soon, he makes you wish for a Hollywood ending with the cavalry gloriously arriving from nowhere to end this nightmare.

In short it's a repugnant film that you won't enjoy but won't be able to get out of your head. Not for everyone, but fascinating.