Monday, May 12, 2014

Guest Post: Demons 6 - De Profundis AKA The Black Cat @ The Moon is a Dead World for Mayoween!

Alas that Halloween comes but once a year... well, officially that is. For some folks, and especially horror fans, every day has the potential to be a bit like Halloween... heck, it's sure as shit a more low maintenance affair than Christmas is in certain ways! But all that aside, there are thankfully many fine people out there who help to keep the horror torch burning during the months of the year that unfortunately aren't October... and Ryne Barber, of the excellent blog The Moon is a Dead World is one of them... 

I met this fine gentlemen via the horror section of Reddit (known as Dreadit), and not long after shooting the shit back and forth about that perennial favourite of mine, The House by the Cemetery, he was kind enough to ask me to contribute to a month long blogathon he's doing called Mayoween. As the name no doubt makes clear, this is essentially Halloween, but in May... the logic for choosing this particular month being that it marks the half way point between last year's Halloween and the one coming this October. 

Ryne allowed me to pick any movie I wanted, so I decided to go for this obscure late 80s Italian gem from Luigi Cozzi, which I'd just seen a few days prior to this invitation to guest post. 

I run through the production history of the film and offer my own thoughts there as well, but if anyone is confused by the title(s) and is wondering what the hell this movie is, all you need to know before digging deeper is that it was initially planned as unofficial sequel to Suspiria and Inferno and later mutated into more of a homage to Dario Argento. 

Thanks again to Ryne for asking me to contribute and be sure to check out the rest of the ongoing Mayoween celebrations at his blog... I forgot to mention this above but basically the way he's working it is to alternate between posts he's written himself and ones from guest bloggers. I've only had chance to have a brief peruse so far but I've thoroughly enjoyed what I've read... for one thing it's always great to see such a wide range of films being covered and furthermore from a diverse range of people.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: Firestarter (Mark L. Lester)

Released in U.S. theatres a whole three decades ago today, Firestarter sees a pint sized, pre-pubescent and post-E.T. Drew Barrymore blessed (and cursed) with the power to set things alight by will alone... and as the poster no doubt tells you loud and clearly, she could have lit all sixteen candles on Molly Ringwald's birthday cake while having an afternoon nap... Oh yes, this little girl will be frying much bigger fish as the film unfolds...

Drew plays Charlie McGee, an eight-year old girl who is on the run with her father (played by David Keith of Donald Cammell's dazzling giallo-esque thriller White of the Eye) as they are being perpetually pursued by shady government agents who are apparently being led by Martin Sheen (playing a somewhat similar character to the one he portrayed in another King adaptation from the previous year, The Dead Zone). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the agency (known as "the Shop") are hell bent on capturing the pair so they can channel Charlie's power for their own nefarious ends. However, the young lady is rather reluctant to use her gift, which is somewhat understandable, considering that she accidentally burnt her mother once (who was later killed by said agents) while having a tantrum during breakfast. Worry not though pyromaniacs of the world! Charlie will, for reasons unfortunately beyond her control, have to make much use of her power before the story reaches its conclusion...

I'll say no more regarding the plot as I'm sure you can pretty much see where it's headed and of course I wouldn't want to give everything away. I'd never seen this in its entirety until recently and I must say I quite enjoyed it. I can't see myself returning to it over and over as it's perhaps a bit over-long and also seems to a bit confused tonally speaking (though the jury is still out on that one until I see it at least once more), but it's certainly worth a look...

The cast are uniformly excellent, with Barrymore and Keith proving to be likeable and sympathetic protagonists and Martin Sheen and George C. Scott playing a pair of slimy bastards you'll no doubt love to hate, with Scott perhaps stealing the entire movie as a psychopathic Native American assassin who worms his way into the captured Charlie's confidence; there are a couple of moments involving his character which I found to be borderline bone-chilling. And if all those names weren't enough, we also have an superb bunch of supporting players including Heather Locklear, Freddie Jones, Art Carney and Louise Fletcher.

While we're on the subject of casting, here's a couple of could-have-been trivia tidbits... Firstly, Martin Sheen apparently stepped in to take the role originally meant for Burt Lancaster, who had to drop out to undergo heart surgery. Also, Jennifer Connelly was supposedly considered for the title role, which I find very interesting as there were a couple of moments while watching this that I though "I wonder if Dario Argento saw this before making Phenomena?"... and what I mean by that is the whole "little girl uses special powers to defeat evil" plot line, the similarly synth-tastic scores and all the shots of said girls' hair blowing dramatically in an apparently self-summoned tempest that always signposts the fact that some psychic, supernatural shit is about to go down. Finally, it's also worth mentioning that John Carpenter was originally down to direct but was removed from the project due to the critical and commercial failure of The Thing (I know, I still find it hard to believe it wasn't an instant classic too).... needless to say, I'd love to visit the alternate reality where his version was released, as I'm sure it'd be interesting...

The man who did end up taking the directorial reins in the end is Mark L. Lester who made a film called Class of 1984 (from 1982) funnily enough, but is probably best known for directing the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando the year after this... and during Firestarter's explosive climax you can certainly tell it's the same dude calling the shots... in fact, you might almost suspect Lester was testing out some of his pyrotechnic effects here for that later film, with the fireballs Drew ends up generously firing off sometimes looking like flaming rocket propelled grenades. Admittedly this epic ending gets crazy to the point of being borderline cartoonish and seems a little at odds with the feel of the rest of the film, but having said that, it certainly didn't bother me while watching... in fact for me it's pretty much the highlight of the movie and well worth the price of admission alone. I tried to take some screenshots of this set-piece but they really didn't do it justice, so you'll have to trust me on this one. All I will say is this: if flaming, flying, screaming henchmen are your particular cup of tea, then you're gonna enjoy the shit out of this sequence.

So while it's not exactly a maligned classic or anything, Firestarter probably deserves to be better known than it seemingly is. And as far as Stephen King adaptations generally go, it's undoubtedly above par.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: Sixteen Candles (John Hughes)

As I'll be turning 30 this October, I decided (perhaps against my better judgement) to try something a bit ambitious (given my work ethic... or lack there of!)... yup, you've guessed it... I'm going to try and watch and review as many films as I possibly can from 1984. And furthermore, I'm going to try and time my posts to coincide with the theatrical release dates of said films. Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "Hold on a minute Simon, it's May already and you're just starting this now?!?"... and yes, you're right... but worry not, I'll be attempting (that being the operative word) to catch up with some of the ones I've missed as the year progresses. So then, on to the first film, which, as I'm sure you've gathered by now, was released a whole 30 years ago today...

Given the context, it seems appropriate that the movie that's kicking off these birthday blogging shenanigans should be one set mostly on a birthday... and furthermore, it seems highly apt that this first film of the retrospective should also be a director's debut feature. 

Prior to writing and directing Sixteen Candles, John Hughes had written for National Lampoon, which would lead to him scripting a couple of pictures for them; the disastrously received Class Reunion (which is apparently a slasher spoof) and National Lampoon's Vacation, which was a big hit. The success of both the latter and another Hughes written film, Mr. Mom, led to a three picture deal with Universal, of which Sixteen Candles was the first. 

Samantha Baker (played by Hughes' muse Molly Ringwald) is having the sixteenth birthday from hell... her sister is getting married tomorrow, meaning her family have completely forgotten about her own big day... but this is only the start of her misfortunes. She manages to lose a rather personal piece of paper where she not only mentions the name of the guy she has the hots for (Jake Ryan, played by Michael Schoeffling), but also reveals that she's a virgin and is saving herself for him. And unbeknownst to her, said high school hunk ends up picking up this very piece of paper! But wait, that's not all! Sam has effectively been evicted from her room due to her grandparents staying over for the aforementioned wedding and they've also brought with them a wacky foreign exchange student, called Long Duk Dong (played by Gedde Watanabe)... yup, you heard that one right. And finally, despite being a near non-entity to Jake (though he soon starts showing signs of interest), Sam does have an eager (make that over-eager) admirer... she's perpetually pestered by the almost preternaturally confident Ted, aka Farmer Ted, aka The Geek (played by another Hughes regular Anthony Michael Hall). Can the day possibly get any worse?

No points for guessing how this one turns out folks! Admittedly, one could outline the plot on the back of a postage stamp, but this is really besides the point. And in lesser hands, this could have become something of a soppy cringe-fest, but thanks to Hughes' superlative ear for dialogue and his consistently three-dimensional characterisations (ably assisted by his excellent ensemble of actors), it all feels very true to life. I suppose one could accuse the film of being a bit contrived on a narrative level... but again, this is a movie and such criticisms would be missing the point entirely; the fairy tale ending speaking very much to the youthful optimism the movie is infused with. And this being a John Hughes film, it manages to be sentimental without seeming mawkish or saccharine... probably because it's both very sharp and very funny... I've only seen this once, but already there are lines of dialogue etched into my brain for eternity.

While still feeling very fresh a whole three decades after its release, Sixteen Candles also functions as a delightful time capsule, with both its mid-80s fashions and a packed soundtrack (featuring enough material to easily fill a double album) featuring the likes of The Stray Cats (who perform the title song), AC/DC, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Oingo Boingo, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Vapors, Billy Idol, David Bowie and many more.

The film has drawn criticism because of the Long Duk Dong character and admittedly they'd probably never even attempt such a comic stereotype today, let alone get away with it. But as the movie is generally so good-natured, this is something even a fairly "PC" modern audience will likely forget about pretty quickly... maybe because said character proves to be so damn funny at times... despite and perhaps because of his broad characterisation.

Although I'd heard very good things about it, I really wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, mistakenly assuming I wasn't in the "target demographic", so to speak. But as Hughes fans will well know, this really was an erroneous assumption on my part, as his films have something for pretty much everyone... and practically every character is so well rounded that every viewer will find someone to relate to... in fact, the whole bunch are so sympathetic and well-observed that you'll probably find yourself relating to all of them, even the ones vastly different from one's self.

So, if you've put off watching Sixteen Candles, or have just never gotten round to it, then today, being its 30th birthday, is perhaps to ideal opportunity to give it a go! Oh, and finally, keep an eye out for a young John Cusack and his sister Joan, who both appear in supporting roles.