Category Archives: #30DaysOfFright

The Dead Zone #30DaysOfFright

English teacher Johnny Smith (an electric Christopher Walken) is involved in a car accident that puts him in a coma. He awakes five years later to a changed world, he’s lost his job and the woman he loves, but he also has changed gifts. He can now see into the future (and past) of individuals he comes into contact with and touches, using it for good he can make a difference but can he change the course of history that has yet to be written?

dead5Less horror and more tragi-supernatural thriller, The Dead Zone, for me, is my favourite Stephen King adaptation. I loved the poster and VHS box for it as well, it always intrigued me, both design and title. It’s a firm favourite.

The restrained direction of David Cronenberg plays a huge part in that, as does the script by the late Jeffrey Boam (who also penned The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2) and the score by Michael Kamen.

dead4It never fails to hook you and Christopher Walken, in my favourite screen role of his, is utterly compelling and heartbreaking. I’m surprised that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination in the offing for his portrayal, perhaps it is more to do with the genre he was acting in? In many ways he is as cursed as David Kessler in An American Werewolf on London, an ordinary man changed by circumstances not of his choosing, then put in an extraordinary situation and having to make a choice.

dead2The Dead Zone has always been gripping, full of one man’s sadness and of intrigue with flashes of horror. That horror and sadness is perfectly etched on Walken’s face and delivery. When we see his visions we feel his pain, the fire, the fall under the ice – “the ice is gonna break” scene is a powerhouse delivery – and the serial killer.

You could almost say that Walken is something of a superhero, a mutant, think of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson as something of a distant cousin.

dead7With his pale granite white face, Walken is a picture of loss and sadness, still carrying a limp from his accident its a physical echo of his continual mental pain and suffering ultimately knows his own destiny and cuts a pained figure of sadness, lost love and genuinely heartbreaking. You really feel for him and want to save him like he saves others, in many ways his disability is akin to say the film version of The Elephant Man and so is the rapport he has with Herbert Lom, like Hurt did with Hopkins.

Walkman may chew the scenery but it is with real vigour and senselessness, he is a man who can see into the future and past yet not change either his past or future. And that scenery of snow and bleakness and of dark tunnels only adds to the feeling of loneliness.

It’s a powerful film that long lingers after the credits have rolled and although some at the time claimed Cronenberg had deserted the strangeness of Scanners and Videodrome and gone mainstream. In his other mainstream horror, The Fly, that was also very much a tragic love story as well.

The Dead Zone still packs a memorable, powerful punch, especially when it comes to the visions. If you are going to watch this ensure it is the unedited version and the special edition DVD has a great commentary by Kim Newman.

dead3Some would call his second sight as blessing, others a curse. It’s a great moral tale of a man who once had everything but lost it now has the power to forte the future even though he does not have one. He and his ‘gift’ is given purpose however when he discovers he must stop Presidential Candidate Gregg Stillson, played with great zeal by Martin Sheen.

He had of course previously played Kennedy so had presidential down to pay, and would of course go onto hold office in The West Wing. You can’t help thinking he’s a little too Donald Trump though – talk about eerie premonitions. His vision sees Stillson flying the nukes, a madman in the Whitehouse.

As well as Sheen there is excellent support from Brooke Adams, the former girlfriend, Tom Skerritt as a local sheriff investigating a murder, Anthony Zerbe and the fine Herbert Lom as Smith’s Doctor.

dead10If you haven’t seen The Dead Zone, or only the TV series with Anthony Michael Hall, make sure you catch this classic, still one of the top Steven King adaptations and certainly an interesting and absorbing take from Director David Cronenberg. I predict you’ll love it.

Of course it does also have one other curious foretelling of the future, at the start of the film Christopher Walken is taking his English class and asks them to read ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’. Perhaps he knew he would go onto to play the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An American Werewolf in London #30DaysOfFright

A unique beast of a movie, An American Werewolf In London is something of a hybrid of a film. One moment it is laugh out loud funny and the next it is shriek out loud scary.

It’s hard to think of a film that has melded horror and comedy to better effect, although at the time of release apparently people didn’t really understand the shifts in tone.

london1

The film charts the journey of two American friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking across the Yorkshire Moors. It’s a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons as one is killed and the other is savaged by a werewolf. David lives but keeps seeing Jack, in various states of decomposition, warning him that on the next full moon he too shall become a rampaging werewolf. David’s visions get weirder until, finally, he transforms in the middle of London.

london6Jack’s scenes are even harder to watch knowing that the year after this film was released Dunne’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, she had just completed work as the older sister in Poltergeist.

In many ways this is a love letter to classic Universal horror, Director John Landis is certainly a fan, even though – pulling something of a Jaws – we don’t get our transformation scene until an hour into the film.

london3That Universal-feel is perhaps best felt when our two wandering Americans stumble upon The Slaughtered Lamb pub and it falls silent. It’s a classic moment in a classic film with its pentagrams, missed dart boards, an on the money Brian Glover and a young Rik Mayall.

The lack of a lycanthrope for that first 60 minutes doesn’t mean we don’t get plenty of scares that still leave scars. The initial attack on the Moors – if only they had stuck to the road as warned – is swift but shocking, especially as moments earlier they were laughing and joking.

london2Then we have the dream sequences, particularly the – never explained but no need to as everyone was too busy being scared – vampiric David in his hospital bed, looking like an extra from Salem’s Lot.

And then there is the scene of David back home with his mum and dad and his younger brother and sister. They are watching The Muppet Show (big at the time and Frank Oz AKA Missy Piggy and Fozzie Bear is also in the film) when the doorbell rings. David’s dad answers the door to be blasted away by Nazi werewolf monster thugs. It’s the scene WTF would perfectly sum up had it existed in 1981.

london12Left field, unexpected and downright disturbing leaving a mark on its viewers – in their pants probably – and mentally for decades to come. What’s great about this though is that when David wakes up his nurse, Jenny Agutter, goes to the window and is promptly stabbed by one of the Nazi beasts. Nearly pulling the Carrie trick midway through the film. Waking up a second time David exclaims ‘holy shit.’ Too right!

london7When the full moon arrives we are instore for a cinematic treat. The transformation scene is still the best committed to film and was all done practically and in camera. No wonder the rumour is that the best make up Oscar category was created specially to honour this film and Rick Baker. And it doesn’t take place in some dark alley, it’s in a fully lit living room.

As well as being a technical marvel it really conveys the painfulness of it all. To all intense and purposes this is David’s death scene.

And there’s something that is still brilliant about the scene knowing that it was all done on set and not one pixel at a time in a computer (take note Van Helsing and An American Werewolf in Paris – lame dogs both).

london8Post transformation we have a flurry of attacks, including one that makes fantastic use of the tube and you can’t fail to think about it next time you find yourself in an empty tube station at night or deserted escalator.

With its similar time-frame, a group of memorable British character actors, its UK. Setting, it’s denial of what is unfolding and its tragic ending I always saw it as something of a companion piece to The Omen in many ways.

london10Agutter is a compelling and a memorable love interest, but it’s Doctor Hirsch who I love most out of the supporting characters. Especially when he is in full investigation mode and travels back to The Slaughtered Lamb. He always seemed a bit like the David Warner character in The Omen to me.

Although David was cursed unlike the supposed curse of the omen this film was not, although it’s dedication in celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana didn’t do them any favours.

 

Jaws #30DaysOfFright

jawsaTo paraphrase Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) in Jaws, when he is trying to explain why the art work ‘paint happy bastards’ have produced on the Amity Island board is anatomically correct to the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) in the presence of  Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). Jaws is the perfect eating machine of a movie.

It went over production, over budget and the mechanical shark, fondly nicknamed Bruce after Director Steven Spielberg’s Lawyer, often didn’t work. The film should never have worked, but all of this extra time meant the film matured, like a fine wine (red and white of course), to become the classic that we have today.

Hands down it is my favourite film of all time and without fail I set sail with it – on whatever format – every year on my birthday. So what better time to post this than on my actual birthday.

Over the years I have bought it several times, first as a pan and scan CIC Video VHS copy that I bought in 1987, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs, and now the 35th anniversary edition Bluray all cleaned up. Jaws may be 41 but it really has never looked better.

It may be about to sound better those as news has just broke that the Boston Pops Orchestra, once presided over by Jaws composer John Williams, is to perform a live screening of Jaws next summer with full orchestra.

BRITISHQUAD134-2This would follow the pattern of several other Steven Spielberg films, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, to get the live orchestra treatment. They all came to the UK so it can only be a matter of time before a dorsal fin breaks the water to a live rendition of William’s still astonishing and gripping score. William’s score isn’t a piece of music for the film; it is essentially the ‘voice’ of the shark itself.

The 1975 film is based on the best-selling book by Peter Benchley, he also write a draft of the screenplay and has a cameo as a TV news reporter on the beach.

Amity Island, a seaside town off Long Island is getting ready for the summer season, but it could have never been ready for the murderous shadow of a Great White Shark. As the victims continue to wash up the town hire a grizzled fisherman to catch it and kill it. Joining him at sea are a marine biologist and the town’s chief of police. It’s sink or swim for the thrust together threesome as they fight against the elements, against each other and against the shark.

As a piece of cinema,  Jaws was always the near perfect film and now, cleaned up frame by frame for its 35th anniversary it looks like it was practically shot last week. This lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

jaws chrissie watkins 1975Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening night Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact that’s like a train, when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. It’s the perfect opener for a movie (indeed Spielberg even copied it himself of sorts in 1993 in the opening of Jurassic Park).

It effectively sets the shark up as a Jack the Ripper like monster. The noise, the screams and the music all blend to still create a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. Also one of the most iconic, and oft-imitated, poster images ever. She was the first…

However, it’s not the 25 foot shark; all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al) but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive.

robert-shaw2He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally. He carved such an impression up there on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.

Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically, commercially or for longevity.

jawsiIt’s hard to think that the then 27 year old Steven Spielberg almost turned down the chance to direct the movie that launched a thousand nightmares. It was the first film to smash the $100 million barrier and upon initial release it is estimated some 67 million Americans went to see it,

At the time the Director felt that the film was too similar to the man versus (mechanical) beast of Duel (1971). He wasn’t too worried about the lorry and shark having the same dinosaur death cry though, one as it lurches over a cliff, the other as its carcass sinks to the bottom of the sea. Spielberg felt both had a kinship of sorts – both leviathans targeting everyman

The original schedule of 52 days tripled due to the problems of filming on location, not so much the filming at Martha’s Vinyard, which doubled as the quaint Amity Island, but more the filming at sea, which almost left the whole production at sea. Previously most movies set at sea were filmed in giant tanks with a pre-filmed backdrop but being on a real sea, on a real boat it made the experience that much more successful.

The 12 hour days were not wholly productive as only four were devoted to actual filming, due to the poor weather and the not wholly co-operative shark (it sank on its first test and practically exploded on its second), but in the end these were the elements that helped make the film the success it was.

Initially the Producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, thought(!) that they might be able to hire a man to train a Great White to perform a few simple tricks and do the rest with miniatures. Thankfully this route was not pursued and it soon became very clear that there was only one man who could make this monster fish a reality, the retired Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 20 years earlier.

BN-EU471_jawsph_G_20141001063022Jaws and Christian Bale both might have too many teeth but his strops pale into insignificance next to ‘Bruce’, who was cross-eyed and his jaws would not shut.

This, however, proved to be Spielberg’s masterstroke as he had to be more inventive and hide the shark behind the camera for as long as possible, its presence suggested by twisting camerawork and the now unmistakable primeval music composed by John Williams, thus allowing the audience’s mind to create the horror of the shark, all 20, I mean 25 feet of him. And of course those rather cannily placed yellow barrels!

No matter how well the shark performed or how well it was hidden when it didn’t the filmmakers knew that the audience would need to see real sharks, and that is exactly what they got with amazing footage from Australian husband and wife diving team, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

jaws16Thankfully Great Whites do not grow to 25 feet in length so to make the shark look larger for the Hooper cage dive a smaller cage and midget were used to get some spectacular footage.

But the best was yet to come when the shark destroyed the cage and almost the boat, thankfully the pint size stuntman, Carl Rizzo, was not in it at the time and after seeing the ‘attack’ on the boat promptly locked himself in the toilet. The footage remains in the film, which effectively meant the shark helped rewrite the book and ensure the survival of Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

Peter Benchley, and old pal of Spielberg, Carl Gottlieb, are listed as the screenwriters of the project but beneath the surface of the credits it is revealed that several different people helped stamp their authority on the project.

Benchley had two passes at the script and then the Pulitzer winning playwright (and scuba diver), Howard Sackler, was brought in to beef up the script. One of his greatest additions was the Quint USS Indianapolis monologue, which is now being mooted in various quarters as a prequel. There is a script floating about.

This one moment, more than any other, has been the one that has become fabled in who should take the credit for the powerful moment when Robert Shaw’s character retells his World War 2 shark encounter. Future Apocalypse Now and Conan scribe, John Milius, had a crack at it with Shaw himself, an accomplished playwright, also gave it a polish and honed it to the perfection you see on scream, depending on whose tale you listen to of course.

The great thing about the hours of waiting to film meant that the main actors (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) all got to hone their characters, got to know each other and also got to rework their dialogue with co-screenwriter, Gottlieb (who also played opposite Mayor of Sharksville, Murray Hamilton) who often updated dialogue only 24 hours before the shoot, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why these three characters and their words – which even Tarantino would be proud of – and every nuance is so spot on and crisp over 40 years later.

Brody shoots the shark in JawsOther unsung heroes of the movie also had to include camera operator, Michael Chapman, who practically filmed the last third of the movie handheld, which helped give it that realistic, fresh look. And he even saved vital film from a sinking Orca, narrowly saving his skin and the dailies.

Finally, there is Editor, Verna Fields, who won one of the three Oscars (it was nominated for four) for the film and edited the movie on location as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

jaws (1)She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in a swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped. And that scene gave the extra jump that the film needed, even after all those viewings it is still hard to judge exactly when it will pop out.

By the end of the film the shark may have been dead but the blockbuster as we know it today had been born. The sea (or the bath when I was little as I was convinced he was going to get in there) and cinema would never be the same again.

Jaws

 

 

 

Saw #30DaysOfFright

saw5The Usual Suspects meets Se7en, Saw may be known more for its torture porn tendencies – popped into the same category as the likes of Hostel – but the first is more of a taut serial killer thriller. 

There are of course horrible deaths but most of what happens is in your mind, it’s the suggestion of it that makes you balk. The sequels certainly up the blood and gore quota.

 It’s the story that drives the horror in this and the suggestion, something that has become a staple in James Wan and Leigh Whannell directed and written horror films, from Insidious to The Conjuring. The horror comes from the situation and story.

 sawTwo men who don’t know one another awake in a dark empty room shackled to the wall. In the centre of the room a dead body and a tape recorder. A mysterious voice pits them against one another, will they live or will they die? To survive they are going to have to go out on a limb. If they die they’ll simply become another victim of the twisted Jigsaw killer

 Will they work together or against one another? They are Dr. Lawrence Gordon, who has to kill Adam, or his wife and daughter will die.

 Like all good horror it drags us in and puts us in their shoes, what would we do to escape and save our family? It’s kill or be killed.

 I want to play a game is what the Jigsaw killer tells his victims through the means of his creepy puppet, and that is exactly what this film is a game, a game of wits.

For all its horror tendencies This is a cleverly crafted whodunnit.

saw2What is really interesting about Saw is that the victims aren’t exactly innocent, they may not deserve to die but they aren’t exactly nice people or innocent victims per se. 

And what is clever is that Jigsaw finds ways for victims to essentially kill themselves. Again, it’s about the clever deaths and scenarios.

Perhaps the most memorable is that of the converted bear trap on a woman’s face, obviously there is the fact that if she can’t open the device it goes off ripping her jaw apart.

Added to this the key is hidden inside the body of a man, she must dig it out within 60 seconds. Oh, and the man, whilst inanimate is still very much alive.

This trap is also notable as it was filmed as a short to help get finance for the film by Wan and Whannell. Whannell also playing Adam trapped with the good Doctor.

The only innocent people in the film are the mother and daughter who are kidnapped, for me this whole section is outstanding and where the real mounting tension lies.

Whether it is the girl telling her mummy that there is a monster in her room, which of course there is in the shape of their kidnapper. When we see that figure it is chilling.

And the tension is ramped up again when time has run out for the Doctor to save his family 

saw6They are tied up, the kidnapper takes the daughter’s heartbeat and then again when he points the gun at her mother’s head, this time it beats much faster, just like that of the audience’s.

Style wise, the dizzying edit and speeding up film I’m less of a fan of, even if it is highlighted their confusion, desperation and panic.

What does suit the film, and cunningly the series as a whole, is the non-linear timeline of the film zips about but it works in its favour and keeps us hanging on tenterhooks throughout.

saw4The ramshackle Jigsaw puppet on his bike could have so easily been laughed off the screen, but it’s creepy as hell. And is my Halloween costume of choice, complete with dictaphone as well.

He’s used sparingly in this first outing but has quickly become a horror icon alongside Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead and Ghostface.

For a film set so much in the shadows it’s quite fitting most of the characters have grey areas 

saw8What elevates this from the usual low budget fair is its casting of familiar faces in key roles, such as Cary Elwes as the shackled surgeon, Danny Glover as a detective investigating the murders and Monica Potter as Elwes’s wife.

With Saw being the title the race to the climax is heavily posted, Jigsaw has hidden hacksaw blades not sharp enough to cut through chains but through flesh. What would push you to the limit to lop your own foot off? 

Nothing and no one is as they seem, this is a jigsaw of many pieces and only when the puzzle is complete is the whole picture revealed.

The end? I won’t give it away but It’s less survival of the fittest and more Saw-vival of the cleverest.

Phantasm 2 #30DaysOfFright

ph4Phantasm 2 has balls, small shiny flying metal ones with drills and lasers.

This belated sequel to the 1979 original was my introduction to the Phantasm series of films when it was released on VHS rental.

I’d loved the idea of it since seeing part of its trailer on Film ’89 (the year it was released in the UK).

I can’t imagine Barry Norman had much time or it…but how could you not love a film with deadly flying metal balls?

p2If it looks like the most expensive looking Phantasm of the all, that’s because it is. The £3 million budget is all there on the screen and there really are some epic and memorable visuals, it may not sound a lot but that is ten times the budget of the 1979 original. It really has never looked more polished and rich.

It’s just a shame that Universal let it flounder in the summer season rather than releasing it closer to Halloween where it really could find its feet. It found its second life on the VHS rental shelves, and rightly so.

p5Returning from the original, promoted in a sense to the leading character role is Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), the former ice-cream salesman. The character of Mike is back, but this time is all grown up and played by James Le Gros, in an alternate universe it would have been Brad Pitt, who also tested for the role.

Story? It’s a revenge movie with two men seeking retribution against the sinister The Tall Man, who dresses like an undertaker and drives a hearse. He collects bodies and turns them into his dwarf-like minions. Think of them as evil Jawas.

Like Sam Raimi – he has a cameo of sorts as a bag of ashes – with the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, George Miller, Mad Max and Mad Max 2 and James Cameron with The Terminator and Terminator 2, returning writer and director, Don Coscarelli, has a bigger toy box to play with.

ph3Like Cameron he gives the sequel more of an action focus. And the explosive beginning certainly makes that very clear, even for those people who haven’t seen the original it intrigues, excites and hooks you.

With Reggie and Mike’s cool black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and creeping into cemeteries on a mission to hunt down The Tall Man, a hulking haunting Angus Scrimm – best name made up or otherwise, ever – who is clearly relishing his role, at times this could almost be an episode of Supernatural featuring Dean and Sam Winchester.

ph5In fact Coscarelli stated that he was partly influenced by the grizzled Ben Mears and Mark Petrie Salem’s Lot characters hunting down vampires at the end of the two-parter. What’s not to love?

Having not seen the original at the time there was a bit of catching up to do, but having seen it since there is still an awful lot that remains unanswered, not that I have an issue with ambiguity. It only adds to its dream like quality, at times entering the same sort of realms as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors meets Evil Dead 2.

p4The quirky character of Reggie takes centre stage this time, the former ice-cream salesman showing he’s a dab hand a four-barreled shotgun of his own creation.

It’s got some great jumps and creep out moments that still stand up really well today and you never needed a big budget for that, you just needed good ideas and Phantasm 2 has plenty of them. Not all hit the mark of course, an unclear telepathic link between two characters, and a couple of unnecessary characters.

p3But when Phantasm flies it soars, like its infamous deadly spheres. They have a tour-de-force scene in a mortuary that oozes cool and plenty of blood. The balls are indiscriminate, so don’t care who they go for. Phantasm 2 taps into our fear of death and dying, and the tools associated with that, making taut use of embalming fluid in one scene.

Phantasm 5, dubbed Phantasm Ravager, has just been released, again with Coscarelli’s involvement and the last appearance of The Tall Man, Scrimm passed away earlier this year shortly after shooting.

p1Toppling The Tall Man is a tall order but it’s a cult tale that still more than holds its own today, from its recap from where the original ended and its explosive start it’s a journey that is never dull and still has the power to surprise.

The Omen #30DaysOfFright

An American diplomat’s wife loses her baby in childbirth; he is replaced by an orphan baby. A series of strange and deadly accidents occur around the family, could the spoutings of a mad clergyman be correct, can five year old Damien Thorn really be the son of the devil? Having initiated the switch at birth his father now teams up with a photographer to discover the horrific truth. Can they stop the forces of evil before they become another accident?

o16The devil had already become something of a movie star in Hollywood, thanks to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen saw him reach a box office high. I’ve always had a fascination with The Omen since I bought the trilogy as part of the Fox All Time Greats collection in 1987 from Woolworths in York.

We were on holiday there over Easter (irony) and what made that trip all the more memorable is that we also visited Fountains Abbey in Ripley, Yorkshire, which is where the finale of The Final Conflict takes place. Those VHS tapes took a serious hammering and I read the original books and the two further book sequels that followed.

These continue directly after the ending on the third film and were entitled Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: Abomination, both penned by Gordon McGill, who also wrote the adaptation of The Final Conflict.

The Omen has been a part of my life since I was at least 11 and, save for Jaws, is my favourite horror-related film. Like Jaws you could say that it taps into the disaster movie genre that was so big at the time with the likes of The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.

omen10Post-Watergate it’s also akin to the conspiracy thrillers of the period such as All the Presidents Men, Klute, Three Days of the Condor, Capricorn One and The Marathon Man. It probably shares most of all with The Parallax View as Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) uncovers something so vast it is almost hard to comprehend, and like Warren Beatty’s character in Parallax, everyone he comes into contact with comes to a sticky end. You could even say that in many ways the endings are very similar.

It is a fantastical idea and one that is writ large. The Exorcist was about a girl in her bedroom and set in one house, this is about the man who could be the next President of the United States. It’s something referenced by Kathy Thorn when she hears her husband has got the job of US Ambassador to Great Britain, a position once held by none other than JFK.

The Omen is set in the heart of the world of politics and takes place in London, Rome, Israel and er Windsor Zoo. It’s practically the James Bond of horror with its globetrotting. I guess The Da Vinci Code and their sequels do the same sort of magical mystery tour thing today.

omen4Whether you believe the story that 2000 years after the birth of Christ a comet that shines in the opposite place in the sky to that of the star of Bethlehem heralds the birth of the anti-Christ is one thing but the one thing you do believe is the performance of Gregory Peck. We follow it because he does, we share his idea that it is preposterous and then the slow realisation that this is all true.

The discovery in an abandoned graveyard that his son was murdered at birth and that the mother of the child he is raising is a jackal is compelling and heart wrenching. It’s all the more poignant as the year prior to filming Peck had lost one of his own son’s to suicide, something which he blamed himself for not being able to stop. Peck is of course an incredibly gifted actor and carries a huge amount of gravitas and that amazing voice. He is Abe Lincoln, he is Atticus Fitch, we will believe in him. With an actor of less stature it simply would not have worked.

The key moment where he receives a call to say that his wife has died, that phonecall he receives after she has gone out the window is crippling. He really has nothing to lose. All is lost.

And then there is that cold, numbed reciting of the “when the Jews return to Zion” poem as he lays motionless on the bed.

o15Peck is ably supported with former Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, in a fantastically memorable part as Father Brennan, David Warner as the photographer was something of a hero when I was younger and he’s great in this. And then there’s Mrs Baylock, if Damien is the anti—Christ then she is the anti-Poppins, no one had arranged for her to arrive either. She exudes quiet menace and malevolence at first; her final scenes raise the shock level to their peak.

o14The film also looks amazing in its widescreen which is used to brilliant effect utilising it to its full advantage and creating some mesmerising imagery that really set it apart. As well as the frame impressing so does the action taking place within in.

Director Richard Donner constructs some still impressive set pieces; it must have surely secured him directorial duties on Superman: The Movie two years later, in fact the Daily Planet helicopter incident could have come straight from The Omen.

omen2First there is the nanny, played by Jack Palance’s daughter, taking a rope-assisted dive from the Thorn mansion during Damien’s fifth birthday party, the way she falls and snaps back into that glass is horrible.

A suddenly windy day will always evoke thoughts of Patrick Troughton prior to getting spiked by a church spire; this was probably the only decent scene in the 2006 remake, Troughton’s role played with vigour by Pete Postlethwaite.

o12Kathy Thorn’s fall from the balcony whilst pregnant is also fantastically taut, and the scene is brilliantly executed, along with the goldfish. The effect of the camera following on the way down is still amazing. It’s my favourite single shot after the reverse zoom and simultaneous dolly shot on Chief Brody in Jaws.

And of course the decapitation by sheet of glass, with David Warner doing his own version of the head spin. You think you see more than you do the blood you think you see is pots of paint. For such a film with so many nasty deaths it’s surprisingly devoid of any real blood.

o11I also really love the set for the cemetery, it’s like a grandiose set from a classic universal horror film, it looks fantastic, gothic and moody. And then the devil dogs attack, as a scene it is relentless, as is the Goldsmith score which kicks into high gear. It’s Hound of the Baskervilles turned up to 11, is dripping with menace and quite frankly is absolutely knackering. Not that there is much time to get our breath back for the remainder of the film.

omen5Like Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the only one he won an Oscar for, the film just continues to build into a crescendo, become more frenetic and consuming. That’s what it does to Thorn and us; it needs to do that to convince us that he should kill a child.

Would we be able to do the same if we knew he was the son of the devil, even Peck hesitates as the child pleads “please, daddy, no!” It was always a difficult watch, even more so having a daughter around Damien’s age.

Peck is armed with the daggers of Megiddo, which have to be the coolest weapons of all time, I’d so pay to see Indiana Jones and the Daggers of Megiddo. But they do him no good, he is stopped with a policeman’s bullet, it’s downbeat but masterful.

omen1 We can hardly believe that Gregory Peck has failed. Or has he? We then see two coffins, one for Robert Thorn and his son, Damien? No, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a small boy is holding the hand of the president. The little boy turns with a smile that breaks across his face, it is Damien.

The film may have dated a little but there is still no denying the power of The Omen, even after all these years, it’s still devilishly good.

And the story goes that if The Omen had not been the success it had been for Fox then they wouldn’t have been able to spend extra money on bailing Star Wars out. That’s what you call the real power of the dark side.

 

Event Horizon #30DaysOfFright

event2It is the year 2047, the rescue ship Lewis and Clark is sent to intercept the Event Horizon, a spaceship that mysteriously vanished some seven years earlier but has reappeared. Where has it been, where is the crew and who what is the sinister presence on board? Now the rescue crew, including the creator of the Event Horizon, must rescue themselves before it is too late.

Poor Paul (WS – as he is now known) Anderson has had something of a rough ride on the science-fiction slipstream, with numerous Resident Evils, Death Race and Alien Vs Predator – the latter which I rather liked in a Big Daddy Vs Giant Haystacks kind of way – all drawing buckets of scorn.

For me though his finest hour (or hour and thirty five minutes) has always been the 1997 movie, Event Horizon, and seeing as it part-inspired the uber-atmospheric PS3 smash, Dead Space, I’m not the only one.

event1Essentially the movie is Hellraiser meets The Shining in space…but then the Jaws in space tag never did Alien, which it has a nod to production design and creepiness wise, any harm. And for me that is what makes the movie so much fun, that it is essentially a haunted house movie in space, which is certainly more fun and original than The House on Haunted Hill remake or GhostShip (essentially the same tale as Event but…gasp…set at sea) and certainly better than Jason X which was also set among the stars.

Featuring a stellar (or should that be interstellar) cast comprising of Sam Neill (quite literally exorcising some demons he had left over from In The Mouth of Madness) and Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, a pre-Harry Potter Jason Isaacs and the always dependable Sean Pertwee.

event7Sam Neill, as the designer of the Event Horizon, Dr Weir, is quality as ever, exuding authority and charm at first, with a disturbing back story that haunts him and us for much of the film. At first he is essentially like Ripley in Aliens, has knowledge but not acceptance of the crew. But if he’s good at being good, he’s great at being evil and devilish, see the third part on The Omen trilogy, The Final Conflict, and the aforementioned In the Mouth of Madness for further proof.

Fishburne as Captain Miller, in charge of the Lewis and Clark, is a great no nonsense turn and proves quite the foil to Neill and he really convinces in his leading role.

event4The film is as beautiful as it is deadly and is filled with intrigue, jumps and gore aplenty Event Horizon raises itself above the usual fair due to some wonderful set design and visual imagery – including the mother of all zoom outs from a space station – and a fantastic gate room that is a meld of Stargate meets Hellraiser box via Contact.

Zero gravity has never been so eerie with all manner of objects floating around the titular ship…which is a star of the show in its self, with its great design inside and out, taking its design cue from Notre Dame Cathedral.

event9With elements of The Shining, Alien, The Black Hole, Hellraiser, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flatliners this isn’t just a mishmash of what we have seen before simply set in space, it is far more intelligent than that. As a psychological space horror Event Horizon has plenty of the crimson stuff and gore, but it is that slowly building sense of dread and pulsating paranoia that gets us as much as the crew.

Adding to the general feeling of unease throughout is the score that is simply something else. Being essentially a science-fiction/horror movie the music is something else, a fantastic fusion of the work of the late Michael Kamen (who worked with Queen on Highlander and scored both the Lethal Weapon series and Die Hards) and the techno sound of Orbital, creating something that is raw and visceral and perfect for the mood of the movie. If you loved Tron Legacy’s score then this is the horror equivalent.

event6Having experienced it on the big screen when it was first released it’s a real surprise that it was something of a misfire at the box office as it really grabs you from the off and engages throughout, delivering both in the science –fiction and horror stakes in buckets (of blood).

I found it a disturbingly thrilling cinematic experience that lingers long after it has been seen, if you haven’t explored the Event Horizon then you are in for one hell of a nerve-jangling ride.

This lean and mean film more than deserves its place with such sci-fi horror classics as Alien and The Thing and certainly packs a mightier punch and more jumps than both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, the latter released the same year.

event10It’s not so much in space no one can hear you scream and more if no one is on board the Event Horizon then when you scream will anyone hear it? The answer to that one is an emphatic yes. Go see it!