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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.

 

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Poltergeist #30DaysOfFright

polt1A young family finds they have paranormal activity within their home, it’s a poltergeist (meaning noisy spirit in German).What starts off as something playful soon descends into terror as the children are attacked in their rooms. The daughter, Carol Anne, is taken by the spirits and makes contact via the television – in the film’s most iconic moment – can she be saved and can the family stop themselves being dragged to the afterlife?

What sets Poltergeist apart from most haunted house movies is that it is set in a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood and everything looks normal. There is no Scooby-Doo haunted mansion vibe, no evil eyes like the Amityville house. It could be our house or yours, and that is its power.

polt2We are the Freeling family and that is what Spielberg does best, take an ordinary person or family and put them in an extraordinary situation. Just look at Chief Brody from Jaws, Roy Neary from Close Encounters or David Mann from Duel.

To many Poltergeist was Spielberg’s darkness to E.T.’s light, they both came out in the same month in the US in 1982. He served as writer on this and Executive Producer, although it has oft been mooted he had a closer hand in direction as well, rather than Texas Chainsaw-helmer Tobe Hooper. But that is a whole other blog entry.

All horror films should of course be watched with the lights off but Poltergeist loves the darkness, especially when the strobing effects kick-in. Fittingly, it really drags you into the television.

polt3The good thing is that since the advent of 24 hour television, whether that be rolling news or rolling balls around a roulette wheel, you will never again wake up with a Poltergeist television. There’ll never be that snow dancing shadows madly across your walls.

So the original Poltergeist seems more nostalgic and further away than ever. The film starts on that typical Spielberg world of safety and harmony, the suburbs, and actually the first half has plenty of sunny and light moments. Even the Poltergeist activity is initially treated as a joke and something to have fun with, the moving kitchen chairs for instance. Carol Anne states it is the TV people; I certainly never had that problem with Radio Rentals!

But that is what is great about this film, haunted houses don’t have to be scary and there doesn’t have to be fork lighting. Their home could be our home and that is what makes it so effective, and it’s the same with the more recent haunted house films, such as Insidious and The Conjuring.

There are signposts aplenty though, even the remote control cars that cause the man hulking beer to come off his bike in the opening scene are a precursor of things to come with toys coming to life and causing chaos. The dead budgie, Tweetie, even in its coffin cigar box it warns us of the shape of things to come when it is unearthed by a digger for the swimming pool.

There are even clues on the television, in an early scene the old Spencer Tracey film A Guy Named Joe plays on TV, there are already ghosts in the machine as it’s about a man who dies and comes back as a ghost. It was of remade by Spielberg seven years later as Always.

polt4Robbie and Carol Anne’s room is cool, full of Star Wars posters and toys, although I’m not sure about the Alien poster. The film really taps into those childhood terrors of open closets, things under the bed, thunderstorms, clowns and ominous trees tapping on your window. Ten fold, it could also be seen as an extension of a similar scene in Close Encounters when Barry’s toys come to life as aliens – and again some glorious light, a Spielberg staple – envelop the room and also bring toys to life.

A bit like the spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at first they beautiful, the spirit from the television that dances round the room before leaving its ectoplasm all over the bedroom wall is as haunting as it is enchanting. 

This is echoed in the sublime score by Jerry Goldsmith, beautiful but creepy, magically dark, especially the haunting dips in sound.

But then the spirits turn with fearful effect. That ruddy tree outside the bedroom window though, the impending thunderstorm marching closer not further away, it still gives palpitations. Then, the tree grabs the son, it’s startling and surreal, but it’s just misdirection so that Carol Anne can be sucked into the closet and to the other side. From here on in as ludicrous as things get, by and large you go with it simply because you are wrapped up in the emotion.

polt-9Crucially, it’s the performance from the mum and dad that really ground it and their efforts to do anything to get their daughter back, it’s the little things like her mum, JoBeth Williams, thrilled to be smelling her daughter after a blast of air travels through her and Craig T. Nelson (Patrick Wilson being a great substitute in the very Poltergeist-like Insidious) forced to get angry with Carol Anne to tell her to do as she is told or he’ll be forced to spank her. Amid all this supernatural fantasy is real, heart-wrenching drama

about a family with a ‘kidnapped daughter’, it just happens to be by a ghost. They are the emotional core of the film.

polt5And when they finally get Carol Anne back it is less smoke and mirrors and more wind machines and fantastic lights displaced by fish tanks. It’s dizzying, effective and so simple. This rescue is headed up by movie-stealing Zelda Rubinstein, who played Tangina, the spirit guide who pronounces the house is clean; she isn’t in the film half as much as you think she is. It is only for about ten minutes duration, but she leaves a lasting impression on both the family and the audience.

After that rescue the Freelings prepare to move out, of course, it turning out that the whole estate had been built on a graveyard, the headstones had been moved but not the bodies and Carol Anne – a beautiful and natural performance by Heather O’Rourke – was the focus of the spirits as she had been born in the house.

After all that went before, they and we think it is all over, and as they pack and play in their rooms they discover it is not. A great ending to the film, complete with mum being dragged up her bedroom wall and ceiling Fred Astaire style and some unwelcome guests in the unfinished pool, but I don’t buy the family not just leaving, and even if I did I certainly wouldn’t be letting my kids play in the room where one of them went missing and another was attacked by a tree. It was the clown that got him this time.

polt6As the dead explode from the ground in their caskets, to great effect, the Freelings do escape; thankfully complete with dog, E Buzz, by the way is a great dog actor as well with some brilliant expressions. Checking into a motel, this time they aren’t taking any chances and leave the TV outside. It’s a wryly observed ending to a satisfying and emotionally exhausting tour de force of emotions and effects.

Whether it’s a product of the publicity machine or not, Poltergeist came with that horror film staple, the curse. They said it happened with The Omen, with The Exorcist and now this. 

polt-7Rumours were rife that actual skeletons were used in the swimming pool scene and the murder of one of its stars prior to release didn’t help matters, nor did major players dying after parts 2 and 3. The remake seems to have bucked that particular trend – unless you count its death at the box office.

You know what though; I enjoyed the updating, such as the family having little choice in moving to the once aspirational suburbs. It didn’t add anything particularly new or did anything better but I certainly found it suitably creepy if not as visually memorable as the original.

Happy Birthday Jaws, you’re still top of the blockbuster food chain

jaws16Today may be 40 years since Jaws took a massive bite of the 1975 box office but after a lifetime of seeking to view the film on the big screen I finally got the chance to see a newly spruced up print of the classic Spielberg thriller on the big screen back in June 2010, as part of the 35 anniversary celebrations. And yes, I bought it again, adding it to my pan and scan CIC VHS copy, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.

My journey to see Jaws, my all time favourite film, on the big screen has been quite literally a lifetime in the making as I blame my mum for getting me hooked. I may not have been born until October 1975 but she had eagerly read the serialised version of the book in The Sun newspaper, clearly it had quite the impact on me. Cue lots of pre-teen years of being terrified of even stepping into the bath.

The closest I had previously got to seeing Jaws writ large was back in 2002 after travelling down to Neuquay to see a screening on the beach, alas it got cancelled the day before it was scheduled to be shown. I had to wait until 2010 then for the experience I had been chasing, and after all that time, all those viewings, it didn’t disappoint. Put simply it was Jawsome.

Jaws of course is having several 40th birthday screening across the states and It is somewhat fitting that Jaws had been re released as part of the centenary celebrations of Universal Studios in June, smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, as Jaws is the granddaddy of them all, the first film to have such a large (at the time) opening, and the first to hit that magic $100 million mark. In more ways than one it is the big fish.

Jaws-BillboardFour decades  have passed since Jaws first swam onto our screens but it still more than holds its own against today’s output, in fact it is the filmic equivalent of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) calls the shark, ‘the perfect eating machine’.

As a piece of cinema Jaws was always the near perfect piece of cinema and now, cleaned up frame by frame and looking like it was practically shot last week, this lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

Put simply, you can forget your Star Wars, forget your toying with special effects, nipping, tucking or even adding here and there (yes you Mr Cameron, Mr Lucas – sounds like Are You Being Served – and Mr Scott), this is cleaned up but otherwise untouched, and still has the same shark and still has that primal fear in buckets, along with the chum.

Spielberg has clearly learnt from his ‘radio’ meddling with E.T. and left Jaws exactly as it was, save for giving it a fresh lick of paint and thankfully modification free.

7165154_origIt may sound obvious but never having seen the film on the big screen the first thing that hit me was that it all looked so big, from the (thankfully) old fashioned Universal logo to each and every character introduction, counting the fictional Amity Island in that.

With such a large canvas, that had also expertly been cleaned up, we are able to feel even closer to that (really rather sunny and bright for the most part) world and see and notice so many small things in the background that I hadn’t done before. It was practically like seeing the film for the very first time.

Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening 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 when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. If anything its heightened more than ever with the Alex Kintner lilo attack, which in many ways seemed even more powerful.

robert-shaw2It’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. He 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, as he carved such an impression up their 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.

The wait was well worth it, and I’m pleased that Bruce, as the shark was nicknamed by Spielberg, came back for his noon feeding to mark the then 35th anniversary of Jaws, it mattered not that most of us in that small screening room had seen it hundreds of times, knew exactly what shot or line of dialogue came next, we were all in awe of the remastered Jaws.

Brody shoots the shark in JawsAnd to paraphrase Chief Brody at the end of the film as he blows the great white shark out of the water as it races toward him, we were all smiling like sons of bitches.

I may not be sat enjoying it on a big screen for its birthday but will be celebrating with lots more Jaws fans in a tweet along, safety in numbers and all that, although try telling that to the crew of the SS Indianapolis!

DEATH BECOMES THEM: TOP TEN DEATHS IN JAWS (AND ITS SEQUELS)

Jurassic World has taken a bit of a beating in some quarters over some of its horrible deaths, but then the previous films in the series didn’t exactly skimp on that either and neither did the Jaws series. Before Freddy, before Final Destination and (just) before The Omen, that is what we wanted, inventive and exciting death scenes. The Jaws series has them aplenty.

They say that Hollywood has a habit of chewing up and spitting out talent, little wonder then that Spielberg ‘fondly’ nicknamed the first films creature after his Lawyer, ‘Bruce’. Such a phrase has not been truer when looking at Jaws and its three sequels, all with deaths aplenty. The sequels have all taking a bit of a bashing, certainly they don’t a candle to the original, but they still hold a fondness and even Jaws the Revenge has its moments, well okay then maybe that should be singular.

Anyway ‘Open Wide!’ and ‘Smile, you sons of bitches!’ as we celebrate the best Jaws deaths…ever!

Is yours below? If not, which is it and why?

JAWS (1975) AKA THE ORIGINAL AND BEST

Chrissie Watkins

jaws chrissie watkins 1975The opening night time attack is up there with the shower seen from Psycho and even after all this time packs a punch like a train. 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…

Pippet the retriever

Ishot-1297You may scoff but one moment this dog was happily jumping around the surf, the next we see a floating piece of wood, which can’t be good. Showed that anyone could be next and that this fish didn’t care who it devoured. It takes someone with balls to have an animal die on screen.

Estuary victim

As a child this death haunted me when I closed my eyes. A man in a row boat comes to help Michael Brody and chums on their boat when the unfortunate soul is tipped from his boat and seen hanging to the side of his upturned craft to only have the open mouthed shadow of the Great White sweep up to him and drag him sinking beneath the waves, For me, at that moment I certainly don’t see a mechanical shark.

Only his leg is left, which can be seen drifting to to the bottom of the ocean floor. I used to try and convince myself that perhaps he survived but I think his estuary victim credit tells me what really happened…

Ben Gardner

jaws (1)We might not see him meeting his maker but we join Matt Hooper in the fright of his life when his head comes bob, bob bobbing along. Even now you know it’s coming but just not exactly when. This moment was captured in the safety of Editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool due to the film needing a jump moment. It certainly got it.

Quint

Ironic as Quint is roughly translated as five in Italian and he is the fifth human victim of the movie. Early he and the crew of the Orca drank to their legs so it was only fitting that this was the way he went, legs first. Nice blood explosion in the mouth as well before he is dragged to his watery grave.

Jaws

Well I say watery grave as he exploded with the shark several minutes later. A master stroke of tension as the Orca slowly sinks with Brody and rifle on its mast, which if you notice is ticking down to his ‘death’ like the second hand of a clock. Smile you son-of-bitch indeed.

JAWS 2 (1978) AKA THE ONE WITH THE ANNOYING TEENAGERS ON BOATS

Water skier

Also the poster girl for Jaws 2. A technically brilliant scene that showed that even those on water skies were not immune to the jaws of doom. The photography and tension in this scene is one of the highlights and showed how much more versatile the shark models and special effects were only three years later. Clearly lots of lessons had been learnt. It’s two for one on the deaths front here as the boat manages to pour petrol all over herself and then fire a flare at the shark blowing herself up and scarring the shark, just to make her all the more sinister (boo, hiss). We do get another payoff though as the corpse comes in one the tide straight into Chief Brody’s arms.

Boy on boat

Much of the film is spent routing for the shark to pick off the annoying teenagers, something of a pre-curser to Halloween and Friday the 13th as the shark is basically stalking and slashing (or should that be gnashing) them. The best death from these has to be that of Eddie Marchand who is dragged (echoing Chrissie in the first film) across the water and slammed into his boat – he hangs on for dear life and even pulls part of his boat with him as he is dragged under leaving his now hysterical girlfriend alone.

Helicopter pilot

Hey we are safe! Don’t count you chickens yet kids. Shark Vs quite frankly rubbish 70s helicopter and kills pilot with a quite frankly lame beard. In the original we never see what happens but on the Jaws 2 DVD there is great footage of him under the water as well. Worth checking out.

JAWS 3D (1983) AKA THE ONE AT SEA WORLD

Philip FitzRoyce, played by Simon MacCorkindale

A shame TVs ‘Manimal’ couldn’t change into a fish as he might have escaped this monster. Notable as we see and hear him being crunched up inside the shark’s mouth and then have him dangling like a piece of food stuck between his teeth. Was nice they tried something different with a death.

Now I know this film has been slammed but I actually really like the concept, essentially Jurassic World of sorts in many ways, and the ending to the movie. It’s a variation on the original but I like the original way they tried to do it. I certainly found it tense and exciting. I even like the 3D explosion – the blood and guts quota is certainly all here – and even have a soft spot for the upper and lower 3D jaws.

JAWS THE REVENGE (1987) AKA THE ONE WITH MICHAEL CAINE AKA THE ONE THAT’S NOT MUCH COP…REALLY IT ISN’T

Sean Brody

A film of little note, this could be included alone for the death of the franchise. It does have its moments in places though and none more than the death of the youngest Brody, Sean, who is now a cop in Amity like his old dad was (Scheider decided against this one so they killed his character off screen – as shameful as the whole Alien 3 Newt death – what a waste). Still Sean Brody is worth a mention as one of the main original characters to kick the big yellow barrel, juxtaposed with Christmas Carols and sepia shots of the original, just to remind us how crappy this film is.