Tag Archives: Jaws

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.

 

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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

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Gremlins #30DaysOfFright

grem1To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

grem5An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in The Time Machine.

grem6It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 80’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

grem4For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness. And it is creepy as hell.

grem3The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene culminating in death by microwave.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Walas (who went onto win an Oscar for the effects on The Fly) are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical, touching and scary in equal measure.

grem7It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future.

grem2Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

 

Close Encounters of the Four Designs: inside the BFI Spielberg posters

 

“Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.”

Steven Spielberg, his movies have not just changed Hollywood but shaped our lives. Throughout June and July the BFI have been spoiling us with an amazing season celebrating the films – and some television – of Steven Spielberg, covering everything from Duel (released theatrically here in Europe) to Amazing Stories and of course his summer blockbusters. Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, E.T. and the granddaddy of the modern summer blockbuster as we know it, Jaws.

To accompany such a breadth of work, the BFI commissioned four pieces of work promoting the season utilizing striking and iconic imagery that is ingrained not just in film culture, but that of popular culture. Images were chosen from Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, each riffing on a Spielberg classic that celebrates both the man and his movies.

As a lifelong-Spielberg and Jaws fan, I, Dean Newman (DN), took the opportunity to interview its designer, Kyle Robertson (KR), who works for the BFI as part of their in-house design team, he’s also a senior digital designer and illustrator.

I took the opportunity to speak to him about Spielberg’s films, the changing face of film posters and tips for anyone wanting to get into film poster design

Raider of the Lost ArkDN: The four designs are simple yet inspired, how difficult was it coming up with a new take on such classics?

KR: The main objective of this campaign was to capture the iconic films of Spielberg. We decided to feature his well-known summer blockbusters; E.T, Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanted to design a suite of posters that would show these well-known movies in a new light, but also take people back to their childhood memories of seeing these for the first time.

DN: Were you given these four films as design options or did you have any say? Was it only these four or were any others in contention, such as Schindler’s List or Close Encounters?

KR: There was a long conversation over the titles we were going to feature. In the end we settled on his summer blockbusters due to the fact we were screening the season in the summer and wanted to create a lighter mood than say featuring Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.

DN: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Raiders and ET, classic films, classic scores but also classic posters. How did you approach these film posters and associated imagery that are so ingrained in our pop culture?

KR: I started by watching the films again, doing a lot of reading and image research. Looking at the classic film posters, book covers, fan art, and everything else out there. This gives you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. While designing the early sketches I would even listen to the soundtracks. The goal was to capture the essence of the film that everyone knows and loves, but come at it from a different angle.

JawsDN: Once you had the fin, dinosaur head, Indy’s head etc, were there several options for main images to be included in them? Any spring to mind?

KR: We were limited in terms of imagery as we only used imagery from our own BFI Image Database, with exception for the Jurassic Park still which we got from the studio directly. We wanted to use iconic imagery that creates a certain mood. A good example was Jaws. Using the image of the woman in the water screaming within the shark fin shape stirs up all kinds of fear and emotion. We used these themes across the four designs. Fear for Jaws, wonder for E.T., Adventure for Raiders and Thrills for Jurassic Park.

DN: Four posters for one season, normally I’ve only ever seen one, was it unusual to have so many?

KR: It is quite unique to do several pieces of artwork for one season. Ordinarily we use just one poster for a season. But for big seasons which span several months there was an opportunity to do several.

DN: Did you have to pitch for the job with the design we see or do you do a lot for the BFI?

KR: Pitching for the work was not necessary as I work at the BFI as an in-house designer.

E.TDN: Which one are you most pleased with and why? My personal favourites are Jurassic Park and Jaws.

KR: I like the concept of Jaws, but E.T is probably my favourite due to it being one of my favourite films and the colours work well.

DN: Do you have many alternative designs/sketches/scamps that weren’t used? 

KR: Sorry, not allowed to share these designs, but yes many were created. Some photographic, some illustrative.

DN: Have you heard any reaction from Spielberg himself, or anyone associated with him re the designs?

KR: We worked very closely with Spielberg’s production company and Steven Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.

DN: You mention ET as being one of your favourite films, why that film?

KR: It’s just a one-of-a-kind film that has everything; adventure, excitement, laughs and takes me right back to my childhood. I saw it recently at the BFI on the big screen and it still gives me chills watching the bikes take off with that amazing John Williams score.

Jurassic ParkDN: What was the first Spielberg film you saw at the cinema and how old were you?

KR: Jurassic Park was the first film I saw on the big-screen and I must have been 11.

DN: There have been lots of great designers and artists work on Spielberg posters, such as Drew Struzan (Indy), John Alvin (E.T.) and Jaws (Roger Kastel). As a designer what’s your favourite Spielberg film poster and why?

KR: The Drew Struzan posters for Indy are great. His style is so amazing and when you see his work you know it’s a Drew Struzan poster immediately.

DN: What’s been the reaction across social media to your work?

KR: The reaction to the work has been great. A lot of people making nice comments about it reminding them of their childhood and going to the movies which is great to hear.

Jaws Tube BillboardDN: The designs have an immediate impact, how was it seeing them writ large on the giant billboards?

KR: I cycled past the Jaws billboard in Shoreditch and nearly fell off my bike when I first saw it. It’s a great feeling to see any artwork on a big scale, but the Jaws artwork looked very cool.

DN: The posters – like many film posters today – rely heavily on photographic images, do you miss the era that the likes of Alvin, Struzan and Kastel were working in with their detailed artistic designs?

KR: A lot of the BFI posters are based on photographic elements due to the nature of us portraying film and the moving image. We still do illustrative design work such as our current ‘Architecture on Film’ series. I am a big champion of the illustrative style and feel when handled correctly it can make a big impact.

DN: I guess it’s the same with the James Bond posters – I loved the likes of The Living Daylights, the last of the art designs. It all seems to be Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop these days.  Do you lament what some people see as the dying art of film posters?

KR: I think it’s inevitable for methods and practices to change regarding this. In my experience this is mostly due to time restraints. To illustrate a poster takes a lot of time and what you have to remember about film season artwork is that it is hugely political and involves a huge amount of people’s input from many departments.

So unfortunately there just isn’t the time to do this. We quite often pencil sketch concepts roughly and then take them into the Adobe suite to design and artwork. This gives you a huge amount of flexibility and freedom to work.

DN: Any tips for anyone wanting to design posters?

KR: You have to have a love of film naturally and spend most of your spare time watching films! You should also have a good knowledge of different design techniques and treatments. I try not to design the same thing twice.

DN: What do you think makes a great film poster?

KR: A simple but effective idea. Keep it fairly minimal. The more you add, the more the impact is lost from the design.

DN: Are you working on any other exciting projects?

KR: I am currently working on a big campaign for the BFI celebrating black talent in film.

 

The Steven Spielberg season continues into July with cinematic delights to offer everyone, whether its Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Lincoln, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Minority Report, The Terminal, Munich, Bridge of Spies, The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse.

E.T Tube PosterOther highlights include a whole day devoted to the Indiana Jones films – Saturday 9 July – although they can also be caught individually across the month on other days as well, and there is also a very special screening of E.T. on Sunday 26 June which features a Q&A with producer Kathleen Kennedy – her first producing credit – and director Edgar Wright, who collaborated on Tintin. Access the remaining programme here.

If your reaction to the Spielberg season posters designed by Kyle Robertson is as positive as the director himself, then you are in luck as you can now buy copies of the designs from the BFI Printstore.

Credit belongs to the British Film Institute (BFI) for all images that appear in this article.

Jaws UK: the shape of fins to come?

Hooper: “It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island either.”

Brody: “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”

 

A Great White Shark attacks and kills several people across the Cornwall coast, such was the cut and thrust of my 1987 mini-epic, Jaws V, written in my English lessons at school. A lifelong fan of all the movies my 12 year old self was thrilled to continue the franchise and bring Ellen, Mike and the other Brody’s along to England with Hoagie (Michael Caine’s character from Jaws the Revenge) in tow, as well as the return of one Matt Hooper (clearly following the movies as he was consumed in the original Peter Benchley novel).

It’s something I still have tucked away in the loft somewhere but the idea of a Great White being spotted in Cornwall always seemed a massive flight of fantasy for many who read it at the time, whereas for me it was the next logical step after ‘she’ turned up in the Bahamas in Jaws the Revenge.

In the intervening years though such a possibility has become less horror fiction and more the shape of fins to come. Famously in 1999, 2003 and 2007 The Sun sparked a shark frenzy as it claimed that several people had spotted a Great White Shark off the Cornwall coast, this obviously felt like my sequel prophecy coming true.

With headlines such as ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’, The Sun isn’t exactly as reliable a source as something like National Geographic and whilst the images are indeed interesting, in the same way that many Alien Big Cat sightings in the UK are, many of the sightings are coming from otherwise reliable, upstanding citizens such as Policemen and local fishermen. In fact if you were to believe The Sun, Great White Sharks are now “patrolling Britain’s shores”!

But it would appear that there is no smoke without fire as experts weren’t saying it was, but they weren’t saying it wasn’t either. After video footage emerged in July 2007, experts who commented on it, esteemed people such as the Natural History Museum’s Fish Curator Oliver Crimmen, and the Shark Trust’s Richard Pierce said that the animal in the video looked like a large shark and a Great White could not be ruled out.

So could this be the first of many following their traditional food source? For some years now, many species that are also the Great White Shark’s prey have been observed migrating farther north—possibly because the sea around the UK is getting warmer, therefore. Is it not inevitable that the Great Whites will follow in their wake?

But there is other compelling evidence that a Great White off our coast isn’t so far-fetched. When you think of the UK you don’t think of it as a haven for sharks, but it is thought that around 21 species of shark call the coastal waters of Britain home, although many are plankton eaters, such as the Basking Shark.

But bonafide killers do lurk on the list, such as the Blue Shark, which has been held responsible for? worldwide deaths. More disconcerting still is that our waters are also frequented by both the Porbeagle and Mako, both of which look like smaller versions of the Great White for a reason, they are both first cousins, and again are on the list known as man-eaters.

It may come as a further surprise then that the UK has already seen its first shark attacks, two, one in Poole in Dorset and the other in Cork in Scotland, both were non-lethal and they are, up until now the only recorded shark attacks in the UK since records began in 1847.

Of course when it comes to Great White Shark attacks we think of such shark hotspots as South Africa, Australia and California, and you’d be right, but the oceans number one predator has also preyed on mankind much closer to home, in a place frequented by many Brits, the Med. To the millions who use the beaches and the clear blue sea this may come as something of a shock, but it is a renowned breeding ground for them. Let the fictional Amity Island though the Med isn’t really going to want to actively promote such a fact.

We do, naturally, have to put all of this shark attack business in some kind of context and yes more people do die from snake bites and bee stings than they do shark attacks, that maybe but those words are scant consolation if you are the one staring down the snout of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) called the ‘perfect killing machine’.

In investigating over 70 claimed Jaws UK sightings and encounters the Shark Trust Chairman, Richard Peirce, has found less than 10% remain credible. In 2007 he was quoted as saying: “Whilst there is no reason why these animals should not be found in British waters there is no concrete evidence to support their presence…(but) if we can prove Great White Sharks are occasional vagrant visitors to UK waters then this may be nothing new, they could have been visiting here for tens of thousands of years.”

All of this makes that once 12 year old boy pleased but also fearful of the water, still this in no matter as ‘Jaws’ had already put pay to that many years ago. At present the line between fact and myth may be like that of the UK coastline, rather murky, but one thing that is for sure is that with rising sea temperatures and rapidly changing eco-systems it can only be a matter of time before the large dorsal fin of the Carcharodon carcharias breaks the water of the south coast of England.