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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Highlights and lowlights of 2013

Call me a stick in the mud, but generally I don't have much time or love for 'best of/worst of' lists. This time of year they seem to be everywhere, on TV, the web & in newspapers. It seems that wherever I turn someone somewhere is pontificating on their super duper top 10 of the year, as if I really care whether they put England's summer victory to retain the Ashes in the cricket or Andy Murray's win at Wimbledon at number 1 in their 'top 10 sporting moments. I may not be the Grinch that stole Christmas, but I may well be the grump who sniggered at the end of year nostalgia. As yet that fine title hasn't been made into a movie, I'm not sure why.

I don't know if it's because I find the process of defining orders of preference somewhat arbitrary and overly subjective or whether it's simply because I'm a notoriously indecisive type of guy who, for example, finds it almost impossible most mornings to choose between two breakfast options let alone sift through a whole year of movie likes and dislikes. (Btw, today after some deliberation I chose Corn Flakes over Rice Crispies). 

However, sometimes one has to do as one is told, I mean, requested. So when Andy, El Capitan of UKHORRORSCENE took time away from his swanning around London's most exclusive hotels in his quest to quaff as much free champagne and fine food as humanly possible to issue an ultimatum request for his minions writers to compile our personal end of year lists, what could I say? After my initial pleas of why, why, why??!! and general sulks went unanswered due to Andy's inaugural 'Around the UK in a taxi' feature, I decided I had two simple options. The first was to remain true to my principles, stand strong and refuse to to join the rest of the world soaking in an end of year bubble bath of nostalgia. After all, I'm a grown up adult type person with a job, house, car and other responsibilities. The second option was to simply do as I was told, after all, it's remotely possible that this could be fun.......we'll see.

So in the spirit things, here are my top 6 ( see, I can't even do a top 5 list properly) thingamajigs of the year of our Lord, 2013 (In no particular order).

1) Byzantium

Do you remember when the release of a new Vampire movie was something of an event to look forward to, to cherish? Of course I am talking about the pre-shiny spangled sparkling Twilight saga that for many of us has put more than one nail in the genre’s coffin..... if you would pardon a very bad pun. 

Since then, Zombies have become the new Vampires on TV and cinema, though the backlash against this particular genre can’t be too far way methinks. All of which makes rather interesting that the much vaunted Vampire movie Byzantium that was released in the final week of June. 

This turned out to be one of my favourite movies of the year and witnessed a triumphant return to Vampire form from Neil Jordan. In it Gemma Arterton (see the word ‘gorgeous’ in the dictionary, her name is next to it) and Saoirsi Ronan play two women who, not only have been trying to keep their blood sucking habits a secret from everyday society, they have also have been evading a rather nasty group of the fellow undead for most of the time since the 19th century. 

Eventually we find them in this film at a rather dilapidated seaside town in an effort to find safety. That is, until their secret is finally discovered….. 

While it may not have been the box office hit that it deserved to be, this was a genuinely gorgeous adaptation of the play by Moira buffing. Whilst Arterton is the personification of deliciousness herself it is Saoirsi Ronan who is quite simply excellent as the eternal teenager.

Simply sumptuous.

2) Behind The Cross (2012)
by Macabre Media

The first of two independent horror movies to make the list, BEHIND THE CROSS is a 38 minute long 2012 independent horror film from Finnish director Tomi Kerminen. I can safely say that it's like nothing I've seen for some time.

Essentially it is the story of Father Michael, who when we join him in the movie, is already well down the road on his personal journey into the depths of insanity. To say that he is having a crisis of faith would be something of an under-statement. It seems that a life that has been somewhat disturbed (courtesy of some horrifying flashback episodes to his childhood) has now manifested itself beyond simple spiritual breakdown and become the literal definition of atrocity and horror. Father Michael's monstrous acts of violence and murderous depravity mirror his continuing ability to still find a psychotic link to his faith in the hope that god will still absolve him from the terrible sins he is committing.

It isn't easy viewing, and nor should it be. Some people, even those well versed in the horror genre, will find the visual aspect of the movie brutality upsetting. Not only that, it isn't straight forward step by step story telling - oh no, it jumps cunningly from point to point in the story. Not only does this give us a sense of the insanity of the main protagonist, it also serves to install in the viewer a genuine sensation of not being in control of what we are allowing ourselves to see.

So we have themes in this movie of sex, torture, insanity and religion. So no one to upset there then? Still not offended? Well OK then, as we also have scenes of a priest masturbating in his car, masturbating also to a shop mannequin, or him urinating over his still sleeping gimp. Jolly good. What is truly interesting about this film is the connection between the murderous mind go a madman and the world of his religious life. The film is rich in the symbolism of his faith and how it interacts with the priest's descent into insanity - this truly is a voyage into the ocean depths of a madman.

3) BFI Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film 

Perhaps the most exciting announcement early in 2013 were the plans for BFI's most substantial project to date for the Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film four month-long event. The ambitious programme was to include the release of 150 titles and around 1,000 screenings across the UK from August 2013 to January 2014  - and every single one of them was to be Gothic related. Not only was the size of the programme seductively enticing, so was the range of the titles that were going to be made available. 

So apart from the expected and more established offerings going to be made such as the world premiere of the digital re-mastering of Night Of The Demon (1957) and iconic Gothic releases such as Hammer Horror’s Dracula (1958)starring a certain Christopher Lee - In addition there would be cinematic and DVD releases of rare and long forgotten Gothic related productions. Many of these releases were not only being re-mastered, but there would be some titles that would not have seen the light of day in some cases since their original showing in the cinema.

As part of the programme it was my genuine pleasure to be sent for review purposes the release of a number of rare and long-thought lost examples of British Gothic televisual splendour. Two long-unseen archive TV titles, both of which are guaranteed to scare and delight in equal measure were the 1970 Play for Today entry Robin Redbreast and the few surviving, terrifying episodes of 1972’s Dead of Night television series. In addition to those two offerings there was also a release of M R James’ Classic Ghost Stories (1986), narrated by Robert Powell, which includeThe MezzotintThe Ash-TreeWailing WellThe Rose Garden and O, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. 

It was a veritable Gothic feast - delicious.

4) World war Z

Just what is it about Brad Pitt that sees him loved and loathed in equal measures? Only yesterday I was reading my way through a list of comments and contributions to one of many online Sci-Fi & horror groups I’m part of, many of which were dealing with the much publicised Zombie flick World War Z. For anyone from another world (sic) reading the amount of bile and vitriol directed at Mr Pitt, they could be reasonably excused for assuming that the guy was responsible for walking the streets and thumping old Grannies in the face with his favourite gardening implement of choice. I mean, some of the comments were harsh – “Brad Pitt is going to be so F**king sh*t in this movie”....  “Brad Pitt should stick to being a pretty boy for Miss Jolie rather than mess with the Horror genre. I hope he dies”. A little harsh - and these were some of the more polite remarks. Suffice to say I doubt I shall not be frequenting that particular group again.

World War Z is a 2013 Zombie apocalyptic movie directed by Marc Forster and based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Max Brooks. The film’s main character is played by Brad Pitt who portrays a United Nations worker attempting to put an end to the Zombie pandemic that is sweeping around, and destroying the world. It was released on the 21st June to huge box office success and immediately galvanised opinion on its critical merits. 

I have to admit that I loved it- yes it may be overly mainstream and as I've already mentioned, Mr Pitt isn't every ones cup of Tea, but I found the movie experience a true joy.

5) Texas chainsaw Massacre 2 Bluray release.

This is included in my end of year favourites for one major reason.  When I went to see this movie on its initial release at the cinema way back in those heady days of 1986..... I didn't like it. No, I did’nt like it one little bit. I felt disappointed and almost cheated because it was so unlike the masterpiece that was its 1974 predecessor in both style and content. In fact that disappointment was so intense that  I have never watched it since. “So this isn’t exactly going to be a favourable review is it?”, I hear you say. Well don’t be so quick to judge, I’m always willing to give a movie a second chance – well, that is except for Gus Van Zant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho in 1998. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING will ever make me watch that pathetic pile of pointless remake nonsense again. So watching the digitally remastered preview disc sent by Arrow films earlier on 2013 was the very first time in 27 years that I have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I was fascinated to see if my attitude had changed in all that time. 

And do you know something? After finally seeing TCM2 again after all this time...... I loved it, I absolutely loved it.

I loved the morbid comedic stylisation and plot narrative that is quite clearly a product of its time with its explicit themes of 1980's politics, capitalism and greed. I love the incredible over the top performances by Dennis Hopper as Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright and Bill Moseley as Chop Top. Whilst Moseley is suitably excellent as he brings his entertaining repertoire of manic insanity to his role, it is essentially the often maligned Hopper who holds the movie together as he declares war against the insane Sawyers with a little chainsaw-play of his own. I say 'often maligned' because Hopper in his later career was never afraid to go into 'manic acting mode', there are many examples of this. However, we often forget that he was amongst a whole glut of 1960's wunderkind actors who radicalised the whole approach to their acting craft. I never realised it the first time around when watching this film, but Hopper's performance despite, or possibly because of the somewhat cheesy dialogue is simply mesmerising. He simply owns this movie, chewing up and stealing every scene he is in  - sometimes with just a delicious glint in his eye.

The mistake I and many others have made over the years is that we refused to accept that TCM2 should be treated as a movie in its own right and in no way should be compared to its predecessor. The bottom line is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and TCM2 are two entirely separate styles of film which was a purposeful intention from the director from the very start. I made the mistake the first time around of simply not enjoying TCM2 for what is really is - a funny, gory, slasher movie that's only real intention was to entertain - and it does that in spades. Is this the Citizen Kane of horror? No it isn't. Is this the Texas Chainsaw massacre of horror? No it isn't. What it is is 100 minutes of pure unadulterated joy.

6) 15-05-08

The second of the independent horror movies to make my list is 15-05-08, a 'found footage' short produced by Nottingham-based low budget horror company, Sick Bunny pictures, founded by brother duo Nikki and Jason Chatwin.

Considering that we are only witnessing just over 16 minutes of movie time, a huge amount of emotional experience is packed into it. At first, when the group of friends in a very normal suburban house on a very normal suburban road witness a light going on in what they thought was the empty house across the road, they treat it as a bit of fun. It's all giggles and bad taste jokes at first. 

However, before we the viewer have time to realise it, the tension is being raised as the mood subtly  changes, not only amongst the group of friends in the film, but also at the same time for the rest of us watching . We all begin experiencing the same rising unsettling feeling that something isn't right, until the suspense and tension has been raised to such a level before we witness the final few moments of, well, terror. The ending is simply excellent.

This is a fine movie experience. If you like your suspense built upon suspense until you're hit full in the face with the finest of brutal film climaxes - then this is nearly 17 minutes of just what you ( and I it seems) like.

So there you have it, my 'best of 2013', which was quite a bit of fun if I say so myself. Of course as soon as I click 'send' on this piece I will have thought of another dozen or so additions and substitutions to the list - bugger, I knew there was a reason I didn't do these list thingies........ I wonder if I can add a piece on The Hobbit movies? I bloody loved them! Maybe another time.

Naturally there have been a number of duds this year, as in every year there has been some good horror and Sci-Fi as well as some bad - and some of it has been very very bad. I must either not be feeling well or the festive spirit is well and truly taking me over, but I won't spend too much time dwelling on the bad. That is except for two examples of film making that annoyed me more than any rational person should have be been annoyed. 

Yes, the makers of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D and Carrie, I'm talking about you, and you should all hang your collective heads in shame. In the case of the former, taking a seminal character such as Leatherface and turning him into some sort of sympathetic hero completely contradicts any element of characterisation that was in the 1974 original. In addition, having the resident movie scream Queen become his accomplice and help bump off the population may have sounded like a clever little reversal of the usual plot device. However in reality it made no logical sense and only sent out a whole minefield of mixed moral messages.

As for the remake of Carrie - for crying out loud, just read the source material for once guys and actually pay attention to little things such as authentic characterisation. Things like, oh I don't know, having a very pretty actress play a character who is actually supposed to by plain, overweight and pimply. MTV horror is just not my bag.

See you all on the other side in 2014 folks!

This piece also features in UKHorrorScene - check out the website if you like your horror.


  1. I feel I have to partly disagree and partly agree with your comments. Having seen War Z on the large screen I found it very weak and at times the links were very tenuous. It made huge assumptions about the plot and the ability of the role Mr Pitt was playing. As someone who tends to find his more recent work enjoyable I was disappointed on this occasion. Now when it comes to Byzantium I have to agree with your comments, and as for Gemma Arterton, definitely on a par with Mrs Pitt.

    1. Thank you for the comments Mr Agnew, we'll agree to disagree on that matter (though there are many that would agree with you). As for the delicious Miss Arterton, well I'm sure that she's thrilled that two middle -aged men are discussing the positive merits of her qualities :-)

  2. Thanks for the heads-up on 15-05-08. Missed it entirely until I found your blog from Google+. Completely agree with what you say, independent UK cinema is getting a real buzz around it these days.

    1. Thanks Steve - yeah, the benefit of modern technology and social networking means that there's some really exciting material being produced by a whole range of filmmakers. Both the Horror & sci-fi genres are experiencing something of a renaissance.