Friday, November 20, 2015

Stephen King's It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990) - 25th Anniversary Retrospective - Part 2

Picking up where we left off on Wednesday, tonight we return to 1990 and the fictional New England town of Derry, for the concluding half of the TV movie adaptation of Stephen King's It, which again, was originally broadcast a whole 25 years ago today. 

Of the two halves, this is undoubtedly the more controversial among audiences, the consensus being that compared to the consistently strong first hour and a half, in night two, things started to go off the boil somewhat. While I can certainly understand why people have a problem with parts of this, and there are things which seem perhaps tonally at odds with what comes before, the more I watch it, the less these stick out and the more I appreciate what part two has to offer overall. In fact, I'm more and more of the opinion these days that compared to its preceding part, this is unfairly maligned and stronger than some folks give it credit for. Finally, concerning the elephant (read: giant spider) in the room, a bit of context r.e. the book and the behind the scenes of this adaptation arguably helps to take the edge off it, so to speak. Anyway, enough pre-ramble, let's dive in... oh, and like on Wednesday, I'm presuming anyone reading this has seen the film and is therefore familiar with the plot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stephen King's It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990) - 25th Anniversary Retrospective - Part 1

Originally aired by US network ABC 25 years ago tonight, the first part of this now classic (in my opinion) TV movie adaptation of Stephen King's epic 1986 novel introduced the world to an iconic and terrifying screen boogeyman who would scar a generation and thereby ruin clowns for everyone everywhere ever thereafter: Pennywise the clown, brilliantly and terrifyingly brought to life by the great Tim Curry. But of course there's so much more to this mini-series than Mr. Walking Nightmare Fuel. In fact, there's enough here that I felt it might be best to break this retrospective into two parts. We'll be looking at the second part on Friday (i.e. on its actual air-date) and exploring the first today. As opposed to running through the plot and the like though (I'm presuming anyone reading this has seen It), I'll be sharing both my own recollections of and history with this film, plus some of the behind the scenes info I learned by listening to the cast/director commentary on the DVD. And be warned, there will be spoilers... and clowns.

I can't remember now when this first aired over here exactly and hence when I would have been first exposed to it (early '90s sometime I imagine, when I would have been between 7 and 9) but what I can say with certainty is this... while I only caught parts (past my bedtime so was trying to watch it stealthily), what I did see most definitely left an impression. I mean to begin with, even the opening credits were creepy I thought. Kicked off with the above title hitting the screen, accompanied by a startling musical stinger that must have caused viewers everywhere to tighten their sphincters, this seemed to announce its intent from the very start, letting both parents and kids (who would later realise they should have known better) know that they were in for it. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980) - 35th Anniversary Retrospective

Like last week, this Saturday sees another Argento film celebrating its birthday. Released in Italy 35 years ago today, Inferno is one of the director's more challenging works and perhaps something of an acquired taste. I've always liked it myself but it's only in the last year or so that it's started to rival Phenomena (see previous post) as my favourite of Dario's. It's somewhat tougher to articulate what it is that's great about the former than the latter and it's also harder to recommend to a general audience. Nonetheless, I'll attempt to give the uninitiated (an apt word considering what the film concerns) a sense of what the movie is about and hopefully help them decide whether or not to make the descent into what is arguably the most mysterious and defiantly dreamlike film in Argento's canon.

As Inferno is so purely cinematic and seemingly almost anti-narrative, it's only necessary to very briefly sketch out the story. A follow up to the now classic Suspiria, this film is also essentially a fairy tale. But where its predecessor was intended (in Argento's words) as for children (how young I'm not sure, given some of its ultra-violent content), this time the target audience is an adult one. To me none of this really helps much in giving an idea as to what Inferno is about but it's a start. But what of the plot, I hear you ask! Thanks for the reminder, I'll attempt a synopsis of sorts...

The middle part of Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy (more on that later), the film follows a brother (Leigh McCloskey) and sister (Irene Miracle) attempting to unravel the mysteries surrounding said trinity and a sinister, downright strange New York apartment building inhabited by the latter. When she disappears, he flies over from Rome (where he's studying music) to investigate.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Back in Time - A 1985 Retrospective: Phenomena (Dario Argento)

Originally released in Italy a whole 30 years ago today, Phenomena is generally seen as one of Dario Argento's last great movies (his next film, Opera, being sometimes described as the beginning of the end). It doesn't seem to be as highly regarded as now canonical works such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria (and by extension, the more underrated Inferno) and Tenebre, where Argento was seen to be at the height of his powers. But for me personally, this film still feels very much like a director at his creative peak. Admittedly I am biased as this is my favourite Argento movie but I think it's with good reason, as I'll attempt to illustrate. 

Before we continue, I should also say to anyone who hasn't taken the plunge into this director's work or the wider weird and wonderful world of Italian horror cinema that this is arguably an ideal place to start... in fact, and as I heard someone suggest recently, probably more so than the more lauded Suspiria, which can be a hard sell for some people. And assuming not everyone reading this has seen Phenomena, I'll try my best not to spoil some of the wonderful surprises contained within...

Set in Switzerland, the film opens with a young girl (played by Dario's eldest daughter Fiore) left stranded by a country road, after missing her bus. As she walks off to find assistance, a jaw dropping crane shot begins, the camera climbing over tall trees as the credits roll. As it passes over the tops we see the girl heading towards an isolated house. The accompanying music, beautiful but icy and eerie, imbues the whole landscape with a sense of mystery and potential menace. When she reaches the house, this suggestion practically becomes a promise as we see chains attached to a wall being pulled violently, threatening to come loose. 

Needless to say (and this being the opening, it's not a spoiler), things don't end well for poor Vera Brandt. But about this introductory sequence I'll say no more as you really need to see it for yourself. For me, it's as audacious and spectacular an opening as any of Argento's best and gives a clear indication of the wild ride the viewer is in for.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Year New Year, New York New York - New Year's Eve Double Feature: Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989) & Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990)


Instead of going out and running the gauntlet of drunken masses this New Year's Eve, I elected to stay at home this year... again. But it was with good reason I think as I spent the last hour of the night (and the wee ones of the following morning) engrossed in the double feature I'll be talking about today. Both movies are firm favourites but one in particular was one of the formative genre films while I was growing up and is largely responsible (for better or worse) for the film nut I am today. And which movie is that you ask? It's my favourite to watch on New Year's Eve and the last film I saw during 2014... Ghostbusters II...

While I'll be the first to concede it isn't quite on the level of its predecessor, I've always had a huge amount of love for this sequel, it being the first film I ever saw in a theatre, back when I was 5 years old. I remember having an absolute blast with it, even if it did give me a recurring nightmare concerning the Vigo painting. And the bit where he shoots streams of psychic energy (or whatever it is) into Peter MacNicol's eyes made me jump out of my frickin' skin!

All nostalgia aside, I think there's a case to be made for this being underrated, even 25 years after its release. Admittedly it pretty much follows the exact same plot points as the first film but nonetheless I find it to be as entertaining and engaging as the original. In fact, I'm hard pressed to say which one I prefer personally... but as I've implied earlier, I am hugely biased by my own history with these two.