Mr Vampire

Chin Siu-Ho and Lam Ching-Yin

The first in a successful franchise and cornerstone of an entire genre – jiangshi – 1985’s Mr Vampire is a highly entertaining and madly inventive movie, particularly if you like high-level buffoonery and vampires who hop. It wasn’t the first jiangshi movie. That honour probably goes to Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind in 1980, the film that shifted Hong Kong vampires decisively away from the Nosferatu-like template and towards a more culturally Chinese vision of the undead. In jiangshi movies the vampires tend to come dressed in traditional changshan clothing. They are restless spirits or dead people whose burial has not been carried out according to the correct rituals. Drinking blood isn’t … Read more

The Holdovers

Mr Hunham teaching

It’s easy to see The Holdovers as Alexander Payne’s riposte to all the moaning that Martin Scorsese and a few other members of the old guard were doing not so long ago about the predominance of superhero movies and how, you know, they don’t make ’em like they used to etc etc. Payne has gone out and made one like they used to, a film set in 1971 attempting to look like a film from 1971 (right down to the “copyright MCMLXXI” buried in the credits) – grainy, human-focused, often ensemble works like American Graffiti or The Godfather or the entire oeuvre of John Cassavetes. The action is set at a fancy school … Read more

The Opening of Misty Beethoven

Misty Beethoven looks and learns

The openings are both figurative and literal in The Opening of Misty Beethoven, the pornified Pygmalion that’s a key movie from the so-called Golden Age of Porn. The real Pygmalion, you’ll recall (and My Fair Lady, the musical version) is about two la-di-dah gentlemen betting on whether they can get a Cockney flower girl to pass as a duchess. Here Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza Dolittle are replaced by Dr Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis), his occasional lover Geraldine Rich (Jacqueline Bedaunt) and Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), a low-rent sex worker whom Dr Love picks up in a grindhouse cinema masturbating a guy dressed as Napoleon. In a plot following Pygmalion’s major beats, … Read more


Suzume cries out

Makoto Shinkai is one of the “other guys” of Japanese animation – he’s not Hayao Miyazaki, in other words – and if it does nothing else, his movie Suzume demonstrates the vast amount of influence the director of Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away still wields in that country, even though he officially retired ten years ago (only to resurface unexpectedly this year with The Boy and the Heron). Featuring a detail-rich story with a strong fantastical element and a resourceful young female protagonist who has somehow become separated from her parents, Suzume has many of the trappings of a Miyazaki movie. There’s even the outsize interest … Read more

Baby Face

Lily with conquest Courtland Trenholm

A key “pre-Code” movie, Baby Face is one of a handful of 1930s movies said to have accelerated Hollywood’s movie studios into the era of self-censorship – the government was threatening to step in if they didn’t act. It was a key movie for Barbara Stanwyck too, and helped her cement a reputation for playing tough, driven women. Here she’s a young unfortunate fighting her way up in the world by putting it about – that’s the sort of stuff the Code set out to stop – using and abusing men as she goes. Starting at the front door of a bank building in New York, she works her way literally and figuratively … Read more


Eo chews on a carrot necklace

The Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski’s heyday was about 50 years, in the 1970s, a fact that make EO all the more remarkable. Here Skolimowski is, in his mid 80s, knocking it out of the park with a film that’s warm and tender, dramatically intense and also put together with a master’s touch. The even more remarkable thing is that at one point Skolimowski turned his back on film. For 17 years Skolimowski he was content to spend his time in his LA home painting. There were odd appearances in front of the camera – you might remember him interrogating Black Widow in The Avengers – but no cinema product bearing his name. But … Read more

The Day of the Beast

José María, Cavan and Father Berriartúa

A Christmas movie for Satanists, The Day of the Beast (El Día de la Bestia) is one of the key movies of a very 1990s style of grindhouse film-making. It’s the gonzo wild ride in which pump-action shotguns and breasty women compete for screen space with demons and SWAT teams, while rock music and satanic ritual drive the soundtrack. This genre is probably best exemplified by Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, from 1996. But Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia got there first in 1995, and he got there best. This is a very funny movie, probably at its best in early scenes introducing its hero, Father Ángel Berriartúa, a Catholic priest … Read more

The Burial

Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx sitting on some stairs

A movie called The Burial that buries its main story – it sounds like some kind of meta-joke. But it isn’t. Whether the strategy works is the real question though. The story was first told in the New Yorker and relayed what happened to a real-life Mississippi guy called O’Keefe whose struggling funeral-home business was offered a buyout in the mid-1990s by the Loewen company, a megacorp specialising in burials and, more importantly (it turns out), burial insurance. O’Keefe and Loewen agreed a deal in principle but then the trail went cold. Eventually, convinced that Loewen were sitting on their hands until he went bust, so it could buy him out for cents … Read more

It’s a Wonderful Knife

Jane Widdop as Winnie

A squeezing of yet more blood from a very well squeezed stone, It’s a Wonderful Knife takes the 1980s/90s slasher movie and gives it a multiverse tweak by way of that 1946 Christmas classic starring James Stewart. The slasher movie and the Christmas movie often have similar starting points – peace and goodwill to all men – before disruption rears its head. Director Tyler MacIntyre and writer Michael Kennedy situate us right in a familiar, cosy world of snow, warm winter clothing and a white-picket small town preparing for Christmas then deliver a twist we can see coming, followed by another one we won’t see coming if the reference in the title to It’s … Read more

Orders to Kill

Paul Massie as Gene Summers

A spy movie written by people who’d been actual on-the-ground spies, Orders to Kill is a gripping thriller with an unusual focus on psychology rather than action. It’s set during wartime, in occupied France, where a member of the Resistance is suspected of selling agents down the river to the Nazis. Back in Boston, a war hero’s mother, played by silent movie legend Lilian Gish in scenes that could all be removed, is waiting for her son to return for some R&R. But her son is still in England, where he has been seconded at the last minute to go to France and assassinate the double agent. Paul Massie plays young, naive Gene … Read more