Panic Button

Scarlett Alice Johnson in Panic Button

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

2 May

 

Maiden flight of the world’s first passenger jet, 1952

On this day in 1952, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet was introduced into service by BOAC airlines. It was the world’s first commercial jet and its clean lines, big square windows, relatively quiet cabin and comfortable interior meant it looked like it was going to be a success. However, things did not start auspiciously for the plane. Several Comets had to abort take-off as they were taxiing down the runway. Over the next year, three in-air catastrophes occurred, with planes falling apart in mid-air. It was discovered that the square windows were at least partly to blame – metal fatigued easier at the corners. The high cabin pressure, speed of the plane and use of new construction materials were undoubtedly contributory factors too. The Comet was taken out of service and redesigned. Once back in service, flights on the Comet were around 50 per cent faster than by old piston-powered airplanes, and the jets could also climb faster. This reduced the journey time on the London to Tokyo route from 86 hours and 35 minutes to 36 hours. In its new form it continued flying, in one form or another, for the next 60 years, though Boeing’s bigger, faster 707, which had learnt from the pioneering Comet’s mistakes, stole much of the Comet’s early glory.

 

 

 

Panic Button (2011, dir: Chris Crow)

Not to be confused with a film of the same name from a couple of years later, or the Jodie Foster Panic Room, Panic Button is a British high-concept thriller set entirely on board a plane. A “bottle movie”, in other words. And it looks cheap, from the off, it must be said. No matter, it’s a slow-burning affair about four tweety/texty modern people who have just met, all of them winners of some competition run by a social networking site. Their prize is a trip in a plane to a mystery destination, where they will receive a gift, again not specified. Give this film about 20 minutes to warm up – the actors look like they’re feeling their way into their parts, and the “edited on my laptop” looks take a while to adjust to as well. Because once Panic Button gets going, it really gets going. The hint as to what it’s all about comes very early on – social media – with the “winners” of the competition becoming increasingly aware that whoever is running this “competition” knows a lot more about them than they thought. What’s more, that knowledge is used against them as they’re forced to make gruesome, agonising choices between the people who are with them on the plane and their friends on Facebook (though that name is never used, Mr Zuckerberg’s operation seems to be what the film’s quartet of writers has in mind). It is often said that for a horror story to work properly there needs to be some basic anxiety that it is addressing (Is the babysitter going to murder the kids? Will a man attack me while I’m in the shower?). Panic Button is ingenious because it’s about some anxiety that perhaps we should have, but probably don’t. How much is too much sharing of personal knowledge on the internet? Are we overdoing it? Could someone really do something very nasty with it? And I don’t mean hack into your bank account. If Panic Button ultimately loses its cool in its final reveal, offering us an explanation for everything which is pretty much unnecessary, it’s been a tight and pleasurably nasty film until then.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A very simple and effective thriller
  • Scarlett Alice Johnson – of EastEnders fame – in the cast
  • An attractive working through of a “trolley problem” exercise in ethics
  • Mark Rutherford’s moody soundtrack

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Panic Button – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Chemical Wedding

Simon Callow as a professor possessed by the spirit of Aleister Crowley

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

8 April

 

Aleister Crowley transcribes Chapter 1 of The Book of the Law, 1904

On this day in 1904, the British-born occultist Aleister Crowley was contacted by Aiwass, the messenger of the Egyptian god Horus, or so he claimed. Independently wealthy and the rebellious son of strict evangelical christians, the 32-year-old Crowley was in Egypt, having arrived there after an extensive world tour – he had already visited Mexico, Hawaii, San Francisco, Japan, Hong Kong, Ceylon, India and Paris. And en route he had climbed mountains (including the first attempt on K2), written a play based on Wagner’s Tannhäuser, written several books of poems, studied raja yoga and become a fixture on the Paris art scene, hanging out with the likes of Auguste Rodin and Somerset Maugham. So, a polymath. Or maybe just a dilettante. He had arrived in Cairo with his new wife, Rose, where they claimed to be a prince and princess and took apartments that suited their story. It was Rose who led him to Aiwass, claiming that the old Egyptian deities were waiting to make contact with him. Crowley wrote down everything the messenger told him and it became The Book of the Law, the foundational work of a new religion, Thelema, whose prophet was Crowley himself. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” was its dictum, and it chimed entirely both with the attitude of bohemian self-expression and of esoteric spirituality which were then asserting themselves.

 

 

 

Chemical Wedding (2008, dir: Julian Doyle)

Now then, what do we have here? A film about Aleister Crowley directed by a man, Julian Doyle, who once made a promo vid for metal rockers Iron Maiden. Doyle co-writes with Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the selfsame outfit. And if you are now expecting a heavy metal nightmare, that is exactly what you get – shit, piss, cum and blood all featuring heavily in this fantastic pantomime examination of the occultist’s life. John Shrapnel, over-acting madly, plays Crowley, and a fabulously ripe Simon Callow plays the professor who accidentally conjures the spirit back onto the earthly plane, only for Crowley’s ghost to take up residence in the mild-mannered academic’s body, thanks to a bit of postmodern computer jiggery pokery. Enough plot already. The style is sub-Hammer – very florid, exquisitely terrible – and Doyle has virtually no control over his actors who, with the exception of Callow, are lousy. Callow is the reason to watch, as he puts on a booming one-man display of old school theatrical bombast. He’s fantastic, and coupled with a plot that is preposterousness itself, the entire effect is peculiarly bewitching. Dickinson and Doyle try to make a few serious points: about Einsteinian physics being the modern equivalent of alchemy. Schrödinger, the Uncertainty Principle, parallel universes and Stephen Hawking are all invoked too, more as window dressing than to prop up the plot. Did I mention the breasts? A film more in hock to the early 1970s than Crowley – required reading for any up-and-coming metaller back then – it does at least have a more enlightened attitude to nudity than you’d have got when Ozzy Osborne and his ilk were riding the pentagram. By which I mean that Callow takes his clothes off. Behold the belly of the beast!

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Add this to your list of cult nonsense
  • Another fabulous Simon Callow performance
  • How many heavy metallers can even write, never mind write a film?
  • Look out for Bruce Dickinson’s cameo

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Chemical Wedding aka Crowley – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Mulberry St

Mulberry Street zombie

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

27 March

 

Typhoid Mary quarantined, 1915

On this day in 1915, Mary Mallon was quarantined for the second and final time. A carrier of typhoid who remained healthy herself, Mallon’s career as an itinerant cook meant she was perfectly placed to spread the disease. As she moved from position to position after arriving in the US from Ireland, she spread typhoid at every kitchen she worked in. 49 people came down with typhoid; three died. She resolutely refused to give any samples to health researchers, claiming that since she was healthy herself, she couldn’t be spreading illness. She had been quarantined once before, after typhoid researcher George Soper had published a five-year study into Mary’s movements in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They eerily matched a map of typhoid outbreaks – of the eight families that had hired Mary, seven had contracted typhoid. After her first quarantine Mary had promised to give up cooking for a living. She became a laundress. But it didn’t pay well so she returned to cooking, changed her name to Mary Brown and kept moving to evade Soper’s sleuthing. After an outbreak at Sloane Hospital for women – 25 cases, two deaths – Mary was finally tracked down (she’d done a bunk) to Long Island, was arrested and was then put in quarantine, where she remained until her death 23 years later.

 

 

 

Mulberry Street (2006, dir: Jim Mickle)

Jim who? No, the director isn’t very well known. Nor is the cast (Nick Damici, Ron Brice, Kim Blair?). But don’t dismiss this unusually grungy zombie movie about a gang of life’s less fragrant people ganging together after a virus starts turning fellow Manhattan residents into ratlike shuffling monsters. Things to like in this film which also goes by the more explanatory name of Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street are precisely the fact that these people are not your usual gang of chesty girls, buff guys + obligatory stoner. Instead they’re the people you don’t usually see being monstered in films – the old, the strugglers, the feckless, the fringe-dwellers. And Mickle and co-writer Damici spend a deal of time establishing character, disaster movie-style – we meet the residents of the house in Mulberry Street on the eve of their eviction to make way for gentrification, while news reports of an odd virus bubble in the background – before sending in the zombie apocalypse, which our gang of doughty battlers do at least respond to in a way that seems credible: they’re shocked to their core. The basic plot is [Rec] (guys stuck in a house), the basic style is handheld mumblecore, though with a Christopher Doyle-style injection of neon into the garish, junky production design, thanks to cinematographer Ryan Samul’s excellent shoestring work. Though you could watch and make a list of obvious references – the chaotic 1970s street vibe of Mean Streets, a bit of Nosferatu, John Cassavetes realism, the Living Dead films of George Romero, [REC], as mentioned – the film has a flavour all its own, a more CCTV style, which is down to the fact that it’s shot on the tiniest of budgets ($60K has been mentioned), hence also the no-name cast, most of whom aren’t even actors. Which is entirely as it should be. There is no Ethan Hawke or other former prettyboy doing the saving. It’s a bunch of oldish, fattish, regular guys and gals barricaded inside their building and making it up as they go along. Cutting to the chase, this is a zombie thriller in hock to a visual style. But it’s a good visual style. And it’s a good, tight, claustrophobic shocker suggesting Mickle, Damici and Samul have a bright (or do I mean dark?) future ahead of them.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Ryan Samul’s expressive camerawork and lighting
  • The feature debut by Jim Mickle
  • The soundtrack suits the characters – Love, Lee Hazlewood
  • Gritty 1970s-style horror

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Mulberry Street – watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Don’t Look Now

Julie Christie in Don't Look Now

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

25 March

 

The founding of Venice, AD421

On this day in the year AD421, Venice was founded. Sited on 118 islands in a lagoon between the mouths of the rivers Po and Piave, Venice derives its name from the Veneti people who lived in the region in the 10th century BC, though the people who actually founded the city were more likely refugees fleeing the Germanic and Hun invaders who were flooding into Italy as the Roman empire fell apart. Today is traditionally taken as the day of the city’s founding because on this day in 421 the church of San Giacomo was dedicated. It still stands, though it was substantially rebuilt by order of the doge Marino Grimani after a fire destroyed much of the area.

 

 

 

Don’t Look Now (1973, dir: Nicolas Roeg)

It’s often remembered as the film in which Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie have sex for real for the camera, though that story smacks of brilliant PR rather than Perez Hilton-style tittle-tattle. But Don’t Look Now’s most talked about scene is important for another, more structural reason. It’s the way that in the editing of the scene the action keeps cutting between the present and the future. The story of John and Laura Baxter, a young married couple whose daughter has died in a drowning accident, Don’t Look Now has already shifted location from misty England to Venice where, as some sort of sublime joke, the Baxters are meant to be recovering from their loss in the world’s most watery city. He’s restoring a cathedral as part of his work; she’s quietly going nuts.
And it’s in the cutting that Roeg and editor Graeme Clifford signal Laura’s disintegration, the way they collage together images of the here and now with suggestions of what’s to come, or of this world of solid mass with an alternative world which is just out of reach. Enter two sisters, one of whom can “see” the Baxters’ dead daughter. Enter a priest, too worldly by half. Exit Laura, to sort out some problem back home. And here, after much suggestion and foreshadowing, the film goes into its most famous sequence, as the entirely rational John starts chasing around the spookily empty Venice after a hooded figure in a red coat just like the one his daughter was wearing the day she died. There’s nothing overtly “horror” about this film; it doesn’t do “boo” scares or feature mad axe-wielding psychopaths. It works on the senses in a different way, insidiously, by suggestion, the film built shot by shot like some baroque fugue – themes are stated, restated with embellishment, echoed, reversed, until (ta daa) we reach the final reveal. Plot junkies won’t like the ending. It’s too abrupt, seems like too sudden a change of direction. Yet as Laura glides away with the two mysterious sisters on boat across the water – allusion to Greek mythology surely deliberate – surely it’s the best ending possible for a film that’s been about the boundary between the solid and the ethereal.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Nicolas Roeg’s best film
  • Probably the most subtle gothic horror ever made
  • Perfect Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie
  • A masterclass in cinematography and editing

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Don’t Look Now – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Martyrs

Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui in Martyrs

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

28 February

 

 

Beginning of the Waco Siege, 1993

On this day in 1993, the Waco siege got underway. It started when the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) tried to raid the headquarters of the Branch Davidian sect, a breakaway of the Seventh Day Adventists. Housed in a compound east of Waco, Texas, after their numbers had grown, the Branch Davidians had originally been founded by Victor Houteff in 1929. They believed in imminent apocalypse. On Houteff’s death in 1955, leadership passed to Houteff’s widow. Florence predicted that the world would end in 1959. When this failed to happen she lost control of the Branch Davidians. Benjamin Roden took over, and when he died his wife Lois took over. She had decided against her own son, George, becoming the leader and fixed instead upon Vernon Howell. This led to a schism in the Davidians, which came to a head in 1988 when George challenged Howell to a corpse-resurrecting competition and Howell hit back by alerting the law to the fact that George was violating graves. After a gunfight and a courtcase, George killed a Davidian and ended up incarcerated, guilty but insane. Howell took over Branch Davidian HQ in Mount Carmel, changed his name to David Koresh “for publicity and business purposes” and set about recruiting followers who would accept his strictures – the men were to be celibate; the women were to have sex only with him. On 27 February 1993 the Waco Tribune-Herald started publishing articles alleging child abuse and rape at Mount Carmel. This prompted the raid by the ATF, who were keen to seize weapons they believed were held there. Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died in the ensuing gunfight. Which prompted the siege which lasted 51 days. At the end of which the FBI launched a tear gas attack. A fire started and burnt down the Mount Carmel centre, killing Koresh and 74 people, others having died from gunshot wounds, either self-inflicted or otherwise.

 

 

 

Martyrs (2008, dir: Pascal Laugier)

Martyrs opens with Lucie, a young girl recovering from some terrible ordeal that appears to have occurred in an abattoir. We’re not sure exactly what has happened, but we do know that it’s horrible. The film then cuts to 15 years later with a now grown-up Lucie and Anna, the friend she made in an orphanage, knocking on the front door of a nice suburban house, where they kill mum, dad and the two kids with a shotgun. “Do you know what your parents did?” Lucie asks the young boy just before she shoots him. “Are you sure it was them?” asks Anna. Seconds later the tables have been turned again and Anna is on her own. Minutes later Anna is in a cellar where she discovers something more horrific than a roomful of slayed children. We’re a scant handful of minutes in and we’ve seen a victim become an aggressor become a victim in tense, bewildering style. And that’s just the beginning of the grisly fun and games. The French weren’t that well known for horror when Martyrs came out – there was Switchblade Romance, Trouble Every Day and a handful of others – but Martyrs really set the bar, particularly for the torture porn genre, which is where Martyrs usually gets lumped. It’s more than that though. It has relationships – the abused girl and the intense bond she has formed with another abused girl she met at the orphanage. It has psychology – how much of what’s going on is prompted by actual fact and how much has Lucie imagined as a result of the terrible trauma we’ve caught a suggestion of at the beginning? Most of all it has religious excess. And it’s this last that gives Martyrs its wild grotesque edge, though it would be spoilerish to detail how religion drives the plot, though a mysterious Catholic cult that fetishises transfiguration through pain – and the film’s title – are a hint. No, the French may not do horror too often, but maybe that’s a good thing when something as appalling (and compelling) as Martyrs is the result. Frequently shot dark with directional lighting, shallow of focus, often in close-up, with a soundtrack of sighs and whispers, Martyrs prefers grotesque collage to straightforward storytelling. In terms of torture porn, it easily outdoes the Saw franchise, not least because there is some higher reason for the madness on display. And though watching a big solid brute of a man beat the shit out of a tiny girl isn’t my idea of fun, Martyrs at least isn’t pretending to be a horror film when it’s in fact a sex film or a comedy thinly disguised, as is so often the case with this genre. No, Martyrs really is a horror film.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A contender for the best horror film of the past 50 years
  • The soundtrack by Alex and Willie Cortés
  • Spot the different DPs – Stéphane Martin, Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky, Bruno Philip
  • A thoughtful accompanying behind-the-scenes documentary

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Martyrs – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Hell

Hannah Herzsprung, Hell

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

16 February

 

 

Kyoto Protocol comes into force, 2005

On this day in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol came into force. A United Nations treaty, its intention is to get industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, so as to stabilise the climate before it collapses. The theory runs that 150 years of heavy industrial activity has increased the amount of dangerous gases in the atmosphere and that only by restricting current and future emissions can humanity hope to arrest the trend in global mean temperature rise. The gases in question are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride, plus the two groups of gases, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. The target is, broadly speaking, to get emissions down below the level of the base year 1990. The treaty was never ratified by the USA. In 2011, Canada, Japan and Russia announced they would take on no further Kyoto targets. In the case of Canada, committed to getting emission to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, emissions were in fact 17% higher by 2009.

 

 

 

Hell (2011, dir: Tim Fehlbaum)

That’s “hell” as in the German word for bright, the light being the enemy in this apocalyptic drama set in a world cooking under an unforgiving sun. If the director’s name, Tim Fehlbaum, is unknown to you, then you probably will be more familiar with that of the executive producer. It’s Roland Emmerich. But this is a much more satisfying film than Emmerich’s eco-disaster movies, 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, largely because it gives full reign to the sort of millennial angst that the Germans do so well, the twilight of the Gods and all that. Of course it’s “hell” in the other sense too, and in the opening scenes, set inside a car that has had all its windows blocked out against the piercing, baking light, we are given a brilliantly impressionistic portrait of life under a cloudless sky. For the most part, Hell is something like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – society has collapsed, the highways are full of marauding gangs, altruism is scant. We quickly meet the car’s inhabitants – two women, one man. Then another man arrives and there’s a tussle to prove alpha male status, which the guy who looks most like Viggo Mortensen (it’s Stipe Erceg) obviously wins. And after that the film diverts onto another plot altogether, as the teenage female is abducted by a gang of scuzzes, who intend to rape her, eat her, or both. This digression breaks the spell brilliantly woven in the first section of the film and it takes a while to re-orient. But Hell is never less than accomplished, has an interesting non-Hollywood take on heroic individualism versus group activity and even, if you look at it hard enough, seems to be tackling the legacy of the Nazis even as it invokes the memory, here and there, of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Fehlbaum’s feature debut
  • Markus Föderer’s brilliant cinematography
  • A brooding sci-fi thriller
  • Hannah Herzsprung’s badass heroine

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Hell – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Witchfinder General

Vincent Price

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

30 January

 

 

Oliver Cromwell executed two years after death, 1661

On this day in 1661, Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed.

A member of parliament who had entered the civil war against the king, Cromwell had risen quickly to become on of the best generals on the side of the “roundheads”. In 1649, Cromwell was one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I. In 1653, having led campaigns against the Irish and Scots, he abolished a quarrelsome parliament and became de facto monarch of the country. When he died five years later, in 1658, the title of Lord Protector went to his son, though Cromwell Jr would hold it for only a year, leading to the end of the Protectorate.

In the power vacuum that ensued, George Monck, the English governor of Scotland, seized the initiative, marched on London, restored the parliamentary system that had been in existence under Charles I and set about organising the restoration of the monarchy.

On 30 January 1661, 12 years after Charles I had been executed, Cromwell’s body was dug up from Westminster Abbey and was subject to a ritual execution. His body was then hung on chains at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) and his head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall for the following 25 years.

Whether it actually was the body of Cromwell which was “executed” has always been moot.

 

 

 

Witchfinder General (1968, dir: Michael Reeves)

Set in an England where the fighting between Oliver Cromwell’s men and royalists has torn the social fabric, allowing opportunists of all sorts to make sport, this cult horror film comes at the real-life tale of witchfinder Matthew Hopkins from a typically 1960s direction – youth, sex and zoom lenses.

Ian Ogilvie is the callow member of Cromwell’s army, Vincent Price the witchfinder terrorising the people of Norfolk with his pointing finger, and Hilary Dwyer the soldier’s comely fiancée who catches the eye of the charlatan.

It’s a cult horror film for several reasons, not least the death shortly after it was made of its young director, 25-year-old Michael Reeves. And though Reeves is often over-rated by horror geeks he clearly had something about him. For example he managed to persuade Vincent Price to leave the full basket of fruit at home, wrangling a performance out of him that’s ripe rather than rotten (this wrangling is the subject of a brilliant and amusing BBC radio play by Matthew Broughton you can hear here).

Witchfinder General is the best of Reeves’s slim output of four films, a brutal and bleak treatise on terror that survives the poor acting and post-dubbed sound thanks to its psychological insight, measured treatment of its villain – Hopkins is a man led astray by power, not the devil – and an eye for a pastoral image.

It’s sometimes called The Conquering Worm in the USA, where it was sold as the latest in the line of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price. But though Poe wrote a poem called The Conquering Worm, and that title is tacked on the front of the DVD for its US release, this film has nothing to do with it. And unlike those Poe films, or almost any other horror film of the time, there is no supernatural element in Witchfinder General at all. As with The Wicker Man, with which it is sometimes lumped, the horror here is all man-made, psychological, political and very nasty.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Vincent Price playing it straight (ish)
  • A cult film from a cult director
  • Play “what would Reeves have produced if he hadn’t died”
  • British folk horror at its psychological best

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm – at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

 

 

 

Pontypool

Stephen McHattie in Pontypool

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

13 January

 

 

First public radio broadcast, 1910

On this day in 1910, the first public radio broadcast was … heard is probably the wrong word, since almost no one had a radio set and the quality of the 500-watt transmission was so bad. But the first public radio broadcast was made at any rate, from the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, where Enrico Caruso, then the most famous opera singer in the world, sang arias from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci along with Czech soprano Emmy Destin. Though both had belting voices, the microphones placed in the footlights were not really up to the job and it was only when off-stage microphones were sung into directly that the few hundred listeners in Newark, New Jersey, in various hotels in New York, and on board a ship moored in New York harbour, could hear anything significant. The transmission was masterminded by Lee De Forest, a remarkable inventor who in his long life (he died in 1961) would be granted more than 300 patents. De Forest was the first man to use the word “radio” for what he was doing, partly as a way of avoiding charges of patent infringement by Marconi and Stubblefield, who appeared, up to this point at least, to have the world of wireless (as they called it) telegraphy and telephony all sewn up.

 

 

 

Pontypool (2008, dir: Bruce McDonald)

Pontypool is a beautifully lo-fi piece of genre misdirection that opens at a tiny local radio station in a church basement where some disgraced former big-noise DJ is on his first day back at the microphone. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a grizzled hard drinker of the old school, all bass rumble and professionalism, who uses the word “folks” a bit too often. Once eased into the chair (both him and us) this simple Canadian film (yes, that Welsh place name is slightly misleading too), treats us to what looks like a muted character piece about someone coming to terms with their new, reduced, circumstances. But then things start going wrong. Just little things at first. Like the fact that the woman who comes in regularly to sing on the show just kind of gets stuck halfway through a line and can’t continue. There’s an apparition in the snow outside. People start phoning in with bewildering stories. And this is where the film gets interesting, as various genre mood boards are presented, held up for a second, then taken away again. What are we watching? Is this a siege movie? Should we expect zombies? Alien invasion? Or is this just a case of good old fashioned smalltown hysteria? I won’t say any more, except that Pontypool shows that all you need to make a film is a simple but pungent idea, that limitations of space (this is shot almost entirely in the radio studio) don’t matter if you use that space properly, and that sound can count more in a film than images, because they’re suggestive of a huge unseen world. It also really helps that in the shape of Grant Mazzy we have a man who is paid to keep talking, so whole acres of exposition can be laid out without the script ever appearing forced. And that tendency of DJs to just keep talking, regardless of whether they have anything to say, is exploited wickedly towards the end, in a joke that seriously redeems a film just when it was beginning to get a bit silly. A cult gripper.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Atmosphere
  • Nicely judged performances by husband and wife Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle
  • A “how to” of lo-fi film-making
  • An intelligent offbeat chiller

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Network – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Creep

Franka Potente, Creep

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

10 January

 

 

London Underground opens, 1863

On this day in 1863, the world’s first underground railway opened in London, UK. It was called the Metropolitan Railway and it ran between several significant mainline railway stations – Paddington, Euston and King’s Cross – before terminating at Farringdon in the City of London. It was built to deliver workers to the booming financial and commercial heart of the country and empire, and was necessary because London’s too-numerous railway termini were removed from its centre. When railways had first arrived in the capital, none of the mostly aristocratic owners of central London real estate would countenance a railway station on their land – hence London’s major railway stations’ siting in less salubrious parts of town, on the periphery of the action. The Metropolitan Railway, driven by steam, lit by gas and wooden of carriage, was an instant success and carried 38,000 passengers on its first day. Plans were immediately fast-tracked to connect up other railway stations in London with a grand circular line (of which the Metropolitan Railway would become part). Because of the extreme difficulty of getting anything built in London without approval of influential landowners, much of this original line was built under main roads, using a “cut and cover” technique (dig trench, drop in tunnel using precast sections, cover over). These days London Underground aka the Tube has 270 stations, 55% of which are in fact overground.

 

 

 

Creep (2004, dir: Christopher Smith)

Six years on from Run Lola Run and only two years after The Bourne Identity, Franka Potente is once again being pursued, in this cheap debut feature from writer/director Christopher Smith. Potente plays Kate, though the name isn’t important, since she’s one of very few people actually in this film, which is about a slightly up-herself model booker who, after dropping down into the bowels of London to catch a Tube home after a PR event, starts being pursued by an ungodly creature, something of a cross between Nosferatu, Hellraiser’s Pinhead, and Texas Chainsaw’s Leatherface. What follows is a chase movie set in tunnels, a showcase of techniques by Smith, who demonstrates sound knowledge of J-Horror and early torture porn and shows he’s seen more Hammer horror and giallo than is good for a man. I’m not going to pretend Creep is a great film; it isn’t. In fact some of the acting is way off, and from talent who are usually a lot better. But it is the debut of an extremely interesting horror director – if you’ve seen Smith’s superior “slasher in the woods” follow-up, Severance, or his extremely good multiverse thriller Triangle, then you’ll know this is a writer/director who is worth watching. And though I say this isn’t a great film, it is full of great moments. At the screening where I saw it, a woman next to me periodically started screamed and started jiggling her legs about as if someone had grabbed them. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, was chortling. The attractions of horror explained in a nutshell.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Debut of a great horror writer/director
  • Last “blink and miss him” performance by great British eccentric Ken Campbell
  • Ingeniously cheap
  • Old horror scares presented with a new twist

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Creep – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Wicker Man

The wicker man in The Wicker Man

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

21 December

 

 

The Southern Solstice

Today is the Southern solstice. If you are in the northern hemisphere, it marks the point at which the sun rises least above the horizon. If you are in the southern hemisphere, it is midsummer, longest day of the year. And correspondingly the shortest in the north. Towards the equator the effect is minimal, with day and night length tending to match each other the whole year through. But in London, where I am writing this, it means the sun will come up a handful of minutes after 8am and set just before 4pm. Tomorrow, the 22 December, the day will be one second longer than today. The day after, 8 seconds, the day after that, 14 seconds. By New Year’s Day there will be a whole extra minute of daylight. Though this being London doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee we’ll see it.

 

 

 

The Wicker Man (1973, dir: Robin Hardy)

So how about a film about the solstice? It stars Edward Woodward as prudish Christian police officer Sergeant Howie, arriving on a remote Scottish island to investigate a missing child. What he finds there shocks him to his core – a pagan community that has reverted to “the old ways”, a society in which women have a remarkable fondness for shedding their clothes, where festivals are celebrated by feasting, ritual, music and dance. Where death seems to be viewed more as an opportunity for rebirth rather than as the final curtain. As the copper blunders about, exploding with apoplexy every time he finds something his strict morality cannot compute, he is, unawares, being carefully groomed for an event which delivers one of the best knockout finales of any horror film ever. If you have seen The Wicker Man before and are slightly hesitant about watching it again, can I nudge you towards the most recent assemblage. Put together in 2013, it restores a lot of the material cut in order to turn the film into something more conventional, in an attempt to get a reluctant public to watch it in 1973. But which destroyed it. So there’s a lot more music and singing – and you can almost go along with director Robin Hardy’s assertion that the film is in fact a musical (almost). There is a lot more nudity and paganism. Most important of all, there are a lot more reaction shots from the locals, the cold stares that greet Sergeant Howie as he officiously goes about his business. It’s understandable why they were cut – there are so many of them – but these “fuck you” shots really add to the mood, to the sense of this man being an outsider, that the uniform means nothing if the people it’s meant to awe just aren’t awed. There is a good discussion about why this “final cut” isn’t definitive here on rogerebert.com, but for my money this is a much better film than the last go at it, about ten years ago. Now, almost back to the way Hardy intended it, the most infrequent of directors (three films in 40 years, one a sequel to The Wicker Man) gave it this seal of approval – “The film as I saw it in the editing suite the other day fulfills my vision of what it was intended to convey to the audience.” There is some wriggle room in that statement for an even more complete version, if missing footage ever shows up, but for the moment, this is it. As for Neil LaBute’s remake, starring Nicolas Cage, it’s a nice try, and the feminist angle is interesting, but it just doesn’t come close.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Passionate advocate of the film Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
  • Anthony Shaffer’s bullish on-the-nose script
  • This is the perfect role for Woodward – blinding fury a specialty
  • For “pagan” read “hippie” – the British view on the whole “letting it all hang out” thing

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut – at Amazon