Thursday 31 July 2008

Horror That Made Me #2

It might be inevitable that, as I reach the Top 2 in AiP’s countdown of the “Horror That Made Me”, the movies in question get pretty famous indeed. And, in terms of the amount already written about them online, in books or anywhere, perhaps none are more famous than...

Halloween (1978)

Simply put, the influence of John Carpenter’s masterpiece cannot be escaped. Halloween was released the year I was born – 1978 – and, truth be told, I like to think of it lingering there in the background the whole of my life, just out of focus like The Shape itself. In fact, I came to Halloween relatively late in my horror education, around the age of 15, following years of late-night Hammer horror and 50s sci-fi in black-and-white. Until then, I’d thought horror had to revolve around a giant radioactive insect, a vampire or anything flashy and supernatural. I’d shown little interest in Halloween... After all, what could be so scary about some guy in a mask?

What’s perfect about Halloween, then, is that it’s built on the kind of safe and distant horror you love (and I loved) as a child. Just look at the films that play on TV in the background throughout: The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet... They couldn’t happen on your street. But then a new horror arrives in the Shape of Michael Myers. And nothing is safe anymore.

My strongest memory of that first viewing of Halloween is its slow but transfixing build-up, haunted by the presence of Myers just out of shot on the street corners of Haddonfield as the young trick-or-treaters gear up for a night of fun. The scene that scared me the most is when our heroine, Laurie, finds herself trapped in a closet as Michael Myers batters at its flimsy door. “She’s dead!” I thought. “There’s no way out of this!” (Of course, there is – and it’s an eye-poking doozy.)

Then, when it was all finally over, I switched off the TV in my bedroom and heard my mum and dad coming upstairs. Turns out, they’d caught the last twenty minutes and couldn’t tear themselves away before coming to bed, despite their general lack of enthusiasm for all things horror. I knew then that Halloween was something special.

Lesson learned: The scariest monster is a man with a knife.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Horror That Made Me #3

Call me a cheat but I’m including two films at number 3 in the countdown of “Horror That Made Me” titles. And it’s not like they’re even properly related – like, say, The Star Wars Trilogy or The Godfather and The Godfather Part II would be. Nope, the only connection between these two is that both were released in 1975, went on to become drive-in classics, and burrowed into my young psyche like the creepy crawly creatures they concern. In fact, the pair became practically indistinguishable to my mind as depictions of true insectoid* terror. The movies?

Bug & The Giant Spider Invasion

[*And, yes, I know spiders aren’t insects... but are they insectoid? I’ll leave you to ponder that one as you read the rest of this post, shall I?]

Bug is the better-made of the two films, coming from famed horror producer William Castle and future Jaws 2 director Jeannot Szwarc (currently enjoying a successful career in TV). Its peculiar genius is that it imagines a world where cockroaches are not just disgusting but also burst into flames at will, thereby toasting you on the spot as well as making you go “eww!”. In Bug, you’ll witness the vicious firebugs crawling down someone’s ear hole (hissssss!), hiding in someone’s wig (kaboom!) and scuttling up a car exhaust pipe (kablammy!). And, if you’re seven years old, I doubt any of this is really very good for you.

In retrospect, The Giant Spider Invasion is just plain silly, famously featuring as it does a giant spider that’s actually a VW Beatle covered in fur and with eight wooden “legs” attached, but that didn’t stop me from watching in awe-struck horror when I caught in on TV twenty-something years ago. Even when I re-watched it a few years ago, I have to admit there was a certain jolt at the first sight of the largest spider as it crawls over the roof of a house. And Stephen King is right when he points out in Danse Macabre that the film contains some classic gross-out moments (one of which acts as a warning to anyone carelessly not checking the contents of their blender for spidery invaders before switching it on to make an otherwise delicious smoothie).

So, Bug and The Giant Spider Invasion, I’m afraid I can’t choose between you as to which scared – and indeed scarred – me the most as a young ’un. But count me out for the protein shakes, thanks very much... There’s just a little too much protein in there, if you know what I mean.

Lesson learned: Spiders are not insects.

Saturday 26 July 2008

What does it all meme?

Tag! You’re it... Or rather I’m it – at least for the rest of this post – because AiP has been tagged to take part in The 12 Movies Meme by Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre.

Inspired by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s recently announced programme for the New Beverly Cinema, Piper is asking other bloggers to imagine their own ideal twelve-night movie stint, preferably with some sort of thread uniting the whole thing.

Now, I’m addicted to making music mixtapes (in fact, don’t even get me started on that or I’ll end up sending you one) but I’ve never tried to do a movie mix before. So let’s see what happens, shall we? (Please note: AiP cannot accept responsibility for any minds blown by its challenging selections.)


Things kick off with two people kicking off: Michael Douglas because he’s just not going to take it anymore in the rather brilliant and starting-to-be-forgotten Falling Down; and Margaux Hemingway in the already-forgotten but still genuinely startling 70s rape-revenge thriller Lipstick.


We’re staying with the 70s influence for The Last of Sheila, an ensemble masterpiece combining mind-bending mystery with camp nastiness par excellence. Then Taboo brings the subgenre up-to-date by forcing a cast of Hollywood teens into the formula, despite the fact they’re barely old enough to drink, never mind have anything to be blackmailed about. Somehow it all still works, however.


Change of pace! Two films from the Far East conjure up an atmosphere of melancholy and loneliness mid-programme: the must-see fantasies 3-Iron and Spirited Away will whisk the viewer into completely new worlds.


The fantasy-vs.-reality theme continues with 1944’s The Curse of the Cat People, a mesmerizing non-sequel to Cat People, which also paves the way for Bridge to Terabithia, another, even more devastating film about the power of fantasy.


Let’s lighten the mood – but darken the tone – with the underrated and stylish nineties remake of A Kiss Before Dying, wherein Sean Young (in her best role) investigates the murder of her twin sister. And then there’s more snooping around in the only real horror film of the season, Lucio Fulci’s hypnotic Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.


Finally, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil – surely the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made – provides a stunning climax to a fortnight of films you really should see, while Woody Allen’s sly, Welles-informed Manhattan Murder Mystery lets you slink off into the night with a smile on your face.

Wait! What? I have to tag five more bloggers to complete the challenge? OK then:
Adolfo of Killed By Dreck
Pax Romano of Billy Loves Stu
Nayana of The Center Seat
Foywonder of B-Ware the Blog


Monday 21 July 2008

Horror That Made Me #4

Methinks it’s time to draw the strands of “Horror That Made Me” back together in order to finish the series off properly...

Now, if you’ve been regularly playing Brain Trainer® on your Nintendo DS – thus keeping your memory sharp and reducing the risk of aneurysm – you may remember I’ve been counting down the ten most influential movie experiences on my horror-loving psyche. If, however, your brain has rotted away due to an unhealthy lack of video games, here’s a little reminder of the films I’ve picked so far (sponsored by Nintendo DS):

10. Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense: Child’s Play
9. The Private Eyes
8. Phenomena
7. The Spiral Staircase
6. Fright Night
5. The Devil Rides Out

That’s right; there’s been Hammer Horror, 1940s melodrama, TV movies, Italian horror and a heavy 80s bias, all of which brings me to the most recent entry in my countdown: John Carpenter’s criminally underrated...

In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Quite simply, I don’t think there’s ever been a more successful post-modern horror film than this well-kept secret. In the Mouth of Madness is a film about reality giving way to fiction, creating in turn a new reality (or lack of!) – which, if you think about it, is how films themselves work, taking you out of your own reality into something unreal, which then affects your subsequent reality.

It’s the story of John Trent (played by a better-than-usually-cast Sam Neill), an insurance investigator probing the disappearance of famous horror writer Sutter Cane... Is it a publicity stunt for the author’s new novel or something more sinister? I’d put my money on “sinister” if I were you because, before In the Mouth of Madness is over, you’ll have seen all manner of monsters, violent acts, rips in the fabric of reality and, basically, the end of the world as we know it – all culminating in a shocker of an ending that’s easy to dismiss as a jokey punchline but which actually gets more and more disturbing the more you think about it.

The movie’s Lovecraft influence is obvious but it’s ultimately a John Carpenter story through-and-through, rounding out his self-proclaimed “Apocalypse trilogy” (begun with The Thing and Prince of Darkness) in fitting and spectacular fashion. I can’t think of another narrative that falls apart so violently whilst also remaining so satisfying and clever. In fact, to this date, I rarely start to watch a horror film without a small part of me wishing that somehow, somehow it’ll go as far as In the Mouth of Madness does... and wondering what it would do to me if it went further.

Lesson learned: Horror goes mad and takes you with it.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Shark Swarm

I knew it was coming... You knew it was coming... The three-hour, killer-sharks TV movie event we’ve all been waiting for... Finally, Shark Swarm swam into my possession recently after months of anticipation on my part, and so I wasted no time in Frisbee-throwing it into the DVD player (I’m quite talented in that respect) and getting my sharky groove on.

Yep, I’ve no idea whether or not it actually aired on the Hallmark Channel, for which it was apparently made, but Shark Swarm is definitely out there on DVD in all its John Schneider/Daryl Hannah glory – although not in the UK, unless you visit a car boot sale Amazon Marketplace. But is it any good? Does it live up to those feverishly high expectations? Of course it fucking does! It’s got killer-fucking-sharks in it! (And Elisa Donovan – who knew?!)

First of all, I’ll make no apologies for the plot of Shark Swarm, which is undeniably the single most generic effort you could ever ever ever imagine. In fact, I’m sure the James Van Der Beek/giant squid movie Eye of the Beast, which I also saw recently, had the same story. There’s toxic waste in the water; fish are dying; fishermen are starving; sharks are mutating; Daryl Hannah’s making another comeback bid; a millionaire tycoon is buying up all the town’s property for nefarious reasons; shark attacks are on the rise... and yet those town officials just won’t close the beaches. Won’t they ever learn? Shark attacks = people dying = sequels = more shark attacks. It’s a vicious circle, with a vicious killer shark at the centre of it. Grrr!

But Shark Swarm’s strength is that it makes all this entertaining. I can honestly say I never got bored once during the three-hour running time, which is more than I can say for all the Shark Attack movie clones that generally clock in around 85 minutes. How do they stretch Shark Swarm to three hours? Well, not with anything new, that’s for sure. Instead, they simply chuck in at least two of everything: John Schneider has a brother and a daughter who both have matching romantic subplots (not with each other – eww!). There’s also two villains: the millionaire (played by a mincing Armand Assante) and his equally despicable thug. Heck, even Schneider’s elderly mother has a subplot, culminating in an outrageous scene where the swarming sharks attack a mass baptism ceremony in the bay.

Which brings us to the body count, which I read somewhere is in excess of forty (I lost count), mainly comprising random scuba divers, who keep showing up, keep getting eaten, and keep going unnoticed. (Seriously, I don’t think anyone’s mysterious disappearance/grisly death makes the news in this town, despite the fact that they have a local radio station constantly playing in the background.) The attacks themselves aren’t bad, either. Of course, this being a TV movie, they’re mainly of the red-dye-in-the-water-and-little-else variety but there’s some effective chomping achieved with a not-bad mixture of CGI and plastic shark-heads. I also found that, while the shots of CGI sharks racing each other around aren’t particularly menacing, the shots involving sharks emerging from the shadows to drag people away are quite creepy. But that might just be me.

Ultimately, Shark Swarm is leagues above Spring Break Shark Attack and just about any other similar movie (and there are plenty) you’d care to mention. AiP says chow down!

Rating: 4/5

Baby just got back

Aren’t homeless people lucky? They never have to move house, which, as surveys will tell you, is the most stressful of all life’s experiences, beating out bereavement, bankruptcy, sawing off your own leg in a basement dungeon, and homelessness. Believe me, I’ve tried all four and, you know, they weren’t all that bad in comparison. (Although, in retrospect, it wasn’t the best of days, I must admit.)

Anyway, yes, dear hangers-on-my-every-word, my recent relocation was the reason behind AiP’s extended vacation. But now I’m back. From outer space. And that sad look upon your face will surely disappear when I tell you I’ve got a review of Shark Swarm in the toxic waste-leaking underwater pipeline, as well as the rest of the long-awaited Top 5 in my “Horror That Made Me” strand (note to self: remember rest of Top 5)... not to mention an All-New Feature! revisiting the TV movie-inspired thriller stories I wrote as a teenager. Yes, another pointless series, even though I haven’t even finished “Horror That Made Me” yet! I know... just call me crazy. Now... time for a sandwich.