Freejack (1992)

Freejack

This review of Freejack contains spoilers.

Mostly forgotten now, Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II)’s 1992 SF-action turkey Freejack got some attention back on its release for starring the one and only Mick Jagger. And as a twelve year old at the time the film was getting premiered on Sky’s movie channels, I was certainly interested in it because I thought the ads looked good, plus anything futuristic was always going to fascinate me after having been bowled over by Back to the Future Part II on the big screen a few years earlier. Unfortunately (or so I thought), those movie channels were out of our price range so I forgot about Freejack until it was premiered on BBC1 a few years later.

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By then I had become more aware that the film was meant to be… how can I put it… a bit shit, so I geared myself up for a bumpy ride of some sorts. I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s awful, but from the moment Jagger’s bounty hunter/’bonejacker’ Victor Vacendak lifts up the future-visor on his head and says, in that unmistakable camp London accent of his, ‘Okay… let’s do it! I knew I was going to love this film.

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I had the foresight to tape Freejack at the time and made a point of rewatching it over and over again. Well, the good bits anyway. Bits of this film are really dull. But the good bits (and by that I mean the really bad bits) were pure comedy gold.

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Based on Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (more on that later), Freejack is set in a future where advancements in technology have made it possible for a mind to be transplanted into another human body. Meanwhile in present-day 1992,  hot shot racing driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is apparently killed mid-race when his car explodes in front of his adoring fans, his adoring girlfriend Julie (Rene Russo) and his adoring agent (David Johansen from the New York Dolls!). However, he’s not really dead because he re-materialises in the year 2009, surrounded by baddies in bacofoil who are ready to lobotomise him with a freaky laser. Luckily, Furlong escapes into a dystopia where people are either living at the top in sleek, plush surroundings or at the bottom where the only things to eat are rats or soup that’s so tasty that people are willing to kill you if you spill it all over them.

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Furlong realises that he’s now a ‘freejack’, a fugitive wanted for his BODY by a mystery party. Everyone he turns to for help either betrays him or slams the door in his face, except for a gun-toting nun, aka Mother Exposition, played by Amanda Plummer a few years before she threatened to execute every motherfuckin’ person in the Big Kahuna burger joint in Pulp Fiction. It turns out there’s a thing called the Spiritual Switchboard, which is a kind of cloud where human minds can be uploaded and then downloaded into a different body. Furlong’s body appears to be hot property because it comes from a time before something called the Ten Year Depression and isn’t contaminated with all the toxins, poisons and mutations that today’s underclass have been exposed to. Ah, but why doesn’t Furlong’s mystery party just take his pick of a body from 2009’s non-toxic cultural elite?

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Nope, it’s got to be Furlong, and the one who wants him is none other than Anthony Hopkins, who I forgot to mention in this review so far because he didn’t make much impression on the plot up until now. I’m sure he made an impression on viewers at the time – this was the first film he’d made after his award-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs. This was not the first instance of an actor starring in a total turkey immediately after their Oscar win, and it wouldn’t be the last. It turns out his character in this – the mysterious and recently deceased tycoon McCandless who owns everything in the future and therefore was always untrustworthy – has fallen in love with Julie and of course the only way to win over someone who’s already attached is to possess the body of her boyfriend!

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The ending was clearly this was meant to be the Ultimate Trip, the kind that would leave Kubrick whimpering. Forget 2001, this was 2009, baby! This is where Furlong and Julie enter the Spiritual Switchboard, past loads of pixels, squares, time lapse skies and altering environments, culminating in a confrontation with McCandless, who seems to be able to smoke cigars in this virtual world – how does that work? – and who also suspiciously appears to have regretted his rash decision to try and nab Furlong’s body, offering to give everything to him, his riches, his job as an apology … but we know it’s all lies and stalling, as Vacendak shows up and Furlong still ends up undergoing the old switcheroo in a sequence of, and let’s be generous, rather funny special effects that includes a trippy flashback nightmare that, like all bad dream/hallucination sequences, features not one but two random bits of people laughing wickedly.

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Weasely deputy villain Michelette (Jonathan Banks), who doesn’t want McCandless in any form to survive as that would prevent him from inheriting the company, destroys the transfer device and we’re all left wondering which mind is currently occupying the disoriented body of Furlong. Michelette has the right idea – if whoever this guy is can correctly identify McCandless’ personal security clearance number then he’s obviously the real deal. The thing is, he actually can! It must be McCandless, god damned McCandless! Michelette shakes his head in despair, laughs to himself and attempts to go out in a blaze of glory before being instantly gunned down by Vacendak.

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So Furlong’s dead, right? No. He was just guessing the security number and Vacendak went along with it because, let’s face it, nobody likes Michelette. Furlong’s a bit of a twat about it though, not telling Julie what’s happened until we the viewer also got to find out, which was a bit mean of him, stringing her along like that for what must have felt like a long few minutes. So, Furlong assures Julie that everything’s going to be alright and off they drive. In fact, his specific final line is ‘Come on, buckle up, let’s see what this baby can do!’ which is a line almost as cheesy as the one in this clip:

Haul Ass to Lollapalooza!

Cue anthemic metal from whistle-friendly favourites the Scorpions and roll those credits. Terrible ending. Saying that ‘Hit Between the Eyes’ is a fun song. I remember hearing the guitar squeals over that old Sky ad for the movie and I remember thinking this film was going to be ace.

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So, what we have here is a film that was probably the last attempt to make Emilio Estevez an action star, but he’s just not well served by the direction or the script. Also, he just doesn’t convey enough of the overwhelmed mind-scramble of what it would be like to be in a new time. Even though the Estevez smirk is almost as good a thing as the Bruce Willis smirk, he’s just too cocky here for us to really care too much. We also have future Breaking Bad legend Jonathan Banks in the role of Michelette, and compared to the dry, been-there-done-that persona of Mike Ehrmentraut, his character here is entertainingly obnoxious, stressed-out and seemingly despised by everybody. The scene where Jagger crushes a Faberge egg and chucks it over to him whilst calling him an asshole is one of the funniest in the film. Banks and Hopkins get the play-it-straight-but-chew-the-scenery-at-the-same-time thing beautifully, which can’t be said for Estevez and Russo. There’s little to no chemistry between the two, which makes their potentially thrilling, 16-year overdue catch-up a little flat. To be fair, the tragedy of their extended separation isn’t helped by the bit just as Furlong ‘dies’ when the camera rapidly zooms into Julie’s face – it’s hilarious. I think even Warners/Morgan Creek realised it was funny as early as 1993, because Brad Pitt’s waster character in True Romance is watching that exact same moment on the telly.

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But never mind that.

Let’s talk about Mick Jagger.

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Now I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. I love their sixties stuff, I love their seventies stuff and I even like some of their eighties stuff. And I love Mick Jagger. What a frontman. I mean, there’s precious few like him. Yet there’s always been something kind of hilarious about him too. It’s that preening, camp, lip-smacking sense of mischief, right there even from the start. Like David Bowie, Nicolas Roeg found something intrinsically cinematic about him and both of them enjoyed their best big-screen performances under his wing. However, unlike Bowie, Jagger didn’t really have much of a film career afterwards. I’m not saying Bowie was a screen legend, but he also had The Hunger, Labyrinth and The Prestige among others under his belt, whereas Jagger had few other roles of note. There was Ned Kelly, and then there was Freejack.

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I love Jagger in this film – he can’t really act but he does his individual thing and he does it very entertainingly. As I’ve already mentioned, his very first line is a classic of camp delivery, but pretty much everything he says here has this kind of delightful amusement to it. How the hell do nothing lines like ‘power it up’ and ‘he’s good’, both uttered by him in the opening race sequence, end up being so gigglesome? It’s all in the execution. His best extended sequence outside of the Faberge bit is the chase scene involving the ugliest and reddest tank in history. Furlong has escaped in a car/champagne crate and Vacendak and crew are in hot pursuit. Using some kind of bluetooth connection to tap into Furlong’s car, he starts pestering his quarry throughout the car chase, and even though Furlong tries to hang up on him (leading Vacendak to hilariously exclaim ‘Oh no! I hate the dark!’) he just won’t go away. He laughs like a madman, delivers lines like ‘you can’t get rid of me that easily!’ ‘I want him without a scccraaatch!’ and ‘the brake pedal’s the one on the right’ and of course ‘DON’T DO IT!!!!’ with the kind of relish someone who actually gets paid a lot of money to say this stuff does.

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So what about the book that Freejack was based on? I wasn’t expecting Robert Sheckley’s 1958 Immortality, Inc. to be so entertaining, but it really is a proper tear-through ride of a novel that is crammed with ideas and twists. Okay, the female characters get short shrift, but for the most part it’s great. To be honest, to adapt it faithfully might have made for a pretty crammed feature-length film, but compromises could nevertheless have been made and we could have got a striking, spectacular SF experience.

When you come down to it, Freejack is mostly a lot of chases, fights and shoot outs, only really going into overdrive (some would say for the worse) for its finale. Immortality, Inc. has a lot more fun delving into the future world that Thomas Blaine (not Alex Furlong) has found himself in. At first his arrival into the future is exploited as a publicity gimmick for the Rex Corporation (there’s no McCandless here) who want to show him off as the world’s first person to be snatched from the past and put in a new body, but is soon forgotten by the media and even his own captors once the novelty’s worn off. Instead of being a target for capture, Blaine is more or less stranded in the future in a new body and with no way to make a living… I don’t want to spoil the rest of the novel as it’s a revelation for those only aware of Freejack, but if you do get round to reading it you’ll be dazzled by how much stuff there is here. Then you think about all that could have been accomplished in adapting this novel and you see what was actually made and released in 1992 and it beggars belief. Freejack essentially adapts a tiny portion of the story – the concept of an old mind occupying a younger body and the presence of the Spiritual Switchboard – and scraps the rest. I mean, there were suicide booths in the novel! Why would you not put something like that in the film? There’s merely a small electronic billboard for ‘suicide assistance’ that you can just about make out in a couple of shots. At least Futurama recognised a great (if fucked-up) SF idea when it saw one. It’s frankly insulting to see what they’ve done to the novel. If there are better examples of just how dumb the worst of Hollywood can be in adapting other mediums, then please let me know.

Of course, there was nothing in Immortality, Inc. that was as funny as the shot below, so both have their own individual merits, I suppose.

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PS: Amazingly, one of the co-writers is Dan Gilroy, who would end up directing the terrific Nightcrawler!

PSS: Some of the main characters have alliterative names, like Victor Vacendak and Mark Michelette. Those that don’t are nonetheless played by actors with alliterative names, like Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo. The only exception is Anthony Hopkins as Ian McCandless, but given he had just won an Oscar, I suppose he could get away with it.

PSSS: two non-Jagger highlights from the tank chase scene to mention – the music by Trevor Jones here is really enjoyable, great chase music. And secondly, yes that is a sample of James Brown screaming as a pedestrian jumps out of the way. There’s a few of these in this film, but it wasn’t the first action romp to feature a Brown sample. Raw Deal did it too, spectacularly. Hit me!

PSSSS: Here’s a shot of David Johansen, simply because there hasn’t been one yet in this review.

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Samurai Cop (1991)

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Please note that none of the imagery in the above poster for Samurai Cop actually takes place in the film itself.

An astoundingly inept action thriller that’s become quite the cult favourite for how jaw-droppingly awful it is. From the sub-Streets of Rage title music onwards, there is absolutely nothing in this film that is intentionally worthwhile. Join our two McBain wannabes Joe and Frank as they take on the killer from Maniac Cop and his endless parade of disposable henchmen! Prepare your flabber to be well and truly gasted at the horrors to follow!!

Where to start?

  • Well, the dialogue appears to have been recorded with the cheapest mics available. When they do actually manage to pick up the actors’ voices, it’s usually muffled and hissy – I think there was some fluff on the mic.
  • The shooting script must have got mixed up in the post – various scenes appear to jump back and forth throughout the daytime, making it look as though the sun in this film’s world goes up and down like a fucking yo-yo.
  • The editing is horrendous – after watching this you realise that most films do indeed get the fundamentals right to the point where you sort of forget you’re watching a film. In Samurai Cop the rhythm is totally off – shots begin too early or too late, the music stops and starts intermittently and the whole thing feels like a hastily put together rough cut. The most notorious example is when the police chief gives our two ‘heroes’ a load of shit and then sits back down in his chair, after which the camera keeps rolling and the actor just starts laughing.
  • In addition to the above, the fight scenes are incompetently staged – none of the actors appear to be properly interacting with each other. Their reaction time to impending danger is so off that it’s no wonder they keep getting killed. Death throes are sometimes accompanied with unconvincing splats of blood (in one case, paintball has clearly contributed to a character’s death) but more often than not with no squibs or gore whatsoever, so all we see is a lot of writhing around with no apparent physical trauma.
  • There are three ‘love’ scenes that are some of the most inert and unerotic ever staged for a film. We’re talking fast-forward fodder that’s on the level of The Room here, people.
  • The acting is hopelessly stilted and off-key. The director seems to be insisting that when not speaking, his actors must be posing awkwardly, either by leaning on banisters or perching one of their legs on steps or chairs to try and look casual.
  • The dialogue is very poor – the intentionally comic scenes (the camp restaurant waiter, the nods to the fact that Frank is black, the ‘would you like to fuck me?’ bit) feel very awkward, while the overheated confrontation scenes are hilariously stilted. The best example of this is Joe’s threat to the criminals at the dinner table.
  • The plot is complete bobbins – plot holes, illogical behaviour, unrealistic physical attraction between characters… it’s all here. My favourite is when Frank protests to Joe about the killing of the big bad guy (‘stop it, you’re a cop!’) even though the both of them have murdered at least a thousand criminals over the last 90 minutes. Bit late to develop a conscience there, mate.
  • This film features the most passionless, bored delivery of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song in cinema history.

Of course, I really enjoyed this film for the most part – there are plenty of dull bits but there are also loads of moments to laugh yourself silly to. Whether its Joe and Frank’s mild irritation at running over a bad guy with their car (‘oh, man!’, indeed), Matt Hannon’s occasional (and obvious) dependence on a wig (he had to come back for additional filming after he’d slashed his locks) or the little mad touches (why do the bad guys have a Defender arcade cabinet in their flat?) – it’s a proper chuckle. It’s also one of the worst films ever made.

Oh, and by the way, here’s some choice dialogue snippets:

LAWYER: ‘I’ll see you in court!’
POLICE CHIEF: ‘You motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell!’

and:

JOE to FRANK: [on discovering a mid-level bad guy smooching naked with his girlfriend] ‘Looks like this is his last FUCK!’

MULLETED VILLAIN: ‘I want his head on this piano!’
MANIAC COP: ‘I will bring you his head, and I will place it on this piano.’

Game Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System)

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Back in the early 1990’s, Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog was a top-speed sensation – gorgeous, dazzling, kinetic… it was a sheer thrill to play. All of a sudden, Super Mario Bros. seemed very old hat. I know, I know, we were wrong – the plumber would ultimately win the war, but who can be blamed for falling for the blue one’s thrills back then? Besides, time has been exceptionally kind to both sides. I’ve played Sonic recently and it really still is a joy – slick, sleek and super-smooth, full of inventive levels, eye-popping graphics, wonderful music and thrillingly fast gameplay.

Oh, did I mention that I’ve been referring to the Mega Drive (MD) version? That’s what most people think of when they think of Sonic.

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In comparison, the version of Sonic the Hedgehog that was released for the Sega Master System (MS) was a different kettle of fish (or should I say bag of hedgehogs?). For one thing, it was a lot more sedate. Because the MS was half as powerful as the MD, it couldn’t hope to emulate its big brother’s speed and complexity. Stuff like the beloved loop-de-loops, the wild and wacky bonus stages and the torrent of rings that were released whenever you sat on a spike were nowhere to be found on the MS. Therefore, instead of weakly porting the MD, the developers of MS Sonic decided to create its own game entirely.

I suppose you could say that things felt a lot less quintessentially Sonic on the MS, but it was still a wonderful game, a really great platformer and, although no game-changer like the MD, a smaller, cosier experience that was very charming indeed. The only real criticism you could have against it were that it simply wasn’t as good as the MD. For those of us who couldn’t afford Mega Drives however, it was a game we took to our hearts, and anyway, regardless of which of the two consoles you had, by the time Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was due to come out, hedgehog hype was at fever pitch. No one was disappointed when the big release date came. Critics praised both versions to the skies – obviously the MD version was the one that got all the attention. Why? Well it was just like the first one but faster, harder, better, stronger… and it had Tails!

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We all loved Tails back then, the little two-tailed fox. On top of all of this, you had two-player split screen! This was very, very cool back  in 1992, even if the picture looked stupidly squashed and the slowdown was a pain in the arse. For the most part, the game was a total success. Come to think of it, apart from a few neat extras and those crazy halfpipe bonus stages, Sonic 2 was essentially more of the same of Sonic, but with bells on. Nothing wrong with that, everybody agreed.

Compare all of that to the MS version of Sonic 2, which, like the first MS game, seemed so small next to the MD. It belatedly delivered the loop-de-loops, but loop-de-loops were so last year. This year it was all about the spindash, where Sonic could attain instant super-speed just by pressing down and one of the main buttons. It was a novel addition to the MD Sonic 2 that made it even faster than its predecessor. Lucky Mega Drive owners, eh?

Oh well, at least there was Tails to look forward to in the MS version. Right?

Right?

I mean, he’s on the front cover of the game!

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Eeek. Sorry, no Tails. How embarrassing.

No two-player either. Instead, the MS plot circled around rescuing Tails from the clutches of Dr. Robotnik – we see the moustachioed bastard flying off with the poor fox in the pre-title sequence. Oddly, each zone’s title card featured an image of Sonic within the level with Tails in tow, even though at no point in the game can you actually play the latter. To be honest, I didn’t care about not being able to play Tails. The Mega Drive seemed so out of reach that there was no point getting worked up over it. I had a Master System with its own Sonic 2, so let’s play!

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To summarise, we get six zones (seven if you get all the coveted Chaos Emeralds), each with three acts. You know the score – collect the rings, don’t get killed, reach the end, etc. If you get hit, you lose the rings. If you get hit again without any rings, you’re dead. There are no rings in the third act, so be extra careful. Chaos Emeralds, like in the first MS Sonic, were not to be won during special stages but to be discovered somewhere in the zones themselves. In fact, special stages were absent entirely from this sequel.

I’ll be making the odd reference here to the Game Gear (GG) version of Sonic 2, which was almost the same as the MS, except for some differences in execution which made it a lot trickier to master.

Zone 1: Underground

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A Sonic game that didn’t begin in a pleasant, greeny/emeraldy, hilly environment? Now there’s a reason to love this game right from the off. However, despite the urgency of the main theme and the abundance of spikes, this is still an accessible, easy first zone. The mine cart is a novel touch, although you don’t actually get to control its speed, so you’re pretty much a captive passenger. Just make sure you jump off at the right time. The build up to the final boss is illogical – Sonic flies downwards towards lava/certain death, only for Robotnik to ‘rescue’ him so that he can be placed in the firing line of one of the easiest bosses in gaming history – a crab/ant that can’t move and some bouncing balls that are hurled in your direction but are so easily avoidable that they only wind up hitting the boss. Of course, this boss is only a cinch if you’re playing the MS version. The GG version is another story entirely. More on that later.

Zone 2: Sky High

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A bit more serene, this one. The first act is a total doddle, aside from a few blind jumps near the start. One the plus side there’s plenty of rings later on to make up for that life you probably just lost. We get another novel mode of transportation – the hang glider – but this has proved to be a controversial addition to the Sonic canon, mainly because it’s so difficult to control. Once you get the hang of it (chortle, chortle), it’s pretty simple, if far from the ethereal, joyous experience it could have been. Simply keep tapping the left pad and you’re sorted.

Act 2, with its dark, rain-swept skies and colourful platforms, is even better looking, but don’t bother with the glider. The Chaos Emerald is one of the trickiest to obtain – it’s all a matter of recognising which clouds amongst the sky are actually spring-loaded. If you do insist on using the glider, whatever you do, don’t use it on the lower section of the level later on, a route which unfortunately appears to be the only one available at first. Try higher up and test some of those clouds out instead. The boss is a lot more challenging and satisfying than the first one – to begin with we get two sets of four little robot birdies (don’t get complacent, it’s easy to get killed here) and then you drop to a lower level where a big robot mother bird who shoots out fireballs and has four little eggs that periodically hatch out more robo-chicks. Kill the eggs first, then the mother.

Zone 3: Aqua Lake

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A very nice looking level, full of nice cool blues and greens, and notable for finally getting the loop-de-loops from the MD onto the MS for the first time, as well as a delightful new bit where you can skip over the water like a stone. The almost entirely underwater second act is substantially different from the first – with its darker palette (green on the MS, blue on the GG) and trickier level design it’s more like the Labyrinth Zone from the first game. The meanest bits are when you must survive inside a bubble and float upwards past darting spears and pouncing monsters without bursting. If you do, it’s all the way back down to the bottom. In the GG version this can prove particularly tough. There are also a couple of mazes which send you hurtling towards the exit with seemingly no control over Sonic – however, if you keep the D-pad held down in advance, you can take your own route, which is handy given that the third Chaos Emerald is hidden somewhere in the second one. I The final boss is ridiculously easy – a seal blows up a bubble and all you have to do is sit on its face every time!

Zone 4: Green Hills

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Graphically, this is a significant improvement from its equivalent on the first MS Sonic -check out those colours! Rumour has it that this was going to be the first zone, which would account for how easy the first two acts are. I don’t think I’ve ever played a pair of Sonic levels with more available rings and extra lives. However, if it was at any point tipped to be the first zone, it was probably the realisation of how extremely tricky the last act was that finally got it moved to later on in the game. Seriously, this level is utterly notorious amongst gamers for just how unfair it is, although much of that reputation is down to the GG version. Saying that, the MS take is no slouch – to put it nicely, there are quite a few blind jumps, so all those lives you stocked up on in the first two acts will be needed to trial-and-error your way to the end. The boss – a bull that turns into a killer ball and comes at you in a manner of different ways – is pretty tough and will keep you on your toes. Incidentally, the music in this zone became retrospectively famous in Sonic quarters for being an instrumental rehearsal for what would be ‘Toot Toot Sonic Warrior/You Can Do Anything’, the opening song from Mega CD game Sonic CD.

Zone 5: Gimmick Mt.

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There’s plenty of variety in Sonic 2’s zones, and this keeps the freshness going – here we’re in an industrial world that with a steely, purple look. The mine carts are back, but we’ve got something new in the form of some oversized spinning CDs that you leap on to and gather enough momentum from to propel yourself up to higher platforms. Mastering this is a little awkward to handle at first, but once you’ve worked it out you’ll be on a roll. Or should I say spin? This zone is pretty unique in that it features an act which may be the only one where you finish the zone by passing the checkpoint from the right instead of the left. Seriously, it’ll make you question your reality, Inception-style. The boss is a metal bull that rams the side of the screen so hard it knocks itself out for a moment or two – this is when you bounce on the bastard, but be quick, because soon enough it’ll produce spikes on its back sharp enough to kill you. Oh, and the reverberations from his knock-out will cause part of the ceiling to fall down. Avoid that too. PS: This zone features the introduction of these little bombs-on-legs blighters which are a pain in the arse, more so in the next zone..

Zone 6: Scrambled Egg

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This is only the final zone if you haven’t collected all five Chaos Emeralds. I love the look of this one. It’s set in what looks like a cave range in outer space, with glittering coloured lights. Okay, let’s get the worst thing out of the way – those little bombs on legs are a bloody nuisance. You have to get close enough for it to set itself off, but then you have to rapidly jump back to the preceding platform to avoid its blast. And that doesn’t always work out so well. There’s also the return of the mazes from Aqua Lake, except this time they’re pipes, and some trial-and-error is to be expected to make sure you don’t end up on spikes. Of all the zones, this is the one that’ll keep you on your toes the most. The boss is Sonic’s evil robot twin, but unlike the absolutely vicious version that’s on the MD, this one shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Be careful though, because he does love to zoom directly towards you. Once you kill him, you’ll only get the sixth Chaos Emerald if you’ve already got the first five.

If not, you move straight on to the credits, which features Sonic running and running and running past pretty fields as the sun goes down, stopping at the end to look up and see Tails’ face in the clouds, a vision that many have taken to be proof that our foxy friend has been murdered by Robotnik and that this is him up in Heaven. Nice theory, but it doesn’t match up with the good ending, where the credits feature both Sonic and Tails running past the fields and looking up to see both of their faces up in the clouds. They can’t both be dead if they’re both still on Earth, or wherever the hell Sonic is set, right? I always took the bad ending to mean that Tails is still out there, waiting to be rescued. Come on, he’s not dead. Blimey. As for the good ending, and the sight of both of them up in the clouds? Well, it’s just a nice image, isn’t it? At no point did I ever think Tails had been killed. Not until all these YouTube conspiracy theories.

Zone 7: Crystal Egg

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The genuine final zone of Sonic 2 has an adorable, cutesy look that’s actually quite disconcerting given that it’s the final world and the odds are that the final boss will be worse than anything we’ve ever encountered. We’re talking the calm before the storm here, people. Even the music is sweet and cuddly. All I can think is that something is very, very wrong here. The level reminds me a little of Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back – all this peace and tranquillity but treachery is just around the corner, you know? The levels are pretty easy – the CDs from Gimmick Mt make a return, although they’re a lot smaller here. If the earlier versions were regular CDs, then these are like those little 3” CD singles that were available for a little while in the nineties. Actually, scratch that, they’re the equivalent of Nintendo Gamecube discs. After two very pleasant and pastel-coloured levels, the final boss indeed turns out to be an absolute beast. We’re now in a dark world mostly occupied by a single room bordered by a pipe that you’re best off staying inside while Robotnik does his thing (shooting out little electric gremlins, releasing little electric patterns that shoot out more electric patterns, creating electrical storms). Just stay inside the pipes until it’s all clear, shoot yourself out of the pipe and into the arena long enough to smash Robotnik once before you scarper back into the pipe. I think you have to do this twelve times before you defeat him. It’s definitely the tensest part of the game, and tough stuff. It’s a doddle compared to the monstrous Mega-Robotnik from the Mega Drive version though. Once this is done, Robotnik scarpers and vanishes inside some telepod, the bugger. However, in his place we get Tails! I’m happy, you’re happy, but Sonic just looks confused…

As far as I was aware, everybody loved Sonic 2 – the Mega Drive fans were sorted and the Master System fans were satisfied. It wasn’t until I started reading these retro reviews about how much of an unfair git the 8-bit version was that I began to realise there was a whole other school of thought out there that really didn’t like the game at all. Of course that was when I realised that most of the criticisms were being levelled at the Game Gear version. I hadn’t realised the MS and GG versions, for all their similarities, were very different in execution.

Unfortunately, the MS version never got a wider release outside of Europe – for example, in the US the console was pretty much dead, so the only way the Americans got to play Sonic 2 was on the GG. Obviously, the hand-held GG screen is smaller than the MS’s, but instead of literally shrinking the picture to get everything onscreen, the GG version cropped the image, which turned out to be a very unpopular move. It also made the camera jerk queasily in the wrong direction if you happened to feel like sliding the breaks on Sonic’s feet and backtracked. That’s right, it’s the old-school gaming equivalent of shaky-cam in action films. Oh, and you thought the occasional blind jump was unfair in the Master System version? You ain’t seen shit, mate. The GG is so much more brutal. You have to be so much more on the ball here, although having played it directly after completing the MS version did make things a lot easier for me as a lot of the level design was fresh in my memory.

The Underground Zone boss is probably the best comparison – on the MS it is almost hilariously easy. You barely have to move. Just stay where you are, and jump when that ball comes towards you. On the GG the hill is much steeper and the balls are coming at you at different speeds – it’s not impossible, but it’s so much more intense and tricky. However, I’ve seen comments online where people have admitted to not even being able to get past this first boss and have given up on the game entirely.

Later problems that arise from the cropped screen include the bubble sections in Aqua Lake Act 2, where you have an extremely small-to-nonexistent window of time to react to those spears and gremlins. This proves to be particularly bad the higher up you are – if you do get hit, you fall down to the bottom with no way to alter your trajectory, which means if you do end up in the path of a spear or a gremlin, you’re screwed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The final act of Green Hills, which was already a challenge on the MS, becomes an absolute nightmare. Even if you do clear the bulk of it, there’s always the odds that after all that trial-and-error, the final boss will only end up killing you, a much more likely result given the GG’s cramped screen and lack of room to manoeuvre. The final boss in Crystal Egg really suffers too, given that any part of the room (which comfortably took up the space of the whole screen on the MS) is made to constantly be shunted off-screen as you move through the bordering pipe – what a joke! In addition to these problems was the lack of checkpoints throughout the levels which in any other Sonic game would have let you re-start a level from a certain part. In this game, death meant going all the way back to the start. You still couldn’t gather more than a couple of rings after being hit either. For Sonic 2 haters, this was salt in the wound.

However, when I was young, I never found Sonic 2 that difficult, and that’s because I had the MS. It was a challenge, for sure, but wasn’t it meant to be? I think it took me about four months to complete. That felt about right, and I wasn’t playing it non-stop or anything like that either. I was only eleven at the time, and as such I had gaming rations forced upon me by my mum. There were tricky bits for sure – the hang glider/clouds situation in Sky High Act 2, all of Green Hills Act 3, the boss in Gimmick Mountain Zone 3, the treachery of the platform/spike/pipe combo in Scrambled Egg Act 2 and of course, the Crystal Egg final boss.

However, the absolute pinnacle of mind-bending frustration was in trying to find the Chaos Emerald hidden somewhere in Gimmick Mt.– my God, that took me forever! The happiness I felt on finding that red bastard after so many attempts can’t be encapsulated in mere words. I just can’t do it.

Seriously, this game dominated my life for those first few months back in 1993. Good thing too, because video games back then were almost as expensive as they are now – Sonic 2 cost a whopping £29.99! This meant that games weren’t frivolously purchased. The whole used-game market was yet to really take off, so (and this is something I realised when writing about the Game Boy a few years back) even though us fans loved our games and our consoles, there were usually large portions of the catalogue that were never played, because we just didn’t have the titles.

Therefore Sonic 2 wasn’t just any old game to me – for a while it was THE game. Getting it on a Christmas Day added to the appeal. No school to worry about, just me and my game. This was also the year I got Batman Returns on VHS (I was under ‘15’ at the time, but ssshh) so I was as happy as a fox with two tails. I was eleven at the time, and my interest in video games was really beginning to fire up. I hadn’t played that many titles back then, so I think I’d be right in saying that Sonic 2 was the second game I truly devoured (I think I delved into the original afterwards) after Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which came built-in into my Master System II. Sonic 2 didn’t have a save-option, so it was something you had to master. You could end up getting so far, lose your lives and have to do it all over again. This meant that you ended up becoming very familiar with those early levels. Not a problem for me – I loved the levels, loved their look, loved their sound, loved their feel – I was definitely getting my mum’s money’s worth. The later levels, especially Crystal Egg, became less familiar by comparison and as a result was the most pleasurable to revisit recently. Of course, it’s an incredibly modest game – it was back then and it really is now, but for all its flaws it’s still a joy to play and the peak of all things Sonic-related on the MS. A second sequel, Sonic Chaos, would be released but I missed out on it the time. Playing it decades later, I was glad I had.

Review: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)

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One of the most acclaimed beat-em-ups for the SNES, Turtles in Time is an arcade port that was the fourth Turtles game to be released on a Nintendo console – the first three were on the NES (the second was also a port of the first Turtles arcade game – still with me?) but the third wasn’t released outside of Japan. One of the problems with the second game in particular was the inevitable comparison to the arcade version – definitely playable on its own terms, it nevertheless lacked the oomph of the coin-op. By the time Turtles in Time arrived on the SNES, Nintendo and Konami’s 16-bit capabilities could more convincingly emulate the original source, and even throw in a few tricks of its own. I’ve never played the arcade version of Turtles in Time (or TIT as I won’t be referring to it from now on), but just from how the SNES version played, I realised that this was the arcade-experience-at-home I wanted but never hoped to get with Turtles II. It plays very nicely – the looks, sounds and feel do a sterling job of bringing a coin-op feel at home.

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The minimal plot is bonkers. Evil brain Krang, within a particularly enormous version of his exo-suit (though if you remember, he has always been capable of super-size if you recall as far back as Episode 5 of the original cartoon), steals the Statue of Liberty in the middle of a report from a conspicuously cleavage-y April O’ Neil, who usually remained zipped up on TV. You and your designated turtle (and you can bring a friend, but just the one – there’s no four-player action here) must make it through three levels (a building site, the streets, the sewers) before arriving at the Technodrome to take on top-bastard Shredder. This latter level is unique to the SNES version, and it plays out just like a final level, but upon beating ol’ Tin Can, the game takes a twist and hurls you way, way, way, way back into the past – prehistoric times, in fact. You must clear the next few levels which leap further and further towards the present, but not before a quick detour into the far future. So that’s nine levels in total, plus a final boss level. Two of them are bonus stages that make fun use out of the SNES’ Mode-7 capabilities – the first one, set in a sewer, reminded me of Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, and the second, set in the future, is a dead ringer for F-Zero. However, unlike usual bonus stages, these count as proper levels because they actually have a boss at the end, so don’t get cocky when all those stats show up telling how well you did, because it ain’t over…

There are three difficulty settings – the harder the setting, the more obstacles are present, not to mention different, nastier foot soldiers that are thankfully absent on the easy version. To compensate, more continues are added to the tougher versions. And this is where I admit I use a little cheat that probably everybody else uses, but I felt smart for thinking of it myself. Essentially, play as you normally would as one player. You’ll notice upon playing that the option for a second player to join in at any point during the game is up there on the top right hand of the screen. So what you do is, when you’re down to your last life, pick up that second control pad, join the game and continue as normal, doing your best to ignore the fact that you’ve essentially left that turtle who got you this far to helplessly die. This way you have a whole extra bunch of lives and continues to help you out. Am I a fucking genius or what?

Enemies are predominantly Foot Soldiers – the purple ones are the most regular, and since they don’t have any weapons, they’re the easiest to take care of, although they can grab you so that other soldiers can thrown in some punches, so don’t get complacent. Other, more dangerous Foots (or Gits as I call them) of varying colours have a variety of weapons to get you with, from shurikens, axes, bow ‘n’ arrow and whatnot. Of course, you have a weapon of your own to defend yourself with, so, er… don’t forget to fight back. You won’t get very far if you don’t. This game ain’t for pacifists. You also have a unique boss for each level – some I recognised, such as BaxterFly, the two mutants from the second film, the Rat King, Rocksteady and BeBop and of course, Krang and Shredder. I vaguely remember Leatherhead from some episode or other, but Slash (not the Guns N’ Roses guitarist sadly) was new to me, a kind of Evil Turtle with a big bastard sword. I like to think of him as the ugly runt of the litter that Splinter got rid of when the others were born. The thing is, how did he get rid of him? Usually you’d flush an animal you don’t want down the toilet, but these guys already lived in the sewers, so I reckon he probably mailed him off somewhere out of the way.

Anyway, these bosses have their own set routines – learn them and you’ll know when and when not to attack. The final two bosses are pimped-up versions of Krang and Shredder and in the big scheme of things, even these two aren’t that tough once you know what their game is. In fact, the most difficult element of Turtles in Time is sheer volume – you can’t cruise through this game, you’ve got to keep fighting and fighting.

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It might appear disconcerting for a game based on a kids cartoon to have so much relentless savagery – these Turtles games are essentially cuter versions of legendary beat-the-shit-out-of-em-up Streets of Rage, albeit without resorting to broken bottles as weapons, and with absolutely no kicking the living hell out of women. Still, there’s no need to call Mary Whitehouse’s estate as, if you’ll recall, the Foot Soldiers are robots, so they feel no pain. Unless they were programmed to feel pain. In which case, try to ignore their screams in your head. Of course, not all of these antagonists are robots – characters like Rocksteady and BeBop are most definitely flesh and blood, and here you are hacking them with a sword. Bit odd that – in the cartoon the most those two ever got was a bump on the noggin or they got trapped in a bubble or something. The Turtles in this game are brutal killers. Not all of the Foot get killed however – some of them break the fourth wall when you knock them out senseless just long enough to hurl them DIRECTLY AT THE SCREEN! Seriously, this never, ever gets old. This move was never in the arcade version apparently, so 1-UP to the SNES version. However, the move can be tricky to pull off if you’re trying to do it on purpose on a regular basis, like in Level 4 when the only way to defeat Shredder is to consistently throw Foot Soldiers (or Feet as I won’t be referring to them from now on) at the screen. It’s doable enough on Easy and Medium, but proves to be an absolute git on Hard, where the incarnation of Foot Soldier you have to defeat are the really annoying versions that know how to block your attack.

Back to violence though, and interestingly Michaelangelo’s nunchakus, which was such a sore spot for the BBFC back in the day, (and were snipped out of UK broadcasts of the cartoon) remain in the game. The UK version retains the sanitised ‘Hero’ in the title, more I suppose for continuity’s sake than anything (though that didn’t stop the film from keeping its original title), but apart from that there seems to be no watering down of the content. Mikey happily swirls his chucks and beats the living snot out of a thousand bad guys with the things. I guess any kind of censorship towards video games had yet to be regulated at that time.

Of course, Beat-em-ups are mostly very repetitive things, and Turtles in Time is no exception– very little brainpower is required, just a lot of brawn. Attack, attack, attack, and that’s it. Of course, it’s not completely mindless – you have to keep alert and make sure the torrent of Foot Soldiers don’t get the better of you, but to be honest, the game threatens to get samey. That it doesn’t get boring is a testament to the game’s liveliness. Fans of the cartoon will love it, right from the recreation of the opening moments of the title sequence, and even using the same theme for when April does her news reports. As someone who wasted many a penny on the first arcade game, this is as close to reliving that kind of tremendous experience at home. The levels are relatively short and sweet, the bosses are fun (apart from the Hard version of Shredder), the music is fun (if unmemorable), and there are lots of cute touches, like Rocksteady and Bebop being so stupid as usual that they get their weapons tangled, leaving them open to attack. Why did Shredder keep hiring these two clowns?

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Beating the game on Easy and Normal results in a let-down ending, with Splinter commending you for reaching the end, but essentially telling you to try harder. Thanks, geez. Shredder cackles before the Game Over screen mocks you for your half-hearted efforts, but I never understood why he’s laughing, given that he was just chucked off a building. Mad bastard. I wouldn’t be laughing. The proper ending upon finishing Hard is quite mad, as the Turtles fly the Statue of Liberty back to its rightful place using the Turtle Blimp (remember that?) and there’s a bit that really makes me laugh when April and Splinter turn to the camera – the latter’s open-mouthed, goofy smile is all the funnier because of his blatant, don’t-give-a-shit attitude towards being out in public. Remember, the New York people don’t know about this man-sized rat in a kimono living underground, and here he is, hanging out with that famous reporter from Channel 6 News! Back underground, Splinter commends the Turtles (and me, of course) on a job well done and that we’re heroes. Don’t turn off the machine before the end credits finish though, because we get a ‘cast’ list sequence that really tickles me when it gets to the bad guys, because every credit for an antagonist is a shot of it absolutely battering a Turtle, freeze-framing on its pained, battered, dazed or brutally beaten defeat throes. Well, it made me laugh. Other amusements in these credits include the misspelling of ‘Stone Warrior’ as ‘Stone Worrier’ – then again, maybe that was the actual name of those monstrous rock monsters, but I didn’t sense any fretting from any of them. They were too busy trying to stomp me into the ground. Also, the final parting message from the game was ‘Thank you for your playing’, which doesn’t sound right.

Three-and-a-half-shells out of five half-shells. No, I don’t understand either.

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PS: My Turtles of choice are Michaelangelo for sheer battering power with those nunchakus, and Donatello for his big stick. Good bit of wood, that.

 

NOT THE FACE!!! Five Face-Changers That Scarred or Disturbed Me as a Child

There’s nothing scarier than the familiar made unfamiliar, and here are five instances of faces made to look distinctly horrifying, be it by super-computer, vampiric influence, a heavy current of electricity, demonic possession or God laying down the law. Enjoy!

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1. Vera Webster (Annie Ross) in Superman III

Definitely a universal nightmare inducer for anyone the right age back in the eighties, this totally out-of-left-field but unforgettably freaky moment during the climax of Superman’s third (and second worst) Reeve-era outing burned into my psyche like few other scary moments in family films have.

So get this; Lex Luthor is (wisely) doing his own thing, so B-list villain Ross Webster (an enjoyably smug Robert Vaughn) is holed up in his mountain lair with his sister Vera, helium-voiced femme fatale Lorelei (Pamela Stephenson) and ‘comedy’ henchman Gus (Richard Pryor), not to mention a super computer that can do all manner of supery and computery things. Superman, fresh from having killed himself in a scrapyard fight (definitely the best scene in the film), shows up to take out the trash but the super computer becomes most averse to being shut down, so it starts getting tetchy. The bad guys start to flee the computer’s cavernous innards, but poor Vera is too late to escape, being dragged in by its force-field and cocooned in its claustrophobic catacombs, where her body is turned robotic in a series of absolutely horrific shots where bits of metal are magically plastered onto her face and hands as she screams helplessly. There’s a particularly disturbing bit where her screams are suddenly silenced and she closes her eyes, and that’s when we know she’s no longer home. Just in case you weren’t sure though, we get an extreme close-up of her eyes, and they’re just lifeless silver balls – no irises, no pupils, just nothing. Her brother and Lorelei look on flabbergasted as Vera’s hair has suddenly puffed up and gothed-out to the extent that she now looks like Robert Smith from The Cure, with a scarily expressionless face and awkward walk – to be honest, most of us were so frightened already that it didn’t matter that Vera from The Cure didn’t do much else after this except shoot out a few lasers and continue to look scary, but that didn’t matter. The damage had been done.

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2. David (Kiefer Sutherland) in The Lost Boys

As anyone who’s listened to our audio commentary for this film will already know, the sequence two thirds into Joel Schumacher’s super-80’s vampire horror-comedy is definitely the one single scene that has scared me more than anything else.

Vampires had always frightened me deeply as a child – I think it’s because they look so close to human, whereas other monsters were fantastical-looking enough to remain immediately untrustworthy. Vampires however, looked and sounded just like us, and even when the fangs came out, they still looked like us. I was fully aware of The Lost Boys being a vampire film, yet the film’s poster artwork showed Kiefer Sutherland’s teenage bloodsucker in his regular, non-ghoulish look. The UK poster (still my all-time favourite film artwork) showed a frightfully stark, pale white David staring right at us, his demeanour cool, almost melancholic but still threatening. I wondered what that face would look like when the fangs came out. I hoped I would never find out. Fat chance.

I first watched The Lost Boys on its BBC1 New Year’s Day premiere in 1991, and despite being a certfied wimp when it came to horror, I braved it because I was watching it with my mum and my sister and it was ‘only’ a ’15’ and therefore was assured it wouldn’t be that bad. How wrong I was. One of the best things about the film is its reluctance to show the vampires in their form until we’re already well into it – by doing this, I remained gripped to my seat, scared to keep watching, too proud to give up, reassuring myself that at least there hasn’t been any scary faces. Yet. I knew it was coming.

The film, set in the fictional Californian coastal town of Santa Carla, follows brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) as they settle into their new life by the sea only for the former to fall in with the wrong crowd and the latter discovering that said crowd are really vampires! Michael is taunted and teased all the way to a make-or-break sequence on a beach when he finally witnesses his new friends in blood-drinking action. David wickedly throws down the gauntlet with ‘Initiation’s over Michael…it’s time to join the club!’ and comes out of the dark in ghoulish, sickly yellow lit, fanged and wild-eyed horror, it still shocked the hell out of me, so much that I rapidly left the room, too scared to watch anymore. Good thing I did, considering what followed was a mini-orgy of neck-breaking, scalp-ripping, head-biting, body-burning horror. The other three Lost Boys’ vampire visages ranged from goofy to quite freaky, but David’s face was the one. The image of that face would haunt me in the dark, and was iconic enough to be used on the reverse of the UK VHS, so any trips to video shops or HMV would always be spoiled by the knowledge that the film’s video spine was there amongst the shelves, mocking me, beckoning me to be brave enough to pull out the case and gaze once more upon that back cover. I even remember being in Covent Garden market and seeing a photo still of that face amongst lots of other glossies, and feeling that chill all over again. Of course, I would brave the film once more a few years down the line, and since then it is the film I have watched more than any other.

PS: Oddly enough, it’s big change is pulled off using the oldest of cinematic tricks – normal face is obscured in the dark, evil face emerges into the light. You don’t need millions of dollars wasted on morphing technology!

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3. Peter Venkman (voiced by Lorenzo Music) in Episode 3 of The Real Ghostbusters, ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’

Kids cartoons. Sometimes they could sneak in the scariest imagery, all undercover of a family-friendly afternoon slot. The Real Ghostbusters, obviously supernatural in essence, enjoyed scaring young viewers on a far more regular basis than anything else of its time, and none more so than the frankly terrifying finale of what starts out as just another haunted house investigation. By the end, one of our most beloved characters, the always jovial and delightful Peter, has been possessed by a heavy-duty demon named What (or Watt?). What tricks Peter into heading down into the basement, the site of the Ecto-Containment Unit (where all the old ghosts are incarcerated), which he can shut down in order to release all the bad ‘uns. In a similar way to my above reasoning as to why vampires scared me so much (their closer resemblance to humans than any other monster of its kind), the possession factor is so scary because it takes a person we’ve come to know and trust and love and demonises them. Sometimes this is done by turning them into a vampire, as I discovered to my shock in the brilliant Attack of the Killer Tomatoes episode ‘Spatula, Prinze of Dorkness’ when lovely, sweet Tara is vampirised (an episode that utterly, utterly terrified me as a child). Still, multiply that terror a thousand fold for Peter’s own possession, which wasn’t simply scary – it was disturbing. Peter’s possessed face looks sickly, diseased even – the poisoned icing on this distinctly unpleasant cake is the close-up bit when Peter screams in a desperate attempt to win back control of his body, only for What to come back with a truly evil, demonic cackle. For a moment, Watt even looks set to have won, but in a remarkably rapid turnaround of events, good prevails about thirty seconds later. Yay!

See also: In another instance of  good guys taken over by bad things, think of poor Mags (Jessica Martin) at the end of Episode 4 of McCoy-era Doctor Who episode ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’, where a fake full-moon proves enough to change her into a very scary werewolf. And it was shown before the watershed.

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4. The angel from the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark

The odd, unconventional ending to Spielberg’s amazing blockbuster chooses to feature its big, balls-to-the-wall action sequence before the finale – I mean, most people would save that truck chase for the final act, but instead that’s all over and one with before the real conclusion, an unexpected and totally terrifying sequence where the legendary Ark of the Covenant is unwisely opened up, unleashing the wrath of God onto any one not smart enough to have closed their peepers at the time. First of all the contents appear to be deliriously ethereal, with lots of dreamy swirly mist and a beautiful angel emerging from the mist to approach Paul Freeman’s deliciously mercenary and urbane villain Belloq, as well as super-creep Toht and deputy scumbag Deitrich. Thinking that the opening and exposure of the Ark will lead to guaranteed invincibility, Belloq can’t take all of this wonderment anymore – ‘IT’S BEAUTIFUL!!!’ he exclaims, and John Williams’ score seems to agree, but then all of a sudden the angel’s face becomes a horrifying skull that appears to sprout misty fangs! The music pulls of a tremendous switch, going all Psycho on us, and who can blame Toht for screaming like a little girl at that sight? What follows is a massacre from The Man Upstairs that is so horrific that it regularly tops polls for Most Horrifying Sequence in a PG film Ever. Yeah, you couldn’t ask for a more deserving bunch of victims, but it’s still terrifying. Much is mentioned of Temple of Doom’s darkness and unsuitability for younger viewers, but I only ever grew up with the heavily cut UK version of that film, so for me it was Raiders that was the really scary installment, and the only one that gave me sleepless nights. Whenever the film was on TV, I would cover my eyes during this ending. I could still hear it though. Shudder.

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5. Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) in Batman Returns

The greatest comic book movie of them all (shut up, it’s true) reaches a remarkable, deeply haunting and unforgettable finale where Batman (Michael Keaton) removes his mask in front of Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer) to try and win her back from the dark side, but the truly evil tycoon/murdering bastard Max Schreck shoots the Caped Crusader and then puts bullet after bullet into his former employee as she approaches him in a state of near dazed delirium. He keeps shooting, but she keeps approaching him, right up until she has him cornered up against some seriously heavy duty electricals. There’s a touch of the supernatural about this sequel – I say that because how else do you explain Catwoman’s ability to withstand so many perilous drops from tall buildings, and in this case, point blank gunshot wounds? You could say that her psychosis has led her to truly believe in her ‘nine lives’ advantage and that it’s all a case of mind over matter, but either way, she’s willing to use another life up as she takes an exposed electrical cable and goes in for a very deadly kiss with Max, frying the both of them on the spot. Moments later, Batman searches through the resulting wreckage in an attempt to find Catwoman but she’s gone. All that’s left is a dead Max, now looking exceptionally freaky after his shocking demise. He no longer resembles himself at all – there’s just a morbidly ghoulish, charred visage that’s pure Tim Burton in its sideshow freakiness. His mouth seems to have elongated downwards to a staggering degree, as though he was truly left jaw-dropped by his encounter. His hair was always a shocking white, but here it looks more like a symptom of what’s just happened. We only see this face for a second or two, but when I saw it at the cinema back in 1992, it really stayed with me, and was just one of many examples of a superb, dark (as well as sad) conclusion to a summer blockbuster masterpiece, the best Batman film of the lot.