Labyrinth (1986) review

Labyrinth (1986) Original

I have to admit something. For a long time, this film didn’t remind me of the babe. You know, the one with the power. What power? The power of voodoo and all that. However, now that my three-year old niece has become a new full-on Labyrinth fan, and can quote it with ease, I can safely and with confidence say that this film does now remind me of the babe. I don’t know if she has the power of voodoo yet. I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s great that she loves the film though, because there is something still adorably fresh and sparkling about Labyrinth, despite (and of course, because of) all the 80’s trappings.

Fantasy and 80’s cinema went hand in hand very nicely – okay, not all of it was great, but it still had sweep, magic, spectacle and imagination, and even though we live in a time where the likes of Lord of the Rings has proved that there is an enormous audience for this kind of thing, there doesn’t seem to be that many great fantasy films out these days. Back then, we had Dragonslayer, Krull, Willow, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, The Company of Wolves, The Princess Bride, Excalibur…. okay, not all of them are classics, but they had a consistency to them. Like one of them, you’ll most like the others. There was plenty to enjoy. Labyrinth, with the exception of The Princess Bride, was the most tongue-in-cheek and funny of the lot. It helped that the script was by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who has a lot of fun playing around with fairytale tropes and standards, with plenty of great sight gags. Director Jim Henson and his team’s brilliant puppetry skills are second to none – we get a totally believable range of characters, beautifully voiced, be they tiny (and very unhelpful) worms, depressed door knockers (these look amazing, the really do look like talking metal – beat that, T-1000) or our main cast of creations, more of which below. The only bum note is a very dated looking sequence where a bunch of fire monkeys try to decapitate our hero – actually, that’s less to do with the puppets than the special effects attempted to try and get them in the same shots as Jennifer Connelly. Yeah, this is one of her early roles – not her earliest, as we’d already seen her as the young Deborah in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, and she’d played the lead in Dario Argento’s bonkers paranormal/telekenetic/simian slasher/serial killer horror Phenomena, and her performance is a straight-up anchor mooring all of the eccentricity around her. Seriously, she’s the only character in the film who doesn’t attempt to provoke a laugh. This is a good touch, stopping the film from going over the edge into outright comedy.

The plot is simple enough – our angsty, and let’s be fair, quite annoying protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is very upset that her baby brother Toby gets all the attention, all the love, all the cute close-ups and none of the babysitting duties. Oh, how she wishes Jareth the Goblin King would take him away. Fair enough. Except he actually does, and the Goblin King is none other than David Bowie in an astonishing wig and very revealing tights. He jiggles his balls about a lot too, but that’s nowhere near as rude as it sounds. Anyway, Sarah instantly regrets her rash decision, but Jareth won’t go back on their deal, not unless she can work her way through the labyrinth that leads to her brother, and in 13 hours too. On her way, she encounters all manner of fantastical creatures, including a fairy-killing coward named Hoggle, a Donkey Kong-like gently beast named Ludo, an idiotic knight called Sir Didymus and his adorable canine steed Ambrosius, the latter shifting from being a real dog to a hilariously fake puppet depending on the danger he’s in. These are fantastic creations, a true testament to the genius of their creators. Oh, and there are songs. David Bowie songs!

And they’re fun, you know? What do you mean, they’re not ‘Life on Mars?’? Yeah, but ‘Life on Mars?’ isn’t ‘Magic Dance’, which is, as you all know, the song that reminds us of the babe. The version on the soundtrack album is better than the one in the film though – I always thought the goblin vocals were a little weak in the film – like, proper crap even. They sound better on the CD, and when they’re totally un-salvageable, Bowie just sings their lines instead. Despite all that, ‘Magic Dance’ is, with the exception of the Bowie-written-but-not-sung ‘Chilly Down’ (the one with the fire monkeys – not great), the least impressive of the songs here. ‘Underground’ is properly fantastic – all six minutes of it. It sounds great blended with Trevor Jones’ score over the opening credits, sounds better a few minutes later as Sarah runs back home in the rain and is your classic example of brilliant closing credits music. It also throws in, convincingly, a gospel element in the chorus, while Bowie even adds the decidedly risque lament ‘no love injection’ into a kids film theme, which I never noticed as a child. The gorgeous, dreamy ‘As the World Falls Down’ is one of the most unabashedly straightforward love songs Bowie has ever created – it was almost going to be a single (a video was made for it) but was pulled at the last minute, which was a shame as it could have been a success. Indeed, this and ‘Magic Dance’ are the two most downloaded songs in Bowie’s entire canon, probably because of their inexplicable absence from any singles compilations since. Anyway, ‘As the World Falls Down’ is really lovely, and it really works in the film too. The dramatic ‘Within You’ (not to be confused with ‘Without You’ from Let’s Dance) works incredibly well as a song in its own right – in the film it’s one of many bravura touches during its wild climax, and you might be too dazzled by all the Escher imagery and baby-in-peril excitement to realise it’s one of his best songs from this era.

As for Bowie’s performance – he’s still got that ever-so-slightly awkward line delivery which we all love anyway because it’s David Bowie and his awkwardness is endearing (prime example – ‘Turn back now, Sarah!’ about ten minutes in). However, he is still a magnetic performer – he’s the only one who could get away with that costume of his. He has a whole sequence where he’s singing to a few dozen goblins and still looks cool. He looks goofy and, in the spirit of things, quite pantomime, but he looks damned good too. He always did, didn’t he? I love David Bowie. Always have, always will.

The film is similar to Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves in that it focuses on a girl on the cusp of adulthood, at a time where one must decide whether or not to put childish things away. While in the other film this process is unavoidable (and treated with outright horror at times, especially at the end), here there’s a bit more resistance to accompany the seduction. One of the best sequences in the film is when Sarah is lost in a masquerade ball, made dizzy by all the debauchery around her and pursued by Jareth – she denies his romantic advances, and considering this is a man approaching 40 pursuing a girl of 15, there’s nothing icky or uncomfortable about this bit (this is her dream, not his). The film ends in direct polar opposition to The Company of Wolves – almost flippantly, you could add, but what’s wrong with prolonging childhood a little longer? Besides, Goblin City’s residents know how to throw a party.

Issues I have with the film? That fire monkey bit. Actually, they’re not on fire, but their fur is all ‘flamey’ I suppose. The Bog of Eternal Stench bit, which is mostly brilliant (you can almost smell this sequence), has a moment where some helpful stepping stones emerge from the bog so that Ludo can make it to the other side in safety. Yet the stepping stones emerged from the bog, and lest we forget, if you touch even a little bit of the bog, you’ll smell bad forever. Ludo walks all over bog-covered steps! If it was one of the other characters, I’d have almost forgiven it, because they’re wearing shoes and could have thrown their offending footwear away afterwards, but Ludo’s barefoot! Maybe he stinks already. I can’t imagine him taking a bath that often, and all that fur must be an absolute nightmare to maintain. Yeah, that’s a real minor nitpick blown up to paragraph-sized criticism, but I can’t ignore it.

Overall, Labyrinth is a splendid, utterly lovable entertainment for girls and boys, kids and adults – it wasn’t a hit back in ’86, but it has become a serious cult film, with a vengeance – in London, there are Masquerade Ball screenings! Put together with The Princess Bride, and you have a double-bill of utterly wonderful, self-aware (but still full of heart) fantasy comedy cinema that’ll have you wondering why they don’t make them like this anymore.

PS: That milk bottle sight gag is so, so, so wonderful.

Advertisements

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler-Crammed Review!

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_Poster

I saw the new Star Wars movie this morning. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing it, even the ones that claimed to be spoiler-free. I mean, even a review that was spoiler-free might give away things without meaning to. You know, when a review thinks its being nice by not revealing a film’s big twist but the sheer act of mentioning a twist means that I’m trying to second-guess the film all the way. So, this is a review for those who’ve already seen the film. I’m not going to go into plot, because anyone who reads this review will have seen the film already. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and you still want to read this piece, then good for you. I think.Weirdo.

I’ve only seen The Force Awakens once, and it’s only been six or so hours since I saw it, so feelings and opinions are still fresh, unfocused and whatnot. In no order, this is a rambling account of how I feel about it. It’s not a thorough review, it’s just how I feel at this time.

  • It is better than all of the prequel films. The prequels were not awful – I watched them again recently and they are spectacular, sometimes exhilarating and dramatic, and Ian McDiarmid is terrific, the unquestioned highlight of all three episodes, but they are deeply flawed films. This is the Star Wars film we should have got back in 1999.
  • There is no embarassing dialogue, no clunky plot, no bad acting. This is a strong Star Wars movie.
  • The film starts without the 20th Century Fox logo. This is weird, but can’t be helped. Still, it is odd not hearing that fanfare, though I’m so glad we didn’t kick off with the Disney or Bad Robot idents. Simply having the Lucasfilm glimmer into shot without any music was the best possible solution.
  • No matter which Star Wars film I watch, all immediate emotional responses once that ‘STAR WARS’ title appears and the John Williams score explodes into earshot are the same. Essentially, it’s bliss. I’m a child again. The opening text is a good one, no crap about trade debates and taxation. I’m excited.
  • I bloody love Oscar Isaac. Seriously, whatever it is that the best actors have, whatever IT is, that special something or whatever, he’s got IT. He’s just got that charisma, that magic… he’s the best. Still, that name… Poe Dameron… I keep thinking of Cameron Poe from Con-Air.
  • As soon as that blood is wiped over Finn’s stormtrooper helmet, all the antiseptic cleanliness of the prequel trilogy is instantly forgotten.
  • Rylo Ken is a terrific villain. He makes you realise that for all his cool double-edge lightsabre antics, Darth Maul was a very one-dimensional antagonist. Maybe there was a little bit more to Count Dooku, but not much. General Grevious had more limbs that personality traits. Rylo Ken is properly conflicted, fascinating, scary and extremely well played by Adam Driver. I was unsure of him beforehand, because as terrific as he is, he has a certain screen presence that I didn’t think would blend with Star Wars. He has adapted beautifully to this series.
  • The music is strong. Whenever it references earlier cues and themes, it’s a wonderful thing.
  • The return of characters from Episodes IV-VI is wonderfully handled. Han Solo, Chewie, Leia and (eventually) Luke… it really was like seeing old friends again. Can’t say the same about Threepio and Artoo, as it feels like they never went away, thanks to them being in the prequel trilogy.
  • The action is exciting, convincing (great special effects) and engaging. The only exception is that the final attack on Starkiller Base is a little underwhelming – the concluding space battles in A New Hope and Jedi are still the ones to remember. It’s a million times better than the one from The Phantom Menace though.
  • It is arguably the funniest in the series. I know that Episodes IV-VI are wonderfully humourous experiences, but the humour I think comes from repeated viewings and familiarity with the characters. In terms of actual jokes and proper immediate laugh-out-loud moments, this is the one. Chewie complaining about the cold and the two Stormtroopers who back off quickly from Rylo Ken’s path of fury were particularly hilarious.
  • Gwendoline Christie didn’t have an awful lot to do in her masked role. Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun in Episode VIII.
  • Domnhall Gleeson was a little, and I mean just a little, hammy as General Lux – he didn’t feel truly threatening enough for me. Having him report to Snoke alongside the truly menacing likes of Rylo Ken was a bit like having Admiral Piett and Darth Vader sharing an elevator on their way to the Emperor.
  • Speaking of Snoke, was anyone else truly worried when he initially appeared to be a genuine behemoth, towering over his underlings? When it turned out that it was just a blown-up projection, I sighed the sigh of the truly relieved.
  • Underplayed, but wonderful references to the original trilogy – the little sphere thing that Luke has to defend himself from whilst training on the Falcon, the re-activation of the holo-chess game, other things I can’t remember…
  • Daisy Ridley is a total success as Rey – the film delightfully undercuts what you imagine would be typical damsel-in-distress moments. I was worried when she was taken prisoner that she would be merely the subject of rescue, but I should have known better. She is tough, smart, passionate and this new film’s brightest star.
  • John Boyega is similarly successful – this is the first time we’ve really got to know a Stormtrooper behind all that armour, and he and Ridley are a great team. Additionally, his early chemistry with Oscar Isaac is magic. Hopefully we’ll see more of these team-ups. Finn’s scenes with his newly acquired lightsabre are the equivalent of what it would be like if you or I got to handle one of those things.
  • Han Solo. His final scene marked the moment where The Force Awakens shifted from an excellent film into a truly amazing one – his and Ken’s confrontation was a major turning point, totally heart-stopping. I didn’t want Han to die – who would? But it made for terrific drama.
  • Wasn’t it wonderful to have Leia back? Carrie Fisher was wonderful – kind, but sad. Just like the way she rembered her own mother in that scene on Endor back in Jedi. Her moments with Han were really sweet. The big happy ending of Jedi never did last, sadly.
  • The new robot – BB-8, is not, as we might have understandably feared, the new Jar Jar Binks. He’s adorable and really funny. That thumbs-up bit was genius.
  • Locations and photography are stunning – the early scenes on Jakku boasted the best of the desolate, run-down feel of Tatooine, whilst the look of the final battle admist a planet where the sun was gradually being drained of power was really effective. Once the snow started falling down on the forest, the mood was the equal of that of Empire and Jedi. Earlier shots like those of the fallen Star Destroyer, or the Apocalypse Now-riffing vision of the TIE fighters against a sunset, were breathtaking.
  • Oh yes, that lightsabre duel. How bloody fantastic was that? First Rylo Ken and Finn, then Rylo Ken and Rey – this crackled with knife-edge tension and spectacle. Roger Ebert once said of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock that the ending featured the ‘latest word in fistfights on the crumbling edges of fiery volcanoes’. This scene outdoes it for duels taking place amongst apocalyptic destruction. Best scene in the film.
  • The final scene. Luke! Of course, every film aside from Episodes IV and VI (and I suppose III too, so that’s half the series, whoops) has left us hanging, and this is no exception, but it is a complete, totally satisfying film in its own right.
  • The key to this film’s success is SIMPLICITY. You could write the plots of Episodes IV-VI on the back of coasters, whereas the convoluted, overly explanatory and bogged-down plotting of the other three often dragged. The best Star Wars films do a hell of a lot with seemingly little – they breathe in and take in their surroundings, they have fun, they feel expansive. For all the surface complexity of Episodes I-III, they feel very suffocated, too trapped within their set plot course. Plus we knew exactly where they were going. Wasn’t it great to see a Star Wars film that genuinely surprised us? Roll on Episode VIII.
  • Thank you Michael Arndt. Thank you Lawrence Kasdan (great to have you back). And yes, thank you, thank you, thank you JJ. Abrams.

My Top 15 films

In what is probably the best chain letter ever, I have been nominated to list my Top 15 films ever. True to form, I have decided to elaborate on my choices with some self-indulgent reasoning. Please note, these aren’t The Best Fifteen Films Ever, so don’t expect all the usual suspects. Oh, and apart from film #1, none of these are in any real order of personal love.

1. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

Is it the greatest film ever made? Of course not. Nothing is. Yet Blade Runner is a remarkable experience. You can slate it for its uneven plot, its loose ends, its unsympathetic ‘hero’ or its vague ending. Yes, it has all of those things. And it has more. So, so much more. If people ask me what cinema is, what it is capable of, what it can deliver, I think of Blade Runner. I’ve watched it so many times and still be utterly mesmerised by it, and there are many reasons why – the future visuals and smoky, neon-tinged atmosphere, still breathtaking today. Vangelis’ astonishing electronic score – the best of its kind. The script – a masterpiece of enigmatic mystery. Rutger Hauer’s beguiling, strange ‘villain’ and the range of great supporting characters. Then there’s the things I can’t pin down, the emotional kick it delivers, that strange blend of awe, beauty and sadness. It’s honestly one of the greatest achievements in cinema – my mind boggles as to how it was all done. I can simply lose myself in it for its two hours, I can sit back and admire its sheer scale, immensity, or I can think about what it all means.

2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

Okay, let’s try the obvious – imagine if the original Star Wars trilogy was a single, regular film – a magnificent single film. Then take the best bit – the middle stretch – and make that an entire movie on its own. Except that now it’s a whole film, you can expand what would have been an hour into twice that amount. You can stretch out (with your feelings, not a priority) and explore the best worlds the series had to offer, like the huge snow planet of Hoth, the beautifully murky swamp of Dagobah or the beautiful aerial trap of Bespin. You don’t even have to waste time establishing plot or initial character because you already did that in the first film. Here you can go deeper, broader and oh yes, darker. You can do things you couldn’t have dreamed of in the first film- nightmarish dream sequences, a wickedly mean streak of humour and a shocker of an ending. Oh yes, forget a big, big action sequence, for now you can have your big, big set-piece near the start of the film if you like, and what would have been your end-of-Act 2 cliffhanger can now be the ending. The ending!!! Oh yes, The Empire Strikes Back is so phenomenally excellent it leaves the first Star Wars whimpering hopelessly in its shadow –  the script is funnier, the drama more emotional, the direction far more confident and sweeping (take note, George – you can write stories but you can’t direct them) – every move is so expertly played that it more or less represents the Star Wars universe at its apex. PS: I must give an honourable mention to Return of the Jedi, for no third chapter has ever been given so much unfair criticism/begrudging love. It might be my 16th favourite film.

3. Aliens (1986, James Cameron)

To call it the best action film ever mate does reduce the way that James Cameron’s finest hour skilfully blends a handful of genres: science-fiction, war movie, horror AND action. Oh, and it’s also the greatest sequel ever made. Sorry Don Corleone. The original Alien is a 5-star, timeless, magnificent experience, but Aliens takes that film and enhances it to such a expansive degree that the mind truly boggles. Okay, we miss the artistry of Ridley Scott’s visuals, the elegance of Jerry Goldsmith’s score and the quiet, unnerving chill of those empty corridors, but here we get Sigourney Weaver given the role of a lifetime as Ripley is given extra dimensionality, guts and heart. We get Cameron at the height of his ability to engineer unbearable, claustrophobic, intense set-pieces. We get James Horner’s astonishingly exciting score, which rips off his own work for Star Trek and pumps it up to the max – ‘Futile Escape’ is probably the most heart-poundingly thrilling surge of action music I’ve ever heard in a film. We get a wonderfully colourful but believable and enduring range of supporting characters/victims. We even get a villain who isn’t just a stereotypical corporate slimeball, although at the very least, he is definitely that, and then some. We get a child-in-distress character who not once did I secretly want to get killed. We also get the absolute best ‘it’s not dead’ twist ending ever. Aliens is a total thrill-ride.

4. Withnail and I (1986, Bruce Robinson)

Probably the finest comedy ever, and it’s all down to character chemistry, peerless dialogue, perfect performances, emotional clout and classic set-pieces. That’s all, really. It’s just that easy! Seriously though – comedy is the most personal of all movie tastes, and there are many who won’t find Withnail and I funny. Like, where’s the jokes? Then there are those who will derive the most joyous pleasure from Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann’s never-better turns and how they respond to their domestic squalor, the unwelcome presence of characters who we probably wouldn’t want to know in real life but can’t get enough of them here, the horrors of hangovers, the exhilaration of winding up stuffy cake shop owners, the threat of dead fish, the fear of The Fear….I mean, it doesn’t really have a plot, but that’s the point, I suppose. These guys are drifting, and it’s a ride that the two of them will probably laugh about eventually, although at the time it was terrible, and then all of a sudden it’s over. Grant’s Withnail recites his soliloquy in the rain outside the park and the effect is genuinely quite heartbreaking.  The script may be the finest ever.

5. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)

Despite the presence of the director’s cut and another director’s cut, the theatrical version of The Wicker Man is pretty much perfect in dropping us head-first into a world of unparalleled paranoia, beguiling eroticism and twisted tradition. It’s probably the most gleefully chilling horror ever – it delivers its unwinding mystery with a devilish smirk before punching you in the gut for that ending, that astonishingly bleak ending that I always hope will end differently even though there’s no chance of that ever happening. The sense of atmosphere, that unnerving stranger-in-a-strange land feeling, a May Day/carnival/cult mood that has you very much feeling utterly alone, pranked, suspicious, in danger and ultimately utterly clueless; it’s like a nightmare, with the ultimate nightmare ending. Except unlike in a dream, poor Edward Woodward never does wake up. And just how good is Woodward in this? He takes a stuffy, pious party pooper and makes him one of the most sympathetic protagonists in all of horror. Christopher Lee’s utterly charismatic Lord Summerisle makes for the perfect counterpoint. The delightful, creepy, seductive and unforgettable score/song selection is a vital element, Anthony Shaffer’s script is ingenious, and the whole thing amounts to just about the best British horror ever made.

6. The Lost Boys (1987, Joel Schumacher)

Not a great film, certainly not when compared to many others in this list, but The Lost Boys is the movie I’ve seen more than any other, ever, so it really deserves to be here. And there is an awful lot that is very, very special indeed about this most beloved of Eighties vampire horrors – for one thing, given that it’s an exploitation film, it has a heck of a classy crew – the art direction, photography and lighting are second to none, the cast are wonderful, the script delightfully engaging (if somewhat patchy plot-wise) and its first half in particular a breathlessly enjoyable depiction of temptation to the dark side. Joel Schumacher’s limitations as a director were never better utilised – the film looks and sounds great (cheesy in the best sense), his handling of unforgettable set-pieces like the brilliant motorcycle chase/sunken cave ritual/train bridge dare sequence are classics. True, it does become a (admittedly very fun) mess of riotous action and special effects by the end, but this is the kind of slick, ghoulish B-movie fun that cult followings are made of. Oh, and Kiefer Sutherland’s teen vamp is 100% pure joy.

7. Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

A classic example of what happens when a director is given full reign to make a blockbuster movie entirely on his own terms- Tim Burton may have made more personal films than this, but the thrill of the tension between big summer movie expectation and the unshackled perversity of what actually ended up on screen resulted in the man’s finest film. Just how this kinky, violent, melancholy, cracked, eccentric tale of troubled heroes and villains ever got a toy and Happy Meal tie-in beggars belief. It’s probably the most lusciously sensual, wickedly funny, tragic and yet delightfully escapist, imaginative and sweepingly lush blockbuster ever. Michael Keaton is still the best Batman, Michelle Pfieffer the most alluring Catwoman, Danny DeVito the most repulsive Penguin and Christopher Walken strangely enough the worst villain of the lot. The final subterranean confrontation has a twisted sadness and line-crossing tension that’s rarely been equalled.

8. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

It’s loosely based on fact, yet Cameron Crowe can’t help but glisten his memories with the kind of sun-kissed, heartbreaking, joyous nostalgia that makes it almost seem too good to be true. Even the painful moments are kind of beautiful in their own way. This really is exquisite, wonderful entertainment – Crowe simply wants to share his love of music and his love of being in love with music with everybody, as well sharing the pains of unrequited love, of not being in with the in-crowd and not being cool (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s telephone conversation with Patrick Fugit near the end of the film about this very subject is just perfect) and yet he even takes the time to make the potentially balloon-popping worrier of the mother who stays at home whilst her son follows his dream a great character. It’s also bloody funny. The songs choices are amazing. And Kate Hudson arguably peaked right from the start of her career with her turn as Penny Lane – what a heartbreaker of a performance, absolutely lovely. Seek out the director’s cut – it’s more indulgent for sure, but that’s all part of the charm.

9. Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)

This rivals Withnail for the sheer wealth of quotable dialogue, genuine warmth, killer set-pieces and brilliant supporting characters. On the surface it’s a simple road movie, but George Gallo’s script ensures that no one gets an easy ride, concocting hilarious dilemma after stressful dillemma to the point where it’s amazing none of the characters explode from sheer rage. Of course, this is a comedy, so the stress and rage is absolutely hilarious throughout – Robert de Niro gives a performance that’s (seriously) as vital as his ones for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and the like – Jack Walsh is one of his finest characters. Charles Grodin can get away with all of those Beethoven sequels he later did, for he earned a free pass with his turn here – his and De Niro’s chemistry is the stuff of movie magic. And then there’s all those supporting characters like Eddie Moscone, Marvin Dorfler, Jimmy Serrano, Alonso Mosely… brilliantly drawn, all of them. Yet it also has a final act that’s genuinely gripping, and a final scene that’s really quite sweet. It is crowd-pleasing entertainment at its absolute best.

10. Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow)

I wasn’t sure about putting two vampire films on this list, but to ignore Near Dark and not The Lost Boys (and vice versa) is just downright dishonest of me. Probably the finest vampire film ever, a confident, totally assured masterpiece of lean, medium-budgeted ingenuity, crammed with poetic visuals, nocturnal atmosphere, choice dialogue, brutal violence and no-spare-fat writing. Features probably the best screen kiss ever, definitely the greatest bar room massacre ever, the funniest vampire ever (stand up, Bill Paxton) and a very memorable score from those Eighties mainstays, Tangerine Dream. Kathryn Bigelow made bigger and more important films than Near Dark, but this will always be my favourite of hers.

11. The Company of Wolves (1984, Neil Jordan)

Sheer fairytale imagination and beauty abound in this remarkable adult take on, among other things, Little Red Riding Hood. Neil Jordan and Angela Carter weave a tale that delves into dreams inside dreams, conjuring images and atmospheres that deeply frightened this viewer many, many years ago. The subtexts are plentiful, but you can also simply enjoy it on a purely visceral level, thanks to the stunning sets and photography, gorgeous score and unforgettably creepy special effects. I’ve written about this film in slightly more detail here: https://fletchtalks.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/movies-i-love-the-company-of-wolves-1984/

12. Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

Aliens is the best action film ever, but it’s not the purest action film ever. That goes to Die Hard, which you can simultaneously get all historical and academic about it by going on about how influential it was and all that and how today’s action films a) owe everything to it and b) don’t come close to it, and you can also simply get your rocks off to it every SINGLE time, because the fact is, Die Hard still kicks arse. Every time. Nothing comes close to its ruthless, precision-tooled expertise – the direction (well done, John McTiernan) is so unfussily magnificent that it takes a few viewings to realise just how well staged it is. Bruce Willis took the action hero role and redefined it, Alan Rickman more or less established the urbane Euro-villain (and no one’s beaten it), and the violence really, really feels like it hurts. You watch it and by the end you feel exhausted, but in a really, really good way. Not the Transformers way.

13. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

Well it’s definitely the best horror ever, that’s for sure. Dario Argento is a great director, but a frustrating one, as his handling of actors and plot over the years has shown. And yet Suspiria (and Deep Red) is where none of those things matter. The performances are actually good to be honest, especially Jessica Harper, who gets the little lamb amongst the wolves thing down just right. Plot? This film is not about plot. It’s not trying to be about plot. It’s basically only interested in just shaking you up. It only wants to scare you. In that respect, Suspiria is probably the purest horror ever made. It looks and sounds like a dream. A nightmare. Argento’s visual splendour is in full effect. The colours and the sets get you right in the eyes. The set-pieces are unforgettably full-on. The violence is still insanely imaginative. And the music? Bloody hell, words won’t do any of that any justice. Time Out said in its original review that this film feels like what you imagined horror films were like before you were old enough to get to see them. That, my friends, is absolutely spot-on.

14. An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

No horror has ever been this funny. No comedy has ever been this scary. I mean, what the heck is An American Werewolf in London? It really shouldn’t work – it’s a total explosion of genres, tones and mood, and yet, and this is the magic of cinema, it works perfectly. Every moment feels right, even the seemingly wrong ones. It is bloody funny. It is flippin’ very scary. And it is also incredibly sad. There have been fewer tonal jolts as effective as the use of soundtrack (‘Blue Moon’) to snap you out of such a downbeat ending. This film takes you for a ride, and it’s a thriller every time. PS: Best transformation scene ever –  don’t let the revisionists fool you, the one in The Howling is not as good as this.

15. Fright Night (1985, Tom Holland)

What, a third vampire film? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but once the ball’s rolling, I couldn’t leave Fright Night out. Not when it’s a film this delightful. I mean, this film is a pleasure to revisit every time. It makes me smile. It’s warm, funny, exciting, spectacular and a masterclass in scriptwriting – seriously. Chris Sarandon might just be the most delightfully smooth vampire ever. Evil Ed – love him or hate him, I suppose. I know where I stand. The Lost Boys might be more imaginative and Near Dark a far more dramatic, beautiful film, but Fright Night sometimes feels like it’s an even better film than those two because it just feels like a best friend come to visit.

Ghostbusters (1984) Fan Audio Commentary

Who you gonna call? Us, if you want to hear a commentary for Ghostbusters. Here it is, and if you’re watching with us on the old UK DVD, be sure to start it five seconds into the film as for some reason there’s a stretch of nothingness before the Columbia logo fades in. Not sure about other editions, but if you start it a second before the logo begins, you’re all synced up and ready to rock! Listen for free on the link to the right or download as an mp3 for free! 🙂