First off, don’t make the same mistake I did, watching the film alone, at night, in bed, in the dark, for this is the exact setting for most of this found-footage horror. Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) are a young couple in a new home. Since childhood Katie has been plagued by bizarre nocturnal occurrences, which have begun to get worse since moving, so Micah sets up a video camera to try and record whoever is behind them. Much of the film takes place with a stationery camera, set at the foot of the couple’s bed as they sleep, with occasional noises and doors slamming being the worst that happens (if you’re frightened of something coming into your room at night, why not at least sleep with the door shut?). This means that the final scenes, where shit starts to get real, are all the more powerful and traumatic. Whilst not terribly frightening, the slow build and believable characters reacting in plausible ways (initially Micah is more concerned with filming the events than helping Katie stop them) make this at times quite unsettling. They should have used a different location though, as the massive three bedroom house, with luxury kitchen, double lounge and swimming pool is not believable accommodation for such a young couple.
Arguably surpassing Howard Hawk’s 50s sci-fi classic the Thing from Another World (a feat unlikely to be achieved by the imminent Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring prequel, confusingly also named ‘The Thing’), John Carpenter’s Thing deserves its place on the list for Rob Bottin’s effects work, occasionally assisted by the legend that is Stan Winston.
Defiantly demanding that the titular creature – a life form able to imitate any living thing it comes across – not just be a man in a suit, we are treated to all manner of beasties, from an arm-munching human torso to spider-legged scuttling heads with eyeballs on stalks, as well as the nightmare inducing stages in their transformations. In a post CGI era these effects still hold ground with today’s effects houses, showing at times animatronic models can be better and more memorable than a bunch of pixels.
Carpenter has always been a master of cranking up tension through the roof, and the secluded Antarctic research base here provides the perfect scenario, with its all-male inhabitants already at each other’s throats from cabin fever. Usually with these kind of monster attacks a small group thrillers it can be easy to see who at least a few of the early victims will be, but here the equal screen time, characterisation and importance to the plot, as well as a few well-placed red herrings, mean that anyone trying to second guess the script will pursue a fruitless endeavour.
Ennio Morricone’s atmospheric score and some sharp dialogue add to the sense of claustrophobia and breakdown of relationships, and there’s an interesting spoiler if you speak Norwegian, when the basic plot is outlined at the initial meeting of some researchers at the beginning of the film.
Say what you will about directing brothers Peter & Bobby Farrelly (Kingpin, Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Hall Pass), but at times their combination of prat-falls, worst case scenarios, extreme gross-out humour and stellar casts of ensemble comic actors can occasionally work out well, with these two films being pick of the bunch. The humour may go a tad too far for some) laxatives, urine drinking, masturbation and an excruciating penis-in-zipper-moment), but by ensuring their actors play the roles straight, and staying just the right side of plausibility make sure these films serve their intended purpose, as light-hearted comedy. If anything, it’s the small moments that make these films excel, be it a disc-sanding pedicure in Dumb & Dumber or the infamous spunked-up hair-do in Mary, as well as simple yet spot-on puns and wordplay (“a rapist wit”), and the casting is such that the central actors could not be replaced without seriously jeopardising the characters they play. So yes, the Farrellys have made some duffers in their time, but they’re worth enduring if occasionally they crap out gold like this.
Now bear with me here, but I do actually really like Titanic. This may all stem from a fascination with the tragedy as a child, but its also in part due to James Cameron’s direction of a film too easily written off as a soppy romance that just happens to be set aboard the most famous nautical disaster of all time, other than Speed 2: Cruise Control. What Cameron does is take 1958s A Night to Remember, the foremost Titanic film pre-1997, and add characters you genuinely care about; DiCaprio’s steerage class ragamuffin and Winslet’s pressured poor little rich girl, as well as a sense of spectacle unavailable to film makers in the pre-CGI movie making era. There is a clear divide in the film – and eventually in the ship too – around the half way mark, once the inevitable iceberg has viciously assaulted the great ship and departed without exchanging insurance details, where the gender that the film panders to switches. Initially, the tale of an across-the-tracks romance between the leads and comparisons of their expertly realised respective classes, culminating in a steamy encounter in a car in storage is squarely aimed at the female half of the audience, but as soon as the Atlantic ocean decides it wants to come aboard and everything starts taking place on an ever increasing incline, the ensuing carnage, death and destruction should appeal to any man with a penchant for disaster movies.
Weaving fact (Kathy Bates’ ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown) with fiction (Apparently one reason the iceberg wasn’t spotted until it was too late was due to Jack and Rose sharing a passionate snog on deck) it isn’t difficult to understand why this was the Biggest Film of All Time™ until Jimbo’s latest azure-tinged epic.
Negative points? At 3 hours it’s a bit of a trek, and the multiple villains (there’s at least four, not counting the iceberg) are all a bit too one-note to be believable, even though one, Jonathan Hyde’s weaselly marketing man Bruce Ismay, is based on a real person. There are also a few too many shout-at-the –screen moments of stupidity on behalf of the leads escape attempts – surely Rose would have realised Jack would have a better chance of survival on his own, if she has got on a lifeboat. That being said, there isn’t enough to detract from the quality of the film, with the characters and story never being overshadowed by the stellar effects work.
Starring, directed, written and produced by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, there is every possibility that this film perfectly encapsulates the end of the 60s in America incredibly well, but alas today its relevance is far less. The two stars set out on a drug fueled road trip, casting aside their watches and heading across the American South in search of the true spirit of America, and unfortunately they find it everywhere they go.
Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I’ve only known drugs to be illegal, harmful, detrimental to your wellbeing and generally a bad idea (Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream were important parts of my youth), so to see their being used with such wild abandon is almost infuriating from an arguably more informed position (arguably because I know more about the effects, but nothing about the experience itself). I can only assume the intense and bizarre results of an acid trip are shown correctly, and if so then this films effect on me is probably the opposite of that intended, I don’t ever want to take drugs or experience such a level of disorientation,
Jack Nicholson makes an all too brief appearance as drunken lawyer George Hanson, owning knowledge of the finest whorehouse in the South, but even he cannot resurrect this aimless love letter to the free love era from the doldrums, though a stark and unforgettable ending is very well implemented.
Holding the prestigious position of most recent film on the list, having been awarded a 5-star rating from Empire magazine mere months before this cinematic odyssey began, Monsters is also one of the greatest examples of economic film making. Shooting on the fly with a skeleton crew and adding all effects afterwards himself, director Gareth Edwards (currently remaking Godzilla, hopefully with a better sense of scale continuity than Roland Emmerich, and without Matthew Broderick) has crafted a film equal parts Cloverfield, District 9 and any rom-com road trip you can think of. The plot is straightforward, Scoot McNairy’s cynical photojournalist Andrew must transport spoilt bosses daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back home across Central America. The hitch? Aliens landed in Mexico 6 years ago, and the area is now classified an infected zone, with only a few days before sea and air travel will be shut off for six months. Until the beautiful, unforgettable climax the titular creatures are barely seen, glimpsed in children’s cartoons, signs and graffiti, yet these giant bioluminescent jellyfish-like beings are more memorable than the central couple. Though not awful, the two leads are hardly required to stretch their talents, being a couple in real life whose marriage caused Edwards to miss a premiere of the film. As with all rom-coms, with or without building sized aliens, the two begin at odds with one another, but grudgingly grow to like each other through forced exposure, tequila, and redressing a bandage by firelight. Using a genuine couple heightens the realism of the relationship, so come the conclusion you hope they work something out between them.
When their new flatmate is found dead in his room with a suitcase full of money under his bed, best friends Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Alex (Ewan McGregor) decide to keep the money and bury the body in the woods, in the eponymous less than permanent resting place, only to find there are others on the trail of the recently deceased. Danny Boyle’s debut picture shows promise for both the director and his young leads, but the plot is too straightforward and loses its way during one of the trio’s mid film meltdown, and the ending isn’t as clever as it needs to be. The blackly comic tone (“You’re a doctor, you kill people every day”) and some interesting and imaginative shots –a robbery from the point of view of a cash machine – almost make this worthwhile, but it is only really noteworthy as a stepping stone from which Boyle would go on to become one of the better British filmmakers of recent years.