Still Here! 07/05/14

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Hi everyone,

Don’t worry the site is still here, though reviews are a bit sparse on the ground right now as I head into crunch time on my teacher training course. I’ve got 9 weeks left to go, business is picking up and the workload is intense at the moment. However, half-term is two and a bit weeks around the corner and, like last time, there will be a slew of reviews heading up. Not quite sure what yet but there’s still a few corkers waiting to be reviewed including Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, The Puppet Masters, The Stuff and The Land Unknown and I’ll try and make some in-roads into the old reviews I’m still to update.

I’m also still toying with the idea of uploading my final year dissertation for everyone to read having just been at a local college recently where they actually study Final Girl Theory as part of their A-Level course. I would love to go back in and take that the step further with the introduction of the Final Boy Theory I introduced as part of my work. It’s quality work I produced (not just me saying it, the marks were off the wall) so I could make some cash out of it, I would!

Thanks for your patience in the meantime and keep spreading the word. Once my training is finished and I get a bit of my life back (only a bit, once I’m a teacher I’ll never be ‘free’) I’ll get back into the screeners bandwagon and get a few more features designed for the site. Still some bugs around the place that need fixing but the last I heard from web designer was about September last year so I guess I need to have the site re-done by someone else….at least I can afford it this time!

Till next time.

Peter Cushing – 100 Years On 26/05/13

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May 26th 1913. The grand day when England saw the birth of one of her greatest acting talents – the legendary Peter Cushing, a true national treasure.

Today the film world celebrates his centenary year and whilst he is sadly no longer with us to share in this anniversary, film fans the world over will still pay tribute to one of not only horror’s finest actors but one of cinema’s greatest actors too. I assume that everyone visiting Popcorn Pictures will know who he was and will have seen at least one film that he starred in (Star Wars most likely tops the list for non-horror buffs). Therefore you’ll know that Cushing was a very talented actor.

Renowned the world over for his horror performances, perhaps this is why Cushing has always been greatly underappreciated outside of the genre. Ask film fans who the greatest British actor of all time is and they’d no doubt rattle off a list with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins and so on being first off the tongue. And whilst they may have garnered the critical acclaim and collected the awards to back up their pedigree, if anyone ever asked me then the first name from my lips would be Peter Cushing. Why? Watch him in any of his roles and dare to tell me that he didn’t give anything less than 100% by bringing to life his character with an array of acting talent that would leave many Oscar winners blush with embarrassment.

Cushing was typecast in the horror genre, a situation that his best friend and fellow cinematic legend Christopher Lee has been keen to avoid (with much success). If it wasn’t mad scientists, it was talented scholars, vampire hunters or religious zealots – Cushing had the monopoly on all of them. Though he starred in his fair share of turkeys (The Blood Beast Terror springs to mind), there is no question that Cushing never phoned in a performance. He had an uncanny ability to immediately raise the quality of a production just by starring in it. Bringing integrity, intelligence and a hidden enthusiasm into every role he played, Cushing performed above and beyond the call of duty, on many occasions when the material on show was in no way worthy of his time and effort. Only he could give credibility to the bone-slurping silicate monsters in Island of Terror or the white hot aliens in Night of the Big Heat. Because Cushing was the man playing the scientists who explained what was going on in many of these horror films, the nonsensical jargon actually became plausible and believable. That wasn’t down the script but to the delivery.

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Cushing’s big break in horror came with Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, a landmark film which irreversibly changed the genre film and in which Cushing played Mary Shelley’s infamous Frankenstein character. Between that and Hammer’s Dracula, in which Cushing assumed his other most famous horror role as Van Helsing, he would have cemented his legacy in the horror genre forever by playing two iconic literature characters on the big screen. Rightly so, these two roles dominate his career (he would play Frankenstein six times, Van Helsing on five occasions) as they are some of the meatiest he played. I much prefer him as Frankenstein though, with the films gradually showing a progression of character from mild-mannered-but-deluded in the first one to being completely bonkers in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.

He went on to star in countless low budget horror films over the years, many more with Hammer as well as some horror anthology films for Amicus. Cushing famously said “Who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that’s the one I do.” He knew what his fan base expected of him and, unlike other actors who did their own thing, Cushing felt obliged to pay back his fans by sticking to the traditional roles that had garnered him such popularity in the first place. It worked. If someone were to ask a seasoned horror fan who the biggest genre stars are of all time then Cushing would be up there alongside Lee, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Influential. Inspirational. Iconic. Just a few words to share between such good company.

Let’s not forget Cushing’s two turns as mysterious Time Lord The Doctor in Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD. Though not considered canon as part of the long-running TV series, Cushing’s doddery Doctor showed that he could appeal to a younger audience. And he wasn’t adverse to comedy either as his recurring guest appearances on the Morecambe and Wise show in the UK showed. He could also do adventure as he did in She. He was a man of many talents but it’s with his horror work that he will be forever fondly remembered.

Sadly, his wife Helen died in 1971 and he never really recovered. He withdrew from filming Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and stated after her death that he felt like he was just killing time before they would meet again (i.e. his death). It was a tragic thing to say but Cushing had been dealt a terrible blow and couldn’t see how his life would ever be the same again. It wouldn’t.

When he did eventually return to making films at the behest of Christopher Lee, Cushing had visibly aged. But that didn’t mean to say his performances were any less than impeccable. In fact in some tragic twist, his performances seemed to get better, with his older characters appearing to nurse inner pain and trauma which reflected that of the actor. However with the horror genre on the downward turn, Cushing found his niche gradually getting smaller. And as we know in today’s market, the world of filmmaking is rarely kind to the older generation.

Fittingly, one of his later big screen roles proved to be one of, if not the most, famous – that of Imperial bad ass Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. George Lucas knew exactly what he was dong when he cast Cushing as the main antagonist. His ice-cold, ruthless performance as the brutally efficient Tarkin completely overshadows Darth Vader’s debut, bossing him around like a dog and laughing in the face of Princess Leia as he orders the destruction of her planet. Though he’s not on screen a lot, Cushing’s performance when he is on screen reminded everyone of just how good of an actor he truly was, winning over a new legion of younger fans in the process.

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It’s ironic that despite his reputation for horror films and playing evil mad scientists, Cushing was known to be a lovely, charming man in real life – the archetypical English gent. Videos on Youtube of him on numerous UK chat shows (particularly the few of him on Wogan) pay testament to the man. He came off as someone you could listen to all day, a warm, polite and humble man who never really ‘got’ his fame. Watch the videos and tell me you don’t like the guy. He was impossible not to like. In showing the world who he really was, it made his performances as Frankenstein or Van Helsing even more remarkable. This was a man who could ‘turn on’ the evil at the drop of the hat. The much-publicised fact about Cushing wearing slippers whilst shooting Star Wars (because the boots hurt his feet too much) is just the perfect example to end on. On one hand you had a brutally-efficient militaristic performance from Cushing as the galaxy’s most feared man and on the other hand, the kindly old gentlemen who politely asked Lucas if he could wear his slippers.

Peter Cushing may have died nineteen years ago in 1994 but the popularity of his films has never been stronger, with Hammer gradually releasing its horror back catalogue on blu-ray and introducing today’s audiences to one of the last great iconic actors of the horror genre. It’s a fitting tribute to one of England’s finest and most underappreciated actors that he is even more loved today than he was in his prime, as legions of fans introduce the next generation of horror lovers to his talent. Cushing may have left us in 1994 but his legacy will live on for the next one hundred years -  a fitting testament to this amazing actor and outstanding man.

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In Space, No One Can Hear the Term ‘Knock Offs’ 25/04/13

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Imitation has been the sincerest form of flattery in Hollywood for decades. Like the gold prospectors of the Wild West not wanting to miss out on the rush to the modern day coffee shop global boom where every town and city seems to have a Starbucks, a Costa or some local equivalent, for every original cinematic success story, there comes a slew of people wanting a piece of the action.

Jaws got filmmakers rushing to find other killer fish to put onto the big screen. Dawn of the Dead saw a never-ending supply of low budget Italian wannabes hit the video stores. Only recently, you’ve got to look at the commercial success of the first wave of Americanised J-Horrors such as The Ring and The Grudge. Before long, pretty much every supernatural horror film had to feature a freaky ghost kid. It’s not rocket science in all honesty. When a film hits it big, there are bound to be clones, copies and tacky knock-offs. That’s a part of the business. Producers will see that there is a market for such titles and, only happy to line their pockets with your money, they’ll green light films to cash-in on this demand.

Take Alien for instance. Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror classic has gone down in history as one of the scariest films of all time. It wasn’t just a little green man from Mars threatening mankind, it was a whole new breed of terror. An alien which was humanoid in appearance: taller, stronger and more deadly than us. Suddenly the stakes for the human race had been upped. We were no longer top of the intergalactic food chain, relying on the US army to save the planet as so many of the 50s science fiction alien invasion films would have you believe. This was the future of alien representation on film. And it was a scary sight to behold.

It was inevitable that, thanks to its success, there would be people out there who believe they could do a better job of telling the same story. Or not even a better job, just make some money on selling a similar story to a public who wanted to see more stupid humans being stalked, sliced and ripped apart from the inside by extraterrestrial beings. Alien‘s straightforward formula, the ‘slasher in space’ narrative, would become the prototype for a whole new sub-genre of sci-fi horror films, happy to indulge it’s audience with violence and glorifying the sight of mankind being taught a lesson in respect by more powerful and more dangerous lifeforms than ourselves.

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The infamous Alien queen from Aliens

Coming right at the start of the home video boom, this new wave of sci-fi horror films aped the traditional Alien formula: a group of intergalactic explorers are suddenly thrust into a life-or-death situation against a horrific creature of which they know little, except that it can kill with ease. But whilst Ridley Scott opted to avoid making his film gory, focusing on the psychological horror elements and really delivering atmosphere and tension that has rarely been reached since, this wave of copy-cats did what most low budget cash-ins do: tone down the harder-to-perfect, more auteurish elements in favour of the cheaper shock tactics of blood and boobs. Perfect home video material!

Sometimes you don’t want to have to watch something that will make your brain hurt. Sometimes you need to sit down and watch junk. Films which aren’t great by the usual definitions of what makes a good film – but films which are, to put it rather simply, entertaining. You’ll feel a little ashamed to watch them. But you know that deep down, you’re loving every minute for the wrong reasons. And believe me when I tell you that this Alien-clone sub-genre has produced some truly entertaining knock-offs. But it has also produced some stinkers.

So April’s Pick ‘n’ Mix features four of the best and worst of the 1980s Alien clones. Infamous Hollywood producer Roger Corman is the man behind two of them – Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, whilst ET’s melted cousin becomes the go-to alien in Star Crystal, and Creature features a maniacal Klaus Kinski who looks more inhuman than the alien! Enjoy!

 (click on posters to read individual reviews)

Creature (1985)  Forbidden World (1983)  Galaxy of Terror (1981) Star Crystal (1986)

 

Christmas Pick ‘n’ Mix 24/12/12

It’s A Wonderful Life? A Christmas Carol? Miracle on 34th Street? Maybe Jingle All the Way at a push…. Just a few of the Christmas films that people could roll off the top of their head if they were stopped asked in the street to name their favourite festive flicks. We all like a bit of seasonal schmaltz at this time of the year – film quality means little as long as it makes us feel Christmassy.

But for me, when someone brings up the topic of Christmas films, I don’t think of the usual suspects. Forget the goodwill and sentiment of the holiday period, I’m more interested in the perverse nature of Santa. I think of some stranger who dresses in a weird red get-up, keeps a chilling list of those who have been nice and naughty throughout the year and then comes down your chimney and invades your personal space when you’re asleep. I see dozens of imitation Santas sitting pretty in shopping centres, department stores and Christmas parades the world over pretending to be someone they’re not – and let’s face it, you don’t know who is behind the beard! I think of the more sinister aspects to the myths and legends which brought about the existence of the character of Santa Claus in the first place. The unfortunate sight of so many children breaking down in tears as their parents force them to undergo some sort of ‘growing up’ ritual by visiting Santa in his grotto and being given some rubbish toy. I could go on and on. It’s perfect horror material, playing upon fears and insecurities that we have and portraying the dark side of what many people to be the most wonderful time of the year.

The Unusual Suspects

So forget all of the overly mushy nonsense, sit back and enjoy some of the more ‘alternative’ Christmas films out there. Films that take the goodwill of Christmas and slice it to pieces with a carving knife. Films which turn Santa from doddery elderly gentlemen in brutal killing machines and who take pleasure in inflicting punishment on the naughty…and in many cases the nice. I’m not suggesting that you stick one of these on just after Christmas dinner when the kids are watching. But everything in this world has an opposite and the following films represent the best (and worst) of the festive period. From Santa-hunting psychos in Don’t Open Till Christmas, to demonic interpretations of Father Christmas in Santa’s Slay, co-ed hating slashers in underrated remake Black Christmas and finally, to the ultimate anti-Christmas horror film in Silent Night, Deadly Night…..it’s time to take a bloody axe and smash the spirit of Christmas right in it’s  goody-goody heart!

 (click on posters to read individual reviews)

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)  Santa's Slay (2005)  Black Christmas (2006) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Plus there are plenty more Christmas-themed horror films on the site including new reviews for Jack Frost and Christmas Evil.

But in all honesty, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year  (though the updates won’t stop over the holiday period!).

 

Halloween Treats 31/10/12

As a Halloween treat and a re-opening present to everyone, there’s a a quintet of toothy new reviews for you to get stuck into.

With Jaws being one of my favourite films and the killer shark sub-genre being one of my favourite whipping boys on this site, I’ve been bombarded with low budget shark bite nonsense over the summer and frankly, I’m a little worn out by it all. Feast your eyes upon:

2-Headed Shark Attack, a film which requires no further explanation.

Sand Sharks, a shocker featuring sharks that swim through sand.

Jurassic Shark, clearly wanting to get sued by Spielberg and co. for how similar it’s title font is.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack, where the guidos and the guidettes are vying with the sharks to see who has the biggest mouth.

And finally Super Shark, about a shark that can walk and fly and do all manner of amazing things.

 

Between the five of them, there’s about enough story to fill out one film and provide dodgy CGI designers with enough work for a lifetime! Enjoy.

 

We’re back! 31/10/12

Well it’s here! We’re finally back up and running, a little later in the year than promised but no doubt all the better for it. There are still a few things left to do but in the most, the site is how it was meant to be.

 

Although the site looks a little sparse at the moment, rest assured that the features will begin to flow now that the hard work is over. It’ll take me a little while to get networking again and make sure that some of my old contacts and offers that I received in the past are still available in order to be able to get advanced previews and screeners for upcoming films.

 

Each review now has added trailers in case the write-up doesn’t make you want to see the film. There are also recommendations of similar films and, as the database expands, so will the relevance of the recommendations. On the review page, you’ll see a massive list of tags at the bottom of each page. Like your killer shark films? Click the tag and you’ll be given a list of all of the killer shark films reviewed on here. The rest of the reviews will continue to be added over the coming weeks and months as well as a whole heap of new stuff.

 

For now there’s not a lot to see but it’ll take a while to get things going again. The web site has virtually ground to a halt since June so it’s basically starting off from scratch. A horrific rebirth if you like.

 

Glad you could come back and glad you’re part of the new look Popcorn Pictures. Happy Halloween!