Category Archives: LBoM: Retrospectives

The Karate Kid Saga…All Of It

This year saw the release of a spin-off TV show based on the classic coming of age, underdog story that is The Karate Kid. An old friend of mine asked if I was going to review the show but at that point, I hadn’t seen it…now I have. But before I get to the show, I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick history on what The Karate Kid was. The idea was to just quickly recap the first film, highlight the sequels and move onto the TV show – that was the initial idea anyway. However, I got a little carried away and ended up re-watching all the films in the franchise…all of them. So thought I’d do a retrospective of everything The Karate Kid instead from the first film to the TV show and everything in between.

I’ll quickly go though the plots of each film before I offer my own view and opinions. Its time to sweep the leg on the whole franchise.

The Karate Kid

Released in 1984 from director John G. Avildsen. The Karate Kid tells the story of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles with his mother. The mother and son move into an apartment where they meet the handyman Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita).

The Karate Kid Fly Scene

At school, Daniel befriends Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), a pretty cheerleader who has some excess baggage in the shape of her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Johnny is studying a form of karate called Cobra Kai under the rather vicious sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove). Johnny’s jealousy kicks in when he sees the new kid Daniel and his ex Ali together. Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang berate, torment and even beat up Daniel. Fortunately handyman Mr Miyagi is close by as Daniel is getting beat up and steps in to stop the fight by taking on the gang single-handed.

Impressed by Mr Miyagi’s karate skills, Daniel asks the handyman to train him but Miyagi (initially) refuses. Instead he suggests they try to make peace with the Cobra Kai dojo. When sensei John Kreese declines the peace offer, Mr Miyagi suggests that Daniel should take part in the All Valley Karate Championships where he can fight against Johnny and the other members of the Cobra Kai dojo. An agreement is made where the bullying of Daniel will stop while Miyagi trains him for the tournament.

And so begins some of the most memorable scenes of the 80s with Daniel-san’s karate training. Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence and so on. The training eventually brings Daniel and Miyagi closer as they become friends as well as teacher and student. As Daniel learns about karate, Miyagi also teaches him about life in general and these life lessons help Daniel to get closer to Ali…much to Johnny’s anger.

The Karate Kid Crane Kick

The karate tournament kicks off and Daniel makes it through to the semi-finals. But this is where Cobra Kai’s sensei John orders one of his students to injure Daniel with an illegal move to take him out of the competition. The Cobra Kai student is disqualified and Daniel’s injury takes him out of the fight too. Just as Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Daniel makes his return to the tournament with thanks to Mr Miyagi’s healing hands and goes on to win despite some underhanded tactics from Cobra Kai.

My View

I haven’t seen this film for years and years. I’ll be honest with you, I never was much a fan of it back then as I always saw it as a poor man’s Rocky, its basically the same plot as Rocky too. You have an underdog who finds an older mentor to train him up for a big fight no one thinks he can win…oh and the hero also finds love along the way too. Plus there is the fact that both The Karate Kid and Rocky were directed by the same man, John G. Avildsen. I should’ve included this in my déjà vu article from a while back.

Despite me not really being a fan and not watching the film for probably decades now…I have to admit I really enjoyed watching it for this retrospective. People change as do their tastes and though I still do see it as a poor man’s Rocky – I found watching the film now really enjoyable. There are some great performances here, the relationship between Daniel and Miyagi is brilliantly realised/acted by Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita respectively. There’s a real father/son thing going on as Daniel has no father and Miyagi lost his wife and son during childbirth. There is a real kinship between the two and it comes across beautifully on screen.

The Karate Kid Fight Agreement

Yeah the plot is a bit dry and predictable (not as good as Rocky either), but the tension created between Daniel and Johnny enjoyable none the less. Which brings me to the film’s villains. William Zabka’s Johnny is a fantastic antagonist and played well making his anger and vitriol toward Daniel very clear…though its also clear he is just a puppet being controlled by the complete asshole John Kreese played to awesome effect by Martin Kove. This factor kind of makes you slightly sympathise with Johnny to a point as deep down he seems like a decent guy who is just being led astray by sensei John.

The fights are okay, but seem very stiff in their choreography overall. The final tournament builds to a tense showdown and even though its pretty damn obvious who will win, it still provides some great entertainment regardless. And yes, that crane kick is bloody stupid. Plus there is that very 80s soundtrack with songs from the likes of Survivor (who also did music on the Rocky films), Bananarama, Baxter Robertson and Commuter to name a few. I can’t really talk about the great soundtrack and not mention its most famous song – Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best…which interestingly enough was originally written for Rocky III but Sylvester Stallone rejected the song in favor of Eye of the Tiger by Survivor who did appear on The Karate Kid soundtrack. Is that enough Rocky/The Karate Kid connections yet? Okay, one more. The score for this film was by Bill Conti who also scored Rocky.

Anyway, I need to move on, more films to cover yet. But yeah – I really enjoyed watching The Karate Kid for this retrospective, far more than I thought I would as I never really liked it growing up.

The Karate Kid Part II

Directed by John G. Avildsen once more, this first sequel was released in 1986. The film sees both  Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita return in their respective roles from the first film. Only the location is switched from America to Japan where Mr Miyagi must face his past.

The Karate Kid II

The film picks up right where the previous one finished, with the end of the All Valley Karate Tournament. Daniel is the champ and John Kreese is both angry and embarrassed his Cobra Kai students lost. In the parking lot, John angrily attacks his losing student Johnny Lawrence. This is when Miyagi steps in and confronts sensei John. Without throwing a punch or kick, Mr Miyagi passively stops John and makes a fool of him in front of his students when instead of delivering a deadly blow, Miyagi tweaks John’s nose.

The story then jumps ahead in time six months when Miyagi gets a letter from home in Okinawa telling him his father is dying. He sets out to return to his home village and Daniel agrees to tag along for support. Mr Miyagi tells Daniel why he left Okinawa to begin with. Many years ago when Miyagi was still young, he fell in love with a girl called Yukie and she had been arranged to marry Sato who was Miyagi’s best friend at the time and also the son of the richest man in the village. When Sato learned of Miyagi’s feelings toward his future wife, he challenged him to a fight. But this was not ordinary fight, this was a fight to the death. Torn between his feelings toward his best friend, the girl he loved and the idea of fighting to death – Miyagi left Japan for America.

Soon after arriving in Okinawa, Sato appears and re-challenges Miyagi to that fight from years ago which Miyagi refuses and heads to his home village. Miyagi and Daniel are greeted by Yukie who reveals she never married Sato due to her feelings for Miyagi. They also learn that Sato has become a rich industrialist who has destroyed the village fishing population which the locals relied on for income and that Sato now owns the land the village is on, the locals are forced to rent their homes from Sato. Soon after and Miyagi’s father dies, this is when Sato once more challenges Miyagi to their fight and give him three days of mourning before they fight to the death. Sato says he will destroy the village if Miyagi refuses to fight. So they strike a deal, the fight will go ahead only no matter what the outcome is, Sato will sign over the land the village is on to the villagers.

Meanwhile Daniel crosses paths with Chozen who is Sato’s nephew and just as evil and corrupt too. Chozen accuses Daniel of insulting his honor when Daniel-san accidentally uncovers corruption in Chozen’s business. The two have several confrontations as the film progresses. The day of the big fight comes around only it is interrupted by a typhoon which causes severe devastation. Sato becomes trapped when his dojo is destroyed by the typhoon. Both Miyagi and Daniel rush to save him showing Sato respect and honor. Daniel then tries to save a young girl trapped in a bell tower and Sato orders he nephew to help only Chozen refuses. This disrespect causes Sato to disown his nephew who disappears in anger.

The Karate Kid II Fight

The next day and Sato arrives at the typhoon destroyed village with his bulldozers, only he’s not there to cause trouble as he offers to help rebuild what he can. Miyagi and Sato finally make their peace after all these years and the fight to the death is cancelled. Yukie’s niece, Kumiko asks Sato if he will host an upcoming festival for the village which he accepts. Its while Kumiko is performing a dance at the festival when the vengeful Chozen reappears takes Kumiko hostage and demands to fight Daniel. This is the big final fight of the film and of course Daniel wins. With Chozen on his last legs, Daniel repeats the tweaking of the nose Miyagi did at the start of the film.

My View

Well, there is more to the plot in this sequel that the original…but that is not necessarily a good thing. It just feels a little too convoluted and unnecessary overall. There’s a lot going on with subplots inside subplots wrapped up in the main plot. You have Miyagi’s relationship and history with Sato. Sato’s relationship with his nephew. Miyagi’s relationship and history with Yukie. Then Yukie’s relationship with her niece. Daniel’s relationship with Kumiko as well as his rivalry with Chozen…and of course the continuing friendship between Miyagi and Daniel all going on at the same time. That’s before I get into the whole angle of Sato’s corrupt business, his wanting to destroy the village and so on…

The first film had a simple, bare bones plot about a kid being bullied but it worked. This sequel is a mess of multiple plots and subplots. Its not that the film is confusing in any way, its just largely asinine and inane. There can be a such a thing as too much story and this film proves that.

The acting seems to be a step backward from the first flick too, not that the acting in the original was Oscar worthy or anything, but it was more than good enough for the film it was in. Here, the performances just seem bland and tepid. The chemistry that worked so well between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita with that father/son relationship just is not there this time around which is a shame because Pat Morita’s performance as Miyagi is probably the best thing about the whole film. Its interesting and rather engrossing to learn more about Mr Miyagi’s origins and past – in fact I’d even go so far as to say the film probably would have been much better without the titular Karate Kid of Daniel and instead focused solely on Miyagi, I think a Mr Miyagi solo film could’ve worked.

The Karate Kid II Drum

I don’t know how they managed it but the fight scenes feel more stiff and sluggish than the first film too. The villains lack any kind of punch or impact and come across as badly written pantomime bad guys. There is another 80s soundtrack to enjoy though this time with the likes of Carly Simon, Dennis DeYoung and Peter Cetera with the film’s most famous song, Glory of Love.

All being said The Karate Kid Part II isn’t a terrible film at all, but it is woefully disappointing and largely superfluous.

The Karate Kid Part III

Managing to squeeze itself in just as the 80s was on the way out, John G. Avildsen is back as director for the third time as this sequel hit cinemas in 1989. Not only do Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita return but so too does Martin Kove as sensei John Kreese of the Cobra Kai dojo from the first film. This time its all about bonsai trees…seriously.

The Karate Kid III Bonsia

Okay so John Kreese has been left broke and desperate after losing his students at the Cobra Kai dojo due to the fallout from the tournament from the first film. He turns to his old friend Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) who co-founded the Cobra Kai with John years earlier. Terry vows to get revenge on Miyagi and Daniel and plans to re-establish the Cobra Kai dojo before sending John on vacation to rest up.

Meanwhile Mr Miyagi and Daniel return to America from Japan to find that the apartment complex Miyagi worked at and where Daniel lived is being torn down, leaving Miyagi with no job and Daniel homeless…and if you were wondering, its also revealed that Daniel’s mother returned to New Jersey leaving her son alone and homeless. Daniel spends his college funds to buy a rundown shop which he uses to realise Miyagi’s dream of owning a bonsai shop.

Terry Silver hires an up and coming fighter to go up against Daniel at the All Valley Karate Tournament but soon learns that Daniel has no intention of defending his title. Despite several attempts to get Daniel to change his mind over the tournament, he continues to refuse to participate which annoys Terry and his protege fighter Mike Barnes. Terry tires to manipulate Daniel by telling him that John Kreese died of a heart attack after his failure at the Cobra Kai dojo when he lost his students following the events of the first film and Terry begs forgiveness for John’s previous behavior.

When Mr Miyagi and Daniel return to the bonsai shop they find all the stock has gone to be replaced with an application for the All Valley Karate Tournament. To help replace the missing bonsai, Daniel attempts to retrieve a very rare tree that Miyagi brought back from Okinawa and planted part way down a cliff. He tries to climb down the cliff only for Mike Barnes and a few henchmen to retract the climbing rope leaving Daniel stranded on the cliff side, giving him no option other than to sign up for the tournament. Now back at the top of the cliff and after Daniel has singed the application, Mike breaks the rare bonsai. Daniel returns to the shop with the broken tree which Miyagi sets about fixing, he also refuses to train Daniel for the All Valley Karate Tournament.

The Karate Kid III Terry

This is when Terry Silver steps in and suggests that he train Daniel for the competition instead…only he trains him at the Cobra Kai dojo using very brutal and violent techniques. Terry pushes Daniel beyond the limit as he becomes increasingly more distanced form Miyagi as Terry continues to poison Daniel’s mind. It is when Daniel gets involved in a fight at a nightclub that he realises just how aggressive he has become and nothing like the person Mr Miyagi taught him to be. Ashamed, Daniel goes back to Miyagi and apologises. Daniel then goes to tell Terry that he will not be taking part in the All Valley Karate Tournament after all and this is when Terry reveals his master plan of revenge and to ruin Daniel as he brings out both Daniel’s main aggressor Mike Barnes and the not really dead John Kreese. Mike beats the crap out of Daniel and this is where Mr Miyagi intervenes and finally agrees to train Daniel for the tournament.

Its the big day and both Mike Barnes and Daniel reach the finals and Daniel takes a beating leading him to want to concede. Miyagi urges Daniel to continue and go on to win while the Cobra Kai are given a lifetime ban on competing on future tournaments due to their actions.

My View

I really have little to say about this one, its pretty damn terrible. Nothing more than a lazy re-hash of the original with none of its charm or personality. Where as the previous sequel was such a departure form the original that it made very little sense, this one is an horrific mish-mash of the first two films that is spat out with little to no effort. The plot is basically the same as the first flick with the tournament, bullies and all. But then there are those pointless subplots and unimportant story tangents from the second film that just don’t need to be there.

The Karate Kid III Terry Silver

If the film has one saving grace, then it has to be the performance of Thomas Ian Griffith playing the manipulative yet charming bad guy Terry Silver. He’s utterly brilliant and believable in the role as well as being one of those villains you just love to hate. Its a shame as the idea of turning Daniel against Miyagi is an interesting angle to explore, they just did a really shit job of it in the film. It needed less bonsai and more Thomas Ian Griffith.

Time to move on, it can’t get any worse…can it?

The Next Karate Kid

Its abandon ship time for the fourth film in the franchise from 1994 This is the first film in the series not to have John G. Avildsen directing or Ralph Macchio as Daniel, hell even the writer of the first three films Robert Mark Kamen didn’t want anything to do with this one. Instead we have Christopher Cain directing with a then unknown and future Oscar winner Hilary Swank playing The Next Karate Kid. The only returning cast member is Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi.

So this time around Miyagi goes to Boston to accept a commendation for Japanese-American soldiers and his efforts during World War II. While there, Miyagi meets up with Louisa Pierce who is the widow of Miyagi’s commanding officer during the war. As they catch up on old times, Louisa’s granddaughter, Julie (Hilary Swank) makes her appearance. Julie is a troubled teenager with anger issues after the death of her parents in a car crash. This has led to a fragmented relationship between Julie and her grandmother.

Mr Miyagi suggests that Louisa goes to Los Angeles and stay at his house for a break while he says in Boston and takes care of Julie. At school Julie makes friends with a security guard, Eric McGowen who is trying to get into a shady school security fraternity called The Alpha Elite which is led by the self-styled Colonel Dugan. The Alpha Elite are strict and ruthless as they enforce the schools rules using physical force and Ned Randall is one their most aggressive member who continually harasses and hits on Julie unbeknownst to Eric.

The Next Karate Kid

Julie is almost hit by a car and only saved by her relaxes and karate training that she tells Miyagi she learned from her father before he died who in turn learned from his father who was a student of Mr Miyagi many years ago. Julie sneaks into school at night to look after an injured hawk she found. Its during one of her night time skirmishes when she is found and chased through the school by members of The Alpha Elite. Ned manages to get hold of Julie only for her to escape but she is arrested by the police and suspended from school for two weeks by Colonel Dugan. Mr Miyagi uses this time to further teach Julie karate and how her to control her anger.

When she returns to school, Julie discovers that the hawk is now fully healed and lets it go in the wild. Its also prom time at school and Julie goes with Eric which angers Ned. After the prom, Eric drives Julie home and kisses her, unbeknownst to them Ned followed them and saw the kiss. In a fit of rage and jealousy, Ned smashes Eric’s car with a baseball bat and challenges Eric to a fight. However, its not a fair fight as Colonel Dugan and The Alpha Elite all turn up, set fire to Eric’s car and beat the living shit out of him only for Eric to be saved by Miyagi and Julie.

Julie challenges Ned to a fight while Miyagi takes on Colonel Dugan. Of course they win and The Alpha Elite are left disappointed in their leader. The end.

My View

Okay so this is tough as its hard to chose which film is the worst out of this and The Karate Kid Part III. I mean, they are both fucking terrible films, absolutely God awful. I guess even though the third film was terrible, it still had that one redeeming factor of Thomas Ian Griffith playing the villain to perfection…this film has nothing.

Here’s a still from a film called The Karate Dog

Karate Dog

I’ve used this because it has to be a better film than The Next Karate Kid, plus Pat Morita is in it so there’s that connection.

I had little to say about the third film and I have even less to say about this one, its just such a non-film I fail to understand why it even exists. I even think Pat Morita even gave up on the franchise at this point despite agreeing to be in the film as even his performance is below par. If you want to see down right damn fine actress Hilary Swank before she became a respected Oscar winner in a terrible film then this is the film for you.

I’m done with this one.

The Karate Kid

No I’ve not accidentally covered the first film again, this is the remake from 2010 directed by Harald Zwart. Of course there are no returning characters from the originals here with it being a remake. Instead we have all new characters with Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and Mr Han (Jackie Chan). With the basic premise being the same as the original only with a shift in location from America to China.

The Karate Kid 2010

So Dre and his mother Shelly (Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to Beijing after Shelly gets a new job. While out enjoying the sights of Beijing, Dre meets Meiying (Wenwen Han), a young violinist and the two develop a friendship. Enter Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) a young kung fu (yes kung fu, not karate) student who takes a disliking to Dre and his attraction to Meiying. So the fighting and bullying begins both in and out of school as Cheng continually hassles Dre. During one particular fight when Cheng and his cohorts corner Dre and beat the crap out of him, a maintenance man, Mr Han steps in and defends Dre. The gang turn their attention to Mr Han who ends up taking them all on revealing himself to be a bit of a kung fu (not karate) expert himself.

Han then tends to Dre’s injuries and points out that the boys are not the bad ones, its their teacher who is. Dre asks Han to teach him kung fu (still no karate) which Han refuses to do. But Mr Han suggests they talk to Cheng’s teacher, Master Li (Yu Rongguang), at the Fighting Dragon dojo to make peace. Of course (just like the original) this does not work out as planned and the inevitable martial arts tournament is suggested where Dre can take on Cheng and the rest of the students of the Fighting Dragon dojo instead.

So Mr Han ends up teaching Dre kung fu (not karate) and trains him for the up coming tournament. Dre’s relationship with Meiying continues as the two get increasing closer. Dre suggests that they skip school for a day of fun which leads to Meiying almost being late for an important violin audition. Meiying’s parents see Dre as a bad influence on their daughter and forbid them from seeing each other. One night, Dre goes to Mr Han’s home to find him drunk and smashing up his prized, classic car he had been working on. Han tells Dre this is sort of a tradition with him and that every year he fixes up the same car and every year she smashes it as a way to vent his anger over an accident Han had years ago when he crashed the same car killing his wife and ten year old son. Dre promises to try harder in his training and take it more seriously out of respect for Han and everything he had lost.

The two grow closer and Dre works harder than ever before in his training. Han even helps Dre write a letter to Meiying’s father in Chinese as a way of an apology for his previous behavior. The apology is accepted and Dre is told that Meiying will be at the tournament to offer support.

The Karate Kid 2010 Dre

So its fight day and (just like the original) Dre advances to the semi-finals, there’s some illegal moves, broken leg and so on. Dre and Cheng go up against each other and Dre does some flip kick that’s even sillier than the crane kick form the original. Dre wins, Cheng has a new found respect for him and an ends well.

My View

Okay so here goes a bold statement that will probably incite anger…I much prefer this remake over the original. I mentioned at the start how I wasn’t much a fan of the original anyway but enjoyed watching it for this retrospective – so that could play a bit part in why I prefer this version. I don’t know, the remake just feels a lot more “authentic” over the original. In the original, they hired American actors do the stiff martial arts, in this they hired martial artists to do some acting and the difference on screen is night and day. There are some great action sequences and fights in this one and moving the location to China adds to that previously mentioned authenticity. This feels and looks like a genuine martial arts film where as the original feels and looks like an American TV movie.

The acting is far superior in this version too, though I really, really do not like Jaden Smith at all and in this, he’s barely passable as an actor. But having the living legend that is Jackie Chan playing the mentor figure is genus and I found him far more believable and engaging as Mr Han than Pat Morita’s Mr Miyagi in the original…and I love Mr Miyagi as hes the only consistently good thing in the original films, except that awful fourth film.

The Karate Kid 2010 Mr Han

There are a lot of beats repeated directly from the original in this, yes the basic plot is the same, yes the bullies are back and yes its all boils down to a tournament that offers no surprises, you know Dre will win and earn the respect of his enemies. But its overall better written and presented.

Yes I guess I’d better mention it. There was a lot of backlash over the title of the film seeing as there is no karate in the film and instead features kung fu, but still called The Karate Kid. My retort is, does it really matter? When watching a film are you invested more in the plot and characters you are watching or the title? Enjoy the flick ignore the title.

Now before I get into the new TV show, I just want to quickly cover the other TV show…Oh yes there was another one.

The Karate Kid

This one was an animated TV show that only lasted one season in 1989. None of the original cast return. Daniel and Mr Miyagi are voiced by Joey Dedio and Robert Ito respectively. Very loosely based on the film franchise…very loosely indeed.

While the show retains the characters of Daniel and Mr Miyagi, that’s about the only connection to the film. The series has pretty much nothing to do with karate, kids, tournaments or karate kids in tournaments. Instead it goes for an action/adventure kind of thing that has Daniel and Miyagi trying to recover a stolen miniature shrine with magic powers that takes them on an adventure around the world.

The Karate Kid Animated

There were only ever thirteen episodes made and they all followed the same basic formula. Mr Miyagi would find some info on where the mysterious shrine was for that particular episode, Daniel and and new character Taki would have to go to wherever the shrine was last seen, defeat the bad guys who were also after it, obtain the shrine only to have it escape their grasp somehow meaning they would have to repeat the whole process next episode. It was standard kids Saturday morning cartoon stuff.

My View

You know what, this show was actually pretty good fun. Yeah it has nothing to do with the franchise its based on I admit, but these kind of shows were everywhere back then (there as an animated version of Police Academy for example). So for one of these animated shows based of an existing and popular film franchise, this ain’t half bad.

Yeah its a bit formulaic and one episode is hard to distinguish for the last but overall it was a decent action/adventure show aimed at kids. If you can find it, check it out.

Just to throw in a bit of random trivia and link everything together. James Avery lent his voice to this animated show and he also appeared as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which starred Will Smith. Will also produced the remake of The Karate Kid which starred his son Jaden Smith. How that for a little six degrees of separation? By the way, Six Degrees of Separation is an early film for Will Smith who was in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which also featured James Avery who lent his voice…

And now finally, the reason I began writing this article…

Cobra Kai

This show works as a direct sequel to the movies and offers plenty of in-jokes and references for the hardened fan to spot. Bringing back Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and even his old rival William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence who hadn’t been part of the franchise since his short cameo at the start of the first sequel in 1986. Sadly no Mr Miyagi as Pat Morita died back in 2005. The show aired in 2018 exclusively on YouTube as part of their YouTube Premium streaming subscription service.

Cobra Kai

The show tells the story of both Daniel and Johnny thirty plus years after the events of the films. Daniel is now a family man with a daughter and owns a very successful car dealership. While Johnny is less successful, a bit of a down and out guy who decides to re-open the Cobra Kai dojo in an attempt to redeem himself using the same brutal methods he was taught while he was a student there. The dojo begins to attract some questionable students including Johnny’s star pupil Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) who Johnny slowly changes from mild mannered kid to aggressive karate student.

Meanwhile, Johnny’s estranged son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) starts work at Daniel’s car dealership where Daniel teaches Robby the life lessons he learned from Mr Miyagi. Caught in the middle of all of this is Daniel’s daughter, Samantha (Mary Mouser) who finds herself torn between the love for her father and loyalty toward her friends. Over the course of the series Daniel and Johnny butt heads, reignite old rivalries and are haunted by the ghosts of their past.

My View

I have to be honest and tell you that I’ve not seen all of the episodes yet, but I am over halfway through the ten so far and will watch the rest after I’ve finished this (long) article. But up to this point, I’m loving the show. I think its a brilliant and refreshing series and while it offers a new spin on the whole The Karate Kid franchise, it still has one foot firmly in the 80s and reminds you it all takes place in the same universe as the films without it being overbearing. Perhaps one of the best bits of the first episode is when Daniel and Johnny meet for the first time in decades and address a major plot-hole in the first film involving that stupid crane kick which given the rules for the tournament, was illegal and Daniel should’ve been disqualified. There are plenty of these little throwbacks and references just to let you know the writers are respecting the films but still doing their own thing too. Even Cobra Kai‘s lifetime ban from the third film is addressed, the writers really did their homework for this show.

I’m not a big fan of T.V. shows, I just find they drag on endlessly. How the hell anyone can sit there and watch Game of Thrones without falling asleep I have no idea. But Cobra Kai is different, the episodes are short coming in at around 23-25 mins each. This makes them fast paced, snappy and more importantly –  entertaining. There are jokes as well as more serious and emotional elements, of course there’s plenty of fighting too. Its a nice little concoction of elements that all work together to make a refreshing and delightful series. Plus the show does something I mentioned about the first film and how Johnny is generally a good guy, just mislead/treated. This show delves into his past a little and shows why he is the asshole he became.

Cobra Kai Daniel and Johnny

I think the reason the show is called Cobra Kai and not The Karate Kid is because its more of an ensemble affair with multiple characters and stories intertwining instead of focusing on one particular character like the movies did. The cast are great and the kids are the paint that create the main picture while Daniel and Johnny’s history is the canvas where the main story unfolds but is just as important. Everything just works so damn well. Oh yeah, it has an awesome soundtrack too.

The show has been renewed for a second season which will air next year with ten more episodes. I’m really looking forward to it.


Well there you go, The Karate Kid franchise covered in its entirety (except for the video games). Its a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to quality and as I said at the very start, I was never a big fan of the first movie. But I have thoroughly enjoyed going through the franchise and ending on the high note that is Cobra Kai. I just hope you have enjoyed reading (especially you Mike).

Cobra Kai Daniel and Johnny Fight

Now I just need to finish up the last few episodes of Cobra Kai and wait for the second season…no mercy!

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Hellraiser: Judgment…Finally!

At the end of my Hellraiser retrospective from last Halloween, I mentioned how a tenth film in the franchise – Hellraiser: Judgment had been completed but not yet released. Well now the flick has finally been released. But the big question is, what is worth the wait?

Well seeing as I covered every film in the franchise from start to end, I guess I have to sit thought this one as well, even if just for the sake of completion. What demons (aside from Americans not being able to spell ‘judgement’ correctly) does this film hold. Is it on par with the first two films, is it a worthy sequel…or am I about to return to the depths of hell that was Hellraiser: Revelations?

Well I can’t put this off any longer so here it is.

Hellraiser: Judgment

Pinhead

From writer/director/actor Gary J. Tunnicliffe comes the tenth film in the Hellraiser movie series. Tunnicliffe is a bit of a Hellraiser veteran as he started out as a make-up artist on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth through to Hellraiser: Hellworld – so he’s been a part of the franchise for many, many years. This flick marks his first time sitting in the director’s chair but not his first writing credit in the series as he wrote the previous film Hellraiser: Revelations. So with so such a deep pedigree within Hellraiser – he must know what he’s doing right?

Okay so its synopsis time. The film starts in Hell with Pinhead (Paul T Taylor) and The Auditor (Gary J. Tunnicliffe) discussing how they can update and evolve their soul harvesting methods. Technology on Earth has evolved over the last few decades or so and humans are no longer interested in solving the puzzle boxes that open gateways to Hell.

Meanwhile on Earth, two brothers Sean (Damon Carney) and David Carter (Randy Wayne) who are detectives are investigating a series of brutal murders based on the Ten Commandments by a killer known as “The Preceptor”. They are joined by Detective Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris) and they discover links to a known criminal, Karl Watkins (Jeff Fenter) who has gone missing. While they go searching Watkins’ last known location, Sean falls unconscious and wakes in Hell to be saved by the angel Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald). Sean escapes Hell but not before taking the infamous puzzle box with him. But the Cenobites are not going to let Sean escape quite so easily.

My View

This film follows the same tradition of the last few Hellraiser sequels, that its one of those ‘straight to DVD’ pictures. So who this “The Preceptor”, the person going around killing people? Well its meant to be kept secret until an ‘unexpected’ reveal…but if you have an IQ over 4 than you’ll work it out pretty quickly – lets just say that Sean is depicted as being a detective with numerous problems…

The Auditor

Gary J. Tunnicliffe needs to stick to make-up effects – he’s amazing at those and this film does feature some truly stunning visuals as he was also the make-up effects designer for this one. There are some impressively disgusting moments that do feel very, very Hellraiser and I can not sing the praises of this film in that regard enough. But…he just can’t write or direct. The last flick, Hellraiser: Revelations was also written by Tunnicliffe and it is fucking terrible. The plot was bland and the characters were flat, just as they are here too. This is such a ‘meh’ film that I just can’t get either annoyed or excited about it.

I think the idea behind this one was to reboot the franchise and try to start anew, they even left it open for a sequel with one of those annoyingly popular posts credits scenes – but it fails on every level (aside from the effects work). I really enjoyed Paul T Taylor as the new Pinhead – he’s no Doug Bradley sure, but he’s certainly a hell of a lot better than Stephan Smith Collins from Hellraiser: Revelations. And that’s about it for anything good about this one. Its not the worst of the Hellraiser flick, not even close – but I can’t say its any good either. It’s Hellraiser: Hellworld quality, its a film that just exists when it doesn’t need to.

Pinhead: “Obsolete. Irrelevant in an age when desire has become amplified but where lust can be sated electronically. We need something more than just a wooden box.”


The franchise has two options from this point. Either just let it die (please no more sequels), its been on its last legs for decades now and needs to be put down. Or just let Clive Barker back in. He wanted to remake his original a few years back but the studio didn’t think that was a good idea – but green-lit all the terrible sequels since then?

This film was bad and I feel a little depressed after going through the whole franchise. But I do have one big reason to celebrate…I have no more Hellraiser films to watch and my Hellraiser retrospective is complete!

Tear Apart

Black Mirror – Every Episode Reviewed

I don’t usually cover TV shows on this blog, but I’m making an exception for this one because this show is amazing.

I guess that first I should quickly go over exactly what the show is about for anyone not in the know. Black Mirror is an anthology TV series from writer, presenter and producer – Charlie Brooker. Brooker is one of the finest acerbic, satirical writers we have here in England, his pessimistic style is second to none as he always manages to find the worst of any situation and make miserable poetry from the most dreary of topics with his use of very, very dark humour. So don’t expect happy, unicorns riding rainbows stories here – these tales are bleak, depressing and extremely downbeat.

Charlie Brooker

Black Mirror started out on the British Channel 4 for 2 seasons before being snapped up by Netflix for the 3rd and latest 4th season. As I mentioned before, its an anthology show with each story being self contained – however all the stories follow a theme and that is one of technology, the stories often show how impressive and useful technology can go very badly wrong . Brooker uses things like Facebook, Twitter, The Internet and other modern revelations to tell often bleak and disturbing yarns with twists and stings in the tail covering the pitfalls of modern technology and trends. Think Tales From The Crypt but with technology instead of horror. Most episodes are an hour long or more – with the odd exception of many of the earlier ones which run at around 45 minutes. The first and second season only contain 3 episodes each and then there was a Christmas special too. But the episode count was upped to 6 per season when Netflix brought the show from season 3 onward, bringing the total episodes to 19. While each story is self contained, from season 3 onward – Brooker started to include nods, references and Easter eggs in episodes that relate to others, meaning that all the stories (while separate) take place in one shared universe.

I’m a big fan of Charlie Brooker and I had heard a lot about this show before but never actually got around to watching it. Then season 4 aired – so I thought I would put the effort in to watch every episode from start to finish… and I have to say I thought it was sheer brilliance with every single episode being good to utter genius – not a single dud in the lot. Having just finished every episode (several more than once) including the newest season 4. I thought I would go through each and every episode with a brief synopsis before offering my view on all of them.

Now be warned, this is a show worth going into blind. I will try to avoid any major spoilers and not give away any of the endings. But as I’m covering every episode, endings will be mentioned/referenced… some mild spoilers could pop up. If you don’t want anything spoilt at all, just go watch Black Mirror now and then come back and read this article later.

Season 1 (2011)

The National Anthem

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British Prime Minister, Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) is woken up in the night by a phone-call from the Home Secretary Alex Cairns (Lindsay Duncan). Callow is told that much loved member of the Royal Family – Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) has been kidnapped and being held for ransom. But the kidnapper does not want money…they want something very different and if Prime Minister Callow does not comply, then Princess Susannah will be killed. With the entire British nation as well as a big chunk of the rest of the world following the story and watching online – will Callow give into the kidnapper’s demands or will he let the Princess die?

My View

A great introduction to the twisted and yet beautiful mind of Charlie Brooker – if you have never experienced his genius writing before, then you can’t go far wrong with this story. Its perverted, twisted and ‘as black as night’ funny. The ransom Callow has to pay is beyond anything you could probably think up. The twist at the end is as jet black funny as it is disturbing when all is revealed and you realise just what Callow has done…stay tuned during the credits to get the final punch in the gut. This episode sets the downbeat standard that the other episodes will follow.

Fifteen Million Merits

Fifteen Million Merits

Set in the future where people are required to cycle on exercise bikes in order to power their living quarters and earn currency called ‘merits’ which are used to buy food, goods, entertainment, etc. This one tells the story of Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) who inherited fifteen million merits from his dead brother. Bing meets Abi Khan (Jessica Brown Findlay) and the two strike up a friendship. Abi is a keen singer and when Bing overhears her talent, he suggests that she tries out for the talent show – Hot Shot. Only problem is that the entrance fee is fifteen million merits – which Abi does not have…but Bing does. So he buys and gifts Abi an entrance ticket giving away his entire fortune so she can bring her dreams to life. Only things do not work out exactly as planned and Bing is left merit-less unable to buy the most basic of essentials…for now.

My View

I love the setting of the tale – a near future with technological advancements yet still being restricted. The visual style is sublime and the story pokes fun at talent shows like The X-Factor and its ilk – there’s even a Simon Cowell parody thrown in too. The twist in this one was unexpected and really caught me off guard, it felt like being hit in the face with a sledgehammer. The acting is top-notch and the juxtaposition between the flowering romance between Bing and Abi compared to what happens after the talent show audition is emotionally draining as is what happens to Bing by the time the end credits roll.

The Entire History of You

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Set in a future where many people have had a groundbreaking technology called ‘grains’ implanted behind their ear. This ‘grain’ allows you to record anything the person sees or hears and then play it back anytime they want so they can relive memories from the past in vivid detail. Liam Foxwell (Toby Kebbell) is a young lawyer who just had an appraisal at work that he felt went particularly badly. He begins to replay the memory so he can see where he went wrong.  His wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) tries to get Liam’s mind off his failure by taking him to a dinner party where he begins to notice that his wife seems to be particularly fond of one guest – Jonas (Tom Cullen). Liam and Ffion return home but he becomes obsessed that something more than just friendship is going on between his wife and Jonas. Maybe her own ‘grain’ will reveal the truth?

My View

Just as a quick side-note: this is the only episode in the entire series so far that was not written by or based on a story Charlie Brooker. This one was written by Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It). But don’t let a change in writer fool you as this is just as dark and disturbing as anything Brooker has written. Relationships are pushed to breaking point and beyond as Liam’s obsession gets out of hand. In keeping with Black Mirror tradition – the ending is unsettling and grim. The last few ending scenes are difficult to watch and while the direction the story goes in is easy to predict – it still packs a punch regardless.

Just thought I’d throw this tit-bit in too. Robert Downey. Jr actually optioned this episode to be turned in to a big Hollywood movie by his own production company – Team Downey. But as of writing, the film has yet to be made.

Season 2 (2013)

Be Right Back

Be Right Back

Young couple – Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) move into their new home in the countryside. While Ash is returning the van he hired for the move, he crashes and dies. Soon after and Martha discovers that she is pregnant, worrying about raising a child alone and desperately missing her partner, Martha tries out a new online service that uses the deceased’s online profile and communications to create a virtual Ash that she can talk to via a chat-bot. The more information of Ash it has, the more accurate the bot can be. So Martha begins to upload photos and videos of Ash so the bot can mimic his look and voice. The virtual Ash tells Martha about an experimental technology that allows the artificial persona to be uploaded to a blank, synthetic body – creating an android that looks and acts almost just like the real Ash before he died. But will the relationship work out and what kind of a father will the android be?

My View

This one has a really interesting concept behind it. I mean, if you could bring a loved one back via autonomation using their personal profiles as a basis…would you? Its a very melancholy yarn that breaks the heart a little by the end. A dramatic, sci-fi parable about grief and love which given the technology used, doesn’t seem that far-fetched. The brilliant performances by the two leads adds a lot of depth and believability to this haunting story. Well worth a watch.

White Bear

White Bear.jpg

Waking up in an unknown house and suffering from amnesia a young woman (Lenora Crichlow) sets out to try and find out who and where she is. The only clue she has is a strange symbol being broadcast on the TV screens in the house. As she heads outside, she notices people just standing around specifically watching her, filming and taking photos with no one willing to help. She starts to get little flashbacks to a toddler, her daughter possibly? She is hunted by a shotgun wielding man wearing a mask with that same symbol from the house. As she runs for help, she meets Jem (Tuppence Middleton) who explains that the symbol began appearing on TV, computer and phone screens, turning most people into passive voyeurs and others into killers. Jem has a plan to reach the transmitter at White Bear to destroy it to stop the broadcasting of the symbol and she takes the amnesia sufferer with her. Along the way the amnesia girl starts to get more and more flashbacks of her daughter, partner/husband, locales and even the name ‘White Bear’ seems to be familiar to her too…but why?

My View

Just have to get this out of the way, this is one of the best episodes of the entire series. The ending is fucking brilliant and while as dark as other twist endings – its also unbelievably satisfying and I guarantee you’ll crack a wry smile of satisfaction once the whole picture has been revealed. Everything comes together perfectly, the acting is great, the story is compelling, the pacing is sublime and the ending is a pure genius. A fantastic episode and one worth repeat viewings so you can pick up on all the well placed and subtle hints peppered throughout the plot.

The Waldo Moment

The Waldo Moment

Struggling comedian Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby) plays the part of a satirical animated blue bear called Waldo on a late-night, topical comedy show. Waldo becomes a huge sensation with the British public, so much so that he is even given his very own show. Despite the success of the Waldo character, his creator Jamie is depressed and feels that his life is unsatisfactory. When Jamie/Waldo crosses paths with Conservative candidate Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies) things start to get heated as their rivalry grows. Waldo, producer Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng) suggests that Waldo should run against real politicians in an upcoming by-election. During the campaign Jamie meets Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie), Labour candidate who, despite having no chance of winning, is entering the by-election to further her own political career. Jamie and Gwendolyn start a relationship which quickly goes awry and the rivalry between Jamie/Waldo and Liam Monroe reaches boiling point while Jaime’s life begins to fall apart and he loses control of his creation.

My View 

You know how I said in the introduction that there is not a single dud episode in the entire series? I still stand by that, but this one comes close – not because its a bad episode as its not, but more due to the fact that other episodes have been so damn great that this one just does not live up to the rest. Its a good episode but one that I feel Brooker mis-wrote, which is strange given that fact he is an amazing political satirist and this topic is right up his street. The story just lacks any real punch or depth and the ending is rather bland. The episode has some great moments – such as the late-night, topical comedy show that Waldo gets his big break on as I feel the presenter is very Brooker-esque and it seems he was making fun of himself a little. But overall, its just a ‘good’ episode that ultimately misses the mark.

Christmas Special (2014)

White Christmas

White Christmas

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) and Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) are two lonely guys stuck in a remote house on Christmas. The two have hardly spoken in to each other in five years. Joe seems reluctant to talk about anything, so Matt decides to open up and tell Joe about himself. This takes us to the first flashback where it is revealed that Matt works as a dating coach using the ever present ‘Z-Eye’ technology, an augmented reality device that grants access to the Internet and allows Matt to see and hear what his clients witness and provide instructions to them in real time. Matt tells a story of one of his clients before revealing that the dating coach is just something he does on the side. Matt then tells Joe about his real job – which is told in another flashback. Matt’s real job has him coaching artificial intelligence inside small sized computer chips known as ‘cookies’ to help make the lives of humans easier around the house. At this point, back in the remote house, Joe begins to open up to Matt and he tells his own story about his failed relationship with Beth (Janet Montgomery) via yet another flashback.

My View

The strange thing about this episode is that I began to watch Black Mirror for the first time over the festive period and just be sheer coincidence – I watched this episode on Christmas Eve. And I have to say that this will now become a Christmas tradition to watch this episode every year around the same time. This is an utterly brilliant story and one that is well written and told. I suppose you could look a this as an anthology story within an anthology as there are really four stories contained in this one episode – the three flashbacks and the ‘current’ events, its also one of the longer episodes with a 74 minute run-time as well as the final episode before the switch to Netflix. The four stories all seem separate at first but by the time Joe finally reveals more about his past and confides in Matt, all the strands come together beautifully and you finally see the big picture. The ending is well written and in true Black Mirror fashion…pretty bleak and downbeat too. An absolute cracker of a tale and one of those that you can really enjoy repeat viewings of as you’ll notice the subtle, well placed clues second, third, forth time around as to what is going on.

Also worth noting that this is the episode where Brooker began inserting the nods and references to previous episodes and where the whole shared universe really began. So its worth keeping an eye out for those along the way as there are several to spot. And keep your eyes peeled for even more references in other episodes from this point on.

Season 3 (2016)

Nosedive

Nosedive.jpg

Using a combination of eye implants and mobile devices – society has the ability to share and rate everyday activities on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. One’s rating can have an affect on their socioeconomic status. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) holds a 4.2 overall rating but needs a 4.5 to get a discount on her dream apartment. She tires hard to improve her rating by being overtly nice to any and everyone she meets so they rate her higher but her pleasant persona does little to help. Lacie takes a photograph of Mr. Rags, a teddy bear that she and childhood friend, Naomi (Alice Eve) made together when they were children. Naomi is a very successful socialite and very highly rated. Touched by the fond memories of Mr. Rags, Naomi asks Lacie to be maid of honour at her up and coming wedding. Lacie agrees as she thinks this could massively help her increase her rating. She writes a speech and everything – but it is when Lacie heads off to the wedding that things start to go wrong.

My View

This was the first show after the switch to Netflix and you can really tell the difference. The increase in budget shows on screen, the style is much brighter, the colours more vivid and the overall production is far more impressive. But don’t think that means the stories themselves are going soft. This is a great little story and one that pokes fun at all the people who are desperate for ‘likes and shares’ on social media platforms today. It a well observed and written satire that hits all the right buttons. The ending is quite different to others and I may even say that this one has some what of a happy ending…’happy’ for Black Mirror anyway. I really enjoyed this one – but that is probably as I detest all that attention seeking ‘like me’ on social media.

Playtest

Playtest.jpg

Cooper (Wyatt Russell – son of Kurt) leaves home to travel the world. The final leg of his tour sees him end up in London where he meets a tech journalist, Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen). Cooper’s mother calls him several times but he never answers the phone, purposely ignoring her. During his stay in London, Cooper finds his bank account has been hacked and all his money has gone. Now penniless and stuck in England, he turns to Sonja for help who shows him an app called Oddjobs which offers short term employment. SaitoGemu, a video game development company famed for their horror games are looking for people to playtest their latest software, which Cooper signs up for. At the company, Cooper meets Katie (Wunmi Mosaku), who asks him to try out a piece of their new technology – a kind of augmented reality device that can blur the lines between real life and video games. This was just an introduction to the main event and Katie takes Cooper to meet Shou (Ken Yamamura) who created the company and the advanced technology for their games. Cooper is then invited to take part in horror game where he is taken to a real mansion and left alone to face whatever horrors the mansion holds.

My View

I didn’t know who it was that played Cooper in this while I was watching it but found him very familiar and charming. Afterwards, I did some research and discovered that he was the son of Kurt Russell. Knowing that, you can really see a resemblance in both their looks and mannerisms. This one is a great tale and particularly great fun if you’re an avid gamer like myself as its full of nods and references to famous games – one so subtlety well done its easy to miss at first but explains a lot of what is going on. There are some genuine scares in this one as Cooper is stuck in the mansion and begins to question his own sanity. The ending is a belter and one that will frustrate as well as entertain. This is what Black Mirror does best with its dark and twisted storytelling – one of the great episodes and highlights of the show.

Shut Up and Dance

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While trying to clear his laptop of malware, teenager Kenny (Alex Lawther) downloads a purported anti-malware tool called Shrive. Once his laptop is clear of viruses, he decides to ‘enjoy himself’ over some adult entertainment – not knowing that the Shrive tool he used actually allows an unseen hacker to record Kenny through his laptop camera. The hacker then emails Kenny and says that they will send the video of him doing the ‘five knuckle shuffle’ to all his friends and family unless he does as the hacker asks. Kenny is sent on a chase around the city which evetually leas him to meet Hector (Jerome Flynn). It is revealed that Hector is also being blackmailed by the same hacker over him cheating on his wife with a prostitute. Both Kenny and Hector are sent on a very specific task by the hacker and if they fail, then the hacker will release the information they hold over both of them.

My View

This is a heart-pounding episode, its tense, thrilling and blisters along right up to the massive punch in the face ending. Brooker’s writing and storytelling are brilliant here as the story moves along and keeps you guessing what is going on right up to the beautifully brutal twist end. Its a simple tale, but told incredibly well with great performances. Its not preachy, it doesn’t try to get some kind of message across. Its just good ole’ plain Black Mirror storytelling with one of the best endings in the series and one you will want to watch again.

San Junipero

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A nervous and shy young woman, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis), discovers the beach-side party town of San Junipero. Its 1987, the time of big shoulder pads and even bigger hair. In San Junipero anything goes as long as its fun. Yorkie meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is a party girl through and through – the complete antithesis to the sheltered and bashful Yorkie. The two strike up a friendship as Kelly teaches Yorkie to loosen up and enjoy herself. Their friendship blossoms into romance and Yorkie and Kelly have sex, but when Yorkie tries to find Kelly later – she is nowhere to be found. As Yorkie searches for Kelly, the truth is slowly revealed.

My View

Many people consider this to be the best episode of the whole series. Its not my personal favourite but its right up there. I wrote the synopsis of this one quite short as the twist doesn’t really come at the end, but more so a little over halfway through and I didn’t want to spoil too much. This really is a wonderful piece of storytelling and I can understand why so many think of it as the best episode so far. Its well designed and the soundtrack is more than just a great reminder of the 80s as the songs have been very specifically chosen to give some subtle clues along the way, so keep them ears open. The midway reveal is a very poignant one and the overall story and end in really quite heartbreaking but heartwarming at the same time. But even with the mid-twist in this one, there is still an ending that will leave you emotionally drained. Yet another wonderful episode and one that offers a great change of pace and a very bitter-sweet conclusion.

Men Against Fire

Men Against Fire

‘Stripe’ Koinange (Malachi Kirby) and ‘Hunter’ Raiman (Madeline Brewer) are soldiers working for an unknown military organisation. There mission is to eliminate mutated humans called ‘roaches’ in Denmark. The soldiers have a neural implant called ‘MASS’ that enhances the processing of their senses and provides useful data via augmented reality. Lead by Medina (Sarah Snook) the team search and interrogate a small farming village they suspect are harbouring these so called roaches. Stripe discovers a whole hidden nest of roaches, humanoid like creatures with pale skin and razor sharp teeth. He and Hunter open fire killing them all. Stripe notices one of the roaches was holding a strange LED device and as he examines it, it flashes him in the eyes. The device disrupts his MASS interface which causes glitches. Sent out on another mission to hunt roaches, the MASS implant get worse and worse as Stripe begins to experience further glitches he sees things other soldiers can not, including what these roach creatures truly are.

My View

This one is one of the lesser episodes for me. You can pretty much see the twist coming early on and the story is pretty bland for Black Mirror. There is that trademark final gut-twist epilogue that leaves you on a downer which is probably the best part of the whole thing. Its not a terrible tale, but it certainly lacks a lot of what other episodes have.

Hated in the Nation

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Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald) is a Chief Inspector investigating the gruesome murder  of Jo Powers (Elizabeth Berrington) along with trainee Detective Constable Blue Coulson (Faye Marsay). Jo was a journalist who had been receiving online death threats prior to her murder. Her husband claims that Jo cut her own throat with a broken wine bottle and injured him in the process as he tired to stop her, a story the police find hard to believe and suspect the husband of being the murderer. The next day and a rapper named Tusk (Charles Babalola) is also found dead after becoming a target of online hate too. The two deaths are linked to an online social media hashtag ‘game’ called ‘Game of Consequences’ where the public vote who should die next by simply leaving #DeathTo (name of victim here) on Twitter. Further investigation reveals that both deaths were caused by small, robotic bees or Autonomous Drone Insects (ADIs). These ADIs are a creation a company called Granular who use the ADIs to counteract the falling bee population. Are Granular and their ADIs really responsible for these deaths, can Karin and Blue get to the next victim of the #DeathTo game before its too late?

My View

This is the longest episode so far coming in at just under 90 minutes – its pretty much movie length. This is a great one, a nice detective thriller that brilliantly uses those annoying hashtag things people set up in a vein attempt to become popular. A compelling watch with wonderfully observed satire dished up in that unique way only Charlie Brooker can do. The ending features not only a great twist but also a devastating climax, but even before you get to the end you have a hell of a lot of story that is captivating and engrossing throughout. One of the many highlights of the series with great acting from start to finish.

Season 4 (2017)

USS Callister

USS Callister.jpg

Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of Callister Inc. A company known for making a massively multiplayer online game called ‘Infinity’ which uses neural interfaces to play the game in a simulated reality. His co-workers dislike him and he’s treated with no respect. New employee, Nanette Cole (Cristin Milioti) is impressed with the game coding and she learns that Robert is a big fan of an old sci-fi TV show called ‘Space Fleet’. After work, Robert returns home and logs onto play a game of Infinity that is modded to incorporate elements of his favourite show Space Fleet. In the game Robert is the Captain of a spaceship, the USS Callister and members of his crew are represented by digital versions of his co-workers. As Captain, he is admired, respected and feared – the complete opposite to his real work-life. Robert often uses the game to take out the frustrations of his work life on the in-game avatars of his work colleagues. The next day at work, Robert take a shining to new employee Nanette – he swipes a disposed cup of coffee that she drank from and uses the DNA on it to upload a version of her into his modded game. Nanette wakes up inside Infinity confused and not knowing where she is. She finds her work/crew mates and they disclose everything about them and her being digital clones of their real selves and how Robert in the game is a tyrant who takes out his real world frustrations on the digital versions of his work colleagues. When Nanette refuses to cooperate with the overbearing Captain and his demands, she comes up with a plan to overthrow him, escape the game, free herself and the rest of the crew.

My View

The production on this one is brilliant, a wonderful pastiche of Star Trek wrapped around a story about a cyberbully. There is a real and genuine story being told here and the episode has a real dark tone to it, but then its also littered with funny one liners and visual jokes too. Robert Daly is a disgusting villain when in the game world but then you feel real sympathy for him being looked down on in the real world. Its an interesting dichotomy and one that works fantastically well in this yarn. An excellent start to the new season with great comic moments engulfed in a bleak and dark tale. The ending is also classic Black Mirror gloom with a little silver lining snuck in.

Arkangel

Arkangel

3 year old Sara Sambrell (Aniya Hodge) goes missing while chasing after a cat in a park. After a search, she is found safe and well near some train tracks. Her mother, Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) agrees to participate in a free trial for something called ‘Arkangel’ – a chip that when placed inside the child’s brain that allows the parents to track them as well as monitor their health, detect the child’s stress levels, enable the parents to see whatever the child sees though a tablet and then censor anything out that the child should not be seeing. Years later and 9 year old Sara is known as ‘the walking snitch’ among her classmates at school because of her chip. A troublesome older schoolmate known as ‘Trick’ (Nicky Torchia) tries to introduce Sara to violent videos on the internet, but as she can not see them due to the chip, he instead explains violence to her as well as what blood is. Back at home and Sara tires to draw a violent picture using her own blood that she draws from her own finger. Marie sees this through her tablet and tries to intervene, but Sara lashes out and hits her mom. Marie becomes concerned over her daughters mental health due to the chip and seeks help from a doctor who tells her that the Arkangel chip can not be removed, but that she should turn the tablet off and never use the Arkangel system again. Marie does so and lets Sara out in the world for the first time without restraint on what she can see. While at school Trick shows Sara violence and sexual videos for the first time.  Now 15 and Sara (Brenna Harding) grows up without Arkangel protecting her. Her personality changes due to the influence of old school friend Trick (Owen Teague). The relationship between mother and daughter begins to break down as Marie starts to distrust Sara and contemplates reactivating the tablet and the Arkangel system to see exactly what her grown up daughter is now getting up to…but will she like what she sees?

My View

As a quick side note, this episode was directed by Jodie Foster (yes THAT Jodie Foster) and is the first episode of the show directed by a woman. A marvellous tale about trust, paranoia and overbearing parenting. The acting is solid throughout and the story asks an interesting ethical quandary about controlling our kids. While the moral of the story is quite obvious, its still well handled and told, complete with an ending that will not really shock or surprise but will still leave a lasting effect filled with bitter irony.

Crocodile

Crocodile.jpg

While driving home from a night out at a club, Rob (Andrew Gower) hits and kills a cyclist. He convinces his passenger Mia (Andrea Riseborough) to help him cover up his crime by throwing the dead body and bike into a lake. Fifteen years later and Mia is married, has a son as well as a successful career. She goes on a business trip where Rob tracks her down at her hotel and shows Mia a news article about the dead cyclist and how the wife of the cyclist believes her husband is still alive and is actively looking for him. Rob suggests writing an anonymous letter explaining what happened fifteen years back, but Mia believes that the letter could be traced and tires to talk Rob out of it. They argue and Mia ends up killing Rob to keep him quiet and not risk her happy life. Shorty after, outside of her hotel, there is an accident where a self-driving pizza delivery truck hits a pedestrian which Mia witnesses. When the man who was hit by the truck contacts his insurance company, they send investigator Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar) to establish exactly how the accident happened. Shazia uses a device known as a ‘Recaller’ to scan a claimant’s memories. The memory reveals that Mia witnessed the accident and Shazia is hopeful that Mia’s testimony will allow her to prove the accident was the pizza truck’s fault so she can pursue a lucrative negligence suit against the owners of the truck. However its when Shazia tries to get information from Mia with the Recaller device when things start to unravel and Mia is forced to protect her family and successful life.

My View

This one is bleak – very, very, very bleak – even for a Black Mirror episode. It was filmed in Iceland and looks gorgeous using the wonderful snowy, Icelandic landscapes to great effect. The performance of Mia by Andrea Riseborough is utterly brilliant as the hardened business woman just trying to protect her family and life. The story is pretty violent with numerous deaths along the way and gets quite tense a few times too. Everything wraps up nicely as the chain of seemingly unrelated events all come together via the use of people’s memories and leads up to a chilling but deserving finale. Not one of the pure genius episodes, but still a good solid one with a satisfying resolve.

Hang the DJ

Hang the DJ.jpg

Frank (Joe Cole) uses an artificial intelligence program called the ‘System’ and a dating app called ‘Coach’ to find a date. He is paired up with Amy (Georgina Campbell) who is also using Coach. The System which runs the Coach app pre-selects everything from where they go on their date, what they eat and even how long the relationship will last. When Frank and Amy check Coach to see how long they will be together, they are told only twelve hours. After the meal, they are taken to a pre-selected location where they spend the night together and after the twelve hours are up, they part ways. Both Frank and Amy begin to question Coach and the System as to how it manages and selects the parings of couples. Coach states that is has users go on numerous dates until their perfect mach is found while it collects data of the two people to evetually match them with their ultimate life-partner on what its known as a ‘paring day’ with a 99.8% accuracy. Later, Amy is assigned a new partner lasting nine months – Lenny (George Blagden) and Frank is assigned Nicola (Gwyneth Keyworth) for one year. A paring day celebration for a new couple is held, Frank and Amy attend with their previously chosen respective partners and they reconnect with each other once more. When their pre-chosen relationships evetually expire, Frank and Amy are once again paired up with each other by Coach, both of them agree to not check how long the relationship will last this time around. The couple really do get on and there is a genuine shared attraction there…but how will their second time around work out, has the System and Coach got it right this time?

My View

An interesting take on online dating and dating apps with great satirical undertones running through it. This is Black Mirror’s take on a glossy ‘rom-com’, its a love story done really well with a twist…and for Black Mirror, not a necessarily downbeat, depressing twist either. The acting of the two main leads is really good and this helps to emotionally affect the story. There’s also some amazing visual symbolism worth keeping an eye out for. Even though its not too hard to second guess where the episode is going and what the twist will be, it still manages to leave a lasting impression and even a smile on your face.

Metalhead

Metalhead

Three petty thieves – Bella (Maxine Peake), Tony (Clint Dyer), and Clarke (Jake Davies) break into a disused and seemingly unguarded warehouse. While Clarke is preoccupied trying to steal a van to aid their getaway – Bella and Tony enter the warehouse looking for a specific box. The box is said to contain an object that will help one of their own called Jack and it must be important if the trio are willing to risk their lives to get it. Tony finds the box, but it is being guarded by a robotic dog-like machine. The machine kills Tony and also shoots electronic trackers that embed themselves in Bella’s skin. She runs out of the warehouse without the box and escapes in a car while Clarke uses the van. The guard dog robot chases them down, kills Clarke leaving only Bella alive. She then faces a nightmare as this robotic dog-like machine chases her through a post-apocalyptic wilderness with the intent of killing Bella…but all for what? Bella must fight to survive using only her wits, guile and whatever she managed to scavenge in this desolate land.

My View

This is the shortest of all the episodes coming it at around 40 minutes…but don’t let that put you off. Its also shot stylishly in black & white which sets it apart from any other episode in the series. I suppose if I were to boil this down to basics, this is a horror/slasher movie style tale. You ever seen The Terminator? Replace the T-800 with a robotic dog and Sarah Conner with Bella and you get the general idea. Its fast paced (most of the characters get killed off in the first few minutes) and tense chase story where the female is continually being perused by a killer robot. The machine itself packs quite a few surprises, so much so that you’re never sure of exactly what it will do next or what it is capable of with its many gadgets and weapons. There’s even a few light comedic moments that ease the more tense aspects of this story. The ending is a real downer that tops off a superbly written and directed episode.

Black Museum

Black Museum.jpg

While out driving, Nish’s (Letitia Wright) electric car runs out of power, while waiting for it to be recharged – she accidentally discovers and enters the Black Museum. Inside she meets the proprietor, Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) who takes her on a tour of the museum and tells her stories connected to several of the artefacts he has collected over the years. The first tale is of Rolo’s earlier life – he used to be a neurological research recruiter. He has in his possession a neurological implant that allows the user to feel the sensations of others. Rolo persuades Dr. Peter Dawson (Daniel Lapaine) to try out the implant which would mean he can diagnose his patients with much more accuracy, leading to a higher cure rate and save many, many lives. However, Dr. Dawson starts to misuse the implant for his own benefit and things start to backfire. The second story has Rolo convincing Jack (Aldis Hodge) to transfer the consciousness of his comatose wife Carrie (Alexandra Roach) into his brain. The idea being that Carrie will feel the sensations Jack feels and that will help her feel alive once morw. When he hugs their son, she feels the benefit, etc. While her consciousness will be in Jack’s brain, her body will be euthanized and her organs donated for medial use. But the downside is that Jack no longer has any privacy with his comatose wife’s conciseness always there and their relationship breaks down. Jack evetually meets Emily (Yasha Jackson) and starts a new relationship – much to the annoyance of Carrie’s consciousness. But with no body to put Carrie into, what can Jack do? The third yarn is one of convicted murderer Clayton Leigh (Babs Olusanmokun). Rolo convinces Clayton to sign over all the rights to his post-death consciousness when he is still on death row. After his execution, Clayton is turned into a hologram and used as a sadistic attraction in the museum. Meanwhile, back at the Black Museum. The truth as to exactly who Nish is gets revealed  and her trip to the Black Museum was not by entirely an accident…

My View

Very much like the previous Christmas special episode, White Christmas, this is another anthology episode with four interconnecting stories. The three flashbacks with Rolo talking about his past life before he opened the Black Museum and the current tale involving Nish visiting the museum. Big pre-warning for this particular episode – this one is chock full of nods, references and even spoilers from previous episodes. So my advice would be to watch this one last, not only so you can have fun spotting the references – but also to avoid any of the spoilers. All of the stories work well and the way everything comes together at the end is sublime. The final twist is a belter and a great way to end the season.


So there you have it, every episode of Black Mirror covered and reviewed…and without major spoilers too. If you are a fan of these anthology style shows then I strongly suggest this one. Its really is wonderful with brilliant writing and numerous episodes worth watching more than once. They are often bleak and depressing tales, but now and again the show offers a few sliver linings along the way. The only real downside is how long we’ll have to wait for another season.

Black Mirror Face.jpg

My Personal Picks

Okay, so for a while I thought about putting all 19 episodes in a ‘top 19’ ranking order from worst to best…but then I quickly realised I think there are several episodes that I would easily put at number 1. Its not so simple to pick apart an entire show where even the lesser episodes are still worth a watch and the better ones are nothing short of genius.

Instead I thought I’d just offer a list of 10 episodes I think you should check out if you don’t feel like trawling through all 19. Not in any particular order, no ‘top 10’, no worst to best or best to worst. Just 10 solid, well made and entertaining episodes you should most definitely watch and why.

  1.  The National Anthem. The first episode and I think its a great introduction to the world of Black Mirror.
  2.  White Bear. This would definitely make it as one of my top 1 episodes. The final twist is my favourite of the entire series.
  3.  Playtest. As an avid gamer, I loved this one. Not only is it a great tale but its also full of gaming references.
  4.  Metalhead. Sheer brilliance. This one is simple but really effective. I looks beautiful and offers a stunning story.
  5.  Shut Up and Dance. This is another one that would hit my number 1 spot. Its a well paced episode with a huge middle finger of an ending.
  6.  Hated in the Nation. This almost movie length episode is a thrilling cop drama with a plot and end that will drop your jaw.
  7.  Arkangel. This one stuck a particular cord with me as I became a father to a girl myself a few months back. I really related to this one and the moral questions it raised.
  8. White Christmas. The first anthology episode is well written and acted. Everything tied together nicely and the ending is justified and dark.
  9.  San Junipero. Often cited as the best episode of the series. Not for me but its still a fantastic yarn with a heartwarming/breaking ending.
  10.  Black Museum. While I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the other anthology episode – its still a cracker and well worth watching…last.

 

What Is Your Pleasure Sir?: A Hellraiser Retrospective

Well its that time of year again. Get the jack-o’-lanterns carved, dress up as a recognisable horror icon… or just dress up as anything not connected to the celebrations at all, stock up on candy to give to annoying beggars… sorry I mean trick or treaters. And best of all, lock yourself away in front of the TV in a darkened room and watch some horror movies because… its Halloween season!

Halloween

I wasn’t sure what to do this Halloween, I suppose a profile on Harvey Weinstein could have worked as that would’ve been scary enough. The twisted sick fucker.

After last year’s humongous, seven part An Incomplete History of Horror bonanza write up. I thought I’d dial things back a little this time around and instead of covering dozens and dozens and dozens of movies, over a century of horror films – this year, I’ll just do ten. Also seeing as its the 30th anniversary since the release of the original Hellraiser this year too – seems like a great time to do a Hellraiser retrospective.

Can you believe they’ve made ten of these things? I stopped watching after number three. But I have recently put myself through the extreme torture of the other films and watched all of them over the last week or so just to write this article for you lucky folks. I hope you appreciate the abuse I’ve had to endure. Jesus wept – being ripped apart by rusty hooks on chains would’ve been less painful. There will be mild spoilers ahead, but I will try to avoid any major plot points. Also – this is gonna be a long one.

There’s a lot to cover with ten films in total. So I’ll just be doing a brief synopsis of each flick dotted with a few other details and I’ll offer my own views/opinions on each of the films. Well let’s not waste anymore time, so…

Shall we begin

Hellraiser

Hellraiser frank

From the twisted and yet strangely alluring and sedcutive mind of Clive Barker comes this tale of love, passion, betrayal and rat skinning. Hellraiser was written and directed by Barker, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart and released in 1987… happy 30th Hellraiser.

So the film starts with a guy called Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) who purchases a mysterious puzzle box (A.K.A: The Lament Configuration) from an even more mysterious seller. Frank retreats to his family home and opens the box in an unused room on the top floor – the puzzle box is said to give the solver unknown pleasures… only these ‘pleasures’ turn out to be rusty hooks attached to chains which end up quite literally tearing Frank apart. So Frank is dead before the film really gets started.

Cut to sometime later and Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into the house with his new wife – Julia (Clare Higgins). Its shown in flashbacks that Frank and Julia had themselves a cheeky little affair shortly before Larry and Julia were wed… there’s history there. As Larry is moving their belongings into the house, he cuts his hand and heads up to the same room where Frank was killed and also where Julia is reminiscing about her torrid affair with her husband’s brother. The blood drops from Larry’s wound kick-starts a series of events that leads to the re-birth of Frank and brings with it something much, much worse… Cenobites. These are creatures from hell or as the leader himself describes themselves: “Demons to some, angels to others.”

The slowly regenerating Frank recruits his ex-lover Julia to get him more blood so he can be fully free form his hellish torture and the Cenobites. But the leader of the Cenobites wants Frank back and he enters a bargain with Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) to take Frank back to hell at all costs.

My View

This film was awesome back in 87 but 30 year later? Yeah, its still awesome. There is a weird ‘timeless’ feel to the picture that, at the same time, comes across as very fresh too. Yeah it has some of that ’80s cheese’, but its also reminiscent of some kind of haunted house film from the 1940s but made for today. Hellraiser was a bold and visceral flick that still packs a punch now and features one of the greatest practical effects I’ve seen in a horror film.

Frank Cotton rebirth

The re-birth of Frank is right up there with the likes of the werewolf transformation scene from An American Werewolf in London or THAT dog scene from Carpenter’s The Thing. Its grotesquely gorgeous to look at and brilliantly shot with wonderful music from Christopher Young paying in the background. The film never shies away from what it is… a bloody, brilliant mess. Yet it still has a great story under all of that blood and gore, an almost Edgar Allen Poe-esque twisted tale blended with a Shakespearean love story – topped off with sublime gothic overtones.

Barker’s direction is beautiful to behold, even at its most goriest. There’s a marvellous scene where Kirsty experiences a rather twisted and yet astonishing nightmare complete with terrifying ambient sound effects that I feel is mesmerising in its direction. The fact Barker chose to shoot in a real house over a set means he restricted himself in terms of camerawork – and yet that just adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere, as he had to use tight camera shots and subtle/slight camera moves to tell his story. This is an antiquated haunted house flick in the same vein as House On Haunted Hill (1959) or The Uninvited (1944) but with an 80s twist.

There are so many great and iconic images in this film from skinless Frank smoking to Julia’s transformation into blood-splattered murderess and of course – the main man himself… Lead Cenobite.

Pinhead

The Cenobites themselves are almost regal in their appearance and mannerisms, especially the main dude. Before the sequels, before he became a horror icon – Pinhead was credited as ‘Lead Cenobite’ and played by Doug Bradley- who would go on to play Pinhead in almost every Hellraiser flick from this point onward. He has some amazing lines in this film, speaking of which….

Lead Cenobite: “We’ll tear your soul apart!”

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Julia HellraiserII

The sequel was given the green-light before the first film was even released and  Hellbound: Hellraiser II hit theatres in 1988. Back were some of the cast and crew including Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and of course Doug Bradley. Clive Barker was gone as director, but he did write the story and serve as producer. Now in the director’s chair was Tony Randel.

Opening up with a flashback showing a glimpse of the origins of Pinhead himself – the film quickly jumps forward in time to and picks up directly where the last film left off. Kirsty has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital following the events of the previous flick. She tells anyone who will listen about the puzzle box, the Cenobites and dead uncle Frank coming back to life – but no one believes her… no one except Kyle MacRae (William Hope) the assistant of Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham) who runs the hospital Kirsty is being kept in.

It is later revealed that Dr Channard is in fact a follower of the puzzle box himself and has the mattress that Julia died on (from the first film) brought to him. Dr Channard also has one of his more insane patients brought to him, hands the patient a razor – which he uses to cut himself spilling blood onto the mattress which brings back Julia from the Cenobites grasp.

With the help of another patient – Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), Kirsty sets out to stop Dr Channard and Julia which takes them into a Labyrinth of Hell overseen by its God called: Leviathan.

My View

Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a wonderful film to look at, the set designs are stunning and the work put into the hellish labyrinth is marvellous and very atmospheric:

Hellraiser II Labyrinth

The story picks up right after the first flick and even comes equipped with its very own recap to get you up to speed. Overall, its a solid sequel… but it lacks that distinctive Clive Barker feel that it definitely would have had if he’d directed it. The story is a bit bland and the characters lack any real depth. Its a sequel that I feel it was rushed out and needed a little more time to be fully cooked and it comes across as a less coherent film than the first. Still there are some great moments in this picture such as seeing Dr Channard turned into a Cenobite… which looks painful.

Hellraiser II Channard.jpg

We get a glimpse of who Pinhead was before he opened the box and it offers an interesting insight without spoiling too much (the sequels will do that). A good sequel and well worth checking out – but just not as great as the original.

Julia Cotton: “They’ve changed the rules of the fairy tale. I’m no longer just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen.”

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Hellraiser III

Well here we go, from this point on the films get bad… very, very bad. Doug Bradley returns as Pinhead and that’s about it. Everyone else is gone including Clive Barker (though according to rumour, he did return to do some ‘patchwork’ during post production). Released in 1992 and directed by Anthony Hickox, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is the exact point where this franchise became a franchise and the beating of the dead horse began.

Opening with a much more detailed backstory as to just who Pinhead was before opening the box. We are introduced Captain Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley) who we see open the puzzle box and become Pinhead during World War I.

Jumping forward to present time (well, 1992), some nightclub owner called J. P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) buys a unique piece of art, it just so happens this piece contains the soul of Pinhead. After being bitten by a rat, J. P. spills his blood onto the art and this awakens Pinhead – but does not release him, he needs more blood to be fully free. J. P. agrees to help Pinhead by bringing him another victim.

Meanwhile, reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) gets visions of Captain Elliot Spencer who is trapped in some kind of limbo. So Joey and ghost Elliot team up to take down Pinhead.

My View

I don’t like it – lets move on…

Of course I’m going to rip this one apart more so than Larry/Frank at the end of the first film. To be honest, this is not a terrible film – its just a terrible Hellraiser film. The wonderful, regal and enigmatic Pinhead from the first two flicks is gone and has been replaced with Freddy Krueger… pretty much. Pinhead is now this wise-cracking slasher villain spouting one liners and badly written ‘humour’. That glorious Clive Barker imaginative and creative world has been destroyed and replaced with 1990’s North Carolina. There are new Cenobites introduced and they are shit – such as that CD face one that shoots CDs at people… cos you know, 90s!

Hellraiser III Cenobites

Police cars explode as do church windows, the police are unbelievably stupid… well all characters are to be honest and the plot is pathetic. The mystique of Pinhead is obliterated by the Captain Elliot Spencer backstory that we didn’t need or want. This is a far cry from the simplicity and effectiveness of the first film.

The studio wanted to make a more mainstream horror flick and they did exactly that. It panders to that 90s horror crowd, it cashes in and sells out by trying to make Pinhead the next Jason or Freddy and he loses all of his priestly persona due to this. In fact there is a scene where Pinhead wreaks havoc in a nightclub and the scene is very reminiscent of the pool-party scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The film is just a bog-standard, typical 90s slasher film, I suppose its worth watching if you like that kind of thing – but its just not Hellraiser. Almost forgot, Ashley Laurence has a small cameo as Kirsty.

Pistonhead Cenobite: “Relax, baby. This is better than sex.”

Hellraiser: Bloodline

Hellraiser Bloodline

This one is so bad that its directed by Alan Smithee and any self respecting film fan should know who he is…

Released in 1996 – this was the final film in the franchise to be released theatrically and also the last one that Clive Barker had any involvement in. What started out as an ambitious and interesting concept was ruined by studio interference.

Okay, so there are three different timelines going on in this flick. So we have a prequel set in the 19th century telling how the puzzle box was first created. Then there is a direct sequel set in the 90s that explains the Lament Configuration building seen at the end of the previous film, and finally – there is a future sequel in the 22nd century set on a space station.

Its 2127 when Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) uses a robot to try and solve the puzzle box on board a space station: The Minos, that he created. The film then flashes back to France, 1796 where we see Dr. Merchant’s ancestor, Phillip LeMarchand (Bruce Ramsay again) as a famed toy maker who creates the puzzle box under commission for the aristocrat Duc de L’Isle (Mickey Cottrell). LeMarchand is unaware of just what the box is for as L’Isle wishes to use it to sacrifice a peasant girl to please the demon Angelique (Valentina Vargas). LeMarchand is told his bloodline is now cursed for helping to create the box and open a portal to hell before being killed.

In 1996 John Merchant (Bruce Ramsay yet again), a decedent of Phillip LeMarchand, has built a skyscraper inspired by the puzzle box. The demon Angelique travels to America and releases Pinhead from the box. The two team up to cause pain and suffering to millions and kill John Merchant who is working on an anti-puzzle box, The Elysium Configuration. Back in 2127 and it seems that the opening of the box has freed Pinhead and his cohorts… in space!

My View

This film could have been amazing. It held such promise with an idea thought up by Clive Barker that would been much more in-depth and thought out. However, the production company cut the budget, ordered director Kevin Yagher to film a new ending and alter certain scenes that changed characters and their motives (which is why he’s credited as Alan Smithee). 25 minutes were cut from the film for the sole reason to get to Pinhead quicker and it ended up becoming a hatchet job.

Hellraiser Bloodline Box

Its a damn shame too because this could have been a worthy Hellraiser sequel. There are some great moments in this one, the whole 1796 France portion telling the origins of the box are really well done and the Pinhead and Angelique relationship is fun to watch too. Yet one of the biggest problems of the film is Pinhead himself, there’s just too much of him as the production studio force him down your throat – Pinhead works best when used sparingly. Plus, save a few examples, a lot of his dialogue is just awful.

This one is very hit & miss, you can really tell that it suffers from studio interference and we can only wonder just how much better this film would have turned out if they just left Kevin Yagher to direct the film he and Clive Barker wanted to make.

Pinhead: “Hell is more ordered since your time, princess, and much less amusing.”

Hellraiser: Inferno

Hellraiser Inferno

Well this is it folks, the start of the ‘straight to DVD’ era of Hellraiser. There is also another thing the films have in common from this point onward too – none of them were written as Hellraiser films at all. What we have now is a slew of unused film scripts nobody wanted to make – spec-scripts that the production company just threw Pinhead into.

The first Hellraiser film of the new millennium as this one was released in 2000 and directed by Scott Derrickson.

So this one follows a corrupt detective, Joseph Thorne (Craig Schaeffer) with a penchant for drugs and prostitutes. Joseph is called out to a murder scene which seems ritualistic in its execution. At the murder scene, he finds the infamous puzzle box which he solves and then starts to experience strange hallucinations and visions. Joseph eventually links the murder to someone (or thing) known as ‘The Engineer’. He investigates more murders, of which the victims are his friends and associates and he is soon considered the number one suspect.

Believing he is being driven mad, Joseph seeks out the help of a psychiatrist who is not all he seems to be.

My View

If this was a straight up story about a psychologically troubled detective – it could have been a quite interesting psychological thriller. But the fact they shoehorned in Pinhead to make it a Hellraiser sequel is a major failing and as a Hellraiser sequel is how I have to look at it.

Hellraiser Inferno Girls

It has pretty much nothing to do with Hellraiser at all aside from a few tenuous links and references. There are a couple of interesting scenes – like the one above where Joseph is ‘caressed’ by two prostitute Cenobites and his decent into madness can be an entertaining journey at times. But as an overall film and Hellraiser sequel – its atrocious and insulting to the name. Pinhead is used VERY sparingly in this one, so much so that you can really tell he was just thrown in at the last minute. Remember when I said earlier that using Pinhead sparingly is a good thing? Well here he’s actually under-used in a blink and you’ll miss him appearance.

Tony Nenonen: “What’s an eight-letter word for ‘slaughterhouse’?”

Hellraiser: Hellseeker

Hellseeker Kirsty.jpg

Directed by Rick Bota and released in 2002. So this one has a nice surprise – Ashley Laurence is back as Kirsty. But is that enough to keep the most hardened Hellraiser fan happy?

Okay so this time around, Trevor Gooden (Dean Winters) survives a car crash that plunges into a river, but his wife Kirsty Cotton-Gooden (Ashley Laurence) is nowhere to be found when police divers recover the car. Is she dead and if so, where is her body? A month later and Trevor wakes up in hospital suffering a head injury that affects his memory and grasp on reality. He struggles to find out what happened to Kirsty as well as keep himself sane. Its not until Pinhead turns up and explains exactly what is going on that the truth comes out.

My View

Much like the previous film, Hellraiser: Inferno, this one is a waste of a good idea. While I’d say this flick is ‘better’ than the last one – it suffers from a lot of the same problems. This too could have been a good, stand-alone psychological thriller and quite honestly didn’t need to be a Hellraiser sequel at all. Having Ashley Laurence back as Kirsty was a great and welcome idea too. But I feel she was misused here – knowing the ending to this picture and remembering her character from the first two flicks, it makes no sense.

Hellseeker Trevor

I don’t want to spoil the ending here as its actually pretty good to be honest – even of it doesn’t make a lot of sense character-wise. Also the reunion of Kirsty and Pinhead should have been an epic meeting, yet it feels very flat and a wasted opportunity. The ending may be a decent one, but the journey getting there lacks punch and is rather tiresome.

Chief Surgeon: “You’re freaking me out. And I’m a coroner.”

Hellraiser: Deader

Hellraiser Deader

And here we are at number seven (I can’t believe I’ve made it this far). Rick Bota returns as director, the film was released in 2005 and was a continuation of the ‘straight to DVD’ formula.

Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) is a reporter sent to Bucharest by her boss after witnessing a video tape that seems to show a ritualistic murder by a supposed cult known as ‘The Deaders’ (we have a title people!). Amy finds the puzzle box and takes it home to open it… which (of course) unleashes Pinhead… or does it?

Amy eventually tracks down Winter LeMarchand (Paul Rhys) the leaded of ‘The Deaders’ and a decedent of the creator of the puzzle box (remember Hellraiser Bloodline?). Winter believes it is his birthright to own the box and everything that entails, including becoming the leader of the Cenobites. The film then becomes a battle between ‘The Deaders’ and the Cenobites… guess who wins?

My View

You know what? I’m willing to admit that the first 20 – 30 minutes or so of this one are actually pretty damn good. The scene were Amy finds the box is a particular highlight. You get a sense of not only that you are watching a good horror film, but that you are also watching a good Hellraiser film. Its moody, atmospheric and it all feels very Hellraiser-esque. Dare I say it? It even has a Clive Barkery style and tone. But sadly, the flick falls apart quite quickly after that.

Hellraiser Deader Chains

Unfortunately, this was another one of those non-Hellraiser scripts that was sitting on the shelf doing nothing, so the producers decided to throw in Pinhead and sell it as a Hellraiser sequel… and it shows. And again, I can’t help but think that this could have been a better stand alone flick if it had done its own thing. The ending is very ‘meh’ and you can really tell that Doug Bradley was starting to get more than a little bit bored of being Pinhead as his performance feels very phoned in. A great start, but the latter part of the film is dull and almost unwatchable.

Pinhead: “Dreams are fleeting. Only nightmares last forever!”

Hellraiser: Hellworld

Hellraiser Hellworld

Yes, Rick Bota is directing again for the third time and this one was released in 2005, same year as the last movie as they were shot back to back. So given the fact the last two films were directed by the same person and filmed together and the fact they were both released the same year – you’d think they would be connected plot-wise right? Nope!

So this one is about an online video game based on the Hellraiser franchise… seriously. It is set up that the movies exist in this films universe as fiction and the game within this movie, called Hellworld (we have another title folks), is spin-off/sequel to the fictional movies. So anyway, a teenager dies while playing the game and all his friends refuse to play the game ever again… until they are invited to a special Hellworld party held in a creepy old house.

This is when we are introduced to The Host (Lance Henriksen) who is – errrm… the host of this mass sex, drugs and shitty dance music party. As the party progresses, the teens end up being killed off one by one in unoriginal ways at the hands of The Host and Pinhead.

My View

This is pretty much considered the worst of the franchise and people who say this have never seen the next film…

Yeah this one is fucking terrible, a complete mess of a picture. There are a couple of plot twists thrown in, but if you have an IQ over two – then you’ll see them coming within the first five minutes. Is Pinhead real or not… ahhhhh, who fucking cares at this point? The other films in the franchise, even the bad ones had some redeeming qualities about them – this one does not. Okay, so Lance Henriksen is a joy to watch (when isn’t he?) and that’s about it.

Hellriaser Hellworld Pinhead.jpg

The plot is stupid, the characters are flat and instantly forgettable (I honestly do not remember any of their names), the acting is wooden and by now – its quite clear that Doug Bradley is only appearing in the film to pay the mortgage. You’ll be as bored watching the film as Doug was acting in it and this film marks his final time playing Pinhead. Oh yeah, Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill is in it too, so he has been in a film worse than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Its not scary, its not atmospheric, it not entertaining, its not Hellraiser.

The Host: “Like a bad horror movie, isn’t it?”

Hellraiser: Revelations

Hellraiser Revelations.jpg

Holly fuck-balls, this is going to be a lot of fun to write up. Directed by Víctor García and released in 2011. This flick is a desperate attempt for the production company to hold onto the Hellraiser license… and it really shows too.

So this plot revolves around two teenagers (don’t remember their names, don’t give a shit either) who travel to Mexico, and they film themselves (lost footage film people) partying and so on. Yet the boys disappear. Their belongings are returned to their parents, including the footage they filmed.

Twelve months later, the families of the two missing teens gather for a dinner party. The contents of the footage the boys recorded is brought up and the film is shown in flashback via the found footage on exactly what happened to the teens when an unexpected visitor arrives.

My View

Okay, so before I get into what I think of the film, I just want to share a couple of Tweets with you from the main-man himself – Clive Barker in relation to this movie when it was marketed as ‘from the mind of Clive Barker’…

Clive Barker Tweets

Bearing in mind we are now nine films in and despite not having much to do with any of the sequels aside from some behind the scenes stuff and absolutely nothing to do with any of the films after Hellraiser: Bloodline, Clive Barker has never once spoken out about the quality of any of the sequels. This is the film that broke his silence.

I’m not sure where to start with this abomination of a movie. To be honest, I could write a stand alone article on just how terrible this one is and it would probably end up being longer than this entire (very long) retrospective. Hellraiser: Hellworld was bad, really, really bad – but this one is a whole new level of terrible. The acting feels like you are watching a day-time soap opera…and a bad one at that. The plot feels as if written by a sixteen year old with a mental age of a five year old. The dialogue makes your ears bleed and the film looks like it was shot on someone’s phone from the around 2009.

I’m going to try a little visual experiment here. So what you are about to see is a side by side comparison between the original Pinhead from the first film and the new Pinhead in this one… brace yourself…

Pinhead Comp

Sorry, but I can’t help but giggle when I see that. The original Pinhead had a mystique about him, his mannerisms were amazing, he had a screen presence whenever he appeared (even in the bad sequels) and his voice was commanding as he spouted some of the greatest lines in any horror film.

The new Pinhead however… just look at him. I think they spent about $10 on the make-up. Stephan Smith Collins who plays Pinhead in this one is no Doug Bradley. His acting is wooden and he’s about as intimidating as an ant’s fart. He looks like someone who turned up to a horror convention in a home-made costume. You know, Doug may not have given a shit in the latter sequels when he played Pinhead… but he was never this terrible.

Right here I just want to explain how I complied this whole retrospective. Over the course of nine days, I watched the Hellraiser films from the original up to Hellraiser: Hellworld. Sometimes I watched more than one film in a day, sometimes I only watched one. I would take a day off now and again in-between to look at my notes and write this article. After day nine, it was time to watch this film… and that in itself took three days. I could not watch this film in one sitting and had to split it up into three separate sessions over three days. I sat through Hellraiser: Hellworld in one sitting no problem and that was atrocious. Also, this film is only seventy five minutes long and I had to split it up into three parts over three days – just let that sink in for a while…

Hellraiser Revelations pinhead

I still giggle at that! You silly cosplayer.

So I need to move on as I think my rant against this film is going on longer than my love for the original. But I need to wrap up. Remember how I said the other sequels were made from spec-scripts and they just threw Pinhead on to make them Hellraiser films? Because of that, you can kind of excuse some of the shortcomings of the films. This one however was written from the start as a Hellraiser sequel and yet it somehow manages to have even less to do with the franchise than the others. You know, I found at least one thing worth watching of all the sequels in this franchise, whether that be a great scene, an interesting plot twist, an acting performance. There has always been something (no matter how small) that I’d say was worth watching the film for – not with Hellraiser: Revelations, this flick has nothing redeeming about it – NOTHING. Please do not waste you time with this one.

I thought I’d end up by sharing a couple of tit-bits I discovered in my research for this flick:

It’s budget was around $300, 000 (obviously only $300 of that was spent of the effects and make-up the rest on drugs for the writer and director) and took less than three weeks to film. Also, the film was only made so Dimension Films would not lose the Hellraiser license and who owns Dimension Films? The Weinstein Company as in Harvey Weinstein and only someone as sick and twisted as that fat-fuck could come up with a film this shit (yes, managed to bring everything full circle to my Harvey Weinstein jab at the start of this article).

Vagrant: “This will take you beyond the limits. Places you can’t even begin to imagine. Sensual pain.”

But its not over yet…

Hellraiser: Judgment

Hellraiser Judgment

So there’s yet another Hellraiser film (that’s ten for those counting), but I can’t offer my opinion on this one as its not been released… yet. But I can tell you what is known of the film so far.

The film revolves around three detectives who team up to track down a serial killer. As they investigate, they discover the killer has otherworldly connections. (I’m calling it right now, one of the detectives is the killer and has links to the Cenobites) And that’s about all is known about the plot. The film will feature horror icon Heather Langenkamp playing a landlady. There’s a new actor playing Pinhead too…

Paul T Taylor Pinhead

Introducing Paul T Taylor as the new Pinhead… well he doesn’t look as bad as the last one.

But will the film ever be released? It was originally announced as being released on 28th of March this year, but that obviously never happened. Then it was suggested that the delay was because they are trying for a theatrical release – Pinhead himself even made the following Facebook comment.

Hellraiser Judgment Tweet

Yet there has still not been any news on the film, not even a trailer. Its all gone very quiet on the Hellraiser: Judgment front. The film has been completed but nobody outside of the production has even seen a single frame of it. Are they really trying for a theatrical release – or is it just too bad to be seen by the public? Some people are being very optimistic about the flick, but I have my doubts and the biggest one is writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe. You may not recognise the name, but I do – he wrote the previous flick Hellraiser: Revelations and you know how I feel about that one.

Seeing as I’ve watched all the films up to this point, I guess I’ll have to watch this one too… if its ever released. It can’t be as bad as Hellraiser: Revelations can it?

Overall

In hell

So how do I feel about the franchise as a whole? I think its awful, one of the worst horror franchises ever made. Pinhead once said: “Your suffering will be legendary even in Hell!” And after watching the entire series over the course of almost two weeks – I now know what he meant. This franchise is the movie equivalent of Hell and the deeper you go, the worst it gets.

The first film is amazing, the second one is a damn good sequel… and then it all goes very, very wrong. A few minor highlights aside – the films from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth onward are just not worth it. You know, if they were clever, they could do a really good meta film – kind of like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. They could make out that the Hell that Pinhead and the Cenobites take people to is a non-stop, continual showing of the Hellraiser sequels with a double screening of Hellraiser: Revelations.

And just for a little bonus – a Hellraiser merchandise video promo that was found at the end of the original VHS release in 1988. Because, why not?

But I’m not done with my 30th anniversary of Hellraiser yet – as I’ve also taken a look a the unreleased Hellraiser NES game right here.

Amicus Productions anthology horror, Part III

Amicus 3

Amicus’ horror anthology films left a long lasting impression on me and I still find them just as enjoyable to watch today as ever. Yeah they can be a little campy and even cheesy by today’s standards, but look past all of that and there are some truly great stories being told in these films that are well worth checking out.

Sadly Amicus went under after the release of; The People That Time Forgot (1977) with their final horror anthology film being; From Beyond the Grave (1974). But the horror anthology sub genre lived on when Amicus co-founder, Milton Subotsky produced three more films.

Uncanny

The Uncanny: Written by Michael Parry, directed by Denis Héroux and released in 1977. The film stars; Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood, Donald Pilon, Samantha Eggar, and John Vernon.

Writer Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing) goes to his publisher Frank Richards (Ray Milland) with his latest book all about the evilness of cats. Wilbur explains how he believes that cats are supernatural creatures capable of evil deeds and are in control of everything. Wilbur then goes on to tell three stories from his book which he claims are all true.

London 1912: Wealthy woman, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood) decides to rewrite her will leaving her fortune to her cats instead of her nephew Michael (Simon Williams). Janet (Susan Penhaligon) is the maid of the house working for Miss Malkin, she is also the mistress of Michael. Janet steals a copy of the will from the lawyer and then tries to destroy the original copy which is being kept in a safe so that her lover, Michael can inherent to money. When Miss Malkin discovers Janet trying to steal the other copy of the will from the safe, Janet kills her. However, the cats of Miss Malkin seek out revenge.

I quite liked this tale, its well shot and looks great. Solid performances all round and offers a few chills along the way.

Quebec Province 1975 After the death of her parents in a plane crash, Lucy (Katrina Holden) goes to live with her aunt Joan (Alexandra Stewart), her husband (Donald Pilon) and her cousin Angela (Chloe Franks). Lucy takes her cat, Wellington along too. Lucy also packs a few books that used to belong to get mother on the subject of Tarot and Witchcraft. Angela belittles and bullies Lucy as she starts to feel a little jealous of not being the centre of attention any more and even turns her bitterness towards the cat. Wellington dislikes Angela and is not afraid to show it either, Angela’s meddling and influence eventually convinces her parents to get rid of the cat and Joan asks her husband to take Wellington to be put to sleep. One night, Wellington mysteriously returns to the house and Lucy decides to turn to her mother’s old books for revenge on how her and Wellington have been treated.

Chloe Franks is really quite nasty as the jealous cousin in this yarn. The ending is quite bizarre and macabre as Lucy and Wellington teach Angela a lesson.

Hollywood 1936: A supposed mix up at the prop department sees actress Madeleine (Catherine Bégin) killed during filming of a horror film when the blade of a fake pendulum is replaced with a real one. Madeleine’s actor husband, Valentine De’ath (Donald Pleasence) suggests they replace his dead wife with a new, young and aspiring actress Edina Hamilton (Samantha Eggar). It turns out that Valentine is having an affair with Edina and it was he that switched the blades on the pendulum that killed his wife so he could pave the way for his young mistress. Edina moves into the marital home where Madeleine’s cat is waiting. The cat gives birth to a litter of kittens and Valentine gets rid of them in a rather unorthodox manor. Valentine and Edina try to get rid of the cat while the cat avenges the death of her kittens and Madeleine.

Donald Pleasence is excellent as the slimy cheating husband. The chasing and attempted capture of the cat is often played for laughs and a few of the other scenes are clearly meant to be tongue in cheek too. While the cats revenge is slightly more gruesome and bloody.

So how does the opening story wrap up in this one?
The publisher rubbishes Wilbur’s claims that the stories are true, but still agrees to publish the book anyway. Wilbur leaves his manuscript with Frank for safe keeping and heads back home. While walking home, Wilbur is stalked by several cats when they attack and kill him. Back at the publisher, Frank starts reading Wilbur’s new book himself but mysteriously throws it on the fire instead as if he is being controlled by his cat.

This was a decent film and in many ways, still felt like an Amicus picture the way it is shot. I have always felt that cats were a bit creepy and this film really has not helped my suspicions much either. Not as good as some of the previous films, but still worth watching.

Monster club

The Monster Club: Released in 1980, Directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Edward Abraham and Valerie Abraham. Starring; Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine and Stuart Whitman.

Famous author, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) bumps into a strange man (Vincent Price) who is in need of help. Chetwynd-Hayes agrees to help him as the man suddenly bites into his neck. It turns out the man is a starving vampire named Eramus needing blood. Eramus only takes a little blood just enough to feel better and Chetwynd-Hayes is unharmed. Eramus thanks Chetwynd-Hayes for his blood and reveals he is quite a fan of his books. He offers to repay Chetwynd-Hayes’ kindness by inviting him to an exclusive gathering place for a multitude of supernatural creatures, The Monster Club. When there, Eramus begins to tell three stories about three specific monsters.

The Shadmock: Angela (Barbara Kellerman) is a a young, financially struggling woman living with her controlling boyfriend George (Simon Ward). George finds a job in a newspaper at a secluded manor house and suggests that Angela takes it so she can steal some of the riches found in the manor house. The house is owned by Raven (James Laurenson), a hybrid creature called a Shadmock. The Shadmock is notorious for its demonic, high-pitch whistling. Angela first refuses the job after being scared by Raven’s appearance, but eventually returns after being convinced to take the job by George. After a while of working at the house, Angela develops a friendship with Raven. He even proposes to her but Angela refuses the offer. However, George forces her to go through with the marriage so they can gain the Ravens vast wealth. At the engagement party, Raven catches Angela stealing from his safe. Angela screams that she will love him and reveals she is only there for his money. Heartbroken, the Shadmock whistles…

This story is really well done, touching at parts and gruesome at the end. You really do feel sorry for this Shadmock monster and as the story continues, you realise that he is not the real monster here.

The Vampires: Young Lintom (Warren Saire) is the shy and timid boy and often bullied at school, his father (Richard Johnson) barely spends any time with his son as he sleeps all day and works at night. Lintom discovers his father is actually a vampire who is being hunted by a team of undead killers lead by Pickering (Donald Pleasence). The vampire hunters gain access to the vampire’s home after Pickering befriends Lintom. The vampire hunters seemingly manage to kill the father, yet he is not quite dead as he manages to bite Pickering which will turn him into a vampire himself. Pickering’s own assistants then have to chase down and stake him to ensure he dies before becoming a vampire. Pickering is now dead and his men carry his body away while Lintom and his mother (Britt Ekland) go to the basement to find that the father is not as dead as Pickering hoped.

This one is the comic relief of the film, played up for laughs. Donald Pleasence does well here playing the vampire hunter while Richard Johnson does his best Bela Lugosi impression. Its a fun story with a few chuckles along the way.

The Ghouls: Movie director Sam (Stuart Whitman) goes out location scouting for his new film and he finds a isolated, decrepit village called; Loughville. Sam finds that the residents of the village refuse to let him leave and he discoverers that the village is inhabited by species of corpse eating demons called ghouls. The village has run dry of graves and corpses for the ghouls to eat as they grow hungry for flesh. Sam is imprisoned by the ghouls where he meets Luna (Lesley Dunlop), the daughter of a ghoul father (Patrick Magee) and a deceased human mother. Sam learns that the ghouls can not cross holy ground and so he and Luna hide in a church for protection. While in the church, Sam discovers that centuries before, a plague of ghouls invaded the village, mated with the humans and took the village as their own. Sam and Luna try to escape the village only for Luna to be killed as Sam manages to get away…or does he?

A pretty downbeat and dreary tale. Well shot and the mysterious village looks great, very moody and gothic with a sting of an ending.

The film ends…
Eramus suggests that his tales would make good stories for R. Chetwynd-Hayes to write and even thinks that Chetwynd-Hayes could become a member of the club. Chetwynd-Hayes points out he can not become a member as he is not a monster. This is when Eramus delivers a great speech explaining how humans are the biggest monsters of all with all the death they have created over the years, the weapons we have created and so on.

The Monster Club is a great slice of horror anthology that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoy the meta joke of John Carradine playing real life author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. In fact it was Chetwynd-Hayes’ stories that were the basis for this very film and with Eramus suggesting the stories would make a good book…just the icing on the cake of this in-joke. The three stories are split up with musical segments, with a particular highlight being “The Stripper”. Good fun overall.

Cats eye

Cat’s Eye: Written by the great Stephen King, directed by Lewis Teague and relased in 1985. Starring; Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays and Candy Clark.

Opening with a stray cat being chased by big dog as the dog chases the cat into the road and is almost hit by a car, the cat escapes into a van. Eventually the van stops and is opened as the cat explores the city (New York) it finds itself in. Coming to a shop front where the cat hears the cries of help from a young girl. the cat is found by and captured by an employee of Quitters, Inc where it is carried away as the first story begins.

Quitters, Inc: Chain cigarette smoker Dick Morrison (James Woods) decides to try to quit smoking by joining a controversial new company called; Quitters, Inc. Dr. Vinnie Donatti (Alan King) is the owner of the company and he explains they use unique methods to make people quite smoking and from this point on, if Dick smokes a cigarette, horrors of increasing magnitude will befall his wife and child. Donatti uses the cat from the opening as he demonstrates the first of these horrors: the cat is locked in a metal room and tormented with a series of electric shocks. Donatti explains that if Dick is caught with a cigarette, Dick’s wife Cindy (Mary D’Arcy) will be subjected to the same treatment as the cat while he is forced to watch. Then if he still smokes after that, his young daughter afflicted with down syndrome (Drew Barrymore) will be put into the room and given the same treatment too. After the third time, his wife will be raped, and after the fourth infraction, they “give up”/kill him. Dick hides the looming threat from his family.
That night, Dick goes home and tells his wife he has quit smoking, yet he finds an old pack of cigarettes in his desk. Just as he prepares to smoke it, Dick spots a pair of feet in his closet, believing it to be a Quitters, Inc employee he quickly disposes of the cigarette. A few weeks later, Dick is at a party where everyone is smoking as he finds it hard to resist the temptation but still avoids smoking.
But while stuck in a traffic jam, Dick finally snaps and smokes after finding an old forgotten pack of cigarettes in his glove-box as a Quitters, Inc employee spots him. Back at the Quitters, Inc office, Dick is forced to watch as Cindy suffers in the electrified room. Dick attacks Donatti as the cat manages to escape. Donatti gains the upper hand in the fight and says he understands and forgives Dick for his slip of smoking. Dick is determined never to smoke again and tells his wife everything.
Weeks later and Dick has finally quit smoking for good but as a result has gained some extra weight. Dr. Donatti prescribes diet pills to help lose the weight and sets a target weight for Dick to hit. Jokingly, Dick asks if a man would attack his house with a flame thrower if he continues to gain weight. Donatti returns the joke by saying that someone will cut off his wife’s pinky finger. Dick and Cindy have a dinner party where friends toast Quitters, Inc for a job well done, as Dick learns Donatti was not joking.

A good story with a nice hard message behind it. Woods gives a believable performance as the struggling to quit smoking addict and the ending has a nice punctuation it.

The Ledge: The cat, having escaped Quitters, Inc and manages to travel to New Jersey, where it hears the same girl’s voice from before asking for its help again. Meanwhile, gambler and former tennis pro Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) is seeing a married woman Marcia (Patricia Kalember) who’s jealous husband is a major crime boss and casino owner Cressner (Kenneth McMillan). Cressner is a betting man and wins a wager that the cat will successfully cross the busy road outside his casino. The cat makes the dangerous crossing and Cressner takes the cat home. Johnny is kidnapped by Cressner as a form of revenge for seeing his wife.
This is when Cressner blackmails Johnny into taking a dangerous wager. Johnny is forced to make his way around a narrow 5″ wide ledge that surrounds the exterior of Cressner’s penthouse apartment atop a skyscraper. If he can make it all the way around, Cressner will give up Marcia making her available for Johnny. But if he refuses the challenge, Cressner will call the police and have Johnny arrested for possession of drugs, which have been planted in his car. With little choice, Johnny accepts the wager and climbs out onto the ledge to make his way around. Along the way, Cressner and henchman Ducky (Mike Starr) occasionally appear at the various windows around the penthouse to ensue Johnny does not cheat and even try to hinder his progress. Yet despite their continual harassment, Johnny makes it all the way around back to the apartment.
Here he learns that Marcia has been dead the whole time, killed by Cressner, who claims he will honour his bet, the drugs have been removed and Johnny can have Marcia…well some of her anyway. Johnny attacks Cressner as Ducky drops his gun when tripped by the fleeing cat. Johnny grabs the gun and kills the henchman. He then forces Cressner to undergo the same ordeal on the ledge, but Cressner is not quite as successful.

This tale is well put together though lacking in any real surprises. Its one of those you can tell what will happen 3 minutes after the story begins.

General: The cat hops aboard freight train and travels to North Carolina where it is adopted by Amanda (Drew Barrymore) and calls the cat General. Amanda’s mother, Sally (Candy Clark) refuses to allow the cat in the house during the night and puts General out. At night a small, evil troll comes out and kills the family’s parakeet with a tiny dagger and then even tries to steal Amanda’s breath while she sleeps. General manages to find a way back into the house and battles the troll who wounds the cat’s shoulder with his dagger. The troll successfully flees as Amanda and her parents to discover the dead bird.
Amanda tells her parents a monster killed the bird but they are convinced that General killed their parakeet. When the father discovers the dagger wound on the cat and realises its too large to have been caused by a bird, he starts to doubt that General killed the bird after all. General is taken to the animal shelter and is scheduled to be put to sleep the next day at Sally’s request. That night, the troll comes back and wedges Amanda’s room door shut from the inside. The troll again attempts to take Amanda’s breath while she sleeps. At the animal shelter, General is brought his last meal before being put to sleep. But when his cage is opened, he escapes and rushes back to the house determined to save Amanda from the troll.
Back in Amanda’s room, General and the roll have a fight which General wins. The noise the fight creates wakes the parents as they find what is left of the Troll and it’s dagger that caused General’s wound before. The parents finally allow General to stay to protect Amanda and the cat now has a loving home.

The end fight scene between the cat and the troll is really well done here and the troll itself can be pretty scary. A good story and a great way to end the anthology.

This film is an enjoyable one. Its not in the same vein as other anthology films in this retrospective as it’s not really “horror”. But the stories work well enough and offer plenty of entertainment. There are a few fun nods to other Stephen King work to find throughout this film; the dog chasing the cat in the opening is similar to Cujo from King’s book and the car that almost runs over the cat has a fender sticker with the name “Christine” on it and one of the characters in the film is reading Pet Cemetery.
This anthology was the last one Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky was involved in before his death in 1991 and marked the end of an era.

Just for a bit of fun and seeing as we ended with a Stephen King based film. I can even make this whole retrospective come full circle…
Back in the early 80’s, George A. Romero wanted to pay homage to the classic Amicus horror anthology films and tried to get a remake of the 1972 Tales from the Crypt off the ground. He even asked Stephen King to get involved. But there were early production problems the duo just could not get the film made. So instead, they decided to stick with the homage idea and create an all new horror anthology themselves inspired by EC comics and what we got was the amazing Creepshow (1982).

Creepshow 2

So there you go, if you are a fan of Creepshow as I am…then you have Amicus to thank of that.

I genuinely miss the horror anthology sub genre and it has unfortunately dropped out of favour with film fans over recent years. There have been the odd attempt at a revival with the really good; Trick ‘r Treat (2007) and even an announced sequel…which has still yet to arrive.
Then there has been the over the top and rather experimental; ABCs of Death (2012) and ABCs of Death 2 (2014) with its approach of having 26 individual short films who’s title starts with a letter of the alphabet.
There has even been an attempt to revive the great Creepshow franchise with Creepshow 3 (2006)..but it was utter shit and us horror anthology fans like to pretend it never existed.

Still, even with all these efforts at getting this sub genre back in favour. I still hold a very special place in my film loving heart for the Amicus films on the 60s and 70s as well as Milton Subotsky’s final three contributions here.

I’d love to see this sub genre as popular as it was back in the 60s and 70s, but I really do not see it happening.
To coin an often used phrase, they just don’t make them like this any more.

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Amicus Productions anthology horror, Part II

Amicus 2

Welcome to part II of my retrospective look back at Amicus and especially their horror anthology series of films. We are off to a great start with possibly the best film Amicus produced in this sub genre and one that went on to spawn its own infamous franchise.

TFTC

Tales from the Crypt: This one was released in 1972, directed by Freddie Francis and written by Milton Subotsky. With a cast that includes; Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee and Ralph Richardson.

Five strangers take a tour of old catacombs. While walking around, they become separated from the main group and find themselves in a room with a mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) who begins to tell each of the five how they will die.

…And All Through the House: Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve. She realises that she needs to get rid of the body and starts to cover up her crime, when she hears a radio broadcast about a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) who has escaped and is on the loose. After not too long, Joanne sees the maniac roaming around outside of the house dressed up in a Father Christmas costume. Realising she can not call the police without giving away her crime, she locks herself in the house believing she will be safe. Unfortunately, Joanne’s young daughter, Carol (Chloe Franks) thinks the costumed maniac is the real Father Christmas…

A very tense and well made tale that was even turned into the very first episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show in the late 80s. Great start to this anthology.

Reflection of Death: Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) walks out on his wife and children to run away with his girlfriend he has been having an affair with, Susan Blake (Angela Grant). As they are driving away together, they are involved in a car crash. Carl wakes up in the wrecked car some time later to find he is alone. He tires to get help and even hitch-hike, but nobody will stop to help him. Eventually, he arrives back at his family home and sees his wife (Susan Denny) with another man. Carl knocks on the door asking for help and when she opens the door, she just screams and slams the door in his face. Carl decides to go to see his girlfriend, Susan at her place and learns she has become blind after the car accident earlier. But why would nobody help Carl after the accident and how did Susan get from the car accident to her home if she was blind?

This one is a great story with a fantastic twist that I really do not want to ruin here. Probably my second favourite story in this one, as my favourite is next.

Poetic Justice: Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) is a caring but rather shabby old widower who owns a number of animals and likes to entertain children in his house. His neighbour, Edward Elliott (David Markham) and his son James (Robin Phillips) look down on Arthur and resent his scruffy and lax attitude towards his home as they feel he is bringing down the reputation of the area. Edward and James decide to create a smear campaign against Arthur hoping he will sell his home and move away. First the farther and son have Arthur’s beloved dogs taken away from him, they also persuade a member of the council to have Arthur sacked from his job and the farther and son even exploit the local parents’ paranoiac fears and hint that Arthur may be a child molester. Then, on Valentine’s Day, James sends Arthur several poison-pen Valentines which James signs from the various neighbours. Having lost everything he has ever cared about and believing he is hated by everyone, Arthur eventually commits suicide. One year later and Edward and James find their hate campaign comes back to haunt them.

This one is definitely my favourite tale of this anthology. Peter Cushing’s performance is mesmerising as the loving but misunderstood and bullied old man. I later discovered that Peter’s real life wife died shorty before he made this film and you can really feel his pain in the performance.

Wish You Were Here: Close to financial ruin, Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) and his wife, Enid (Barbara Murray) discover a Chinese figurine that says it will grant three wishes to whoever possesses it. To get themselves out of the financial trouble they are in, Enid wishes for a fortune and it does come true. However, Ralph is killed in a car accident on his way to his lawyer’s office to collect the newly found fortune. The lawyer Charles Gregory (Roy Dotrice) tells Enid she will inherit the fortune due to her deceased husband’s life insurance plan. She decides she is not happy without her husband even with all the money and uses the second wish to bring him back to the way he was immediately before the accident. Unfortunately, Ralph’s death was due to a heart attack which lead to him crashing the car and Enid bringing him back immediately before the accident results in him still suffering the heart attack and so he is still dead. So Enid uses her third and final wish to bring him back alive and to live forever…which does not quite turn out how she expects it to.

This yarn is based on the classic; The Monkey’s Paw story by W. W. Jacobs. Its a tale that has been done many times over the years in various ways. This one is a good take on the tale that while sticks to the basic three wishes staple, it still does its own thing with it.

Blind Alleys: A home for the blind being run by Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) starts to make drastic financial cuts by reducing heat and even rationing food for the residents. While the blind residents suffer at the hand of Major William Rogers, he himself lives a life of luxury with his dog Shane. The Major and Shane look after themselves with all the money he is saving that should be spent on the residents. Major William Rogers and his dog eat the very best food while the blind residents have to put up with poor quality slop. The cold eventually kills one of the residents and one of them, George Carter (Patrick Magee) decides to stand up to and confront Major William Rogers over the cuts. The residents decide to extract revenge on the Major and kidnap him while they starve his dog, Shane. The blind men construct a maze of narrow corridors in the basement, some of them lined with razor blades. They then release the Major into the maze and turn off the lights, making him blind. As the Major attempts to escape, he cuts himself on the razors and begins to bleed, the residents then release the starving dog…

A great little story about abuse and revenge and a fantastic way to end this film….except for the wrap around story of course.

After the final story is told.
The Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not actually warning the strangers of what would happen, but really telling them what has already happened. Each of the five have all “died without repentance”. There are even some nicely placed clues in the opening that hint they are already dead for you to spot. The door to Hell opens, and the five strangers enter.

This one is Amicus at their best. Each of the five stories in this one are all really well done with some great twists and resolves. This film even spawned the much loved; Tales from the Crypt TV series that ran from 1989 to 1996, as well as that show itself creating several film spin offs.

Asylum

Asylum: Another one released in 1972. This one was directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Robert Bloch. Joining the cast this time around, we have; Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse and Patrick Magee.

Dr Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at an asylum “for the incurably insane” for a job interview. Dr. Lionel Rutherford (Patrick Magee) is the wheelchair bound authoritarian of the asylum. Rutherford explains the reason he is in the wheelchair is due to an attack by one of the inmates. He intends to test Dr Martin to see of he is suitable for the job by asking him to interview five of the residents in order to find Dr B. Starr. Starr was the former head of the asylum, who underwent a complete mental breakdown. If Dr Martin can work out which of the people he talks to is Dr B. Starr then Rutherford will “consider” him for the job. An asylum attendant Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon) takes Dr Martin through a security door to the inmates’s cells, where the interviews take place.

Frozen Fear: Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) is the teller of this tale. Ruth (Sylvia Syms) is a wealthy heiress who has an interest in and studies voodoo-like magic. Her husband, Walter (Richard Todd) buys Ruth a new chest freezer as a gift that he has had delivered to their home. Walter takes her to see her new gift but actually kills her, cuts her body up with an axe, wraps up the individual pieces and places them in the freezer. It is revealed that Walter has been having an affair with Bonnie and he plans on stealing his wife’s fortune and running away with his mistress. The only problem is that Ruth just refuses to die as her dismembered corpse comes back for revenge and kills Walter. Later, Bonnie comes looking for her lover at his home only to find Walter dead and Ruth is still out for revenge…

This one is pretty standard stuff and doesn’t really offer any twists or surprises. Yet its till a good tale with the moral of; “Hell hath no fury…”

The Weird Tailor: Bruno (Barry Morse) is a tailor that recounts how poverty forced him to accept an unusual request from a customer. Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing) comes to Bruno’s tailors and asks for a very special suit to be made from a unique material. This fabric is a gleaming, shimmering textile with mysterious powers. Mr. Smith says he is willing to pay a lot of money for the suit to be made, this money would be enough to get Bruno and his wife, Anna (Ann Firbank) out of the financial trouble they are currently in. The suit is made and Bruno goes to deliver it to Mr. Smith, yet he learns that Mr. Smith is not as wealthy as he claimed and can not actually pay for the suit after all. Mr. Smith tells Bruno he must have the suit as he wishes to place it on his deceased son. They fight and Bruno accidentally kills Mr. Smith. Bruno returns to his shop with the suit but no money. Anna dresses their store mannequin in the suit as the suit’s powers are revealed.

Peter Cushing is great in this creepy yet charming role. This is a well shot story with a gloomy style that drips atmosphere.

Lucy Comes To Stay: Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) tells her story and informs Dr. Martin she has been in an asylum before. When she was released from her previous asylum, Barbara was placed under observation by her brother George (James Villiers) and a nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins) at their family home. Barbara’s complex life is put into even more chaos when her mischievous best friend, Lucy (Britt Ekland) comes to visit who starts to make Barbara’s life very difficult.

I don’t really want to say too much about this one as it really is a great story with a fantastic stinger of an ending. I feel going into to much detail will ruin the story for those that have not seen it. For me, the best tale in this film.

Mannikins of Horror: Finally, Dr. Martin interviews Dr. Byron (Herbert Lom). Byron explains he has been working on an experiment. Soul transference with a small automaton he had created whose head is a likeness of his own. Byron hopes he can create a living mannequin and even says how his robot’s inner workings are in fact organic. Martin ends the interview and returns to Dr. Lionel Rutherford to deliver his judgement as to which of the five inmates really is Dr B. Starr, but he refuses to play this “game” Rutherford is playing.

Pretty short story that is really used as the set up for the film’s epilogue.

So about that epilogue…
It turns out that Dr. Byron is actually successful in bringing his mannequin to life which he sends down to Rutherford’s office and kills him with a scalpel. Martin destroys the mannequin, which results in the death of Dr. Byron. Martin seeks help and finds Max Reynolds, the asylum assistant he met at the start. Reynolds reveals he is in fact Dr B. Starr and that he killed the real Max Reynolds a few days earlier and then he strangles Martin to death. Sometime later, a new candidate for the job arrives and is met by Dr. Starr, who escorts him into the asylum.

I really enjoyed this one, there are some great tales. The wrap around story and ending works out really well and the laugh delivered at the end by Geoffrey Bayldon as Dr B. Starr still chills me every time I hear it. Great anthology film worth checking out.

VOH

Vault of Horror: Directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Milton Subotsky, released in 1973. This one stars Terry Thomas, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliott, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Terence Alexander, Glynis Johns, Robin Nedwell, Geoffrey Davies, Daniel Massey and Anna Massey.

In an office block in London, five strangers board a lift that reaches the sub-basement, though none of them pressed that button. They find themselves in a fully furnished room as the lift door has closes and there are no buttons to bring it back or any other exit. With no choice other than to wait for help to arrive. The five men settle down with a few drinks and talk. The conversation turns to dreams, and each of them tells of a recurring nightmare they have.

Midnight Mess: Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) sets out to track down his sister Donna (Anna Massey) who mysteriously disappeared a while back. It seems that Donna is in line for an impressive inheritance after their father died a few weeks ago leaving everything he owned to Donna. Harold goes to a strange village he learns his sister is staying in, when he arrives at Donna’s house, he finds she is not home so instead goes into a near by restaurant for something to eat. Only he finds the restaurant is closing and they will not serve him. Harold goes back to the house and this time Donna is home. When inside the house, Harold kills Donna so he can claim the inheritance for himself. He leaves the murder scene and sees that the restaurant is still open and people are going inside so decides to settling down for a post-murder meal. He learns that the food served is a little strange and the village is not quite what it seems, also that Donna is not as dead as he hoped.

An intriguing little fable with a doozy of an ending where Harold becomes the toast of the village.

The Neat Job: Arthur Critchit (Terry Thomas) is an obsessive compulsive when it comes to being tidy and organised. He marries Eleanor (Glynis Johns) as a trophy wife who turns out not quite the domestic goddess he hoped for. Eleanor leaves things out of place, moves furniture around, etc. All of which starts to annoy Arthur and agitates his OCD. Arthur takes Eleanor down to the basement and his workshop where he shows her how he likes to keep everything neat and organised. Arthur constantly nags as his wife about how he wants everything organised and Eleanor starts to become more and more nervous and drives her to borderline madness. One day, Eleanor accidentally spills some furniture polish on the carpet, among other disasters, and tries to cover it up. Arthur eventually finds the chaos and disarray including in his beloved workshop. Arthur starts to continually shout at her, “Can’t you do anything neatly?” over and over again. Then Eleanor shows Arthur just how neat she can be…

This one is played quite light in tone and not really scary. But its a good anecdote regardless with a nice, dark humoured ending.

This Trick’ll Kill You: As a magician on a working holiday in India, Sebastian (Curd Jürgens) and his wife Inez (Dawn Addams) are out looking for inspiration for some new magic tricks to take back home for their act. They find nothing of any real interest and even points out the flaws in the tricks he has seen so far. Then Sebastian sees a young girl (Jasmina Hilton) charming a rope out of a basket with a flute and even climbs the rope. He just can not work out how the trick is done and offers to buy the trick, but the girl tells him it is no trick and not for sale at any price. So he persuades the girl to come to his hotel room for a private display of the rope trick. Sebastian and Inez murder the girl and steal her rope trick for themselves. Sebastian plays the flute, and the rope rises just as it did with the girl previously. Realizing that they have discovered a genuine piece of actual magic, the couple begin plans to work the trick into their act which does not work out well at all.

A mysterious yarn with a happy ending…just not for Sebastian and Inez.

Bargain in Death: Mr. Maitland (Michael Craig) and his friend, Alex (Edward Judd) plan an insurance scam where Maitland agrees to be buried alive by Alex to fake his own death so Alex can claim the insurance money and give it to Maitland after he digs him back up. However, Alex double-crosses Maitland, leaving him to suffocate in his grave instead of digging him back up. Tom (Robin Nedwell) and Jerry (Geoffrey Davies), two trainee doctors bribe a local gravedigger (Arthur Mullard) to dig up a recently buried corpse to help with their studies. The gravedigger digs up Maitland’s recently buried coffin and opens it and Maitland jumps up gasping for air, leading to an ending of misfortune for Maitland and Alex.

Really enjoyed this one with its “everything works out fine in the end” conclusion…as long as you don’t try to double-cross a friend.

Drawn and Quartered: Moore (Tom Baker) is an artist living on Haiti, struggling for money. Moore learns that his paintings have been sold for high prices by art dealers Diltant (Denholm Elliott) and Gaskill (John Witty) after being praised by critic Fenton Breedley (Terence Alexander), all of whom told him that they were worthless which forced Moore to sell his paintings to the dealers at incredibly low prices. Feeling cheated, Moore goes to a voodoo priest and his painting hand is given some kind of voodoo power. Moore discovers that whatever he draws or paints, the subject can physically be harmed and manipulated if he damages the original image he has made. These events coincide with Moore completing a self-portrait he had been previously working on, which he keeps under lock and key to prevent the voodoo from turning on him. He returns to London and paints portraits of the three men that conned him previously. Moore begins to deface the paintings in various ways as to extract his revenge. However, he learns that keeping his own self-portrait locked away in an airless safe nearly suffocates him. So he lets his own portrait out in the open for some air. Then a workman accidentally drops a can of paint thinner onto Moore’s self-portrait…

This is a nice twisted tale of revenge with Tom Baker in excellent form as the wronged artist seeking retribution with a nice ending.

After all the stories have been told.
The five men ponder the meaning of their nightmares. The lift they arrived in eventually opens, and they find themselves looking out onto a gloomy graveyard. The men walk out and slowly disappear one by one. Sebastian stays behind, and explains that they are all damned souls compelled to tell the story of their evil deeds for all eternity. He then looks back into the room they came from that has now changed to the inside of a tomb with a coffin in the centre as the door slams shut behind him.

This one has some great stories and performances throughout. Creepy at times and even a fair amount of gore for the time too.

FBTG

From Beyond the Grave: From 1974, Directed by Kevin Connor, written by Raymond Christodoulou and Robin Clarke. With a cast of; Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, Diana Dors and David Warner.

There is an antique shop called; Temptations Limited who’s motto is; “Offers You Cannot Resist”. The shop is owned and run by a strange old man (Peter Cushing) sells items to all that come in and each item has its own story to tell.

The Gatecrasher: Edward Charlton (David Warner) purchases an antique mirror after tricking the proprietor into believing it is a cheap reproduction. Back home, Edward and his friends decide to hold a séance and he falls into a trance. While in the trance, Edward comes face to face with a malevolent figure (Marcel Steiner) and this figure proceeds to stab Edward. Waking from the trance screaming, he then sees the same figure appear in his mirror and orders Edward to kill so that it can “feed”. He kills for the mirror several times until the mirror persuades Edward to kill himself, which he does so by impaling himself on a knife held by the now living spirit of the mirror. The mirror is left abandoned in Edward’s flat for years, until the new owner moves in and decides to hold a séance…

Not a bad little tale here. David Warner give a very sinister performance as he slowly is driven insane by the mirror. Though the “twist” ending really does not surprise in any way.

An Act of Kindness: Frustrated and bored with his job while trapped in a loveless marriage to Mabel (Diana Dors), Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) befriends Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence) an old soldier and war hero. Desperate to impress he newly found friend, Christopher tells Jim that he is a decorated soldier himself. To further back up his lie, he tries to persuade the antique shop proprietor to sell him a Distinguished Service Order medal. The proprietor says that he can not sell the medal unless Christopher can provide a certificate to prove he had been awarded the medal before. Without the proof, he steals the medal instead. Jim is impressed by the medal, and invites Christopher to his home for tea where he gets to meets Jim’s daughter, Emily (Angela Pleasence). After a while, Christopher is seduced by Emily’s unusual charm and they begin an affair. Emily produces a miniature doll Christopher’s wife, Mabel, and holds a knife to it. She asks Christopher to order her to do his will, he agrees and orders her to cut the doll. As the doll is cut a drop of blood appears from its mouth. Christopher rushes home to find Mabel is indeed dead. Christopher and Emily eventually marry now that he is a free man, but during the wedding and as the cake is to be cut. Emily asks everyone present if they want her to cut. They all say yes and Emily brings the knife down, but rather than cut the cake, she cuts into the head of the decorative groom on top.

This one is a slow burner, but well worth it all in the end (I didn’t give away all of the ending). With mesmerising and rather bizarre performances from both Donald Pleasence and he real life daughter Angela.

The Elemental: Snooty and pompous businessman Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) enters the antique store. He cheats the proprietor by swapping the prices on a snuff box so he can buy it at a lower price. The proprietor sells him the box at the altered price, bidding him farewell with a cheery “I hope you enjoy snuffing it.” On the train heading home, Reggie meets an eccentric old lady, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) who claims that she is a clairvoyant/white witch. She claims that Reggie has something called an Elemental on his shoulder, Reggie dismisses her crazy claims…at first. But when his dog disappears and his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) is attacked and almost choked to death by an unseen force, he calls upon the services of Madame Orloff who exorcises the supposed Elemental from Reggie’s home, and all seems well. Even his dog returns home. Yet later, Reggie hears some strange noises coming from upstairs and goes up to investigate. He gets knocked down the stairs by something and is rendered unconscious. Eventually he wakes up to find Susan possessed by the Elemental.

Kind of like a light hearted version of The Exorcist. Margaret Leighton as the whimsical Madame Orloff provides some comic relief and has a few funny lines. Yet even with this lighter tone, the ending few minutes of the story are really quite tense and moody.

The Door: A young writer, William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) wants to purchase an ancient ornate door from the proprietor. Unable to meet asking price, he manages to agree to a reduced price instead. The proprietor goes to the back of the shop to note Seaton’s details for delivery of the door and he leaves the till open. After Seaton leaves the shop, the proprietor starts counting the money in the open till. Rosemary (Lesley-Anne Down), William’s wife can seem to see what originally lay behind the door when she touches it. The door used to replace and old stationary cupboard door and when William opens it, he finds a mysterious blue room lies behind it. The room contains notes of Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson), an evil occultist who made the door as a means to trap anybody who walks through it so that he can steal their souls and live forever. William escapes the room but finds that the influence of the door has spread and will not let him leave the house, trapping William and Rosemary. In some kind of a trance, Rosemary opens the door and enters the room where she finds Michael waiting. Rosemary is carried away by Michael Sinclair as he begins to taunt William into following them. William starts to attack the door with an axe which begins to destroy the room. Rushing into the room to help Rosemary they both eventually escape and continue to destroy the door and room. While back the the antique shop, the proprietor finishes counting the till and finds all the money is there.

A simple enough story that doesn’t really do much right or wrong, its just kind of there. I kind of like the whole counting the money gag as you think William has maybe short changed/stolen from the shop when it turns out nothing is amiss. But aside from that, the story is a little flat.

The ending?
A shady looking character (Ben Howard) enters the antique shop and persuades the proprietor to hand him two loaded antique pistols. Now in possession of the guns, he attempts to rob the shop. The proprietor refuses to hand over any money begins to walk towards the thief. As the thief shoots both of the pistols directly at the proprietor, but the bullets seems to have no effect. The terrified thief continues to stagger backwards and falls into an iron maiden and is killed. The proprietor then talks to the camera and welcomes the viewer as his next customers and says that each purchase comes with “a big novelty surprise”.

This one is a bit hit and miss I find. There are good stories here and even great performance, Peter Cushing is as awesome as ever in the wrap around story. But overall, the film just lacks any real punch. A sad and slightly disappointing ending to Amicus and their horror anthology films really.

From Beyond the Grave was sadly the final horror anthology film from Amicus before the studio went bust. But in part III I cover the three horror anthology films Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky went on to create after Amicus, one including a film based on the work of horror writing legend Stephen King.

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Amicus Productions anthology horror, Part I

I love the sub genre of anthology/portmanteau films. I like the fact they have several smaller stories contained into one film, often wrapped up in a connecting story in itself. So if you don’t like one story, there will be another one along in a few minutes to enjoy.
Its a classic storytelling format that has seemingly and sadly fallen out of favour in recent years.

When you think of great anthology horror films, most people think of Creepshow…and rightly so to.

Creepshow

Creepshow is an amazing film, written by Stephen King, directed by George A. Romero and special effects by Tom Savini. That is pretty much horror royalty of the 70s/80s right there. For me, Creepshow is the cream of the crop of the horror anthology sub genre. But I don’t want to talk about Creepshow here. This retrospective is all about Amicus Productions.

Amicus 1

Amicus were a British film production company, based at Shepperton Studios, England. Though technically a British company, it was actually founded by Americans; producer/screenwriter Milton Subotsky and producer Max Rosenberg.
Amicus relased many films from 1962 to 1977. The films they produced covered a variety of genres including; sci-fi, espionage, drama and musicals.

But it was their horror films they became known for and managed to even be a notable rival to the awesome Hammer Film Productions who were THE film studio for horror films back in the 60s/70s with their versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and so on.

Amicus even managed to attract some of the biggest stars of the time including; Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Magee, Terry Thomas, Burgess Meredith and Sir Ralph Richardson. They also featured a lot of then unknown actors like; Donald Sutherland, Robert Powell, Tom Baker and Joan Collins among many others. Watching classic Amicus horror anthology films now is like walking around a museum of classic British and American actors, it can be quite surprising to watch these films now and see the star power (past, present and future) they really had.

Amicus used the classic EC horror comic series for some of the stories in their anthology films, but they also had the help of famed horror/thriller writer Robert Bloch, you may know him as the writer of the amazing book; Psycho. They would also often use some humour and a touch of the macabre to great effect in their films.

For this retrospective, I am going to take a look at my favourites of the Amicus produced horror anthology films and each of the stories in those films until the studio finally went under. As well as take a look at what happened to Amicus afterwards with a few other horror anthology films Amicus founder Milton Subotsky continued to make after the company went bust.

These films and the stories within the films are famed for having twists, stings and surprises. If you don’t want anything spoiled then stop reading now and go watch these films as I’ll be covering each film and the stories including important plot points but I’ll try to avoid any major spoilers. Yet I do have to pre warn, possible spoilers ahead.

With a total of ten films and each film with multiple stories contained within them…there’s a lot to cover in this retrospective, I had better get started.

Dr Terror

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors: Released in 1965 and sporting a cast including; Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland and Roy Castle. Directed by Freddie Francis and written by Milton Subotsky.

This film starts with five strangers boarding a train and sharing a carriage. They are then joined by a sixth man, Doctor Schreck (Peter Cushing) who reveals he can read Tarot cards and offers to tell the five strangers their futures…

Werewolf: The first story of this film features Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) an architect who travels to Scotland and his former home to make alterations requested by the new owner, Mrs. Biddulph (Ursula Howells). Jim finds a secret room in the cellar which reveals the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, who was the original owner the house 200 years ago. It is revealed that Valdemar was killed in a conflict with the Dawson family centuries ago and they stole the house from him and Valdemar swore revenge since then and wishes to reclaim his house. Jim learns that Valdemar is emerging at night and takes the form of a werewolf to seek his revenge.

An interesting take on the werewolf mythos with some creepy atmosphere and tense scenes. Great way to start the anthology but not the best story in this film.

Creeping Vine: Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman) along with his wife (Ann Bell) and their daughter (Sarah Nicholls) return from a family holiday to find a fast growing vine has begun to sprout in their garden. Whenever Bill tries to cut the vine down, it reacts violently. Deciding to go to The Ministry of Defence for help, it turns out the vine has become intelligent and has learned to react to anyone or thing that threatens it. The vine slowly kills off anyone that dares to interfere as it continues to grow and grow.

This one is a bit of a silly tale and doesn’t really offer much in the way of scares or surprises. But there is a nice mini botany lesson thrown in though.

Voodoo: Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) plays a jazz musician who accepts a job playing in the West Indies. Once there he steals a tune from a local religious voodoo ceremony. Now back in London, when Biff plays the tune he stole there are some serious and disturbing consequences as he is pursued by an unknown force.

This one is the comic relief of the anthology and is played for laughs so it more lighter in tone than the other stories and as a result there is not really much here to find scary, but it does provide a few laughs and some great jazz music.

Disembodied Hand: The fourth tale has Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) playing well known art critic. He is a man self absorbed and enjoys putting people down with his wit. Artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough) gets on the receiving end of one of Franklyn’s overtly aggressive tirades, yet he gets even with the critic by humiliating him publicly. Franklyn is not the kind of person that takes humiliation well and drives over Eric with his car, resulting in him losing a hand. Unable to paint any more, Eric commits suicide and Franklyn Marsh is haunted by the disembodied hand.

Without giving too much away, this one packs quite an ending and for me the best story in the film. With a brilliant and smarmy performance by the great Christopher Lee who ends up getting what he deserves.

Vampire: The last story of the film where Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) returns home to America with his new French bride, Nicolle (Jennifer Jayne). Bob discovers the existence of a vampire and learns that the vampire is indeed his new wife. After seeking advice from fellow doctor and friend, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian). Bob agrees to kill his vampire wife. The police arrive and this is where twist of this tale is revealed.

Pretty good tale this one with a then unknown Donald Sutherland. Giving us an interesting vampire story that is not as back and white as it first seems. It moody and well shot with some great cinematography.

The film concludes with another twist.
Doctor Schreck informs the men that the only way to avoid these terrible futures is to die before they actually happen. The train comes to a stop and the men discover they are already dead having died in a train crash earlier while Doctor Schreck reveals himself to be none other then Death incarnate.

Overall, this one is a decent anthology if a little uneven. But for Amicus’ first foray into the sub genre, its good enough. But it did set the tone and style Amicus were going for and shape the films that were to come after it.

Torture Garden

Torture Garden: This one came out in 1967 with Freddie Francis directing and written by Robert Bloch. starring; Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams and Peter Cushing.

This one begins with a group of people visiting a fairground. Here they come across an unusual sideshow, Torture Garden being run by Dr. Diabolo (Burgess Meredith). Dr. Diabolo shows the five strangers a simple horror themed attraction, the electric chair, which is all rather underwhelming. He then offers to show five people an unimaginable horror in exchange for some extra cash. Here, the five get to see their futures via an effigy of the female Greek deity of fate and destiny, Atropos who holds a pair of shears.

Enoch: In this first tale of the picture, a greedy and selfish playboy Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) finds himself in some financial trouble. He takes advantage of his dying Uncle Rodger (Maurice Denham) by bribing him with medicine for information of where his uncle’s money is. Uncle Rodger dies before he can give any information on his supposed fortune. Colin stays the night in his late uncle’s home alone and begins searching for his uncle’s cash. He eventually finds a mysterious cellar door and begins to investigate, digging around in the cellar he finds a cat that changes his life.

This tale has that Amicus style they became famous for with some impressively atmospheric scenes and a very creepy cat with some strange influence.

Terror Over Hollywood: Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) is a young and eager Hollywood starlet struggling to become known. Sharing an apartment with another actress, Carla purposely sabotages her room mate’s date with a known Hollywood producer and takes her place instead. At dinner, Carla gets to meet people that can make her famous as she starts to sell herself in order to become a known actress. She eventually lands a part in a movie but her backstabbing ways end up coming back to haunt her as she learns her cast and crew in the film are not quite what they seem.

A nice little story about betrayal and greed. Not what I would call scary at all but still a story with a nice unexpected reveal.

Mr. Steinway: Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing) is a young and beautiful musical journalist who interviews famous classical musician Leo Winston (John Standing). During the interview, Leo offers to show Dorothy his pride and joy, Euterpe a rather impressive grand piano named after the Greek muse of music. Dorothy and Leo slowly become close and eventually become lovers. Due to their relationship, Winston struggles to maintain his concentration as his manager and friend Maxine Chambers (Ursula Howells) begins to notice. Leo’s career starts to wane as friction between Dorothy and Maxine gets worse. Maybe Leo is not the talent behind his music after all?

A nice tale, but doesn’t really offer any surprises or scares as its made quite clear exactly what is going on quite early on.

The Man Who Collected Poe: A collector of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance) meets a fellow Poe collector, Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing). Ronald finds Lancelot is in possession of a very rare Edgar Allan Poe first edition and tries to buy it. However, Lancelot is not interested in selling but he does invite Ronald to his home to see his full collection of Poe’s books and other collectables. Their shared interest kindles a friendship and Lancelot offers to show Ronald his most favourite and prized Poe treasures. Lancelot takes Ronald down to his cellar where he keeps the most rare and impressive of his collection, including original Poe manuscripts of unpublished stories. Ronald discovers that these unreleased stories were written in 1966 meaning Edgar Allan Poe could not have written them at all. So this means that Lancelot and his collection is fake…doesn’t it?

Great performances from both Jack Palance and Peter Cushing and brilliantly shot with a creepy and story as the truth behind Lancelot Canning’s impressive Poe collection is revealed. For me, the best of the stories in this one.

This film ends with that typical Amicus twist.
If you have been paying attention, then you’d notice there were five people entering Dr. Diabolo’s Torture Garden, but only four stories. The fifth stranger (Michael Ripper) goes crazy before he can be shown his future and uses the shears of Atropos to kill Dr. Diabolo in front of the others. This causes panic and the others run away. It is revealed that the fifth stranger was in fact working with Dr. Diabolo and the whole thing was a con to gain some extra money as Dr. Diabolo is really unhurt still very much alive. The two congratulate each other for their acting, yet Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance) shows he did not actually run off like the others and says he is interested in making a deal with Dr. Diabolo to work with him as Dr. Diabolo reveals himself to actually be The Devil in a double bluff ending.

An improvement over their first effort with some good stories. Torture Garden is a fun romp with a few good twists and turns along the way coupled with great performances from Peter Cushing and Burgess Meredith. The 70s are next as Amicus welcome in a new decade of anthology horror.

THTDB

The House That Dripped Blood: Directed by Peter Duffell, written by Robert Bloch and Russ Jones. released in 1971 and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, and Jon Pertwee.

Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) from Scotland Yard is called to a house to investigate the disappearance of its newest tenant, film star Paul Henderson. During the investigation, Inspector Holloway discovers more of the house’s history and talks to an estate agent (John Bryans) who tells Holloway about some of its previous tenants.

Method For Murder: Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) a writer of horror stories, moves into the house with his wife Alice Hillyer (Joanna Dunham). While staying in the house, Charles starts to have visions of Dominic (Tom Adams), the main character from the book he is writing. Dominic is written as a psychopathic murderer and the visions Charles has begin to get more intense and scary the more he writes the book. The visions eventually start to turn him insane and drive him to seek a psychiatrist for help. But is Dominic real or is Charles just losing the plot?

Really creepy and tense with a brilliant performance from Denholm Elliott. This story really hits home what Amicus were great at and why they became so good at this genre of film and stories with intriguing twists.

Waxworks: Philip Grayson (Peter Cushing) a lonely widower visits a macabre horror themed waxwork museum run by a mysterious proprietor (Wolfe Morris). While looking at the various wax models, Philip recognises one of the figures as a his wife who died. Philip’s friend, Neville Rogers (Joss Ackland) turns up at the house for a surprise visit. Philip takes Neville to the wax museum where Neville notices the wax work of what appears to be Philip’s dead wife. Neville leaves the next day while Philip goes back to the wax museum once more, here he finds Neville staring at the enigmatic wax work. They both agree never to go back to the museum and part ways but Neville eventually tells Philip he just can not leave and feels he needs to go back to the wax work museum again. Philip rushes to the museum and discovers a disturbing sight just in time for the proprietor to explain what has been going on.

Not really much in the way of surprises in this tale, if you have seen any horror film set in a wax museum then you’ll know what to expect here. But its still quite an effective story none the less and Peter Cushing is his normal masterful self.

Sweets to the Sweet: John Reid (Christopher Lee) moved into the house with his overtly shy daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). John is a single parent after his wife died and needs somebody to take care of his daughter while he is away working. He hires Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) an ex school teacher to home school and care for Jane. Ann and Jane don’t really hit it off as Jane does not trust Ann at all and is scared of fire but she slowly opens up to An and even eventually even overcomes her fear or fire. John has always made sure Jane lead a sheltered life, no toys no friends and she is never allowed to leave the house. Jane’s confidence grows and grows with the help of Ann and we learn that Jane is not quite as sweet and innocent as she seems to be. She’s a little too much like her mother…which is not necessarily a good thing at all.

Its the angelic Chloe Franks that makes this story work. A nice little tale that is well shot and acted throughout.

The Cloak: We finally learn what happened to the missing actor, Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) that started this whole film. Paul moves into the house while working on a new vampire film being shot near by. Paul is an arrogant actor who demands perfection and is upset at his costume for his new film, so he goes out and buys a cloak from a peculiar shopkeeper; Theo von Hartmann (Geoffrey Bayldon) to use as his film character’s costume instead. Whenever Paul wears the cloak, he feels a strange chill and begins to notice strange occurrences like not having a reflection when he looks in a mirror. It seems this cloak is a little more than just a simple costume piece, as Paul’s co-star Carla Lynde (Ingrid Pitt) soon discovers.

Good little vampire story that has a few laughs along the way, there are even a few tongue in cheek jokes at the expense of Amicus’ rivals, Hammer Films and in particular Christopher Lee. More funny than scary, but still a good story worth watching.

The epilogue for this film ends with a nice sting.
Inspector Holloway demands to go to the house itself as he does not believe the stories he has just been told about the previous tenants. While there, he discovers a locked room in the cellar which he forces open. In the room he finds that Paul Henderson hasn’t really been ‘missing’ after all.

One of Amicus’ better anthology films as the stories get more interesting and feel much more even as a piece of storytelling.

That will do for part I but there are still many more films and stories to cover yet. Part II sees some of the best films Amicus produced in the horror anthology sub genre.

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