Tag Archives: The Exorcist

Why I Miss VHS Rental Stores

To paraphrase Madonna.

“We are living in a digital world. And I am a digital girl…or boy.”

Quite honestly, I think the digital age of media that we are living in is amazing. Any and everything we want/need at the click of a button and most of the time we never have to leave our nice, soft and comfy sofas. Then if we do need to leave the comforting warmth of our homes, we can just download media to our mobile devices to enjoy on the move. Movies, TV shows, music and games, we have everything we need for hours upon hours of entertainment. Just give me a beer (or seven), my smart TV/Xbox and I’m good for a few days – happy as a pig in…well you know.

The convenience of the digital age, the speed and sheer variety of things we can watch/play is astonishing. You’ve got yer Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and many others. All services that offer all the movies and so much more besides at the touch of a button. But I want to take you back to the dark ages, before digital media and to an age when we actually had to leave the house if we wanted to watch a film at home. The age of the VHS rental shops.

Blockbuster

Now, I’m from England and yes we had the likes of Blockbuster Video over here too, they were everywhere at one point. Blockbuster were the kings of VHS rentals, love em’ or hate em’, you can’t deny they were the best of the best until their inevitable downfall. But I don’t want to talk about a giant store like Blockbuster or their fall from grace, I want to cover those smaller, independent rental shops. Those tucked away, grubby, sticky floored, stale popcorn selling shops that us older generation went to before Blockbuster became king. I also want to try and paint a picture with words (and a few pictures) to show just how great these places were and try to explain just why I miss them so.

A nice little history lesson for those too young to remember or know the excitement of VHS rentals or even a trip down memory lane for those old enough to remember/care and who miss the whole rental experience as I do.

My Memories

My local VHS rental place was in Kings Norton, Birmingham – where I grew up in the 80s. It was just opposite The Navigation Inn on Pershore Road. Can’t remember what it was called, but they all had generic names like Bob’s Rentals or VHS Village, etc. They were never impressive places, often dully lit, stains on the carpet and had that weird/hard to place smell. They were grim places and yet, they were the highlight of the week at the same time.

VHS Store

Yeah, they looked like that, complete with carpet stains and dozens of movie posters plastered everywhere. The VHS rental visit would always be on a Friday night after school and this was something you looked forward to from Monday morning onward. Spending all week during break-times between classes chatting to your school friends about the films you watched over the weekend, swapping stories, film suggestions, talking about the trailers you saw. Sometimes even during class if and when you got bored.

Those five days from Monday to Friday seemed to go on forever and ever. Then, Friday afternoon at 3:30 pm, the school bell would ring and it was the sweetest sound you’d hear all week. School was done and what lay in wait was two days of watching movies, just hours away and that weekly trip to Terry’s Tapes (or whatever it was called) was on the horizon. But first, homework, something to eat and tidy your room just to build that an-tici-pation. Once all the annoying time wasting stuff was out of the way sometime after 5 pm, it was VHS rental time.

VHS Village

As you’d make your way to the shop, you’d be thinking about the films you wanted to watch and remember the ones you and your friends were talking about at school over the last several days, looking forward to the posters you might see hanging in the window or stuck to the walls via Blu-Tack. Then before you knew it, you were there, standing outside the door of the shop and just like Father Merrin standing outside the MacNeil house, you’d stop, look at the windows and pause just staring at the shop in wonderment.

The Exorsict

After the pause, you’d eagerly push open the door while your eyes darted between the many posters on display and that smell would hit your nostrils. That stale, stagnant odour only independent VHS rental shops had and one I’ve not smelt for decades. It was a strange mix of body odour, the plastic of the VHS boxes, cigarette smoke (as people could still light up indoors back then), finished off with whatever the hell was staining the carpet. And trust me when I say that the distinct aroma was even worse during the summer. Then you stepped inside and you were finally there. The annoyances and frustrations of a hard week at school just melted away – had a painful and laborious double science class on Wednesday? Fugetaboutit. You were standing right in the middle of your own personal nirvana and loving every single second of it.

Four of your five senses kicked into overdrive. Your sight was almost blinded by the images on the posters and the rows upon rows of VHS boxes. Your hearing bombarded with the sounds of films and trailers being played on the 12 inch TV resting on the shop counter. Your smell took in every last whiff of that horrible, yet familiar odour. While your touch was put into practice as you held and caressed the VHS cases as you browsed the impressive collection. Your fifth sense, taste, would just have to wait until later when you bought some of that out of date Toffee Butterkist sitting in a wire basket/shelf near the counter as no one ever bothered checked the use by date.

Merrily making your way through the labyrinthine rows of VHS tapes and heading straight to the horror section that was always at the back of the shop, away from the front door and windows. Not necessarily because you wanted to rent a horror film (though you mainly did), but because you knew that the very top row of the highest shelf of the horror section was where the shop owner always kept the ‘discrete’ porn section (we didn’t hide our VHS porn behind a curtain in England). You’d intensely look at the wide array of horror film covers as you walked back and forth along the horror section pretending to be really, really interested in Hellraiser, Demons, Dawn Of The Dead, etc –  but then quickly flit your gaze upwards toward that top shelf in a vein attempt to catch a glimpse of some Russ Meyer movie cover, maybe a little side boob or censored nipple as this was the equivalent of hardcore porn of today to a 14 year old in the 1980s.

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Your hands were at the point of breaking into a clammy sweat as you picked up the numerous empty VHS boxes and your eyes soaked up in every little detail of the cover art. Awesome box art like; The TerminatorMad MaxHighlanderBig Trouble in Little China as well as numerous others – images that still bring a smile to your face even today. You’d flip the empty box over and read the synopsis, see who was in the film and look at the tiny screen caps as you thought about renting the tape out. But even though you were browsing…you already knew what films you wanted rent. One of them was always the holy grail of VHS rentals in the 80s – Back to the Future. Even though you saw it seven times at the cinema, you wanted to watch it again at home, but every time you tried to rent it, all copies were already out as the shop only had two tapes and the waiting list was around seven to eight weeks. Still, you’d always ask anyway in case someone brought it back early...they never did.

Back To The Future VHS

So you’d pick your three or four films for the weekend, one of which would probably be Raiders of the Lost Ark for the eighth time that year (and it was only March). Taking your arm-full of empty boxes to the counter and picking up a couple of bags of that several months out of date Toffee Butterkist too, the shop owner would ask for your membership card despite the fact you’ve been going in every Friday night like clockwork for the last five years and he knows you by name and your address better than you do. As the server frantically searched the wall of VHS tapes behind the counter for your chosen rentals, you would glace over at that 12 inch TV most probably showing a trailer for Death Wish 3 or maybe Breakin‘ 2Electric Boogaloo. That’s when you’d notice the ex-rental basket where older VHS tapes were being sold off cheap so you could own them yourself. I still remember buying the Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller tape for 75p…bargain.

If you were lucky, if you were a regular and if the owner liked you, then they may let you rent one for free or even better…the behind the counter stuff, the banned or fully uncut versions of The Evil Dead or The Exorcist that were not readily availableYou see, in the 80s here in England, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) went a little mad and created the infamous video nasty list. Where a lot of (mainly) horror films were either cut to shreds and censored to the point of being unwatchable or they were just outright banned. So getting to see these films in tact in the 80s was an even more sought after holly grail than a VHS copy of Back to the Future. You didn’t know how he got these films and didn’t care either. All I knew and cared about was that I got to see a fully uncut version of The Evil Dead in 1984, which (if you know anything about the infamy this film had in England at the time) was simply impossible. Still, ask no questions, tell no lies. There were no real age-checks back then, no ID required as long as you were not renting out porn, everything else was fair game if you had the membership card. Yeah blood soaked violence, horror and swearing were okay but nudity and sex? That was a major taboo. You may have been only fourteen years old but if you wanted to rent out John Carpenter’s The Thing…okay. I quite honestly think I saw more horror films as an underage teenager in the 80s via my local VHS store than when I was legally allowed to and after becoming an adult.

Then after paying for your rentals, the guy behind the counter would thrust your chosen VHS tapes into a plastic bag with that not at its best Butterkist and hand it to you along with your by now very used, slightly torn and curled at the edges membership card. Then you’d step out of that odorous, stuffy VHS rental shop into the fresh air which provided an instant hit like no other legal high could manage, that smell of freshness that indicated it was almost movie time.

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Hurrying home and thrusting your rented VHS tapes into that monster of a top-loader player (about the size of 4 Xbox One consoles combined…and I don’t mean the slim version). The loud mechanisms and servo motors would whirl into action as the top loading tape-tray eagerly swallowed the VHS tape and digested it. You’d have to adjust the tracking (look it up), sit through direct to VHS trailers of so bad they’re good action films that most probably starred Chuck Norris and were produced by Cannon Films. Movies that most people have long forgotten about or secretly still admire to this day, those guilty pleasures all us VHS enthusiasts love to watch but don’t tell anyone about, like the Missing In Action trilogy. Then the main event began, the film(s) you have waited all week to watch. You rented out Best Defense only because Eddie Murphy was on the cover and he was the big comedy star of the 80s. Yeah the film was terrible…but you still enjoyed it, not because of the film itself but because of the entire experience of choosing the film previously and an experience you couldn’t wait to repeat the following weekend.

Then after the weekend of watching films. One of which was probably Raiders of the Lost Ark…again, while eating that stale Toffee Butterkist. You’d go back to school on Monday morning to tell your friends about the films you’d watched over the weekend, swapping stories, film suggestions, talking about the trailers you watched, etc and restart the whole cycle once more as that five day countdown to Friday and 3:30 pm began again.


 

That, all of that is what I miss about VHS rentals. Yes, I do love and very much appreciate the digital age…but we have lot something very special to make way for it. We have pretty much any movie at the touch of a button now, we don’t have to worry about something not being in stock as its always going to be there and with that, we have lost the anticipation and excitement of getting your hands on the film you really want to watch. We no longer get to explore cover art, flip the box over, read the synopsis and soak up those movie stills, etc. We now just click on download/stream and instantly have whatever we want. Convenient? Yes. As enjoyable? Not at all.

RIP VHS

R.I.P VHS rental stores. I for one miss you.

 

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An Incomplete History of Horror Films Part IV.

My Incomplete History of Horror is back and this time, its the 70s. I love 70s horror films, so this one is going to be a big entry.

A new wave of horror movie was on the horizon as the 1970s rolled around. There was still room for some of the classics as Hammer films continued with their Dracula series (as well as others). But the 70s built on the films of the 60s like Psycho where the bad guy was just that… a guy. This time around, the entire family was brought in to be the monster; father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter, any and everyone was fair game now. Horror movies ‘inspired’ by real events began to appear and there were great advancements in technology and make up effects too. Writers and directors began to push the limits of what could be seen on the big screen, many of them even pushed things a little too far…

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The Wizard of Gore (1970): Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis who is often called; “the Godfather of Gore” and credited with creating the ‘Splatter’ sub-genre of horror film. A magician, Montag the Magnificent performs gruesome mutilation tricks on ‘volunteers’ who always walk away from the performance, but also later end up dead. A TV talk-show hostess begins to investigate the magician and suspects him as the killer.

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Herschell Gordon Lewis was known as “the Godfather of Gore” for a damn good reason, this film is gory and then some. The acting is terrible and the plot can be cumbersome, but its still an absolute riot of a gore-fest. If you want deep characters and a meaningful story then you wont find it here. But what you will find is a blood soaked, car crash of a horror movie. It difficult to watch, but impossible to look away.

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The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971): Starring Vincent Price and directed by Robert Fuest. Dr. Phibes supposedly died in a car crash after learning of his wife’s death during an operation in hospital. Four years later and the doctors that performed the fatal operation are turning up dead in strange circumstances based on the ten plagues of Egypt. Dr. Phibes is back and extracting his revenge.

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Vincent Price is just amazing here and plays the part of a heartbroken, vengeful man like no other. The sets and costumes are a beautiful throwback to art deco of the 1920s when this film is set. There is also a wonderful dark, British humour flowing through the whole movie that never feels out of place. The deaths are very creative and quite surprising with an ending that leaves it open for a sequel… and a sequel we got too. Dr. Phibes Rises Again,(1972) is not quite a great at this film but still worth checking out as a marvellous double feature.

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Reazione a catena (1971): AKA; A Bay of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve or Blood Bath is an Italian horror directed by Mario Bava. A wheelchair bound heiress is murdered by her husband in her mansion, who in turn is killed by an unknown murderer. News of the murders gain the interest of four local teenagers who break into the seemingly deserted mansion only to find the murderer is still there.

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As mentioned in the part III, its often said that Peeping Tom (1960) was the first film that put in place many of the tropes of the ‘slasher film’. This film is the birth of the modern ‘slasher’ and main influence for Friday the 13th (1980). You have the teenagers, the stalking killer and the gruesome deaths. In fact, some of the death sequences in this film were ‘borrowed’ by Friday the 13th and its sequels. This is an awesome and little known film well worth watching as the story is not quite as straight forward as it first seems that’ll leave you trying to second guess who the killer is in this blood soak orgy of violence.

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The Last House on the Left (1972): From the legendary writer/director Wes Craven comes one of the most infamous and controversial horror films ever made. Mari Collingwood is turning seventeen and she plans on going to watch her favourite band in concert with her friend. The two set out to the gig, but on the way they cross paths with a gang who recently escaped from prison lead by Krug Stillo.

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This film is notorious for many reasons. It was hugely controversial when it was released and was heavily cut or even outright banned in some countries. Its a brutal, hard to watch picture as the torture and torment the girls go though is shown in great detail, plus there is the overly long rape sequence. Its a rough looking film that has an almost documentary style and feel about the whole thing. Overall, the film is hardly what I would call ‘good’ as there are many, many problems with it (mainly the ‘comic relief’ cops). But I would describe this movie as a flawed masterpiece. It a low budget, cheap schlock film that tries its hardest to shock and shock it does do. One of the first films that pushed the limits of what could be shown in movies during the 1970s.

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The Exorcist (1973): Based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin. Chris MacNeil and her pre-teen daughter Regan, live a quiet life in Georgetown. After playing with a Ouija board, Regan begins to display unusual behaviour which slowly gets worse and worse as Regan transforms from a sweet and innocent young girl into a foul mouthed, violent child. As if someone or something is controlling her.

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Let me just get this out of the way first. The Exorcist is my all time favourite horror film. You say to me ‘horror film’ and The Exorcist instantly pops into my head. It featured such strong and iconic imagery like the exorcist arriving at the house shot in silhouette or Regan in full possession (see above). Then there is the often overlooked sound design of the film and the incredible music of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, watch this film with a good surround sound system for the full effect. This is a true horror film in every sense of the word. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel after being inspired by true events, and this film sparked off a trend in movies that were ‘based on true events’ through the 70s. I simply can not recommended The Exorcist enough. Over the years there have been multiple different cuts of the movie with added/alternate scenes, but any version you watch (as long as its not a edited for TV one) will be well worth checking out.

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Theatre of Blood (1973): From director Douglas Hickox and starring Vincent Price. Edward Lionheart is an actor who is continually berated and overlooked by critics and denied a prestigious acting award. He attempts suicide by driving his car into the river Thames but is saved by a a group of homeless people. Lionheart returns to extract his revenge on the critics by murdering them in ways inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.

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This could pretty much be described as Dr. Phibes 3 as the plots are very similar. Only this film is much more violent and gruesome than the two Dr. Phibes films as the death scenes are much bloodier and creative. It interesting how Vincent Price is playing a character similar to himself as he was an overlooked actor for years and didn’t really become famous until much later in his life. You can really tell Price had a great time playing this part with all the disguises he wears and characters he gets to play. Plus the fact he also does a fair bit of Shakespeare along the way too. If you enjoyed the Dr. Phibes films but crave something a little more bloody, then this is the film for you.

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Black Christmas (1974): AKA; Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. One of the forerunners of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, directed by Bob Clarke. During a Christmas party, an all female sorority receive strange phone calls from somebody called Billy and things slowly get worse after one of the girls goes missing.

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Panned by critics when first released, but this film has gone on to become a cult classic and much loved among the horror fans of today. A wonderful and moody picture that is shot well and offers plenty of creepy/scary moments. The film also has a really good sense of humour with many memorable funny lines, even the tagline is pure genius; “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl… it’s on too tight.” You can really see where films like Halloween (1978) got their ideas from, in fact Halloween was originally planed as a sequel to this film. Its a well balanced mix of thrills, horror and comedy, some great and atmospheric cinematography and topped off with a moody musical score. Watch this one late on Christmas Eve.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974): Hammer films team up with the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio and mix classic horror with Kung-Fu. Directed by Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh. Dracula is asked to help bring back to life the legendary Golden Vampires in China. Van Helsing is giving a lecture at a Chinese university and learns of Dracula’s plans so sets about to stop not only Dracula but also the legendary Golden Vampires.

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Though the 70s, Hammer films began to loose popularity as their films became tired, over produced and the quality began to decline. The rise in popularity of Kung-Fu films at the time lead to the idea of trying to breath new life in Hammer productions by melding their classic Dracula series with Kung-Fu. While Peter Cushing returned in the role of Van Helsing, Christopher Lee chose not to reprise the role of Dracula and stepping into the fangs is John Forbes-Robertson. This film is as bad as it is great, you still have some of that famous Hammer horror style but now thrown into a Shaw Brothers Kung-Flu flick. If you want Kung-Fu vampires, then you’ll not get much better than this effort. Its a bad film, but one of those good/bad films that is still worth watching for some stupid fun.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): One of the most seminal horror films not only of the 70s, but ever. Directed by Tobe Hooper and featuring the legendary Gunnar Hansen playing the role of Leatherface. Five friends are travelling around the back roads of Texas where they come across a strange hitchhiker who they quickly get rid of. Later, they run out of gas and look for help at rundown house where they meet Leatherface.

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The ad campaign for this film and the film itself claimed the events in the picture really happened. They didn’t, the characters and story are 100% fiction but the film is very loosely inspired by the infamous killer, Ed Gein. Still, this film is one of the greats of horror cinema. There are scenes in this movie that are just burnt into my subconscious forever, that dinner table sequence for one is still as effective and disturbing today as it was in 1974. This is a very slow burning film but in a good way as the plot unfolds and you learn about Leatherface and his family. A true horror film that terrifies through its style and tone more than blood and gore.

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Jaws (1975): The 70s just kept churning out classic after classic horror film, directed by Steven Spielberg. Its summer on Amity Island and the tourists are turning up in droves. After Sheriff Brody investigates what he believes is a shark attack, he tries to shut the beaches down in an attempt to enforce public safety. Local businesses and Amity’s Mayor fear they will lose money and persuade Brody to keep the beaches open, a decision that leads to death and a fight to kill the shark.

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I wrote a behind the scenes look at Jaws that you can read here. Jaws is one of the biggest and most famous films ever made, it created the ‘summer blockbuster’ and went on to become a successful franchise. A horror film with a difference as it almost goes back to the classic 40s/50s era of monster movies, but manages to keep things very grounded and real at the same time too. A tense and scary thriller/horror that delivers on every level from great acting, amazing directing and a theme tune that will stick in your head forever. The king of shark movies that has often been imitated, but never bettered.

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Trilogy of Terror (1975): A made for TV anthology horror movie. Directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black who appears in all three of the stories playing different parts. The three stories are; Julie where a teacher is drugged, rapped and has sexual photos taken while she is unconscious. She is blackmailed by the photographer but he doesn’t realise that Julie had the upper hand all along. Millicent/Therese is a tale about two sisters, one sister believes the other is pure evil and kills her. But things are not as straight forward as it seems. The final story is Amelia who after returning home from shopping trip. She unwraps her latest purchase, an African Zuni doll.

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Trilogy of Terror is an often overlooked/forgotten film that deserves more credit. The first two stories are the weakest of the three, but they are still good yarns none the less. But the best is definitely saved for last. The TV movie budget means you don’t get to see any glossy, big movie effects or production here but the film still manages to pull off effective effects work with its meagre budget. Karen Black is amazing in all three of the tales playing different parts and is perfect casting. A little known film worth a view of you like anthology horror films.

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Communion (1976): AKA Holy Terror and Alice, Sweet Alice. Directed by Alfred Sole and featuring Brooke Shields. Alice is a problematic twelve year old girl living with her divorced mother. The mother tends to give more attention to her oldest daughter, Karen over Alice. When Karen is found dead the number one suspect is the 12 year old Alice as more bodies begin to turn up, but could she really be capable of murder?

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This film was originally shown as Communion at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1976 but legal issues prevented the movie from being released and Columbia Pictures eventually dropped it entirely. Then Allied Artists brought the picture for distribution and released it as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1978. Paula Sheppard who plays the 12 year old Alice was actually 19 when she made this film and this is also the very first film appearance of Brooke Shields. An effective and tense horror film that uses the Catholic religion as its backdrop. The film is little known and hard to come by today, but if you can find a copy then I recommend this one.

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Carrie (1976): Another all time classic form the 70s, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and directed by Brian De Palma. Carrie White is an awkwardly social teenager raised by her overtly religious mother. Carrie is bullied at school and this bullying crossed with Carrie’s coming of age triggers a hidden talent.

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Carrie is often thought of as being one of the best books Stephen King ever wrote and Brian De Palma does a great job of bringing that book to the big screen. Sissy Spacek as Carrie is just amazing and she was nominated for the best actress Oscar in 1977. The film also marks an early appearance for John Travolta. The film is another one of those slow burners, but it all builds up to one of the most iconic and famous climaxes in a horror film. De Palma was clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as whenever Carrie uses her power, you get the infamous music cue from the shower scene and Carrie attends Bates High School. A case of one of the best ‘borrowing’ from one of the best.

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The Omen (1976): Directed by Richard Donner and written by David Seltzer, starring Gregory Peck. Robert Thorn is the US Ambassador to Great Britain. He has a wife, great job, money and a lovely home but he doesn’t have a child. When his wife, Katharine, has a stillborn child, Robert agrees to take the newborn child of a mother who died during childbirth without telling his wife of his decision. The child he ‘adopts’ turns out to have very interesting parentage.

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A fantastic story of thrills and horror that takes us all over the world. The film is dark and moody with plenty of scares and shocks as the arrival of the possible Antichrist comes about. This film has some of the most famous scenes ever caught on film. There is the ‘accident’ that leaves Katharine Thorn in hospital, the nanny’s sacrifice at a birthday party, a church steeple death, the scene involving plate glass and that final scene where Robert Thorn has to kill his ‘adopted’ son. That particular scene must have been especially hard to film for Gregory Peck as Peck’s real son, Jonathon committed suicide the previous year. I also have to give mention to Billie Whitelaw as the nanny, Mrs. Baylock and David Warner as the over eager photojournalist, Jennings. A great gimmick by the studio was to release this film on 6th June 1976… a date that features the number 666.

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The Possessed (1977): A low budget, made for TV movie directed by Jerry Thorpe and featuring Harrison Ford in one of his early acting roles. A priest who loses his faith dies in a car accident and as penance, he’s sent back to Earth as a exorcist. He arrives at an all girls school where he has to battle demonic forces that are threatening the students.

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This one tries hard to ride on the success of The Exorcist and was one of many rip offs that were quickly released in hope they could cash in on the hype. For a rip off and low budget TV movie, this is actually pretty damn good. Harrison Ford is really great in the movie even if his role is small and this was his last role before he was cast in Star Wars. As this is a TV movie, it lacks the effects and budget of a cinematic film but it still manages to create some intense and suspenseful scenes as well as a few images that should stick in your head for a while. If you can find it, this is worth checking out.

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Rabid (1977): An early film from legendary director David Cronenberg. A woman, Rose is involved in a motorbike accident and has experimental surgery to save her life. The surgery leaves her with a thirst for blood as she goes on a killing spree to quench that thirst and spreads a vampire-like plague.

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If you enjoy Cronenberg’s bizarre and often disturbing imagery then you’ll love this movie. A strange variation on the vampire mythos all wrapped up in that distinct Cronenberg style. Famous 70s porn star, Marilyn Chambers plays Rose and she’s actually quite good too. The make up and effects are beautifully gory and are as bold and visceral as anything else Cronenberg has done since. A disturbing visual treat that often repulses as much as it does attract, you may not like what you see but you’ll continue to watch regardless.

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Suspiria (1977): From one legendary horror director to another. This is from Italian horror meister Dario Argento. Suzy Bannion is a talented ballet dancer who travels to Germany to join a prestigious ballet school. As she tries to settle into her new surroundings, Suzy begins to witness bizarre happenings as she learns that the ballet school is not quite what it seems.

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Every list of horror films should contain at least one Dario Argento picture and this one is often considered his masterpiece. Suspiria is a visual treat with amazing set design and wonderful cinematography. But don’t let that fool you as its also a bloody orgy of violence with a double death sequence near the start of the film being a major highlight. The plot is a little all over the place and doesn’t always make sense, but that kind of adds to the nightmarish tone the film has. If you want a highbrow and thought provoking horror film then you are not going to find that here. But what you will find is a beautifully shot movie that will stick in your psyche forever.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland. A remake of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). An epidemic of people changing personalises grasps San Francisco and when a corpse is found, it is discovered that humans are being replaced by clones, but by who/what?

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A great throwback to the 1950s sci-fi horror but with a modern twist. Often regarded as one of the very best horror remakes ever. This is a truly terrifying picture that is told in a slow but engrossing pace, the characters are believable and likeable as the film builds it suspense towards one of the most iconic and famous endings to a horror film. The effects work is really well done and feels very grounded in reality which adds to the overall verisimilitude of the film. As far fetched as the plot is, it still manages to feel ‘real’ and that itself makes the film much more effective.

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Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero’s follow up to his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968). This is the second in Romero’s classic ‘Dead trilogy’ with Day of the Dead (1985) being the third. Four survivors of an ever expanding zombie apocalypse find themselves in a shopping mall. With the shops full of supplies, food and weapons, the quartet lock the mall down and believe themselves to be very safe and they live in the mall for several months. But things start to go wrong when a biker gang discover the mall and decide to break in.

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If Night of the Living Dead (1968) created the mould that zombie films would follow, then this film broke that mould. Often thought of as being the very best of zombie pictures and the film that other zombies movies aim to best, but rarely do. Full of not just genuine horror, but also a few laughs and wicked social commentary/satire. Dawn of the Dead is so much more than ‘just a zombie film’, its an unforgettable and extraordinary experience. Definitely George A. Romero’s finest film and the best of the entire ‘Dead’ franchise he continued to make.

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Halloween (1978): As if I couldn’t include this one, I think it may be law to have Halloween in a list of horror films. Written, scored and directed by one of horror film’s most influential visionaries, John Carpenter. A 6 year old boy called Micheal brutally murders his older sister with no apparent motive and he is institutionalised. 15 years later on the night before Halloween and Micheal escapes his incarceration to return to his home town and begins to thin down the population.

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This may not have been the first film in the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, but it is the film that popularised it. Many films followed in Halloween’s footsteps with varying degrees of success, but it is this film that is often held up as the template for the ‘slasher’ horror movie. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric, the film moves along at a snails pace as the tension builds and builds and starts to evoke fear and dread on the audience. In the era of blood and gore that the 70s provided, Halloween is mostly bloodless (save a few very minor instances) and offers a more tense viewing experience over flashy effects work. A film that will stay with you forever, as will that infamous music.

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Phantasm (1979): Written and directed by Don Coscarelli a blend of the supernatural, sci-fi and horror. A teenage orphan, Mike crosses paths with a mortician known as ‘The Tall Man’. Mike breaks into the mortuary and witnesses strange events including weird creatures and dangerous flying spheres. With the help of his brother and friend, they discover the truth behind ‘The Tall Man’.

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As weird as it is wonderful, this film feels like the two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch) had a love child-movie and named it Phantasm. The plot is ridiculous and the overall film is just plain bizarre… but its also great campy fun. Angus ‘The Tall Man’ Scrimm plays the antagonist beautifully and his dulcet ‘Booooooooooooy!’ taunt towards Mike will stick with you forever. In my opinion, The Tall Man (and Angus) is one of the most overlooked/forgotten horror villains that deserves more acknowledgement. Phantasm went on to spawn several sequels; Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and finally, more recently Phantasm: Ravager (2016). Sadly the overlooked Angus Scrimm died in January 2016, but he manged to end his career playing the role that scared millions of people around the world.

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Alien (1979): Sc-fi horror doesn’t get any better than this. Directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a small but great cast including; Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and Sigourney Weaver. A ragtag deep-space mining crew are woken from hyper-sleep by an SOS distress call from a moon. They land on the moon to investigate the call and find a chamber inside a crashed spaceship containing thousands of unhatched eggs…

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Amazing directing, stunning set design and as scary as fuck. Alien is the definitive sci-fi horror film. A simple enough plot about a small group of people trapped on a spaceship with an alien could have been one of the dullest things ever to be caught on film, but Director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon turned the mundane into the masterful. The film is tense and suspenseful, the claustrophobic nature of the film’s setting really adds to the feeling of fear as does the eeriness of the musical score. The alien itself is imposing, disgusting and yet beautiful at the same time. Of course the fact it was designed by H. R. Giger has a lot to do with that. Some of the most memorable scenes ever to be filmed are found in this picture, the discovery of the eggs, the ventilation/flamethrower bit, the fight between Ash & Ripley and of course, the ‘birth’ of the alien itself. A great end to a great decade of horror.

Well that’s all for the 70s, but believe me, I could go on as the 70s has dozens of great horror films I haven’t even mentioned. But I need to move onto part V and its the turn of to 80s and the rise of the ‘video nasty’ era.

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Great movie trailers

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There is a massive online backlash over the trailer for the upcoming Ghostbusters remake… and it is a remake. It has become known as the most disliked movie trailer… ever.

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I think the whole backlash is getting out of hand. I watched the trailer and thought it looked “okay” at best. There have most definitely been far worse movie trailers before. I admit that I have no desire to go and see the film though, but the trailer was not that bad.
But this got me thinking about trailers and how you can’t really judge a 2 hour film on a 2 minute clip. Let me look at another example: that last trailer for Batman v Superman made the film look amazing, when in fact the film was horrible. Trailers can be very misleading.

Then I got to thinking about movie trailers in general and some trailers I lovingly remembered sprang to mind.
So here, I’m going to take a look at some of my favourite movie trailers. Whether the film itself was any good or not isn’t important. I’m just going on the quality of the trailer and what is showed, how/why it was good. From simple teasers, full trailers to sheer master class examples on how to do an effective movie trailer.

Back To The Future: A great example on how to do an amazing teaser. Bearing in mind that when this was released, nobody knew anything about the film at all. It starts of with the household name of; Steven Spielberg and that alone is enough to get you hooked. Then its is this abstract collection of futuristic looking lights, wires, etc along with a few quick shots of the DeLorean itself. Before revealing the star of the film, Michael J Fox who seemingly disappears in flames while the rousing “Back in Time” from; Huey Lewis and the News plays in the background as the title of the film appears.

A great little trailer for a film that would go down in history as an all time classic.

Godzilla (1998): This one was released in 1997 when Jurassic Park fever was still quite high as it was the same year that The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released. In fact, many people believed this was a trailer for Jurassic Park 2 at the time. Its a clever, misleading teaser as The T-Rex was the big bad monster of movies then and hugely popular. The way the museum curator builds up and talks about the impressive stats of the T-Rex, only for it to be literally crushed by the foot of something even bigger. This teaser was a great way to have a little pop at Jurassic Park while promoting the up and coming new Godzilla flick. It showed us that the T-Rex may not be the king of movie monsters for much longer.

Brilliant little trailer, shame the film itself was not very good though.

Schindler’s List: What an stunning trailer. Pretty much silent, except for a few instances and some haunting music in the background. This one really hits home the horrors of the Holocaust without revealing too much of anything. A powerful and moving trailer for a film that was just as equally powerful and moving… nuff said.

This is how you do a trailer well.

The Shining: This one is very unnerving. You have big names like Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson and Stephen King appear on screen all while some strange but wondrous music builds in the background. Yet we are just looking at a hallway with a pair of elevator doors at the end… and nothing else. Nothing appears to be happening, there is no action, we do not see any of the stars of the film as the music just keeps building and building. Its memorising and pulls you in as you can’t take your eyes off the screen as you wait for something to happen… an finally it does.

Kubrick, Nicholson, King. Who wouldn’t want to watch this film? This trailer is hugely effective, suspenseful and yet it shows nothing.

Spider-Man: The first teaser of the big budget Spider-Man film from Sam Raimi. This one is fairly controversial as it was quickly removed following the events of 9/11. A nice little action scene that got to showcase the new Spider-Man and didn’t contain any main footage from the film itself. Its quite heart pumping and offers an adrenaline rush. This one got me really looking forward to a Spider-Man film from one of my favourite directors.

An effective trailer that leaves a lasting impression and really got people talking… before 9/11 that is.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: A great sense of humour with this one. The narrator’s build up as he describes cutting edge technology, millions of dollars budget, best animators in the world, etc. Just for it to cut to the crappy animation South Park is famed for while Cartman does his infamous “German dance”. Its a funny little trailer that really got people looking forward to the film.

Quite surprising the film came about while the TV show was still in its infancy. But this trailer got us South Park fans hyped.

The Exorcist: Wow, what a trailer. This one just shows some disturbing images of the film that flash up and really shows nothing of the film itself. Some interesting titbits about this one. It features the original score for the film before it was ultimately rejected from the final cut and the trailer was even pulled from cinemas as it was deemed too scary at the time. Just try to imagine watching this in a darkened cinema on the big screen…

One of my favourite films and a really unsettling trailer. Though, if I’m honest. I feel it goes on a little too long. I think this trailer would have been better if it was slightly shorter.

The Birds: Hitchcock was a master of his craft and this trailer proves just as much. Its more like a mini movie in itself coming in at just over 5 minutes long. Hitchcock takes us though interesting lecture about how we humans mistreat birds. Killing them, eating them, caging them, using them for trophies, etc. This is a wonderful little talk as Hitchcock beautifully uses the English language to paint a picture of why birds are the subject of his latest film and the whole thing is very calm. Then as Hitchcock goes to pet a caged bird, things take a disturbing twist…

I love me some Hitchcock and this is one of my all time favourite trailers and all without showing a single frame of the film. Hitch’s trademark dry humour is rampant in this one and really makes for a great watch. But he made an even better trailer just a few years before this one…

Psycho: Yes, Hitchcock again. Best film trailer EVER! Just like his; The Birds trailer, this one is like its own mini movie. We join Hitch as he takes us on a tour of the infamous Bates Motel and house. Hitch describes very specific events from the film, but still manages to hold back on any major spoilers. His marvellous wording as he covers the murder on the stairs, “the twisting of the… well I won’t dwell on it.”, is sublime. The way Hitch talks to the audience and give subtle nods and references, cheeky little winks as if he is tormenting you. “This picture has great significance because… lets go to cabin number 1”, arrrghhhhhhhh the teasing is almost unbearable. All leading up to a surprise in the shower…

My favourite trailer for one of my favourite films and based on one of my favourite books. Nobody does movie trailers better than Hitchcock. This trailer works brilliantly as a prologue as it just hints at pretty much every major scene in the film without telling us all the details. Then watch it after the film as an epilogue and you can see just how well crafted the trailer is and all the clues Hitch was hinting at.
Utterly sublime.

Well there you go, a few of my favourite trailers. But I have many more trailers I really enjoy, though nothing tops Psycho. I may cover more at a later date…

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