Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

5 Star Reviews

The Warriors – Roger Ebert Review

“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.

That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.

“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.

“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.

One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.

This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.

All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.

All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.

Curtis Harrington

Gene Curtis Harrington (September 17, 1926 – May 6, 2007) was an American film and television director whose work included experimental films, horror films, and episodic television. He is considered one of the forerunners of New Queer Cinema.

Harrington was born in Los Angeles on September 17, 1926, and grew up in Beaumont, California. His first cinematic endeavors were amateur films he made while still a teenager. He attended Occidental College, the University of Southern California and graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a film studies degree.

He began his career as a film critic, writing a book on Josef von Sternberg in 1948. He directed several avant-garde short films in the 1940s and ’50s, including Fragment of SeekingPicnic, and The Wormwood Star. Cameron also co-starred in his subsequent film Night Tide (1961) with Dennis Hopper. Harrington worked with Kenneth Anger, serving as a cinematographer on Anger’s Puce Moment and acting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) ( he played Cesare, the Somnambulist).

Harrington had links to Thelema (religion developed by Aleister Crowley) shared with his close associate Kenneth Anger, and Marjorie Cameron who frequently acted in his films. One of Harrington’s mentors was avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren, an initiated voodoo priestess.

Roger Corman assigned Harrington to turn some Russian science fiction footage into a whole new American movie; the result was Queen of Blood, which led to further films such as Games.

He also directed Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) with Shelley Winters, What’s the Matter with Helen? (1972) again with Winters, and Killer Bees (1974) with Gloria Swanson in one of her last film roles.

Harrington made two made for television movies based on screenplays by Robert Bloch: The Cat Creature (1973) and The Dead Don’t Die (1975) .

Harrington had a cameo role in Orson Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of the Wind. In the 1970s and 1980s, Harrington directed episodes of Wonder Woman, The Twilight Zone, and Charlie’s Angels for television.

Harrington was the driving force in locating the original James Whale production of The Old Dark House (1932). Even though the rights had been sold to Columbia Pictures for a remake, he got George Eastman House to restore the negative. On the Kino International DVD, there is a filmed interview of Harrington explaining why and how this came about (the contract stipulated that they were allowed to save the film only, not release it, essentially to prove no profit motive). Harrington was an advisor on Bill Condon’s excellent Gods and Monsters, about the last days of director James Whale, since Harrington had known Whale at the end of his life. Harrington also has a cameo in this film.

Harrington’s final film, the short Usher, is a remake of an unreleased film he did while in high school, Fall of the House of Usher. His casting of Nikolas and Zeena Schreck in his updated version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ”Fall of the House of Usher” is in keeping with the magical thread that runs through the film-maker’s career. Financing of the film was partly accomplished through the Shreck’s brokering of the sale of Harrington’s signed copy of Crowley’s The Book of Thoth.

He died on May 6, 2007, of complications from a stroke he had suffered in 2005. He is interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

House of Harrington a short documentary about the director’s life, was released in 2008. It was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby and filmed several years before Harrington’s death. It includes footage of his high school film Fall of the House of Usher. Check it out HERE. Curtis Harrington’s memoir Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood will be published in fall 2012 by Drag City.

Quadrophenia *****

The mid-seventies success of the Ken Russell directed rock opera Tommy (based on the Who album of the same name) prompted The Who films to bring their classic tale of teen angst, Quadrophenia, to the big screen.

Set in 1964 at the peak of the first Mod subculture, Quadrophenia is the coming-of-age story of young London Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a disillusioned, confused and angry young man.

During the day, Jimmy works as a post-room runner at a large corporate firm in the City, however at night and on the weekends, Jimmy is a Mod. He hangs out with his friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), enjoying an amphetamine fuelled alternate lifestyle of drinking, partying and posing.

Influenced by peer pressure, and desperate to ‘belong’ to the ‘scene’ at all costs, Jimmy alienates his childhood friend Kev (Ray Winstone), who is now a Rocker. In a classic example of Jimmy’s mindset, when asked by Kev why he is a Mod, he answers: “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya?”

Adding to his confusion, Jimmy has a crush on local girl Steph (Leslie Ash), and feels increasingly detached from his parents who ‘don’t understand him.’ To make matters worse, in a retaliatory attack, Jimmy and his friends beat up Kev’ simply because he is a rocker albeit not the one responsible for injuring their friend. This act of betrayal only adds to Jimmy’s growing drug-induced confusion.

A chance to get away from it all comes when the Mods converge on the coastal town of Brighton over a bank holiday weekend. In some of the film’s most iconic scenes we meet the hordes of Mods led by the self-styled ‘Ace Face’ (Sting in his film debut), and witness a running battle between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers, during which Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph where he finally has the girl of his dreams, only to emerge and be arrested.

At the moment he belongs and appears to have everything he wanted, everything is taken away; Jimmy’s life continues to fall apart, his identity crisis escalates, alienating him from everything he knows…

Written and directed by Franc Roddam with an obvious love for the subject matter. Jimmy is real; he’s likeable, flawed, annoying and complex, not a one-dimensional movie teenager like so many other coming of age stories.

The cast are all good, delivering natural performances, many in their debut roles, headed by Phil Daniels who is exceptional as Jimmy in the most iconic and most important performance of his underrated career.

I love this film; the energy, performances and depiction of Mod subculture, as it says on the poster: “It’s a way of life”. The film is gritty, humorous, violent and cool, it’s also quintessentially British.

SPOILER ALERT: I also love the ambiguous and symbolic conclusion, symbolizing either Jimmy’s death (though he is not shown falling) or the death of his belief in the Mod culture and his final decision to live without it. It still remains a talking point 30 years later.

Though not a major box-office hit, Quadrophenia quickly went onto receive a cult-following. An apparently accurate sample of the times, the films celebration of the Mod movement partly inspired the Mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80’s. Many of the Mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock, new wave and of course, the music of The Who. The revival was led by The Jam (whose front man Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords.

The Who are everywhere throughout the film, a poster on Jimmy’s wall, performing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere on TV and the My Generation single played at a party.

It’s interesting to note that John Lydon screen tested for the role of Jimmy, it would have been a very different film with him, I can see him inhabiting Jimmy with angst and anger, not so much anything else.

“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, We are, We are the Mods…”

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars

Night of the Living Dead *****

Second review in a short series of five, featuring one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.

Barbara ((Judith O’Dea) and her annoying brother Johnny are visiting their father’s grave. They see a man stumbling towards them as Johnny tries to scare her, making lame jokes: “They’re coming to get you Barbara”, when suddenly the man attacks her. Johnny comes to her rescue and is killed; Barbara escapes and pursued by the undead assailant, makes it to an apparently abandoned farmhouse.

Shocked by the discovery of a dead body she tries to leave and encounters Ben (Duane Jones) whose truck has run out of gas. Ben fights off 3 undead attackers and before realising that the farmhouse is surrounded by dozens of them. He sets to work boarding up the windows while relating his story to Barbara of the carnage he’s see; at the same time informing the audience of the scale of the situation. This is driven further home by the doom laden news reports from the ever present radio: “Attacks by the undead”, “Partially devoured by their attackers”, “The killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill”; then television news break announcing that a radioactive satellite, the Venus probe, is responsible for the dead returning to life .

Joined by Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick child, and young couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), who have been hiding in the cellar; the group make a stand.

Taking a brilliantly simple idea, which obviously draws inspiration from ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘The Birds’, throwing a disparate group of strangers together and made us care for them; and using the limitations of the budget to his advantage by restricting the group to one confined set, George Romero has crafted the prototype zombie movie; the template for all that followed it.

The real strength of the film is in the human drama within the house; the group are fractured, argumentative and divisive, building tension throughout. The characters are believable, displaying their fears, prejudice and vulnerability. As viewers we’re initially apprehensive about them, but as the film unfolds we’re willing them to survive, and Romero being a realist, he kills them off unceremoniously, family members literally ‘eating their own’.

The cast of unknowns inhabit their roles well, delivering believable depictions of fear, cowardice, stupidity and uncertainty. However this is Romero’s film, his script, his politics, his direction, and he delivers on all fronts. The use of gore must also have been quite shocking; having the zombies eating actual meat lends the cannibalistic scenes some realism and although not as graphic as the gore thrown onto the screens with the relentless ‘torture porn’ movies, it still holds up today.

A lot has been made of Romero’s social commentary within the film, made at the height of the Civil Rights movement and Americas involvement in Vietnam. Making a black man the more heroic figure within the group, then dispatching him so callously at the hands of the ‘good old boys’ can’t have been missed by m any viewers at the original time of release.

This is an exceptional film, a real classic of the horror genre, bettered only by Romero’s own follow up, the superlative ‘Dawn of the Dead’. Avoid the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD; it contains some awful new footage shot by alleged fans of the original. Also avoid the colourised version and the 1990 remake, which although not abysmal is pointless when you can watch this.

Turn out the lights, board up the windows, sit back and enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Last House on the Left *****

I thought another list was overdue and wanted to do something slightly different. So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a review of one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and The Evil Dead (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.

The first movie reviewed is The Last House on the Left. For no reason other than I lent my copy to a mate at work and when he gave it back to me I watched it again on the weekend.

On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) borrow the family car to go to a concert in New York. They head to a seedier part of the city to score some marijuana before the show and it’s there they meet Junior (Marc Sheffler) who says he has some back at his apartment. The girls agree to go back with him. At the apartment Junior introduces the girls to his father Krug (David Hess), Weasel (Fred Lincoln) and their apparently shared partner Sadie (Jeramie Rain). Krug and Weasel are escaped convicts, dangerous and sadistic; they abuse and rape Phyllis in front of Mari.

The next day they put both girls in the car boot and head off to the country. They take the girls into the woods where their ordeal is about to get much worse. They dehumanise the girls, making them strip, soil themselves and touch each other, then they murder and dismember Phyllis. Krug cuts his name into Mari’s chest before he rapes and murders her.

The killers head to the nearest house under the guise of a family on the road, they say that their car has broken down and they need somewhere to stay. The house belongs to Mari’s parents (Gaylord St James and Cynthia Carr) who discover what has happened to their daughter… they wreak savage revenge on the gang one at a time.

Last House was directed by Wes Craven who went on to make ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream’ and was produced by Sean S. Cunningham who made the original ‘Friday The 13th’.

The reason that this movie retains such a reputation almost 40 years after its release is not only due to the savagery of the violence but the way it is portrayed. Craven said that he wanted to represent violence in the movie the way that he was seeing it on the TV news in shocking footage from Vietnam. The violence therefore is shot in a documentary style without any score, it looks and feels real. Craven then intercuts the violence with blissful  scenes of the parents preparing Mari’s party and comedic scenes of two hapless policemen (Marshall Anker and Martin Kove) looking for the missing girls. The gang are shown enjoying the violence then becoming bored by it. The movie is also accompanied by an odd late 60’s style score by actor David Hess; it lyrically tells the story as it unfolds and throws those scenes off kilter with the feel of the rest of the movie.  None of this should work, but intercut together in the verite style it combines to make the violent shots feel worse… and it works.

The movie is brutal, shocking, disturbing, sickening, depressing, sadistic, intense, tragic, and legendary and of course it’s groundbreaking. To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie… only a movie… only a movie… only a movie.

The best DVD version is the UK 3 Disc Ultimate Edition. It contains 2 uncut versions of the movie and some excellent documentaries: Celluloid Crime of the Century and Krug Conquers England as well as outtakes and trailers. The real bonus is the 3rd disc which contains Going to Pieces: The Rise & Fall of the Slasher Film, a feature length documentary on the slasher film genre.

Quotes from the documentary: “It was a film very much on the edge” Wes Craven; “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” Sean Cunningham; “What you’re seeing in her face is real fear” Fred Lincoln; “It never gets so bad that it’s funny, it’s just so bad” Jeramie Rain

 5 out of 5 stars

The Warriors *****

Walter Hills third film as director was almost life changing for me when I saw it for the first time as the support feature to ‘Friday the 13th part 2’ in 1981. It was one of the movies that turned me on to a lifelong love of cinema.

The Warriors was adapted from Sol Yurick’s frankly depressing and bleak novel about an unnamed gang on the run through hostile territory from the Bronx all the way back to their turf in Coney Island. Taking the source material and stripping the story back to basics, heavily influenced by the ancient Greek tale Anabasis by the Spartan General Xenophon, Hill made what appear to be a few minor but very important changes. The first was calling our gang ‘The Warriors’, the book title refers to all the gangs amassed at the Bronx meeting who are after the gang we follow back to Coney Island. The other change being that the gang is of mixed race. This no doubt contributed to the film’s success at the US box office on release. No racially divided gang, a cool name and look as well as toning down the books less appealing character aspects gave us a group of guys to cheer for.  And cheer we did as teenagers. The look, the colour, the action, the dialogue, the music and the near non-stop pace made for a perfect teenage movie.

Wrongly accused of the murder of ‘The One and Only’ Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, The Warriors have to ‘Bop their way back’ from the Bronx to Coney Island. Along the way they are chased by cops and other gang members including the real killers The Rogues. They are spurred on by the unseen radio DJ who keeps the gangs, and us, up to date with their movements; she also plays some of the movies incredible score that provide the backdrop to some cool montages.

Any guy in their teens or early 20’s during the 80’s knows more than a few lines of dialogue from it and they all remember the Baseball Furies chase and fight in the subway station men’s room. The interaction with the gangs is priceless; Cyrus, leader of the Riffs “Can you dig it?”; The Orphans “So far down they ain’t even on the map”; The Baseball Furies “I’m gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle” and Luthors final act chiding “Warriors, come out to play”

The young cast are all good, with Michael Beck as leader Swan, James Remar as the feisty Ajax and David Patrick Kelly the only members who had any real post-Warriors career. James Remar the more successful with roles in subsequent Walter Hill movies and on TV in Sex and the City and Dexter. However the other gang members are less well known but leave their mark on the movie: Brian Tyler (Snow), Tom McKitterick (Cowboy), Thomas Waites (Fox), David Harris (Cochise), Terry Michos (Vermin), Marcelino Sanchez (Rembrandt) and Dorsey Wright (underused as original Warriors leader Cleon) are all solid and give us characters to believe in. Deborah Van Valkenberg (Mercy) provides real heart as the girl looking for some excitement and hitching a ride with the gang.   

The soundtrack is as memorable, an excellent electronic score by Barry DeVorzon sprinkled with classics such as ‘No Where to Run’ and new material from Joe Walsh ‘In The City’. However, this is Walter Hills’ movie, the lean script, sparse memorable dialogue and most importantly, the look of the film, which has no doubt been an influence on countless movies, TV series and MTV videos over the years. Neon lights reflected on wet city streets predated the 80’s look. Hill himself took this to its natural conclusion with 1984’s ‘Streets of Fire’   

Released in 1979, The Warriors has always been compared with the other classic gang culture movies of the time: ‘The Wanderers’ and ‘Quadrophenia’. However unlike those movies which looked back at teen angst of the past, The Warriors was set slightly in the future. This near future setting along with the neon light visuals and comic book dialogue adds to the timelessness of the movie and it is as iconic today as it was back in the early 80’s.

One of my all time favourite films, I own at least 4 versions of it! In 2005 ‘The Warriors’ was rereleased as a ‘Directors Cut’ in which Hill was finally able to release a cut with his originally intended comic book panel style… I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie like this if I’d seen it that way in the 80’s, however I prefer the original cut which is worth seeking out on DVD. A Criterion release is overdue as there are numerous out takes and deleted scenes out there that have never made it into an official DVD. It would surely sell in huge numbers, I’d buy it again! Check out the excellent website for all Warriors information.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars

The Company of Wolves *****

With the disastrous release of ‘Red Riding Hood’ recently I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the best movie adaption of that particular fairy tale. The Company of Wolves was the first Neil Jordan movie I ever saw at the cinema, I’ve seen everything he’s made since.

After the funeral of her older sister who was killed by wolves, Rosaleen (Sarah Paterson) stays at her grandmothers (Angela Lansbury) cottage in the woods. Her grandmother spends the night telling Rosaleen stories about ‘men whose eyebrows meet in the middle’ and ‘babies found in stork eggs’ much to Rosaleens horror and excitement. The stories are cautionary tales as Rosaleen is pre-pubescent and granny is trying to warn her about certain types of men and what they will want from her. The stories are dismissed by Rosaleens mother when Rosaleen asks her if her father ‘hurts’ her after she heard them having sex. The film is all filled throughout with sexual references and imagery.

Of course soon after Rosaleen meets a charming stranger in the woods, the huntsman (Micha Bergese), he begs her for a kiss, when Rosaleen declines he makes abet with her that he can reach her granny’s house before her, and then he will take his kiss. Rosaleen agrees to the bet even though the strangers’ eyebrows meet in the middle…

The Company of Wolves is a strange, original, beautiful and sensual film; preoccupied with Rosaleens burgeoning sexuality and her obvious appeal to the opposite sex. The film is incredibly beautiful to look at, the village, cottage and woods sets are wonderfully realised and provide the perfect fairy tale backdrop for the characters to ham it up. The actors really play up their roles, there’s not much subtlety in delivery but it all works in the films favour.      

It really is director Neil Jordan’s film and must have been a difficult sell when he initially pitched it to the studio. Encompassing a strong undercurrent of sexual desire that would become a familiar theme throughout his career, especially in ‘The Crying Game’ and ‘Interview with A Vampire’; using the fairy tale imagery allows Jordan to look at teenage sexuality from a safe distance.

The special effects are always a talking point in werewolf themed movies, specifically the transformation scenes, with ‘An American Werewolf In London’ setting the standard. The werewolf change in Company of Wolves is different and disturbing in a unique way. Wonderfully staged and well performed it relies on the acting, setting and lighting to build the tension before exploding with some terrific make-up effects. Although now obviously slightly dated, I still prefer these types of effects to CGI abominations. 

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 5 out of 5 stars