Watching the Stalker

Not sure of the origin of this poster but it is lovely...
Not sure of the origin of this poster but it is lovely…

Two men, known only as ‘Writer’ and ‘Professor’, hire a Stalker to guide them through the ‘Zone’, an off limit area where danger is supposedly ever-present. Their aim: to get to the room at the heart of the zone where their innermost desires will be realised.

It’s been a few weeks since I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and I’ve wanted to write about it since then but, well, I’ve had to give it some time to settle in my mind. It is, first and foremost, a beautiful film. Cate Blanchett has talked about how each frame is ‘burned’ into her retina; on watching, it quickly becomes apparent why. Each frame is an exquisitely composed piece of art. Colours drip and drain whilst the textures of the world are the crumbling evidence of a creative space in a state of decay and disrepair. Because it is Tarkovsky you get plenty of time to appreciate these compositions too (141 shots in 160+ minutes, several over four minutes and one clocking in at 6 minutes and 50 seconds – Johnson/Petrie). There’s a few other familiar things in here too, his focus on the backs of people’s heads is evident and recurrent religious iconography as well as his father’s poetry being read out.

Continue reading “Watching the Stalker”


Hollow faced Anatoly Solonitsyn is Andrei Rublev
Hollow faced Anatoly Solonitsyn is Andrei Rublev

In light of enjoying I’ve bought a box with all of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films in it and I’m working my way through the lot of them. I’ve never seen any of them before, which is a bit slack, but I’ve got the bit between my teeth now and I’m enjoying them

I was going to write something on each film but Tarkovsky’s first film, Ivan’s Childhood is functionally a similar story to Come and See and suffers a little in watching it so shortly after Klimev’s powerhouse. Though it is still a superb film, stark and beautifully photographed, with a dark denouement where a wire hoop holds the answer you didn’t want.

Andrei Rublev is a different beast entirely. Having wrestled with Mosfilm, the Russian film authority, on getting the film released it’s initially difficult to understand why. In fact, at first, to Western eyes dimmed by the constant parade of over edited, over stylised, gaudy and exposition heavy produce from America, it’s easy to be completely nonplussed at a film like Rublev. It’s black and white, set in the medieval 1400s and the main character is a bit of a non-entity. At three hours in length with an episodic story that has no apparent continuity it is, in the tradition of Russian literature, a forbidding experience.

Continue reading “Iconic”

God Bless Starkweather?

Noisy colours

In December 1957 Charles Starkweather killed a man, Robert Colvert. By the end of January 1958 he, and his girlfriend Caril Fugate had killed 11 people (and a couple of dogs). Their violent spree-killing road trip has left a quite unexpected legacy, one that sprung to mind whilst I sat watching Bobcat Goldthwaite’s latest film ‘god bless america’ (all in lower case because that’s how it is in the film and, well, I’m pretty sure it’s like that on purpose).

Goldthwaite (probably best known in this country for his turn as ‘Z’ in the Police Academy films) doesn’t pull any punches in his film. From the moment a baby is blown away with a shotgun inside the first two minutes the nihilism on display is unremitting. This isn’t a film where there is a light at the end of the tunnel, redemption or a new found appreciation for life – it’s cynical and pissed off and it doesn’t want to vote on another vacant TV ‘talent’ show parade of underachievers. In short, I recommend it. This is a work that has the courage of its convictions and they are rare beasts indeed. Check out the excellent trailer below…
Continue reading “God Bless Starkweather?”

Olympian Cinematic: The screens in British hearts

It became swiftly obvious during the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games that the creative director of the showpiece, Danny Boyle understands the importance of cinema, the movies, to a nation hoping to finally craft a positive identity in the modern age.

In years gone by I was taught about Australian cinema by a remarkable lady, Cath Ellis, whose key text in beginning to understand Australia as a concept and as a nation was the opening ceremony from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I remember discussing the importance of self-image and identity as presented by one of these events, events that are seen and consumed by the world at large. The ceremony aims to present a potted history of the country via images, music and loads of people dancing. Continue reading “Olympian Cinematic: The screens in British hearts”

A Reunion of Sorts

Whilst feverishly writing a piece for OPM the other night I was alerted to the presence of a classic on the TV. John Cusack’s classic Grosse Point Blank, a film I’ve watched innumerable times before, was on the BBC. I left it on in the background.

It’s as brilliant as it was back when I was first falling in love with the movies. The script is razor sharp, the performances are elegant and genuine and the action/drama all hit the spot. It also features a fight that I would still rate as one of the best in any movie, the scruffy martial arts scramble between Cusack’s Martin Blank and the faintly satanic-eyed hitman, Felix La Poubelle (played by martial arts supremo ‘Benny the Jet‘). It’s not hard to explain the good things about Grosse Point Blank but it is, to me, far more than the sum of all these parts. It’s one of a clutch of films made in the indie movement of the 90s that really cemented my interest in the movies. Continue reading “A Reunion of Sorts”

Summer Vigil

The sound of silence in my life is often cause to celebrate. For now it means that my son is watching a feature length Postman Pat (yes, that exists) and I’m not at work. I’m not at work for six weeks and I had intended to spend the vast unholy bulk of that writing, some of which would appear on this neglected blog, once a day if possible. Well I have been writing but all of my efforts have been poured into paid work, which I’m going to have to start collecting together at some point. A chunky piece of freelance just popped up this very day at OPM. A mark of some success as getting paid to write was the reason behind setting up this blog in the first place.

Continue reading “Summer Vigil”

Folk Horror: Witchfinder General

<img class="size-full wp-image-837" title="conqueror_worm_poster_02" src="http://www remplacer” alt=”” width=”585″ height=”455″ />
T’was re-named The Conqueror Worm in America.


Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)

Brutal, sadistic, bloody and very very cheap, Witchfinder General was the fourth and final film made by the young and exciting Michael Reeves. The film concerns a fictional account of the activities of Matthew Hopkins, authorised in the film by Cromwell to smoke out any witches that may be operating in the country. Along with his brutal aide, John Stearne, he travels from village to village accusing people of witchcraft before having his assistant ‘extract’ a confession. It’s an interestingly cruel presentation of violence and misogyny and Vincent Price as Hopkins is inspired casting. As his lip curls and that tell-tale voice slithers out proclaiming that he is ‘Here to do God’s work my child’ there’s nothing camp here. Instead we get only the sinister look into the sadistic and perverted eyes of man with a mandate for cruelty. Continue reading “Folk Horror: Witchfinder General”

Folk Horror: Blood on Satan’s Claw

Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971)

I’ve become a bit obsessed with ‘folk horror’ recently, especially since I wrote about it in my recent post. So I thought I might watch and review some of it, looking specifically to dig out the signifiers of folk horror (flowers, masks, blood rituals etc) and look at some of the crucial themes of the genre like the religious frictions, the use of ruins and ancient stones as places of worship/sacrifice and an obsession with the land. I’ll be doing some reviews of the main films in the movement as well as some of the TV stuff too. Continue reading “Folk Horror: Blood on Satan’s Claw”

Nowt as Queer as Folk

Last year Mark Gatiss made a wonderful 3 part documentary about his love of horror films called ‘A History of Horror’. Interestingly I think it would probably be better served if it was called ‘My History…’ because it is such a personal series of programs exploring his fascination with the macabre and murderous world of the horror film. At one point Gatiss explores the theory that there is a curious sub-genre of British horror film, comprising only three films and featuring something layered deep within the British psyche. Calling this crop of films ‘folk horror’ he picked out The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General and proceeded to explain how their engagement with the nature of paganism and a kind of earthen ancient spirituality seemed to dredge up something unique for our isles, a special kind of fear. Gatiss highlights the scarcely seen Blood on Satan’s Claw (the extract is here on YouTube) and in his exploration with director Piers Haggard he focuses on the notion of something being innate in our soil – in the land itself. The notion that buried somewhere in the earth beneath our feet is a portion of our blood-soaked history is a powerful one indeed and one that might go further than these three films and occur in certain other parts of our sparkling horror history. Continue reading “Nowt as Queer as Folk”

The Remake Manifesto: Part 2 – On foreign lands and fading memories

Welcome to part two of my needlessly lengthy attempt to tell you why you shouldn’t be so angry about the remakes.

“Well what about foreign films?” I hear you demanding like the voices in my mind that scream in the night. People always get very angry about remakes of foreign films, especially recent foreign films (and by foreign I’m referring to foreign language for the purposes of this article). During the release of Matt Reeves’ Let Me In I mounted a defence of remaking foreign films on my, sadly defunct, podcast and it prompted someone to leave the following scathing review on iTunes…

“Since the podcast where they defended Hollywood movie remakes I’ve lost respect for them. There is no reason to remake a film ever!! Learn to read and watch the original in it’s own language. Retards.” Continue reading “The Remake Manifesto: Part 2 – On foreign lands and fading memories”