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A Movie A Day #18 : KILL BILL (2003 & 2004)

It is: The film that defined one of the greatest talents of modern cinema

I love it because: I long for the day Tarantino finally gets around to releasing Kill Bill : The Whole Bloody Affair, marrying the two parts together with extra footage, as he has long rumoured. If Grindhouse had been a success instead of the niche nudge-and-wink to the 70’s it became (and as such, a failure) it could easily have happened. In hindsight perhaps Miramax were right to force QT to split his revenge epic; it may not have been the original plan, but it made it a commercial success. But the more I watch this brace of classics, the more I find it harder to actually see then as two movies, and despite discussion from a lot of fans about which is best (generally part 1 takes it) I struggle to choose between either. Everything works, from the action splatter spectacle at The House Of Blue Leaves to the moment Beatrix Kiddo is reunited with her daughter, from every homage through to every precise line of dialogue. It may not be Tarantino’s best film, but it is without doubt my favourite. When seen as one, it’s a three-and-a-half hour love letter to just about everything I hold dear in cinema: Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, Godzilla, Samurai, Spaghetti Westerns, Martial Arts, Giallo Thrillers, packed with a cast of genuine cult actors - Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, David Carradine - and blatant (and not so blatant) cues to Tarantino’s love of film through a selection of shots and music. When the Bride asks for a Hatori Hanzo sword, or Quentin throws in a singular shot of Tokyo in model form through the airplane window, it’s not just for his own thrill, but for every film geek who sought out the rare, the foreign and the strange. I love Kill Bill because it has everything I dream of, and as such feels like a film that was made personally for me. 

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A Movie A Day #16 : THE ORPHANAGE (2007)
It is: A frightening haunted-house fable from Spain that recalls the best of Hammer.
I love it because: It’s an atmospheric and traditional style ghost story that brings to mind classic chillers like The Haunting. The genius hand of Guillermo Del Toro is at work here, acting as producer, and his influence is evident in every frame of The Orphanage. Visually stunning, it tells the story of a woman who returns with her family to run the orphanage she used to live in as a child. Her small son Simon is seven years old and prone to wild fantasies that include imaginary friends. And on a trip to the nearby beach, he meets a new friend who may or may not be real, and invites him back to the old building. Director J.A.Bayona gets huge mileage out of classic elements - creaking doors, long dark corridors, a is-it-or-isn’t-it ghost of a deformed child wearing a bag mask - without reverting to the blood and guts so evident in modern Hollywood horror. Indeed, the one scene of gore is so shocking (believe me, you’ll know when it happens) that it stays in the mind for a long time. The Orphanage received much hype and several European awards on it’s release, and rightly so. It’s a genuinely frightening film that plays on primal fears and doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience, even upon repeat viewings.

A Movie A Day #16 : THE ORPHANAGE (2007)

It is: A frightening haunted-house fable from Spain that recalls the best of Hammer.

I love it because: It’s an atmospheric and traditional style ghost story that brings to mind classic chillers like The Haunting. The genius hand of Guillermo Del Toro is at work here, acting as producer, and his influence is evident in every frame of The Orphanage. Visually stunning, it tells the story of a woman who returns with her family to run the orphanage she used to live in as a child. Her small son Simon is seven years old and prone to wild fantasies that include imaginary friends. And on a trip to the nearby beach, he meets a new friend who may or may not be real, and invites him back to the old building. Director J.A.Bayona gets huge mileage out of classic elements - creaking doors, long dark corridors, a is-it-or-isn’t-it ghost of a deformed child wearing a bag mask - without reverting to the blood and guts so evident in modern Hollywood horror. Indeed, the one scene of gore is so shocking (believe me, you’ll know when it happens) that it stays in the mind for a long time. The Orphanage received much hype and several European awards on it’s release, and rightly so. It’s a genuinely frightening film that plays on primal fears and doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience, even upon repeat viewings.

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A Movie A Day #15 : RABID (1977)

It is: The sins of the flesh from a master of the form.

I love it because: If his previous film Shivers was a riff on the zombie genre, the follow-up Rabid can be viewed as David Cronenberg’s take on the vampire film, applying the same themes of sexuality and disease as before. Both films are remarkably similar, with a woman being turned into a crazed killer through scientific experimentation and spreading the infection throughout Montreal. As he would throughout his career, Cronenberg examines flesh and the metamorphosis of it, with Marilyn Chambers as a woman with an alien appendage growing from her armpit that feeds on blood and lust throughout a series of erotic encounters. Unlike Shivers, this expands on both budget and theme; as the disease spreads, the army are called in to deal with the large crowds of crazies. The action is impressive and shows how Cronenberg was growing in confidence as a director. Fans of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later will recognise influences here, with the fast-running, rage-filled infected being very similar (although Rabid also echoes Romero’s The Crazies; there are of course no new ideas.) Chambers turns in good work, sexy, vulnerable and utterly mad, throwing off her roots in porn, and there’s plenty of good, honest splatter and gross moments - the phallus-like alien emerging from a fleshy hole is particularly good. It’s not Cronenberg’s best - he would hit his creative peak in the ‘80’s - but it’s a hard, grim slice of body-horror shot in a clean, clinical style that feels cold and intelligent, and contains many of the trademarks that would go on to make him a master of the genre. 

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A Movie A Day #14 : STRIPES (1981)

It is: Pure genius from a group of comedians working at the top of their game

I love it because: A perennial favourite in my household as a kid, I came to Stripes following the success of Ghostbusters, which had me obsessively seeking out everything Bill Murray had ever done. Made three years earlier, again directed by Ivan Reitman and co-starring the sadly missed Harold Ramis, this tale of two losers who join the army out of simply having nothing better to do is achingly funny, constantly quotable, and has Murray at his sardonic, lazy best. A huge success upon release, it seemed to be forgotten as the decade moved on, perhaps due to the release of Police Academy, which lifted the plot wholesale - misfits going through training, tough drill instructor - and proceeded to run it into the ground. But while Academy looks dated, Stripes remains fresh, in part to Murray and Ramis (who also wrote the script), but also due to a superb supporting cast; Sean Young, P.J. Soles, John Candy and Judge Reinhold. Best of all is Peckinpah’s old nemesis Warren Oates, a genuine hard-ass who is superb as grizzled sergeant (is there any other kind?) Hulka. Oates rarely tackled comedy, and his performance here makes you wish for more of it. With a third act that takes our misfits into a surprisingly action filled and violent conflict, profanity, nudity and Candy beating up strippers in a mud-wrestling ring, Stripes is easily the most R-rated of the collection of classics that came from the original Saturday Night Live crew. Reappraisal is long overdue.

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A Movie A Day #12 : PUSHER (1996)

It is: A low-budget underworld debut from a future genius

I love it because: This is a film filled with innovation, ideas and energy that was shot on next to nothing. A neat coincidence it was released the same year as Trainspotting; both are concerned with Heroin, but unlike Danny Boyle’s black humoured, indie-rock sound tracked ode to brown, Pusher is as dark as death. Dealer Frank works around Copenhagen with his sidekick Tonny. Deals go bad, lines are crossed, friends are betrayed, and soon Frank is running to avoid every low-life in the city while making one final deal that will get him and his girl to Spain and away from the life. Director Nicholas Winding Refn developed the feature from a five-minute short he shot for a film school application. He never made school but he did make a classic, with an outstanding turn from his future regular Mads Mikkelsen, a pulsing soundtrack, fluid camera and editing and snippets of brutal violence - a blueprint for his future career. This spawned two equally good sequels (both by Refn) and an English remake released in 2012. But if you want raw, kinetic brilliance, this where you’ll look.

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A Movie A Day #11 : YOU’RE NEXT (2011)

It is: A set-up that you’ve seen before, but rarely seen done so well. 

I love it because: This is a movie that invokes every cliché in the book during it’s first five minutes. Two people, some sex, a slasher, the movie title painted on the door in blood. And then just as you think this is going down the formulaic route, Adam Winguard takes the script and throws it away, throwing his characters into some very dark places. A family meet at a large country house to celebrate a parents wedding anniversary, and Crispin brings new girlfriend Erin along. It becomes quickly clear that this is a dysfunctional lot, and an evening of arguments around the dinner table is only halted when a crossbow bolt comes through the window and slays Crispin’s brother. From then it’s a fight for survival as three animal-masked killers terrorise the family, before discovering that some (predominantly Erin) are harder to kill than others. There’s a lot going on here, and after a first hour where we learn more about the intruders the film changes gear flawlessly, and becomes something different altogether. Frightening in the first act, action filled in the second, You’re Next makes it easy to root for survivors, particular when an unlikely hero emerges. There are some brilliant set-pieces - a slow-motion shot and payoff will astound even the most jaded fan - and great mood and tension. Winguard is a real talent, who invokes DePalma with his camerawork and cruelty to rival Michael Haneke. This is a superb slice of the genre, and Winguard has proved he’s not a one-off: his latest, The Guest, currently wowing festival audiences worldwide, is equally as accomplished.

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A Movie A Day #10 : DEMONS (1986)

It is: Full-Throttle, blood-drenched spaghetti-splatter dripping with atmosphere

I love it because: Lamberto Bava’s DEMONI is probably the last great film from the golden age of Italian Exploitation, a genre that began with his father Mario and continued through to Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci. With splattery set-pieces, a soundtrack from members of Goblin and Technicolor photography it’s no surprise this is produced by Dario Argento; ironically it emerges more accomplished than any of his own pictures of the decade. Bava’s plot is nothing more than a set-up to have a group of humans trapped in an old dark house; that the house is a cinema showing the premiere of a mysterious horror film that comes through to real life makes it even better. A girl scratches her face on a steel demon mask in the cinema lobby; as her wound becomes infected it mirrors the action of the fictional movie, before she transforms into a demon and falls through the screen. Panic sets in as more humans are killed and infected and the survivors realise they are locked inside with the hideous creatures, who are out for blood and moving fast (the days of Fulci’s shuffling zombies are long gone). Although Demoni is interspersed with a dumb subplot involving a car load of coke fiends and some truly stupid twists that exist to only move the story forward (a helicopter falling through the ceiling of the building to create a means of escape) the speed of the film, the relentless gore (FX great Sergio Stivaletti providing brilliant work) and the hard rock soundtrack make this a brilliant ride. The downbeat climax that reveals the demon virus has spread is a neat touch, and this alongside a huge box-office return in Italy ensured a quick sequel was produced, which was entertaining, but far inferior. After this, Italian cinema moved towards slapstick comedy and cop thrillers, and despite efforts from Argento and newcomers like Michele Soavi, never truly returned to the wonderful days of gut-crunching cannibals and shady Giallo’s that took genre fans by storm during the previous two decades. Perhaps tastes had changed, perhaps the old masters had simply died out. Regardless, it makes Demoni a classic to be cherished.

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A Movie A Day #9 : INSIDE (2007)

It is: A brutal and terrifying example of the extreme French New Wave

I love it because: There’s a certain line of thought amongst enthusiasts of the genre that modern, American-made horror cinema has become soft due to studio influence. While I don’t entire agree with that, certainly those looking to recreate the gritty, nasty spoils of the seventies golden age would be wise to look towards France. For the past decade a group of young directors have been re-enegising the genre with a series of groundbreaking, hardcore pictures. There can be no better example than Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s phenomenal A L’Interieur, an incredibly assured debut that features Beatrice Dalle playing a mysterious, black-shrouded woman who is obsessed with taking Alysson Paradis’ unborn child. Terrorising her within her home, Dalle will stop at nothing to get what she needs, and runs through a series of graphic killings in relentless persuit before Paradis finally retaliates. But A L’Interieur is more than pure splatter; Maury and Bustillo get a huge amount of mileage out of genre staples; locked doors, faces at windows, long dark corridors, and stunning photography and sound design make this a very frightening film. One key scene, as Dalle emerges from the shadows and slinks away before being spotted, is so subtle it creeps up on the viewer with a truly chilling jolt. A L’Interieur is full of contrasts and full of set-pieces, and it’s lean 85 minute running time is perfectly paced. The highlight of modern French horror, it’s an outstanding film that will test the nerve and resolve of all that see it.

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A Movie A Day #7 : FROM BEYOND (1986)

It is: A wild ride into gore-ridden, creature-poppin’ madness.

I love it because: Director Stuart Gordon has had a long love-affair with classic horror icon H.P.Lovecraft, exploring the writer’s odd worlds and nightmarish creatures throughout his career. In 1985 he hit both critical and commercial gold with Re-Animator, and From Beyond the following year contains many of the same elements; it’s (loosely) based on a Lovecraft short story (concerning scientists who are conducting experiments with their machine The Resonator, which gives glimpses into another dimension,) stars Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton, and is stuffed with wild ideas and practical-style latex and gore effects. It was released by the sadly missed Empire Pictures, one of the last true independent film companies to come from Hollywood and a fine distribution house for the weird and macabre. Gordon shot the film in Italy for budget reasons and claims the production ran out of money before the spectacle of the finale could be properly realised. While that may be true, it’s hard to imagine how the sight of a naked Combs screaming and tearing his way out of cancerous monster before he dissolves in a puddle of intestines could be any more over-the-top or gratuitous. The film explores themes of stimulation and the pleasures of the flesh, which appeared to be a common subgenre of eighties horror (see Society and Brain Damage for other such examples) and could almost be seen as a more garish example of the work epitomised by David Cronenberg. It might get just a little too odd in the final act, with Combs pineal gland popping phallic-style out of his forehead and Crampton utilizing the help of outer-dimensional creatures, but at a lean 85 minutes it’s a fast and gratuitously entertaining trip that’s not hanging around long enough to get boring. Very much of it’s time, this is a classic splatter flick

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A Movie A Day #6 : A FIELD IN ENGLAND (2013)

It is: An incredible, bizarre and almost-unclassifiable descent into madness

I love it because: Cinema, like all great art, is subjective, open to interpretation and experimentation. From the early works of F.W. Marnau through to the French New Wave of the 50’s/60’s and onto modern day masters such as Michael Haneke, directors have played with narrative, structure and visuals, alienating some and delighting others. If you’re the latter, and of the believe that motion pictures are an experience, then Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England is for you. Set in the English Civil War and taking place in, yes, a field in the depths of England, an alchemist’s assistant called Whitehead is on the run from the roundheads when he encounters two army deserters and a bizarre Irishman who may or may not be a wizard. What follows is a series of crazed set-pieces as Whitehead is subjected to Hallucinogenic drugs and visualises all manner of outcomes with his new friends. The final act is virtually impossible to describe. Wheatley remains one of Britain’s finest talents (his previous films Kill List and Sightseers remain two of the best releases of the decade) and here he conjures a film out of a very few elements; a small cast serve him well (Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley both superb as Whitehead and the Wizard), a low-budget calls for inventive camera-work and practical effects, and his decision to shoot on black and white works brilliantly, particularly when the monochromatic frame splits and divides along with the mind of our protagonist. You need to see A Field In England to really understand that last line. Watch it on as big a screen as possible, sound way up, and prepare to drop all the way out. Wheatley’s next is an adaptation of J.G.Ballard’s controversial class-rule novel High Rise; a mouth-watering prospect.