Rating: The Good – 75.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 112 mins Director: James Wan Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Bone chilling 70’s-set possession story adorned with all the hallmarks of the best vintages. Married couple Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are the married paranormal investigators called upon to help a terrorised family who are being haunted by a particularly nasty demon. By now, we all know the final score and how the points are scored but James Wan’s movie nuances the familiar plot in all manner of creepy ways to exact as much out of it as possible. Forsaking the safety net of gore, Wan and company rely completely on mood, timing, and no small number of innovative devices to generate the scares. Using the investigative couple’s background in the occult as a basis for both tension and sub-plot, there are essentially three horror stories spun together here but not so anything is taken away from the central plot. In fact, as is often intended but rarely transpires, they compound each other so that they generate a cumulative terror. The result is genuinely one of the scariest movies to emerge from Hollywood in decades.
The Conjuring looks and sounds the part too thanks to some comprehensive production design, Joseph Bishara’s even score, and Kirk M. Morri (visual) and Joe Dzuban’s (sound) elegant editing. The final piece to the puzzle is the casting. Without breaking the bank, the four leads are all household names which not only nests the events in a priceless familiarity but also ensures a degree of class that most horror movies lack. This only adds to the film’s earnestness and thus magnifies the fear factor. Wilson is, as usual, slightly stiff but again, as usual, in a manner that suits his character. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are equally strong as the beleaguered mother and father. However, Farmiga makes the most of her character with a steady turn as the compassionate but strong psychic. It all gets very loud towards the end and while this is perhaps one of its more unsubtle touches, it doesn’t destabilise the movie as is often the case. On the contrary, from beginning to end, The Conjuring is utterly text-book in its construction.
Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Fantasy Duration: 92 mins Director: Tim Burton Stars: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis
Tim Burton’s imaginative and authentically quirky tale of a young married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who after dying in a car crash become trapped for an eternity as ghosts in their own home. When a somewhat unwholesome family (led by the always excellent Catherine O’Hara) move into the dead couple’s house, the two ghosts hire a professional exterminator of the living called Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get rid of them. Burton’s magical eye helped create one of the most distinctive looking films of the 1980′s and as a work of pure fantasy, it is arguably his most well-rounded work. Initially, the movie depicts two very incompatible worlds (mirroring the confusion of the young couple): the near-incomprehensible world of the afterlife set against the more familiar and comfortably framed world of the living. The real feat of genius, however, lies in how he subtly transforms the latter into the former as the film progresses only to rapidly invert that process at the end. If Burton is making magic happen behind the camera well then he is matched every inch of the way by what Keaton is doing in front of it. Keaton is simple astounding as the “ghost with the most” as his timing, delivery, and improvisation collide to form a whirlwind of comedy-horror and one of cinema’s most memorable characters. “You’re working with a professional here!”. You better believe it!
Rating: The Good – 76.7 Genre: Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: Ivan Reitman Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver
“When someone asks you ‘Are you a God?’, you say ‘Yes!!’” Although it’s been mainly remembered as nothing more than an enjoyable children’s film, Ivan Reitman’s film was written by and starred the golden generations of both Saturday Night Live and SCTV. The result is a totally original, unbelievably witty, and eminently quotable landmark in movie history. Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray play three scientists who make a name for themselves as paranormal investigators and exterminators who go into business just in time for a major paranormal event to hit New York city. Overt humour, subtle humour, legendary comedy actors, unique story, groundbreaking special effects, and one of the most memorable movie soundtracks, Ghostbusters has it all. The three leads are perfect in their assigned roles and their long established understanding of each other gives their on-screen relationships real depth. Throw Sigourney Weaver into the mix as one of their clients and romantic interest for Murray’s legendary Dr. Venckman and there you have it. “Back off man, I’m a scientist.”
Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 89 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh
A classic ghost story about a town which, on its hundred year anniversary, is visited by the specter of a ship and its crew who were murdered by the town’s founders a century earlier. Director John Carpenter’s perfectly paced chiller has yet to be matched in the sense of sinister momentum it generates from the first reel to the close. The scares are actually basic enough but with Carpenter’s unorthodox and unsettling style and a variety of interesting characters on show the movie really does take on a life of its own and, as such, it has gone down as one of the most compelling horror movies of the last 30 years. Jamie Lee Curtis heads the cast as the hitchhiker passing through the sleepy coastal town just as things start to get strange and she adds a playful tone to the earlier sequences. The remainder of the cast is a who’s who of Carpenter regulars with the exception of the very first “scream queen” and Jamie’s mother, Janet Leigh, who puts in an excellent turn as the town’s mother figure.
Rating: The Good – 74.3 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 98 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
This John Carpenter sci-fi/horror/western about a police officer (Natasha Henstridge) and a dangerous prisoner (Ice Cube) trying to escape a terraformed Martian town as it becomes overrun by spirit-like aliens is a tongue-in-cheek heavy metal opera. Just like said music, everything about this movie screams mock-rebellion. Women run the show, aliens are ghosts, their language is a ferocious scream, the good guys are criminals and like that music, if you’re not a fan of Carpenter you just won’t get it. Thus, Ghosts of Mars has the semblance of rebellion but it’s not really that dangerous and Carpenter has a ball with it. The more technical aspects to the film such as the visual effects, make-up, and fight choreography are tinted with this light hearted sarcasm. Once you accept all this, however, you can really start to enjoy it. The patient start uses a series of dissolve-cuts to tell the back story as quickly as possible without feeling rushed but as the action moves through the gears, Carpenter’s utterly superb heavy metal soundtrack kicks in and sweeps you forward until the end. As with many of Carpenter’s films, the Rio Bravo theme is present and there’s plenty of innovative and over the top violence on show to keep most horror fans happy. There’s a great supporting cast on hand too (e.g., Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy) to deliver some outstanding and cheesy lines alike. And on top of all that, we have that wonderfully thunderous opening inspired in part by the opening to Bad Day at Black Rock (confirmed to this author by the director himself). Don’t approach this on the basis of what some of the critics have said and certainly don’t approach this as you would a typical science fiction/horror movie. This is John Carpenter – a director who has spent his career subverting conventions in the most entertaining ways possible (even if what he’s subverting is subversion!). That’s why he’s so damned important to the medium.
Rating: The Good – 77 Genre: Comedy Duration: 101 mins Director: Richard Donner Stars: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe
Richard Donner’s take on the old Dickens’ fable is one of the great Christmas comedies and has Bill Murray is in blistering form as the cynical and uncaring TV executive Frank Cross who gets visited by three ghosts….well you know the rest. Murray’s roles are typically a lot less restrictive in terms of personality requirements allowing the comedy maestro to have a field day with improvisation. However, even though a modern day Scrooge is inevitably a more prescriptive role, Murray still manages to improvise a whole raft of playful mannerisms and idiosyncratic personality dimensions that remain perfectly in line with the bad-ass Frank Cross. There isn’t a facial expression or eye-movement on Murray’s part that’s unintentional and the film is much the richer for it. The ghosts of Christmas past (David Johansen) and present (Carol Kane) are a riot while Karen Allen is great value as Cross’ old squeeze. Scrooged is one of the few comedies that doesn’t fade as it heads towards the end. Instead, it changes tack and becomes really quite uplifting – especially if you watch it on Christmas Eve!
Rating: The Good – 82.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 144 mins Director: Stanley Kubrick Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Kubrick raises a brilliant Stephen King novel to a whole new stratosphere of terror in this sublime horror masterpiece. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall arrive at the isolated Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers with their young clairvoyant son (Danny Lloyd) in tow. As the days and weeks drift by Nicholson becomes increasingly uncorked as he threatens to emulate his predecessor, who ten years previous murdered his family with an axe. Along with 2001 and Barry Lyndon, The Shining was the film that was complemented most by Kubrick’s sense of visual symmetry and whether static or moving there isn’t a shot in the film that isn’t breathtaking. While the aesthetics transfix you, his balance of diegetic and non-diegetic sound (with the latter coming in the form of harsh mechanical sounds) steadily lures you into their increasingly scary world. As you’d expect from Kubrick, the production design is magnificent and the sight of the three family members pottering around the splendidly captured expanses of the hotel adds significantly to their sense of alienation. Nicholson is of course excellent in a role tailor made for his style of acting but he is matched all the way by Duvall while young Lloyd is damn near perfect as their beleaguered son. A last word should go to that astonishingly foreboding Wendy Carlos/Rachel Elkind score which ensures the opening to the film is so completely memorable.
Rating: The Good – 73.8 Genre: Comedy, Horror Duration: 110mins Director: Peter Jackson Stars: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson
If you are in the mood for a genuinely scary film that keeps you laughing throughout and is bags of fun to watch then look no further than Robert Zemeckis’ and Peter Jackson’s collaboration. Michael J. Fox plays Frank Bannister, a con-man psychic who uses his powers to convince a couple of layabout ghosts (who only he can see) to haunt houses so that he can show up and expel them – for a fee of course. Things get truly spooky when a bad-ass reaper-like ghost shows up and starts killing people right before Bannister’s eyes leaving him as the police’s only suspect. The concept is totally original and the story moves ahead at a firm pace without ever losing momentum. As is typical for Jackson, he chose to shoot in his native New Zealand and as a result the setting is quite lovely and as you’d expect from both Jackson and Zemeckis, the special effects are a treat to watch. This also marks one of Fox’s best performances and reminds us of exactly how good and charming he was to watch at the height of his powers. That said, the show-stealer has to be Jeffrey Combs and his hilariously eccentric FBI agent with a fetish for the paranormal.