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Alfred Hitchcock's last film of the 1930s, and his last film made in
Britain before setting sail across the Atlantic, is this blustery
Daphne Du Maurier adaptation about a very dangerous corner of Cornwall
in the 19th century.
Somewhere in Bodmin Moor is Jamaica Inn, a rural pub which houses a gang of vagabonds, who regularly head down to the coast to raid ships that wreck on the rocks. Crew killed, the spoils are stolen. The gang is fed information from above namely, a very corrupt Justice of the Peace named Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton).
One stormy day (they're all stormy around here), Mary Yellen (a very youthful Maureen O'Hara) arrives in search of her aunt, Patience (Marie Ney). Patience is married to Joss (Leslie Banks), who happens to be the leader of the Jamaica Inn gang. Mary, in the right place at the wrong time, ends up saving the life of a gangster named Traherne (Robert Newton).
So, Mary and Traherne are on the run, while they try to uncover the identity of the big boss running the wrecker operation. In classic Hitchcock style, they are oblivious to Pengallon's secret, while we the audience are aware and here Laughton excels, charming and disarming with his avuncular cheerfulness. Can they pull back the curtain before Pengallon and his crew are able to draw another ship to the rocks?
The central problem with the plot is that it hinges upon the ignorance of possibly the dumbest and most naive law officer in the entire Cornish peninsula. How he cannot see the guilt of Pengallon, despite him being the only man with the connections and opportunity to pull off such an enterprise, is the film's greatest mystery. And that's before he's stumbling into a room full of fearless pirates, who've already tried to kill him once, armed only with a single-shot pistol.
But still, these facepalm moments come later. What's apparent from the start is the beauty of the production design. Whether it's the intricate modelwork or the bold, crooked sets, the sense of location (without actual location shooting) is atmospheric and immersive; and the very unreal nature of those elements is typically Hitchcockian, creating a claustrophobic sense of dreamlike theatre.
The performances are quite variable. O'Hara is fine, essentially an entity whose sole function is to propel the plot although she does get one moment of bona fide bravery later on. The gang members are fun as an ensemble. I couldn't help thinking of Mad Max in their self-pantomiming posturing and the alpha disputes constantly threatening to tear their chaotic brotherhood apart.
Of course, the real deal is Pengallon. He's the mythic crazy capitalist: the top dog who takes none of the risks but all of the spoils, driven by a scary belief in the hierarchy of men. Laughton's consummate skill means Pengallon's gentlemanly malevolence is revealed gradually, until we realise once and for all that he'll never find humanity because the world is all objects to him, not people. Even in his demise he gets the last hurrah.
Jamaica Inn isn't top drawer Hitchcock, but even middling Hitchcock is better than most filmmaking. It's fun and fast-moving an action movie, at bottom and features a massive performance at its heart from one of cinema's great actors. Brace for its sillier elements and it is ideal for a wet and windy Sunday afternoon.
With Tom Savini doing the makeup, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Bob
and Harvey Weinstein on story duties (forming Miramax while they're
about it), The Burning is a notable entry in the slasher genre.
Released in 1981, it rode on the coattails of Halloween and Friday the
13th, and in terms of quality it can stand proud alongside those
The prologue sets up our monster. A group of boys at a summer camp decide to play a Halloween prank on the caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). As they guffaw, the joke goes horribly wrong and in his fright Cropsy sets himself on fire.
A decade on and the summer camp is in full swing. We're introduced to the horny boys and girls (keep an eye out for early performances from the likes of Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter), who spend their time bickering, bullying, boating, and bonking.
But Cropsy is back, and he has a pair of secateurs, and he wants revenge. After numerous well-staged red herrings, the slaughter begins. And it doesn't disappoint. Savini's work here is of the stabby and slashy variety, and it's appropriately wince-inducing. We get heroics from the camp counsellors Michelle (Leah Ayres) and Todd (Brian Matthews) but essentially it's a free-for-all, and anyone's guess who'll finally take down the homicidal gardener.
That's not to say that the characters are mere fodder. The film takes time to establish the lusts and rivalries in the group, mostly without resorting to cliché. I particularly like the way that the bullying beefcake (Larry Joshua) is repeatedly pushed back by the camaraderie of the nerdy kids. The sexual politics are typically retrograde, with endless excuses to show as much nubile flesh as humanly possible. And then stick a knife in it.
While atmospheric, gory, and funny without being self-mocking, there's nothing particularly innovative about The Burning it doesn't have the memorable weirdness of 1983's Sleepaway Camp, for example but it's well-made and sharply written enough that you are swept along on its ruthless tide of gore.
It's just a pity the good work doesn't carry right through to the end. Aside from a mild and needless twist, the final showdown is a mess of scrappy editing and baffling continuity, as if the filmmakers were scrabbling for footage. With a proper climax we might have been looking at classic rather than curio status.
Overall, it's understandable why The Burning has achieved its cult following. Ignored on release, it deserves reappraisal as a straightforward, unfussy slasher elevated by good writing, great performances, and even better makeup effects. Now in HD!
After Ringu and its sequel in the late 1990s, prolific J-horror
grandmaster Hideo Nakata returned to familiar ground in 2002 with this
intimate and very scary family drama/ghost story/murder mystery hybrid.
Like Ringu, it was remade (reasonably well) in Hollywood an
indication of the central story's universal appeal.
While awaiting custody proceedings over her daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno), Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) recalls being left at kindergarten while her own parents argued about who should pick her up. These memories inform the whole premise and tenor of the film: Yoshimi is terrified of losing her daughter. So she convinces the divorce panel that she is looking for work and a new home for her and Ikuko.
Mother and daughter move into a cheap, brutalist tenement. It's basic but serviceable. Yoshimi gets a job and soon the pair have achieved some kind of normality. But something's not quite right. There's a damp patch on the ceiling and it's gradually growing. And who is that strange little girl wearing the yellow mac? As Yoshimi seeks the truth all the while protecting her daughter and triggering her own deep-seated fears she will uncover the tragedy of a missing child that will haunt her on an existential level.
As with Ringu, Nakata shows his mastery of the slow horror form, and is in complete control. The frame is drained of bright colour and tinged with blue and grey, almost as if we're underwater. Forget about cheap jump shocks Nakata is all about presence, subtly introducing us to the layout of the apartment block before planting its corners with half-glimpsed human forms and shadows. Meanwhile, the subtle, eerily ambient score textures the images rather than crashing the cuts.
The two main performances are excellent, portraying an entirely believable bond between mother and daughter. Kuroki's performance may aggravate at first Yoshimi is all nodding subservience and hysterical nerves but gradually we empathise. As the clouds clear on the mystery of the girl in the raincoat, so they do too on Yoshimi's really quite rational fear of abandonment.
While you can see its influence on recent fare like The Babadook, which similarly focused as much on the mother-child dynamic as the scares, Dark Water also owes itself to films that came before. The image of the possibly supernatural, raincoated child, for example, clearly harks back to Don't Look Now; and we even get a final act shock that matches Nicolas Roeg's classic for sheer, lurching terror.
Dark Water is deep and foreboding; a bass thrum of a horror which keeps its creepy cards close to its chest. It is intricate and heartfelt and provides pictures that linger. It is also, crucially, an effective and moving love story about family bonds, which is key to grasping the real horror here: the horror of loss.
Scary, violent, and playful, Vamp is the quintessential 1980s mashup of
Brat Pack comedy and trash horror. It's one a handful of films directed
by Richard Wenk, these days better known for writing blockbusters like
The Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven.
Keith and AJ (Chris Makepeace and Robert Rusler) are two kids looking to sleaze their way into the college fraternity. They intend to do so by hiring the ultimate stripper. With the help of the infinitely wealthy Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) they go to the city and find themselves at the After Dark strip club. It's owned by Katrina (Grace Jones), who also turns out to be their dream girl. What they haven't banked on is that the club is populated by vampire strippers, queen among whom is Katrina herself. A raunchy road trip turns into a desperate lunge for survival, as the bloodsucking bad guys close in on their prey.
Vamp is pure energy and efficiency: 90 minutes of gaudy, gory fun. There's always a wink in its eye: upon entering the city, the boys find themselves in the back alleys via a car accident, the vehicle spinning like the house of Dorothy Gale. One character quips, "We're not in Kansas anymore". After that it's a neon-lit nightmare all the way, impaled with Dario Argento-style pinks and greens.
The chemistry between the characters is a breeze. There's the easy banter between Keith and AJ, and the less-than-easy chemistry between Keith and Allison (Dedee Pfeiffer). Allison, an old flame of Keith's, may be oddly ignorant to the true nature of her murderous colleagues, but she's not naive; she may be bouncy and adorable, but she's no pixie dream girl. Duncan, meanwhile, embodies the swagger and impotence of 80s excess his money buys them into trouble but cannot get them out again.
Then there's Grace Jones, whose unique persona is put to great use here. Her striptease is frightening and sensual. She's the original Lady Gaga and she's off the leash. She doesn't say a word throughout the whole film but she doesn't need to her eyes and hair and clothes do all the talking.
The makeup effects are seriously special. Queen Katrina is a grotesque creation: the deliberate antithesis of Jones's pristine elegance. As for the excellent sound design, well, the noise of gorging on carotid blood has never been so fantastically disgusting and guttural.
As the film wears on it does begin to lose some of its initial spark. The final onslaught has more in common with a zombie horde than a pack of lethal vampires. The eerie atmosphere and the visual gags slip away an early moment when the owner of a greasy spoon cafe dons a priest's robe and cross at the end of his shift is never topped in favour of more ordinary action dynamics.
From frat house to strip club to sewer, Vamp is a far cry from the opulent castles of Stoker's myth. Its heightened grottiness is all its own, and its simple storytelling and memorable characters have stood the test of time. I watched it once on grainy VHS, and it's a pleasure to rediscover it as one of the better comedy horrors of the decade.
It may sound like a round of toast gone wrong but it's actually a
religious term: a "burnt offering" occurs when an animal is incinerated
on an altar as a sacrifice. The consumption is absolute soul and all
which may give a clue as to where this 1976 gem, written and directed
by horror veteran Dan Curtis, will ultimately go.
Marian (Karen Black) and Ben (Oliver Reed), along with their son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) and Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) move to a rundown California mansion for the summer. The landlords are creepy siblings whose reclusive mother, Mrs Allardyce, is locked in an upstairs room. For a knock-down rent, the incoming family need only take care of the building and leave a tray of food each day for the mad woman in the attic.
The tenants move in and initially enjoy the peace and majesty of the great old house. But tempers quickly flare. Ben becomes uncommonly angry; Marian increasingly obsesses about the unseen Mrs Allardyce; and Elizabeth falls prey to a terrible manic illness. Is Mrs Allardyce the cause of all these tensions? Or could it be the house itself, which seems to bloom into life as its inhabitants succumb to mutually assured destruction?
For fans of The Haunting (the Robert Wise version, obviously) and The Shining, this is a must-see psychological horror which has been relatively "overlooked" (Shining joke). In a way, Burnt Offerings is a relic from a time where scares were more understated whilst, paradoxically, performances were more melodramatic. It doesn't parody these genre aspects in the way that Kubrick's monolithic milestone would do four years later, but instead plays everything straight. Which is why it seems such an oddity, coming at a mid-70s moment after the dawn of the new allegorical horror of Romero, Hooper, and Craven and before the seedy/gory horror heyday of the 1980s. It's more like The Exorcist, pagan style.
The film relies principally on atmosphere and gradually growing sense of menace and madness. For the first two thirds it's impossible to tell where the insanity lies. Is it in Marian, with her discomforting interest in Mrs Allardyce? Or Ben, whose visions of his mother's hearse are pushing him to hysteria, manifesting as rage? The dynamics work not only thanks to strong lead performances, but because Curtis takes time and care to portray a functioning family, comfortable with each other's foibles; so when the fractures appear, it's genuinely disturbing. When the playful, protective Ben starts wrestling his son in the pool to the point of drowning, it's not only intense but feels terribly wrong. Moreover, the dialogue throughout is well written, so when the silliness kicks in we take it seriously.
Support-wise, Anthony James a know-his-face actor who played many a memorable creep rocks up occasionally to smile sinisterly, and there's a supremely creepy cameo from Burgess "Penguin" Meredith, playing Mrs Allardyce's son, who watches Davey playing from the window whilst practically dribbling.
The framing, lighting, and production design is top-notch, and the editing is meaningful. This is a work of poise and control; and these qualities are consistent all the way to the final Hitchcockian scene, which is scary in spite of being, by that point, predictable. Burnt Offerings is a slow, stately, dense psychological horror, low on gore and obvious shocks and all the more impactful for it.
Toxic-mutated, man-eating slugs descend upon a small US town, consuming
everything human in their path. The town's health inspector, Mike Brady
(Michael Garfield), is convinced by the threat, but even as the body
count multiplies, the mayor and his businessman cronies won't listen.
It's up to Brady to find a solution to end the slaughter and save the
Shifting the action from Shaun Hutson's Britain-set novel, "Pieces" filmmaker Juan Piquer Simón writes and directs, following formula all the way. I mean, the hero is virtually named Chief Brody and the upstanding-professional-versus-blinkered-authority schtick was done miles better in Steven Spielberg's Jaws 13 years earlier.
"What'll it be next," scoffs the sheriff, "demented crickets?" He's got a point. Convincing the authorities that there's a shark in the water is a far cry from carnivorous gastropods. But the premise actually works okay its inherent silliness is a reasonable argument for scepticism, after all.
Slugs: The Movie (to give it its full title) is dumb as hell but not without merit. It's well made and swiftly paced, and there's just enough characterisation to make you care about the community under threat (even if those characters tend to be identified by a single feature: she's a drinker; he's an Englishman etc).
The special make-up effects are good, gradually ramping up in grossness. These little bastards are mean, happy to munch the flesh and the eyes off their victims. There are hints of the Piranha movies in the creatures' swarming nature (although the quality of filmmaking is a step up from James Cameron's cack-handed sequel). But a more appropriate comparison might be Fred Dekker's equally squirmy Night of the Creeps, which two years prior did a better job of embracing the camp 50s monster movie vibe.
While there are probably too many scenes involving people walking into offices and receiving phone messages (if ever there was a movie to be fundamentally altered by cell phones, it's this), the narrative structure is solid, and decent production values allow for a surprisingly exciting and large scale ending even if Brady's final plan is preposterously reckless.
Slugs delivers few surprises, simply transposing its icky threat into a stock plot for a genre not used to posing such slow-moving threats. But it's fun and disgusting and worth a go for the post-pub slot in the run-up to Halloween.
The premiere of 20,000 Days on Earth, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's
2014 documentary about musician and author Nick Cave, was preceded by
red carpet pizazz, and the irreverent film itself ended beside the
sea with an optimistic message of boundless hope and creativity.
It's these memories that make Andrew Dominik's mesmeric new documentary even sadder. We're used to seeing the elegant, lyrical Cave effortlessly turning horror into romance. But here we see him slouched in a tracksuit top, unsure what to say or do to console his grieving wife, who clutches a painting that their son, Arthur, drew when he was five.
Our knowledge of the fate of Arthur Cave, who fell to his death last year aged 15, is assumed and it looms over the film like a literal shadow. Shot almost entirely in monochrome, the mood is mournful throughout, punctuated by the briefest levity, usually between Cave and Warren Ellis, his long-time collaborator.
The film makes few narrative concessions. There's no dramatic moment when the bad news comes through. No crash zooms on crying faces. Early on, Cave reflects on something Ellis has said: that past, present and future exist all at once. And this is how it feels in the final edit, as we never know which footage (if any) is from before the tragedy and which came after.
We are given no names in subtitles and the context is barely explained. It's not informative in the typical sense. This isn't a criticism but a fact. Rather than a charting of specific events, One More Time With Feeling is a document of mood and emotion. Punctuating this texture are studio recordings. The tracks from The Bad Seeds' new LP, Skeleton Tree, released the day after this one- off cinematic event, are universally downbeat: looping, suffocating, darkly ambient swirls and tragic piano descents. More than ever, the lyrics are aching and sometimes abstract. Cave is the master of effective verbal repetition; and, as he mentions at one point, no line is wasted. Dominik lets four or five tracks play out in full while his camera prowls the moody studio darkness. His direction is tasteful, atmospheric, and sensitive.
And necessarily so, because the feelings are raw. Cave talks unbearably movingly about the impossibility of softening his grief with lyrics. (I was reminded of Theodor Adorno's comment about how there can be no poetry after Auschwitz.) He's also coming to terms with the fact that the trauma cannot be escaped, such is its "elastic" grasp, always pulling the bereaved back. However eloquently Cave has sung or spoken about death and loss in the past, the situation here is obviously something profound and unique, and the aftermath is a maze of indefinable despair, beyond the best poet.
Watch with caution, for this is a difficult documentary which is not designed to console or comfort. It exists to draw you unsentimentally into the sombre rhythm of grief. Yet the fact that a perfectly calibrated and deeply moving work of art could come out of such a moment in an artist's life does, on some level, leave us with a kind of hope.
A battered car carries two bruised brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard
(Chris Pine and Ben Foster) across a desolate post-industrial
borderland. Passing billboards advertising debt relief and loans, they
make their way to the bank. It's the first of many they will rob at
gunpoint. On their tail is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges),
three months from retirement and looking for a hobby. What better way
to pass the time than guessing the Howard brothers' next move? He's
joined by his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), and together they will
chase Toby and Tanner, all the while wondering why the youngsters would
want to steal cash when their family is sitting on an oilfield. Could
the motivation go beyond simple greed?
Hell or High Water is the ninth feature from director David Mackenzie, and it follows his excellent prison drama Starred Up. As with that film, ostensibly there's little here we've not seen before, but it's pulled off with such confidence and control that it seems effortless, making for an effortless watch.
For a film about post-9/11 shattered ideals it's a very accessible and humorous package. Taylor "Sicario" Sheridan's script is surprisingly banter-filled and funny, to the point where one could argue the emotional impact of the climax is somewhat undermined. Indeed, the final confrontation is comfortingly predictable more than tense, its ambiguity mild compared with, say, Tommy Lee Jones's hauntingly sad dream speech ending from No Country for Old Men.
The Coen Brothers' masterpiece is but one touchstone for Mackenzie. Also referenced is Michael Mann's Heat: the concurrent story lines with their inexorable slide toward violent resolution; and the idea of honour existing equally among thieves and cops. I was also reminded, in the ageing lawman and the righteous criminal, of Joel Schumacher's Falling Down, not least in the brazen reminders that our antiheroes are fighting back against a system constructed to screw over the everyman.
The idea of such decency and honour is fanciful, naturally, but fantasy is part and parcel of the mythologizing of what we might call the New Old West. This is a scorched landscape of masculine archetypes. Like John Boorman with Deliverance, Mackenzie is a foreigner painting on an all-American canvas; and he's joined by fellow outsiders Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, composers who've touched the broken heart of the American Dream before in The Assassination of Jesse James and The Road. Their subtle score here takes a back seat to a dark acoustic playlist.
Ben Foster can do unhinged-meets-vulnerable in his sleep, although this is Chris Pine as we've not really seen him. He's fine, if occasionally coming across as stolid when striving for ambivalent. Bridges is the growling, grumbling goodie version of True Grit's Rooster Cogburn. Marcus's banter with Alberto is fun at first, though after a while I found his racist barbs as wearying as the receiver himself does. Regardless, in both pairings brothers or partners a sense of well-worn chemistry is evident.
For fans of modern Westerns such as No Country and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, this is pretty much required viewing, even if expecting the sheer existential weight of those films may be pushing expectations too far. A well-intentioned morality tale, Hell or High Water has enough deadpan humour, familiar characterisation, and well-crafted action scenes to please genre aficionados and mainstream audiences alike.
"Mechanic" is quite an unsexy title. It conjures images of low-slung
jeans, exorbitant MOTs, and overbearing pop radio bellowing out of a
sidestreet garage. But it also means "hit-man" in mafia language, and
Jason Statham's Arthur Bishop is the best of the best.
The 2011 film was a pretty mediocre remake of a Michael Winner/Chuck Bronson vehicle (get it?). To say that this sequel whose belated nature is right there in the title is an "original" work would be pushing it.
Bishop is trying to lead a regular type life on his bomb-rigged yacht when he's dragged into a plot devised by Riah Crain (Sam Hazeldine), an old orphan buddy. They were separated back in hit-man training school Bishop got out but Crain turned into a cold- hearted empire-builder. Now Crain wants Bishop to murder his business competitors.
Crain needs leverage, so he kidnaps Bishop's girlfriend, Gina (Jessica Alba) she'll die unless Bishop completes three contracts. The film almost finds its stride during this trio of setpieces; and indeed the plot on paper is silly and simple enough to be a serviceable carriage for Statham's very specific talents. Naturally the trail of destruction leads Bishop to an explosive showdown with Crain himself.
The problem is that Mechanic: Resurrection just isn't a very well written, directed, or edited film. Those are all the fundamental phases of film production without a lick of real quality, and the result is there on the screen, from the cheap opening with its poor superimposing, through its arbitrarily globe-hopping narrative, all the way to its bungled non-event of a final revelation.
There's no real characterisation to speak of (explaining convoluted plot elements to each other doesn't count) and the whole enterprise is scuppered by the complete lack of chemistry between Statham and Alba. By the way, she's a rote damsel with an angelic tendency for rescuing foreign kids and a penchant for kicking henchmen in the balls.
The action is too slow coming, and messily edited when it does arrive. Retrograde in all departments, I couldn't help thinking of Goldeneye N64 as The Stath stalked guards on the bad guy's boat. (Weirdly, we get two of these sequences and they're virtually identical.) Speaking of video games, the other touchstone is surely the Hit-man franchise. As Bishop goes about his business, never under any real threat, it's like watching a speedrun on YouTube.
The violence is of the toned-down, CG blood style that has crept into this increasingly PG-13 action culture. Yet we still get a laughably coy sex scene where the stars do it in clothes. It's not like director Dennis Gansel is shy Statham's body is the temple that his camera worships here, far more than Alba's.
The first movie had Donald Sutherland to bring gravitas, and here Tommy Lee Jones is thrown into the mix albeit very late on and briefly. Laid-back and sporting shades, as though his baddie from Under Siege is all grown up. It's a dead easy pay cheque for Jones but we get precious little of his time.
Obviously there are no grey areas here with regard to goodies and baddies. We're not looking for that. But some kind of inventiveness or a narrative curveball wouldn't have gone amiss. Because it's not like we have blistering action to fall back on. There's a scene where Bishop is climbing a skyscraper using sucker pads, and it's so poorly staged and phony; it had me yearning for Ghost Protocol and a proper bit of high-rise stunt work.
Resurrection is for Statham completists only. It's worse than its not-great predecessor. A guilty non-pleasure think Cobra rather than Commando whose rightful place is the small screen, and last on the watchlist.
When a light-hearted, nostalgic comedy opens with a nuclear explosion,
you know you're onto something weird and original. Yet it's also
comfortingly familiar. Matinée was made seven years after Back to the
Future and is set (in 1962) seven years afterwards. In its style and
tone it echoes Robert Zemeckis's blockbuster, but it wasn't embraced
nearly so warmly by audiences.
Maybe it's because the backdrop is the harder sell of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Gene (Simon Fenton) is a young teen who lives on a naval base, and he's coming to terms with an absent military father who may never return. Some solace is arriving, however, as the B-movie tycoon Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) is coming to town to show off his new half-man/half-ant opus "Mant".
The film establishes a broad cast of characters to populate Key West, including Gene's buddy Stan (Omri Katz), who's obsessed with the flirty Sherry (Kellie Martin). Gene himself, meanwhile, is courting the CND-conscious Sandra (Mrs Doubtfire's Lisa Jakub). While the parents panic about the impending nuclear annihilation, the schoolboys bicker and talk about girls.
The first half of the movie focuses on establishing the many characters, while the second half is dominated by the premiere of Mant itself and the (mostly) orchestrated chaos surrounding it. Suffice to say, the build-up which does suffer slightly from minor character overload is justified by the pay-off. The kids must sign a waiver before entering the theatre, and with good reason. "This crowd is turning into a mob," the producer yells at Woolsey "congratulations!"
Writer Charles S. Haas has a brilliant ear for taut, funny dialogue that doesn't rely on punchlines, and the teenage dynamics are brilliantly observed. (The boys, anyway the girls are more thinly sketched.) At the core of the film is Woolsey, whom we first see in Hitchcock-style silhouette, warning the audience about "atomic mutation". Goodman absolutely relishes his role, gleefully feeding his "AtomoVision!" and "Rumble-Rama!" to an audience hungry for event movie gimmicks.
Woolsey sees a business opportunity in the lightning-in-a-bottle moment of the Missile Crisis, keen to capitalise on the heightened national anxiety. Yet rather than making him the monster, the film skilfully presents Woolsey as a hero. Through him the film puts forth its paen to cinema as entertainment, and also a philosophical argument for the cathartic value of movie monsters as a way of exorcising a society's demons.
As with Tim Burton's masterpiece Ed Wood, director Joe Dante displays total affection for his subject matter, namely the monster flicks of the 1950s and '60s. Every period movie you can think of is referenced, but particularly Kurt Neumann's The Fly. We see plenty of footage of Mant and it is entirely convincing (by which I mean appropriately unconvincing), and avoids mocking its myriad sources.
"Put the insect aside!" one character begs the half-man/half-ant, to which he replies, "Insecticide? Where?!" Meanwhile, in the world of Dante's film, Woolsey is hurling special effects around the auditorium, spilling smoke and rumbling seats, literally bringing the house down. When the Mant cast start directly referencing the Matinée audience, who are in turn being watched by us, it feels like Amblin's answer to Inception.
For those who enjoy the smart satire of The 'Burbs and the frenetic farce of Gremlins, this is a similarly genre-dodging yet relatively overlooked Dante classic. It's a film about films they don't make anymore and, in our less kind-spirited age of comedy archness, they really don't make them like this anymore.
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