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From Hell (2001)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not a bad stab., 27 August 2003

This is an interesting - and more importantly - entertaining film, which attempts to weave together the varying mythologies surrounding the Jack the Ripper legend, whilst at the same time, presenting us with a cross-section of Hollywood game-playing. This however, is the film's eventual undoing.

Here we get a horror story, a detective thriller, a social-comment, a black comedy, and a romantic mystery all jostling for our attention. A more intelligent filmmaker may have been able to blend these over-lapping genres so that the audience was engrossed, without being distracted. Sadly the Hughes Brothers bite off more than they can chew, and instead of gliding seamlessly from one scene to the next, end up stumbling around with little interest or clue as to where the characters are taking them. Imagine if someone like Kieslowski had lived to direct this... the effect would surely have been magical.

Luckily for us, the production design and cinematography are exquisite, and even if the Polish exteriors sometimes fail at mirroring the real-life streets of Victorian London, we at least get some wonderful moments of cinematic-colour. The script by Hayes and Yglesias keeps us guessing in a Hollywood kind of way, meaning that the film is enjoyable while it lasts, but gives us little to ponder as an after-thought. Dialog is of a standard... giving us the correct amount of narrative information and just enough character development to satisfy the more learned of cineastes.

Acting is fairly impressive, with Depp once again delivering a charming performance as our lead-protagonist Inspector Aberline… the only criticism being his woeful Michael Caine impression, which is, I suppose, meant to convincingly pass as a real-life London dialect. However, he is nowhere near as dire as Ms Graham, lovelier than ever with dyed red curls, yet totally inept at conveying any sense of emotion... and what in the name of sweet baby James was that accent supposed to be. We also have support from Robbie Coltrane, Ian Holm and the late Katrin Cartlidge, all of whom are very impressive in their respective roles.

It is rare for a Hollywood thriller to display a large amount of visual imagination, accuracy and an interest in Historical politics... so it is doubly disappointing that none of the film's separate elements come together as successfully as they should. Still, this is an enjoyable little romp, defiantly worth a viewing... and maybe even a few repeats. 3/5

11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Such a cliché, but... possibly THE greatest film ever made., 23 August 2003

What can be said about A Matter of Life and Death that hasn't already been stated? What combination of words can do justice to the visual poetry created by our intrepid filmmakers? Yet here I am, rummaging through my mind to find such words to explain my devotion to this visual extravaganza of pure cinematic ecstasy.

This is a film that entices the viewer with an image of love so unashamedly romantic, so achingly beautiful, that one could write five pages of gushing critique without even mentioning the competence of its makers or the extent of their excess - and believe me, this is a film filled with excess. Similarly, one could easily devote as much space to describing the intricacies of the script; the narrative experimentations, the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, love and death, war and peace, woman and man and so-on. We could discuss the subtle beauty of the film's climax; that 'only in the movies' mentality that, in the hands of other [lesser] filmmakers, would come across as either disgustingly sentimental or completely false. The Archers don't have this problem; they create such an intoxicatingly dense reality, not only with the opening scenes of Peter's bomber engulfed by flames, but with the film's fantastical [literally stellar] introduction.

We have the use of voice over - a comforting [obviously BBC radio inspired] voice - describing to us with very calm reassurance the intricate workings of everything from heaven and earth and the cosmos to the notion of humanity and fate. There is no way of explaining just how audacious this would have been considered at the time of the film's release, demonstrating the notion of inter-textual pastiche long before post-modernism became the buzz word of the western world. No other filmmaker has ever attempted such a daring use of narration since, with the possible exception of Greenaway with A Zed & Two Noughts. However, the Archers aren't simply concerned with being clever, because for all the tricks and turns the film takes, it never loses sight of its central concern... the gloriously realised depiction of love. The love in A Matter of Life and Death is of ecstatic yearning, of youthful ebullience and giddy glee; so wonderfully personified by the characters of Peter and June.

This is a film that is constantly building and revealing its self, offering us something [be it external or internal] that is absolutely jaw dropping. The realisation of heaven as a monochromatic abyss, filled with lost souls that watch silently like curious children as the celestial court is held must be one of the most stunning images of the twentieth century. Even more rapturous is the depiction of the real world, with its luminous Technicolor and jarring camera angles. Every element of cinematic technique only adds to the joy of the film; the bold colours, the intoxicating use of the camera as a spectator, with its god like compositions and almost ecstatic use of movement. The editing is rhythmic; dissolving, jumping, matching, and fading... it carries us along with the characters, creating excitement out of the most mundane of tasks [the table-tennis for example]. And this is the point of the film, this image of a bureaucratic heaven, with its militant orderliness, its 'Americanised' regimes, its stern councillors, and eccentric Frenchmen. Compare it to the mid-night picnic, the dinner scenes at the doctor's house, even the image of the naked shepherd boy and the deserted coastal wasteland and we have a depiction life's true splendour.

There's also politics, satire, bravado, stiff-upper-lipped heroism, dementia, longing, loneliness, love, death, patriotism... and so much more than that. There is also the mirroring of war within the film's subtext; e.g. the depiction of battle, the consequences of fate, the crossing of boarders, the rivalry between the US and Great Britain, the forming of allies, the French as traitors, the image of the English soldier lost amidst a foreign [possibly alien] landscape, etc. Then we have the acting, with every performance a standout. Niven is both helpless and heroic as Peter, teetering between life and death but never loosing his charm. Livesey, as the doctor, the father figure, and so much more - who watches the town below from his camera obscurer like some kind of god - comes to represent the voice of science, of intelligence and above all else, reason. And finally Kim Hunter as June; stern, loving, confident, honest... and without a doubt the most gorgeous woman to ever grace the silver screen.

A Matter of Life and Death is a film that transcends the art of criticism; writers of my ineptitude could never do justice to its beauty no matter how hard we try. All I can do is urge you to experience this film... to bathe in its beauty... bask in its ideas and worship the genius on display. This is more than just a classic of British cinema; this is the reason for cinema's very existence, a film so powerful in its design that the mere mention of its title should compel us to seek it out. Now how many films can rival that?

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The end, is the beginning, is the end., 10 August 2003

Rain-swept locations, men in hats, desperate longings, sex during the blitz... there are some interesting stylistic touches in Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair, but few of them manage to overcome the curiously stilted, somewhat detached performances by the central trio of characters.

In mounting (no pun!) this adaptation of Graham Green's semi-autobiographical novel, director Jordan has opted for a restrained, somewhat old-fashioned tone. Yes, there are still enough scenes of jiggling bare-buttocks and the knocking of boots to keep the 'art-house crowd' happy, and yes, Ms Moore does 'get them out'... but apart from the odd scene of soft-focus humping the film is fairly unabashed in its romanticism. The effect is less DH Lawrence, more Mills & Boon, with Ralph Finnes either moping around post war London, or sitting in front of a typewriter pouring out his "diary of hate". fact, the film works better as a detective story than a romance, as Finnes tries to piece together the events that actually led to the end of the affair... which, needless to say, makes for much more rewarding cinema than the description above. In the film, Finnes plays Maurice Bendrix, a sort of alter ego for Green, who after meeting an old acquaintance during a midnight stroll in a rainstorm is re-introduced to his one-time lover, Sarah. For the rest of the film we flash backwards and forwards between past and present as Bendrix questions how the affair began... and why Sarah decided to end it. Coupled with this, we also have Maurice's difficult relationship with Sarah's husband Henry who suspects that his wife is involved with someone... but is painfully oblivious as to who that someone is.

Of course we know that the film will build to an inevitable, emotionally staggering finale, but one must regardless of expectancy, commend Jordan for actually pulling it off. In a film filled with particularly ridged characters, it is a miracle that we ever managed to care anything for our protagonists at all. With these final scenes, director Jordan is aided by composer Michael Nyman, who supplies the film with a lush, highly sensual score, bringing to mind his most popular work for The Piano. Cinematographer Roger Pratt deserves special mention also, for giving the film a wonderfully old-fashioned Technicolor glow, no doubt drawing his inspiration from the fantastical compositions he created for Terry Gilliam. The other key, technical contributor is production-designer Anthony Pratt, who creates an evocative, and wholly believable recreation of post-war London.

Naturally the whole thing looks spectacular, with each contributor being the best in their chosen field, but, regardless... the film never really takes off the way it should. This is all down to performance. Finnes is strong in the lead, lending the film an old-fashioned charm, sort of like Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, but he fails to spark any form of chemistry with his supposed love-interest, Julianne Moore. As for Moore, well, technically speaking her performance is fine, but this is the problem. She's simply going through the motions, never really feeling her character or allowing her emotions to take her beyond the limitations of the story. She isn't helped by her put-on English accent, which I'm sure sounds fine to anyone outside of the UK, but to us natives, she is far too mannered and overly pronounced. Stephen Rea is also a disappointment as Henry, again struggling with the English accent and never really 'interacting' with either Sarah or Bendrix.

Overall, this is still a highly impressive film, with some fine support by Jason Isaacs, Ian Hart and the youngster Sam Bould. As previously noted, every technical element is as impressive as it could be, whilst Jordan's script manages to overcome some problems in drive by retaining a much-needed subtlety, which is more than you can say about some films. I'd speculate that the film's financial failure was probably down to the controversy kicked up in America due to Ralph's naked backside writhing around atop Ms Moore, something they call 'strong sexuality'. This will be most misleading to European viewers who are more than familiar with films like Romance, The Idiots, Intimacy and Baise-Moi. So if you're planning on watching The End of the Affair merely on the basis of explicit sexual content, then don't bother... the only things 'stiff' in this film are the upper lips.

Save for a few scenes of mild sexuality, this is a film about lovers, as apposed to love. It's often quite bitter and sad, and never really celebrates the joys of life [possible exception; the scenes that take place in Brighton] as one might expect from such a film. However, this is something that makes The End of the Affair all the more unique. Its old-fashioned-ness seems alien in comparison to such films as Fight Club or The Matrix and I for one find that very commendable. If Jordan had perhaps directed his actors to be a little more 'spirited' then we may have been looking at a classic. This isn't a classic, but it's certainly very good.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
"Fictions, my friend... The vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman", 9 August 2003

Interview with the Vampire is problematic, to say the least. Problem one: the film is directed by Neil Jordan from a script by Anne Rice. Remember the last time Jordan tried to make a film from someone else's script? The result was We're No Angels, an overcooked turkey in the eyes of all... so bad in fact, that Jordan was forced back to Ireland with his tail between his legs [until the success of The Crying Game made him hot property once again].

Problem two is Rice herself. It has always been my opinion that she lacks real depth as a writer, her style is simply too bland and superficial. She does have a rudimentary skill with creating mild tension, and her central characters are always memorable, but in terms of literary or storytelling ability she pales... especially in comparison to the infinitely superior likes of Margaret Atwood or Angela Carter. The book's episodic narrative and stream-of-conscious style fails to translate well into captivating cinema, which is a shame, considering the hard work done by the production designers and cinematographer in creating a wholly evocative world.

This brings us to problem three: Character and performances. Now, with a cast made up almost entirely of super-hunks it comes as no surprise to see that the IMDB rating system lists the film's primary viewers as women, aged 18 to 45. Now this may have resulted in a box-office hit, and I do respect Cruise and Pitt as 'serious' actors, however both men are way off form here. Cruise's effeminate pouting and constant swishing of hair gives him all the lure of a Loriel model as opposed to the suave, blood-sucking playboy he is supposed to be. Pitt similarly has little to do, other than act as window dressing. Even towards the films climax, when he essays the role of narrator he gives a performance as enthusiastic and spirited as Terry Kiser's in Weekend at Bernie's.

Support is made up of Christian Slater, Antonia Banderas, Jordan regular Stephen Rea and the wildly over-praised Kirsten Dunst. Slater is fair, although still trading off his Jack Nicholson impersonation, whist Banderas and Rea seriously struggle with accents... coming across as wildly over-the-top caricatures. Dunst isn't THAT bad, although she's largely one note, and we've seen much better debuts from child actors before and since... the fact that she's gone on to star in some of the most offensive, vacuous teen-fluff imaginable doesn't do any favours for her reputation as a serious thesp. Needless to say, this being Jordan, the film is absolutely stunning in terms of mood, atmosphere, production design and cinematography, whilst Eliot Goldenthall turns in yet another memorable score, in addition to his work the previous year on Alien 3.

I've always wanted to like this film... I've watched it many times in the hope that it will somehow get better, but it's becoming pretty obvious now that it won't. The overall problem is simply this; the film goes nowhere. It lacks bite [no pun!], offering us nothing new to the vampire cycle or the horror genre as a whole. The climactic crane shot, set to the Rolling Stone's rollicking classic Sympathy for the Devil is gutsy and endlessly impressive. Just a shame that this final display of balls-out, rock and roll angst fails to change the fact that Interview with the Vampire is a largely emasculated, and totally toothless affair. 2/3

5 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
It out-Tommy's TOMMY all right..., 30 July 2003

Ken Russell has become something of a tragic figure these days, forced to shoot his films on digital video with a cast made up of strippers and close friends... on a soundstage built in his own basement no less. However there was once a time when Russell was British cinema's driving, artistic force. Women in Love, The Music Lovers, The Devils and Savage Messiah were back-to-back classics, mixing overwhelming visual spectacle with historical accuracy and wonderfully detailed performances. He even managed to score a US box office hit with Tommy, his over-the-top realisation of The Who's rock-opera. Things were looking very bright indeed.

However, now with the ability of hindsight it is easy to see Tommy as the beginning of the end for Russell's career. For the first time he'd gone past the barrier of stylisation, passed the checkpoint marked 'taste', and somehow been rewarded with the greatest commercial success of his career. Thus, Lisztomania was born. Re-teaming with The Who's lead singer Roger Daltrey, Russell has gathered together a bunch of rock-star mates and thrown the filmic rulebook straight out of the window. So, whereas most biographical pictures go for fact, dignity and quiet restraint, Russell has instead willingly indulged himself in a vision of out-and-out creative excess... clearly, there was no going back!

What Lisztomania attempts to do is cross-reference the life of 19th century composer Franz Liszt with the birth of the pop-star phenomenon. So, as Liszt prepares to give a piano recital of one of his greatest works, one hundred screaming teenage girls wave flags and banners adoringly, whilst backstage, be-wigged music execs gather to rub shoulders with the press. Russell also throws in sci-fi philosophy, voodoo ritualism, musical criticism, Nazi ideology... and more naked flesh than you can shake a 50ft cock at. Oh, and did I mention that there are prog-rock musical numbers too. Rick Wakeman provides the score, allowing his imagination to run wild with the music of Liszt and his arch-nemeses Richard Wagner, which I'm sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not that I want to give the impression that Lisztomania is a bad film you understand, on the contrary, no... It's atrocious. To call it 'bad' would be an understatement. Daltrey is the films major problem, giving a performance of complete ineptitude, swaggering about the place with his arse hanging out... displaying about as much charm as a piece of cardboard. This is less Amadeus, more Confessions of Pop Star, with Daltrey lusting after all manner of buxom young ladies like an over-sexed teenager. Russell's use of fast-motion photography in these scenes also fluffs the issue, owing more of a debt to Benny Hill than Federico Fellini. Other cast members are simply directed to be as annoying and over the top as they can be, with former Beatle Ringo Starr's cameo as the Pope being the film's more surprising highlight.

Russell's career never really recovered from Lisztomania. Although Altered States proved to be a Hollywood success, there was none of the imagination and cinematic skill that marked out his early classics. At a time when Christopher Nolan is seen as being Britain's most creative filmmaker, the lack of a full-fledged enfant-terrible such as Russell is a great loss to a generation of film devotees. In a perfect world Women in Love, Savage Messiah and The Devils would all be available on letterboxed DVD, with digital sound and restored picture. As for Lisztomania's future reappraisal, well... there's no rush. 2/5

Wonderland (1999)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Wondrous Winterbottom's wonderful, Wonderland., 22 July 2003

Wonderland is a breath of cinematic fresh air. It does nothing wholly original, with its depiction of interconnected lives, family traumas and social despair having a great-deal in common with the best of Robert Altman. And as for filmic style, well... the use of handheld cameras, improvised performances, and jarring jump cuts have been around since Jean-Luc Godard left audiences ‘Breathless'. However, for a British film to present us with such as honest depiction of everyday life; yet incorporating enough hope, imagination and wonderment to break away from the Mike Leigh/Ken Loach School of social realism... well, that is a truly remarkable achievement. 5/5

The Claim (2000)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An understated western, brimming with emotional intensity. (some spoilers), 10 July 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The town of Kingdom Come sits atop a hill looking out across desolate planes of snow, its buildings both grand yet near to collapse. No weapons are allowed to be brought into Kingdom Come; the townsfolk simply go about their business with little toil or trouble, content with their simple way of life, always safe beneath the watchful gaze of their no-nonsense 'mayor' Mr Dillon. That is until Dalglish - a charismatic railroad surveyor - and his party of workers bustle into town.

This is a film about secrets... a story of one man's personal redemption told on the largest scale. The key elements, betrayal, power, ambition, identity, loss... are all separate elements of one rich-tapestry, creating a sort-of Greek tragedy amidst the decline of the Wild West frontier. This description may conjure images of Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch. However director Michael Winterbottom is as far removed from Bloody Sam as any filmmaker can get. Here, the director's cinematic approach is one of quiet restraint. The film begins unassumingly with no music and no credits, just rapid, hand-held shots of Dalglish and his posse riding into town. Voices over-lap, horses stamp their hooves into the snow, characters drift in and out of frame, as Winterbottom forces the audience to identify with these outsiders, forcing us to feel their confusion of entering this alien-world.

Hostility and camaraderie are both set-up in these opening scenes, as is the quasi-love-triangle between the central trio, Dalglish, Dillon, and Dillon's mistress Lucile, who owns the town's whorehouse and sings flamenco in the local bar. Added to this troika are two mysterious women. Hope, a young lady who believes Dillon to be a relative of her long-lost father, and Elena, Hope's TB stricken mother. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce integrates these characters slowly, letting relationships within relationships build as if part of an extended chamber piece. The film's central enigma is treated in a similar fashion, with flashbacks growing from scenes of personal longing, almost seamless in the way they drift into the film - never hurried or forced - they transmit information through confusion, forcing the viewer out of the film temporarily and then easing us back in.

The use of the town as a central metaphor - or as testament to Dillon's prevailing greed and anguish - makes Winterbottom more akin to filmmakers like Fassbinder and Herzog, as apposed to Altman or Cimmino, whose McCabe and Mrs Miller and Heaven's Gate are so often sighted as reference points here. With the town, and to an extent its brothel, used as a symbol of capitalism - of exchange and demand - we see many similarities emerge with Fassbinder's Lola or Querelle. The naturalistic filming technique and over-lapping dialog, or the heightened sense of confusion employed in the opening scenes can also be seen as a continuation of the German director's 'In a Year of 13 Moons'. Even one of The Claim's most ambitious and impressive sequences - the moving of Dillon's house - owes an obvious debt to Herzog's Fitzcaraldo - another heavily symbolic film about obsession.

Winterbottom takes Alwin H. Kuchler's widescreen photography, which should suggest epic beauty, and couples it with scenes of gritty despair. Here the technique mirrors that of Fellini's in Satyricon or Casanova, in which the façade of a seemingly sophisticated society is brought into decline by outside elements; but shot through with an antiseptic sheen of designer misery. The handheld cameras, jarring jump cuts and continual shifts in focus belie the film's literary roots, as does the relocation of setting, so radical in it's approach that one could fail to notice that this is an adaptation of Hardy's very English novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. Here Boyce and Winterbottom have made the change in an attempt to internalise the character's tragedy, to suggest a coldness to their relationships, creating the grand vision of a town swamped by surrounding desolation.

The Claim is about restraint, emotional, personal... even cinematic. It is only towards the film's climax - as the events spiral out of control - that any sign of emotion is aloud to build within the characters. As Michael Nyman's score grows, the enigma of The Claim becomes clear; with the image of Dillon, his face blank of expression, his eyes burning with intensity, striding through his empty town as fire consumes it. An echo of the scene in which the trail wagon explodes, leaving a horse to retreat into the hills, engulfed by flames. This is a powerful, sombre film. mixing notions of western mythology with the codes of social realist drama. The slow pace and non-reliance on narrative tension may seem off-putting for some, just as the sparseness of information delivered in the opening scenes may prove somewhat elliptical or distracting.

This however, is unimportant... since this a film that favours emotion over narrative, offering us a bleak depiction of one town's redemption. Winterbottom - who also directed a version of Hardy's Jude the Obscure - knows perfectly well the limitations of text to screen translations. Thus, The Claim acts in opposition to this, shattering the novel's external window-dressing and instead, creating a work built around internal and individual desires; similar in vain to the director's own masterpiece, Wonderland.

Eraserhead (1977)
"I don't know much of anything!", 1 July 2003

Black clouds of cosmic dust circulate around the planet; it's surfaced cracked and peeled like the face of a burns victim. It's outer shell of rock and granite masking the bony, toothless freak that sits beside a window, frantically pulling at shafts and gears, in some madcap attempt to stop the whole thing erupting or exploding into shards of broken crust and pebbles.

This is Eraserhead, a film that represents the wounded, soulless day-to-day grind of our society. A world in which parental responsibility is enough to enslave you in a four-walled-cell, where ants mindlessly collect dirt in your underwear drawer, homeless people fight in the street below, and a hamster cheeked lady in your radiator promises you that "in haven everything will be fine". This is the cinematic equivalent of a Radiohead album. Exploding onto our screens in a barrage of mind-boggling images, throbbing with cinematic experimentation and structural metamorphosis. What is Eraserhead anyway? Is it a black comedy, or some kind of overtly pretentious student film? Perhaps we're dealing with a social satire? We can never be certain. Eraserhead is all of these things and more, representing David Lynch's second greatest filmic achievement and perhaps his most purely realised vision of hell.

For our protagonist Henry Spencer... this is a hell on earth -- if we can call it earth. Henry is a shy man, imprisoned in a uniform of grey-flannel-suits, pocket protectors and half-mast trousers. His hair stands on end like some sick mockery of a cartoon character, as if some instance in his young life terrified him so much that his hair shot up and refused to come down. Everything surrounding Henry practically oozes foreboding. Even dinner with his girlfriend Mary ends with bleeding chickens, spasmodic fits and the news of an unwanted pregnancy. And with Mary's mother chewing and salivating all over Henry's face, is it any wonder that he prefers to sit alone on the end of his bed, listening to the strange carnival music that pulsates from some far-off corner of his psyche. Not really.

This is Lynch's darkest vision. A film filled with despair, longing, and an oppressive atmosphere that damn near chokes us. We're searching for an escape route from Henry's shoe box apartment long before Laurel Near arrives to tell us how "we've got her good thing, and she's got ours". No matter how much slapstick humour Lynch throws into the mix it can't silence the screaming chickens and almost constant industrial hum that fills the soundtrack throughout, dragging us along with Henry, kicking and screaming to the brink on insanity. We can turn the tape off, we can walk out... we can escape the tempting lure of hamster-face and her lull of sweet insanity... Henry is incapable of this. The over-the-top performance by Jack Nance as Henry simply adds to the film's overall surrealism... whilst the black and white photography and exceptional use of sound-design effectively create a world like no other.

The film grows stranger and stranger with each scene, as copulating couples disappear into the flowing, milky liquid that pours out of the bed, whilst mutated babies laugh at their father's social weaknesses, resulting in death, destruction and metal collapse. This is one of the strongest films you'll ever see, a vision of bleakest, blackest life, a snarling monster of a film that massages our brains before pulverising them with a pair of scissors. The black blood flows as the planet explodes and lightness invades the screen. Sure this isn't a film for everyone, it isn't supposed to be. Nothing is ever explained here, some things need no explanation, and thus we are free to feel Henry's confusion... No, this is a film for those unafraid to stare into the darkness in the corner of the room, a true landmark in experimental cinema, and in the art of filmmaking as a whole. 5/5

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Last House on the Shelf (spoilers), 28 June 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've damn near given myself a nervous breakdown trying to surmise my feelings on the tawdry little film, going through draft after draft of meaningless arguments for and against this so-called controversial classic. However, regardless of my prolonged manifestation of writer's block I have finally come to a conclusion, and that is; that The Last House on the Left is a bad film... pure and simple. Here is a movie that hides its underlined exploitatation behind a pretence of documentary realism. This makes it all the more detestable. The story, if you can call it that, follows two teenage girls from the countryside embarking on a trip to the big city to see a band called, of all things, Blood Lust. Needless to say... they never make the gig.

Instead, having tried to score some grass from an obvious smack-fiend, they are kidnapped, driven into the woods and repeatedly raped, tortured, abused and ridiculed before finally being hacked to pieces or, in the case of the lead girl, forced to wade out into the lake where she is shot in the back of the head. Now, there's a lesson for you kids, if you're gonn'a buy drugs from a sweaty, strung-out hustler then for god's sake don't follow him into his apartment... the fact that the one of the two girls is supposedly familiar with this part of town makes you wonder how she could make such a stupid error of judgement... unless by 'familiar with' they meant in the same way that director Craven is 'familiar' with art of filmmaking.

Scenes of sexual violence and narcissism are composed to a lovely folksy soundtrack by lead scumbag himself David A. Hess (who where you expecting, Bob Dylan?). Now, in all honesty Hess is a pretty talented musician, and in fairness I would seriously think about buying the film's soundtrack album. However, when you couple songs like Wait for the Rain and All Alone with scenes of rape, torture and mutilation the effect it has is so jarring that we are immediately whisked out of the moment. Now Craven has argued that the music was used in this way to give the film a more sinister underlining -- think of how Kubrick used Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange. However, since the crew seem to be shooting for realism surely the more jarring and disturbing thing they could have done would have been to leave the soundtrack empty, forcing the audience to watch and connect with the images undisturbed by what is being put into their ears. Silence is, as someone once said, golden.

Last House on the Left is a film full of irritating elements like this that split my mind in two, leaving me half impressed and half depressed by what Craven is forcing us to sit through. The rape scenes, which fall into the mid-section of the film, have caused me the most bother. Not because they disturbed me in any psychological way -- there was never enough connection established with the characters to warrant tears of sympathy or rage -- but rather, disturbed at how frivolously Craven and the filmmakers were treating the notion of rape. In a more serious film I could have bought into this scenario, but in a work so knowingly exploitative as this it became crude and distasteful. Admittedly, there was more need to actually see the rape than there was in, say for example Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, in which the rape of Susan George was, to me, one of the most pointlessly misogynistic scenes ever committed to film. I had similar feelings about the latter scene involving oral-castration, something which should have left me reeling on the floor in agony just from the thought of it... left me completely cold. This is perhaps because much like the rest of the film it happens too fast to linger and is done so heavy-handedly that we half-expected it anyway. It seems that subtlety is another word Mr Craven is unfamiliar with.

The climax of the film looks like a dry run for A Nightmare on Elm Street, with booby-trapped houses, chainsaws and knife attacks. All wrapped up with a jolly credit sequence which wouldn't have looked out of place on 60's British sitcom. This is juvenile, puerile and completely irresponsible filmmaking, which is now talked about alongside A Short film about Killing, as if The Last House on the Left is some kind of serious indictment against sexual violence. Well... it isn't. Any film that begins with a teenage girl soaping up her breasts in the shower holds a somewhat dubious notion of what constitutes as female empowerment. The only saving grace of this film is Fred. Lincoln, once actor, now porn-director, and the only member of the cast to write this film off as the turkey it most certainly is. Lincoln gives an amazingly mannered performance as Weasel, the older member of the group, and watching this I couldn't help but wonder why his career never took off. He has the charisma and screen presence to carry a film, but instead he's wasted in stuff like this. Last House on the Left is not a classic, its not essential viewing, it isn't scary and it's definitely not disturbing. Here is a cheap exploitation film that fails on all levels. Not even cinema extremist Mark Kermode could confess to liking this embarrassment. ...I haven't even mentioned the two bumbling police officers that pop up throughout the film to supply comic relief, or the fact that this travesty is a re-make of Bergman's classic The Virgin Spring. Common knowledge will attest that this film spent 30 years hidden away in the vault's of the BBFC. All I can say is... they should have left it there. 1/5

30 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
Smokey bacon!, 9 June 2003

"Snowman what's your 20, you got your ears on, comeback? We got a Smokey convoy on our tail moving eastbound and down, with the peddle to the metal and the thing to the floor". If any of that makes sense to you it means one of two things. Either you were a young male in the late seventies who dressed in cowboy boots and drove a trans-am... or you have seen the film Smokey and the Bandit.

Smokey sees classically trained thespian Burtrand Reynolds essay the role of the Bandit, a mythical, almost Quixotesque figure, who cuts across the American landscape in a black Pontiac firebird, the ultimate phallic representation of male dominance. The densely layered plot sees Bandit become involved in a quest of Arthurian proportions, attempting to do "what they say can't be done". As it goes, there's a drought in old Atlanta, and the fine townsfolk are gagging for some liquid refreshment for the upcoming monster-truck derby. Luckily, Bandit hears that there's beer in Texarkana, and sets out across country to bring it back... no matter what it takes.

Director Hal Needham, surely an auteur of Hitchcockian proportions, keeps the first act moving along at a steady pace, and there is always close attention paid to characterisation. However, it is in act two that things really get interesting, for no sooner has the Bandit and his ever-faithful slave... sorry, sidekick Snowman loaded up the truck with the brew... than they are set upon by a runaway bride (Sally Field), a fleet of southern law enforcers, and the formidable Sheriff Bufred T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), whose catchphrase "that sun' bitch" proved to be as lastingly funny as a dose of the clap. From this point on tension is cranked to eleven, with more jaw-dropping moments than the entire Indian Jones series combined. Don't believe me, take the scene where Bandit attempts to jump the bridge... if this doesn't have you standing on your seat screaming "go bandit go... yee-haw", then quite frankly nothing will.

Bandit is one no-nonsense jive-talker, an enduring character whose down with the kids (and the blacks), making him one fine example of a true southern gent. We never doubt our hero will fail at his mission, especially not with the benefit of hindsight, since Bandit managed to evade the law and return for the imaginatively titled Smokey and the Bandit II. Here his bounty was an African elephant that, understandably, had the hots for the moustachioed one. Then there was the third instalment, which had a script so bad Reynolds himself turned it down. Here the sh*t-kickers formula was repeated... just without the kick. Smokey and the Bandit is, admittedly, not high art. It's not even low art. But it does represent some kind of period piece, a history lesson, or the pinnacle of late seventies cinema.

Your enjoyment of the film depends on your first viewing experience. If like myself, you were a young boy growing up in the mid-eighties, you will have no doubt lived for the endless thrills, spills, car crashes and second-rate jokes that pepper Bandit, and its two sequels. It's easy to laugh at now, and a young audience will probably be left scratching their heads at the sight of Burt Reynolds mugging uncontrollably to the camera for ninety-minutes whilst Jerry Reed gets to 'sing' his good ol' boy theme tune 'East-bound and Down' for the one-millionth time, but there is a perverse pleasure in seeing bell-bottoms, grown men with CB radios and muscles cars the size of small houses, the likes of which most people won't have seen since 1982. 3/5

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