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Drive (I) (2011)
8/10
Dark, hypnotic thriller
9 October 2016
This is a film that pretty much screams "cult movie". It tells the story of a mechanic / movie stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Soon his quiet, ordered life is thrown into chaos when he is pitted against the mob to protect his neighbour and her young son.

This is a quiet sedate film, that ratchets up to full gear with sudden, shocking bursts of violence, accompanied by a pulsating electronic score. Ryan Gosling turns in an iconic performance as the mysterious unnamed Driver, although Carey Mulligan is kind of wasted in her role as the struggling young mother. The style of the film harms back to the neon drenched 1980s action films, but the story-line harks back even further, and can be seen as an updating and relocation of the classic Western with Ryan Gosling as the Clint Eastwood Man With No Name.

Some viewers may be put off by the slow pace of much of the film, and the graphic violence, but if you are willing to go along with it, it's a striking experience.
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9/10
Beautiful and Heartbreaking
8 October 2016
Based on a popular children's novel from Joan G. Robinson, this anime film from Japan's celebrated Studio Ghibli transposes the setting from Norfolk, England to modern Japan, and tells the story of lonely 12 year old Anna who is sent to live with relatives in the country for the summer for the good of her health, after she suffers an asthma attack at school. She soon becomes fascinated by an old mansion nearby, and Marnie, the strange girl who lives there.

This may well be the final Studio Ghibli film, and if so, while it may not be among the very best of Studio Ghibli, then this is still a fantastic note to go out on. This is a visually stunning film, with a heartfelt and affecting story about friendship and family. I would say that it might be disturbing for very young kids, because it is very dark in places. For anyone though, this is a beautiful, heartwarming film, that is sure to bring some tears by the end.

I just hope that this is not the end for Ghibli.
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Red Eye (2005)
6/10
Fun, Taut Little Thriller
6 July 2016
In a world of increasingly bloated Hollywood epics it's kind of nice to see a film that has an economical run time (a mere 85 minutes) and a tight story.

The late Wes Craven is best known for straightforward horror films, this is a thriller, though it does get into more traditional Craven territory towards the end. The film taps into a number of common fears about flying and loss of control. It's well made, maintains the tension throughout, but still has room for a joke or two.

Rachel McAdams is engaging as the likable Lisa caught in a nightmare, and Cillian Murphy is effective as the soft spoken, cold eyed terrorist.

Definitely worth checking out.
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Gravity (2013)
8/10
Spectacular Space Movie
14 November 2013
This is one of the most spectacular science-fiction movies that I have ever seen.

The story revolves around Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), on her first space shuttle mission, and veteran astronaut Matthew Kowalski(George Clooney) who are performing repairs on a space telescope when they are struck by debris from a destroyed satellite.

The views of the Earth from space and the spacecraft themselves are stunningly beautiful and Sandra Bullock gives a fine performance in the central role.

This is a film that you see less for the story and more for the experience of it, so it is definitely best to see it on the biggest screen available and in 3-D if possible (I don't even like 3-D much as a rule, but in this case it really adds so much to the experience).
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Radio Days (1987)
10/10
Warm, Funny and Heartfelt Tribute to a Bygone Age
12 November 2013
This is definitely one of Woody Allen's best movies. There is no plot to speak of, more a series of anecdotes and episodes revolving around 10 year old Joe (played by Seth Green) and his large working-class Jewish-American family in 1940s New York City all linked by the ever-present voice of the radio. Interspersed with these tales are the stories of the radio personalities themselves.

It is one of Woody Allen's warmest works. Funny, and at times very moving, it's a tribute to family as much as the Golden Age of radio. The various episodes are weaved together very skillfully and the large cast all turn in fine performances, the film also looks fantastic, full of a nostalgic golden glow.

There's also a bittersweet quality here, lamenting the passing of an age long gone.
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Porcile (1969)
5/10
Bleak, Brutal and Bizarre
12 November 2013
This is one of the strangest works of Italian writer-director Pier Paolo Pasolini. It interweaves two story lines: The first, almost dialogue- free, tale takes place in an unknown volcanic landscape at an unspecified historical period and involves a young cannibal who leads a band that rapes and murders the local populace. The second tale is set in 1967 Germany and involves the son of a wealthy industrialist who is used as a pawn in a power game between his father and a business rival.

It's well-made with several striking images, but it is very slow, very obscure and challenging. It is a bleakly savage satire on human nature, which will certainly not appeal to everyone. In fact it's a film that is easy to admire, but hard to like.

It is certainly a powerful work of art, but certainly don't expect to enjoy it.
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4/10
Average Alien Invasion Tale
10 November 2013
In this film two American internet entrepreneurs in Moscow team up with two tourists and the business partner who sold them out to survive an invasion by powerful aliens (who are supposedly invisible but are depicted as kind of glowing golden dust clouds) which arrive in the city and proceed to disintegrate any human they can get.

It's a fairly predictable alien invasion film with pretty wooden characters, and most fans of this genre of film will probably be easily able to tell who will live and who will die. It loses it's interest pretty quickly (even though it is a short film). It does have it's pluses though, the Moscow setting is interesting and the scenes of survivors walking through the desolate streets are pretty effective. Also some scenes are pretty exciting, it's just a pity that they are few and far between.
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7/10
Spider-Man Swings Again
8 July 2012
Okay, well, going in I really had my doubts about this movie. I had enjoyed the previous Sam Raimi/ Tobey Maguire/ Kirsten Dust "Spider-Man" films (even the largely maligned "Spider-Man 3" (2007) was not without it's appeal) and I felt it was pretty redundant to retell Spidey's origins just ten years after they were depicted in the massively successful "Spider-Man" (2002).

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The origin story, while it covers all the familiar bases (nerdy teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically modified spider and develops super-powers, his beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is shot in a street robbery convincing Peter to become a super-hero, he develops his powers by trial and error and eventually assumes his Spider-man identity), is dealt with in more detail than in the previous film version and it is different enough so that it still feels fresh. The film's principal villain, Doctor Curt Connors (aka The Lizard) is well portrayed by Rhys Ifans and Emma Stone makes for an engaging love interest, even if she is not really given enough to do. Andrew Garfield is great as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, giving a lanky agility to the role. His Peter Parker is much less of a nerd than Tobey Maguire's version, and feels closer to the character in the comic-books.

The special effects are pretty impressive and it all looks great in 3D and IMAX.
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Zulu (1964)
8/10
Classic Entertainment
7 July 2012
In January 1879, about 100 British soldiers are forced to hold the small outpost of Rorke's Drift in South Africa's Natal province against about four thousand attacking Zulu warriors.

Based on a true story, this is one of the greatest war movies ever made. The film quickly sketches the personalities of the main characters, and when the action starts it quickly moves into high gear. It successfully mixes tension and action in a way that few war movies have yet matched.

The performances are great, particularly co-producer Stanley Baker as the hard-as-nails Lieutenant Chard who assumes command on the strength of his seniority, and Michael Caine, in his first major starring role, as the aristocratic Lieutenant Bromhead, who comes into conflict with Chard.

Refreshingly, the film is respectful in it's portrayal of the Zulus as honourable and dignified warriors.

The script features plenty of memorable dialogue and a decent amount of humour. It also features some stirring music from John Barry.
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Green Lantern (2011)
5/10
Not Bad but Unexceptional
6 July 2012
This film, based on the DC Comics character, involves arrogant test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) who is given a super-powered ring by a dying alien in a crashed spaceship. The ring marks him as a member of the "Green Lantern Corps", a kind of elite intergalactic police force, based out of the planet Oa and gives him the power to turn his thoughts into physical "constructs". Soon Jordan finds himself pitted against a powerful being that feeds on fear.

Despite what some critics have said, this is nowhere near the worst superhero movie ever made. However, it is bland and unexceptional. It is very much an origin story and is mostly made up of exposition, with very few surprises and the villains pretty much taking a back seat for most of it. The look and feel of the film is pretty close to the comic-book series and there is a nice line in corny humour. Ryan Reynolds does a decent job as Hal Jordan, but the character is so obnoxious for the most part it is impossible to really sympathise with him, and most of the other characters are relegated to one note clichés. Blake Lively makes an engaging love interest, it's just a pity she is never really given much to do.

The special effects are good, if overused and lose their impact long before the film is over, however the alien effects are pretty good. Another problem with the film is the fact that Green Lantern kind of has too many powers to be interesting. It just feels like kind of a cop-out to have a character who can do pretty much anything.

If you're a fan of the comic than you might enjoy the film's fidelity to it's source, but others may find that it lags in many places. However there are moments when the film flares up and provides some thrills. The trouble is just that there aren't enough of them.

By the way, stick around when the end credits start, because there is an additional scene.
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8/10
One of the Best of Hammer
3 July 2012
This is the third in the series of films made by Hammer Studios based on the ground-breaking 1950s "Quatermass" TV serials.

Workmen excavating an extension for the London Underground system come upon a series of humanoid skulls and bone fragments in clay which is estimated to be five million years old, much earlier than the earliest humanoids were thought to have developed. Further excavation uncovers a strange metallic object, which is at first thought to be an unexploded World War II bomb. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Kier) of the British Rocket Group investigates and quickly comes to believe that the object is far more sinister than an unexploded bomb and, as he begins to learn about the local areas extensive history of bizarre paranormal phenomenon quickly concludes that the object is not nearly as dormant as it appears.

This is one of the best of Hammer's 1960s output. Andrew Kier makes a gruff but sympathetic Quatermass and Barbara Shelley is an appealing female lead. Julian Glover gives a perfect portrayal of pig-headed military stiffness as Quatermass' adversary.

The script, by Nigel Kneale working from his own TV script, is intelligent while not stinting on the thrills. The idea of apparently supernatural phenomenon given a science-fiction "rationale" was a recurring theme in Kneale's work and the premise, while irrational, is certainly fascinating and makes for some great entertainment.

The film looks good and has a lively colour palette. While it is very much a product of it's time, it has aged pretty well.
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Spiral (2000)
7/10
The Curse of the Spiral
1 July 2012
This deserves points for being probably the only movie ever made in which a shape is the focus for horror. In this case the shape is the humble spiral ("uzuamki" in Japanese).

This film takes place in a small town where the residents slowly become obsessed with spiral patterns which end up causing grotesque physical mutations in people.

It is a deeply strange movie that starts off almost as a kind of wacky dark comedy, but becomes progressively darker and weirder as it goes on. It's stylishly made with a variety of impressive cinematic pyrotechnics, some of them very subtle, such as the small, almost hidden spiral patterns appearing in various scenes. The main flaw with the film is the ending, which is kind of abrupt, also it tries but never quite manages to recreate the nightmarish images in the original comic series.

This is well worth checking out for horror fans who are looking for something truly unique.
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7/10
A Real Gem for Horror Fans
1 July 2012
This film belongs to a small sub-genre of movies in the mid 1990s, such as "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" (1994) and "Scream" (1996), which were horror films about horror. "In the Mouth of Madness", however, differs from the rest in that it deals with written horror fiction rather than film.

The story revolves around an insurance investigator, played by Sam Neill, who is hired to find out whether the disappearance of best-selling horror novelist Sutter Crane (Jurgen Prochnow) is a scam or not. The investigator tracks Crane down to a small town in New Hampshire and begins to discover that Crane's gruesome novels may not be as fictional as they appear.

The film works as a homage to writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose work is referenced throughout the film. The film also has a bit of a joke at the phenomenal popularity of Stephen King.

John Carpenter is a good director, even if his career can be politely described as uneven, and he does a good job here with an intelligent script and descent performances from a talented cast. The special effects are imaginative and wisely used sparingly.

For the most part this is an excellent horror film, with tension, scares and humour, however it falls apart with the increasingly bizarre ending, although even that has it's share of effective moments.

Perhaps not a masterpiece, then, but this is still a treat for horror fans and is definitely one of John Carpenter's better films.
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7/10
Best Possible Adaptation of the Book
4 December 2011
This film from director Terry Gilliam and based on the 1971 book by Hunter S. Thompson, follows journalist Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) and his crazed attorney Doctor Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) as they travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to cover a prestigious motorcycle race equipped with an astonishing variety of alcohol and drugs. The duo soon turn a simple sportswriting assignment into an insane, prolonged drug binge.

Long thought to be unfilmable, Terry Gilliam manages to create a striking screen version of Thompson's distinctive prose. The film utilises a variety of visual and audio techniques to recreate the experiences of the druggy duo. The film features superb performances featuring a variety of well-known actors in small roles. Johnny Depp spent a lot of time with Hunter Thompson researching for his role and the two became close friends until Thompson's death in 2005.

In keeping with the book, the film doesn't have much of a storyline and veers wildly between wild comedy and some genuinely disturbing sequences. The film deals with the disillusionment that many in America felt as the sixties gave way to the seventies, and Gilliam, who directs with a strong attention to detail, puts in many references to the Vietnam war, protests and politics of the period.

The book is a modern classic and this is a powerful adaptation. Thompson fans may be interested in "The Rum Diary" (2011) , which also stars Johnny Depp in the lead.
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The Thing (I) (2011)
6/10
Surprisingly Effective Prequel to a Horror Classic
3 December 2011
Despite it's title, this is not a remake the 1982 John Carpenter cult classic, which was itself a kind of remake of the 1950s film "The Thing From Another World", and both of which were adaptations of the Joseph Campbell story "Who Goes There?" In Antarctica, 1982, a young American paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is summoned by a Norwegian research team to investigate a strange craft buried in the ice and the frozen body of the occupant discovered a short distance away. Of course, before long the occupant is defrosted and turns out to be a malevolent shape-shifting alien intent on duplicating and/or killing anyone who it can get it's tentacles on.

This is an entertaining blend of science-fiction and horror, which manages to be strong and effective. It has echoes of both the earlier films and fans of the 1982 version will probably enjoy picking up on little details which are taken from that film.

It has an effectively claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere. The problem is that there is not really much new. It doesn't stint on the flesh tearing transformations which were such a hallmark of the 1982 version, but they don't have the same impact that they had in the previous film. Personally I found the film enjoyable for it's atmosphere and genuine tension, especially towards the end.

It's well-cast with Mary Elizabeth Winstead making a strong and engaging lead.
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8/10
Probably the Best Movie Ever Based on a Theme-Park Ride
26 May 2007
This film, which was based on a popular theme-park ride at Disneyland, came out about four years ago now and was really not expected to do very well. However it managed to become one of the major box-office hits of 2003.

Set, presumably sometime in the 18th Century, the film depicts the Caribbean port town of Port Royal attacked by pirates, who kidnap the daughter (Keira Knightley) of the town's governor. Of course, the local apprentice blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) determines to save her with the help of flamboyant pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

The film mixes action, adventure and fantasy into a very entertaining whole. The film is very well-made with some superb special effects and production design, it's also fairly well-acted especially Johnny Depp successfully blending ridiculousness and heroism as Captain Jack Sparrow. it manages to balance the humour and action pretty well, for the most part, although the film is at times overlong.
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7/10
Genuinely Shocking Horror Film
26 May 2007
This film from acclaimed director Danny Boyle and novelist Alex Garland, opens with the release of a devastating virus, which causes extreme rage and aggression in it's victims, and then moves forward to 28 days later (obviously) where Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in hospital to find himself in a deserted and devastated London. Before long he realises that he is not alone, because the city is teeming with people infected by the virus, which is transmitted through blood and saliva.

The film, which is shot on Digital Video, has almost a documentary look, and also makes for some impressive camera movements. The film alternates scenes of calm, and occasional humour, with sequences of sudden and brutal violence.

This is definitely recommended for horror and action fans.
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6/10
Actually Pretty Good
25 May 2007
In this film, Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Stallone) is released from prison for one special assignment: To return to Vietnam and investigate reports of American prisoners of war, still being held in a Vietnamese Army camp.

This was the film that really made one-man-army Rambo into an '80s action movie icon. The film is exciting, tense and packed with plenty of action. It also does have something to say about the treatment of Vietnam veterans after the war, although of course that is never allowed to get in the way of the important business of Rambo shooting and blowing things up. Stallone actually manages to bring a sense of gravitas to his role, making the character a little more than just a walking killing machine. However, it is fair to say that there are very few surprises in the film.

It's well worth giving this one a shot, especially for action fans.
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7/10
Entertaining Cavalry Western
25 May 2007
This film marks the centrepiece of director John Ford's 'Cavalry Trilogy' (following "Fort Apache" (1948) and followed by "Rio Grande" (1950)).

The film is set in 1876, immediately following Custer's legendary defeat at the Little Big Horn. John Wayne stars as Captain Nathan Brittles, who is only days away from retirement after having spent his entire life in the Army. His last mission is to escort two women on a long journey to a town where they can catch a stagecoach, while the Indian tribes prepare for war.

The film is beautifully shot, and makes great use of Ford's beloved Monument Valley locations, frequently shot so that the actors are dwarfed by the magnificent locations. John Wayne turns in a good performance as Brittles a man who is facing up to leaving the only life he has ever known. It also depicts the everyday life and tensions inside the Cavalry, such as the two soldiers fighting over the same woman. The film is overly sentimental at times, and some of the comic relief in particular from Victor McLaglen as the often drunk Irish sergeant is quite heavy-handed (although he does have one of the funniest bar fights I've seen in a movie).

There is more than enough to recommend this film, however.
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7/10
Interesting Romantic Comedy-Drama
23 May 2007
The storyline for this film is fairly simple: A man (played by Aaron Eckhart) meet a woman (Helena Bonham Carter) at a wedding reception in New York. The pair have an instant mutual attraction, but she has only one night to stay before flying back to her husband in England. But, have this couple met before?

This is a very engaging piece, almost entirely a two-hander between Eckhart and Carter. The whole film is shot in split-screen which mostly works quite well, although it does occasionally get irritating. It's a dialogue-driven film and benefits enormously from an intelligent and amusing script, very well-played by the two leads who succeed in making their not entirely sympathetic characters engaging.
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Rear Window (1954)
10/10
Classic Hitchcock
23 May 2007
This film is probably one of the best films from legendary director Alfred Hitchcock.

The film, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, concerns globetrotting photojournalist L.B. Jeffries who is stuck in a wheelchair in his small New York apartment because of a broken leg. With nothing else to do, Jeffries occupies his time by spying on his neighbours through the window. However, things take a sinister turn when he comes to believe he has witnessed a murder. With the help of his glamorous socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly), Jeffries becomes determined to unravel the truth.

Technically the film is an spectacular achievement with the entire film, more or less, taking place in the cramped confines of Jeffries' living room, all we see of the neighbours are what he sees, each of them playing their own little dramas, with the windows acting like miniature screens. The acting is superb, especially from Stewart as the trapped voyeur and Kelly is perfect as his girlfriend. They are helped by great support from Thelma Ritter, as Jeffries' cynical nurse and Raymond Burr, as a sinister neighbour. The script is clever and witty and the whole production is brilliantly directed by Hitchcock.
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Cabin Fever (2002)
7/10
Very Entertaining Horror Film
3 April 2006
Upon it's release this film was very heavily hyped as the best horror film in recent years. It isn't. However it is far from bad. The story revolves around five teenagers who go to a remote cabin in the woods to spend a week of shooting squirrels, having sex and drinking, but instead end up with a flesh-eating virus.

The plot naturally enough gives plenty of opportunity for gruesome special effects, which are good for the most part, and despite being riddled with implausibilities and some frankly ridiculous scenes, the film remains for the most part both suspenseful and fun. The teenagers are mostly adequate enough, but they are not really particularly likable or interesting enough to care for.

Fans of "splatter" horror films will probably enjoy this.
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Bad (1977)
8/10
Hugely Offensive and Tasteless, but Very Funny
3 April 2006
It's fair to say that "Bad", the final film produced by Andy Warhol's studio, is not for everyone.

Hazel Aiken (Carrol Baker) is a New York housewife who runs an electrolysis clinic from her home, as well as running an all-female "murder for hire" business. Her life is complicated by the arrival of boarder LT (Perry King), who is waiting for the call for his first contract killing.

The film is loaded with offensive scenes, including a mother throwing her unwanted baby out of the window of a skyscraper. However there is a strange morality to the film, which explores a world completely without morality, where life is completely meaningless. The film is full of deeply dark humour. This was the most expensive of Warhol's films, and may be his most accessible. If you're a fan of cult film-maker John Waters, you'll probably love this. In fact, this is one of the great cult movies. Recommended to people with strong nerves and stomachs.
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Heat (1972)
4/10
Not as Good as the Others
1 April 2006
"Heat" is the final film in Paul Morrissey's 'Bad Taste Trilogy', following "Flesh" (1968) and "Trash" (1970), all from the Andy Warhol studios. Joe Dallesandro, star of the previous two films, plays Joey Davies, an ex-child star, who comes to a run-down motel, populated by a variety of strange people, including masochistic lesbian Jessica Todd (Andrea Feldman), who keeps her baby quiet with sleeping pills, and the obese and flamboyant land-lady Lydia (Pat Ast). Jessica introduces Joey to her mother Sally (Sylvia Miles), who once acted with Joe on a TV show and who is now a fading Hollywood star. Joe starts an affair with Sally, hoping to restart his career, as well as having affairs with both Lydia and Jessica.

The film is more accessible than "Flesh" and "Trash", and is at least similar to conventional mainstream cinema, with something like a story, basically a pastiche of Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), and actors playing characters. However it suffers from not being as affecting as the previous Morrissey films. The problem is that it is very ordinary, by Warhol standards. Certainly the sex and nudity are far tamer in this one, then in the other two. One of the film's main advantages though is the rotten "Hollyweird" atmosphere that the whole film has: something undeniably sleazy and rancid.

On a trivia note the film was shot mostly at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles where musician Tom Waits resided in the early 1970s, and co-star Andrea Feldman killed herself shortly after the film was released, indeed she does appear dangerously unbalanced throughout the film.

Contains swearing and nudity.
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6/10
Good Remake
1 April 2006
The original "Hills Have Eyes" (1977) is often fondly remembered as a gruesome and disturbing film, when it actually isn't really. It was actually passed in Britain with comparatively few cuts for the time, and for a lot of British viewers was, for a long time, the only really 'horrific' horror movie available, however Alexandre Aja's remake makes up for that by including all the buckets of blood that audiences might have missed form the original.

Sticking closely to the original storyline of an all-American family stranded in the desert and being attacked by depraved cannibal mutants, created from nuclear bomb testing decades earlier, the film nevertheless is far more intense than the original. Although it does suffer from the glossy look common to most modern horror films, instead of the bleak, rough low-budget appearance of the original.

Another change is the added emphasis on the background of the attackers, which does add something of another dimension to the film, making them slightly more sympathetic.

Worth watching for horror fans, and a must-see for fans of the original. This is a decent horror film, but ultimately nothing special.

Contians swearing and graphic violence.
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