There’s a lot to love about Matt Reeves’ take on The Batman.
The character’s introduction is one of the best onscreen portrayals of him yet, as we see how two years of dwelling in the shadows has bred fear into the criminals of Gotham, with some chilling shots of them staring into dark alleyways, fearful of what will emerge. And there is a fresh arc to the Batman’s role in Gotham, evident by the end of the film, a take on the character we haven’t really seen highlighted for some time. Gratifyingly, it’s an arc earned both plot-wise and emotionally.
His relationship with Jeffrey Wright’s excellent Jim Gordon (though really, when isn’t Wright excellent…!?) is a highlight, though doesn’t pay off as satisfyingly as we might expect. Perhaps they’re saving that for the inevitable (and bluntly teased) sequels.
And finally, after decades of being ignored in the various cinematic versions of Batman, ‘the World’s Greatest Detective’ (as he’s known in comic books) takes to the screen, and very welcome he is (albeit set against a typically convoluted film noir plot).
Noir is a major touchstone here, and Jake Gittes would be at home in Reeves’ Gotham as much as he was in Polanski’s Chinatown (I almost expected someone to pull Gordon aside and say “Forget it, Jim, it’s Gotham”).
The other influences are strong: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver weighs heavily on Pattinson’s Batman/Wayne, and Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac loom close at hand in numerous ways, while the dynamic between Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Batman here could easily be traced back to Sutherland and Fonda’s in Pakula’s Klute. Meanwhile, comic book series such as Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween also make their presences keenly felt (Zoe Kravitz’s winning take on Kyle/Catwoman has its DNA placed firmly in the former).
These textures make for a far more refreshing version of the character than I was expecting, and while the distinctly non-frenetic pace is to be applauded, a tighter edit could easily have trimmed fifteen to twenty minutes from the bloated three hour running time without any detraction from the overall film.
While Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne occasionally veers a little too close to being a moody emo boy under his floppy locks, he nevertheless brings a fine vulnerability to the role, gifting the character with liberal (*cough*) doses of white guilt and a couple of touching revelatory moments for both of his alter-egos. Happily, the actor/director/studio choice not to make Wayne growl absurdly as Batman pays dividends, as that has been too much of a diversion in recent iterations of the character.
The film’s main villain never feels quite as present or chilling as he should be. Despite some truly grisly crimes he tends to get a little lost in the story’s mass of convolutions, and his final confrontation with Batman ultimately suffers when compared to, and yes, that is an elephant in the room, Ledger’s Joker. Indeed, The Batman is unable to escape from the long shadows cast by the far-too-recent Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy (or, to a far lesser extent, the Snyder Batfleck efforts), and perhaps expects audiences to have moved on too quickly from that cultural juggernaut. It’s a sure bet that Reeves’ outing with the Caped Crusader would have felt fresher with a little more distance from those films.
Having said that, Reeves should be applauded for his almost stoic anti-blockbuster approach, deftly juggling elements of noir, horror, and mystery, for resolutely refusing to spoon fed audiences yet another version of the Batman origin story, and for leaving the character in a place that bodes well for his next outing.
Though maybe next time Reeves could bring some sharper scissors to the edit suite.
“This Never Happened To The Other Feller.” No Time To Die Review
Time weighs heavily on James Bond in Daniel Craig’s final outing.
No Time To Die, the 25th film in the beloved James Bond franchise, had quite the tortuous road to cinemas, as reported in several posts here on Out Of Dave’s Head: the hiring and departure of director and writer Danny Boyle and John Hodge, replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga and long-time Bond scribes Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (with the later addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and then the little matter of a worldwide pandemic, saw Bond 25 shift from it’s original release date of November 2019 several times until it’s eventual release this week.
So it’s pleasing to report that the finished production shows little of the troubled path taken by its long development. No Time To Die is a fine addition to the long-running series, and a superb send-off for the Daniel Craig era.
Opening with the first ever flashback sequence seen in a Bond film, the first indication of time’s conceptual importance here and the closest Bond has ever come to horror, the story then shifts to pick up almost where the previous entry, Spectre, left off: with Bond and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann driving off into the sunset for a life of bliss. But fate (and the scriptwriters) have other plans for the couple as both of their pasts catch up with them in a fantastic action sequence through the streets of Maltera, Italy.
Five years later and Bond and Swann are in very different places, but the past refuses to die, bringing together a plot to eradicate large portions of the population of the world, with many of the characters who have featured in Craig’s Bond’s narrative, from Casino Royale onwards.
The film is not without its faults, the twin villain strands detract from each other, leaving Rami Malek’s terrorist Lyutsifer Safin curiously underdeveloped, the editing often feels like sequences have been cut too short (particularly affecting Malek’s character in the climax), and Lashana Lynch’s much heralded new 007, Nomi, is something of a characterless let-down and a creative dead end.
But No Time To Die is excitingly directed by Fukungawa, with some genuinely breathtaking sequences and it all moves at a great pace (despite a little wavering in the middle third). The film’s secret weapon, Ana de Armas, is a delight and a joy, playing against the character’s initial impression to become one of the highlights in a sequence set in Cuba that manages to be both a throwback to the classic Bond elements of charm and style while simultaneously updating those elements with humour and panache. The campaign for her character, Paloma, to get her own spin-off movie, officially starts here!
Everything leads towards an ending which, though somewhat messy in execution, has a huge emotional pay-off, something that hasn’t really been achieved in a Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in 1969. It’s a massively bold choice for Bond and one for which the makers should be applauded. To say I was in tears would be an understatement.
Mention of George Lazenby’s only outing as Ian Fleming’s character is entirely appropriate, as that film is quite deliberately echoed both in one of the film’s thematic conceits and indeed in reprising John Barry’s song, We Have All The Time In The World. Long time Bond fans will appreciate the callback and newbies will immediately recognise the weight it gives to No Time To Die‘s story.
Craig’s Tom Ford boots are going to be difficult to fill, as both he and the producers caught the zeitgeist, with Craig playing against the archetype to make Bond a deeper, richer and more human character. His unconventionally handsome, rock-face features and pugnacious interpretation of Bond will be greatly missed. But his time in the role has been rightly celebrated in his imperfect but courageous final outing, proving that the Bond franchise still has the ability to surprise, after all this time.
Following the film’s emotional denouement, it was indeed something of a relief, for those of us who stayed in the cinema to watch the credits roll, to read the familiar final caption: James Bond Will Return.
Let Them Fight – Godzilla vs. Kong Review
Godzilla vs Kong – come for the monsters, forget about the humans.
The important point first: Legendary’s Monsterverse mash-up is a HUGE amount of fun. The storyline is enjoyable, and while scrupulously avoiding spoilers, I’m happy to announce that the monster action is bug nuts crazy. And there is a LOT of action, and there are a LOT of monsters.
Kong and Godzilla are the final remaining apex predators among Earth’s titans, so the stage is set very simply to bring the two into conflict. And those conflicts will absolutely not disappoint: huge, ear-shattering, eye-popping battles that really deserve to be seen on the biggest possible screen, with the best sound system you can find.
Then there’s the plot. Well, that’s gossamer thin but a heap of fun too, pure sci-fi pulp, involving the search for a power source that ties together threads from previous entries in the franchise.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is the human protagonists: the Team Kong gang (Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle) are written almost entirely without character, very nearly complete blanks. But at least they carry their section of the plot by sheer force of likeability, thanks to the actors. The real problem comes with Team Godzilla.
A returning Millie Bobby Brown is pretty much wasted (particularly so considering the easy shorthand she should have provided from our previous encounter with her character), while her partners-in-exposition, Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison, are two of the most absurdly irritating, charm free zones to grace the screen in quite a while, whose every attempt at humour falls resoundingly flat. I felt them derailing the film every time they appeared, which thankfully isn’t too often. Demián Bichir props up part of the plot reasonably but not memorably, while Kyle Chandler pops in and out briefly without affecting much of anything. They’re all shockingly poorly written, so let’s quickly move on…
Without a doubt, the strongest characters are the title stars; Godzilla takes more of a secondary role, but that works effectively in providing a suitable threat to Kong, whose arc here builds on the mythology in a curiously compelling way.
I had a great time with Godzilla vs Kong – particularly in the climax, as the titans go to town on each other in a neon-drenched Hong Kong, a quite beautiful sequence of which director Adam Wingard can be rightly proud. But it does feel like this should probably be the, mostly satisfying, conclusion to the Monsterverse.
You’ll enjoy yourself as much as I did if you go in knowing this is ALL about the monsters.
To The Batmobile… Matt Reeves Reveals His Ride.
Start your engines! The Batman director Matt Reeves has just revealed his version of the Batmobile. And, well, here it is…
There’s not much more to say at this point, except that it looks nicely slimmed down from recent chunky cinematic Batmobiles, and to this old Bat Fan’s eyes, it has something of the feel of both the 1970s comic book sports car versions designed by the likes of Bob Brown, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano and the sleek number designed by the late, great artist Norm Breyfogle, for his excellent run in the 1980s. And that’s a good thing.
Meanwhile, The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The cast also includes Zoe Kravtiz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as Riddler, Colin Farrell as the Penguin, John Turturro as crime boss Carmine Falcone, Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred and Peter Sarsgaard as Gotham City DA Gil Colson.
The film will be released June 25th, 2021.
The Colour Of Madness – Exclusive Horror Movie Location Report
Exclusive set report on a new horror movie filmed here in Norway, starring Barbara Crampton.
The mountains around Bjørke are extraordinarily beautiful, forming a soaring, jagged cradle around the small village in the rugged western fjords of Norway. But on the summer evening I visit the location, for the filming of a new British horror movie, The Colour of Madness, at the end of a cloudless and unseasonably hot day, that cradle feels somewhat more ominous.
Maybe it’s the décor of the cabin that the crew are holed up inside that helps create the atmosphere, a typical small wooden structure, with verging-on-kitsch late 1950s/early 1960s furniture. Look a little closer, however, and odd details begin to stand out; strange little betentacled knick-knacks, resembling unearthly octopi, and what’s that over the fireplace? Is that a grisly painting of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods?
A mysterious looking piece of set design
Clearly, dark deeds are afoot on the sweltering, busy set, underlined by the familiar appearance of a petite, graceful figure: Barbara Crampton, the much-loved star of classic genre films such as Re-Animator, From Beyond and We Are Still Here. The actor stands behind the cameras and prepares to shoot a short scene but makes a point of introducing herself to me and Jon, who’s here with me to snap some behind the scenes photos. Then the cameras are rolling, and Crampton is consoling a distraught character played by Sophie Stevens (The Haunted), handing her what looked to me like a suspicious glass of water. I spent some time talking in detail with Crampton about her life and career, so look out for that in an upcoming piece.
Star Barbara Crampton chats with Out of Dave’s Head’s editor
With Crampton’s shot in the can, the co-directors, Andy Collier and Toor Mian then busy themselves setting up a tricky POV shot from beneath a glass table, as Stevens’ character succumbs to unconsciousness, spilling the water she’s been drinking across its surface. I got the feeling water wouldn’t be the only liquid spilled during the film’s creepy storyline.
Co-Director Toor Mian (right) watches a shot being filmed
Shooting reached a break and the cast and crew gathered outside in the cooler air, with the mountains looming over us in the gathering darkness. I ask the directors what brought them to Norway? Had they always planned to film here? “Not at all,” says Mian, munching on some Norwegian-style bacalao, as part of a late crew dinner on the gently rolling hillside. “Originally, we set the story in Scotland, but honestly, so many productions have shot there recently, and we really wanted to avoid any kind of Wicker Man-feel, in terms of the look of the film. Plus, my Mum is Norwegian, so now here we are filming in the most expensive country on Earth!”
Directors Toor Mian & Andy Collier plot ghastly acts
“But it really feels right to be shooting here,” Mian says. “Because there’s such a big connection in the story between the sort of Lovecraftian Cthulhu elements and all the water around us! Plus, you know, look at this place!” He finishes on this point, indicating to the breathtaking natural scenery. “We get so much bang for our production bucks!”
Outside the cabin, on location in Bjørke, Norway
And how have they found filming in Bjørke? “Norway’s been great, not at all intrusive and really fluid!” Mian says. “And Bjørke’s been very easy to film in,” Collier adds. “We thought shooting in a tiny place like this might attract lots of local attention, but everyone has been brilliant. We were filming down at the harbour one day and this guy came in on his boat. He started asking a bit about the film, really interested in it all, but when he realised he’d be in shot he just said he’d move his boat somewhere else… and off he went!”
The inhabitants of this cabin clearly shop at Cthulhu-R-Us
Watching them in cramped, hot conditions, I noted the two directors keep a focused but light-hearted set. How do they split duties? “I tend to be more technical,” Collier replies. “Working on DOP stuff and with the camera.” “While I usually work more with the actors,” Mian finishes. Does this lead to any kind of tension between the two of them, I wonder? They both laugh and simultaneously reply “Only sexual tension!” I get the feeling they’ve been asked this before.
I’d recently watched the pair’s previous film, Charismata, and noted the callbacks to Alan Parker’s 1987 psychological horror, Angel Heart, as well as the visual cues taken from David Fincher’s Seven. What could they tell me about any such inspirations for their latest work?
“Nicolas Winding Refn!” says Collier, without missing a beat, before Mian adds “I think Drive is a big influence on this film, in terms of the way we’re approaching the narrative.” “And definitely The Neon Demon for the visuals.” Collier finishes. The pair obviously enjoy working together, as they weave in and out of each other’s sentences.
“But another big inspiration is John Carpenter’s The Thing,” says Mian. “We’re going full-on with practical effects, loads of Cthulhu monster tentacles and all kinds of horrible stuff!” “Films like The Howling, those great 80s horror movies with all the practical effects, all very tangible, that’s really the essence of what we’re going for!” Collier adds enthusiastically.
And what can you tell us about the plot of The Colour of Madness? “Not much!” says Collier. “Or we’d have to kill you!” Mian jokes, or at least I hope he was joking.
Barbara Crampton (right) practices some lines of dialogue in Norwegian
“One of our characters, Issac, played by Ludovic Hughes, returns to the remote Norwegian island where he grew up, after his mother dies,” continues Mian. “But on coming back with his pregnant wife they find things aren’t very welcoming and they quickly find themselves involved in a nightmare situation involving a Pagan cult, and, well… other things… ha ha.”
I wanted to move forward, to talk about what these two likeable creators have lined up for the future. “Well, there’s a film called Perpetual,” Mian offers. “That’s probably our next film.” I tell them I had read up about it and am intrigued by the potentially controversial plot, involving a small-town cop hunting a serial killer who leaves behind what seem to be Islamic terror calling cards in what’s left of his victims.
“Yeah, it’s a bit in limbo at the moment,” explains Collier, somewhat wearily. “We had some strong studio interest, but then they got cold feet over the subject matter. We’re quite prepped on it though, so as soon as the financing comes together, we’re good to go.”
“Plus we have a sort of medieval western we’re working on,” Mian adds. “The locations here would be perfect for that, so maybe we could even shoot that in Norway too.”
Maybe someone should advise Sophie Stevens not to drink that water
“We learn from each of our films,” Collier concludes, as the actors are dismissed for the day and wander off in the now-inky black Norwegian darkness while the crew wraps and prepares for a long night shoot the following evening. “And we’re getting more confident. The Colour of Madness is a big leap from Charismata, and I think horror fans will find a lot in it to get excited about!”
As Jon and I finished our visit and drove away into the night, we left feeling excited at what horrors these directors and their hard-working crew would unleash on the screen, and kept an extra-sharp eye out for tentacles as we drove past the nearby lake…
The Colour of Madness is now in post-production and will be released in 2020.
Words by Dave King/Pictures by Jon Harman
Set video by Jon Harman:
The Masters Versus Marvel
So… Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ken Loach and Marvel movies.
A lot of people have been asking me if I’m angry at the disparaging comments from these revered directors, about Marvel films not being “cinema”, seeing as I’m such a fan of the studio’s output.
And my response to this? Well, actually… not in the slightest.
I mean look, these three directors have made some genuinely amazing movies between them, undeniable classics of cinema, including Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Kes and I, Daniel Blake.
Scorsese, Coppola and Loach have worked long and hard in the film industry and produced an incredible body of work and now they’re all of a certain age and they’re perfectly entitled to their opinions, no matter how grouchy.
But those opinions don’t affect my love for what I consider to be far more than just churned-out fare from the Hollywood factory. I think the Marvel movies, some fair, some good and some downright amazing, constitute a bold, incredible experiment in long-form narrative, told with passion and love for the source material by creators who care about making the best in escapist entertainment.
I don’t want all movies to be Marvel movies, but they have a place in the world that fits just fine with my sensibilities (and clearly those of many others). Of course I recognise that they are part of the larger corporate design, but that doesn’t mean the creatives aren’t doing their best work within that environment.
And if I have some criticism of what Scorsese et al. are saying, it’s that it all feels a little churlish to undermine that work. Frankly, it just makes the three of them a little diminished in my eyes, a little lacking in class to throw unnecessary shade across the bow of the efforts of fellow industry creatives.
But beyond that, what they’ve said doesn’t affect me, it shouldn’t affect you, and it doesn’t change what I love about Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange or The Avengers. It also doesn’t change what I love about Casino, The Conversation and Cathy Come Home.
If these three old masters want to define “cinema” in such narrow terms, well good for them, they’ve more than earned the right.
For me, however, cinema is a broad and wonderful church, from the smallest, most personal stories, to huge, archetypal tales of soaring wonder, and everything in-between.
Cinema is whatever each of us wants it to be.
– Dave King, Editor In Chief, is a multi-hyphenate, which sounds rude but isn’t. He is an animation director-producer-writer-lecturer-bon viveur whose work has been seen in books, newspapers, magazines, comics, TV and web series, commercials, music videos and documentaries.
He is also an Englishman in Norway, which means he drinks from the skulls of his enemies but lifts his little finger while doing so.
The Final Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Trailer
Okay, I know what you’re here for, so here’s the final Star Wars trailer ever…
Yeah, well, I lied, obviously. This isn’t the final Star Wars trailer ever, Disney have way too much invested into George Lucas’s baby for that, but it is the final trailer for the nine films which will comprise the Skywalker saga.
And in customary J J Abrams style, it looks beautiful, with some really stunning ‘trailer moments’. Let’s just hope he and the crew are able to pull this together for a satisfying film – it comes with rather a lot of baggage, of course, not least the ire of a lot of entitled man-babies who shed copious fanboy blood and fury blood over Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.
Personally, I’m rather excited to see how this all wraps up, and now we’ll find out – after forty two years and eight previous movies. I guess I’ll see you in the queue for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20th…
Send In The Frowns – Joker Review
So I’m very late to the game with this one, but much of Joker is, of course, amazing.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain that Joker is a step away from the fairly disastrous DC Extended Universe. It’s a standalone tale, starring Joaquin Phoenix, that explores the background of Batman’s arch-nemesis, containing nods to films from Network (he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore, indeed), Taxi Driver (you almost expect Phoenix to snarl “You talkin’ to me?”), The King of Comedy (with both elements of the plot and the perhaps too on-the-nose casting of Robert De Niro) to The French Connection (particularly in one of the shootings that takes place on a subway stairway).
But away from the greatest hits of the Easy Riders, Raging Bull generation, Joker centers around a truly mesmerising, heartbreaking and ultimately repulsive performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who thoroughly deserves every award bound to be thrown at him.
It’s absolutely Phoenix’s movie, as he dominates every inch of the screen, ably abetted by Lawrence Sher’s gorgeous cinematography, and further supported by Mark Friedberg’s bold and beautiful production design, bringing to life Gotham City by way of 1970s New York.
Director Todd Phillips surprises (in fact, shocks) with his ability to allow his lead actor to fully explore the fragility, pain and brutality which punctuates this journey into mental illness. It’s also a surprisingly sharp commentary of the selfish, unfeeling world we’ve allowed to fester around us, resulting in the likes of Trump and Johnson.
I can’t help but feel the film is something of an exercise in futility, as it takes so much care to explain away a character who ultimately doesn’t need to be explained. Heath Ledger’s multiple Joker “origins” in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight were as intriguing and satisfying as everything Phillips and Phoenix put their character through (taking two discomforting hours instead of a few pages of dialogue).
I came away almost wishing they hadn’t hooked their story to Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson’s character, but instead created their own. Is this too much of a comic book geek’s complaint?
Perhaps, but when as storytellers you attempt to give a voice to the too-often neglected corners of society in such painfully gritty terms, it then feels almost like you want to have your cake and eat it too by connecting this to a psychotic comic book villain. It’s almost as if the film is daring itself to give voice to the toxic parts of our culture likely to hold the four-colour character of the Joker aloft as an anti-hero.
I’m honestly not certain where the film stands on this, but it is undeniably deserving of greater contemplation than an immediate post-screening collection of thoughts such as these, and it’s certainly one I am curious to see again.
Regardless of these caveats, while I don’t think anything in the film (beyond Phoenix’s performance) raises it to the level of genius that’s been heaped upon it, Joker is a powerful and bold, utterly nihilistic, shattered funhouse reflection of the world around us. And that’s no laughing matter.
Harley Quinn Dominates In Birds Of Prey Trailer
Warner Bros/DC have just dropped the full trailer for Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), so here it is…
I mean, it at least looks pretty and cohesive, in a way that even the trailers for Suicide Squad weren’t, and that cast is certainly to die for: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messina, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, and Ewan McGregor, but I can’t help but feel it all comes across as a little… flat.
Maybe I’m just in a mood, but I was hoping for something a little more off-kilter, a little more dangerous (though a Harley Quinn song and dance number would definitely be a step in the right direction)…
But okay, if Robbie is at the centre of this (and the trailer certainly suggests that,as her Harley Quinn character positively dominates the narrative) then I’m in for the ride, as I think she’s a seriously undervalued actor and might just have the star power to pull this off. And if nothing else, it looks like it will be Jared Leto-free…
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – and that might be the last time I’ll type out that mouthful, directed by Cathy Yan, hits our local screens on February 7th, 2020.
Stranger Things – What To Watch Next
Ante K. Lundberg guides you through a personal list of films that inspired and informed Stranger Things, plus some his own choices, just for fun.
So you’ve finished the latest season of Stranger Things, and you’re looking to fill that hole in your heart it’s left you? Well, you’re not alone. As a child of the 1980s, I find myself in the middle of a resurgence of film, television, video games and music made by my generation that is inspired by the 80’s. And it’s beautiful.
I was born in 1985, the year of a certain summer in the town of Hawkins, as seen in Stranger Things 3. Notable cinema releases that year included true classics such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Day of the Dead, Weird Science – and many more.
As requested by the ancient editor of Out of Dave’s Head, I’ve gathered a list of recommended films for viewing if you, like me, just can’t get enough of the ‘80s love that is happening right now. Some of the films on here have inspired the Duffer Brothers in creating and writing Stranger Things, others are just perfect examples of wonderful ‘80s cinema. These are the real deal, friends, so put on your Walkman, rewind that tape, and let’s get to it!
Stand by Me, director Rob Reiner, 1986
A group of young friends discovering who they are, the meaning of friendship, and life lessons? Check. Walking along a railway? Check. Small town thugs terrorizing our teen heroes? Check. While set in the 1950s, Stand By Me is an ‘80s film through and through, with a cast including young Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland! Based on a novella (The Body) by legendary author Stephen King, Stand By Me is a genuine, grade A classic, full of character, fun and heart.
The Lost Boys, director Joel Schumacher, 1987
There’s hardly a more ‘80s-looking and sounding film than The Lost Boys. This is the whole package; the music, the costumes, the hair. It also has Tim Capello shaking his sweaty, muscular hips and saxophone, and a healthy dose of teenage vampires living forever, led by (there he is again) a young, menacing Kiefer Sutherland, the hilariously bad vampire hunters the Frog Brothers (featuring that other ‘80s Corey… Haim), and a cracking, fast pace. Trust me, you won’t be bored by this one.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, director Sam Raimi, 1987
I’m not in any way saying you shouldn’t see the original Evil Dead, but the sequel not only (kinda sorta) recreated the first film in the intro, it went way beyond the original with a fantastic combination of fear, blood and laughs. If you’re looking for one of the most hilariously over-the-top splatter comedies out there, Evil Dead 2 simply set the bar. Bruce Campbell’s performance is one for the ages, with some of the most amazing physical comedy ever put on film. It’s not without reason his wonderfully awkward-yet-badass leading chin Ash Williams got more films and recently a series, Ash vs Evil Dead – which is also well worth a watch! In addition, fans of Stranger Things 3 will find the cabin-under-siege setting nicely familiar!
Aliens, director James Cameron, 1986
James Cameron has made two of the finest sequels ever in Aliens and Terminator 2 Judgment Day (and I haven’t even mentioned Stranger Things 3’s HUGE homage to The Terminator… oh wait, I just did). It’s common knowledge that in Aliens, the tight spaceship corridors first established in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien are expanded to play host to some of the best action sequences put to film.
Aliens is a perfect mix made up of one part great production design, one part a superb cast of character actors playing a ragtag group of soldiers (including Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn – who would be a great addition to the Stranger Things cast!), one part body horror and huge parts action, all flavoured with a beautiful mother/adopted daughter relationship.
Add to that mix a scheming Paul Reiser (none other than Stranger Things 2’s Dr. Sam Owens), on great form as the company man more ruthless than the titular Aliens could ever hope to be, you’ll be hooked before you can say “game over”.
The Thing, director John Carpenter, 1982
I mean, really, John Carpenter in general, but in particular….
One of my favourite films is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another claustrophobic body horror, set in an isolated location the characters can’t escape (see also Aliens, above), the mood in The Thing is unrivaled thanks to Carpenter’s direction and Rob Bottin’s incredible, practical animatronic work on the title creature.
Another great contribution from Carpenter, too often overlooked, is In the Mouth of Madness (1994 – yes, I’m cheating to include this, I know!), a horrifying Lovecraft-inspired film with lots of potential friends for Stranger Things’ Demogorgon.
In fact I would bet several films in Carpenter’s catalogue have inspired the Duffer Brothers in some way, as his body of work is chock-full of classics that I implore you to seek out and watch, including Escape from New York, Halloween, The Fog, Christine, Prince of Darkness and more.
Carpenter’s scores, often written and performed by the man himself, are also a huge inspiration for the Stranger Things soundtrack composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
Pretty much everything John Hughes had a hand in during the 80’s
Yeah, you heard me. John Hughes had an incredibly creative output, and most of his stuff really is the beating pulse of ‘80s cinema. Writing and/or directing classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink, he leaves us quite the legacy of movies that nicely illustrate the trials and tribulations of the teen years.
Although time has not been perfectly kind to all these films (especially in the female characters department), the look and feel are true ‘80s, unbeatably so. I recommended starting with The Breakfast Club, where you will at least have seen the gif of a totally ’80s tough guy raising his fist victoriously in the air, from one of the film’s many classic moments. “Don’t you forget about me” indeed…
Day of the Dead, director George A. Romero, 1985
George A. Romero pretty much invented the modern zombie (sans the running) with his slow, lumbering packs of dread in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead. All three should be considered classics in their own right and can be watched separately or as part of a saga where – not really spoiler alert – things do not bode well for mankind.
In Day of the Dead, odds are not in our favour, as the zombies outnumber us and the remaining human population hide in shelters, trying to find a way to survive. Romero’s zombie films are part visceral horror, part social commentary (stop teasing the zombies, really!) and, as usual, it seems our biggest threat is each other. Day’s opening sequence also plays a big part in the opening episode of Stranger Things 3.
The Goonies, director Richard Donner, 1985
Personally, I’m not a big fan of The Goonies but it’s considered by many as an essential watch, and certainly is a Duffer Brothers touchstone for their Netflix show. If you’re after a “kids on a mission” film filled with adventure, treasure and danger, then look no further, and it features Sean Astin, Stranger Things’ lovable Bob, years before he was a Hobbit for Peter Jackson.
E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg, 1982
Tonally, Stranger Things owes a lot to Steven Spielberg’s lovable ET. The little guy is stuck somewhere he doesn’t belong, and is just trying to get home, despite the government suits doing their best to stop him. Cue the brilliant and inventive 80’s kids (see an ongoing motif here?) doing their damndest with what they have by hand. The film also includes that legendary bike sequence, glaringly referenced in the first season of Stranger Things.
The Deadly Spawn, director Douglas MacKeown, 1983
A fabulous and fun creature feature starring young Charles George Hildenbrandt (the son of one of the Hildenbrandt Brothers, who painted the legendary fantasy-style poster for Star Wars in 1977, as well as the poster for this movie).
The plot concerns a crash-landed alien that finds refuge in the basement of a house and grows to monstrous proportions, and the plucky band of teenagers who do battle with it. The many ghastly teeth of the monster here sure do look a whole lot like the ghastly teeth of the Mind Flayer from Stranger Things 3.
Altered States, director Ken Russell, 1980
All Ken Russell films are worth your time, but Altered States, Russell’s adaptation of the Paddy Chayefsky novel, will particularly resonate with fans of Stranger Things 3, as it runs with the idea that sensory deprivation tanks (as used by Eleven in the show) can activate hidden parts of the brain. But boy, Russell takes things in a totally wild direction that will blow your mind.
Ghostbusters, director Ivan Reitman, 1984
I don’t really need to over-explain this one, right…!? Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, proton packs, bustin’ makes me feel good, Zuul! Stranger Things 2 crosses them streams.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Wes Craven, 1984
I can only imagine the feeling of seeing this particular nightmare in a cinema in the 80’s (Editor’s Note: It was pretty darn good!). The now iconic Freddy Krueger was an inescapable foe, terrorizing the dreams of poor teens with knives-for-fingers and a serious case of bad skin day.
I was late to the Elm Street party and, seeing it at an older age, I found myself really digging the over-the-top scenery chewing performance from Robert Englund as Freddy. Definitely worth a watch, even though “you’ll never sleep again!”
I can’t really recommend Tommy Lee Wallace’s IT miniseries from 1990, which time hasn’t treated well. The acting is wooden (Tim Curry not included, he is great), the pacing is slow and the effects are completely outdated (Editor’s Note: this calls for fisticuffs in the pub later, Lundberg). But it does have the loser’s club camaraderie seen in Stranger Things and, I’m willing to bet, was a childhood watch for the Duffer Brothers.
Rather, DO give the book a read, even if it is a long one, or see Andy Muschietti’s new two-film version that is in turn set in the ’80s and inspired by the same palette as Stranger Things. You can watch the trailer for IT Chapter Two here.
Mullets, big-haired teens in pastel and neon clothes, muscle cars and BIG songs might have defined the decade, but the ‘80s have so much more going for them in terms of entertainment. And if Stranger Things has left you with a hankering to revisit those years, this list will be a good place to begin!
About the author
Ante K. Lundberg is a movie and music buff from the fjords of western Norway. Living with his wife and two small children, he longs for the day when he yet again will be able to binge watch a series.
He wrote this essay on a straight regime of pitch black coffee, Meteor and Gunship on vinyl, and several (imaginary) training montages.