We All Float Down Here – IT Trailer Delivers The Scares

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Yes, yes, we all know no one can ever truly replace Tim Curry’s underpants-worrying Pennywise, but damn, folks, this trailer promises mighty creepy things!

Based on one of Stephen King’s best books, this new version of IT is directed by Andy Muschietti and is promised as the first of two films (the second dealing with, well, whichever characters survive their encounter with Pennywise the clown in this installment).

I love Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 mini-series fiercely (even despite the deficincies with its ending… yeah, yeah, that spider…) and Tim Curry has given so many people clown-induced nightmares – not to mention provided the scariest internet memes – but I’m totally down with what Warner Bros seem to be serving up here.

IT opens on September 8th in the U.S. and is pretty much guaranteed to make you scared of clowns forever. If, like me, you aren’t already…

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Did that come out already!? – Bone Tomahawk

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Every now and then a movie comes along that just calls to you, that feels like someone you meet and instantly know will become a friend. When I first read about Bone Tomahawk, a Western/cannibal hybrid with Kurt Russell, I said to myself “That’s a film made just for me if ever I heard of one!” and sure enough, I was thrilled and delighted with this brutal, wonderful gem.

Taking its place in the compact but often interesting genre of horror Western, S. Craig Zahler has stuffed his story with an excellent cast and structures it as a slow build that expertly winds up the tension. Kurt Russell, who just gets better with age, strides through the film with rugged ease (and another magnificently crafted moustache) and leads a posse out into some seriously badlands to retrieve townfolk taken by a raiding party of not-quite-Native American Indians. To say much more would spoil your enjoyment, but the film mixes elements of John Ford’s The Searchers with the gruesome horrors of Cannibal Holocaust and The Descent.

What gives the film its true power is the first hour spent in the company of the townspeople and the posse, deftly giving us characters to care about and root for. Lost’s Matthew Fox, Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson and the always dependable Richard Jenkins all work well together and there is much humour in the journey, making the eventual horrors even more unbearable.

Thankfully, Zahler resists the urge to go by-the-numbers, and the somewhat low key ending feels satisfying for a film that both plays by genre rules while bending them. The film is a great mixture of charm and brutality that won’t win over everyone but will find itself championed by those with a taste for films that stray off the beaten path.

Saddle up and settle in for the ride, just make sure you don’t eat while you’re watching.


Train to Busan – Much Needed Life For The Zombie Film

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Whether, like me, you feel the zombie genre hasn’t offered anything new or exciting in a while, or whether you’re still in thrall to the wave of undead films, games and TV shows swarming across our screens, Train to Busan will offer up fresh meat on those rotting bones. To put it simply, this South Korean horror movie has become a late entry on my top films of the year.

The plot is straightforward; a disparate group of passengers board a train just as we are given glimpses that something bad is happening around them. The bad thing, of course, is a zombie apocalypse and director Yeon Sang-ho handles the perfectly timed build like a master, cluing us in ahead of the characters just enough so we feel the noose tightening around them.

Really, saying anything more than that regarding the plot would just spoil the fun for you, suffice to say that all hell breaks loose and the passengers of the train must survive long enough to reach the promised safety of the final stop, the city of Busan.

The film knows what it wants to be and revels in the pleasure of a non-stop barrage of thrills and chills. But, much like George Romero’s high point in the zombie genre, Dawn of the Dead, Sang-ho uses the film to make some barbed comments on society. That it makes them is worthy of attention and even though the film makes them a little bluntly on occasion these moments tend to be undercut with character building emotion, so they’re rarely wasted. One particular revelation is actually groan-worthy in its attempt to tie things up too neatly, but the director is smart enough not to linger on it too long before leaping into the next bravura sequence.

And bravura these sequence are. In the interests of keeping this review spoiler free I’ll just mention a favourite, prolonged sequence where our core group of passengers attempt to rescue another group trapped at the rear of the train, meaning they will need to pass through several train cars of zombies – and back again. It’s a sustained line of set pieces highlighting both the film’s ease with character development and its ability to ratchet up the tension, making smart use of some interesting wrinkles on the usual zombie characteristics and in particular of the location and its surroundings. You might even shed a tear or two.

There are some clichés here to be sure (the noble sacrifice gets more than one airing), but Sang-ho and writer, Park Joo-suk give their characters enough life (the living ones at least) to carry you through any hiccups and do enough with the nail-biting action and visuals  to make this a first class journey (…oh come on, I had to say it at some point in this review).

Train to Busan is a wonderful, high concept action/horror movie told with breathtaking confidence. Stylish, elegant and exciting, this is destined to become a major cult horror movie, regarded in the same revered breath as John Carpenter’s run of work from the late 1970s through the 1980s. A far less interesting Hollywood remake surely beckons.

Just when you think there’s little left to be said or done with the walking dead, along comes a movie which shows there’s life in those shambling old creatures yet.

What The Devils is Wrong with Warner Bros.?

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It’s easy to understand why Warner Bros would allow Ken Russell to film a lavish adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s book, The Devils of Loudon. It’s less easy to understand why the studio that produced the film seems so reluctant for audiences to see it today.

Russell rode the incredible wave of British film directors that still impresses today, along with the likes of Nicolas Roeg, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson. So, coming fresh off the success of Russell’s adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Women in Love for United Artists in 1969, with critical praise, good box office and an Academy Award (for Best Actress, Glenda Jackson), Warner Bros were keen to climb on-board the Russell train. When Russell pitched the idea to make his screenplay – originally written for U.A. before they pulled out of the project, based partly on Huxley’s book from 1952 and partly on the 1960 play The Devils by John Whiting – the studio agreed to give the project the greenlight.

The book, play and Russell’s film, all dramatise real life events that took place in Loudon, France, in the 17th century. Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII were attempting to stem the power of Protestant towns such as Loudon, and found themselves in conflict with the town’s very earthly priest, Father Grandier, and decided to turn to their advantage a series of supernatural possessions which seemingly afflicted the town’s Ursuline convent, presided over by the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne des Anges.

Russell delivered a bold, profound and outrageous movie, with astonishing set design from Derek Jarman, a dissonant score from Peter Maxwell Davies and blistering performances from stars Oliver Reed, as Grandier, and Vanessa Redgrave, as Sister Jeanne.

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The studio’s love affair with film and director ended harshly. Both the British Board of Film Censors and Warner Bros. itself demanded heavy cuts for its sexual, violent and religious content before granting an ‘X’ certificate in the UK and further drastic cuts were inflicted by the studio for the film’s release in the USA. The publicity for its American release clearly showed the studio’s discomfort over the film, defensively exclaiming, “The Devils is not a film for everyone” on posters and in trailers. This severely truncated edit would be the only version deemed acceptable by the studio for the following decades, at least in the countries where it wasn’t already banned. In fact, the film has not received an official release on home video in the U.S.A. since a VHS issue in 1995.

In 2002, journalist/broadcaster Mark Kermode (who cites as influence an important article by Tim Lucas detailing the various cuts imposed on then extant home video versions of The Devils, from the September 1996 issue of  Video Watchdog magazine) uncovered footage cut from the film that had long been considered lost, including the infamous Rape of Christ sequence (in which the hysterical nuns sexually assault a statue of Christ), and in 2004 a restoration of the film reinstated much of this footage. Over the next few years, this fullest, uncensored version ever assembled since Russell’s original cut in 1971 was shown to great acclaim on many occasions at public screenings around the world, with the hope that Warner Bros would respond to the call for an official release.

After much negotiation with Warner Bros., the British Film Institute was allowed to release a disc of The Devils in 2012. Despite having access to the 2004 restoration however, Warner Bros refused to hand over any original film materials for a new high definition transfer and instead presented the BFI with a digi-beta tape of the original British X certificate version, meaning they could only release the 1971 cut and only on DVD.

Hell on Earth: The Desecration and Resurrection of The Devils, the Paul Joyce documentary presented by Mark Kermode that had screened on the UK’s Channel 4 in 2002 complete with the Rape of Christ sequence, was included on the disc’s supplementary features. Warner Bros refused permission for the sequence to be used at all on the disc and so even the documentary had to be cut. The uncut version of the documentary remains viewable on YouTube as of this writing, and despite being hobbled by Warner Bros, the features-packed disc remains an essential purchase. These bizarre restrictions certainly raise the questions of why Warner Bros would not furnish the BFI with appropriate materials, and why the studio still considers the Rape of Christ sequence off limits.

In May of 2013 I screened the X certificate cut of The Devils to a full house at my own Dave’s Movie & Music Nights in Volda, Norway and I’m proud to say that in over four years of screenings I have never seen an audience quite so affected by a film. Afterwards people stayed in their chairs, wanting to process what they had just seen, eager to discuss it. Certainly, they were shocked by the film, but they were also astonished, moved and stimulated by it. And this rather, is the point here: The Devils is not a film you can watch passively, love it or hate it this is a film which invites (…actually, demands) a reaction from the audience. Once viewed, it will not easily be forgotten. Can we ask more from a film?

Not long after the screening, while discussing the film with Russell’s last wife, Lisi Tribble (who had written a beautiful and personal introduction for me to read to attendees) the idea was hatched between us to start a campaign to help secure a release of the restored, uncensored director’s cut.

With Mrs Russell’s blessing and active participation, we have managed to get a number of high profile organisations, culture sites, directors, producers and writers to support the campaign on social media, tweeting and retweeting the hashtag #FreeTheDevils and generally voicing their wish for the film to be released. The campaign page on Facebook, Free Ken Russell’s The Devils, now has almost four and a half thousand followers.

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In October 2015, a high profile screening of a beautiful 35mm print of The Devils took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, as part of Beyond Fest, to a sold out and hugely appreciative audience who were treated to an introduction and Q & A session by director and campaign supporter, Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved, etc.).

Rose is hardly alone in his love for The Devils; Guillermo Del Toro has spoken publicly and forcefully on many occasions on his lack of comprehension at Warner’s stonewalling. At a 2014 masterclass given by Del Toro in Toronto, the director said of the film’s lack of availability, “It’s not an accident. It’s not because of lack of demand. It’s a true act of censorship. It’s extremely blatant,”

While the film is challenging and divisive, it also inspires great passion in those who see the sincerity and anger of the film’s themes, and the humour and boundless creativity at work.

With a film that clearly inspires such depth of feeling and such a vocal following, why then does Warner Bros make such harsh demands on the few home video releases it receives? Why do they not recognise the commercial possibilities in a respectful release? If it is true they hold their film in such disregard, why not license it out to a boutique label such as Criterion or Arrow to release?

Of course there are many films still awaiting release on home video in any form, but The Devils is not some half-forgotten B film with a handful of cult movie fans clamouring for its release, it is instead a prestige production from one of cinema’s most controversial and acclaimed directors. It seems bewildering that Russell’s film has received such spotty releases around the world, and remains virtually invisible in the USA.

Rumours persist that one or a number of Warner Bros executives were deeply offended by the film and its message in 1971, and that this remains at the core of the film’s relative lack of visibility over the years. If there is any truth to these rumours, that offense must have been powerful indeed, as few of the same executives still work at the studio. Of course, American culture still faces a great deal of resistance from its deeply fundamentalist states, so it is almost certain that Warner Bros is fearful of religious and moral opposition if they were seen to support Russell’s film, but this fact alone cannot account for their attitude.

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The strange truth is that Warner Bros has yet to make any kind of definitive public response or statement on the years of calls for the film to be released on home cinema in a manner accorded to its status. This silence naturally raises many questions on the reasoning behind Russell’s film receiving such poor treatment. For a studio to neglect a forgotten gem is hard enough to understand in this age of multiple digital platforms, but to wilfully ignore a bona fide classic that has such strong support is unforgivable.

When so many movies that hit the multiplexes today are bland, morally vacuous or assembled by corporate committees to sell lunchboxes and toys, Russell’s film should be lauded, now more than ever, as the extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful, fiercely intelligent and boundary breaking piece of work it is. The studio that made The Devils should not be ashamed of their production, but instead should celebrate it with the release of a prestige presentation in an optimum format.

It is time for Warner Bros to do right by their long neglected masterpiece, to show due respect to this wildest, most savage, outrageous and courageous work by one of cinema’s true and much missed original voices.

* This article originally appeared (in a slightly modified version) in Z filmtidsskrift magazine #1 (2016), translated into Norwegian by Ingrid Rommetveit, and the issue editor was Helene Aalborg