The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a review by Jon
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
5 out of 5
Five kids in a van pass by an old deserted house that used to belong to one of their families. The neighbours house isn't quite so deserted. And so the scene is set for one of the most influential horror films, loosely based on the exploits of Ed Gein, also the inspiration to Psycho amongst others.
The most shocking thing about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is I liked it! I've seen it before and didn't understand the fuss. It was on TV though so maybe it was still cut. Certainly some of it's more surreal moments originally threw me, but this time I understood it's deserved reputation.
It's really very cleverly put together and although it's served as inspiration for so many films that came after, those pretenders really miss the point and have none of the attention to detail in both setting and narrative, while dragging themselves down with unnecessary exposition. The recent remake is a case in point. As a slasher, it's adequate, but this original was never supposed to be a mere slasher.
The five teens have very little backstory. From beginning to end we learn very little about them. No angst, in other words. A sulky cripple feeling left out is the most we get. This actually makes them more human and the eventual attacks more savage. Normal people on a road trip don't pick that moment to play out all lives tragedies, so these regular kids seem more real. Other characters in the early part of the film are also given only the barest material to get through the scene, meaning there might be genuine surprises toward the end. And even if you do see them coming, the film never tried to trip you up in the first place so it feels right. There's also a surprising amount of humour. Again there's no over-playing the irony, but it's there and should make you laugh albeit guiltily!
That commitment to it's own story is old fashioned film making. As are hints at what's to come. Instead of the modern style of talking about feelings and morals, these teens discuss how the old slaughterhouse despatched the cattle, worry about trivial meanings in horoscopes or find evidence of ritualistic killing, all of which subtly screams "run!", but they pay it no heed. Instead of opening their hearts, we learn how their hearts will be opened! It's a fascinating example of just how good cinema was in the 70s; old fashioned methods with new independence. Why modern versions can't see that balance, I'll never understand.
Everything is in the preparation in this film. The house they wander up to to ask for help (not the wisest move) is astonishing in the detail. Bones and feathers, grime and decay, all litter the place. It looks like they've wandered into a pit of death, and the host ain't too friendly either. Leatherface's entrance is simple but devastatingly effective. His massive frame suddenly fills the a doorway and he immediately clobbers his first victim with a sledgehammer then slams the door shut! No music here and throughout the film also just let the images linger. That's right for this film, but I'm not saying music isn't right in general; Hitchcock's take on the Gein story in Psycho racks up the tension using the exact opposite method.
More killings follow and none are gratuitous. Leatherface kills like a slaughter man kills cattle (as we learned earlier) and we don't really see much. With that setting, the marvellous sound design and simple reactions from the victims, our imagination fills in the blanks. I don't about you, but I need to have words with my imagination; it's far too descriptive...
The last act of the film, which I previously hated, is actually a further descent into depravity in perfect keeping with the rest of the film. Grandad's the best killer of all apparently, but his decrepit efforts are hilarious and disturbing at the same time. The shot of the victims desperate eyeball is fantastic as she makes a last desperate bid for sanity.
Those perverse final images of Leatherface whirling his chainsaw around confirm what the earlier scenes suggested. That he is scarier and more tangible than almost any other screen horror villain I can think of. I reckon if you check his fridges you'll find both Jason and Freddy! But not Michael. He is another matter entirely.
(From October Marathon: Horror! on October 15th, 2008)
Casablanca, a review by Jon
5 out of 5
There are two types of film fan in the world; those that need a synopsis of Casablanca, and those that do not. If you do, watch the film instead. You owe yourself that much.
I’m not going to waffle too much about this because there is no point. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe one of cinemas greatest moments. It’s a war-time thriller, with romance, comedy and music in perfect balance, delivered by a screenplay with dozens of one-liners and wonderful unforgettable characters played by a cast at the top of their game. I said Joan Fontaine in Rebecca was one of my favourite female roles and straight away I follow it with another. Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa. Obviously Bogart’s Rick is the reliable centre-point, but I wonder if Claude Rains as Louis might be the secret ingredient? Such a charming villain!
I often speak of the magic of movies and this is a perfect example. No-one set out to make a classic. It was a studio film, one of 50 in any given year and called Casablanca simply because an earlier movie had been so successful called Angiers. Angiers? Never heard of it!
Some say this is the best screenplay ever and they may be right, but the script, based on an un-produced play, wasn’t even finished to the point Bergman had no idea who her character was actually in love with. That classic ending like everything else was written on the fly. That it is in many ways the equal of the meticulously engineered Citizen Kane proves that there are no rules in movies. Just be in the right place at the right time and it’ll work. Easy!
If you like it, you’ll love it, and it’ll get under your skin and never leave. It’s been a huge influence on cinema for the past 60+ years.
I’d never noticed before, but I’d say that includes Star Wars. Stop laughing! The atmosphere is a given- desert town, multi-national refugees, threat of an Empire. But switch Laszlo for Luke and Rick for Han, then tell it from Han’s perspective and you’re on the right track. It’s the pacing and editing, especially so entwined with the music that finished it for me. There is a shot near the start of a plane landing and it felt just like Star Wars.
(From Jon's Best Picture Oscar Marathon on February 7th, 2009)
My PILOT Marathon, a review by Rich
HEX - SERIES ONE - PILOT - THE STORY BEGINS
First aired: 10/17/2004
The shadow of the past is about to wreak havoc on a remote English school. Cassie`s legacy will stay silent no longer. The time has come to face her destiny. The time has come to make a choice: join the forces that claim her as their own, or find a way to fight them.
From the creators of As If comes a thrilling new series. Hex is a spine chilling journey into one girl`s experience of the supernatural. Cassie (Christina Cole, He Knew He Was Right) longs to be popular, but is only truly loved by her best friend, Thelma (Jemima Rooper, As If). But Cassie soon discovers her new powers come at a price: the thrill is too seductive, each hit drawing her deeper into a world beyond her control. And when the man she should fear most finds a way to her heart, it can only end in tragedy.
In Britains answer to Buffy, I found little potential and was left feeling disappointed after viewing the overly long pilot.
Tired old script, poor supporting cast, mediocre pace and a crap soundtrack.
I was bored watching this, and have little enthusiasm in returning to the series at any point.
(From My PILOT Marathon on May 22nd, 2008)