Looking back at a recent post about re-watching classic films, I realized I missed a few. So back we dive into movies I loved as a younger man. Did they or did they not hold up?
I saw this a lot in high school and college, you know, the crazed midnight-movie madness thing, toiler paper, rice, toast, dancing the Time Warp, the whole shebang. For a bunch of loveable misfit teens, what movie more expressed the credo of "don't dream it, be it?" But how is it as a film?
I'm happy to say that if anything, it's even better than I remembered. The songs are great, the actors all perfectly cast, and it turns out that one of my favorite DPs, Peter Suschitzky shot it. The film is a true original, and nothing like it has ever been made before or since. That includes the awful, so-called sequel. Seeing it on DVD, I finally got to see the "Superheroes" song that was cut out of the original release.
What also struck me is that the film feels really intimate, you get the sense of a bunch of crazy crew people and actors locked away in a crumbling English mansion making this thing. You can almost smell the sweat. I love that.
Here the news is not so good. Ken Russell's surreal film version of The Who's seminal rock opera is well-nigh unwatchable. There is just no connection between what's on the screen and the music. I know Oliver Reed is supposed to be singing, and is singing based on how bad it is, but it just feels like a soundtrack that was recorded separately and slapped over the movie. The surreal set-pieces themselves are not that cool, either, given the lens of time. The whole thing just doesn't work. A colossal fail.
But fear not Ken Russell fans, Altered States and Lair of the White Worm are, if anything, better than you remembered them. Altered States was my favorite film when it came out in the '80's. That lasted for a week or two until I caught my first Cronenberg picture, Scanners which knocked States out of the top spot. What stuck me about the film in my youth was the crazy hallucination scenes. What struck me about it now was what a powerful film it is, a tale of a man hunting for the ultimate mysteries of the universe who's willing to go to any lengths to find them. It's an emotional movie, a compelling movie, and yeah, has great hallucination sequences.
Lair of the White Worm is scary, surreal, hilarious, creepy and wonderful. Working on a rather meager budget, Russell dials back on the surreal and amps up the absurd. The bagpipes scene alone is worth the price of admission. Plus we get Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant all in one film.
A favourite when it hit the scene in the early 1980s, Ghostbusters still has it. Bill Murray is funny as ever and it's a movie where Dan Akyrod isn't sufficiently annoying to drive you screaming from your living room.
Dawn of the Dead.
When the Zack Snyder remake came out, I was a little put off by the use of fast zombies instead of slow zombies. So I went back and had a "20-years later" look at the original, assuming it was still the masterpiece I remembered it being. Not quite. I have to say, it didn't really hold up. The acting is bad, the film is meandering, the make-up is crude, to say the least, and the music by Goblin should be classified as a war crime.
Sam Fuller's bio-pict of his adventures fighting in WWII is still as great as I remember it, with one caveat. The film was "restored" to include a number of scenes that had been cut from the original release. Half of these were cut for good reason as they're just plain bad. The other half are brilliant beyond description. (The tank/birth scene for example.) Still, despite these moments of awkwardness, the film is still gritty, funny, brutal and human all at once. A must see.
What the hell happened to Terry Zwigoff? After Crumb, Ghostworld, Bad Santa and even Art School Confidential the man has vanished. I know he doesn't like dealing with the studios and their bullshit, but come on, man, it's been eight years and he's 3 for 4 which is pretty damned good. Maybe he's on an island somewhere with Bill Forsythe plotting about all the great movies they're not going to make.
Bad Santa is Zwigoff's most commercial film, with a tried and true redemption plot set around a drunken, sex-crazed, larcenous Santa and his elf assistant, who really is the brains of the operation. Like the screwball comedies of old, we know where it's going but getting there is what counts. And boy does it count. Billy Bob Thorton is hilarious as the scungiest Santa in history ably assisted by Tony Cox as the crime-spree elf and Lauren Graham as a hot barmaid with a thing for men in red felt hats. But it is Brett Kelly as "the kid" who really steals the show. Rotund, waddling, with a wide blank face that expresses almost no emotion, Brett truly is, as Graham's Sue remarks "the sweetest kid ever." He'll steal your heart the same way he steals Bad Santa's. Plus any movie with the line "I just called you a fucking guinea homo from the fifteenth-fucking-century, you dickhead" has got to be worth something.