Category: Film

Motion pictures from high art to schlock…

Back to the Future – When the Future Zoomed Past

Back to the Future Day

Back to the Future Day

It’s already two weeks since Back to the Future went the way of so many science fiction prophecies tied to a set date in the future… We sailed past it. The baffling exposure Back to the Future Day achieved makes Judgment Day’s continued slide in the Terminator franchise look like an act of mercy. At least there’s still a dystopia waiting, while those ‘proper’ hover boards are nowhere in sight. Jokerside takes a look at that definitive series…

“Marty, you’re not thinking four dimensionally”

THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR BACK TO THE FUTURE’S SUCCESS. THERE’S THE CONFIDENT ORIGINAL THAT MARRIED A GREAT AND HIGHLY QUOTABLE SET OF SPARKLING SCRIPTS WITH SOME OF HOLLYWOOD’S BRIGHTEST AND BEST. There’s the bold film-making that enabled the second and third instalments to be produced back-to-back bringing and brought an unprecedented approach to continuity. There’s Huey Lewis and the News. But perhaps most importantly, there’s the genuinely amusing, good natured and cartoonish fun of it all. And that’s powered by superb comedic performances, particularly from one of the finest physical comedians Hollywood has every produced in the central role of Marty McFly.

Still, it’s remarkable that a trilogy that fell short of $1billion takings, inflation unadjusted, inspired such strong devotion from the youth of the 1980s come 21st October 2015. As every social network reminded us, that was Back to the Future Day.

That’s when in the ancient year of 1989, we first saw the DeLorean arrive in the skies of 2015 and exactly how the 21st century would pan out. Almost. It was the furthest point forward in the trilogy’s springed jump of 30 years that had started in 1985 and already taken us back to 1955 before an extra boost of energy carried us back 100 years to 1885 at the finale.

Back to the Past

“I finally invent something that works!”

It’s always fascinating to watch the original Back to the Future’s opening. In a film of remarkably well directed, with exquisitely framed shots from Robert Zemeckis, it’s a masterclass. So many story points are laid down in that pan through Doc Brown’s studio – from the central conceit of time carried bluntly through the many clocks on the wall, past the subtle foreshadowing of the press cuttings of the Brown mansion and fortune, to the box marked plutonium stashed on the floor. Before Marty’s legs and skateboard appear at the door, before the punchline of the overcharged amp and we see Marty McFly’s face or heard the Doc’s voice, we’ve seen so much of what’s in store. The tone is perfectly set and we know this is going to be a hell of a ride – starting with the Huey Lewis powered skate dash to Marty’s school.

In the film that unravels there are countless mysteries and half suggestions of something more. The recurring importance of Wednesdays, the guns that jam on several occasions… Those may suggest a pre-ordained edge to the paradoxes that unfold, seemingly hermetically sealed in the franchise and often in the brilliant visual conceit of photographs. In the first instance, it’s certainly a jammed gun that sets off the three films chain of events.

It’s crucial that those films follow the cause and effect set by that chain of events. Unfortunately the only link that doesn’t quite make the grade falls at the close of the first film, the one that takes us to Back to the Future day. Not only does the spiral of despair waiting to kick-start for the McFly family on that day not quite cut the grade for pulling Marty (and his girlfriend) Jennifer into the future, it doesn’t quite fit that the time-conscious Doc would to take such desperate measures to deflect the future. Especially, as the films spend a considerable amount of time drawing out the personalities, including Marty’s mysterious uncle “Jailbird” Joey Baines, it seems to be wilful distortion of nature. By dint of happening in the future, any of those events could be remedied in the present. That points spelled out by surely the most serious, when Marty dodges his ‘chicken accident’ in the final act of the trilogy. And once that change had been made, it probably reset the future chain of events in the first place. Continue reading “Back to the Future – When the Future Zoomed Past”

Halloween I: Michael Myers’ First Blood

John Carpenter Halloween
John Carpenter Halloween

“I’m not sold on the nose, but this mask is gonna have to do…”

This Halloween Jokerside turns to a true original, the definitive horror that to carved out the 1980s slasher genre as easily as dicing pumpkin. Halloween, one story, two films of two distinct halves…

IT WAS 1976’S HUMBLY PRODUCED AND KINETIC ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 THAT BROUGHT PRODUCERS TO JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN PORCH (MAYBE…) WITH THE AIM OF EMULATING WILLIAM FRIEDKIN’S THE EXORCIST. A SCRIPT FOR THE BABYSITTER MURDERS WOULD SOON TRANSFORM INTO THE FILM THAT’S CREDITED WITH CREATING THE HORROR SLASHER GENRE. Sure, producer Irwin Yablans suggested the name and setting it during that ready-made night, but the main spark came from his trust in a low budget and inexperienced director and a tight shooting schedule. The Shape had arrived in a very, very real world.

Psycho’s Norman Bates had shocked audiences in 1960, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface appeared four years before Halloween. But the Shape, Michael Myers, was something else. An unstoppable force that didn’t wait, but hunted. He came for you, unrelentingly, following a repeating formula and putting the homicidal figure of uncertain and damaged origins front and centre, rather than the victims. Jason and his mum would follow within two years, Freddy four years after that. Halloween, 1978. When the slasher horror film arrived.

Halloween (1978)

“The night HE came back”

It was a gift of a name, Halloween. And having impressed with thrilling actioner Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter and horror was to prove a genre match in ‘heaven’. Much of what makes Halloween the film it is comes from its limited resources. But many of those traits, from the long sequential tension, the apparently simple choice of shots, and use of point of view, soon became definitive marks of a resurgent horror genre. Looking back along a franchise now numbering 10 films, via one sort-of reboot, this first film is a glorious trip back to ponderous lingering shots of banal suburbia. One that shows a defiant lack of gore.

Carpenter has named the shot that brings us bang up to date (Haddonfield on Halloween 1978) as his favourite. A short title set against the wide shot of a suburban street cross-section, autumn leaves falling in the light wind, no one in sight. It’s the first of many hanging shots, and perhaps the one that reminds most of The Exorcist. A film that Halloween would seek to outgrow, just as that 1971 classic had bricked up the crypts of the gothic horror films that came before it.

Leaves aren’t the only things falling there. That shot drips with anticipation following confident sequences of a strikingly different character. First, the simple titles. The black backdrop, unveiling the credits as a carved Pumpkin looms ever closer, just like the unstoppable Shape to come. And all the way to that close-up on the pumpkin’s eye and the nose, that music. As Carpenter has said of his score that it was a luxury to have three days, after only having only one to soundtrack Assault on Precinct 13. Iconic, chilling, relentless, over-melodic, unreal. Long before we see the Myers’ house, Halloween is iconic. And in preparing us for the necessary and riveting monotony of athe original slasher, it’s the perfect primer.

Haddonfield USA, Halloween night 1963

“Don’t forget to drop off the key at the Myers place…”

Revelations may pop up later in the franchise, but Halloween has little regard for flashbacks. The central character and his 15 missing years, require only a few lines to bring us up to speed. In that decade and a half, nothing has happened to Myers bar convince one particular Doctor that he is pure evil. The creators would later frame that as simply as Doctor Loomis. The film hangs on the almost preternatural assumption that those 15 years allowed evil to consume and prepare him; whichever of the subsequent theories the series throws up you believe. But in 1978 we had no idea. And those later films that added rhyme, reason, and backstory to the Shape would show how precious that original lack of explanation was.

Open the door

The film opens with the extended POV shot that would become synonymous with the franchise. Looking back on this and its immediate sequel, it’s astonishing how little is revealed to the audience or the characters. The first lines we hear “We are alone aren’t we?” “Michael’s around someplace,” pretty much sum it up. If there was any doubt before, it’s suddenly clear that we’re seeing through the eyes of an unknown. And that position of privilege reveals nothing; the clinical movements that take in the victim, then the upstairs light going out, before on the first floor an arm picks up a mask and we see a clown’s sleeve.

Then the vicious attack, the climb down the stairs and the revelation that we’ve been Michael. A small emotionless boy of six carrying a huge knife. Descendant chords rub in the incipient horror, while Carpenter has the camera detach and distance itself – one of the few times it rises into the air to summon judgement on the act we’ve been implicit in. It’s a masterclass. And we’ve only just begun. Continue reading “Halloween I: Michael Myers’ First Blood”

Hellraiser: Scarlet Endgames – The recent deaths of Pinhead reviewed

The Scarlet Gospels Hellraiser Revelations

The Scarlet Gospels Hellraiser Revelations

On the day that the glorious Hellraiser Scarlet Box is released, Jokerside has a chance to redress the balance knocked off by its obtusely balanced evaluation of the saga a few Halloweens ago with reviews of old Pinhead’s two last stands. So far.

While we wait in eternity for the Hellraiser big screen reboot, a glimpse at Pinhead’s last film outing in Dimension’s strained Hellraiser: Revelations. But first the true end of the Hell Priest in Clive Barker’s definitive novel The Scarlet Gospels.

*Advised gore and horror reading awaits – this is Hellraiser. But only light spoilers to be found here – best read in a light circle of hell.*

WHEN JOKERSIDE SET OUT THE VERY GENEROUS HELLPIE THAT SPLIT THE FIRST EIGHT HELLRAISER FILMS INTO THEMATIC SEGMENTS, THINGS WERE DIFFERENT. Dimension Films were resolutely clinging on to the Hellraiser rights as the idea of a franchise reboot floundered in its own hell. Now, just two years on those final five films have somehow found even further to fall while the first trilogy has risen to a shining new Scarlet boxset thanks to creator Clive Barker’s stronger grasp on his creation. This year, he finally realised his mission for the High Priest of the Cenobites to Cenobite it with the release of The Scarlet Gospels, while the film reboot remains in focus, but this time with Barker himself back in charge.

Yes, it’s a (pin) heady year in Hellraiser history, and one that reeks of a turning point. So let’s take a look at Pinhead’s last stands on page and screen so far…

The Scarlet Gospels (Clive Barker, 2015)

Some of it, potentially much of it, is still in Hell…

The Scarlet Gospels found its way out of Hell some years after it was first announced and some of it, potentially much of it, is still there. It was always and still is headlined as the definitive death of the Lead Cenobite, Hell Priest and film icon: Pinhead. Way back in 2010 Clive Barker finally announced that 243,000 words of the rumoured novel were looking for a publisher. There followed three years of furious editing, pruning it down to less than half that word count and apparently excising much of its demonic, angelic and terrestrial mythicism.

Anchored to the mortal realm at the outset, The Scarlet Gospels then sets out to explore vast swathes of Hell and broaden the concepts first laid down in the novella that became the first Hellraiser film The Hellbound Heart.  Its 368 pages are easy to breeze through, sucking up classic Barker horror across Earth and Lucifer’s realm through blackened teeth. And it’s a romp of sorts, the majority tracking a twisted group of Dantean questers entering Pandemonium itself on a rescue mission, at their lead Barker’s recurring protagonist, New York occult PI Harry D’Amour.

The return of Barker’s most famous creations may suggest that D’Amour and Pinhead’s antagonism, switching as it does from the domain of one to the other, is central to the novel. That’s true to a point, certainly they’re never on the same side, but those hoping for a much mooted confrontation will be disappointed. And perhaps not have expectations in line with the pair’s respective franchises. There are mighty meetings and impossible scrapes ahead, but early events make it clear that the chances of D’Amour bringing down an entity as powerful as Pinhead is extremely remote. And while both are transformed by the end of the tale, it’s not to that end. No, The Scarlet Gospel’s are a meta-textual account of Pinheads final revolt in hell, and that’s something he understandably wants recorded. The confrontation arises when he settles on D’Amour as the ideal person to record them for him. All the players subsequently fall into place around Pinhead’s grand, if occasionally obscure plan.

Cuts and Balances

Perhaps these segments were always fated to be lost to apocrypha

The pruning has undoubtedly left the protagonists with a smaller canvas to clamber across, Pinhead with a slimmer motivation, and reduced much of the tale to a chase across Hell. Excised sections were rumoured to explore the significant heavenly side of the equation – in the finished product that is reduced to blasphemy, some foul-mouthed angels and an act of supreme anti-creation. While a shame, that restriction at least brings the Gospels further in line with the scope of the Hellraiser we’ve seen on film, and that’s surely where much of the new audience will come from. Ultimately there was to be no interaction with Christ, or drawing out of the similarities between the Hell Priest’s Cenobite disfigurement and his own crown of thorns. Neither would there be substance added to the Hell Priest and D’Amour’s relationship. Harry’s supposed childhood encounter with Pinhead instead falling in his adulthood, at the end of a rather obscure and unexplained plot to grab the detective’s attention.  Continue reading “Hellraiser: Scarlet Endgames – The recent deaths of Pinhead reviewed”

FICTIONSIDE 101: Five types of Hollywood Reboot

Hollywood reboots Jokerside

Hollywood reboots Jokerside

Film is about 125 years old, television nearing 90 and this week: Jokerside turns three! As the next year will see this blog cast its sideways glance even further – with even more splintering of pop culture to come – this anniversary is marked by the start of a new series. Jokerside’s Fictionside will look at storytelling trends and memes – in this first instalment, five recent ways that Hollywood has coped, or perhaps failed to cope, with ageing franchises.

SOMETIMES IT’S BEST TO START SMALL, AND THAT’S BY NO MEANS LESS. 1976. WHEN THE DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION TEAM TEMORARILY GAVE WAY TO FOURTH DOCTOR TOM BAKER’S CONVICTION THAT HE DIDN’T NEED A COMPANION IT WENT FAMOUSLY WRONG. But that resultant mess, where the Doctor is forced to talk to himself, there aren’t traditional characters to draw out the danger and in its place are long, dull scenes, failed to materialise as the ever-brilliant Robert Holmes crafted a classic tale from adversity. In fact, the fantastically named The Deadly Assassin, heralded a number of reboots. A key one was controversially defining the Time Lord culture that the Doctor had rejected – an astonishing 13 years into the show’s lifetime. But then Doctor Who is a show that, thanks to luck, brilliant decision-making and the marvellous eccentricity of its state-owned production company, has change built into its core. From one episode to the next the sets, characters and even the lead actors can be completely different. That poses a huge and irresistible challenge and one that hopefully can roll on forever. But it’s a freedom that’s all too rare in fiction, scared as it is to paint itself into a box with confidence that a writer, as should be their raison d’etre, can paint themselves out of. Even in Who’s incredible fictional framework, one which had no issue with running that small mid-70s experiment, we have a great demonstration that reboots often don’t go the way they should.

And that’s on television. On film things are slower. Much slower.

Hollywood’s war of franchises may be more heated than ever as studios create, reassert, reboot and continue whatever their rights can manage. It may seem that a lot of energy falls on that mythical and never ending quest to find a new young adult property, as indeed it does, but there are older blockbuster sagas that have asked the question. And the answers vary greatly.

Aging Action – James Bond

Method: Whether shamelessly ignoring continuity or making a joke of it, there aren’t any hints or suggestions that marketing and a few years can’t spin. Welcome to timelessness.

The franchise has remains charged by that cusp it emerged from

A worthy early nod to the British-themed champion of change. Is there a coincidence that Britain lies behind Bond and Who, if not always in money and creative talent? Certainly changes in British society have been tied into the genesis of both. While the Doctor would struggle to hide away in an East End Totters Yard in a Police Box these days, unlike his birth 18 years after the Second World War, Jamaica had gained independence from the shrinking British Empire in the time between the first Bond film, Dr No’s filming and release in 1962. The franchise has remained charged by that cusp it emerged from, external change and Bond’s response to it has played very real role in the super spy’s longevity.

In 2012 Jokerside looked at the intricacies of the Bond timeline, a vague and intriguing string of adventures that have often shamelessly overcome any sticking points by confronting them early and full on. Even when Bond changed his looks five films in, the script took pleasure in smashing these alterations through the fourth all (with the rather balletic punch of George Lazenby). In dropping back to a more faithful take on Fleming, it even had Bond meeting Blofeld for the first time in the second film in succession. It was clear that consistency wasn’t a top priority – clearly a less important consideration in the 1960s without home media. And as wonderful as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, the return of Sean Connery in the following film left the real legacy of OHMSS as proving that audiences accept a change of Bond.

Continue reading “FICTIONSIDE 101: Five types of Hollywood Reboot”

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