2017 – In Memoriam

We’re here, at the end of another year. 2016 was reportedly ‘one of the worst years ever’ – by December’s end, everyone was depressed by all the Trump, by all the Brexit, by all the everything. It was a year where people from many generations felt their childhoods slip away for ever, felt pieces of themselves die as successful heroes passed out of life and into whatever comes next. 2017 has been no joke either, with more Trump, more Brexit, and more everything seemingly tightening the noose. The Grim Reaper’s scythe has once again swung with abandon, claiming many of the lives who have had a wide spreadh impact on various aspects of culture. Make no mistake – War, Disease, Famine have all claimed the usual millions of souls as they are wont to do, and those are battles we should be working together to overcome, but that is not the purpose of this post.

I haven’t been paying much attention to my Shrine posts recently, so I decided to do a yearly wrap up instead of the deaths which affected me in some way, on a personal level. Naturally that means that we’ll mostly be covering famous people here. I don’t mean this to sound as if I’m putting the famous on a pedestal, as if their lives mean more than some random mother or son who may have died this year – I firmly believe that every life is as valuable as the next. Yet here I am. In the end it comes down to who I ‘know’ or recognise.

Don’t be annoyed or disheartened if some celebrity who meant a lot to you and who died this year isn’t on the list – as I said, these are the people who meant something to me. By all means, add those who meant something to you in the comments. In the end, this is merely a place for you to give a few words, thoughts, thanks, or memories for those who have fallen.

William Peter Blatty – 7th January 1928 – 13th January 2017

Thanks for giving me, and countless others, many nights of unsettled sleep with The Exorcist.

Miguel Ferrer – February 7, 1955 – January 19, 2017

Thank you for being a perminent fixture in some of my most watched and loved entertainment of all time. You may be the only actor who has starred in both one of my favourite movies ever (Robocop), one of my favourite mini-series ever (The Stand), and one of my favourite TV shows ever (Twin Peaks). 

John Hurt – 22 January 1940 – 25 January 2017

Thank you for your willingness to ignore and balk at traditional acting conventions by appearing in cult works, low budget films, and Television, along with the more accepted critical fodder – for Alien, for Spaceballs, for The Elephant Man, for Hellboy, and many more.

Richard Hatch – May 21, 1945 – February 7, 2017

Thanks for being the original Apollo in Battlestar Gallactica – I’m not as familiar with your other work, but for that I’ll always remember you.

Bill Paxton – May 17, 1955 – February 25, 2017

Thanks for being a true movie legend and for appearing in many of my personal favourite films – The Terminator, Aliens, Near Dark, Commando, Tombstone, True Lies, Frailty, and bringing a truly unique energy and life to them.

Chuck Berry – October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017

One of the forefathers or modern blues, rock, and by extension, metal, thanks for bringing many decades of wonderful music to the world.

Clifton James – May 29, 1920 – April 15, 2017

Thanks for bringing me many laughs in my younger days, especially in the Bond movies, and also for sterling work in a few of my other favourites.

Jonathan Demme – February 22, 1944 – April 26, 2017

One of the few filmmakers to make a critically respected and award winning horror movie in The Silence Of The Lambs, thanks for breaking those boundaries.

Michael Parks – April 24, 1940 – May 9, 2017

Even though he had been acting regularly since the late 50s, Parks became better known in later decades thanks to his work with Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino – thanks for many terrific performances in many terrific films.

Powers Boothe – June 1, 1948 – May 14, 2017

A character actor with great action pedigree, thanks for appearing in some of my favourites such as Tombstone, Extreme Prejudice, Sin City.

Chris Cornell – July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017

Although Soundgarden were my fourth favourite out of Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Cornell was nevertheless a driving force in rock and grunge with unmistakable vocals which have been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

Nicky Hayden – July 30, 1981 – May 22, 2017

My dad rides motorbikes. My brother rides a motorbike. Many of my uncles and cousins are bikers. I have dabbled. I live on the same street as the family of my countries most famous motorcyclists and our kids are friends. We all watch motorcycling – none of that F1 shite. Any time any biker dies it’s a tragedy, and Nicky was a particularly heavy loss.

Sir Roger George Moore, KBE (14 October 1927 – 23 May 2017)

I was a Bond fan before I really understood what films were, and Moore was my era. It is typically the Moore films I return to most for their lighter approach and tendency towards action and humour. Moore will always be Bond for me, and while he didn’t have the most varied career outside of that role, he still popped up in many other films and shows and was renowned for being a decent human being.

Adam West (September 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017)

The original Batman… well I’ve heard varying reports on what he was like in real life, but I’m mainly here to focus on their work and what it meant to me – I was never a huge fan of the original campy series, but I still watched it every now and then when I was young. Thanks for being a mainstay on TV and for your great voice work on many shows.

John G Avildson – (December 21, 1935 – June 16, 2017)

Thanks for making some of my favourite films in the Rocky and Karate Kid series as well as a few other notable movies.

Martin Landau – (June 20, 1928 – July 15, 2017)

Thanks for appearing in some of my favourite movies and shows ever, from North By Northwest and The Twilight Zone to Ed Wood and The X Files, and of course for bringing your daughter Juliet into the world.

George A Romero – February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017

There have been fewer bigger influences on my love of horror, and on the wider horror world than George A Romero, the man who essentially invented the modern zombie genre – thanks for that, thanks for your movies, and thanks for never compromising for The Man.

Sean Hughes – 10 November 1965 – 16 October 2017

Sean, aside from Coronation Street I don’t think I ever saw any of your non- Buzzcocks work. I’m not a huge stand-up comedy fan, but you always made me laugh on Buzzcocks. 

Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories of any people we lost in 2017 in the comments below.

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Final Destination

*Originally written in 2003

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Of the teen horror movies which appeared in the Nineties era, most were dumb gore-fests with cheap shocks and a sexy, young cast. However, there were two stand outs: Scream, of course, and Final Destination. Both are intelligent, both have involving story lines, good characters, genuine shocks, and grisly deaths. While Scream was full of parodies and self-referential stuff, Final Destination played on our fear of death – the one common denominator which we all cannot avoid. While it does make jokes about itself and its genre, they are fewer than Scream, and do not go as over the top as some other films. The director fills every scene with real tension and fear, and successfully combines this with excellent set pieces and stunts, as well as sustaining a brilliant story. There are few films that can do this so we should admire Final Destination.

128 students are planning to travel to France with their teachers for one last big school trip. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board. We then flashback and realise that it was the premonition of one of the students, Alex. He has been having a strange day, and when he sees that his premonition is coming true he tries to get everyone off the plane. Like a certain Twilight Zone episode he succeeds in only causing a minor panic and some embarrassment, but is fortuitously thrown off the plane together with a few others who got involved. As they wait in the airport Alex relates what he saw and of course no one believes him. Suddenly the plane explodes – his premonition came true. In the aftermath, some of the survivors mourn, others see it as a second chance, the cops become interested in how Alex knew what was going to happen, and Alex has further visions. Soon the survivors are killed in bizarre ways, and the cops believe it is Alex. Alex thinks that death is stalking them because they cheated it, and he works out the order that they will die in, believing that if they can understand the visions and prevent themselves from dying again, they will be safe. This will not be easy though, as death can, and does strike from everywhere.

The idea behind the story is excellent, and it is stylishly and effectively executed. It will appeal to the teen audience it is aimed at, but also older viewers as it is a very thought-provoking, existential film when stripped back. One character, Carter, believes he is in control of his own life, not some invisible force, and at one point tries to prove this by parking on train tracks in front of an approaching train. Alex becomes increasingly paranoid, hiding in a hut from death, safe-proofing it in every way he can. Clear tries to be strong, has learnt to be this way through a tough childhood and cannot believe that all life is is a series of days avoiding death. The other survivors all have their individuality, and are not pastiches of other characters from teen movies. The performances are each outstanding, even from Sean William Scott who proves he is better than just being Stiffler forever. The side plot of the cops believing Alex is behind the deaths adds a depth which most teen horror films do not have.

Wong’s direction is very stylish, and the deaths and set pieces are some of the most innovative ever, recalling the style of Argento. That everything is a potential killer is an idea ripe for exploitation. Wong also creates a massive amount of tension throughout, peaking with each death – the train and car scene will get the most flabby heart racing, the teacher in the kitchen is brilliantly staged within every fork and implement seeming deadly. The opening 15 minutes have to be among the most tense and exciting 15 minutes in horror movie history, confirming all those with a fear of flying to stay firmly on the ground. The film shows how we are not immortal, and without the humorous moments it might become too much.

There are many famous shock moments, the bus scene being the most notorious – many have complained about this being stupid and unrealistic, but if Death was stalking you, of course it would try to put the approaching bus under a veil of silence. The premise may seem too far-fetched for people, but this is primarily for a horror crowd who come baying for the blood, and we do appreciate it more when our intelligence isn’t insulted. Death here as a character does have a sense of humour, each death being ironic, gruesome or made to look like an accident, but this is all the more terrifying, that this force is coming after us for entertainment. Death wants immediate pay back for those who cheated it, but in the style of a Bond villain, likes to play with its victims first. Of course the deaths may seem impossible in the real world, but if it is Death stalking us, I think it has the power to bend a few rules. Most criticism I have read of this film is petty and unexplained, but I can understand why some would be put off by it. For clever, shocking, exciting teen horror movies, there are very few better than this.

What do you think of Final Destination and its many sequels – let us know in the comments!

Still Walking

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Like many others, I am an Otaku horror nerd; I love everything horror, and I love everything Japan, and have for as long as I can remember. Between bouts of decapitation and and viscera I like to slow things, and if there is a people who know a thing or two about slow paced dramas, it’s the Japanese. Still Walking, even in its title, suggests a leisurely pace and features all of the poignant, emotive, and thought-provoking moments I look for to cleanse myself of the darkness which I have bore witness to.

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, one of Japan’s most famous and respected directors of his generation, Still Walking is a ruminating drama on family, aging, life, and death. The story is set almost entirely in a single house over the course of roughly 24 hours as three generations of a family meet to commemorate the death of one of their own, fifteen years earlier. I was expecting the film to center on one character or specific set, but Koreeda avoids this and instead shows how each person present has coped over the time since the death and how their lives have been changed.

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The parents of the son who died are symbolic of how Westerners would view some elements of Japanese society – they don’t show their emotions often and instead prefer to withdraw from discussions about grief and possible arguments. It is particularly the father, played by Yoshio Harada, who clearly harbors ill feelings and guilt but cannot vocalize them while his wife (Kirin Kiki) seems more keen to remember the good times. Their remaining son (Hiroshi Abe) has unresolved feelings of anger as he feels he has always been rated second best versus the brother, both when he was alive and even more now he is dead – he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a local doctor. He dreads attending these events as he doesn’t want to be there and feels his parents resent the fact that he lived when his brother died – and the drama is increased by the fact that he has married a widow (who has her own son). Naturally, this causes tension for the mother and father. On the flip side we have the sister (played by You – Ehika Yukiko and her extraordinary voice) and her husband and children who offer a comedic and neutral ground. Throughout all this the metaphor of walking and progression is prevalent – the father always walks round the town every day, even though he is getting slower and more reluctant, the mother always takes the long and brutally steep walk to her son’s grave, and the other characters continue to carry and cope with their respective burdens – what else can you do?

This isn’t the easiest film to review as I can either give more paragraphs outlining plot, yet there isn’t much to say of the plot aside from what is given above. The performances all feel genuine and the direction veers between claustrophobic and freeing when necessary – we get both interior and exterior shots of the cramped conditions the family live and talk in, and there is a visual and tonal difference between the conversations about the negative and harsh stuff versus those more pleasant, happy, or sad memories – the tense speeches usually in a car or a cramped room, and escaping or resolving those by stepping out into the world. The film doesn’t sound exciting on paper, but it does weave an unusual spell over the viewer – perhaps it’s because all of us have encountered feelings or situations like this in the past, or on a regular basis, perhaps it’s a combination of the performances, Koreeda’s skill, and how lovely the film looks. If you are familiar with the director’s work or have been looking for a place to start, if you are at all interested in Japanese film or culture, or if you simply want a break from action, gore, convoluted plots, and gritty blockbusters, give Still Walking a chance.

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Have you seen Still Walking – how does it rate alongside Koreeda’s other work? Let us know in the comments!

Top 10 Tuesdays – Sad TV and Movie Themes

Warning – if you don’t want to cry today, turn away now.

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You all know the sound

Indulge me. Grief is the great equalizer; Everyone will experience it, and all of us will hate it. We are all born, and we all die. Years from now everyone who ever knew your name will be dust, forgotten and unspoken. Yet, if we all realized the absurdity of the needless causes of grief – murder, war, hatred, then grief itself would recoil and become less of a leather-winged, human-condition encompassing wound, and instead be a mere arbitrary necessity. When we hurt, others hurt. When we kill, we kill ourselves. If we can truly empathize, then we will learn to avoid all causes of grief. If we all knew sadness every day, then there would be no more pain; if we were all depressed, maybe then we’d all be happy.

Nothing makes me so overwhelmingly sad as hearing music which evokes memories both beautiful, happy, and tragic. As much as I love listening to songs, writing songs, it’s always instrumental music from TV and movies which destroy me the most. I have deeply rooted issues with the passing of time, with not doing the things I used to do, and most importantly not being with the people I used to be with, as I suspect many of you reading this do. Listening to any of the pieces below (and many more besides) is always a heartbreaking experience for me, but it’s also cathartic – sometimes we need to scream and hurt or curl up in a ball. So, just for a change from my usual silly posts and ‘comedy-based’ musings, here are some pieces of music which are extremely important in my life, and which also happen to be some of the most beautiful, touching pieces I have ever heard – I may do a second list some time because there are so many. One final note – there will be SPOILERS below so if you haven’t completed and of the films or shows listed below, you may want to skip those entries.

Departures

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I got the list down to twelve, but I couldn’t get it any lower than eleven, so here we are. Departures won the Oscar for best Foreign Film at the 2009 Academy Awards, but didn’t pick up a nomination for Best Music. Composer/God Joe Hisaishi creates a stunning soundtrack based heavily around the cello (which is an important instrument within the story), with several recurring motifs that recall several fragile moments from the film – love, grief, aging, guilt, loss are all covered in the story, and while the music evokes similar feelings it veers towards a more hopeful tone.The twinkling pianos, the swell of strings, and the lonesome cello in tracks such as Goodbye Cello, Shine Of Snow 1 and 2, and in the best example Beautiful Dead 1 and 2 tend to make me feel warm inside, but when watched alongside the movie never fail to cause tears to well up. Like most, if not all of the pieces on this list, they work perfectly as wonderful standalone pieces, but are all the more powerful if you’ve seen the movie/show. Here’s a link to Beautiful Dead 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TCpeGf3U58&index=10&list=PL93A4C925ACB5984C

Airwolf

People forget what a poignant show (and movie) Airwolf was. Lumped in with other successful action shows of the 80s such as Knightrider, The A-Team, Streethawk, etc it by far had the most heart and depth of storytelling. It’s a show about a man who believes that everyone he ever gets close too emotionally will die, and the series seems to suggest it’s all true – his parents died when he was young, his first real girlfriend died in a car crash, and then he lost his brother in Vietnam (MIA). The movie shows Stringfellow as a tragic figure, capable only of distancing himself from people and sometimes serenading the local wildlife from his cabin in the middle of nowhere, but when he falls for Gabrielle we know it isn’t going to end well. Sylvester Levay wrote the kick-ass theme music we all know, but he also created Gabrielle’s Theme, a piece so sad that it doesn’t even need us to remember her final scenes and death. It’s a piece that will strike a chord with anyone who has ever lost someone they love – it’s incredibly simple, short, and while many will balk at the synth original, if you can find yourself an orchestral version you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for hugs. Here’s a decent version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm1npa_2DhI 

The Simpsons

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Jesus, just reading the comments on the YouTube videos for this post is hurting me. A few of you may be thinking ‘when was The Simpsons ever emotional, but any hardcore fans will know the piece of music I’m about to talk about – one so tender and simple and fitting to the episode it ends. I have a looping of this track on as I write, but I have to keep stopping to think, remember, or wipe away a tear. It’s the specially written end credits for the episode Mother Simpson where Homer finally gets his mother back, only to lose her again. The episode explains much of Homer’s childlike character, and that final shot of him sitting on his car watching the stars while this music plays is one of the all time great Simpsons moments – it’s all the more tragic now that the show has become so butchered over the last decade and more that moments like this are forgotten. If the show had ended here, it would have gone down in history as one of the finest Television endings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6su0Jgwhb4

James Bond

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I’ll cheat a little here and include a few entries from a few films. I’ve always maintained (I may be the only one) that 007 is a tragic figure, not the misogynist killer, womanizing sociopath many think he is. There are a few moments throughout the Bond canon which highlight the fact that he wants to quit, to put it all away and think about himself and the person he loves, but the nature of his work and life will never allow him any stability or lasting relationship. My favourite Bond films feature these moments – For Your Eyes Only, Goldeneye, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale to name a few. In Goldeneye we see this revelation quite clearly, with Eric Serra’s aptly named That’s What Keeps You Alone – named after Natalya’s response to James’s stoic ‘That’s what keeps me alive’. For a film that has a lot of metallic and industrial sounds in its soundtrack, this piece is a standout, shocking in its richness. Haunting in its honesty rather than any sentimental soaring of strings, it’s a brilliant, thought-provoking piece never far from my mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebtj1hjFoYI&list=PLBYN0G9h_13HeGW1sFbrc2mvDMzdyZjQF&index=12 (nerd bonus – I always used to listen to this in tandem with the Resident Evil 2 game end credits theme as they felt very similar to me)

Perhaps even more obvious from a tragic standpoint is Casino Royale, which sees Bond lose someone he cares deeply about, like he did previously in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. David Arnold gives us old school Bond tones with a harder 21st Century edge, offsetting the melodic mystery of tracks like Solange with the painful piano and string hooks of Vesper and of course Death Of Vesper. This one doesn’t give me as many real life feels as others in this post, but it brings me back immediately to Vesper’s sacrifice and Bond yet again covering up his pain. When contrasted with the gorgeous City Of Lovers, those softer moments are brutal – such potential, hope, and love, crushed in a few inevitable moments. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upamEEDq2XM&list=PLIVs6sKfvkuQP6znMZFux3OF2g2gtRuix&index=14

My final Bond track is from Tomorrow Never Dies – not a film which is remembered for being all that sad, but Teri Hatcher’s character is another who pays the ultimate price for getting too close to the man we’re all supposed to want to be. The Last Goodbye, but particularly the swell in Paris And Bond (by David Arnold again) are both effectively tearjerking pieces which remind us of our own painful memories. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_s4S6ynvcg&index=5&list=PL3CD06F1ABB7B659C

The Stand

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King’s opus is probably my favourite book and adaptation, packed with characters you will fall in love with and whose deaths will leave a hole which will never be filled. WG Snuffy Walden’s guitar-laden, folksy, all American soundtrack is superb from start to finish, with perfect journey music – many of the tracks instantly fill my head if I am heading out for a walk when there is no-one else around, when the streets are empty. There’s that sense of swinging a bag over your shoulder and lighting out, of not looking back, but never forgetting. Moreover, we know the road ahead will be nigh-on impossible, that we, all of us as individuals, as a species, are ill-equipped to deal with what we are dealt, that there will be unforgivable, unimaginable anguish, grief upon grief, and joy so unspeakable that words become absurd – there will be a future we don’t want, we know that, but when it comes we do not give up, we do not break, we overcome, and we stand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCYb3lX9g4g&list=PLAsfPvIbzO_sKDnDkI13NG9Zxg7dG-COD&index=12

Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks to me has always been a show based on horror, featuring some of the most frightening and upsetting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Much of the show is rooted in comedy and in ironically twisting the over the top sentimentality of the TV soaps of the time, but in the real moments of sadness there is frustration, sadness, anger, fear, and perhaps most of all, confusion and detachment – two feelings that most people who have not been near death for a while, or ever, overlook. When someone dies, or even when someone leaves, our actions and the actions of those around us seem bizarre and alien, ghostly and purposeless. In these moments it is utterly impossible for the person suffering, or those on the sidelines to understand the loss, because none of us truly understand mortality. Badalamenti’s jazzy score is dreamlike, airy, slow, and soft and while it pulls at the heartstrings as well as any weepie, it is the understanding of the confusion – the understanding that we cannot grasp what has happened, that makes it stand out. There is a void, a literal, sickening void, and we can do nothing about it aside from skirt the rim and vaguely feel aware that the abyss beyond is somewhere we should not be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQg5WUhMP90&list=PL413F2BBFBCDD6C43&index=2

Conan The Barbarian

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If you know me via this blog, or if you know me in reality (whatever that is) then you must be aware of my love for both Arnie, and for Conan, more specifically the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack which is so obviously the greatest movie soundtrack ever made that any argument otherwise is akin to arguing with a bullet. While Poledouris fills every scene with bombastic, thunderous epicness, he creates a number of more emotional tracks, from Funeral Pyre to The Leaving to Orphans Of Doom. I think the most impactful for me, from a darker place, is Wifeing – even though it’s the love theme of the movie, it is rent with doom and blackened with inevitability. When we all finally give ourselves up to the dust, and when Crom decides he is finished with us, it would be the utmost reward to have a piece such as this played to our memory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMxamoHkAbY&list=PL6559658E698E288D&index=15

T1/T2

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Inevitable, eh? Brad Fiedel’s score for both T1 and T2 are distinct from other movies of their period, and from each other, though both stem from an industrial, darkly technological place. While we all know and love the main themes, which deserve to top any movie music list. Instead, I’m going to pick two other pieces, a piano track from The Terminator which is arguably the track which set me out on this path at an early age, and the intro from T2, the true intro. Yes yes yes, the piano track is basically the main theme readjusted for piano, and yes yes yes it’s a sex scene, but it’s essentially the reason for the story existing – a love story and a story of survival, survival of a couple who barely know each other but are already deeply in love, and the survival of our species. The way the track, and the scene start out, with Reese admitting his feelings (a struggle for a man who only knows pain and death), the realisation that he travelled through time to be with Sarah, and the soft, single piano notes slowing morphing, liquid metal like into melodies, until Sarah joins Reese by the window as the familiar theme comes into view and they tumble into pain. Sometimes I think I’ve never heard a more perfect piece of music, especially when played to that scene. It hurts every single time I hear it, and my love of it only grows. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaUomynGeao&list=PL5C555376D7A573AD&index=13

My pick from T2 is difficult to describe and difficult to find as it doesn’t appear on the movie soundtrack. In the link below it starts at around 23 seconds. When I say it’s the intro scene, people will likely think of Sarah’s monologue over the future war scene, before the glorious, fire-scorched title sequence begins (God, even typing that makes me want to scream ‘T2 is the best film ever’ and watch it again). That’s not what I’m talking about – before that, the very first scene, of traffic heading in and out of LA, and kids playing on swings – it’s roughly 30 seconds long, and the music takes up slightly less than that. The music is basically six notes, and can barely be called music, but it is awesome – I must have listened to it hundreds of times, and watched those 30 seconds over and over, to the point that I often see those cars when I close my eyes. It seems like a throwaway scene, but to me it conveys a billion feelings – one of which is the loss of civilization and humanity. There’s something more otherworldly about those cars than there is in the juxtaposed image of a skeleton sitting in a nuked shell of a car which comes moments later. The message is obvious, showing the before and after effects of war, but it may be the most poignant example of this ever filmed, and those dreadful, plodding six notes, are so dark and bleak that Fiedel and Cameron seem to be saying that there’s no hope for us. Obviously the rest of the film is one big hope-fest, but that opening minute or so it absolutely crushing to me. When that scene eventually merges with the title sequence, I get shivers every time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4hY9BdG6SA

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The Incredible Hulk

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No list such as this would be complete without The Lonely Man by Joe Harnell, possibly the SADDEST piece of music ever written. Now, I’ve loved this theme my whole life, long before Family Guy ripped the arse out of it. The original Hulk series and the accompanying movies with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were a massive part of my childhood, and I already have my girls watching them (they may call it ‘Greenboy’ instead of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ but they get it). Hulk will always be David Banner to me, and Banner will always be Bixby. This piece is so haunting and soul-rending that only a crab would fail to tear-up while listening to it. It’s all the more effective now, knowing about Bixby’s life and feeding your own experiences into the notes; it isn’t just about a man who can never possibly fit in, and will never be able to love or escape his demon, but it’s about all of us, the roads we travel, and the people we must leave behind whether we choose to or not.

Lost

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Shannon. Boone. Ana Lucia. Charlie. Locke. Rousseau. Alex. Michael. Daniel. Juliet. Sayid. Sun. Jin. Jack. Repeat those names while listening to Life And Death by Michael Giacchino. Remember what they did, the good and the bad. Remember the smiles they gave each other and the ones you unashamedly gave in response. Replace those names with the friends and family you lost. Never forget. This track, and its variations are all extremely evocative for those who watched the show from start to finish, but as a standalone piece of music it blends all of the feelings and responses we endure from the point of life slipping away, through all of the memories and the shock, and finally into the acceptance and acquiescence where the pain is never dulled but where we may learn to smile on occasion rather than hollow ourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twHXrNtG-7c

Buffy

Throughout his run on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Christophe Beck wove some spectacular music to chart the battlefield of adolescence and the tribulations of adulthood. Each episode is packed with music, incidental and otherwise, and while most of the music showcases and enhances the comedic and action scenes, it is his reflective and emotional creations which do the most damage. In Season 2, the Buffy and Angel love theme would pop up infrequently during a particularly romantic moment, always sounding haunting and in hindsight so gut-churning that it’s a wonder none of us knew at that point that so much would end in heartache. Once it gets the full rendition as Close Your Eyes in the Season Finale, anyone who isn’t a quivering mess on the floor must have fallen asleep during I, Robot…You, Jane and never emerged again. But before we get there, lets recall some of the other tracks which I listen to at least once a week as a punishment and cleansing. Waking Willow (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhg8WOy3Csalso appears in the Season 2 Finale (possibly the greatest two-parter in TV history) and is strong enough on its own to be the main tearjerker theme for any series with its lilting piano seguing into string middle. Move immediately from that to Remembering Jenny (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NjXEDyzFskand I lose all power to type until the track has ended. It’s such a simple piece, made all the better (worse?) by the fact that Anthony Head provides the male vocals. It’s the sound of a funeral, the funeral of a life stolen, with all the bitterness and hopelessness one would assume to find. I’ve always said that, had Buffy ended at The Gift then it would have been a perfect, apt place to finish. Then again I’ve said the same about Graduation Day. Sacrifice (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMktTe3VlE0), which sees the return of Christophe Beck, closes the final episode of Season 5 (again I’ve listened to it twice already while trying to type this) is a flawless piece of music and another flawless example of how music can mirror and enhance what is happening on-screen as Buffy gives a final speech, hugs her sister goodbye, and leaps to her death to save the world.

But back to Season 2’s Close Your Eyes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5C92qy7mX8). My words to describe my feelings for this are futile. Is it the best piece of instrumental music I’ve ever heard? Probably. Does it reduce me to tears at the slightest provocation? Yes. It will always kill me and I’ll always come back for more. All of the many dark moments in this silly thing we call entertainment I recall with this track in my mind, and many of dark moments I’ve experienced in reality are sombered (unborn words are the best), purified, increased, and beaten back by it. It’s a piece that deserves to be heard by millions more than those who know it, but it is of course best experienced by watching Buffy to get the full impact.

Grave-willow-and-xander

Let us know in the comments below which pieces of instrumental music break your heart, and which tracks have brought you through tough times. Remember folks, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.

Northern-Irish Television Adverts: A Terrifying Descent Into Horror

Australia; the land of sun and sea, of summer Christmas and backwards swirling toilets. You would be forgiven for thinking it was a dream-like paradise shorn from the imagination of God, but you would be wrong. You would be ignoring about the regular shark attacks, the irregular shark attacks, the thousands of snakes, spiders, outlaw cannibals, ex-pat convicts, washed-up soap stars, and Steve Irwin’s ghost. Yes, Australia may look pretty on the surface, but underneath it is a nightmare of Cthulu proportions which will swallow your body and soul within moments of you setting foot on its scorched earth if you aren’t armed with the responses of Royal Marine Commando who specializes in Ninja tactics. Basically, unless you ARE Steve Irwin, Australia will eat you up, and look what happened to him.  Suffice to say, only the toughest or most foolhardy specimens dare to visit or emigrate the country which looks like an inverted pair of testicles from space.

Balls! Inverted balls!
Balls! Inverted balls!

Thanks to the internet, 24 hour news channels, and Neighbours, most people are aware of Australia’s dual charms and dangers. However, there is another place. A place which most people will not be as familiar with, a place whose varied dangers are inexplicably told only to those who already carve out a meager existence there, as a damning, sick reminder that you basically have no hope of getting through the day. As one of those people, and in the year where we celebrate the Centenary of the Titanic’s build and launch (yes, only our country would choose to celebrate something which caused so many deaths) I feel it is my duty to warn any potential guests to STAY AWAY from Northern Ireland.

Don't make me tell ye twice, ya wee shite
Don’t make me tell ye twice, ya wee shite

Thankfully, those aforementioned reminders can serve me in my mission to save the lives of as many gap-year travellers, and folks on a pilgrimage who think they’re Irish because their great-grandparents came (escaped) from here at some point. If you have no interest in coming here then I applaud your wisdom and send you back to your cosy, sheltered existence, but if you are one of those people who has seen images of sweeping vistas of green land, ancient castles clinging on to cliffsides, or snug little pubs with jolly locals telling stories of giants and leprechauns and want a piece of it, let me remind you first that it wants a piece of you; so, pull up a swivel chair, cellotape back those eyelids, and prepare yourself for some unsavoury viewing. This is not for the faint of heart.

9. Fireworks

I feel like I should break you in easily with this one, as it points, more than anything else, towards the stupidity level of the people you may encounter here.

People kinda like me
People kinda like me

Now I’m sure some of you naysayers will be saying that you deal with stupid people on a daily basis, and that they are harmless, but would a harmless stupid person do this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUupXdLMz24&list=UU6yFroBmcfLOLHiVq5qUD1A&index=6&feature=plcp

For those of you too lazy to click the link, the ad tells the joyous story of a computer generated arm returning to a clearly, still lit firework. The fact is, that you may be enjoying a cigarette outside one of those pubs you have fantasized about visiting and find that you left your lighter at the bar. So, knowing that the locals are friendly you ask for a light and one of these buffoons hands you firework with a millimeter of fuse left. As you feel your eyes melt down your face in the aftermath of the explosion, you’ll probably wonder why you were so stupid to ignore my advice. You will be dealing with morons and in a place where even the bushes try to eviscerate you.

Come closer, my pretties, it will only hurt for forever
Come closer, my pretties, it will only hurt for forever

You should respect the fact that these morons are not harmless, but as deadly as a grenade painted with a smiley face.

8. Prank Call

Now, I enjoy a good prank call as much as the next idiot, but here in Northern Ireland, we seem to have a bit of a fetish for it. According to the current Health and Public Safety Minister, these are costing us £3 million a year. That’s impressive for a country with a population of just over 1.5 million. It’s a well-known fact here that certain groups get entertainment out of calling the emergency services to send a patrol to a specific area, only for those emergency services to be attacked with bricks, bats, fists, bombs, and guns. Now, it isn’t just the Police who have to endure this sort of behaviour, it’s the fire and ambulance services too. Vehicles will arrive, promptly be set upon by masses of chimp-like youths, and will eventually be set on fire in some sort of bizarre pre-historic sacrificial ritual.

Goons
All Hail Lord Summerisle!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqH7mGgrbKM&feature=related

Those whose job it is to save lives will find themselves fighting for survival to escape being set alight too, as an added bonus. And it happens every. Single. Week. This advert is all the more horrific given the fact that we know those making the hoax call get so much delight out of their prank, that they will not be caught, that there’s little anyone will do to stop it, and that they will do it again.

On a similar, more embarrassing note, a recent series of shorts featuring CG characters barely capable of coherent speech has been plaguing the airwaves. You’ll notice with most of these adverts that they come with a tagline. Thee are usually cringe-inducing local lines given a new twist when set to the aftermath of something nasty. These ones simply have  – Are we getting through? Well, no and you probably never well because as the lowest of us like to say ‘We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland…and we don’t give a fuck’!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYAZFhO5CkU&list=UU6yFroBmcfLOLHiVq5qUD1A&index=2&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJckAXSj5vw&list=UU6yFroBmcfLOLHiVq5qUD1A&index=1&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXKbTc0WnXA&list=UU6yFroBmcfLOLHiVq5qUD1A&index=10&feature=plcp

You can take your pick of those, and there are plenty more. The fact that there are so many of those shorts is a pretty damning, honest indictment of an awfully common trope.

7. Abuse

Unlike some of the commercials higher on the list, those which cover domestic abuse have so far failed to hit the terrible heights which leave us as trembling wrecks. A few come close, and don’t make pleasant viewing, but fall short of making a genuine impact due to some atrocious acting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu3-dQPbSI4

Take this first one; A Billy Mitchell-lite goon screams his partner onto the floor, while a child sits terrified on the stairs, before Mitchell spots the cameraman and chases us out of the house. Now, aside from looking like he would blow over if the child farted, or would get destroyed in an arm-wrestling match by Sweetchuck from Police Academy

I'm The Daddy
I’m The Daddy

The message is clear – abuse can happen behind any closed door, between any two people. Ironically (as this isn’t what they were going for), the ad conveys the fact that the abuser, often like the school bully, does not have to be large, muscular, or even remotely scary – they can be the quiet man, the small man, the business man, the neighbourhood joker, the elderly gardener, the nurse, the policeman, the bullied, the wife. It may be more powerful by outside viewers, but for a Northern Irish person, the abuser just reminds me of the wee scumbags you’ll see on any Saturday night, strutting all of his 10 stone stature around like he’s carrying two bags of spuds under his arms, only to run away and shout from three streets away at the first sniff of retribution.

The second commercial I’ll offer hits more of the right notes, being suitably chilling without actually showing anything graphic. It’s abuse through a child’s eyes, and doesn’t suffer from bad acting or insulting localisms.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxLf3orcurg

Ah kids, love ’em or beat ’em, you can’t help but marvel at how much they pick up. What’s interesting is how the other family members react – the son seems passive, and reverts to watching TV, while mum stands in the background, looked both hurt, saddened, and scared. What I take from this is that she is more worried about getting another beating once dad finds out than the effect the abuse is having on her children. I’m sure this isn’t intended, but perhaps the commercial would have been more potent had they not shown mother or son at all. Still, it’s a dark, and necessary glimpse into an all too common problem.

6. 2012 – year of culture

I’m guessing some of you braver folks are giggling in your shirts rather than quaking in your boots at this point. So how about something a bit more visceral?

This is bound to end well
This is bound to end well

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9_42_cOm9E&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLE0702F8192E9FD97

This advert is the most recent from our famous Driving Safety advertisement board and it appears to target everyone from students on their way to class, children playing football, city workers, pensioners, and people simply trying to make it home alive from the shops. The advert is ironically called ‘Just Because’ a title chilling in its apathy; you’re laughing with your mates but suddenly get crushed into teenage pizza-why!? Just because. You’re jogging down the road whilst looking like Cordelia Chase

Don't you have an elsewhere to be!?
Don’t you have an elsewhere to be!?

but get wiped out in a cloud of gore- why, Lord, why!? Just because. You want to make drivers and pedestrians more aware of what is going on around them, but make yet another excessively graphic advert and inadvertently scare us into staying indoors and lobbing petrol bombs at any cars which pass within a hundred yards of our homes – for the love of all that is holy, why!? JUST BECAUSE.

5. Shorts

In keeping with the theme of car massacres, I would like to present some of the shorter ads we have produced over the years. Northern Ireland has a history of high road accidents and fatalities, and an equally long history of adverts warning us of the dangers of being a driver, passenger, cyclist, human. In my inadequate and drunken research for this article (Rum and Buckfast combo) I couldn’t find some of the better remembered ads from my youth, proving conclusively that someone must have stolen the originals, and all copies, and buried them in a piranha infested lava pit somewhere below the Ardyone. Luckily for this article, the DOE are still producing enough shorts to make us choke on our spuds as they pop up unexpectedly between halves of Coronation Street.

The first one isn’t too graphic, but does remind us that if (or more likely when) we hit a motorcyclist, that it isn’t just a loner biker that we’ve ticked off our bucket list, but that other family members and friends are impacted just as strongly. Fair enough, until BAM, the shot of a biker’s head falls into view, his lifeless eyes firing so many guilt arrows at us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hpPrF_ibKw

The next short starts innocently enough with a man and woman enjoying a pre-orgasm, and apparently psychic, drink together. The man sets his car keys on the bar and the woman gives him a ‘not tonight’ look for no apparent reason. We are to understand that the fact he has keys on his person means that yes, he will be getting bladdered and attempting to drive home. The woman disdainfully projects images of suffering into his brain, and joy of joys, we get to experience them too. Naturally it’s all R rated stuff; two shrieking men trapped in the wrecked shell of a car, covered in blood and glass shards, while a fire officer wonders which one to ‘cut out first’; a maimed female attempts her first gruelling steps after an apocalyptic injury; an elderly couple struggle to decide who will look after their zombie son after they are gone (presumably this is not a typical zombie-bullet-head-scenario); two police offers despair over how to break the news of a child’s death to a parent. It goes on like this to the gentle strains of a woman singing ‘just one look’ until the man decides to put his beer away. He gets some poontang, and we can all move on with our lives, trembling ever onwards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YROpAlg8oXk&feature=relmfu

The final short is one which I remember being forced upon school children. As if exams, bullies, teachers, and forbidden breasts weren’t enough to contend with, pupils had to be reminded about the true evils of texting and heterosexual relationships. Not stubby fingers, or teenage pregnancy, hell, not even STDs. No, mobile phones will kill us all because of their ability to suck us into a Final Destination zone of traffic blindness. One step onto the street without giving a look both ways will see you struck head-first by a blue van and sent flapping through the air with a QWOP leg hanging uselessly to the side.

Something has gone wrong
Something has gone wrong

As amusing as this was when we first watched it, time has a habit of letting these images creep up on you, so that before long you’re leaving the house with a carrier pigeon for communication instead of a phone, and a suit of armour instead of vintage shirt and tie.

This will also help with the bullies, but may stifle attempts at forbidden boob touching
This will also help with the bullies, but may stifle attempts at forbidden boob touching

Do we really need the explosion of gore from the boy’s mouth? Was it necessary to show the grim funeral march aftermath, accompanied by jolly 1950s pop rock? You decide, I’ll hide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXMjaxtE6LI

As an interesting bonus, this short was featured heavily on NI television, although it originated in England. It’s one for you fans of Asian-style ghost children, with snapped bones and limbs re-adjusting, or those who simply get a kick out of watching dead children sliding gently backwards up a concrete minefield. Sweet dreams:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeUX6LABCEA

Naturally, there are more, but I’m starting to feel ill. For some truly harrowing stuff, visit http://www.crashedlives.com/ which features adverts (shown on tv frequently) which are basically interviews with the parents of the recently deceased.

4. Fire Safety

Lets take a well deserved break from the streets and focus on the dangers we face indoors. One of the few lessons I remember from primary school was that woolen jumpers stick well to brick walls, especially if you throw them high enough. Another lesson I remember is never leaving a chip pan unattended, because that will ALWAYS end in choking, smoking, burning death. There are a whole host of these adverts, stretching back as far as I can remember, but the DOE really hit their stride when they announced their catchy Just Do It Nike –esque catchphrase for their Fire Safety Adverts. ‘You forgot the battery, mummy’ has been lurking around billboards and interrupting dinner time for over a decade now, in ads like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmVU0mm9fwI

or this one, where Daddy gets the blame:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kd7b2-5YpM

or this one, where every possible Summer treat is shown to be a gateway to hell:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueiKaU00quI

However, the one I want to focus on is probably the most famous, featuring a Beetlejuice-type afterlife waiting room, where victims of fire or smoke are mocked by a ghoulish receptionist. The only thing more horrific than the acting is the content:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLYaPczgChg&feature=related

Number 3: Teens, walls, legs, heads.

Leaving the fires behind, it’s time to heat things up for the top 3. And to that there is only one possibly course of action- to return to what we do best- film irritating youths getting pointlessly mutilated for our own entertainment.

Hiya!
Hiya!

Ok, I’ll admit I’m cheating a little with this one, because it’s actually two. But there is so much horror out there that I feel a duty to share as much of it as possible with you. There are quite a few similarities with this one – both feature teens getting wiped out, both feature pumping soundtracks (to appeal to the kids who like their scenes of death peppered with pop hits?) and both feature concrete wall cuddling. I’ll be the first, and probably last, to admit that here in Northern Ireland there aren’t too many places where two teens can show affection towards each other, and even though I’ve had my fair share of embraces outside a random countryside house, I don’t think it’s the norm. Anyway, all of that is simply set to contrast with the blood and guts.

Now, there’s no messing around with this one – we get about 4 seconds of plot – girl wraps legs around boy in loving road-side-top-of-wall embrace – and 1 minute of shrieking horror as boy is hammered into oblivion by somersaulting car.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU6OQVCB20o

The second begins in a similar fashion, with another slice of brick wall, country-lovin’. We know things won’t end well when the lovebirds neglect to clunk-click in the back seat. You may think that you could get away with a minor lapse in concentration, but not here in NI, where BMW drivers like to drive at high-speed up the middle of the road instead of keeping to their own lanes. Cue thirty seconds of slowed-down, ballet carnage, as skulls mash brains, faces erupt windows, a random third car arrives to make the only threesome in history no-one wants to be part of, and we’re left with the cosy image of bodies snuggled up in the back of an ambulance. And it wouldn’t be complete without the ironic strains of Samantha Mumba’s Body To Body.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4Cvg_j7hsE&list=PLE0702F8192E9FD97

Number 2. Boy, fence

As if those weren’t bad enough, one advert caused a public-kiss-between-homosexuals level of controversy when it was first shown pre-watershed (note, only idiots would be offended by a public kiss between homosexuals, but those who complained about this ad were arguably justified). As with most of these ads, viewer discretion is advised, but this one comes with a special warning due to its refusal to self-censor. This is a brilliantly made piece, a high-budget, clarity-inducing, thought-provoking sixty-something seconds, but you’ll likely only be able to stomach it once.

Like a few others on the list, it lulls the viewer in gently with an idyllic scene, and has a prominent soundtrack. Viewers are known to immediately switch over as soon as they hear the opening notes of the song which is played in the background, I dread to think what would happen if the song was played on the radio whilst driving. Actually, maybe that would be an effective deterrent. Anyway, we see a boy playing football in his back garden juxtaposed with a man finishing a football match with his mates. Everything is going well until this happens:

You can imagine what the rest of the commercial covers. For those moments when you get distracted or pissed off driving home, you owe it to yourselves to at least watch this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtJqw–DGl8

Number 1. Cats in the cradle

I feel like this post has been a little too focused on car crashes, but that will all change with our number 1 choice. For those of you outside of Northern Ireland, you probably associate the country with years of war and violence rather than abuse, fire safety, and road disasters. For those of you from Northern Ireland, over the age of twenty, you probably knew what the number 1 choice would be as soon as you saw the name of the post. Now, I know that many of you probably just scanned this post and didn’t watch all of the videos, but I implore all of you to watch this mini-epic – show it to your family, show it to your friends. Although time has moved on, and we are largely a Troubles free country (at least when compared to the past) the message is still relevant, powerful, and can really be played in any country with a history of violence. All inappropriate humour aside, it’s the single greatest thing Northern Ireland has ever produced. You’d be best avoiding the comments on this one, or any of the other uploads (finding a decent quality version is difficult), of the same commercial that you find, as they will present some of the most dire voices ever given breath.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2U4WprER7w

So maybe now you’ll think twice about coming over? No? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you 🙂

Thanks to the makers of The Simpsons, Police Academy, The NI DOE, and all the groups who created these adverts for much more than puerile entertainment purposes.

Here’s a compilation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRTm0L7FNJc

(Note: originally written in 2012)

Final Destination 2

Of all the Scream clones, or more appropriately, teen horror movies to come from the nineties and beyond, Final Destination has always been the best. It seemed likely then that it would get a sequel, and deservedly so as the first was so effective, and we want to see what has become of the survivors. As with the majority of horror sequels, the gore is increased, the deaths are more elaborate, and the plot introduces something new. And of course it is not as good. However, the makers of Final Destination 2 clearly recognise this, and rather than trying to make a superior film, they try to out-do the first in shock value and death scenes, and at times succeed, as well as making the story involving and entertaining too. Much of the tension, thematic depth, and style of the first film is lost, but it more than makes up for this with buckets of blood which will satisfy all us gore hounds.

Kimberley and her friends are leaving for Spring Break. On the highway she has a premonition of a massive pile-up and her own death, as well as the deaths of several others. She stops her car, thereby preventing her involvement with the crash, and all the cars behind her whose passengers would have been killed. A cop intervenes and she tries to explain. The pile-up occurs anyway, and her friends are killed too. Soon it becomes apparent that they have cheated death, who is now coming to pick them off one by one. Some believe this, some don’t, and Kimberley decides to find Clear rivers, the sole survivor of last year’s similar phenomenon. Together they try to stop death from getting them, but it seems that death will not be fooled so easily this time.

Like the first film, an unusual amount of other story lines could have been conceived if a certain character had done a certain thing differently. Questions of fate though are largely avoided in favour of elaborate deaths and effects, though this is still an intelligent film. As all the survivors of the car crash are connected to those who died in the aftermath of the plane crash, it may be thought that death is doing this simply to pull Clear into the open. The ripple effect may be said to be ever expanding, that soon everyone will die, and of course this is true, but while death may be stalking us all, new life ensures that we will continue to exist. The deaths here are mostly more impressive, less subtle, as some of the original deaths were slow and seemingly could have been easily avoided. Here, heads are smashed off, people are burnt and cut apart and various implements are used to deadly, and funny effect. The film moves quickly, with less emphasis on characterisation than the first had, but there are still many laughs, shocks and excitement. While the first may have instilled a genuine fear of death, this is mainly about fun and gore.

Final Destination 2

As with the first film the features are better than expected. Documentaries, deleted scenes, and games make this a worthy buy.

As always, please leave your comments on the movie and review. Is this your favourite in the series or is it a big step down from the first?