Paul Verhoeven was one of my favourite directors before I knew what a director was. Thanks to a spell of hits which I watched a lot in my youth, he was one of the first Directors whose name I knew and whose films I would hunt down. I admit I was always disappointed that the films I found weren’t outlandish, bloody action movies like the ones I loved, but when I got more into my teen years and became a more dedicated film lover I found a new appreciation for all of his work.
I think the best terms to use to describe Verhoeven’s work are ‘sleazy’, ‘controversial’, and ‘over the top’. Even in his early work pre-Hollywood, there was a dedication to depicting violence and sex in certain ways, blown out of all proportion once he landed in the US, but there has always been a tongue in cheek approach to it all which many critics have outright missed if not denied or dismissed. He has of course had more streamlined, subtle films but even those use action or violence or satire in a certain fashion.
10. Hollow Man.
One of the many revisions of The Invisible Man which has appeared over the years, this one took the 90s Blockbuster approach, merging horror, action, nifty effects and make-up, and dollops of sleaze. It’s an inevitably voyeuristic film which was a hefty success and basically allows Kevin Bacon to go Terminator on everyone, while occasionally stopping to have a spy at ladies getting undressed. If that sounds like your sort of thing, and it absolutely should, give it a go.
9. Basic Instinct.
Verhoeven took soft-core porn, sleazy thrillers, bedroom aerobics, and crazy white lady films to new artistic heights with Basic Instinct. Underneath all the iconic uncrossing of legs and gyrating searches for ice picks, it’s a sweaty, up close, ice cool thriller which shook suburbia and allowed all of our dirty secrets to bubble up to the surface. It’s silly, it’s Sweat Noir, and it made a star out of Sharon Stone. Basically every 90s softcore movie took its inspiration from this.
8. Flesh And Blood
Flesh And Blood is a film which never found its audience, yet it’s clearly ripe for re-evaluation now as a cult film. This should be streaming everywhere – it’s 80s, a mix of action, history, and romance. It’s stars Rutger Hauer. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the love interest. It was shot be Jan De Bont. The score is by Basil Poledouris. It has the Orion seal of quality. The plot is all over the place and you half expect it to be a swords and sorcery movie – it’s not, but it is a lot of fun for those viewers always on the lookout for a forgotten 80s movie.
This was the first non-US Verhoeven movie I saw, having read reviews of it in some Must See European Cinema book I had in my teens. It mentioned motorcycles, graphic violence – that was really all I needed at the time. Even in the liberal Netherlands, the film was controversial enough to cement Verhoeven’s desire to head to the US where he could explore different types of movies, and the film’s notoriety led in some part to helping Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe become more established worldwide. It’s somewhat similar to something like Y To Mama Tambien, a coming of age of sorts as three young men encounter a sexually aggressive woman who wants escape as much as they do. It’s an uncomfortable watch, not necessarily due to the sex and violence, but due to the depictions of masculinity which may be too close for comfort even now.
He doesn’t make very many movies any more, hardly a surprise given his advanced years, but when he does they always make an impact. One of Verhoeven’s gifts has always been in finding a strong female lead and getting a powerful performance out of them. That, and never shying away from tackling or courting controversy head on. In Elle it’s rape which takes centre stage, and one woman’s reaction to her ordeal. That woman is Isabelle Huppert, giving a performance which saw her receive a deserved Academy nomination. The film tows the line between disturbing and funny, and while it may be advertised as a rape revenge thriller, it’s not as seedy or horrible as those movies tend to be, instead finding Verhoeven using the subject and character to examine triumph. Nothing is ever as it seems in a Verhoeven film and Elle is no different.
5. Soldier Of Orange
The first of several War films Verhoeven made, this saw him become a huge name in his home and made the rest of the world aware of his abilities. It’s one of his most grounded films and one of those great coming of age type war movies which follows a group of friends pre, during, and post-war. It’s a great gateway movie into European cinema because it will be familiar to fans of films such as The Deer Hunter and it has a few familiar faces to not make the transition from US to non-US so alien.
4. Black Book
One of the finest all round movies of the 21st Century. I’ve written about it elsewhere on the blog, but it’s another WWII based drama which sees The Red Woman working as a Resistance Spy in the midst of Nazi horrors, a mature and twisting film largely free from the usual Satire and cynicism which put many people off Verhoeven’s films.
3. Starship Troopers
One of the most bonkers, all out fun movies of the 90s – it pits muscle-bound grunts against big-ass bugs in a giant space war. Great effects, hilarious violence, top notch action, all topped off by a memorable score and tonnes of one-liners. It feels like Robocop 2.0.
2. Total Recall
Arnie. Verhoeven. Ironside. Cox Stone. Mars. Aliens with three breasts. If I’m not me, then who the hell am I? Get ready for a surprise!
Arguably the greatest movie ever made. Unquestionably the most quotable. It’s in my personal Top Five movies of all time. It’s flawless in my eyes. If Verhoeven had only ever made this movie, he would be a legend – thankfully he made all of the others above, and a few more besides.
Let us know your Top Ten Verhoeven movies in the comments below!
Greetings, Glancers! Wrestling is not something I talk about much on my blog – mainly because I can’t be arsed writing about it as keeping up with the 100 hours a week content is a big enough pain, and because there are plenty of bloggers out there who are much more dedicated and knowledgeable than I am. Still, it has been something which has been in and out of my life for as long as I can remember. As I sit here with nothing else to write about in September, I realised that I’m quite far behind on my Wrestling viewing. Summerslam has come and gone yet I’m only just finished watching the Raw and Smackdown after Wrestlemania. And I’m at least 7 weeks behind on Impact. Avoiding spoilers is one thing; catching up is another. So I thought I’d make a little Wrestling list.
In Primary School in the late 80s and early 90s – the early years of the explosion of the WWE (then WWF) thanks to main events like Wrestlemania and Royal Rumble, many of my friends were wrestling fans and those who weren’t still got swept along by the marketing and associated toys. If I had a dubious blue style plastic ring complete with announce table and Heavyweight Belt, another friend had an even more souped up model with walkway or Titantron. Actually – here’s the one I had (I still have it):
I went away from it for a while, coming back as the Attitude era was picking up and going toe to toe with WCW. This was my second golden era as a new batch of characters reflecting the writing and tone of the time and yet they were still fighting alongside and against many of the household names from my childhood. Those large than life, yet real-life superheroes were performing entertaining feats of strength and agility that had long since been removed from much of the action movies I had also grown up on, and while the storylines rarely changed, they remained silly and pantomime enough for me to shout at the TV like a yahoo.
Wrestling has always worked in peaks and troughs. A few years after WCW collapsed and most of their talent joined Vince and Co, the Wresting world began to recess from my view – many of the new stars didn’t interest me, plots and gimmicks became too stale, and a lot of the humour and violence was lost. Now in my twenties, I had my own life to live, but as nature and life can sometimes be cyclical it wasn’t long before I started watching again, first with TNA and then back to WWE. A new and enthusiastic batch of younger, fitter, more self-aware and savvy performers had burst onto the scene and my wife (a fan from the 80s too) and kids started watching too. The speed was often increased, there was a focus on Woman’s Wrestling (particularly outside of WWE), and there was more content than every before, including Mexico and Japan’s offerings, Ring Of Honor, and now AEW and Shine/Shimmer. It was not surprise to me that many of the surviving heroes from my younger days were still hanging around, that plenty of the Attitude Era guys were getting major airtime, and that it was as fun and over the top as ever. There’s simply something comforting knowing that these people are still out there selling it every night, and with each generation a new set of heroes is born and drawn to those bright lights and four corners.
And so, in a momentary spin-off from my usual Movie and Music based lists I present my, in no way exhaustive, list of favourite Wrestlers of all time. These are my personal picks based on a mixture of character, performance, ability, and just what they’ve meant to me over the years. It is not supposed to be a best-of, and indeed many of those listed will not be the usual picks. Most though will hardly be surprising to the hardcore. I’ve tried to limit this – believe me there are many many others I would love to mention, but hardly anyone will read this anyway and those who do will likely be bored by the time they reach this sentence. I’m doing this off the top of my head too, so I guarantee that within five minutes of publishing it I’ll remember one of my absolute favourites that I’ve somehow missed. So lets just get on with it. In alphabetical order:
Made of of Faarooq and Bradshaw, also known as The Acolytes, The APA were a no nonsense, tough as nails tag team who would just as quickly take your money in a game of poker as beat you in the ring. Faarooq (Ron Simmons) had been a successful solo wrestler, winning the WCW Heavyweight Championship, but it wasn’t until he paired with Bradshaw as part of The Undertaker’s Acolytes group that both men’s career’s took off. After splitting off from The Dead Man, they continued as the APA – a shady, money focused business racket and would go on to win their third Tag Team Championship, in between acting as bodyguards for whoever needed (could pay for) them.
AJ Styles was known for his hybrid style wrestling during his tenure with TNA and became one of their most valuable assets. As the Company’s fortunes began to sour, he jumped ship like many others. His final piece of characterization on TNA hinted heavily that the real AJ was not happy – growing his hair, beard, and becoming a loose cannon biker type. There was still some interesting stuff as he refused to get involved in the Aces & Eights war (for my money the most interesting stable of the last decade) and then suffering through a dubious title split thanks to Dixie Carter. After losing his match against Magnus to ‘reunify’ the two heavyweight title (don’t ask), AJ left the Company.
AJ’s earliest matches in TNA in the various X Division battles are the stuff of legend – pitted against similar high-flyers like Christopher Daniels, Petey Williams, and Chris Sabin, as well as great feuds with Kurt Angle, Abyss, and Samoa Joe, AJ was one of the most consistent and successful names on the books. That success has only grown since moving to WWE as he quickly became Smackdown Champion and held the title for a year. Recently he has been drifting between characters to see what sticks, currently as some sort of heel after a decent feud with Randy Orton. AJ has one of the most varied move sets in WWE at the moment and consistently looks fresh when viewed alongside many of the other big hitters with a much more limited series of moves, and is equally comfortable on the mat and in the air.
Austin Aries is arguably my favourite wrestler of my own third generation of viewing (generations based on my intro post). His gimmicks have changed over the years and he remains a highly divisive figure among fans and promotions. Nevertheless, the one thing which both fans and detractors call out year upon year is his ego – no matter whether good guy, bad guy, or somewhere in between, it’s his ego which stands out. From The Belt Collector to The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, A Double has provided many of my favourite moments in Wrestling in the last ten years, not least his creation of ‘Option Three’, beating Bobby Roode, and his stint fighting Aces & Eights. A six time X Division Champion, Aries – likes Styles – has a varied collection of moves and ways to antagonize his opponent which never fail to get a laugh out of me.
Aries moved to WWE with a hefty amount of heat behind him, but it always seemed like NXT and WWE didn’t really know what to do with him. I’m not sure of what happened behind the scenes but the two never seemed to click even though on the surface he’s exactly the sort of character – Heel or Face – that the company desperately needs. A promising start led to an injury which pushed him into commentary for a while, before an unsuccessful run at the Cruiserweight 205 Live belt seemed to sour things. Aries returned to Impact again, destroying Eli Drake in what I hoped signalled a return to success for the Company. While the Company’s fortunes seem to be turning, slowly, Aries didn’t last long and left after losing his Heavyweight title in the now infamous Bound For Glory headliner. That particular feud was one of the strangest I’ve ever witnessed with multiple reports conflating and conflicting what was real or planned or scripted and where lines blurred. In any case, Aries is no longer part of Impact or WWE, and the wrestling world is poorer for it, though he’s still lurking in the Indies and MLW. Any chance AEW? (Note, Aries has since given his turn of events in a recent interview with Killer Kross which makes for great reading).
Tag Teams can be hit and miss for me, usually built on some silly gimmick which instantly annoys me or sours quickly. Beer Money was one of the exceptions – an extension of what the APA stood for and acting like a couple of Stone Colds – beer drinking, hard hitting badasses who consistently got the job done. Made up of Bobby Roode and James Storm, the long-haired coupling who had worked against each other before in Team Canada (with Petey Williams and Eric Young) and America’s Most Wanted (with Gail Kim and Chris Harris). The pairing always felt natural and a combination sass and power, with the no fucks given attitude of Austin. Feuds with the Motor City Machine Guns, Team 3D, and the Main Event Mafia consolidated their prowess and influence but it was with Ric Flair’s revamped Four Horsemen – Fortune, that the group took off for me.
From there the group turned Heel to Face and then began branching out as dedicated solo performers. This in turn led to one of my favorite sequences in TNA as both Roode and Storm competed in Bound For Glory for the Heavyweight Championship. Roode was cheated out of victory by Kurt Angle, but Storm was then given a shot and won the title. Being best mates, Storm gave Roode a title shot only for Roode to turn heel and smash a beer bottle over Storm to win the championship. That was essentially the end. Both competitors went one to become personal favourites on their own, with Roode moving to WWE to glorious success and Storm remaining at Impact for a while, selling the likes of EC3 before moving to the newly reformed NWA.
What’s not to love about The Boogeyman? A horrendous and misguided misrepresentation of Lord knows what, he was the latest in a long line of GABBO-esque viral advertising, built up with creepy surprise promos for weeks until he was finally unleashed. And he was… what? Some Baron Samedi-looking ogre with a penchant for live worms and alien voodoo, yet for all the hype and shrieking he never truly amounted to anything or achieved much. He has hyped as the next super-freak, and then faded away to randomly appear in Raw Reunions for larfs. Imagine of Bray Wayatt’s latest incarnation had had a single match after all of those Sesame Street skits we saw, then was never seen again – that’s kind of like what happened to The Boogeyman. What a waste.
This is going to be the most surprising inclusion in my list, but I genuinely think Chad Gable is the best all round athlete on WWE at the moment. While they persist in pushing gimmick based tag teams (New Day/Viking Raiders), completely bland tag teams (The Revival), and the more showy high fliers (Ricochet/Aleister Black), Chad Gable seems to be consistently sidelined. They haven’t quite figured out what to do with him – to me he’s the next natural Kurt Angle and just needs that one-liner or character change to truly break out. He had a decent run alongside Bobby Roode but they weren’t given any interesting storylines or teams to feud with – the same can be said for his stint with Jason Jordan (remember him?) Gable’s skills can’t be argued against – he is a former Olympian and is one of only two people to hold the NXT, Smackdown, and Raw Tag belts. He has seen a recent upturn by almost going all the way in the revamped King Of The Ring tournament (apparently – I still haven’t caught up to that point yet at time of writing). I’m not sure the whole Shorty G thing is going to work – it’s about time he got taken seriously as a hero figure instead of the constant drifting between Roman and Seth. He does need extra skills on the mike, but that only comes with extra time in the spotlight.
Diamond Dallas Page
A hero and inspiration to many, DDP’s exploits are far reaching and famous. Already clearly a good guy and well thought of within the business, his work with helping to rehabilitate wrestlers, athletes, soldiers, and anyone else was highlighted in the excellent Jake The Snake movie. In the ring, he was one of the major draws in the latter days of WCW, only starting to wrestle at the ripe old age of 35. It was a few years after he started that he began to make waves on television, feuding with Eddie Guerrero, NWO, and the Macho Man before truly ‘making it’. After winning several titles he made the move to WWE where he won another two championships. His Diamond Cutter probably remains my favourite cutter in the business.
Where Gable is my pick for ‘should be much bigger than he is’, DJZ was my pick a few years ago for the next big thing. Along with a number of newer high-fliers from Impact such as Andrew Everett, DJZ has all the tools to be huge. A series of injuries has hit him, almost killed him, but he keeps coming back. A clear risk taker, he pulls out moves you’ve never seen before and does the classics with style, as well as being great on the mike. He has the pretty boy snarl to be a popular heel, and has the comic chops to be a cult face. He has had numerous successful runs on Impact, from his early days as Zima Ion eventually picking up the X Division Belt then a funny turn as part of the Bro Mans with Jessie Godderz, Robbie E, and Robbie T when he adopted the DJZ persona. If you’ve never seen an Ultimate X match, or an X division match in general with DJZ, you don’t know what you’re missing. Since leaving Impact, he has moved to NXT and will hopefully make a push onto one of the main brands – they need more interesting heels than Corbin.
Out of all the tag-teams borne out of the Attitude Era, there were really only two who mattered to me – The Hardyz and these guys. They feuded on and off for years, along with Edge and Christian, in their infamous tables, ladders, and chairs matches – the very matches which really sucked me in during my second phase of viewing. Happy to be ‘the bad guys’ up against the pretty and heroic Hardy Brothers, Devon and Bubba were bruisers, adorned in snow camo-trousers, and always ready to smash you through a table or headbutt you in the groin. The team also transitioned over to TNA but it was Bubba (who became Bully Ray) who had the most single competitor success. He would be one of the front running heels for a few years in TNA – his story with Aces & Eights, Brooke Hogan, and Dixie Carter reaching melodramatic, can’t miss Soap Opera issues. As a team they were very fluid – they never looked like high fliers but would frequently be seen hanging off a ladder or leaping off the top rope just like their biggest rivals, and they had the shoot snark to go along with their in ring talents.
It’s difficult to think of a more popular villain in all of wrestling – maybe Triple H? Ric Flair of course? Guerrero transcended the Heel role, becoming more of a scoundrel or loveable rogue through his ‘lying, cheating, and stealing’ and finally becoming an outright icon for good. When in WCW, along with Benoit, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko as The Radicalz they took their long standing relationships and became a successful stable. The group left WCW shortly before the company collapsed and all four men went on to varying degrees of success with Vince and Co. It was Eddie who stood out as the pantomime character – his Lucha Libre stylings were mostly unique in the company and he had a knack for pre-memes, thanks to ‘mamacita’, ‘Latino Heat’, and other terms which caught on. It was rare that he ever got a clean win, forcing numerous disqualifications by tricking the officials and becoming romantically involved with the likes of Chyna and Vicky. His womanizing persona won over the crowd, leading to multiple titles, but his physical ability earned his respect, with many fans and fellow wrestlers calling him one of the best of all time. With at least 10 WWE championships, two from WCW, and multiple from other promotions, it’s difficult to argue against that fact.
As mentioned in some of my other entries, Benoit was one of the most successful performers to transition between WCW and WWE, his Air Canada and Crippler Crossface particularly devastating, and his alignment with Perry, Dean, and Eddie a long-lasting winning partnership. Of course every wrestling fan knows that it all ended in tragedy and horror, and I get the impression that there is a lot more about this story and the general physical and mental strain which the Business can cause that will come out in the future. When he was alive, Benoit was one of the best in-ring performers in the world. He may not have been the most electrifying on the mic but his dedication and skills always paid off, leading to one of the most emotional WWE World Heavyweight wins I’ve ever seen. In his time in the two main promotions, he was a two time WCW tag champion, 1 time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, 3 time TV champ, 2 time US Champ, 4 time WWE Tag champ, 4 time Intercontinental champ, 3 time WWE US Champ, and 1 time Royal Rumble Winner.
Eli Drake came to the forefront just as TNA/Impact was on ‘the turn’. It was losing money, viewers, and performers left, right, and centre and Eli Drake quickly bcame noticed as the best mike performer thanks to his early Dummy button gimmick. His catchphrases quickly caught on with the crowd and he became a fan favourite. In many ways I would say Drake is the best mike man since The Rock, someone who has clearly influenced his persona and energy. Drake is not always the most elegant in the ring, but his connection to the crowd and series of devasting moves ensured his matches are always entertaining. He was certainly a major part of keeping the promotion alive during a number of transitory periods, earning several championships and teaming with a variety of stars from Drew Galloway, Scott Steiner, and Jessie Godderz and feuding with Grado, The Broken Hardeyz, and El Patron. Just as he was struggling to find a new outlet and form in his final months in Impact, he parted ways during some controversy surrounding his feelings about intergender wrestling, with Sami Callahan picking up the mantle. Drake is now with NWA, but would be another great fit for AEW or WWE thanks to his hilarious skills in front of the camera. I get the feeling, like EC3 and many others, that WWE wouldn’t know what to do with him.
For my money, Gail is the greatest female wrestler of all time. At the very least she is my favourite. Great on the mat, in the air, on the mike, and with a flexible move-set, she was part of the first true explosion in woman’s wrestling. Always creative in her matches, her long-running feuds with the likes of Awesome Kong, The Beautiful People, and Taryn Terrell remain some of the most electrifying matches you’ll ever see. Even though she won the Woman’s Championship in her first match in WWE, her time with them was not the most fruitful with Kim accusing the company of not knowing what to do with female talent, and specifically Asian talent. Equally alluring a performer as Heel or Hero, Kim relished both positions but as time went on the crowd were less convinced to see her as a bad guy, such was the respect they had for her. She bowed out of competition this year as a seven time TNA Knockouts Champion, selling Tess Blanchard as the next generation. It’s unfortunate now given how Women’s Wrestling has gone from strength to strength that so few wrestling fans, blinded by the glitz of WWE, know who Gail Kim is and that so few of today’s performers would be where they are without he accomplishments. Gail now works backstage on Impact, popping up every so often in front of the camera.
There were a couple of major draws for me when WCW came to Channel 5 in the UK in the late 90s. I knew the big names who had been around the block for the company and of course those convinced to join from the WWE. Goldberg I knew nothing about, until I saw him on Channel 5, learned about the undefeated strike, and watched him in action myself. The guy was simply unstoppable. A powerhouse who would regularly shred opponents to pieces thanks to his Jackhammer and the best Spear in the game. Unfortunately this was around the time he kept being hit by injuries, and within a couple of years the company folded. Goldberg would eventually move over to WWE, the 1 wrestler I most wanted to see make the move, and he continued from where he left off, feuding with the best and going on another streak. His most ntoable feud was against Triple H and pals as he successfully won the World Heavyweight Championship and defended it against all manner of usual HHH shenanigans. I’m still bitter Kane didn’t win the title, but HHH gets what HHH wants. After losing the belt, Goldberg had a brief feud with Brock Lesnar before leaving the company – a feud which would be picked up again years later. There have been few performers as explosive as Goldberg – it’s a shame injuries prevented him from making a longer-lasting impact.
The Hardy Boyz
The Attitude Era was all about 90s cool, but it wasn’t always the easiest task making the ‘roided up, beefcakes of the 80s seem all that appealing to the post-grunge, post-meta 90s landscape. Enter The Hardy Boyz, sleeve tats, punk ethos, dyed hair, piercings, and they didn’t look like superheroes. They almost looked like, with a little bit of training, you or I could match up to them. Crucially, they brought a rarely before seen high-flying, daredevil style to wrestling which took the business to a new level; it wasn’t just muscle bound freaks you could lift a limo with one hand while choking out a rhino with the other. It was guys like you or me who could run, climb, flip, and dive of twenty foot ladders through cunningly placed tables like no-one’s business. I credit WWE’s continued success at the tale end of the century and into the next, to these guys and The Rock, for changing the game like no others. You knew every match was going to be an event, a spectacle, and you knew you were going to see violence the likes of which was usually reserved for Hong Kong movies. Matt and Jeff would continue across multiple promotions, both as a team and as solo competitors, trying new personas such as Jeff’s Willow and Matt’s Broken Hardy, culminating in such madness as lawnmower jaunts in the grounds of the Hardy complex, and sentient drones.
He’s still the most famous of them all, right? Even though his fame has been tinted by a lot of awful personal stuff and stories which have come to light, nobody quite embodies the unique pantomime/gladiator lore as Hulk Hogan.
Jake The Snake
If Hulk was generally known for standing up for all that was good, right, and American, then Jake The Snake was known for, well, having a giant ass snake in a sack. Jake never was able to translate one of the most unique gimmicks into Championship success, but he remained one of the most popular and visible stars of wrestling throughout the 80s and into a less decisive 90s. He was the first WWE figure I wanted to buy – in those days that particular toy range each had a special move – a button to make them kick or slam etc. Jake’s was a fist you could pull back on a spring and release. I chipped my tooth thanks to this fist, within days of purchase. His Resurrection documentary is a great watch, a fantastic insight into the man and the business, and his appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast is a must listen for any Wrestling fan.
My all time favourite Wrestler. People love The Undertaker – I love The Undertake, but The Dead Man’s brother appealed to the adolescent underling in me and ticked all the right boxes. He was a towering behemoth, a horror movie villain, a mute and seemingly indestructible powerhouse with a move-set which mimicked his brother’s, with a few twists of its own. Plus he could conjure fire. I don’t think The Company ever gave Kane his due, and still don’t. At minimum they should be wheeling him out each Royal Rumble as an opportunity for him to eliminate a few people and act as an opportunity for one of the up and comers to take him out and make a name for themselves. Too often, Kane has been used specifically to sell someone the company wanted to push and too often has he been used purely to make someone else look good, without allowing him to shine himself. No, his ten plus tag team championships and two time Heavyweight belts aren’t enough. He still holds PPV appearance and Royal Rumble Elimination records, but like a certain Austrian bodybuilder before him, a life in politics has taken him away from his true calling – beating the shit out of people for my entertainment. He still has a couple of good runs in him.
As The Hardy Boys made waves for their high-flying antics in and out of the ring, a young woman by the name of Lita came to prominence by helping out Essa Rios, a new Lucha fighter. He was okay, but she caught the eye thanks to her gritty punk style, good looks, and her top rope moonsault. It seemed inevitable that she would become the anti-poster girl for WWE, feuding with the more traditional upstarts like Torrie Wilson and Trish Stratus. Lita and Trish’s bouts were the first authentic female matches the brand had, and while they still had their fair share of underwear related matches (no complaints from me at the time), it was clear than Lita was spearheading a new movement and proving women could be just as good, and just as much of a legitimate draw, as the men.
I mentioned Kane as my all time favourite, but it’s Undertaker who understandably gets the headlines. He’s been seemingly around forever, he changed the game when it comes to entrances, gimmicks, back story, and he managed to evolve with the business numerous times to remain one of the biggest draws in the business. A character of effortless cool, who doesn’t get a chill down their spine when that bell first tolls, or when you wait in anticipation for the dead man to rise, sit up after being hit with a finisher only to deliver a hellish chokeslam and tombstone of his own? Sure he’s retired about 12 times now, and is last few one off matches haven’t exactly inspired confidence, but when all is said and done he’ll be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
Speaking of all time greats, Sting was the man who kept both WCW and TNA afloat for decades, the one man WWE wanted but couldn’t get. From his bleach blond roots to his conversion to his Crow persona he was a mainstay on ‘the other wrestling promotion’ and a source of respect to everyone in the business. It should have been big news when Sting finally made the jump to WWE, except he suffered a career ending injury in basically his first match, and that was that. When I watched WCW in the early 90s, Sting was to WCW what Hogan was to WWE – bigger than life, heroic, and with a series of moves which been adopted by others while keeping the name he gave them – The Stinger Splash, the Scorpion Death Lock etc. His move to The Crow look, and the related storylines, is one of the best character changes in Wrestling history. Whether as part of NWO, as a heroic face, or in his TNA days, Sting was number one and picked up 6 WCW Heavyweight Belts, 3 WCW tag titles, 2 WCW USA championships, 5 TNA World Titles, and become a two time Hall Of Famer.
The Ultimate Warrior
If I’m honest, I was always more partial to The Ultimate Warrior than Hulk when I was younger. He looks ridiculous in retrospect, but in the 80s and early 90s, The Ultimate Warrior was essentially a real life He-Man. How could anyone have that much manic energy and have so many muscles? The combination of colour and ability made him an obvious stand-out performer. Since his death, a whole lot of rumours and stories and true accounts have come out about the man behind the war paint which have certainly soured his legacy, but as in in-ring performer and a major foil for Hulkamania, there have been few better.
One of the first images I ever remember seeing on a Wrestling Magazine was of Foley, as Cactus Jack, face bloodied and head wrapped in barbed wire. As an already devout action movie and horror fan, I needed this in my life. I already knew Cactus Jack, but only through the heavily censored footage I had seen – they were the matches that were ‘too violent for TV’ or they ‘used REAL violence’ as opposed to what I already knew was fake in the industry. It wasn’t until Foley moved to WWE, initially as Mankind,that I got to see his brutal matches without cut always or censorship. Chair shots, trashcan lids, staples, bats, and everything else were employed in the early days as Mankind started pissing off The Undertaker, kick-starting one of the all-time great feuds. That of course culminated with Paul Bearer dropping Taker, a number of first-time matches (Buried Alive, Boiler Room) and of course the infamous Hell In A Cell encounter – frequently highlighted as the greatest match of all time. No matter what persona Foley adopted, his characters were always quirky and filled with repeatable one-liners. There have been few equal to Foley’s mic skills and knack for getting the crowd on board, and there aren’t many true innovators of violence more influential than him.
We go from one of the best mic-talkers, to the best there has ever been. You go back and watch old promos from the best in the business, to the 80s, and they are almost all ridiculous. Cheesy, hammed up, and amusing, charming, and dated in their ways. You shake your head and wonder how you enjoyed the stuff at the time. Then you watch The Rock and he just continues to blow everyone else away. His lightning fast speeches, his hilarious interruptions, his timeless one-liners and whip-smart humour – he single-handedly destroyed the old guard promos and challenged every other wrestler on the planet to just bring it with even half the skill and style he did. No-one has met the challenge yet. Of course, that would be nowt without in-ring ability.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
As much as I love Kane’s booming intro, there are two pieces of music/sounds which sit at the top of the pile as perfect heralds for incoming mayham. The Undertaker’s doom coloured death knell chime, and the explosion of glass which signals Stone Cold’s manic march to the ring. These two pieces are as perfect as you can get – both symbolizing the character, both instantly recognizable. In this day and age of symbols and memes and endless sharing, the impact that a single sound can have around the planet has never been higher and even now, years after Stone Cold has retired, that crash sends audiences into a frenzy as he heads down to burst open a few cold ones and stun whichever poor sod happens to be in the ring at the time. An all round bad-ass, a good talker, and with one of the most sudden and devastating finishers in the business, while Austin was injured and forced out before his time, he still notched up 14 championships in WWE as well as three Royal Rumble wins and is of course a Hall Of Famer – he picked up a few in WCW too.
As far as, for lack of a more respectful term, joke teams go Too Cool dropped at the right team. While the Attitude era has a little more saucy, a little more hardcore, there was also a lot of room for fun and nonsense. Too Cool exemplified this, with their wide-eyed gazes, dances, Rikishi love, and worms. Everybody enjoyed mimicking their moves and they were popular enough to win the tag championship twice. Today’s most popular teams such as The New Day have a lot to thank Too Cool for.
Maybe the greatest of all factions – New World Order went through various incarnations and saw the likes of Sting, The Big Show, The Million Dollar Man, Bischoff, The Macho Man, Konan, Jeff Jarrett, Bret Hart and many others involved, but it was the mainstays and instigators – Hogan, Hall, and Nash – who created and solidified their legacy. Coming in like a group of thugs, seeing Hogan turning Heel and wanting to take over the business. They were the team, and the main reason, most people tuned in to Nitro over Raw in the 90s and remain one of the most influential groups in Wrestling history.
One of the first ‘big men’ who was a complete all rounder – grappler, bruiser, high-flyer, as adapt off the ropes as he was lethal with submissions, Joe was one of TNA’s finest villains. Since moving to WWE he hasn’t managed the same level of impact, usually reduced to more heel plots where he tends to ‘get personal’ with friends and family members but is still clearly a fan favourite in the company. His feuds with Angle, AJ, Magnus, and a good guy turn versus Aces & Eights saw him as one of TNA’s most respected and successful performers, picking up nine championships before earning another four in WWE.
A man whose entire character seemed to be based on a single gimmick – a ridiculous one – somehow manager to build on that to become one of the most entertaining talkers in both WWE and Impact. That gimmick? Quite simply, he would announce himself when he had a match, hurling out his name (similar to ‘Best In The World Shane McMahon’), then pause for a couple of seconds, then repeat his surname. That’s it – Mr Kennedy….. Kennedy. It was nonsense, but somehow it worked. I used to head out to bars on a Saturday night – metal bars mostly – and after a drink too many I would mimic his shout. Without fail, some other drunken loon would repeat ‘Kennedy’ before I could. He’s infamously the only person to lose the Money In The Bank briefcase before cashing in, but he did become USA Champ and Two Time Heavyweight Champ in TNA.
Frequently called out as the best all round Wrestler of all time, it wasn’t always plain sailing for Angle. He had a rough time in his early days in WWE, not coming across well to fans, but thanks to feuds with Eddie Guerrero and honing in on his comedy skills, he eventually won the universe over, then allowing his obvious in ring talent to shine. For someone who won an Olympic Gold Medal with a broken freaking neck, his success was inevitable. In many ways his most thrilling matches were with TNA, where he decided to go for more daredevil moves and being part of some of the best solo and group feuds in the company’s history. He has of course returned to, and retired from WWE due to many legitimate neck injuries, but he leaves behind a career which saw him pick up 6 TNA Heavyweight Championships, 1 X Division Title, 2 TNA Tag Titles, 2 WCW belts, two Hall Of Fame medals, and for WWE – 5 Heavyweight, 1 Tag Title, 1 Euro Champ belt, 1 Hardcore Belt, and 1 Intercontinental Champ. Presumably he’ll pick up the 24/7 belt at some point.
There you go – my favourite wrestlers ever, from the top of my head. I know I’ve missed some of the most famous and plenty of the current stars – but let me know in the comments who would be on your list!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age since I’ve done one of these, so I decided to fall back on what I know best – horror movies. You can’t talk about the history of Horror movies without talking about George A Romero. Few film-makers can truly be said to have changed the game, especially within the horror genre, but Romero was one of those few. Taking the zombie sub-genre out of its voodoo/mind control past and turning it into something completely different, making the living dead mindless pastiches of whatever was going on in society at the time and making their main desire to chomp upon living flesh. Romero created the modern zombie and almost all of its rules and tropes, and his original trilogy is still the high-bar against which everything else is measured.
Romero wasn’t just a zombie guy but his films were always about something once you smeared away the surface. He retained an indie ethos from day one until the end and embodies the true spirit of story-telling and film-making – to pick up a camera and tell a story while ignoring the pressures of money making and business. Typically always based in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Romero’s films didn’t shy away from showing the lives and struggles of real people – the blue-collar types he knew so well, nor was he afraid of revealing their dark side. He wasn’t one for sugar-coating or creating an ensemble of working class heroes – he was clued in enough to know that, given the right or wrong situation, the young, old, rich, poor, were equally capable of making heroic or monstrous decisions.
Watching any interview with Romero or with those who worked with him, it’s clear the guy had a love for stories, for life, and for making people squirm in the face of gore or uncomfortable truths. His passing marked the end of a generation and we may never see his like again.
A movie I came to quite late because most of Romero’s non-Dead movies can be a pain to find. This is a lot of fun, and a different type of movie you might expect – the humour more overt and darker than a gallon of gore. A sort-of attack on Corporations and the empty, faceless lives of the executive class, it’s the tale of a man reduced to a blank slate allowing him to live out his murderous fantasies.
There aren’t enough movies about jousting, especially ones which replaces the horses with motorcycles. That’s…. that’s pretty much all the recommendation you should need. It reunites some of the guys from Dawn Of The Dead, stars Ed Harris, and features a little seen Stephen King cameo.
8. Monkey Shines
This is another one of those movies which was/is quite difficult to get your hands on, at least over here. Twenty years into his career, this was Romero’s first major Studio film and if anything he can be guilty of over-reaching and trying to pack in as much ‘stuff’ as possible. While the rest of the horror world in the late 80s were ironically pulling Romero-esque gore fests and comedies, Romero instead opted for a thriller with a bizarre premise – that of a wheelchair bound former athlete who gets a helper monkey (pray…for… Mojo) which in turn becomes psychotically attached to the man. They don’t make them like that anymore. For such a silly idea, there are creepy moments and Jason Beghe heads up the little known cast with a convincing performance. Stanley Tucci appears in a minor role – you wonder if Romero had got some bigger names (though I can’t see many A-Listers jumping on board with a screenplay such as this) maybe the film would have been more successful and opened a few more doors.
7. The Dark Half
Romero and King always seemed like two peas in a pod – socially and politically conscious blood and guts shovellers with a keen sense of dark and often zany humour. It makes sense then that they would conspire to work together, on multiple occasions. This time, Romero helms a straight adaptation of one of King’s more outlandish novels – the tale of a writer (of course) whose pen-name alter-ego seemingly comes to life with murderous intent, not happy being retired as the writer pursues a more literary career. It’s a great premise and King pulls it off in the novel while Romero gives it a decent stab for the big screen. He is ably helped by several against type performances – Timothy Hutton as both Thad Beaumont and George Stark and Michael Rooker as the heroic Alan Pangborn. Veterans such as Royal Dano and Julie Harris also show up. It’s a pleasingly dark and grimy film, though it rarely racks up any real scares or tension even as it produces some effective gore. My King mega friend from school and I used to pass this around in VHS form to each other and frequently scrawl ‘the sparrows are flying again’ on the classroom walls.
6. Land Of The Dead
In 2005 the impossible happened – Romero returned with another entry in the Dead series. Enough time had passed that the people who grew up with his movies now had a more influential voice – a voice loud enough to rightfully proclaim Romero as the legend he was. I remember the hype surrounding this when it approached release – heightened by a couple of factors; first, that zombies were suddenly cool again thanks to 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and secondly that Romero was actually making another movie. It had been five years since Bruiser – which no-one really saw, and that had come seven years after The Dark Half. He had only made two movies in fourteen years and now he was back to show the youngsters how the zombie genre should be done, this time with a big budget to play with. With all of that hype, Land Of The Dead was maybe a disappointment to some when it dropped – I saw it at release and loved it, though I admittedly knew it wasn’t as strong as the first three. Still, it was a lot of fun and had some great performances and cameos – Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and the opportunity to see Romero’s work getting the love on the big screen was enough for me. There’s enough juicy satire to gnaw on – issues of class, wealth, and power are all touched upon, and of course there is a tonne of gore and action to enjoy.
I’d loved Romero films (namely those below) for a while before I really understood what a director was and how to find their body of work. Once I did, Martin was one of the first movies I tracked down thinking ‘first he did zombies, I wonder what he can do with vampires’. I was a little bewildered by Martin at first, though savvy enough to still enjoy it. Martin is a strange, powerful, and thought-provoking low budget film about a young man who believes he is the reincarnated spirit of a vampire. Or maybe not even reincarnated, that he has been a vampire for many many years, beyond what his body would lead you to believe. The film opens with a bleak and downbeat scene as Martin stalks and kills a woman on a train – he has no fangs and no apparent supernatural abilities and so resorts to drugging his victims and cutting them with a razor blade. At first it looks like he is a deluded psychopath, until we meet his grand-uncle whose fears seem to give validity to the claims. The old man is forced to look after Martin after Martin’s parents die, yet he clearly believes Martin to be a vampire as he hangs garlic and crucifixes around the house – to no avail.
There’s enough there to make for an interesting, grimy horror flick in itself but Romero adds further layers – Martin is obviously sexually frustrated and lonely, finding solace through calls to a local DJ, and Martin becomes a cult favourite to the audience of this radio show. We get to see romanticized flashbacks or dreams of Martin’s past exploits as a vampire, and it is never clear what the truth is. All we know is that he is clearly dangerous, and probably deranged. The longer cut of the movie gives even more detail about Martin and his relationships. It’s a shame the film is so low-budget – John Amplas is about as recognisable a name as you’ll get here, though he’s only recognisable from his small role in Day Of The Dead. It’s a film which is now heralded as one of the most unique vampire movies and is one which deserves a wider audience.
There’s something comforting about Creepshow for horror fans. It could be that you grew up with the movie and it has a certain nostalgia, or it could be that you grew up with the EC Comics and the film is a love-letter to those. It could simply be that the film is a lot of fun and was made by two of the greatest contributors, fans, and masters of the genre that there has ever been and that their adoration for horror shines through. King and Romero teamed up to craft an anthology – maybe the strongest anthology there is – inspired by the creepy and gruesome comics and stories they grew up with. They tell the stories through the eyes of a child, fascinated with the macabre and gory, and shunned by those who don’t understand. It’s probably a position all horror fans have been in at some point – being shamed for loving what we love, being kept away from it against our will, and being punished for being different. It’s a clever ploy which helps to make Creepshow an ideal gateway movie for kids just getting into the genre.
None of that would matter if the stories themselves weren’t great. None of the stories are weak – some are clearly better than others, some are more reliant on laughs (although all have some element of humour, dark as it may be), but all have something memorable. It gets off to a strong start with a story written by King specifically for the film – Father’s Day – in which the zombie of a miserly old man comes back to take bloody revenge on the daughter who killed him and the various descendants who want his money. It features a terrific zombie crawling out of the grave scene and some nifty effects and make-up courtesy of Tom Savini (who else?). It’s the same sort of revenge story who tend to see a lot in horror anthologies, but it’s a lot of fun.
The next segment is my least favourite, as King himself stars as a backwater hick who slowly becomes infected by some alien plant organism. King’s antics are both funny and cringe-worthy and the story is an amusing filler, even if it does feature a shotgun-based suicide. Something To Tide You Over is my second favourite and maybe the one which stood out most to me when I first saw it as a kid, thanks to the twist and cynical tone. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, but I always remembered this and the next story. It’s about a man, played by Leslie Nielsen of all people, who subjects his wife and her lover to a terrifying demise; after finding out about their infidelity, he buries them up to their necks on the beach outside his home, then watches and gloats as the tide gets every closer. This being Creepshow, the dead soon return with their own plan for revenge. Ted Danson and Dawn Of The Dead’s Gaylen Ross star as the couple – great stuff from Savini again.
The Crate is the best segment here, genuinely creepy and – again – a lot of fun. It’s about a professor who finds a long-lost crate from an Arctic expedition. Naturally, the crate houses some sort of creature which begins killing and eating anyone who comes near. Another professor sees this as the ideal solution to the problem of his drunk, abusive wife – the great Adrienne Barbeau. Finally, They’re Creeping Up On You isn’t the best story but it has a strange atmosphere and something sickly which has always freaked me out a little. I don’t care about bugs or cleanliness or any of the other paranoia which goes on in the story, but still there’s something about the story which gets to me. E.G Marshall hams it up as businessman who lives in a hermetically sealed apartment – he only contact with the outside world to shout orders to his staff and receive calls from disgruntled people saying how much he is hated. Then the cockroaches come. It’s the atmosphere – maybe it’s the fact that we don’t really know if the time is future, present, past – it could be some apocalyptic time and place, or it could be modern day. Mad Max is the only film to play a similar trick on me.
3. Day Of The Dead
For a long time this was seen as the black sheep of Romero’s Dead trilogy. In truth, it isn’t as culturally important or revolutionary as the first two, but show me a trilogy where each individual film changes the game. I’d say the original trilogy comes closest. While Day Of The Dead may not be as important, it’s still better than almost any other zombie movie and it ranks as having some of the best gore effects you’ll ever see. There’s no excuse for this to have not won an Oscar. Moreover, the claustrophobic setting and cast of characters are just as interesting as the previous two movies and if anything both are taken to extremes. As it’s Romero, there are themes upon themes, the most front and centre being the the war between military and science, war and understanding, thought and action, science and superstition. Taking that to its extreme, it’s a film about the dangers of two opposing sides unwilling to consider the position of the other, the fallout, and those caught in the middle. There just happens to be millions of zombies lurking around to pile on the pressure. Two underground factions struggling for control while the mindless masses just want the whole thing to end? No, that’s not politically or culturally relevant at all.
The sad thing is, the end product, which everyone involved in should be immensely proud of, was not Romero’s original vision. His original was meant to be an epic – the zombie film to end them all. Various earlier scripts tell a vastly different story and his original script has yet to be found. What we do have is perhaps cluttered by too many characters, but the surviving ambition and various themes and elements of the original idea are present – the Zombies potentially learning, remembering, or getting smarter, and the idea of a police/military State. Lori Cardille is great as the lead, the intro is incredibly unnerving, and Joseph Pilato is fantastic as Capt. Rhodes. As much as the story and the warring factions are interesting, it’s the setting and the effects which are the star here – sloppy innards dropping off tables, legs being choked on, and my personal favourite – the quickfire dispatch of Rickles and Torrez – screaming, laughing faces being ripped apart and heads removed. I don’t think The Walking Dead has topped that one yet.
2. Night Of The Living Dead
It’s generally agreed that modern horror cinema started with 1960’s Psycho. Night Of The Living Dead took it to the next level, returning horror to it’s fantastical roots but blending it with the realism and suburban fears which Hitchcock’s masterpiece first portrayed. No longer could was it safe to trust the person next door, your friends, or even your family – and the less said about strangers, the government, and the military the better. Taking the traditionally mystical lore of zombies out of the textbooks and into the US heartland, these creatures were no longer slaves to some ritualistic high priest – instead they were mindless feeding machines, bent on a single course; to kill and eat the living. Our indecision, our inability to focus as a whole, or to follow a leader would be our downfall. Romero instills the blackest, and bleakest of humour in reminding us, or forewarning us, that this story absolutely will not have a happy ending – this is not a story where the hero wins.
If you haven’t seen the movie, then I’m not sure how you have stumbled upon this post. In any event, the film opens with a dreary, ominous uphill drive towards a ceremony as a modern-may-as-well-be-you brother and sister bicker and pay their respects. Within moments we have ‘they’re coming to get you, Barbara’, and the sudden ghoulish attack by a well dressed man. Barbara flees to an empty house, pursued by her attacker, where she meets Ben. Ben tells us that he too was attacked and we soon learn, thanks to docu-style news footage that the dead have come back to life and appear to be attacking the living. In other words – we’re fucked.
With an all amateur cast and crew, Romero deftly crafts one of the most claustrophobic and clever horror movies of all time, allowing the cast of recognizable characters and archetypes to show us their flaws in all their tragic glory, and in doing so single-handedly creates a sub-genre which still rules world-wide media today.
Dawn Of The Dead
After Night comes Dawn. The success of Night allowed George to go make a variety of other movies in different genres and styles, but none had the same critical or commercial joy. Dawn was always supposed to be bigger – showing the wider devastation of the dead coming back. Romero wisely begins the movie by showing just how far the country has fallen since the events of Night. Even though we don’t know exactly how much time has passed, we get the impression that it isn’t very long – I think a few weeks is mentioned. Politicians, scientists, talking heads, ordinary people, the military, journalists – everyone has been focused on this one issue but still an agreed consensus cannot be reached. Mirroring the frustration and ineptitude at that global level is the unrest at a civil level. We meet a SWAT team tasked with investigating a social housing building where residents have refused to give up their dead. Of course, chaos and insanity is the order of the day, with gung-ho types, zombies, those who cannot deal with the fact that their loved ones are now monsters, and others who simply cannot deal with this new world. It’s claustrophobic, heated, exhausting, confusing, and brilliant. Two such soldiers team up – Roger and Peter and decide that it would be best to get out of the city while they still can. Luckily, Roger knows Stephen, a journalist and pilot who plans to steal a helicopter and get out with his girlfriend Francine. The four flee together.
The bulk of the movie takes place in a shopping mall, where the four survivors clear the place of the dead and enjoy the fruits of their labour – safety, food, and more shops and stuff than you could ever want. The satire on consumerism is well-documented, but the weird thing is that it still kind of makes you want to hide out in a mall if the world does go to shit. At least you’d be safe and entertained and fed for a while.The increased budget allows for a more talented cast and crew, more ideas, bigger scope – it’s an epic in every sense. Beyond the terrific, now dated, gore and make-up effects, the film still packs a punch with its scares – up front and subtle. It’s almost perfect in every way and even at well over 2 hours long it’s a film which I never want to end. I enjoy every second with these characters, I want to spend as long as possible with them, and it’s always depressing when the end comes. Romero doesn’t give us the all out bleak ending he originally devised, at least allowing for a chance that our survivors may live to fight another day. It’s one of the most influential and powerful horror movies ever made, it’s the best zombie movie of all time, and it’s one of a small number of films which has truly had a profound and lasting impact on me.
Let us know in the comments what your favourite George A Romero movies are!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a minute (do the kidz still say that?) since I’ve squeezed out one of these, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fibre recently and things are moving again, if you take my meaning. Wes Craven is one of my favourite directors of all time but I’ll be the first to admit he’s made a lot of rubbish over the years. He’s one of my favourites because when his films are good, they are second to none. There’s basically three tiers to Craven movies – Iconic, okay, and crap. Most people agree on what’s iconic, everyone disagrees on what’s crap/okay. No matter where you stand, there’s no doubting his place in horror, inventing or reinventing pieces of the genre at least three times, and providing us with some of the best scares, best villains, best heroes, and best movies in horror history.
10. The People Under The Stairs
It’s true to say that most people love this more than I do. I like it, but I don’t have the nostalgic connection to it which most fans have. My favourite thing about it is the Twin Peaks connection – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill star again as another unusual pairing. The story and the film, are fairly unique, but then again we’re talking late 80s, early 90s horror – a time when anything goes, so when we’re talking about a ghetto kid trying to save his family from being evicted by a pair of murderous landlords and their cannibal children, you know you’re on safe enough territory. It’s certainly funny, it’s borders on outright weird, you’d never see anything like it getting made today, and there’s plenty of gore.
9. Swamp Thing
This little seen action/comedy/horror hybrid is well worth a watch for anyone bored with today’s superhero stories and want something a little different. This is certainly a little different, Craven this time dealing with more established stars and a bigger budget than his earlier 70s work. While campy and not going for the jugular as he had been known for, this still has plenty of violence and sexy times and features genre favourites Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise.
8. Red Eye
A late in the game box office and critical success for Craven, this is a surprisingly straight, taut, and effective thriller which holds up well today. Featuring reliable performers Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox it is another entry in the ‘bad shit happens on a plane’ sub-genre. It has the twists of Scream without the meta stuff and plays out like a modern Hitchcock film, cranking up the tension until the climax. This gets straight to the point, plays its game with no chaff, and remains gripping throughout.
7. The Hills Have Eyes
Here’s an interesting one – I much prefer the remake of this. Craven’s ideas are solid and the story and characters all in place, but it lacks the budget and power to be executed fully. The remake has the money and conviction and it is wonderfully brutal in all the most delightful ways. Still, this is the original and therefore worth giving due attention and respect. Like his previous film, this works as a nightmare scenario of US family values, of how simply and quickly the perfect family can devolve into gruesome violence. The film follows the extended Carter family on a road trip who take a wrong turn and end up being picked off by another family – albeit deformed cannibals. The invention and wit and energy here tends to surpass most modern horror but is only defeated by the lack of money to fully pull off everything required to make it perfect.
6. Scream 3
Often seen as the weakest in the series, while that may be true it always holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in the series I saw in the Cinema and brought along my girlfriend at the time who was also a series fan. The ideas were wearing thin at this point, but there are enough trilogy smarts and in jokes to still make it a fun ride. With Neve, Courtney, David and co all returning, that affinity with the characters is still present and I enjoy the callbacks to the previous entries. The series remains one of the best written and fun in horror, and it’ll always be dear to me, even if it isn’t a patch on Part 1.
5. Music Of The Heart
I imagine I’ll get a lot of heat for this one, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed the ‘tough kids get won over by teacher’ movies. I don’t know why, but they give me a kick. To see Wes Craven making one, to see Wes Craven directing a Meryl Streep movie, is still hilarious to me, and I think he pulls it off. Sure, there isn’t an original bone in its body, but it proves that Craven can work completely outside horror and make an effective light-hearted drama. Streep even got nominated for an Oscar, as did the title track, but it was a box office flop. It’s a little overlong and probably came out a few years too late, but it’s still one of my under the radar favourites.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Craven’s first experiment with meta or post modern horror or whatever the hell you want to call it, sees him returning to his most famous franchise and ostensibly releasing his most feared creation upon the real world. New Nightmare’s set up is that Heather Langenkamp – Nancy from the original movie – is married and has a son, and that the boy’s nightmares about Freddy are somehow bringing the clawed killer into the real world. This means we have various actors, writers, and directors playing themselves while being stalked by Kruger. It’s clever, and it’s violent, with Robert Englund playing himself, playing traditional Freddy, and playing the all new, more vicious Freddy.
3. The Last House On The Left
Englund’s first impact on the horror scene was this low budget exploitation movie about a family resorting to revenge and torture upon the rapists and killers who did the same to their daughters. It’s a film of two halves, each half complementing the other while advancing the plot and showing how violence begets violence. The first half follows a couple of teenage girls heading to a concert but who are attacked by a group of killers, the second finds the killers accidentally stopping off at the parent’s house and seeing the tables turned. It’s not an easy watch and Craven doesn’t hold back in his depictions of torture, rape, and murder. The remake ups the budget and gore and makes for an interesting companion piece, but for me it lacks the gut punch and shock of the original.
My top two picks aren’t going to surprise anyone. Scream is a perfect film in my eyes. I understand why others will disagree with me and I’m not so blind to agreeing with its criticism, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. It’s my generation’s horror movie and even though I was 13 or 14 when it released it still felt like it was made for me. I understood most of the references, I loved the twists, I recognised most of the characters in myself and people I knew, the dialogue was sharp, and the cast was peppered with people I either already loved or would come to. It gave us two new horror icons in killer Ghostface and heroine Sydney, played by my other world wife Neve Campbell. It’s funny, stylish, and has some great scares and kills, and it’s a movie I’ll never tire of.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The only film which could beat Scream is my favourite horror movie of all time. This is the one which got me into horror, even before I’d watched it. I knew Kruger, I knew the plot, and I’d seen bits of it when I was a child, and the artwork in the video stores always intrigued me. It’s one of Craven’s most successful movies, it’s his best work, his most inventive, and it is even critically acclaimed to a certain degree – not always unusual for horror, but definitely rate for one so visceral. The film and its villain gained iconic status leading to a long series of spin-offs and sequels, none of which have matched the skill and precision of the original. Langenkamp and Englund are terrific, the effects are nightmarish, and the idea of someone stalking your dreams (for the sins of your parents no less) remains potent. Horror often bleeds into fantasy, but I don’t think it was ever worked so successfully than with this undoubted masterpiece.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would include in your Top Ten Wes Craven list!
Greetings, Glancers! I’m back again to lovingly twist tinsel around your throats and tug until your baubles burst – in other words – to make you read these words about Christmas. If you liked my Christmas songs post, you should seek counsel with your local priest or GP promptly, but while you wait, why not make things considerably worse for yourself by browsing this post too? What’s the worst that could happen?
In case you didn’t know by now- I love Christmas. I love the TV, I love the atmosphere, I love the presents. I may be in my thirties, but some childhood traditions never go away – I still get the Christmas TV times and highlight all the TV shows and movies I want to watch or record. One of the things I loved most when younger was getting off school in the run up to the big day, and planning out my day of watching – waking up to catch a few 7.00 am cartoons, then seeing which movie I could watch in bed before breakfast. Even on Christmas Day, I would switch on the TV in my room while going through my stocking – Channel 4 always had the best stuff.
As much as the internet is populated with all the classic American TV specials – The Grinch, Charlie Brown etc – those never entered my Northern Ireland childhood in any real sense. I saw them, but they seemed too cutesy or foreign and as such were not deemed required annual viewing. Much of my list consists of shows which were force fed by my family or which I found myself returning to each year by myself once I gained such critical faculties. Don’t worry US readers – there’s a lot more American content here than there was in my TTT Christmas songs list.
I was too young for a lot of the more traditional British Christmas specials – Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies etc, and I won’t be including any soaps, even if Eastenders and Coronation Street have both had their fair share of memorable one-offs. Remember that time when Bradley fell off the roof, or when Archie was done in by Queen Victoria? No, neither do I. No, old soap episodes aren’t the sort of thing you watch each year as they are ever replaced by new episodes, the Langoliers munching up all that has come before. No game shows or compilation clips shows either, both stalwarts of December viewing – sorry QI and It’ll Be Alright On The Night. Also, The Office will not appear in any guise. Because Ricky Gervais is a dick. Finally (finally!) there’s no ranking because I can’t be arsed.
Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing Yule
For whatever reason, I never saw much, or any of Alan Partridge in my formative years. It was around the age of 18 that I started watching the odd episode here and there before blasting through it all a few years later. In this episode, Alan is hosting his very own special festive edition of his show and invites guests including a devout Christian lady, a Carry On style innuendo spouter, and the disappointed and increasingly angry Chief Commissioner of the BBC, setting up nicely for the following Partridge series. The format is essentially the same as the others – Alan awkwardly interviewing increasingly ridiculous guests and trading insults, but with a nice Christmas backdrop and theme, and a slightly longer running time.
Beavis And Butt-head
Beavis And Butt-head had the occasional special episode during their run, and while many of the entries on my list are satires on British culture, this one is of course US aimed. That’s not to say it isn’t universal, or at least understandable in Western White culture. There’s A Very Special Christmas With Beavis And Butt-head – the name itself a send up, which sees the useless pair watch a bunch of Christmas songs on TV. It isn’t that exciting an episode, but as always their reactions are amusing and they do get to sing along near the end. Due to those pesky copyright laws, this one is very difficult to find in its original form.
The second episode(s) is Beavis And Butt-head Do Christmas. It’s split into the usual two separate episodes, this time linked with a festive theme. Huh Huh Humbug is another version of A Christmas Carol – but don’t worry, there is absolutely no moral here. Beavis falls asleep while his boss lectures him, and dreams that he is in fact the boss. While trying to watch Porn, he is visited by Ghost Butt-head and a bunch of other familiar faces who show him his past, present, and future – the past being particularly funny. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, but they never do. The second one is It’s A Miserable Life and it has a little more story, with Butt-head being visited by his guardian angel who shows him how wonderful life in town would be without Butt-head messing it up. Again it’s funny seeing the little twists within the world – Stuart and Beavis are now best friends and it seems like Beavis has sunk to Stuart’s level by wearing a Winger shirt – the horror. These ones always take me back to my pre-teen and early teen years and still get a chuckle.
Bottom – Holy
Bottom is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time, with two performers and writers at the top of their game, bringing the unfocused anarchy of their 80s work into the self-referential 90s. Aside from being about getting drunk, ‘doing it’, and slapstick ultra violence, the show has always skewered everything from British traditions to the sitcom format itself.
While Bottom also features a fantastic Halloween themed episode, it’s Holy which really gets the juices going, literally at times. Richie and Eddie, the Hammersmith Hardmen, are trying to celebrate Christmas with Richie in usual jubilant, devoutly English form and Eddie simply wanting to get pissed and watch Goldfinger. We have the unwrapping and sharing of presents, hope and disappointment in unequal measure, charades, Christmas Dinner mishaps (including the hilarious loss of a finger and even more hilarious fixing of said finger), and even a Christmas miracle. It’s one of the finest British comedy episodes of all time and it’s the one which is most quoted by me in the run up to, and on the big day itself. Has heeeee been?
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Amends
I talked about this episode in my Season Three Buffy Review so I won’t go into details here other than to say that this isn’t your traditional, drop in and watch, episode. There’s a lot of back story going on, as well as plenty of foreshadowing, but if you’ve seen the whole show a few times then you’ll be fine. The story follows Angel still trying to readjust to life on Earth once more, while being tormented by visions of The First Evil, showing his past brutality and encouraging him to kill himself, or kill Buffy. Buffy, meanwhile is trying to host a normal, family Christmas dinner and invites Faith along. If you’re not a Buffy fan it won’t mean a lot to you, but it’s a nice change of pace from the centrally comic or horror themed episodes.
Being (one of) the biggest show(s) of the decade, Friends was obliged to have a variety of Holiday Specials – Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas are all covered. There are a few Christmas episodes, as well as other which were filmed around that time of the year and feature New York in all its snowy glory, so you have a few to choose from. In The One With Phoebe’s Dad, the gang are off doing different Christmasy things – Joey and Chandler leave their shopping too late, Monica is on selfish baking mode, Ross and Rachel fight while the heating is off, and Phoebe drives to meet her father. In The One Where Rachel Quits, Rachel quits, Joey gets a job selling Christmas trees, Phoebe witnesses a tree massacre, and Ross helps a scout after breaking her leg. In The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie Ross is dating two women at the same time and ends up falling asleep on the train and going to Canada, Phoebe is writing a Christmas song, and Monika a Joey scheme to earn respect and money. The one With The Rockin’ New Year’s Eve features some Christmas fun while The Holiday Armadillo is the most famous Christmas episode and features Ross trying to teach his son about Jewish traditions as well as Christmas. Finally, we have The One With The Creepy Holiday Card which sees Ross and Mona’s relationship at breaking point, and The One With Christmas In Tulsa where Chandler is forced to work on Christmas Eve. Watched together, the amount of laughs, nostalgia, and Christmas tone will definitely get you in a festive mood.
I could be wrong on this, but I think there were two Christmas episodes in the 90s for Harry Enfield And Chums – it’s difficult given the show hasn’t been released on DVD and it changed its name at least once. These are quite difficult to track down, though you can find it them on Youtube. The shows were sketch based, featuring a wide array of classic characters in various scrapes. The Christmas episodes were extensions of these, with most of the sketches featuring a (mostly very sleight) festive slant both simple characters and those with some sort of progression. Along with this, there was usually a sing-song or longer section such as the characters singing ‘Perfect Day’ or parodying Titanic. There’s were repeated every so often on BBC and now on UK Gold, so catch them to remember a simpler time and some of the based character catchphrases ever.
Inside Number 9
Inside Number 9 is undoubtedly one of the finest TV shows of recent years – an ode to film-making, a love-letter to the creative craft. I know quite a few glancers of this blog are massive movie and TV fans, but may not be as exposed to British Television as those over here. I implore you all to watch this show – if you love horror, comedy, film in general, then this will be a new favourite for you, with the show ranging from gut-wrenching emotional episodes, to horror homages, all down with the typical sadistic wit, love of language, and sinister twists that you would expect from Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton.
For those who don’t know, Inside Number 9 is an anthology programme – each episode featuring a new cast of characters and a new self-contained story, generally set in a single room or location. While the absolutely wonderful The 12 Days Of Christine features Christmas in some key scenes and is referenced in its name, it’s the Series 3 premier The Devil Of Christmas which should be a future viewing tradition. It’s a retro piece, set in the late 70s, and follows a family on a Christmas holiday where one of the locals explains the legend of Krampus. The episode, aside from being a faithful attempt at recalling 70s anthology horror and TV, is very funny, and very dark, and should not be missed. Black Mirror made it big – this should be just as big.
Lost – The Constant
Lost, you say? Lost never had a Christmas episode! Well, you’re wrong, and not only are you wrong but you’ve forgotten the single greatest episode of the series. Not only that, but you’ve forgotten one of the best episodes of any TV show, ever. The Constant culminated in the resolution of many crossover-plots and saw, finally, the happiness of my favourite character on the show. There aren’t enough words I can give to praise this episode – the acting, the writing, the way it all comes together – this is how the series as whole should have ended in terms of quality and tone. While I still enjoyed the last episode, The Constant is the pinnacle of the show. My love for it can be stemmed all the way back to all of those 70s, 80s, 90s cartoons and shows I watched and loved, featuring a person or people trying to find their way home – think Dungeons & Dragons or Quantum Leap or Sliders or Battlestar Galactica. Taken further, it all goes back to my love of The Odyssey – a tale I have been obsessed with my entire life. Hell, lets take it further still and say it’s related to those times I got ‘lost’ as a child and didn’t know how to get home or find my parents. Lost brought this idea into the new millennium, in a time when the world became smaller and there were no more undiscovered lands to explore – The Constant wringing out emotion, drama, adventure, tension, romance, time-travel, parallel balls, and all the rest of it into a single satisfying whole.
Christmas though? Yes, because Desmond has to make the call to Penny on Christmas Eve to let her know… well, I don’t want to get into the plot. This is frankly impossible to watch unless you’ve followed the show from episode 1, closely. Even watching as a standalone when you’ve seen the series before is difficult because you’ll miss most of the intricacies and details and will likely forget many of the more minor characters and references. However, if you’re a superfan, then this makes for excellent Christmas viewing and will warm your heart and make you believe in miracles.
Merry Christmas, Mr Bean
Out of all the shows on my list, Mr Bean is the one my kids have watched most regularly at the time of writing. I try to get them to watch this around Christmas each year, but they prefer the one where ‘Mr Bean shows his bum to all the little kids’. Their words, not mine. Merry Christmas, Mr Bean has a load of iconic and hilarious moments – the most famous of which is of course that Turkey on the head scene. The episode follows Mr. Bean preparing for the big day by doing a spot of shopping. His girlfriend drops hints that she wants a ring, a proposal, leading to much hilarity later on, while Bean messes around with a Nativity scene, leads a Brass Band, raises money for charity, and steals a tree. In the second half he decorates his house, posts a card to himself (which always makes my eldest laugh), makes a hash of Christmas dinner, and designs his own cracker. Mr. Bean is one of my oldest and most most favourite series and another which never fails to warm my soul.
Only Fools And Horses
I’m not even going to bother listing the various Christmas themed episodes for Only Fools And Horses…. incidentally, for any of my US glancers – are you even aware of half these shows? What British shows did you get (before the days of downloading and streaming and Kodi etc) on your shores years ago? A lot of these probably don’t translate well, but if Monty Python gets an audience worldwide then I don’t see why others can’t. Out of all the shows on my list, this is likely the biggest British institution. There have been a whopping sixteen Christmas episodes, starting in 1981, and ending in 2003. The ones I am most familiar with are the ones in the 90s, coincidentally around the time I started watching the show, having previously dismissed it as grimy and depressing. Namely, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy which sees Del Boy and Rodney dressing up as Batman and Robin and then, finally, becoming millionaires. It’s classic British humour, but it helps to have a history with the characters before indulging.
Peppa and pals have been around for years now, and with each new generation parents get roped in to watching and end up realising that it’s actually really good. I mean, it doesn’t have the same invention as Ben And Holly but it’s more of a family show. There are now a whole host of holiday themed or one-off Peppa episodes, but the Christmas ones were among the first. Peppa’s Christmas was the first episode to run longer than five minutes, and sees Peppa having to remember what all of her friends want from Santa – then he pops in to say hello. Later on the show started doing multi-episodes where the story followed on from the previous episode – we have one where the family visits a Santa’s grotto followed by an episode where they wake up on Christmas day to see what presents they have, and later still there’s an episode where they see Mr Potato in panto. Due to the short running time you can blast through these quickly, but it’s good to supplement them with some of the snow-themed episodes, like when the family build a snowman, go to a snowy beach, and go skiing. These are great for younger kids and cuddling up to watch and get into the Christmas spirit. At time of writing there is a new Christmas episode coming – by the time I post it should have been shown in the UK.
What quickly became the Daddy of the festive episode, thanks to the yearly Treehouse Of Horror episodes, and later more regular Christmas episodes. Even though the show is largely unwatchable now, you can still revisit those classics, including the very first episode – Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire. It looks terrible now, but it still sucks you in and avoids a lot of the terrible, flat humour of Season 1 by piling on the charm. I’ll move next onto the least best episode of the classic era of the show – Gift Of The Magi. By this point in the series the scale was tipping over to having more misses than hits, this one following an evil toy company trying to unleash a new must have on citizens. It’s an okay episode, but not one I’d recommend watching every year. I’d say the same about Skinner’s Sense Of Snow except I remember less about it aside from people being trapped in school. There’s also one about Lisa becoming a Buddhist. No, stick with the good ones; Miracle On Evergreen Terrace sees Bart accidentally burning the presents and lying to the town and features the immortal ‘where is Christmas’ line, and the best of the lot, by a huge margin – Marge Be Not Proud. This one nails what it’s like being a boy at Christmas, from putting up with the lovingly bought, but terrible videogames or knock off action figures (I am Carvallo), to jealousy, to wanting to be loved, and all that other junk. This is the one to watch every year. Recent years have seen almost annual Christmas episodes, but I haven’t seen any of those that I’m aware of – I’ll get round to them eventually, but watching the show now is at once a chore, depressing, sad, and infuriating.
What is there to say about this – you have to watch it. Is this a thing in the USA, or anywhere else? Let me know. Like Mr Bean, it’s universal because it’s mostly silent, even though it’s inherently British. Follow it up with Father Christmas and The Snowman And The Snowdog for added points.
Wallace And Gromit
Although none of them are honestly Christmasy, the fact that they were released and are always shown at Christmas means they have become part and parcel of the whole package. You can take your pick of any of them, but you’re best watching them all over a few days – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, A Matter Of Loaf And Death – and while you’re at it, watch a few Timmy Time and Shaun The Sheeps too.
The Vicar Of Dibley
I say this is just as much of a British institution as Only Fools And Horses and any other sitcom which has lasted more than a few years. It is harmless, family oriented humour which anyone can ‘get’ which makes it great for watching with older kids. I hope my kids end up with a similar sense of humour to me, tending towards the zany side, playing with conventions, playing with language, more on the bizarre, non-sequitur side of the scale. The Vicar Of Dibley has just enough of this, mixed with traditional laughs to make it cross borders, and its Christmas episodes work well enough as standalones, though you’re better with a grounding in the characters. There are a few Christmas episodes, the one where Geraldine has to go to all the different meals on the same day, the one where Alice has her baby, the sort of double episode where it’s Geraldine’s 10th year in Dibley and the anniversary of Live Aid.
The League Of Gentlemen – Yule Never Leave
As mentioned above, my sense of humour was waiting for this show to come along. I already loved Bottom and everything Vic & Bob did, and this came along to merge both styles as well as my love of horror. The League Of Gentlemen instantly became my favourite show after its premier, but this Christmas Special is one to whip out and return to thanks to its anthology nature. Sure it means more if you know about the characters, but it’s a better choice to watch on the spur of the moment than any other episode as the series was fairly plot heavy.
I love anthology series and movies, and in this special episode, the Vicar is trying to have a bit of peace at Christmas but is disturbed by three visitors, each with their own macabre tale – the highlight of which is the Herr Lipp story. If you want to laugh your balls off this Christmas, this is the one to watch – I highly recommend you watch the series from beginning as it’s an all time great. Even better is that we’re getting new episodes this year as part of the 20th anniversary!
The Royle Family
This was grabbing all the headlines around the time The League Of Gentlemen first came out, and as such it was like Oasis Verses Blur all over again. I didn’t watch the show for quite some time, and the pieces I saw of it, all the slow panning cameras of people sitting, eating, yawning, scratching themselves, pissed me off. When I finally did watch, I began to appreciate it. I mean, I still hate all that slow panning stuff and the repetition, but I love the characters and the dialogue. The series last for three seasons, and had two Christmas episodes, but since the original run it has been brought back a number of times for specific new Christmas episodes. Again, it’s perfect for family viewing, but better suited to having teens in the house as the kids won’t understand any of it. I’m not sure I’ve even watched any of the other later Christmas episodes, but I must do that this year as we won’t be getting any more after the tragic passing of Caroline Ahern.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air
The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air remains, well, fresh. It’s still LOL funny today, has more one-liners, yo momma, and fat jokes than anything else, and is still a better written sitcom with more fully formed characters than most around today. It’s one of those shows which influenced me to the point that I can’t answer a simple question without including some sort of joke or sarcasm. I used to tune in to every new episode on BBC 2 and laugh my ass off, and the show still gets regular viewing by me today. The show had a bunch of Christmas episodes – all are worth revisiting in December, from Will decorating the house, to the one where they are robbed, and the one with Boys II Men, or the one where Hilary decides she wants a baby…. or does she?
The Fast Show
The Fast Show was the master of one-liner, catchphrase character based, surreal skits and sketches. It feels weird now looking back at a show which was often based around building up to a certain character saying their unique catchphrase, but the show was so much more than that, creating a world of interesting and weird characters with a wealth of humour and drama. As the name suggests, the show was quick moving, with sketches rarely lasting over a couple of minutes. Everyone had their favourites – while most loved the likes of Ted and Ralph, it was always the weirder side of the scale that I enjoyed – Johnny Nice Painter and the ‘what if you feel down a hole’ guy. Johnny Depp made an appearance, many of the characters featured in spin-offs, other shows, or ended up having their own dedicated series, and it has been brought back for various new series or specials over the years. The Christmas Episode as exactly as you’d expect it – more sketches with the usual suspects, though with a Christmas twist or backdrop. It will either be entirely bewildering to any newcomers watching now, or you’ll be sucked in and left gasping for more – for regular viewers it’s another great one to watch at Christmas for a quick collection of laughs with old favourites. SLAP. IT. IN.
The X Files
Like Lost, you may think it’s a bit strange that a show such as The X Files would contain a Christmas episode. Why not, though? WHY NOT? There are two episodes which overtly features Christmas – in Christmas Carol, the ongoing saga of what happened to Mulder’s sister is avoided and instead we look at Scully’s dead sister Melissa. Melissa had been killed off in an earlier episode, but here, during a Christmas trip with the rest of her family, Scully begins receiving phone calls from a young girl who sounds just like her sister – investigations and twists ensure. It’s not the most festive episode, and you’d need to be a longstanding fan to follow everything, but it’s still good. On the other hand, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a monster-of-the-week festive experiment. By this point in the series, the writers were creating more outlandish and unique episodes outside of the main arcs, and this was one of the most popular – I can remember watching this in bed in its original BBC run and chatting about it in school the next day. It’s Christmas Eve again and Mulder ropes Scully into investigating a haunted house – ghostly hijinks ensue in what is simply a good fun romp – its standalone nature makes it a strong candidate for one-off viewing.
3rd Rock From The Sun
I was a huge fan of this during its original British run, but it was one of those shows that no-one else seemed to watch. It was the right mixture of surreal and traditional, the performers were excellent, and the writing and jokes were always top notch. Jolly Old St Dick is probably the best festive episode, with Sally and Harry getting part-time Mall jobs at Christmas, leading to plenty of laughs, Dick being arrested, and Tommy again becoming frustrated with August. Happy New Dick almost qualifies but focuses more on New Year, while Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick is based on Thanksgiving.
The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone must surely rank as one of the greatest, most rewatchable, and most influential series of all time, and even it was no stranger to the Christmas episode. The Night Of The Meek deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other Christmas Classics such as A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, being a hope-based story in the midst of troubling times. It centers on an alcoholic store Santa on Christmas Eve, a well-meaning character who wishes that just for one day all the beaten, downtrodden, and hopeless people he knows could be happy. This being The Twilight Zone, his wish comes true, and for a change there isn’t a stinging twist in the tale. Next up is The Changing Of The Guard in which Donald Pleasance learns on Christmas Eve that his job is going to be given to a younger man, so he contemplates suicide. Enter a guardian angel to show him that this would be a mistake. There are plenty of other episodes of the show which feature snow or moral quandaries suitable for watching at this time of the year, and as always if you’ve never seen the show, there’s no better time to start than today.
I’m not going to bother listing all the festive or Christmas related shows here – any or all of the Mr Hankey episodes will do nicely here, and most are delightful and hilarious send ups of various tropes and cultural norms.
I freely admit that anyone not from Northern Ireland and of a certain age will have no idea what this is. It’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s not actually a TV show, but a comedy recording – I have it on cassette but you can find it on CD or online. What is it? It’s a comedy recording by one John McBlain – a wonderful impersonator from my country whose voices are second to none and whose comedy centers on British and Irish politicians. Even if you listen to it as a non NI person, you’re unlikely to understand the voices never mind the references or know who the various players are, but for me it’s a vital part of Christmas tradition. There are actually two versions of it (at least) – Christmas at Adams’ and Christmas at Paisley’s but they’re essentially the same.
For existing fans of McBlain’s Spittin series, this is a joy – you’l already be familiar with the characters (caricatures of their real life counterparts) – the ultra violent beast Ian Paisley, the cowardly pervert Gerry Fitt, the shit-stirring Adams, John Cole who tries to hold it all together, and many more – even Bill Clinton pops in. They are all getting together for Christmas dinner in one of the homes which Gerry A owns (or should I say frequents, for various reasons) and to have a bit of a chat and a party. Naturally all hell breaks loose, there’s piss in the soup, Robert craps himself, Fitt cuts down a tree and wrecks himself…. yeah, I’m laughing my head off typing this but you are likely losing the will to live. It’s packed with one-liners, hilarious gaffs, great moments, and it’s also fucking disgusting. Click the link above, but be warned, this is racist, sexist, makes jokes about the handicapped, pedophilia, and anything else you could possibly be offended by… but it’s all funs and games.
Warehouse 13 is such a wonderful show – it’s the geek show that not even geeks talk about. It’s a lighter take on something like The X Files with a great cast, interesting ideas, lots of sexy ladies and (sort of) lads, and it’s written by Jane Espenson – if you’re not sold, you’re not worth talking to. Basically, there’s a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere which houses mysterious, mystical, and powerful artifacts – items with the ability to stop time, to give super powers, to hurt people etc, and they are typically based on some historical moment or famous person. A group has been protecting these artifacts for hundreds of years, preventing them from doing harm or falling into the wrong hands. Each episode follows a different artifact, though there are larger arcs too. Oh yeah, loads of Buffy people and other famous guest stars pop up too.
Anyway, the show has a couple of Christmas episodes which are, again, best viewed if you’re already a fan but still are entertaining standalones for the uninitiated. Secret Santa sees Claudia trying to reunite Artie with his father, while Myka and Pete investigate a Christmas artifact which seems to be making Santa evil while The Greatest Gift is a little more trippy as Pete accidentally sends himself to a parallel universe where he doesn’t exist and has to convince his friends to save him and send him back. Both episodes are a lot of fun, have plenty of drama, laughs, and Christmas cheer, and are good as an early December entree.
I think that’s enough yapping for now. Even as long as this post was, I’m sure there’s a load of shows and episodes I’ve missed. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are, what your Christmas viewing routine is like, which shows you absolutely couldn’t miss when you were young, and if I don’t speak to you again before the big day – Merry Christmas!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s the festive season again, that most wonderful time of the year when we open our chimneys and beckon Good Old St Beardy McBuldgingsack into our homes so he can spurt joy all over our hearth. That run up to Christmas may be getting earlier each year, and as we grow older and more cynical it’s increasingly easy to aim a sneering ‘humbug’ at the whole tinsel-draped event. But ‘fie’, says I. Fie, to all the naysayers, scrooges, sadsacks, and seasonally-challenged. Fie to those who would rain on our snowy parade in a vain attempt to wash away our once a year spending spree in a moaning puddle of sleet. Who could deny the smile and wonder of the wide-eyed child when they stumble out of bed to find a Winter Wonderland frosting up their windows? Who could hold back a tear and an oh so human warmth when seeing the innocence and excitement of finding a half-munched carrot in the living room and bags upon bags of toys and treats just waiting to be discovered? Dicks, that’s who.
Growing up in the turgid 80s wasteland of Northern Ireland, where a large snowfall usually meant having to spend longer on your hands and knees checking for car-bombs each morning before heading to school, Christmas was nevertheless something unimaginably special. The lights, the music, the parties; the end of school, the Television specials and adverts, and of course the presents. Even though Christmas as depicted on screen, in such far-flung places as England and the USA looked like an impossible dream, where everything was bigger, brighter, and even more snow-packed and gift-wrapped, in our wee corner of the globe we still shared in the united glory and tradition.
A very large part of that tradition – one that has been going of course for centuries, but at least as part of modern culture, is the Christmas song. I’ll say this about the USA – as impressive as their Christmases looked, their Christmas music is wank compared to ours. This list therefore is going to be primarily British. What list? Why, this list of my favourite Christmas songs! This selection of songs never fails to bring back memories, nostalgic feelings, and the fact that they have been enjoyed for so many generations and continue to be passed from parent to child each year will ensure that even as our descendants are old and frail, they will still be taken back to a place of happiness and wonder upon hearing them. I hope you read, enjoy, and comment with your favourites, but above all I wish you a safe and happy Christmas.
Slow. Dreary. These are things that are not reflective of Christmas, yet so many Christmas songs, particularly US ones strike me as being such. This song I feel skirts dangerously close to falling into that category, but avoids it due to the warmth and comfort of melody. The horns work, the violins hit the mark, and the sentiment ripples outwards.
Did it reach Number 1 in the UK: Nope, but it did get to number 2
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, just David meandering through various depressing snow-covered fieldsand hanging about near a shed
Firstly – this is NOT Elvis. Okay? It sounds like Elvis, but this has nothing to do with him aside from the fact that the band are deliberately trying to sound like him. I always assumed it was him when I was young, and when I saw the video I assumed Mud were covering him. It’s slow too, but it has always struck me as funny – that along with the harmonies keeps it from being dreary. It could absolutely do without the spoken section.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and it was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: Of course – a live version taken from TOTP where the band sit about looking depressed in front of the world’s most 70’s Christmas tree. They are wearing gaudy suits and covered in tinsel and bauble accessories, yet rather than appearing festive they look like four local low-grade thugs who have broken into your home and demanded a warm plate of turkey and ham – and they’re not pleased about having to wait.
It’s another slow one, and it has terrible 80s drums, but it does have Mr Mercury belting out the vocals – particularly the title – so it’s immediately worth hearing. It’s far from being exciting, nothing really happens, yet it somehow still works.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, not even close
Many people argue that this isn’t a Christmas song. Yes, there’s very little Christmasy about it, except for the fact that the video has fake snow and the boys are wearing hoodies. There is some timpani or bells or something which gives it the edge, and the fact that is was released in December and was such a massive hit means it has become associated with the period – that’s fine with me. On a serious note, the lyrical content bears mentioning as it was written about the suicide of one of the member’s brothers. It’s unusual subject matter for a boyband, it’s unusual for a boyband member to actually have any input into a song’s creation nevermind write the whole thing, and it’s unusual that it actually ends up being pretty good.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes. It was apparently their only UK number 1 and it was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s a boy band, so obviously the video is terrible. It looks like it was put together on Media Player by a child, and it consists almost entirely of the group in various poses shooting around the screen or giant close-ups of their faces panning across. It’s doubly terrible because of how the group were portrayed as ‘bad boys’, so they have all these looks that aren’t so much smouldering or heartfelt, but rather come across as ‘I’m going to stab you and then ram your nan’. Also, did you ever notice how whenever a new boy band becomes popular, within months an alternative appears and they are ALWAYS – without exception, portrayed as bad boys? It’s hard to take any of it seriously when the songs are wafer-thin love-letters or requests for sex. Aimed at 10 year olds.
The only hymn on my list, the only instrumental, and the only song that’s over 500 years old. You have to hand it to Oldfield – he’s a musical beast, playing all the parts himself and using roughly 500 instruments too. It doesn’t feel like a Christmas song at all, except for the fact that it’s always played around Christmas. It’s also repetitive as hell but remains dynamic throughout thanks to the gradual building of instruments and the occasional little twist on the standard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 only.
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, it is kind of terrible, but that’s mainly due to the age and hair and fingernails and clothes, yet it apparently influenced every Youtube video ever made with it’s grid based format showing Mike playing each instrument.
The ultimate ‘get together a bunch of famous people to sing a song’ song. It has also been re-recorded and released with diminishing returns numerous times, but there’s not getting away from the original. It’s not the most complex song – it’s not supposed to be. It’s meant to be a message to the world, delivered in an earnest and easily digestible, commercial way. It worked, becomes one of the biggest selling songs of all time.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, given that it’s just a bunch of famous people singing into the camera or walking around in slow motion. It’s interesting now though as you try to work out who each person is and what the hell was wrong with the world in the early 80s to make some of them so famous in the first place – to be fair, each version of the song has featured mostly unremarkable artists and the odd diamond.
I’ve no idea how popular this, or The Snowman is in the USA – let me know in the comments, I guess. Over here though it’s a must for Christmas viewing – the timeless story of a boy and his adventure one night with a snowman. In some ways I wish this hadn’t been such a choirboy vocal as those are almost always unlistenable. It works though, although I will say the Nightwish version gives some much needed oomph – I don’t think the best version of the song has yet been recorded, or if it has I haven’t heard it. I do love the quiet instrumental version which is played over the end credits – beautiful. I’ve given three links above – the original by Auty, the Aled Jones version (yes folks, it’s not him in the movie), and the Nightwish one.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope.
Is The Video Terrible: The Snowman is excellent – everyone should see it. The Aled video is fairly bad, unless you’re into watching Welsh boys traipse around barren mountains, while the Nightwish version was not a single and had no video.
Back in that brief period when The Darkness was a popular band, they cranked out an impressive number of hits. This is arguably their widest reaching song, aimed directly at the Christmas market and ensuring annual rotation. Good marketing, sure, but it’s also a fun, festive song with all the hallmarks of other British classics. There’s a wry sense of humour, heapings of cynicism, and plenty of double-entendres. Musically it has everything you would want from a Christmas hit – big chorus ripe for a drunken singalong, hefty verses filled with festive lyrics and traditional instruments, a choir of kids etc. It doesn’t take itself seriously, just like most of the best hits for the time of year.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Unfortunately not, just like a bunch of other better songs. It was held off the top spot by the absolute wank cover of Mad World – one of the worst songs of all time.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s fine – deliberately cheesy, it fits with the rest of the band’s visual output and humour while also harking back to a few previous Christmas videos. It’s mostly the band unwrapping presents in front of a roaring fire inside a log cabin, but done with plenty of panache and larfs.
Nothing says Christmas like squeezing out an enormous yuletide log of your own, and this song continues the grand tradition of animated characters recording a Christmas song. The song appears in the episode of the same name, along side other classics like Kyle’s Mom Is A Big Fat Bitch and A Lonely Jew On Christmas, but this is the winner. It’s as ridiculous as it is ridiculously catchy as well as being endearing and funny.
It’s another one that reminds me of Christmas parties as a child, ones we had at home, or the more organized group ones in my town. This was always one of a number of songs which seemed to be played every day of December and therefore it’s intrinsically linked to toys, snow, and good times in my mind. The song has a lot of weird synth stuff going on meaning it doesn’t feel inherently Christmas-like, but it does have those bells and the video is festive as hell. It’s super repetitive and simplistic, but still good.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it only got as high as number 5.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly dated, with a lot of weird effects and fashion, but the setting of the pub in the midst of a party is a great idea – all the locals are hammered, everyone’s dressed up in cosy garb, the booze is flowing, and Paul keeps bouncing about in every shot like he’s snorted a snowball right off Rudolph’s red nose.
The most unusual song on the list – weird considering the list includes a singing turd. De Burgh posits that the Star of Bethlehem was actually an alien spacecraft. The lyrics are interesting and the song feels both ethereal, somehow faith-driven, and otherworldly. I love the organ/keyboard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: When it was first released in the 70s it failed to chart, but it had better success when re-released in the 80s with a more Christmas themed arrangement.
Is The Video Terrible: There wasn’t one, so I’ve linked your standard live version.
Okay, this one isn’t necessarily very festive – it does have those jingle bells though and if you play it each Christmas it’ll soon sink in to your annual festivity. There aren’t many Christmas songs which rock as well as this one, so you should stick it in your playlist.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, only number 11.
Is The Video Terrible: It has Susanna Hoffs in it, so it couldn’t possibly be terrible. It’s just the band playing with clips of Less Than Zero in the background.
It seems weird that soon we’ll have kids (actually, we already do) growing up in a world without Cliff Richard’s music. I’m hardly a fan, but he’s nevertheless a British icon. Cliff has always been no stranger to Christmas songs, but I think this is his most well-known and best, and you can’t pass December without hearing this at least five times. Cliff took a rather sordid song and made it more religious, more Christmasy. It’s all about the kids, as Christmas should be, but hopefully it doesn’t take on a more dubious meaning given recent rumours about Cliff. Again, though I’m not a fan, it’s pretty shocking that many people don’t recognise his influence and impact. Back on topic, this is a super-happy song with lyrics about presents, Santa, hymns, fires, baby Jesus et al. It’s great.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Of course, one of the four times Cliff has had a Christmas Number 1. Speaking of Christmas Number Ones, looking at the list the last one I’ve actually heard is 2009’s Killing In The Name. Sad.
Is The Video Terrible: Depends on you really. It’s just Cliff and a bunch of extras roaming around a set filled with fake snow, singing carols and swinging their arms.
We’re into the classics now – another song you’ll start to hear in shops around the middle of November. The moment you hear those opening notes you can’t help but grin like a maniac and it’s another which takes me back to my childhood with zero effort.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Does Santa shit in your chimney? Christmas Number 1. Incidentally this, along with a few others in my list re-enter the UK charts every Christmas and generally reach the top 40.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly different, starting out with some kid getting a private jet trip and landing in some far-flung snowy land. From then on it’s as Ultra-Christmasy as the song itself, with snow fights, sleigh rides, presents, Santa, elves, and the rest. That dance remains terrible, as are the rolled up sleeves.
My wife’s personal favourite. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this one as in the UK it’s held up as this untouchable thing – it’s not, it’s just a decent song. Out of all these songs I feel like it’s overplayed the most and it’s the one I get sick of most easily. Perhaps it’s the whole Irish thing that annoys me given my feelings about that particular brand of music. Yes the lyrics are cynical but that loses its impact after the billionth play and you begin, quickly, to remember how terrible the vocals are. Still, you can’t have Christmas without it!
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, held off the top spot by The Pet Shop Boys. There’s no question it should have made Number 1 though.
Is The Video Terrible: It gets points for featuring a snarling Matt Dillon, but loses points for showing Shane Macgowan. If Shane Macgowan starred in a horror movie it would be banned. The video is mostly a lot of bored, dour, sour faces sitting in bars or walking around New York – it has become iconic, but that neither means it’s terrible nor good.
It’s arguably the finest rip off/musical homage of all time, with Joni twisting ‘Jingle Bells’ and transforming it into something serene, heart-rending, and timeless. This is likely the finest song on this list and a haunting reminder that Christmas can be rough. It doesn’t go into some of the more important issues we should think of at this time of year – homelessness, starvation, families drifting apart etc, instead fixating on a single relationship. But who cares, it does what it does beautifully, the lyrics and music centre on Christmas, and it’s a gorgeous listen every damn time.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: It was never released as a single, so nope.
I prefer the James Dean Bradfield solo version as it cuts away most of the chaff, but this is the better of the two in terms of pure festivity. This is Christmas through and through, managing to be tragic and happy at the same time. It’s great, and again you can’t have Christmas without it.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the top spot by Band Aid – the song remains the biggest selling UK single to never reach number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly a dated relic of the 80s, but it isn’t terrible in and of itself. There’s nothing amazing, just Wham and a bunch of extras prepping for a party and having fun up a snow covered mountain.
5. The Ghosts Of Christmas – Manic Street Preachers
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it was released free so wasn’t eligible for charts. Damn Capitalism.
Is The Video Terrible: Manics videos are rarely very exciting, and as this never had one we can assume it would have been standard fare. However, given the band’s love of nostalgia we may have had childhood clips and the usual twists on British culture. I can’t even find the song on Youtube, so you know it must be good.
An anti-Vietnam war song, became an anti-war song, became an anti-hate song, and remains a pro-Christmas song. It’s another which doesn’t feature a lot of traditional Christmas sounds or lyrics, but the sentiment is one of hope, peace, and looking towards a brighter future – things we can all support at this time of the year. Musically it’s one of the best post-Beatles pieces of work, and not even Yoko’s wailing can dampen it.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 in 1971 and then number 2 in 1980, as well as other positions in other years.
Is The Video Terrible: There are a couple of different versions, but they’re both fairly similar. The original features John, Yoko, and Sean and a lot of footage from their War Is Over period, while the newer one is news footage of the aftermath of war, famine, murder etc.
A frequent winner of many Best Christmas songs lists, it’s certainly one of the most fun, unashamedly buoyant, and downright joyous Christmas songs. How can you not smile or get excited when you hear this? It makes me want to live somewhere where there’s actually a guarantee of snow each December, not the same grey clouds and drizzle we get every other time of the year.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 2, kept off by Stay Another Day.
Is The Video Terrible: No, it’s probably one of the best videos on the list. Back before Mariah was a dick, she was incredibly hot, supremely talented, and crucially – not a dick. Her frolicking about in the snow should be watched at least once during the holiday period and it makes me, again, wish I lived somewhere with actual seasons – warm summers, freezing winters, not this endless grey shite we deal with 90% of the time.
IT’S CHRIIIIIISSSTMAAASSS! There’s isn’t much else to say about the song – it’s great, and you need it in your life in December.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, Christmas Number 1 in 1973
Is The Video Terrible: Absolutely, but it’s great too. Laughing at the hair and the fashion and the Noddy, but then remembering that whatever you are wearing, however you are dancing, is going to be ridiculed in 10 years time. Not me though – my look is timeless. It’s another live performance video so you can’t say much about it.
My favourite, and it has mostly always been that way – all those memories I’ve mentioned before about my own childhood are most perfectly recalled by this, it’s probably the song I listen to most at the time of year, and it’s definitely the song I find myself singing or humming most. It’s perfect. I think it’s the only Wizzard song I’ve ever heard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the opt spot by Merry Xmas Everybody.
Is The Video Terrible: Well, yes. The band, in all their bizarro, glam, glory prance around in a semi-frightening manner while a bunch of kids arse about with them.
There you have it, my favourite Christmas songs. I’m sure you have plenty of your own. As I was typing the list, I remember the Gary Glitter classic – Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas – a song I always kind of liked, but then… Gary Glitter. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are and if you have any fond memories of Christmas music!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age and a half since I did one of these Top Ten Tuesdays lists, and that is simply unacceptable. As it’s the season of ghouls and murder I’m going to throw my head into the ring and let you know my Top Ten favourite Horror Movies of all time. Now, I haven’t put a lot of thought into this – I’ve just gone back to my old, faithful, never updated since created Top 250 IMDB favourite movies list and picked the highest ranking horror films. The lowest ranking movie in this Top Ten comes in at 40th in my IMDB list – so you know how much I love horror when 10 movies appear in my top 40 favourite films of all time.
Yes, I’ve loved horror all my life, and I’ve always been the morbid kid. One of my first Primary School stories came back with a note from the teacher saying I had a keen interest in the macabre. I had no clue what that meant, or how to pronounce it. Most of my stories and the games I imagined up to play with my friends involved monsters and gruesome mayhem. And ninjas – it was the 80s after all. I’ve probably mentioned it before – how I was always drawn to the horror section of the VHS store – and I don’t really know where it comes from. I think some of us are just born the right kind of wrong. That’s a good thing too, otherwise we would have never had many wonderful works of fiction and film.
I’m not saying any or all of the below films are wonderful, or masterpieces, or anything like that – just that they represent a decent picture of what I love from the genre (however some of them are genuine masterpieces). I don’t think this list will be too different from any horror fan’s list but maybe there will be a few surprises. If I went back to my Top 250 there would be some definite changes, not just to the ordering but additions, removals, and not just from the horror genre. Enough warbling though. The below ten films are as good an introduction to Horror Movies as any, and they have provided me with a lifetime of entertainment and insight. Scares? Yeah, scares too.
10. Interview With The Vampire
This is probably the most controversial and least loved film on my list. I’m actually surprised I had it so high on my Top 250 too, but there you go. I do love the film, and it’s a great adaptation of one of my favourite books. The cast is top notch, it looks gorgeous, it’s sexy, bloody, and in Claudia we have one of my favourite tragic figures.
9. The Lost Boys
The ultimate MTV generation movie. One of the coolest movies ever too, but you had to be there around the time of release to see that, because watching today it looks either cheesy as hell or a product of another world. It’s vampires again, but rather than mopey, sorry figures, these guys are perma-teens of the cool kids club – sleeping all day, partying all night, pouting in leather and denim. Again there’s a great cast, everyone is ultra-hot, it’s hilarious, quotable, and endlessly entertaining.
8. Night Of The Living Dead
Probably the most important film on the list, this is where modern horror truly kicked off – Psycho started things rolling, but this brought realism where Psycho still felt like a movie. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the film where zombies feel most plausible and most scary. Other films use their zombies for sheer shocks and gore, Romero included, but here they are at their most chilling – we don’t know where they’ve come from, they look like our loved ones, and they just keep coming.
I’m going to assume everyone has seen this. It’s the ultimate gateway horror film, and one its best to see in your youth. Its scares range from jump-shocks, dread, tension, gore, but at its core it’s a story of man versus monster with universal characters and a simple, entertaining story.
Horror in the 90s was in a downward spiral – Scream almost single-handedly brought it back to relevance, making a tonne of money and getting praise from critics and fans new and old. As much as it nods, winks, and plays with tropes, it’s still an emotive story with a great heroine, tonnes of memorable dialogue and iconic scenes, and plenty of violence, laughs, and scares.
5. The Stand
I could get a lot of stick for this, but I don’t care – I love The Stand. It’s probably my favourite or second favourite book ever, and Mick Garris does it justice. Sure, some of the acting is painful in places and its age and budget are showing now, but the opening scenes and the following collapse of society were shamelessly stolen by The Walking Dead and yet are still effective. There are jump scares, there is violence, nihilism, hope, but it’s the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The soundtrack is also on regular rotation in my car/pocket. As much as I love it, I think an updated version could be epic.
4. The Thing
Now, these top four films – every one of them is a masterpiece – that can’t be disputed – and there isn’t much between how much I love, respect, and appreciate them. The Thing transcends horror – it’s one of the best movies of all time. It’s one of those movies I can’t really fault… the only thing I would say is, as great as the cast is, maybe we don’t spend enough time in the early moments with certain characters, and it can be difficult to differentiate between them. Regardless, it’s a perfect film.
3. Dawn Of The Dead
I can find fault with Dawn Of The Dead, and yet I love it just as much, if not more. The Thing is bad-ass, but Dawn Of The Dead was life-changing. I already loved horror, I already loved zombies, but this opened up a whole new world – it’s one of those movies that feels like something I would make or write. You know when you’re starting out as a writer or performer or artist – and I’m speaking to those of us who started young – as children – you get an idea and you begin tossing it around your juvenile mind, working out the plot and intricacies, and then one day you find out that someone else has already done it. They got there before you, and did it better than you ever could – suddenly you see your dream or nightmare on screen before you, but rather than being bitter, you love it. Someone else gets it. That’s Dawn Of The Dead, and it’s mind-blowing every time.
This one was also life-changing. I already love foreign movies, Japanese movies, but my experience of Asian Horror was fairly limited. When I first saw Ringu around 1999 I had never seen anything like it. It was modern, beautifully shot, paced to perfection, and holy heavens did it scare my soul away. I couldn’t buy it anywhere, but once it came to TV a year or two later I recorded it and must have watched it every day for a week, showing it to my brother, sister, friends, and loving it every time. I don’t think I’ve had a horror film which has made me do that before or since. Sure I have recommended films to people and have sat people down and forced them to watch some movies, but no movie felt so necessary – I had to see and feel their reactions and I had to be part of that world again. I love the sequels, I love the books, but this is where it started. I was picking up every single Asian horror film I could find after this.
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street
I don’t want to say this is where it all began – the first true horror film I remember seeing was Salem’s Lot – but really this is where it all began, and where it’s still at. Those VHS stores I mentioned – the Elm Street movie VHS covers were the ones which most caught my eye. Sometimes there would be a poster or cardboard cutout of Freddy there and I’d look at it cautiously, waiting for it to come to life. Who was this guy? What was that glove about? What happened his face, what was he doing? Somehow – credit to the wonderful powers of childhood imagination – somehow, though reading the backs of the videos, looking at the pictures, and splicing together rumours, by the time I was 6 or 7 I kind of had the whole thing worked out. I knew Krueger’s name, I knew the 1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you song, I knew that he got you in your sleep, and yet I didn’t see any movie until years later.
I somehow caught the last minute or so of the movie once, and that stayed in my head for years, even after I finally watched the whole thing. The same goes for snippets of other films in the series – something about the characters crept inside me on a personal level to the extent that I credit Krueger, Craven, and the series as being my true doorway to horror cinema. That idea of not being safe in your sleep is something chilling for all of us, but I think it’s something kids are especially susceptible too. We’re supposed to go to sleep, dream sweet dreams, and wake knowing we are safe and warm and loved. Craven turns that upside down and inside out, and goes further, exploring that idea that it’s the fault of the protector, the parent, that we are put in this mess. That idea is explored in many of his films – the mistakes of the parent coming back to haunt the child, but it’s perfected here. I still have a crush on Langenkamp, and while the film doesn’t remotely scare me any more, I can still put it on and love the imagination, the characters, the nostalgia, the story, and all of the more artistic and technical elements.
So there you have it, my very own favourite horror movies. What are your’s? Let us know in the comments! Before I go though, as a bonus, I have other genre crossover movies which some would consider horror or as having horror elements that I rate just as highly, if not higher than some of the above (in other words, they are not lower than 40 on my Top 250 list):
Firmly placed in the action genre – it’s essentially a chase movie – nevertheless The Terminator has a lot in common with the slasher genre. There’s a final girl, an unstoppable killer, tonnes of violence, and plenty of kills.
Unstoppable killer, violence kills, sort of a final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. Predator is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.
Unstoppable killer, violence kills, a definite final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. The Alien is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.
It’s questionable that anyone should include this in the Horror genre… but if it’s not, then what the hell is it? Drama, action, satire, and horror elements – kids forced to kill each other. Regardless, I still say it’s the best film of the 21st Century.
Is comic book adaptation its own genre? There are loose connections to horror here, with the unstoppable killer being the hero. The dark visuals and the origin plot are horror.
Assault On Precinct 13
Like many (most?) of Carpenter’s movies, this is a siege film. There isn’t anything supernatural, but it features hordes of faceless gang members attacking relentlessly – Night Of The Living Dead anyone? Also – ice cream.
It’s lighter and more family friendly than Jaws, but it’s still Spielbergian horror. Kids under threat from dinosaurs, huge unstoppable monsters, nowhere to run – good stuff.
Happy October everyone – Happy Halloween, Happy Horror Watching, and don’t forget to share your comments and memories!
Greetings, Glancers! Ladies keep your pants on as today we look at my favourite 10 Johnny Depp movies. I’ve been a big Depp fan since as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the first movie of his I saw was, but I’m farily positive it is something from this list. Depp has been a megastar since the early 90s and a star long before then, and he was my personal pick for that wonderful hetero-male schoolyard question – ‘if you had to shag one man, who would it be’. Kids these days.
Johnny Depp is known (increasingly so in recent years) for picking offbeat characters to portray, usually those on the fringes of society, or quirky, or with romantic burdens. These are the roles which he seems to enjoy, but he has also featured as more serious, straight types – most performances though he gives himself entirely over and even though you know it’s Johnny Depp you can feel the character rather than the actor. Below are my top ten Johnny Depp films – a mixture of performances that I think are his best while also thinking of my enjoyment of the whole film, with a greater focus on the performance. This top ten is actually fairly interchangeable – Number 1 is the only 1 that remains fixed, while the others are all essentially the same ranking, and quite a few other films not included are roughly similar in quality in my eyes.
10. A Nightmare On Elm Street
Depp’s first major appearance was in my favourite horror movie of all time. A Nightmare On Elm Street sees the young star playing a typical teen boyfriend and his role doesn’t go much further than the tropes and expectations of the genre. This is Nancy’s and Freddy’s movie, but everyone remember’s Depp for his failure to stay awake and his gloriously bloody demise. He doesn’t quite have the look yet, or the star power, but the film is so good and he is an integral part, so it has to make my top ten.
9. The Libertine
Has anyone even seen this movie? I feel like nobody has because nobody ever talks about it. Sure, it isn’t the best movie in the world, and is probably in the lower half of Depp’s filmography if we’re talking about good movies, but Depp’s performance is excellent – dirty, horrific, and with the venomous charm of a street addict looking for a final fix. Depp stars as the Earl Of Rochester, The Libertine of the title, a notorious pleasure seeker and dandy. As the film progresses, the hedonism comes back to bite the character in the body, if not the soul, and he begins to wither to an emaciated husk. Even as he falls to bodily corruption, he flies his singular flag, acting like a 17th Century punk hero who burned brightly for a few moments, then was snuffed out – except here he portrays the character as mostly unlikable and dastardly. It’s one of his bravest, most visceral performances.
8. Donnie Brasco
I’ve spoken about this movie before, covering it in my favourite Al Pacino performances. Depp and Pacino work well together, and while Pacino’s weary, fading performance grabs the eye, it is Depp who goes through the changes – the loving cop husband seduced by the darkside. People never gave Depp’s ‘serious’ performances the credit they deserved at the time, and now moan about how every film now is some bizarro freakshow. You can’t have it both ways! Or more accurately where Depp is concerned – of course you can. Depp can play any sort of role, and here it is one of his finest straight shots. He gets to play a normal human, flawed and wretched like the rest of us, but without the need for grandiosity or make-up, and with all of that stripped away he still knocks it out of the park.
7. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
As everyone knows, the sequels drastically went downhill while becoming increasingly convoluted, but the original Pirates Of The Caribbean Movie is as perfect a popcorn movie you’re ever likely to see. A fun adventure filled with larger than life scoundrels, daring escapades, laughs, romances, and good performances all around. Depp steals the show entirely in what may now be regarded his most famous role. Jack Sparrow is more of a Pirate to the public conscience now that Blackbeard or Long John Silver or Old No-Eyed Skip Stumpy Stump. His maniacal performance deservedly got an Oscar nomination, probably should have got the win, and is brimmed with swaggering confidence and anxious ticks.
6. Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
After some time away from bestie Tim Burton, Depp joined forces with his sullen goth pal once more to bring this musical to stinking life. I was genuinely shocked at how dark and depressing the film actually was, and that was after me already knowing the story since childhood. It’s one of the few instances where I felt kind of shaken leaving the Cinema, and that is as much down to Depp as it is the denouement and the gorgeous look and feel of the thing. Depp channels and then exorcises his Ichabod Crane and merges it with some malevolent, swamp monstrosity. The Demon in the title is key – this is a man, and a performance, possessed by something unspoken and arch, a foul parasite that destroys whatever it comes into contact with – and yet you still somehow manage to feel sorry for him.
5. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Going full Depp, is that a thing? It is now. Yes, Depp goes full Depp in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, chewing the scenery as much as his own face, and making merry with Del Toro and go as they ravage Vegas to pieces in their quest for half-assed gonzo reporting and the finest highs the world can offer. It’s well documented that Depp and Hunter S Thompson were pals, and Depp takes his look, mannerisms, and speech, mangles them in a stoned haze, and tosses them through the looking glass to craft another colourful character and performance that can never be forgotten once seen.
4. Benny And Joon
This was pretty much ignored at release and beyond, except for a few years after the turn of the century when everyone remembered it existed. Since then it has vanished from people’s minds once more. Or so it seems to me. It’s a gentle comedy, a quiet romance, and features Depp being just off centre enough to still be adorable but not off-putting. The film is never laugh out loud funny, or heartbreaking, or anything extreme – it is light and airy, without becoming preachy or sentimental. It’s simply a sweet story, with Depp showing us a different side to what he was known to at the time, recalling the physical comedians of the past.
3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
It’s Johnny at his most hearthrobby, whatever that means. DiCaprio rightly gets the plaudits for his performance, but Depp, Lewis,and all the rest all give it a damn good go to complete a touching portrayal of daily struggles. Depp is able to carry a lot of the film as the ostensible lead, and he doesn’t have the suit of armour or make-up to hide behind as in his previous hit. There is nothing inherently quirky about his character, name aside, but it is the situation he finds himself in which borders on the unusual. Depp is a strange mixture of passive, accepting, and keen – willing to be the father figure and brother, yet accepting of his lot even as he hopes for more.
2. Ed Wood
Depp’s other film of 1993 allowed him to unleash his more madcap and exuberant side as he plays the title character in the cult biography. Teaming up with Burton after their earlier success, Ed Wood was a much smaller movie and for many years remained that Tim Burton or Johnny Depp movie that no-one had seen. Even with the critical acclaim which was given to the film and its stars, it was a commercial failure which has luckily found a cult audience in the years since. What is key to the success of the film is that it does not outright mock or laud its titular figure – it simply presents a captivating story of people with a dream and a will – people who will never succeed, people who have already succeeded but been spat out, and people who remain enamored by an industry that doesn’t care about them. Depp’s Wood is stellar, ably backed by a terrific Martin Landau – another instance of the supporting performer getting the plaudits over Depp when both performers deserve all the praise. Depp’s character is child-like in both enthusiasm and despair, a most human Peter Pan, and is just out of place and time enough to be noticeable – he is someone for the powerful to swat away and the needy to cuddle and protect.
Once again my Number 1 should not surprise anyone – Edward Scissorhands is in my mind a flawless film and one of my all time favourites. The only criticism I have ever been able to lay at its feet is that it just isn’t long enough. This is a star-making performance by Depp, creating an emphatic 90s outsider and anti-hero, and showcasing his ability as a physically expressive actor and someone who is able to play the audience for laughs and tears in equal measure. Much of the credit of the film goes of course to Burton – the ideas of isolation, the frivolous horrors of suburban America, and the bizarre realities and feelings of the outcast are his – but all of these are portrayed through the script, the colours, and the performances, with Depp at his best as Edward.
Ten great films and ten great performances – 10 films every film fan should see. I think seven of these performances are worthy of Oscar nominations/wins, so once I get to the 90s in my Oscars rundown, you’ll see most of these popping up. Let us know in the comments what your favourite Johnny Depp films and performances are!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since my last TTT post, and as it’s October why not resume things with a director who is more than a little familiar with the darker side of life. David Lynch, for most people, is synonymous with weird – his films often dividing critics and fans due to their uncompromising dedication to non-linear, non-traditional storytelling. Some call it art, others call it shit, but most agree that his work will continue to spark debate.
Lynch’s movies have so far garnered over 10 Oscar nominations, but have yet to gain a single win, though his movies frequently appear on many ‘Best Movies Of The Year/Decade/Ever’ lists and generally feature notable or iconic performances or scenes, along with famous scores and unforgettable imagery. He has, at the time of writing, made 10 movies which is handy for today’s list as I can rank them all in order from my least favourite to my absolute favourite. As always, the numbers aren’t set in stone and may change slightly depending on my mood. Lets not wait 25 years for this gum to come back in style!
I wanted to start out by saying that this is possibly Lynch’s most divisive film… but i truth the same could be said for most films on the list. It’s one I looked forward, but one which I ultimately didn’t get. I haven’t read the source material and don’t have any sort of affinity or relationship with the story, but I loved the idea of Lynch tackling a fantasy epic – his attempt at a blockbuster. To be honest it’s a bit of a shambles and I struggled to get through it. I’m willing to give it another go as it has been years since I saw it, and many people don’t appreciate Lynch’s films upon first viewing – though in most cases it’s love at first sight for me. Dune has since gone on to be named as one of the worst movies of all time, and Lynch has pretty much distanced himself entirely from it, after saying that the Studio and Producers didn’t give him the control he needed.
Lynch’s most recent feature is now 10 years old, and given the Director’s return to TV we may not see another movie from him. Hopefully that’s not the case. Inland Empire say Lynch going fully digital for the first time, but returning to old hallmarks such as the fish out of water, ambition crushing and cursing, seedy underbellies, dopplegangers, shadows, and tantalizing mysteries with creepy tangents. Laura Dern is superb as an actress who gets a part in big movie, but who life begins to unravel and seemingly merge with the plot of the movie. It’s possibly Lynch’s most dense and confusing work given that Lynch himself admitted that the writing and shooting process went almost hand in hand, rather than having a script ready before shooting. The loose structure is similar to Mulholland Drive in that the first part is mostly linear, while the second half collapses upon itself with multiple scenes tumbling over each other. The film gets more impenetrable as it progresses, but Dern’s performance gets stronger and more intense along the way, proving to be an anchor in the storm. It’s not advised to start your Lynch viewing with this one, but it’s essential nonetheless.
The Straight Story
What Lynch would amusingly call his ‘most experimental movie’, the ironically titled The Straight Story is of course Lynch’s most accessible work. Telling the true story of Alvin Straight, a WWII veteran who travels across North America on a lawnmower to visit his brother. Naturally the idea is going to put some people off watching the movie, but those people would be missing out on one of the most touching US movies of the decade a true story of heroism and the triumph of the human spirit. As you would expect, there are lots of vignettes and interesting characters met along the way, each offering something important about the human condition. With an Oscar nominated performance by Richard Farnsworth and support by Harry Dean Stanton and Sissy Spacek, this is a gentle introduction to Lynch – some of his humour and treatment of character, but in no way prepares you for his more well known work.
The Elephant Man
Lynch’s most successful feature, The Elephant Man was nominated for 8 Oscars, but somehow didn’t win anything. His other biographical tale, it recounts the life of Joseph Merrick, a man born with a horrendous deformity which meant he spent a large part of his life in a freak show. John Hurt gives possibly his best performance in the title role, alongside Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Gielgud. As you would expect, the film is both tragic and hopeful, powerful and affecting, beautifully shot and with several standout moments of dialogue or incisiveness.
This is where it all began, and it would be difficult to argue against this being still Lynch’s most confusing and disturbing feature. I remember being haunted by the poster from an early age, before I knew anything about Lynch, just knowing that it would be an odd and frightening experience if I ever saw the film. Mostly financed by Lynch and his friends, the film took several years to make, and several years after release until it found its audience. None of this will be surprising to anyone who has seen the movie – what most people read as a fear of parenthood, fatherhood, isolation, commitment, family. Jack Nance stars as a young man who is left to look after his ‘child’ – a writing, lizard like creature which seems to exist just to scream and feel pain. As time passes he experiences unnerving visions and.. that’s about it really. It has to be seen to be believed, and once seen you will never forget it. It’s one of the few films which makes me genuinely uneasy and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through it more than a couple of times. Why so high on my list then? Nance is brilliant as always, and the sheer creativity and audacity on show is alarming – it’s precisely because it is so difficult to watch that it is so good – it’s a calamitous nightmare, a shrieking cloud of imagery which comes closer to generating and understanding personal fear better than a hundred horror movies or books on the subject. Critical consensus on the movie is generally positive, but what is interesting is that critics are divided over whether this is his best work, to the point that nothing he made later comes close, or that his later work is much more refined and mature to the point that Eraserhead is a mere early experiment. Watch it and decide for yourself.
Famous, not least for bringing Dennis Hopper back into the limelight for good reasons, Blue Velvet is another critically acclaimed high point for Lynch – a bizarre stripping back of suburbia’s skin and an investigation of the flesh which writhes underneath. Lynch had already made a failed blockbuster with Dune, and a hit biographical drama with The Elephant Man, so wanted to make something more personal with story, character, and setting elements which were more familiar to him. What comes out is an extremely dark mystery, blending noir elements with moody jazz tones and a twisted vision of America filled with secrets and savagery. Hopper gives an extraordinary performance, the young Laura Dern and Kyle Maclachlan hold their own, and Isabella Rossellini is the most manic femme fatale you’re ever likely to see.
I think Lost Highway has had a bad rap – at release it was largely dismissed. As a mystery, it is more impenetrable than Blue Velvet, there is less of an emotional connection with the audience, but I find it the more interesting film. With Lost Highway Lynch presents another warped vision of America, almost as if two separate but connected worlds which exist on both sides of a highway begin to blur and drip into one another. Where Lost Highway ‘fails’ is in it doesn’t feature a big, iconic performance. The trio of Arquette, Pullman, and Getty are very good, each evoking a bewildered, dreamy state as they struggle to understand the mystery they find themselves in. We also get notable performances from Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, and Richard Pryor – each terrifying in their own way. The story allows for many interpretations and nightmarish moments, and each viewing only serves to unlock more rooms and questions.
I was late to the Mulholland Drive party. In fact, it was the last movie on this list I saw. I’m not sure why I’d held off for so long – unless the movie is something which really leaps out to me as something I desperately need to see, I wait for it to come to me via TV or streaming sites. Naturally I loved the film from first sight – the moody tones and textures, the assortment of scenes and characters all colliding with the central plot and offering tantalizing glimpses into something bigger. If you’re already reading this then you probably know that the film was originally supposed to be a pilot for a new TV show – hence the additional characters and plots which seem to go nowhere. Lynch is able however to weave it all together by allowing the film to disintegrate – time and space become liquid or air, and events merge together. There are memorable moments and a terrific cast – the Llorando theatre scene is a personal favourite and both Naomi Watts and Laura Harding are excellent – Lynch always seems to know how to get powerful performances from his female leads.
Fire Walk With Me
Speaking of female leads and powerful performances – do you remember when Sheryl Lee won the best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me? No? Well, that’s because it never happened. It it will go down in history as one of the biggest shambles of the Academy’s history that wasn’t even nominated. Do these people even watch movies? There are various reasons for this – the most notable being that the film received a critical mauling in the US upon release, and many people were upset that the movie was so drastically different in tone from the TV show. Make no mistake, Fire Walk With Me is a horror movie; one of the most emotionally draining, stunningly shot, well performed horror movies of all time, but a horror movie nonetheless. Lynch gets full reign and rather than wrapping up the many cliffhangers from the show he simply explores the last week of Laura Palmer’s life and delves deeper into the dark heart of Twin Peaks than the show ever did. Make sure you have seen the show before you watch the movie though, but if you like the show be prepared to have the rug pulled from under you – there are few, if any, quirky laughs to be found here.
Wild At Heart
While we’re on the topic of Oscar omissions I always found it odd that Wild At Heart was so abandoned. I mean, Diane Ladd got a Supporting Nomination, but what about Cage, Dern, and the writing team? I’m going to be ruthless and say that Wild At Heart is Lynch’s least essential film, but easily his most entertaining and mainstream. Sure there is weirdness, but nothing that would ever put the laziest viewer off. This is Lynch doing Tarantino before that was even a thing. This is a love, sex, and violence fueled, foul-mouthed road trip of mayhem with a manic assortment of comic book characters who leap off the screen with abandon, creating a gripping, thrill ride of laughter and drama the likes of which you’ll rarely see again.It isn’t his most essential, it isn’t his best, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and it’s one which is so easy to return to again and again.
Think I’ve got any of the above completely wrong? Let us know in the comments what your favorite Lynch films are, and if you think he has another classic up his sleeve!
Greetings, Glancers. Today I list my top 10 favourite Disney movies. Animated movies that is, as most of their non-animated stuff is muck. For almost a hundred years, Disney has been synonymous with animation and they have crafted some of the world’s most imaginative movies with stunning visuals, timeless stories, wicked villains, tireless heroes and heroines, and a multitude of memorable side characters and songs which have become cultural touchstones – there simply isn’t another company like it. While I have yet to see all of their central animated movies and hardly any of the many many straight to DVD sequels and spin offs, my Top Ten represents a fairly wide array of choices to represent just what made, and continues to make them so special.
10. The Sword In The Stone
One of the lesser known and most unusual Disney movies, this tale based on Arthurian Legend doesn’t feature a princess in need of rescue or any overly memorable songs, but it does have cutesy animal characters, quirky humour, and a host of slapstick action and ideas. The animation has a similarly bland feel to 101 Dalmations but a variety of colour schemes and transformation scenes which are magical in my childhood and were likely all the more impressive at the time of release. Arthur is an unusual hero, a bumbling but well-meaning idiot, surrounded by brash masculine figures, a crabbidy old owl, and a wizened old wizard. Madam Mim makes for a unique villain, a crazed witch who doesn’t really have a goal in the overall film’s plot, but her scenes are a lot of fun and make you wish she played a bigger part. The plot of the story is fairly bizarre too, as it simply chronicles a short stage in Arthur’s life as he moves from weak little squire to England’s rightful ruler – but it features some early meta-humour and enough oddities to make it charming for a viewer like me.
I almost was not going to include this monstrosity, but I have seen it so many times that it is not only a huge pop culture phenomenon, but something which my family has watched together numerous times. If you’re a parent of young children then you’re probably in the same boat – Let it Go will haunt your waking hours without warning, your house is adorned with Frozen memorabilia, clothes, toys, and you know the characters, dialogue, and story by heart. It’s difficult to be cynical when the film is so good at wrapping up the kids in its wonder, and its’ very easy for an older viewer to get pulled in again. It’s classic Disney stuff, with many tropes twisted on their heads, clever one-liners, great characters, and a message which values true love in any form over blind faith.
8. The Lion King
Like Frozen I almost feel obliged to include The Lion King in my Top Ten. I know it’s going to many people’s favourite, especially people of my age who think it’s ever so clever to announce at the top of their voices that it’s based on Hamlet. There are quiet a few films not included on this list that I enjoy more than The Lion King, but where it succeeds over those is in the quality of animation, music, performances, and humour. The cast of The Lion King is superb and breath life into even the most minor character, and with a list including Simba, Mufassa, Scar, Timone, Pumba, the hyenas, and many more, there is so much to love. Throw Elton John, Hans Zimmer, and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics into the mix and you have one of the most successful movies ever made. The subtle use of CG merged with gorgeous traditional animation serves up a sprawling view of Africa – bright, mammoth, and deadly, but brimming with life and wonder.
I saw Pocahontas quite late, after generally seeing the 90s Disney output shortly after release. I remember only watching part of it after its VHS release, and then only watching it fully some years later on TV. It continues the gorgeous art work of the 90s Disney features before the CG began taking over, and features a very strong female lead in the title character, continuing the company’s trend which started with The Little Mermaid. The story of the cultured white man coming to the new world and staking his claim may get criticized for being simplistic, but along with the general environmental message this is a story with heart and meaning – aimed at children. I have no doubt that the messages sink in to younger minds and hopefully once watched a bunch of more tolerant people come out the other end.
We have a dastardly villain who may not be the most memorable in the Disney canon but still is eminently slappable, a strogn male lead in John Smith, a few decent side kick characters, and of course Pocahontas herself. It isn’t a joke heavy movie, but there are a few funny moments, strewn between some effective action scenes and of course a load of great music – it’s the music which raises the movie well above average and reminds us of the message.
Disney struck gold again after the modest financial and critical success of their previous two movies with Mulan. I don’t remember this getting much praise upon release and it seems like the movie’s popularity has grown with time. Mulan is a divisive character, getting both praise and sharp criticism from feminists, but in my mind she is another progressive Disney woman who controls her own destiny. I also would rank Mulan as one of the most beautiful looking Disney films -the oriental art style and the setting being unique and one I wish the company would return to. Shan Yu is one of the most vicious and evil Disney bad guys, although he is perhaps not memorable due to his lack of comic moments. The voice cast is superb, with Ming na Wen, BD Wong, and James Hong all giving terrific performances, but Eddie Murphy steals the show as the dragon Mushu. The battle scenes are epic and exciting, the songs are wonderful, there are plenty of visual and slapstick gags, the hero’s journey is hopeful and poignant, and we even get an excellent montage, Rocky style.
Moving on from the Girl Power Disney Princesses of the 90s, the Noughties Disney girls retained their strength while still being girly – never more obviously shown than with Rapunzel. I’ve always loved the story of Rapunzel and was excited when Disney said they would be tackling it. It’s one of the fastest paced, most fun Disney movies with gloriously bright visuals and a fairly sad plot. Rapunzel is an extremely lovable character, somehow always upbeat even though she was kidnapped at birth an locked in a tower for her whole life, while Flynn Rider is an affectionate rogue in the Han Solo mould. Mother Gothel is one of the most interesting villains in Disney history – ambiguous enough that we think she does sort of love Rapunzel, but clearly wicked and self-interested. It must have been a difficult task for the writers to turn the witch of the original story into someone as wily and engaging as Gothel, and Donna Murphy gives her rambunctious diva breath. While the songs may not be as monumental as those in other movies on this list, they are a hell of a lot of fun and performed in a light, bouncing spirit.
What always disturbed me about most versions of the original story was how the first half focused on these loving, poor parents who have a child, and in the second half it’s all about Rapunzel, the Witch, and the Prince – the parents apparently never find out what happened to their baby; Tangled changes this for the better. It’s maybe cynical that her parents are King and Queen, but who cares – it’s magic!
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Okay, I’m cheating a little with this one as it isn’t really a classic Disney feature, but it’s still a product of them – current animators, ex-animators, and it spices up the list giving something with a little bit of flavour. It is a fantastic story, imaginative, dark, and filled with cheeky charm. The stop motion still looks as good today as when I saw it in the cinema, and Jack Skellington is a legend. An unusual love story like several of Tim Burton’s others, this is a tale for kids who are perhaps that little bit lonelier than others or who simply appreciate the darker things in life or maybe see the world through a rim of shadow that a ray of light – but who still dream and hope.
Another one I saw in the Cinema upon release, Aladdin must rank among the most entertaining, funny, and action packed Disney movies and has possibly the best single performance in any animated movie – Robin Williams as The Genie. Disney has a record of employing iconic comedians for their movies, but never before or since has someone as loved as Williams provided so much of their own style , personality, and energy into a character.
With all the anti-Muslim fearmongering and hatred in the world at the moment I’m surprised Aladdin is still as beloved as it is. Hopefully that shows that a good film will always be a good film no matter how culture changes and how many fools decide to show their true colours. At its heart though, this is classic Disney – dreams of better days, love and romance, freedom and desire, all offset against wicked, ruthless, and selfish ambition. Like many Disney classics of old we get a roster of classic characters – Aladdin the adventurous street rat, Jasmine the lonely Princess who wants true love and a real life of possibility, Jafar the insidious cheat and power-hungry magician, The Genie and more. The movie builds upon the CG experiment unveiled in Beauty And The Beast to provide dazzling thrills and timeless set pieces – the escape from the Cave Of Wonders, Jafar’s last stand, and of course a little sequence involving a song called ‘A Whole New World’. Disney truly expanded its horizons in the 90s and Aladdin was a key component of that expansion – it remains as effervescent and amusing and enjoyable to new viewers new as it was to oldies like me.
2. The Jungle Book
In some ways I’m surprised this one is so high up my list – when I was young it was the Disney movie I probably saw most and at times I got annoyed about this because I wanted to check out other Disney movies but the only thing being shown was The Jungle Book. It got quickly to the point that I knew the dialogue and lyrics off by heart, meaning I would unleash impromptu King Louie performances upon unsuspecting school friends (I never could manage to skip over my own arms though). The Jungle Book is maybe the central ‘Boy’s Disney Movie’ as it skips many of the traditional Disney tropes – Princesses, romance, some typical bad guy to overcome, and instead it’s basically an adventure, a journey through the jungle with a bunch of friends getting into various scrapes. There is of course Shere Khan, voiced deliciously by George Sanders who acts in the antagonist role, but rather than being a constant stalking presence, he’s only there so we have a greater sense of threat and conflict. It’s about leaving home, finding your place in life, finding friends, and making your own home, family, and future. There’s also a lot of singing and scratching your arse against trees.
The Jungle Book has some of Disney’s finest songs and funniest scenes. In Baloo the bear we have the perfect madcap folly to the straight-laced Bagheera, in Mowgli we have the innocent wide-eyed man-cub who is easily influence by the world and characters around him a la Pinocchio, and there’s a host of supporting characters from Primate mobsters, Scouse vultures, and marching elephants. If you don’t laugh at Baloo shouting in Bagheera’s face, or if you don’t dance, sing, and woo-bee-doo at this, you have no soul.
Beauty And The Beast
It couldn’t really be anything else, could it? You can rank Snow White as the most important, Pinocchio as the archetype, The Little Mermaid as the first return to form for the Company, but for me Beauty And The Beast trumps everything else – in those categories and more. Arguably the first animated movie in 50 years to be taken as a serious piece of art*, it was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, it breathed new life into an old story and completely rejuvenated a Company that many would have claimed to be past their best. It brilliantly utilizes the state of the art CG which was just creeping into the industry, seamlessly blending with traditional artwork to create a sweeping re-imagining of a tale as old as time, with classic characters, timeless music, and a story everyone will enjoy.
Belle is one of the finest Disney heroines – containing all the Princess tropes of beauty and kindness, but possessing an inner and outer strength, a huge imagination, and a dream of there simply being more to life than her quiet provincial existence. Thrust into a nightmare, it is her inner strength which turns her fears to fantasy and her fantasy to reality as she sacrifices her future for her father’s safety and embarks upon an adventure where beast can be more human than man and love can be the only thing to save us. The Beast is a fantastic creation – terrifying when he needs to be, and scary when he doesn’t, dumb, shy, proud, funny, lonely, regretful, but at his heart he learns to be heroic and to also understand a selfish sacrificial act. We have Gaston as the worst of humanity – a pinnacle of manhood – masculinity for masculinity’s sake, a man who believes the world should obey his puerile whims, and someone who is cruel, calculating, and will let nothing sway him from the pursuit and completion of his goals. Then there are the side characters of Lumiere, Mrs Potts, Coggsworth, Chip, Belle’s father and many more who each are important in their own right and each make the movie that bit more special. It is rare for any movie, let alone an animated one, to have such fully formed and interesting characters in such a vibrant world.
I can’t leave without commenting on the music – not only do we have a fantastic array of songs, but the incidental music is superb too – just listen to the opening track played over the prologue which blossoms into ‘Belle’. The music meant multiple Oscar nominations and two wins for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, but lyrically they are excellent too – funny, poignant, and imaginative – getting right to the core of the character or struggle. Howard Ashman wrote most of the lyrics for the soundtrack on his deathbed, adding another layer of tragedy and something bittersweet – he never got to see the final product, but there could surely be no finer passing gift.
So there you have it, my personal favourite Disney movies. A polarizing company with many polarizing works – but if you’re reading this I’m sure you have your own favourites. Why not share them and your reasons in the comments below!
*Grave Of The Fireflies might have something to say about that.