(31/10/20) The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(2-23/10/22) The Cloverfield Trilogy
(31/10/20) The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(2-23/10/22) The Cloverfield Trilogy
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
One of the earliest, and finest, family-friendly horror films. A loving homage to the genre with plenty of laughs, scares, and references to both the character’s history as well as the history of horror. Full review in the upcoming edition of UnDividing Lines.
A certified classic that solidified the “found footage” style of horror movies. With regular, flawed characters and a shining example of having a horrifying creature without having to show much of it. Full review HERE.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
A stunning follow-up that proves not only can a sequel be as good as the original, but it can be better. Perfect use of a minimal environment with a twist that continues to chill, even if you already know what it is. Full review HERE.
ET The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
A beloved family classic for a reason. It has marvelous characters, great emotion and excellent visuals…all of which were stronger upon a cinematic viewing. Beautifully re-mastered and masterfully scored.
Jaws – in 3D! (1975/2022)
The original blockbuster remains one of the best. It’s a slow burn, with very few shots of the shark and a minimalistic but beautiful score. Also stunningly remastered for the big screen.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
The first new release on this list is a delight. Funny, full of violence and with an on-point take on class structure this is worth catching up on if you missed it.
Werewolf by Night (2022)
An MCU installment that’s only an hour long, and it’s about time. This spooky tale feels unlike any other part of the franchise, proving Michael Giacchino isn’t just great with music, but can master any craft he puts his mind to.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared [Series](2022)
Based on the YouTube series of the same name and created by the same team, this show is a trip. Life lessons shrouded in humour and dark imagery, it’s exactly the kind of show young people deserve.
Gravity Falls [Series](2012)
One of the greatest shows ever created and worthy of a full, loving analysis someday. Funny, heartfelt and occasionally featuring genuine scares, the story of the Pines family is worth every second.
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
An odd creature for sure. Developed in the same way as it’s predecessors but lacking the same oomph, it’s worth watching for a couple performances and the score. Full review HERE.
The Babysitter (2017)
A new seasonal classic from Netflix, this is an absolute delight to watch. Horror-comedies feel underrated and with films like this, that shouldn’t be the case.
The Simpsons Halloween Specials I-XII (1990-2001) / The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XIII-XXI (2002-2020) / The Simpsons Thanksgiving of Horror (2019) [Series]
A staple of the holiday that continues to entertain with new installments every single year. The “original” run of 7 episodes were solely focused on horror and remain undisputed classics, but even as the series began to lean more heavily on current pop culture references it never began to disappoint. There are a couple of dud segments but no entire episode worth skipping over. The Thanksgiving edition is especially wonderful.
The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)
More proof that a sequel can be as good as the original. It manages to retread old ground without ever feeling like a direct copy, has plenty more laughs and features the sweetheart of the moment Jenny Ortega.
Coraline may have thrust Laika Studios into the limelight, but ParaNorman ensured that they stayed there. This loving homage to the horror genre may be a little basic but it has everything it requires to entertain people of all ages. Full review HERE.
The Lost Boys (1987)
The Joel Schumacher classic remains a seasonal favourite for a reason. Only a director like Joel in a decade like the 1980s could have brought forth something this bizarre, camp and filled with brilliant special effects. Worth hunting down if it continues to escape your watchlist.
One of the best films ever made. Sure, it’s cheesy and the special effects aren’t exactly on par with something like The Terminator, but it has so much character. Every cast member is bringing their A-Game, the effects are still impressive, and it’s tied together beautifully with that ethereal score. Full review HERE.
Ghostbusters II (1989)
A guilty pleasure for many fans, including myself. It feels at times like a rehash of the original and is definitely more geared towards children, but it has just as much fun packed into it. Full review HERE.
A highlight of the season every single year. It’s a special effect, comedy, and acting masterclass all rolled into one package. Relentlessly quotable with a great score, it sticks in the mind all year round. The soundtrack for the Broadway musical gets plenty of playtime too. Full review HERE.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Only the second viewing for this apparent classic and it’s not difficult to fall in love with. It’s corny in a way that only 1990s Disney Channel movies can be but is held together by some extremely over-the-top performances and a heck of a musical number. Another highly quotable delight.
The Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)
The Muppets have always rolled with the times and this special is no exception. With a slew of current celebrity cameos and a delightful performance from Will Arnett, it’s honestly just nice to hang out in the Henson realm for a bit. And there’s no better choice for this bizarre season than the oddest of Muppets – Gonzo.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
I’ve often heard this described as THE definitive version of Dracula but that might just be in reference to the vampiric maestro himself. This adaptation is gorgeous to look at but is often too surreal for its own good when it isn’t being dull. It’s a lot of flair with very little punch.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Director Henry Sellick’s timeless fantasy continues to delight. It’s all about the visuals and the score, both of which are on point. Though the story and characters are basic, they have a certain amount of charm that makes seeing them once or twice a year totally worth it.
Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)
If the original was corny in a 1990s way, then it makes sense that the sequel would be corny in a 2020s way. Once that’s accepted, it can often be just as wonderful, even if there are perhaps more musical numbers than there need to be. The childhood counterpart for the Sanderson sisters do a particularly wonderful job.
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2010)
An underrated classic, which has been on my watchlist for many years now. A hilarious subversion of horrors “killer hillbillies” trope, with a couple of endearing performances from the main pair of bumbling doofuses. It doesn’t skimp on the gore either, leaving it in the same vein as something like Scream.
Animation is for children. At least, this is what some adults will try to have you believe. Current Disney CEO Bob Chapek is one such adult, which may partially explain why the world is in the midst of a live-action-remake-renaissance. The fine folks over at PIXAR Animation Studios have never held such a belief, knowing that children can handle most of what life can throw at them and that’s there no use hiding them from reality. The same is true of Laika Studios, whose 2009 classic Coraline delighted and terrified audiences of all ages. It was the very first film they’d produced for themselves, having assisted on other projects like The Corpse Bride, but it wouldn’t be their final forray into the world of horror. 3 years later came ParaNorman, which is often overshadowed by it’s predecessor but is no less creative.
The story follows 11 year old Norman, who has the unique ability to see and speak to ghosts, as he attempts to stop a 300 year old witches curse from destroying his town. The curse, which until recently had been held at bay by a crazed hermit, brings back to life the seven jurors who sentenced the witch to death as well as the spirit of the witch herself. Along the way, he is assisted by his older sister Courtney, school bully Alvin, best friend Neil and Neils older brother Mitch. It’s a simpler plot than Coraline but the characters and their dynamics are just as interesting. There’s the classic sibling rivalry betwween Norman and Courtney which also exists between Neil and Mitch, whilst Alvin finds himself clinging to the group out of fear. Courtney’s infatuation with Mitch is especially fun to witness, particularly on a rewatch with the knowledge that Mitch is gay.
The plot never makes a big deal out of that fact. It isn’t a running thread throughout themovie and, when revealed, isn’t given an aura that demands praise. It’s just part of who he is and comes up naturally, which is how it should be. Gay people are more than just their sexuality, which is something that Laika continues to understand. Their following three films would include gay characters, both in the background and the foreground, but there was never a massive deal made about them. Disney has been expecially bad for using gay characters as a marketing gimmick but the fail to grasp that this community isn’t demanding attention. The goal is simply to be included because that’s how it is in reality. The LGBT community only seems loud because it fights so hard to exist without prosecution, which is only getting more difficult by the year. Characters like Mitch normalise a community that has been seen as “other” for decades and help children to realise that, not only are there gay people, but that it’s ok to be gay yourself. It breeds a more open and loving ideollogy in children who see it and provides hope for a netter tomorrow for the community. Mitch was the first gay character in a “children’s” movie and he remains one of the best examples of how such a character can be handeled.
The most interesting development in ParaNorman occurs as act three begins. The seven undead jurors are not the steotypical undead, but are instead victims of the witches curse who wish to be set free. The overall message here is to not jusge a book by its cover but this only works because the idea of a “zombie” is so ingrained in popular culture…which is fascinating. It’s an idea embeded so deep withing society that this tweist works regardless of the age of the viewer and it only works better as time goes on. The zombie genre has seen a surge in popularity over the last decade propelled, in part, by the success of shows like The Walking Dead (a show which ironically will not die). However it also means that subverting the expectation of brain-hungry zomnies is not as unique as it once was, having been used in films like Warm Bodies and Life After Beth. ParaNorman was one of the originators and, considering how well they pulled it off, it’s no wonder it stuck around.
It’s also a remarkable homage to the B Movies of old. The opening scene is an in-universe B Movie which perfectly sends up the hoaky acting, simple sets and bright colours. This homage continues throughout the film itself. Laika’s signature stop-motion animation comes across on screen as more jagged and slow in movement, providing a slightly uneasy feel akin to the low frame rates of early cinema. There’s also a lighter tone than something like Coraline, although it still has its dark moments. The eventual reveal of the witches identity is as heartbreaking in terms of narrative as it is in terms of historical accuracy. There is also a direct link between the witch, the hermit and Norman which is never stated outright but is evident enough from context clues. It feels that a link like that would be directly adressed in a film today, but again ParaNorman refuses to talk down to its audience.
Despite the admiration the creative team clearly have for the horror genre and the admiration audiences should hold for their creative process, ParaNorman remains second fiddle to Coraline.This is likely down to its simplicity and lack of emotional weight in comparrison, but that doesn’t make it a lesser film. ParaNorman has enough charm, humour and stly to stick around in the public conciousness…even garnering a 4K remaster for its tenth anniversary. There is plenty of room for both and they make a spectacular double bill, with Coraline serving as the major scare and ParaNorman acting as a semi-palette cleanser. Both feature a suitably spooky aesthetic and are sure to entertain.
ParaNorman is fun for the whole family.
And, incidentally, a Happy Halloween to you at home!
When is a movie actually two movies? When it’s The Cloverfield Paradox. The third part of the (current) Cloverfield trilogy had an even bigger challenge than its predecessor, needing to live up the legacy of two great movies instead of just one. Instead of going down the “spiritual successor” path, it opted to be a semi-sequel to both, placing all 3 films in a semi-shared universe which is a lot less complicated than it sounds. However, this isn’t where the issue lies, instead it comes with the focus of the plot which comes in two parts. Primarily it follows Ava Hamilton and her crew aboard the Cloverfield Space Station who are testing the Shepard Particle Accelerator to find a source of infinite energy for the Earth which is rapidly running out. Things go horribly wrong when they find themselves catapulted across dimensions to an alternate Earth, which is where the semi-sequel aspect comes in. It causes a rip in dimensions causing what is known as the “Cloverfield Paradox” which opens portals to other dimensions allowing unknown horrors to seep through. Essentially, it gives birth to the Cloverfield Multiverse. It’s an interesting enough story on its own but the secondary plot sees Ava’s husband Michael attempting to survive the carnage back home with a small child in tow.
This decision makes sense in theory. It should allow for more concern for Ava and what awaits her should she get home, but it doesn’t pack the impact it needs to. This is partially because not enough time is dedicated to the secondary plot and the little time that is spent with it doesn’t delve as deep into the monstrous destruction as it needs to. It’s also partially because the primary plot isn’t entirely focused on Ava’s return home. It’s the ultimate goal of her and her crew but they spend most of their time focused on surviving increasingly weird and horrific events aboard the station. The Cloverfield Paradox is trying to be a horror space sci-fi and a re-tread of the original Cloverfield, but it spends an unproportionate amount of time on both meaning that neither feel complete. This is likely due to it not originally being a Cloverfield script. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the project started life as a spec script but unlike that film, The Cloverfield Paradox feels like it’s cramming that IP’s elements in. The former merged it with the script to add a layer of suspense but barely focused on it whilst the latter made it its own point of focus. This plot element didn’t need to be cut but it needed to at least be refined. Perhaps have the Cloverfield Paradox affecting the alternate Earth before jumping back to their own hoping to escape. The reveal in the film’s final moments is tense but mainly due to actor Roger Davies’ performance as Michael instead of the moment feeling earned.
The primary plot aboard the space station is interesting on paper too, yet somehow lacks punch in its delivery. The dynamic between the crew isn’t as solid as a film like Alien, even when it tries to be, because these are standard characters with very little development. They should be the priority and the plot should revolve around how this disaster tests their relationships, which are already tense having lived in a confined space for two years. Instead, the plot treats them as side characters with much of the time on the station being spent with Ava. Eight members is a lot to juggle even when there isn’t an entire secondary story. Alien capped its crew at seven and spent more time with them in the opening act before the attack so that the eventual murders would be impactful. It feels like The Cloverfield Paradox was trying to replicate that but never focusses on the correct aspects.
The word “focus” has been used a lot in this review and, whilst repetition should be avoided where possible, it feels fitting because this film lacks focus. It can’t pick a plot, character or twist to maintain for overly long which simply isn’t an issue had by its predecessors. Those films work, in part, because the aim to tell one sole narrative with a small cast of characters. Cloverfield had 6 friends travelling through a deteriorating New York City to save another friend whilst 10 Cloverfield Lane spent its time with 3 characters in one location with two trying to escape to a world they aren’t even sure is there. The Cloverfield Paradox pits 8 characters against a space station that could collapse at any moment and anomalies that may do worse than kill them while also depicting life on Earth through 2 more characters. There is plenty here that could work if it was given a bigger role but as is, it’s a mediocre display of all these aspects with another stunning Bear Macreary score.
Perhaps the real monster is the Hollywood demand for sequels regardless of quality.
When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. The hit follow-up to the iconic Cloverfield had a lot to live up to in terms of legacy but it opted for a different path than most sequels. Instead of being a direct continuation of the story, it serves as a “spiritual successor” which maintains the atmosphere of the IP and very little else. This is largely due to the film beginning development as an independent script from writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken before J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot swooped in and adapted it to fit the world of Cloverfield.
This means that the plot was the primary focus of the script rather than conforming to public perception of legacy or trying to continue a story that needs no continuation. The film sees recently brokenhearted Michelle trapped in a bunker with conspiracy theorist Howard and town handyman Emmet during a supposed global attack. It’s a tale full of twists, with each more crushing to our characters than the last. At the center of it is Howard, whose motivations are always in question whether he seems kind, quirky or malicious. He switches between playing the roles of protagonist and antagonist which keeps the audience on their toes. This would be true regardless of what horrors may or may not await in the outside world.
The ambiguity of what is happening outside adds a further layer of tension. Howard’s theories are never specific enough to be believable but that could just be because he doesn’t know for certain what has happened. This ambiguity would be enough but 10 Cloverfield Lane takes it one step further by seemingly confirming each theory as the story progresses. Is it attacks from Russia, invasion by aliens or is there simply nothing wrong at all? The major twist in the plot may seem to be whether Michelle can escape Howard (and that is a twist) but it’s primarily what may await her if she gets free. This reveal even pulls a bait-and-switch at the very last moment to keep the audience on edge for as long as possible. Knowing the outcome doesn’t harm the ending of the film either, it simply changes why this aspect is so tense. Instead of worrying what may happen to Michelle outside, we become concerned by the lengths she is willing to go through to escape Howard and meet her fate.
Despite not being a found footage flick, there is still a high level of realism present, largely due to the production methods. Instead of filming scenes out of sequence due to location and actor availability, the film was shot entirely in order minus a few pickup shots. They also used MDF Boards (painted to look like concrete) to construct a physical bunker which, aside from allowing them to film however they wanted, allows for a natural flow from room to room. There’s no trying to figure out schematics (a la Seinfeld’s apartment) because this is a physical space with a physical layout. It was also designed to look like it had been built in stages over the course of many years which is a minor enough detail that most probably won’t pick up on it but still adds a layer of authenticity. It’s all wrapped together in the bow that is Bear McCreary’s unsettling score. It allows for an added level of emotion manipulation that the original Cloverfield was never able to provide, and it is never overused. When the scene requires silence, it has it but when the tension needs lifting there’s the score. This is only one of McCreary’s many projects, but he would, most noticeably to me, go on to provide the score for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
There are those who will claim that the sequel is never as good as the original but films like 10 Cloverfield Lane prove that they are wrong. It’s not just on par with its predecessor, it surpasses it on every level. It has fewer elements in location and cast means that there is a much smaller room for error…so none are made. It’s worth getting trapped with.
When is a monster movie not a monster movie? When it’s Cloverfield. Yes, there’s a monster in it but it’s a more a catalyst for the plot than an actual antagonist. The film isn’t about the creature, it’s about the several lives being destroyed by it’s arrival. This is in stark contrast to something like A Quiet Place, where the protagonists are actively fending off their monsters but that’s only part of why Cloverfield works so well. It has become an icon of the horror genre, with producer J.J. Abrams being asked about the posibility of a sequel for almost a decade after it’s release. Eventually that sequel would come (sort of) and there would even be a threequel (sort of, we’ll get to that). Even now, the Cloverfield brand lives on, with a fourth installment reportedly in early development.
Even after a decade and the technological advancements that came with it, the simple story of Cloverfield remains tense to sit through. It follows a group of friends through the rapidly crumbling city of Manhattan as they attempt to reach a love interest trapped in her apartment that they can’t even garuntee is still alive. Tension builds through how unpredictable the stability of their surroundings areas are as well as how little is shown on screen. It makes excellent use of the found-footage style of filmmaking, proving the age-old adage that less is more. There are scenes where the monster is seen in it’s entirity but it spends the majority of the plot hidden behind buildings or smoke from debris. The biggest threat is the dog-sized parasites that fall from it’s body and lurk around possibly every corner that our protagonists may walk around. The creature designs are a little more basic than something from H.R. Gieger but they’re still memorable enough. The closest look that is given makes it clear that these creatures are more than a little bit gross, in a shot that stands out as one of the most memorable in the entire franchise.
The characters all feel realistic. None of them are the “hero” of the story, even though primary heartthrob Rob is presented that way. Even before the creature attacks, it’s clear that they lead messy lives. Jason and Lily argue like many couples but, although they may seem frustrated with each other, there is still obviously love there. Hud the cameraman and Marlene who wasn’t even meant to be at the party slowly form a bond over the course of the plot despite him being annoying and her being out of his league. Rob the “hero” is the one determined to save his love interest Beth but, having recently slept with her and not called her back, it feels like it’s primarily motivated out of guilt. Real life, much like this iteration of Manhattan, is messy and Cloverfield never shies away from that.
The cherry on top is the lack of score. There’s a Cloverfield Overture that plays through the credits and continues to keep the audience unsettled even after the plot is over, but the entire film has purely diagetic sound. Aside from making sense, given that this is supposed to be a tape found in Central Park, it allows the sound of silence to echo from the screen. There’s no jumpscare sound effects or quivering violins, the film has to scare with atmosphere alone. Even as the story races towards its conclusion and the action amps up, it never feels like a work of pure fiction. If a creature were to land in the middle of one of the most populated areas in the United States, this is likely how it would go down.
Providing visuals for a hypothetical attack is perhaps the most unnerving part of all.
The works of Tim Burton are ripe for Halloween viewings. Their gothic design and dark comedic writing lend themselves to late autumnal nights or even, in the case of Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, late winter nights. One of the most entertaining is 1988’s technologically astounding Beetlejuice.
The story sees recently deceased Barbara and Adam Maitland unwillingly sharing their house with the eccentric Dietz family. As they contemplate asking for help from self-proclaimed “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse, so too does the youngest member of the Dietz family Lydia who is desperate to leave home. Every single one of these characters is well fleshed out and likable. Barbara and Adam Maitland are clearly in love, despite never having to really say it. Their journey is comedically unfortunate but their upbeat attitudes keep them sympathetic. They are the straight people in this bizarre landscape but they are very rarely serious, instead attempting to find small moments of joy wherever they can. Meanwhile, Charles and Delia Dietz are quirky from the moment they enter the frame. Delia is an artist, in the most bizarre sense of the word, who is prone to anxiety and shrieking. Charles is dull in comparison as a former real estate agent who has lost his edge and simply wants to enjoy some peace and quiet. The comedy lies in how determined he is to enjoy that peace and how exasperated he is by his wife’s antics.
The story is equally centered on all of the main characters, but the true protagonists seems to be Lydia Dietz and Betelgeuse. Lydia is iconic, as one of the earliest pop culture goth icons. Mourning the loss of her mother and frustrated by Delia’s antics, she is fascinated by the world around her. She is able to see the strange and unusual because she herself is strange and unusual, and thus becomes torn between the world of the dead and the world of the living. She is sympathetic yet strong, which makes her a great intellectual match for Betelguese. The man himself is both morally and physically disgusting. Many words that describe him best are not suitable for children, given his infatuation with women- Lydia in particular. Betelgeuse has been dead for centuries but can return to the land of the living if he marries a mortal, so he chooses the desperate-to-escape Lydia. Having become trapped by this deal, he becomes the main villain of the 3rd act, having only been mischievous for the previous 2.
The brilliant characters are matched by stunning visual effects. A mixture of green screens, physical effects and stop motion animation create some of cinema’s most memorable visuals. The model work is wonderful. Adam Maitland’s model of the town where he lives is particularly wonderful as a prop and a plot point. Its use in the opening flyover is a beautiful send-up to other horror openings like The Shining and perfectly sets the tone of the film. The giant black and white Sandworm is particularly notable as a stop motion creature on a green screen. This not-so-subtle nod to Dune makes a couple of appearances throughout before helping to save the day in the finale (Chekov’s Worm, if you will) which isn’t just good writing but an excellent use of comedy’s Rule of 3. The practical effects used for the dead are outstanding. Each design is unique and conveys to the audience how this character died without ever having to say it. The Maitlands case manager has a slit in her neck that emits the smoke of her cigarette, whilst a member of the filing team is flattened with tire marks across his body. The latter of these characters is unable to work so is suspended from the ceiling and moves through a pulley system which is a great comedic gag and an amazing feat of engineering. Of course, it’s not just the characters that are well designed but the world that they live in. Tim Burton’s work is always unmistakably his and Beetlejuice is no exception. It’s full of angles and small pops of colour with a large palette of blacks, whites, and greys.
The film’s success inspired the animated television Beetlejuice: The Series, which aired on ABC from September 9, 1989, to October 26, 1991, with the final series airing on Fox from September 9, 1991, to December 6, 1991. Composer Danny Elfman returned to write the theme song while director Tim Burton returned as Executive Producer. The series doesn’t seem directly connected to the film, with The Maitlands being completely absent. It follows Lydia and Beetlejuice as they partake in supernatural adventures, with Beetlejuice often trying to scam inhabitants of both the mortal and non-mortal worlds. Their relationship is vastly different from the film, with them being friends instead of enemies. The whole series is very child-friendly and contains many vibrant colours but it is not commercially available outside of the United States.
The film also inspired a Broadway musical, which opened on April 25, 2019, and released the soundtrack on June 7, 2019, before taking a break due to The Pandemic. It’s closer in tone to the film but is a mixture of the film and series when it comes to plot. Following the loss of her mother, Lydia Dietz moves into a new house with her father and his new girlfriend where they are haunted by The Maitlands with a little help from Betelgeuse. Having been fired by The Maitlands, Betelgeuse then attempts to use Lydia for his nefarious deeds with her finally giving in and reveling in the darkness. Having realised that she could see her mother in the afterlife, Lydia follows the Maitlands, only for them to begin plotting a plan to keep Betelgeuse dead, which is pulled off during the finale. As in the series, the musical gives Beetlejuice and Lydia a more friendly, almost romantic relationship whilst Delia is portrayed as more of an airhead instead of an erratic artist. Meanwhile, the Maitlands are simply “unready” to have children before they die and their caseworker Juno only makes an appearance during the finale. It’s vastly different from both the film and the series – as it should be. Adaptation is pointless if everything remains the same. Eddie Perfect’s songs are an absolute delight and suit the materiel excellently. The Whole Being Dead Thing and Say My Name are good picks for the best song but, personally, I’m very fond of That Beautiful Sound which is a duet between Lydia and Beetlejuice as they revel in their mischief.
In all its forms, Beetlejuice is an absolute delight. It varies in darkness without ever straying too far to the light and excels at the absurd. Each is a feat of effects, whether practical or animation and the music always embodies the tone of the story. Tim Burton has created an outstanding and creative franchise that is brilliant all year round but is perfect at this time of year.
*Dedicated to my best friend to whom I owe everything. I love you.*
The year is 1973. It has been 4 years since the Stonewall Riots and 3 years since the first official Gay Pride Parade in New York. 31 year old Richard O’Brien, who has spent the past several years participating in theatre productions, has just finished working on a script of his own. The Rocky Horror Show, a musical tribute to the science fiction and horror B-movies of the previous decades, as well as the growing glam rock trend, opening in June of that year. Despite premiering upstairs at the relatively small Royal Court, which held 63 people, it soon grew in popularity and moved to the King Roads Theatre which holds 500 seats. By the end of the year, it had gone on to win the Evening Standard award for Best Musical. It wouldn’t be until March 1974 that the show was attended by Gordon Stulberg who was the executive at 20th Century Fox and made a deal to produce a motion picture of the production. It would be given the pretty minuscule budget of $1million which, if adjusted for inflation, is roughly $7million today.
Released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show follows newly engaged couple Brad and Janet as they find themselves stranded at the home of Dr Frank N Furter after their car suffers from a flat tyre. As the night progresses, Frank’s creation- a blonde hunk named Rocky- is brought to life, and bizarre events only become more bizarre. Perhaps the best way to describe The Rocky Horror Picture Show is by saying that it unapologetically queer. Dr Frank N Furter is portrayed by the always-enthusiastic Tim Curry, wearing nothing but a corset, fishnet stockings and high heels, while Rocky is confined to Golden Y-fronts. On top of this are the very stylish and make-up laden party guests, who are extremely eager for some debauchery. With all this in mind, allow me to tell you the tale of my first viewing.
I was a 15 year old christian who had been, arguably, over-protected by his family from anything considered abnormal. I was also coming to terms with my sexuality, having recently realised that I was bisexual, which was a less than enjoyable time. I tried to be myself as much as I could, but I really didn’t know what that meant anymore because I didn’t feel like it was safe to experiment. Luckily, my best friend and his family are astoundingly accepting and were eager to do what they could to help. These were the circumstances that led to my best friend, his sister, and me sat on their couch watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I was transfixed. I was, of course, familiar with theatre productions and musicals, having studied Shakespeare, Wilde and Webber, but I found myself realising that this was what it meant to be theatrical. Once the initial shock wore off, I was in love.
There have been many adaptations of theatre productions and musicals brought to the big screen over the years, and they have adapted in different ways. For instance, The Sound of Music (another one from 20th Century Fox) made good use of being able to shoot on location in the dazzling hills of Switzerland, which gave us one of the most iconic moments in cinema. The Rocky Horror Picture Show takes a different approach, by effectively doubling down on its stage roots. The entire piece takes place within one household, and so we are kept to only several rooms, all decorated lavishly with the budget they were provided. However, there is a distinct difference in the way these two individual films were treated by their studio. A distinct monetary difference. The Sound of Music was provided $8.2 million when it began production in 1964, which is around $68 million when adjusted for inflation. However The Rocky Horror Show had to make do with a relatively measly $1 million in 1974 which only inflates to $6 million today. Now, I’m not one for speculation, however one does have to wonder why this might be the case. It may be possible that it’s because the former was targeted to a family demographic and was therefore more highly marketable (ie profitable) while the latter was not. It may even be that the studio feared The Rocky Horror Picture Show would not garner a large enough audience and, unfortunately, it would appear that they were correct. The film was not a critical darling, only drawing a big audience for the Los Angels premiere, and so a new strategy was devised. Having had success by pairing 1936’s Reefer Madness with 1972’s Pink Flamingos as a Double Feature several years prior, it was decided that the plan would be replicated with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Brian De Palmer’s Phantom Of Paradise. These midnight showings proved to be a success, with audiences dressing as the characters and interacting with the film. From newspapers and screaming insults to fishnet stockings and glitzy suits, there is no experience quite like a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is perhaps this element of interaction that has allowed it to be so popular for 45 years, as evidenced by the fact that it was never officially pulled from cinemas. There is a certain etiquette to film watching and it is all but abolished during these film screenings, which is remarkably freeing. That is on top of how freeing it is for members of the LGBT+ community who, for a few hours, can be exactly who they are without judgement, especially if they aren’t open in their own lives.
I was one of those people. It would be some time before I purchased a copy of the DVD for myself, but being able to blast Sweet Transvestite through my earphones was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed. It would take 4 years for me to be completely open, and a further year before I found a boyfriend, but I felt a little more true to myself every single time I listened to the soundtrack or watched the film. I most likely would have encountered The Rocky Horror Picture Show on my own eventually (indeed many of my friends were already fans) but it is thanks to my best friend that I saw it so soon. I’ve read headlines claiming that the film is mainstream now and I think, to a certain extent, that is true, however not to the same degree as something like Star Wars. It is a classic to those who love it, but there are those to whom it remains a mystery, and I wonder if that might be a good thing. We live in an age where more adult oriented media have become major brands with mass merchandising, and are also prone to mass scrutiny. Shows like Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty have been known to not live up to the standards of fans, but this has never happened to The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it is only viewed by people who genuinely love it. There are no sequels or spin-offs to judge, though not for lack of trying. Richard O’Brien has attempted writing a direct sequel several times, but for one reason or another, those films never happened. The closest he would come was with 1981’s Shock Treatment, which centred on Brad and Janet (now portrayed by different actors) but functioned as more of a spiritual successor. The film is worth a watch for fans, but only The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become a cult classic because of the fans. The love and adoration is abundant anytd well deserved. I look forward to when we are all allowed to gather and do the Time Warp again.
It’s just a jump to the left…
As with all of my lists, I have organised the following films in order of release. Each of them are great in their own right, and pitting them against each other feels unfair to me. There are plenty of wonderful movies to watch during October, but 10 seems like a decent number to begin with. When concocting this list, I kept it as child friendly as possible, though the following movies are enjoyable at any age.
10. Ghostbusters (1984)
The only 12 rated film on this list, but nobody really pays close attention to age ratings these days anyway. Even if they did, Ghostbusters was rated PG until around a decade ago and it is important enough to the history of cinema that it should be shared as early as possible. One of the spookiest films there is, but also one of the funniest. Ghostbusters II or the 2016 reboot Ghostbusters are also acceptable.
9. Labyrinth (1986)
The late David Bowie, and the ever glamorous Jennifer Connelly frolic through sets brought to us by the one-of-a-kind Jim Henson. If that doesn’t sell you then perhaps the spectacular soundtrack will, or the message of familial love contained within. This is the 1980s at their best.
8. The Witches (1990)
Another from the world of Jim Henson; based on the classic tale by Roald Dahl. There is the possibility of the special effects being too grotesque for much younger viewers (particularly the unmasked witches themselves), but it’s rated PG. There’s a certain level of charm here and just a hint of terror.
7. The Addams Family (1991)
The pinnacle of spookiness from a family known for their kookiness. Based on the classic comics and the early 1960s TV show, it is perfectly cast and the set design is stunning. The sequel Addams Family Values is just as good, if not a little better – and if you can find any of the earlier material it is also worth doing so.
6. Hocus Pocus (1993)
A firm favourite of my best friend and his family, and for good reason. It’s endlessly entertaining with possibly the best cover of I Put a Spell on You that you’ll ever hear. Dripping in both halloween aesthetic and the 1990s with the acting and effects to boot. New to my yearly routine, I look forward to revisiting it.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The question of whether this is a Halloween or Christmas movie are irrelevant here, because it is simply saturated in the design of the former. As a part-time Christmas film, there is also a certain level of whimsy that you won’t find in other Halloween capers. A marvellous soundtrack and excellent use of stop motion animation, this is a true classic.
4. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Aardman Animation Studios has been instrumental in the development of stop-motion and it’s at its best here. Faux fur for the Were-Rabbit and some peak British comedy (which is the best form there is). One of my personal favourites.
3. Monster House (2006)
An entire feature length motion picture made using motion captured CGI. The story itself is impressive and fresh enough on its own, but it’s the look that makes this film so unique. Also by far the closest to a ‘horror’ film on this list. Drastically underrated, and worth your time.
2. Hotel Transylvania (2008)
The first part of what has become a delightfully entertaining trilogy. Adam Sandler’s comedy matches the fast paced animation style beautifully, and the caricatures of classic Universal Monsters are one of a kind.
1. ParaNorman (2010)
Laika Studios have built upon Aardman’s groundbreaking work with their own techniques. Their hit film Coraline could just as easily have made it onto the list, but it may be a bit much for younger viewers. ParaNorman also comes with a refreshing message about judging people on more than just their appearance.