Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan back in the dark days when he was making one stinker after another, The Happening has too many dull stretches to be a proper good bad movie. Still, I find Shyamalan’s bad movies fascinating in the same way I find Star Wars prequels and films like Jupiter Ascending weirdly fascinating. Say what you want about them, but they’re not your generic bad movies and they bear the individual stamp of their creators.
Neil Gaiman has become one of my favourite writers over the years and I was happy to get my hands on this latest third collection of short trips into the weird, shadowy country of Gaiman’s mind. It never really occurred to me to compare him to Ray Bradbury, but in fact Gaiman’s short stories have the same effect on me that I had while engrossed in Bradbury’s fiction when a teenager – a pleasantly uneasy sensation of looking at the world in a distorted mirror, or lifting the fabric of reality to find some dark, strange, disturbing things lurking underneath. Gaiman’s imagination is just as boundless, and his voice as a writer is just as distinctive (his books on the whole have a lot more graphic sex, though not in this particular collection).
This big-screen version of Stephen King’s 1,200-page doorstopper is not great, but solid enough, and considering the overall woeful track record of King film adaptations, it can be counted as a success. I haven’t read the book or watched the popular 80s mini-series with Tim Curry, but knowing King’s propensity to write and write and write and write some more, I gather that the screenwriters pruned away the verbiage and streamlined the novel to its basic story about a bunch of kids in a small American town who are terrorised by a creepy, cackling clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Actually, make it half of the story, as the filmmakers split the novel into two cinematic chapters, with the follow-up a certainty now that this movie has made a mountain of cash.
I always liked post-apocalyptic settings, and in 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle, it’s the zombie apocalypse, which happens after a bunch of animal activists break into a research lab and free a chimpanzee carrying a deadly “rage” virus. Once a person is infected, they have 20 seconds before they turn into a mindless berserk monster. As the film’s title suggests, you don’t get to see the collapse of the society, instead the action switches to our hero Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bicycle courier who wakes up in the hospital after suffering a road accident. Emerging from his coma, he wanders the silent, deserted streets of London, made even more eerie by the total lack of soundtrack. These early scenes of the abandoned metropolis and familiar postcard locations stripped of life are probably the most striking sequences in the film.
I watched the so-bad-it’s-good remake with Nicolas Cage a while ago, so I thought I’d look up the original British cult horror movie with Christopher Lee. I really mean it in the best possible way, but my reaction could be boiled down to, what the hell did I just watch? This is a strange, strange movie, an utterly bizarre blend of folk traditions vs. Christianity, musical (no, really), detective story and horror. The latter doesn’t really kick in until the last ten minutes or so, but when it does the results are uniquely creepy and chilling. It was also interesting to compare the film with the misbegotten Neil LaBute remake, whose inexplicably terrible choices and revisions are even more stark in direct comparison.
Maybe it’s just the power of lowered (and I mean lowered) expectations, but to my surprise I didn’t hate this much-maligned crossover, and, from a certain perspective, found it a more enjoyable experience than the recent Alien: Covenant. Or perhaps I was simply able to disassociate it from the Alien franchise altogether, and watch it on its own terms as a trashy B-movie. Which yes is filled with cardboard-thin characters, laughable plot and much stupidity, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have fun watching it.
I was on the fence about this one, but in the end I decided to catch it before it disappeared from the cinemas. I can’t say I regret the decision and I’m glad I’ve watched the film, because no one shoots sci-fi like Ridley Scott, but the most damning thing I can say about Alien: Covenant is that it’s the first entry in the series that doesn’t offer anything new, and instead plays like the Alien: Greatest Hits. Even the runts of the franchise had some individuality about them, whether it was the director’s unique visual style or some new ideas, and even when these ideas were terrible, *cough* human/alien hybrid from Alien: Resurrection *cough*, at least they were still memorable. My biggest complaint about Alien: Covenant is how little of this adequate movie was truly memorable.