The Oblong Box (1969 United Kingdom)

Owing virtually nothing to Edgar Allan Poe other than the title, American International Pictures (AIP) did like to insult the public’s intelligence. The critics of the time did not have much enthusiasm for this flick, which is often surprisingly nasty for that era, but I think this has enough entertainment value for at least one viewing. The director, Gordon Hessler, who replaced Michael Reeves after his untimely death, does a good job of making the film into a reasonably compelling narrative, even if he is a little too fond of extreme close-ups.
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The Woman In Black (1989 United Kingdom)

A truly memorable piece of work, once seen never forgotten. Unlike American made horror, the Brits know how to do subtle, relying on the potency of a story full of suggestion and anticipation. And when the great Nigel Kneale is involved with a script the result is usually quality and this is quality. Plus the special effects are few which lulls the viewer into thinking that this film is set in the real world, thus making us a bit more uneasy. No monsters, no blood or violence, no cliches, just terror. You’re constantly thinking: Is she there? Isn’t she? Where is she? What’s that sound? What’s upstairs? Everything’s fine…or is it? Aaah! [Read more…]

Night Watch (1973 Britain)

Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor) is stuck in a loveless marriage with John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey). There’s also a deserted mansion right next door to her. One dark and stormy night she sees a dead body in that house. She’s terrified and calls the police. They come but find nothing. Her husband and best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) try to convince her she was seeing things but she’s positive it was there. Soon she can’t sleep or eat and is slowly going mad. The viewer may also be driven mad by the pace of this flick: its slower than a broken clock. And that describes about the first eighty minutes of running time. So be patient.  [Read more…]

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia is a film that couldn’t have been made in the 20th century effectively – it relies so heavily on special effects and digital tricks that even attempting to make it without all the digital trickery would have resulted in a B-film, regardless of its budget. With his experience as the special effects guy on several of the Batman films, director and producer Andrew Adamson did manage to put together one hell of a display. With all the visual do-goodery in place, and one of the best stories ever told to drive it forward, there wasn’t a lot to make the Witch and the Wardrobe fail… And of course, it doesn’t. [Read more…]

Bottom (1991–1995 United Kingdom)

Richard “Richie” Richard (Rik Mayall) — a sex-starved, sadistic, physically repugnant loser with delusions of sophistication — takes out his frustrations with life upon Eddie Elizabeth Hitler (Adrian Edmondson): his boozy, slightly more intelligent yet equally perverted and sadistic flatmate. The two of them spend each episode torturing each other with various household objects and I don’t want to know where he got that–type weapons. Thus causing unending chaos to both their surroundings and their neighbours. This classic TV series is definitely very slapstick in style and relies heavily on violence for its main base of humour. [Read more…]

Endless Night (1972 Britain)

First I reviewed the novel, now the celluloid. The book was a clever literary trick for its time. It is the first person narration of a psychopathic killer who is trying to hide his real nature and intentions from the reader, while actually dropping a series of clues that things are not quite what they seem. It is this trick, rather the banal situation, which is the real reason for reading the book and it is obviously this trick that made Sidney Gilliat want to film it. The problem is that he could not find a way to replicate it on screen, because cinema only really works in the third person and people are generally uncomfortable with movies that tell lies. [Read more…]

Twisted Nerve (1968 United Kingdom)

I’ve reviewed quite a few movies from that year of our Lord, 1968. A disquieting year for a number of reasons…Twisted Nerve, something of a link between Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” and Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”, has floated about like an apparition for so long it’s somehow managed to permeate the most seemingly unconnected crannies of pop culture. Its main theme, a haunting melody penned by legendary Hitchcock scorer Bernard Herrmann, was stolen by Hollywood’s pet magpie, Q Tarantino, for “Kill Bill, Vol 1”. Penned by celebrated “Peeping Tom” scribe Leo Marks, this is a fairly typical late-1960s psycho-thriller. [Read more…]

The Dark Room (Minette Walters)

This book gave my brain cells a real work out. The first page is an attention grabber – two children having underage sex, the girl sullenly pulling up her knickers while taunting the boy’s inability to last more than three minutes. But this fun opening is not the real plot dynamic: a woman wakes up in a hospital with amnesia and is told she tried to kill herself. Also, her friend and her fiance are dead. Did she kill them, or is she being framed? You have to be very alert reading this book, as events are presented out of sequence, and times and dates of actions are important. Who is lying and who is telling the truth? It kept me guessing right up until the end. This is a psychological thriller, where you are invited to be a] the protagonist b] the police inspector and c] the protagonist’s psychiatrist. Got it? [Read more…]

Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends (1984–1986 Britain)

This TV series is based upon the Railway Series children’s books by Wilbert Awdry who, in the 1950s and 60s, wrote a series of charming, captivating and well illustrated books that are good works of art in their own right. The series captures for us in the present the significance and romance of the railway during the 20th Century, and especially the era in which Awdry wrote the books, which can be considered great children’s literature. The stories were well narrated by Ringo Starr, and made in the right period of the 1980s, not long after the books and the era of its effect. Who needs the new versions when the stories were so well told? [Read more…]

4:50 From Paddington (Agatha Christie)

One of the major joys of Christie’s books is that they manage the difficult feat of being full of corpses and yet free of angst – a trick the Golden Age authors excelled in and modern authors seem to have forgotten. Miss Marple (our “old pussy” as she’s referred to in the book) is at the absolute top of her game. She gives us some nice village parallels to shed light on the characters of the suspects; she twinkles affectionately at both young Inspector Craddock and Lucy; she does a bit of gentle match-making; and she gives us some very ambiguous pronouncements that leave the reader as beautifully baffled as the other characters. [Read more…]

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