All posts by Matt West

RIP Robin Williams

morkI’ve slowed down a bit with posts here, we both have. We’re all grown up and busy with work. But my two most recent posts have both been tributes to funny men who had a huge influence on me. This is truly turning out to be an emotionally mixed year.

image06When I started working for Borders Books in what must’ve been 2001 by my guess, I quickly discovered I was something of a workshy layabout. We were split into around 8 groups of five people and had to fill up the newly built shop from top to bottom. Three floors of books, music and DVDs. To this day I’m always left uneasy about coincidences but I met a guy that day who seemed to be my film and television twin. Our tastes crossed in so many areas, although music probably wasn’t one of them comedy clearly was. Over the two weeks of sorting that shop we bonded over our combined love of Bill Murray, Rik Mayall and Robin Williams.

picture-of-robin-williams-and-michael-gambon-in-toys-1992--large-pictureMy mate Kev (Kevin Stayner, hi Kev) seemed to have the same, weird and probably autistic trait I had when it came to Robin Williams and a few other actors: the need to find every single performance by that actor. Not just film or TV, but appearances on Letterman, even Oprah and anything else that was out there. Kev and I had both taped Mork & Mindy off-air and weirdly had typed identical labels for each series. We knew them so well, word for word, scene for scene. I finally met someone who knew about Seize the Day! (Fielder Cook, 1986) and Moscow on the Hudson (Paul Mazursky, 1984). Kev and I were freakish, long-distance Robin Williams twins and what’s comforting about this is I know exactly how Kev feels today and he can empathise with me.

Bobcat Goldthwait, Robin WilliamsThe appeal of Robin Williams is a hard one to pin down these days because it’s true to say he made some pretty awful films. Like any performer you have good and bad patches. In his case, his really bad Patch was clearly labelled as such. But my first exposure to him was on Channel 4’s repeats of Mork & Mindy. Here we had a pretty dreadful sitcom premise bizarrely springing from Happy Days and more bizarrely entwined with Laverne & Shirley even though they’re set in different decades. Mork was a child who didn’t fit in and found the world a confusing, dishonest and sometimes dangerous place. What better role model for a kid? Mork would try to apply naive logic to modern day problems and fail. He wanted to help, he wanted to do the right thing and most important of all: He wanted to have fun while he did it. This made Mork an ideal best friend.

936full-dead-poets-society-photoBy the time Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989) came along, folk were hailing Williams as a surprisingly good straight actor. No surprise to me – I’d seen his previous films. There were some dark moments in Mork & Mindy as well and the comedy toward the end only worked with the pathos. Mork coming to terms with death, drug use, homelessness, mental illness – there were some hardcore lessons to be learned in life. In one cathartic episode Mork has to interview Robin Williams on TV about the pressures of fame. These days we know what Williams was going through at the time. Clearly on drugs, drinking too and dogged by depression.

4520231_l5The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill, 1982) runs a close second in my favourite Williams films. A very early performance and based on half a beautiful book, it’s Williams at his best. He gets to do the comedy, he gets to do the rage and he gets to prat about with John Lithgow. That Williams never took a role in Third Rock from the Sun is one of life’s great shames.

worldsgreatestdadjpg-2a4706a62d84da8b_largeHe was a bloody good actor but he was making straight films at a time when audiences had become cynical. Dead Poets Society at the time was dismissed as sentimental, but these days is being hailed as a classic, rightly so. In fact that accusation of sentimentality runs through so many of Williams’ choices: Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990), What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998), Jakob the Liar (Peter Kassovitz, 1999) and even Mrs Doubtfire (Chris Columbus, 1993). In fact those choices probably say a lot more about his state of mind over the years than anything else.

25He’d still dip into the comedy roles too, even making a Disney film tolerable in Aladdin (Ron Clements, John Musker, 1992). One of his most recent films was World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) which is the blackest of comedies tragically about suicide, or not as you’ll see if you watch it.

Robin Williams in 1978But all of this comes a close second to his frantic, Marmite stand-up work. He was a dangerous man to interview. Not many people would be brave enough to have him live on prime time. I had a great collection of Letterman appearances over the years, all of them he’d just go that bit too far during. He loved an  audience and knew how to work an audience. His shows never felt scripted and certainly seemed improvised but I reckon this was all part of the act. His stand up was frequently character-based, be it a camp dance instructor or an angry redneck he’d channel all these characters and more in just 30 seconds of jokes. His earlier shows where he’s fueled with cocaine are a tough set to watch, but his more recent shows show him sober and are more structured, almost observational. Unusual for him. An observant mimic and occasional impressionist, sure, but suddenly he’d become a ‘What’s that all about?’ comedian and was doing it so much better than the current generation.

db173160-baa4-11e3-aa1f-3d31b431f253_104510_D1931bJust as there was with Rik Mayall, I had this feeling that there was still more to come from Robin Williams. His best work seemed ahead of him and for him to take his own life lends his comedy a new, darker and tragic edge. The tears of a clown has long been a cliche I’ve loathed, and when you have a performer like Tony Hancock you can deal with it better in a grumpy, dissatisfied screen character. But Robin Williams’ characters were always so full of life and optimism. Even Seymour Parrish was looking for something better!

Any logical, sensible person knows there isn’t an afterlife – life isn’t that fair. But if there were pearly gates, and Williams did shuffle through them, I do hope the first thing he heard was a loud ‘Mork!’ followed by a man in white robes, pushing his way past imaginary crowds to get to him. Exidor will look after him.

Rest in peace, Robin. Thank you for being my childhood friend and introducing me to a grown up friend.


RIP Rik Mayall (1958 – 2014)

Rik Mayall

It’s virtually impossible to understate the importance of Rik Mayall in shaping who I am. Anything I ever wanted to do or be was influenced by him. I pronounce words like ‘sand-a-wa-hitch’ and ‘sue-iss-you-ide’ the way he does, I giggle any time I see glacé cherries. I can’t look at a chess board without thinking about him. If I hear something vaguely saucy I’ll screw my face up demon-like the way he did. If I get hurt by someone I’ll loudly declare ‘Ah ha! Missed both my legs!’


Rik Mayall Comedian ActorIt’s not just me. Almost everyone I know does it. A whole generation united in mimicking Rik Mayall’s unique delivery. Nobody will say ‘Let’s do it!’ without verbally twirling ‘Do-oo-oo it!’. Even a straightforward ‘Bastard!’ has to be yapped like an angry puppy.


These examples are all from programmes he did with Ade Edmondson and his other Comic Strip semi-regulars. Rik would snigger at ‘semi’.


Rik MayallBut there was so much more to his career and his unique talent than just shouting, knob jokes and getting smacked with rubber frying pans. He had a real gift for comedy, something infinitely enviable that it’s very difficult to pin down. His stage persona for example in his early stand up days, the notorious ‘Theatre’ poem and his angry delivery. Patient on stage, his timing perfect, knowing when to raise an eyebrow, when to pause, when to carry on. Always ensuring the audience would laugh when he wanted them to and not over the jokes. It’s impossible not to laugh at that one set. As if the poem wasn’t ridiculous enough, his absolutely intolerance of the audience’s laughter is infectiously brilliant. Every last protestation is another belly laugh.



If he were just a wildly comic clown or a decent stand up it would be enough, but he was more than that. He was a damn good actor. His performances in Rik Mayall Presents… (it can’t just be me that’s unable to read the name Siobhan without saying ‘Sy-oh-ban, shee-ob-un…’) and Jonathan Creek show a real knack for drama and his various performances on stage are unforgettable.


He managed to make the insufferable and irritating likeable. Lord Flasheart shouldn’t be likeable, Gideon Pryke shouldn’t be likeable, even Alan B’Stard is meant to be the most unlikeable thing of all: a politician. But you side with him due to that effortless charisma and charm that comes from his performance.

In 1991 Rik had something of a public humiliation when Drop Dead Fred (Ate de Jong) dropped dead at the box office. But its performance in ticket sales shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the film or of Rik’s performance. He’s wonderful in it. He gets to do all the things he’s good at and he does them well. It’s a genuinely good film and one I couldn’t wait to show to my daughter who at six years old adored it. This took her in turn to Bottom and then The Young Ones and then anything Rik turned up in really.


Rik MayallHe was totally unique, there will never be another one like him and he will be missed. I’ve never felt so sad at the passing of someone so important from my childhood viewing. Most of my heroes died at an age you’d expect them to. Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Norman Wisdom, Peter Cushing – they were all old men who lived full lives and careers. Rik Mayall died at 56. I was so sure his best work was yet to come.




‘Frozen’ (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013)



About a month ago I took my nine year old daughter to Disneyland Paris.

IFrozen 2013 DVDScr XViD AC3-FiNGERBLaST.avi_snapshot_00.06.48_[2014.05.17_23.57.52]‘d been to Disneyland in Florida about twenty years ago and my memories of the trip are all good, though I preferred Universal Studios and the Epcot Centre. This is mainly because Disney has never played an important part in my viewing. I never liked the look of their animation. It felt like twee princesses chirruping out of windows with a sort of liquified movement that didn’t seem right. I was very much a Warner Bros child preferring the frantic action and genuine pathos of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner or the Fred Quimby wonder of Tom & Jerry.

I’ve seen very few Disney films. Being a Robin Williams completist I saw ‘Aladdin’ (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1992) when it came out, and as kids we had vinyl 45s of songs from ‘The Jungle Book’ (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967) and ‘Mary Poppins’ Robert Stevenson, 1964) but to this day I’ve still never sat through either film to the end.

I don’t count this new-fangled ‘borrowed’ heritage in the form of ‘Toy Story’ (John Lasseter, 1995) and now their annexing of the Star Wars franchise. In fact this new CG-era of film-making leaves me pretty damn cold. Not just Disney’s output but all of it. Not my cup of tea at all.

As we wandered around Disney’s Main Street approaching that sodding great castle they seem so proud of (Is it even from a film?) the windows were full of ‘Frozen’ memorabilia and my daughter’s enthusiasm for it was slightly infectious. To this end I agreed I’d make an effort and watch it. Procrastination meant she’d have to wait a couple of months, but here we are this evening and my Disney cherry is proper popped, innit?

Frozen 2013 DVDScr XViD AC3-FiNGERBLaST.avi_snapshot_00.18.23_[2014.05.17_23.58.10]So how do I feel about it? Truth is, it’s exactly what I was expecting and unless I’m being incredibly cynical it would appear to be the same plot they use for all their films. Some bad shit kicks off and love conquers all. Nothing wrong with the message, but the paper has a nasty feel and it appears to be scented with rainbows and violets.

Visually it’s fairly inoffensive and for a cartoon it’s pretty well directed. Strange how a cartoon these days is shot like a feature while features are shot like cartoons. The infrequent action sequences such as the giant ice golem thing attacking the investigating soldiers was handled with restraint. Had that been a live action film with a CG monster (which obviously all of this was, but I’m making a point here so shut up) it would’ve been the most frantic, kinetic visual popcornerry money could buy. It would, like all modern CG action sequences, be unwatchable.

Frozen 2013 DVDScr XViD AC3-FiNGERBLaST.avi_snapshot_00.45.25_[2014.05.17_23.58.38]Sounds like my frozen heart is warming to it doesn’t it? The truth is, it’s utterly inoffensive. There’s nothing to get pissed off about. If you don’t like the musical aspect then you have to wonder why you bought a ticket to see a bloody Disney film. The songs are unmemorable but not too stagey and there’s never a feeling they’re preventing the story being told or are superfluous to the tone.

Frozen 2013 DVDScr XViD AC3-FiNGERBLaST.avi_snapshot_01.11.34_[2014.05.17_23.59.01]The voice performances are very good and actually the ‘acting’ is better than you’ll find in most live action stuff. The visual interpretations of the characters are frustratingly generic with tapered waists on the ladies and hulking great square-jawed male heroes. This kind of shit is old hat now surely? Even crap like ‘Shrek’ (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001) acknowledged that you don’t have to be Disney-good-looking to be a hero. These stereotypes abound on the Disney channel, something which airs 24/7 in the Disney hotel rooms. Jesus wept, it was like Television Hell. Endless sit-coms about vein, materialistic rich kids woefully bleeding on about how boys don’t find them pretty or whooping with joy because they bought  a new mobile phone or pair of shoes. Shit like this is utter fucking poison to kids. It needs to stop. If you have the power, block out that Disney channel from your TV package. It’s making your kids the worst kind of pouting, preening little media prostitutes. If you allow it to stay, you’ll be destroying their lives.

Frozen 2013 DVDScr XViD AC3-FiNGERBLaST.avi_snapshot_01.31.12_[2014.05.17_23.59.10]So there we have it. ‘Frozen’ is okay for Disney, tolerable enough but never likely to warrant a second viewing which is depressing as my daughter has watched it several dozen times.

‘Fat Slags’ (Ed Bye, 2004)

slagsYou probably think that ‘Fat Slags’ is a terrible film and turned your nose up at it the moment you saw the title.

You’re probably right. But it’s not as though it’s pretending to be something it isn’t.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.38.46_[2013.09.13_12.31.13]Though it had been going for some time, Viz really took off in the late eighties/early nineties when I was at secondary school. It was lewd, crude, puerile, childish, twisted, stupid, silly and very rough around the edges. I can remember drawing Roger Irrelevant on my Design Technology folder and even buying that stupid little Roger Mellie swear words book. Viz used to be on the top shelf in the newsagents with all the porn. It was lowlife scum in comic form. A reminder of adolescence for adults and one long, bloody funny fart joke for kids.

So if you go to the cinema to see a film called ‘Fat Slags’ about the comic strip characters of the same name, what the hell do you expect from it? Quite frankly it delivers exactly what the title promises: A live action version of that comic strip. I had a rant a few weeks back about the remake of ‘House of Wax’ (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005) where the makers were clearly taking the piss and it for the money. The opposite is true here, though it’s clearly a money-making exercise, the aim is to make the film the title describes.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_01.03.00_[2013.09.13_12.30.23]It’s not possible to be snobbish or angry about this film getting made. However I am puzzled as to why it got made in 2004. It doesn’t really make any sense. By 2004 Viz was well into its decline. But that’s the truth of development hell and a consequence Hollywood, or indeed the British film industry, have yet to acknowledge.

One can draw a lot of parallels between ‘Fat Slags’ and ‘Spice World’ (Bob Spiers, 1997). Both films are British, both are directed by established TV comedy directors, both have that excruciating ‘girl power’ theme, both feature a baffling number of celebrity cameos and both feature Geri Halliwell. Tonally they’re much the same thing and it’s the sort of balls-out fun cinema is so afraid of. I’m not saying I had much fun watching it, but I imagine it was fun to make and there are one or two moments which I genuinely laughed at.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.47.18_[2013.09.13_12.29.24]Our eponymous slags’ boyfriends, two Geordie guys, are picked up by the police who can’t understand a word they’re saying and assume they’re foreign, putting them through immigration. This was actually quite funny, all the more surprisingly given the immigration officials were Punt and Dennis!

Another strange sequence sees a flattened dead dog being thrown out of a window, hitting a gardener who falls backwards into his wheelbarrow and then explodes in a ball of flame. It’s reminiscent of the sheep and bazooka in ‘Bad Taste’ (Peter Jackson, 1987).

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.28.13_[2013.09.13_12.27.43]Other chuckles come mainly from the cast, specifically Anthony Head who is usually pretty reliable. Here he delivers some terrific plummy insults and bitchy asides very well and is probably one of the only cast members to leave with his dignity intact. The aforementioned Geri Halliwell is also pretty good. She doesn’t have much to do, but she does it well. The big mystery is Jerry O’Connell. They clearly wanted a big star, and I seriously suspect they wanted someone to play themselves, someone like Richard Gere or Tom Cruise. They couldn’t get anyone and ended up with O’Connell, tweaking the script to suit. But he’s worse than useless and I’m sure if they’d sniffed around they could’ve found a more convincing star for this, someone who’d make sense in the role. By 2004 O’Connell was old news, in 2013 at the time of writing I don’t even think he has an agent anymore.

Dolph Lundgren took some flak for appearing in this, but again he comes out of it fairly unscathed. He’s mugging a bit, but what the hell? For a guy who can’t act he’s had a great career in film. What he does works.

The leads are another point of confusion. One can assume the plethora of guest stars is to make up for the relative anonymity of the leads. While Fiona Allen was fairly well-known for ‘Smack the Pony’ on TV, Sophie Thompson (Emma’s sister) has never really broken through. It’s probably because she did this! She’s the better of the two slags since Allen insists on a weird toothy smirk throughout, even during fight sequences, and she ends up looking uncannily like the comedic antimatter that is Katy Brand.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.14.24_[2013.09.13_12.32.24]The shortcomings of the limited script, which lacks punchy lines leaving it to director Ed Bye to fill in with visual gags, is revealed in the closing titles when Paul Alexander’s name appears. Oh, Paul. He’s been attached to some bloody awful things in his time. Aside from contributing to the very worst ‘Red Dwarf’ series he was also responsible for S Club 7’s TV adventures and ‘Dancing Queen’ rip-off ‘Staggered’ (Martin Clunes, 1994).

But none of this matters. You can’t call this film crap, rubbish, shit or disappointing. If you’ve gone out of your way to watch ‘Fat Slags’ then you get what you’ve sought. No-one to blame but you.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.32.16_[2013.09.13_12.27.55]

‘House of Wax’ (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005)

Poster for shit

It’s easy to take the name of something for granted. While leafing through a book recently I stumbled across an explanation of the job title “Foley Artist”. I’m sure I knew this, but clearly my brain disagreed. Between my knowing it and re-knowing it, my brain decided that ‘Foley’ was either a piece of equipment, such as a special microphone, or a mixing desk of some sort specific to sound effects.

Jack FoleyJack Foley died in 1967 and has an entire art named after him. I’m struggling to think of anyone else who can make that claim. Imagine being so good at your job, that people would later carry on that work in your name. It really is an art form too and in such a genre specific film such as horror or science fiction the art becomes more challenging. Creating real world sounds should be relatively straightforward, but creating sounds such as “Man’s face peeling off under wax mask” must be both an exciting challenge and a depressing realisation that you’re working on a truly shit film and performing art in the name of a pioneer in a medium that is eating its own tail.

I’d hate to think I had any sort of expectations of a film before watching it, but the original ‘House of Wax’ (Andre De Toth, 1953) with its ridiculous 3D effects, early Charles Bronson appearance and Vincent Price is a truly enjoyable, though certainly not great film. If one was going to remake the film, one would have to be sure that one was improving on it, otherwise what would be the point? You don’t bake a nice cake and then bake another one to see if you can make it less enjoyable. This is where Jaume Collet-Serra and I part company because Jaume Collet-Serra believes it’s his job to take a perfectly acceptable film and, in cinematic terms, sexually molest it until it’s left weeping, bleeding and shaking on the kitchen floor of his two-bed, semi-detached shithouse of horror. Prick caption

I like horror as a genre. But horror films, like any other genre, have multiple sub-genres. Take comedy for instance; you can have romantic comedies, screwball comedies, comedies where Lenny Henry wears make-up to make him white with hilarious consequences and even horror comedies. Horror comedies can be both intentional and unintentional and while some would stick an ironic tongue in their cheek and claim ‘House of Wax’ is so bad it’s good, consequently earning it a ‘funny’ label, it is in fact so bad it’s unacceptable that money was spent in such a frivolous way. With a budget of around $30 million you’d think Jaume Collet-Serra would feel some pang of guilt or unceasing, sleepless remorse over his inexcusable and sloppy acts. He doesn’t. If he did he wouldn’t be remaking more films such as ‘Akira’ (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, 1988). $30 million could change the lives of so many people. It could keep a hospital open, provide shelter for the homeless, help a family struggling on income support, educate children – christ even spending the bloody lot on whores and heroin would be preferable to producing shit like this.

Pan for sauce 1There are two saving graces to this travesty. One is the saucepan. A strangely named item in this modern world since I think I’ve only ever made a proper sauce for anything eight times in my life. The rest of the time I use a saucepan for boiling veg, making custard, steaming stuff, collecting the drops of water that used to leak under our sink. In the opening sequence of Collet-Serra’s salute to filmic masturbation we glimpse a gorgeous seventies style saucepan (being used to melt wax – also not a sauce). This exact same saucepan used to sit in our kitchen in Chessington when I was little. It would mainly be used for rice, something of a novelty back then. Also not a sauce. My dad had worked out that the brown plastic lid from a jar of Maxwell House was the perfect size for a cup of rice and used it to portion out the seed accurately. Pan for sauce 2Typically we’d have the rice with either a bland curry with sultanas in it (I hated the sultanas in curry. They delivered a sweet note with a texture of slug that made me gag) or a seventies, Fanny Craddock-inspired goulash. That saucepan was a solid workhorse. It fed me throughout my childhood with its brown and orange rings. I’ve never owned one like it since.

This is where my interest in the film tailed off. Quite frankly anything could’ve happened after that for all I know. Aside from the second saving grace in the form of some lovely design work/architecture on the eponymous House, the rest of the film isn’t worthy of dissection or critique. It was made to offend, upset and leave you feeling optically and aurally violated. There is no art here. There is no love of the medium or responsibility to provide entertainment to others. It is merely a two hour insult to the ticket-holder, akin to a billionaire lighting the farts of tramps with $50 bills and charging them $100 for the privilege. Nobody in this film wanted to entertain, interest or delight you. They hate you. They’re disdainful of you. As far as they’re concerned you are a potential humiliating sale, and once you’ve parted with your money they’ll point and laugh at you for being the prick you are for wanting to watch this abysmal, lackadaisical sham of a film.

I didn’t like it.

More pan.

‘Masters of the Universe’ (Gary Goddard, 1987)

MOTU_PosterI can’t remember the name of the kid whose birthday it was that saw us get a trip to see ‘Masters of the Universe’ at the cinema. This worries me. I used to know it and I can think of loads of other names from those days, but while I can picture this guy and remember which house he lived in, his name completely eludes me. The were five of us and we saw it at the old bastard cinema on Kingston Road, long since knocked down and turned into flats. Probably the same year I’d seen ‘Police Academy 3: Back in Training’ (Jerry Paris, 1986), and would later see Crocodile Dundee II (John Cornell, 1988) there. It was a red carpet, red wallpaper and dark brown wood interior. The carpet was sticky with decades of Coke and the seats lost their spring probably the year they were installed. It had no surround sound, would frequently over-project onto the curtains, occasionally had 30 second reel changes and the staff were all miserable sods. But they were miserable sods who’d let any kid in as long as they paid, regardless of rating. These were the good ‘ol days.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.00.48_[2013.09.01_12.25.52]That same cinema can be seen in ‘The Comic Strip’ in ‘Dirty Movie’ (Sandy Johnson, 1984) written by and starring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. In 1984 the cost of admission was £2.20 so we can probably assume it never cost me more than £3 to see ‘Masters of the Universe’. The cost of a He Man figure back then was about the same. Does the film offer less value than an action figure? Yes it does. Even Fisto.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.13.56_[2013.09.01_12.27.33]The eighties are resplendent with straight-to-video crap. It rolled off the conveyor belt like shit after a Sherbert Fountain. It wasn’t about quality, it was about money. These weren’t films designed to make you think, they were films designed to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided you stand by that principle during filming and don’t find yourself straying into ‘How do we justify this expense?’ territory. Would that one day James Cameron were struck with such a guilt-trip. We live in hope.

It’s not just the films either, everything in the eighties was about profit. Sell, sell, sell. ‘Star Wars’ (George Lucas, 1977) had hit big with the action figure market and Mattel were quick to shove their own boy’s alternative to Barbie on the shelves. Sure they’d had success with GI Joe in the US, but Action Man never really hit the spot in the UK. Also those bloody conscientious consumers were far from happy with war-themed toys. It’s alright in the US were patriotism is compulsory, but the rest of the world isn’t so blinkered. He Man fulfilled a need somewhere between ‘Star Wars’ and Transformers toys.

The cartoon series had been on since 1983. Everyone knew the ‘By the power of Grayskull!’ mantra. He Man was big news. The fact a film was being made was even bigger news, and it seemed to me as a kid at the time that this had all the makings of an epic cinematic experience. We’d already seen how amazing ‘Starchaser: The Legend of Orin’ (Steven Hahn, 1985) had been – He Man had to improve on that. But what’s this?! He Man won’t be a cartoon? It’ll be live action? With people? Actually, that doesn’t really excite 10 year old me.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.10.10_[2013.09.01_12.27.21]Sadly very few 10 year olds were excited by ‘Masters of the Universe’. Adults made a film for kids but had forgotten to ask the kids what they wanted. Much like when Richard Donner made ‘Superman’ (1978) and trotted out a ponderous talky overlong drama. Strange to think the same man could set the record straight a few years later with ‘The Goonies’ (1985). ‘Masters of the Universe’ bombed at the box office and barely bothered the home video rental market. It’s never really attained any kind of cult status as a forgotten classic, because frankly it’s a pile of confused shit that doesn’t owe a single syllable to its cartoon origin.

That said I’m led to believe that this film never had its origins in a cartoon anyway, being instead a film in concept prior to the animated series ever happening. Well balls to that because the animated series got there first and it was on the back of that that this crap every got made at all. It owed a lot to kids and it failed to deliver.

orkoThe biggest problem with make a live action film of a cartoon is that where once your only imaginative limit was in the inkwell, waiting to be drawn,  now it was a budgetary nightmare. Cringer and Battlecat are a doddle to draw, just ask my Design Technology teacher who told me off for doing just that week after week. But how the fuck do you make He Man ride a sodding great green tiger on film? Well the answer is you don’t. You write that out. Then of course there’s Orko. Haha! Good old Orko. The floating red dress in a sunhat that all kids knew because it was Orko who frequently delivered the moral message at the end of each week’s episode on TV. How do you realise Orko on film? Don’t bother, that’s the answer. Write him out. Sod Orko.

Jesus weptBut what about He Man? You can’t write him out but you’re at least partially committed to the look of the man. Huge muscles, big furry pants, sodding great sword and a blonde bowl-cut. Seems pretty straightforward except that this is Hollywood. You can’t just cast anyone. They want a name, someone they can sell in the part. This means He Man would have to be played by someone already famous who was muscular, blonde and had his own furry pants. The three obvious big hitters would’ve been Stallone, Schwarzenegger and… hmmm. Who else? Well there’s always that guy from ‘Rocky IV’ (Sylvester Stallone, 1985). Dolph Lundgren does look the part, albeit clearly fiercely uncomfortable in his fuzzy knickers and knee boots wandering around California at night. The major problem stems from when he opens his gob. The words come out occasionally, but mostly the poor Swede struggles. Dubbing him would’ve really helped this film, if only for his ‘I have the power!’ which comes out as ‘Eye happy hour!’.

So what of the elements we do have? Well we’ve got Skeletor. He’s not blue, doesn’t ride a purple puma and has human eyes instead of cold, lifeless sockets. But he’s kind of alright. That is until the last ten minutes when he’s transformed into a god but actually looks like Jodie Marsh on her wedding day. Viewers of the cartoon will also remember redheaded, white-booted Teela. Well she’s now a brunette and really pissy with people.

The only successful transfer from small screen to big screen for the good guys is Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher). I used to dream of casting Charles Bronson in this role. He’d have been great at it. But Cypher’s pleasant enough, even if he doesn’t fire lasers from his wrists. Of course Man-At-Arms, or Duncan as he’s also known, had a purpose in the (loosely termed) plot of the animated series in that he was one of only a select group who knew He Man’s true identity. In the film, He Man has no duality. More’s the pity. Adam could’ve blended in to California, made Lundgren less uncomfortable and given him more to do. But this tiny aspect of He Man’s character is washed away. Lundgren is bloody awful in this film for one reason: He couldn’t be anything else. The part is barely written and what is there is pure good. There’s nothing you can do with He Man as a character.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.04.42_[2013.09.01_12.26.37]One final casting acknowledgement should go to Meg Foster’s Evil-Lyn. Again, not much on paper but she brings a lot to the part and in fact is one of the few participants who can leave the experience with their head held high.

For whatever reason the producers have also decided that they want a whole new music arrangement for He Man. This is fair enough, these things sometimes happen. But the problem is you need to replace a catchy, recognisable theme with something equally catchy and recognisable. Instead you get Bill Conti’s fucking atrocious John Williams rip-off which feels like ironic stand-up comedy in music form. Just listen to the opening titles and then Williams’ ‘Superman’ theme. Absolutely shameful and frequently kills the film dead. Which is a shame because a lot of the plot revolves around music. Or something. I don’t really know, I was cooking a chicken kiev when this was on.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.23.25_[2013.09.01_12.28.04]Are you feeling peckish now? Fancy a chicken kiev? Well that’s all thanks to my product placement. I made you want that kiev just as the makers of  ‘Masters of the Universe’ want you to rush out and eat some Burger King or better still, play something on a Panasonic, Roland or Rhodes keyboard. Because we have a huge shoot-out in a music shop right here for you guys which we’ll feature clips of in every trailer package. Sometimes Gary Goddard will linger on a shot so long you’ll think you taped the film off the TV and forgot to wind on the ads. While we’re about it, who the fuck is Gary Goddard anyway? This film is shitter than a tramp’s knickers. Action scenes hang static for up to twenty seconds with nothing happening. Exposition is lost amid a cacophony of laser fire and none of his actors seem to have a fucking clue what to do. The man is to cinema what Jimmy Savile was to children.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.17.20_[2013.09.01_12.27.48]All is not lost though. This a Canon film and whatever else, Canon films always looked the part. They were low budget, sure, but they delivered spectacle and ‘Masters of the Universe’ benefits from some excellent visual effects. Of course they make a massive saving by setting most of the film on Earth to save paying too much money, but that’s not a problem. As good as they are, I’d still have preferred the money to be spent on a decent Orko.

It’s a brain-numbing film which runs to two hours, but feels like three hours. It just won’t end. When it does, you’ve barely noticed because you’ve been self-harming for the last thirty minutes. It lacks soul, a good director and a less cynical producer. But for the record, if I was making ‘Masters of the Universe’ in 1987, I’d have cast Roddy Piper.


‘Wild Child’ (Nick Moore, 2008)



Something you discover when you become a parent is that your kids won’t always follow your lead when it comes to good taste, judgement and generally sound film choices. At the time of writing it’s the dag end of half term and my daughter, 9 years old, got to choose what we’d watch this evening. She picked ‘Wild Child’. I’d never heard of it, didn’t recognise any of the cast on the list – not even the star! – but what the hell. She’s only 9. I can’t make her watch giallo every night.

‘Wild Child’ follows a pretty standard formula for most kids’ comedies. Duck out of water makes inroads, loses inroads, ultimately redeems themselves. That’s it. If I’m honest, I didn’t object to the ninety minutes of my life this film used up. Performances aside it wasn’t too bad. I’m something of a whore for this kind of schmultz. What helps with this film is that it wasn’t American, something I wasn’t expecting. Let’s go over the plot.

Young whoresA young, spoiled brat American teen wreaks havoc in her glorious palatial home, so her father (played by Aidan Quinn who I convinced myself was David Rasche) packs her off to the English boarding school her dead mum used to go to. Said brat, Poppy, is played by Emma Roberts. I’d never heard of her before and in writing this up I’ve just discovered she’s Eric Roberts’ daughter! How fucking cool is that? Just this minute found that out and it’s put a big fat smile on my face. Unfortunately, Eric’s daughter is not a natural actress or if she is, this isn’t the sort of film she should be in. Normally I can give a young performer a break as they’re just starting out, but she’s genuinely awful. Like someone painted eyes on a dildo and hid behind it bawling lines in a whiny yank drawl.

The English schoolgirls are pretty good all told, but I was surprised to see familiar faces. Only recently I’d watched ‘Fresh Meat’ and found it quite enjoyable. Two of the leads from that, Kimberley Nixon and Sophie Wu are present here. I also recognised Juno Temple, though lord knows how as looking at her credits she and I have little in common when it comes to films. But among them all and playing the villain of the piece is the shockingly woeful Georgia King. A terrible performance, tonally off with the rest of the cast and seemingly in a film of her own. Am I being harsh? Fuck yes. But if you’re going to put your kids on stage, expect them to get more honest reviews than you give them in the front room.

wc5We have adults as well. Aside from David Rasche-a-like Aiden Quinn we also have Natasha Richardson who must be turning in her grave to know this was her final film. She’s perfectly alright in it, but man alive. What a final entry on a CV. Only Orson Welles comes lower. Shirley Henderson fulfills her purpose as having to appear in every vaguely British film that’s made. The big surprise is that Toby Jones isn’t with her. Instead we get Jason Watkins who’s essentially the guy you end up with when Toby Jones is busy. They look and sound the same. Weirdly there’s also a teacher played by Daisy Donovan. I used to quite fancy Daisy Donovan.

A final note on the cast is the only young male lead. At first I assumed a shaven llama had stumbled through a washing line and onto set, obscuring the actor. But no, this giant-headed posh boy was a chap by the name of Alex Pettyfer. I’d heard the name before. With luck, I won’t encounter it again.

Skanks shoppingSo that’s the people out of the way, let’s focus on the script. It’s not too bad, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s written by a Dahl. Got plenty of time for the Dahl family. Roald Dahl’s books were exquisite and I’d have gladly inseminated Sophie Dahl when she was still human. It’s not a particularly witty script and the characters are thinly written. Whether this is because it’s just a kids’ film or not isn’t clear. I think Roald Dahl would say otherwise, but with films these days, rather than books, they’re edited by committee and any shortfalls can always be blamed on arsehole producers sticking their feckless oar in. It’s not a film you’ll be quoting, especially with predictable lines like: “England? They don’t even speak American there.”

Director Nick Moore belies his editor credentials by allowing every shot to last a few seconds longer than it needs to. Whether this is because he’s waiting for the cinema to quite down after a belly laugh is debatable, but it feels uncomfortable to watch. A lot of scenes feel like bad takes where the cast are waiting for someone to yell cut.

Shaven llama and famous dadSo what can we learn from all this? ‘Wild Child’ isn’t unwatchable, but it’s more fascinating than interesting. One thing’s for sure: this is not a film that should appear on anyone’s 24hr Film Session set-list. There’s no good explanation two grown men can give for watching schoolgirl-japes in a darkened room at 3am. Other than the excuse I posted in paragraph one.

Films like this leave me feeling my age. I’m beyond my mid-thirties now. Most of the cast here were born after I met Mr Frost and we started having these film sessions. That absolutely horrifies me. So if all the above seems harsh, bitter and resentful then it’s because it is. Fuck them and their film. Young bastards.

‘Say Anything…’ (Cameron Crowe, 1989)


I have a really fat head. It’s the curse that’s seen me afflicted with an inability to wear a hat of any kind. I wish I could wear a hat. People don’t wear hats anywhere near as much as they used to. These days the only headgear you see is a baseball cap, usually at a jaunty or backward angle showing no respect at all for the design of the thing. I loathe baseball caps. I once worked in a fast food environment where they insisted I wear a baseball cap if I’m handling food, but on closer examination of the rules I found that I was actually required to just cover my head with a hat. So I wore a sombrero. It did the trick of annoying management and got me out of looking like a total dick in a baseball cap (yes, I’d rather serve dim sum to theme park visitors in a sombrero than wear a baseball cap. Even in that garb I felt less of a dick than I would in a fucking baseball cap).

hatMy love of  eighties films reflects my love of hats. You won’t find a more eclectic range of headwear than in the eighties, and no-one rocked the hat better than the ladies. In the closing scene of ‘Say Anything’, Diane Court (Ione Skye) sports a hat far too big to wear on a plane and I love it. It’s wider than her seat but no-one complains. A quick rundown of other great eighties hats would include Molly Ringwald in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (Howard Deutch, 1986), Winona Ryder in ‘Beetlejuice’ (Tim Burton, 1988), Kim Cattrall in ‘Mannequin’ (Michael Gottlieb, 1987) and of course Carter Wong in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ (John Carpenter, 1986).

This final scene in Cameron Crowe’s rather sweet love story is unfortunately also a reminder that we’re at the dag end of the eighties, and that a film like this has come about five years too late. It evokes an eighties on a par with the sixties in ‘Withnail and I’ (Bruce Robinson, 1987). A decade that’s come to an end and is struggling in its last year. By 1989 the home video boom was in full blast and whereas in the early eighties even a small, low budget film could be noticed, by the end of the decade dozens of new films were coming out each week just to keep the rental market happy. Endless rip-offs, homages and tributes to better, bigger budget films. Crowe’s film here is a straight-to-video John Hughes tribute. In many ways it’s almost a sequel to the aforementioned ‘Pretty in Pink’ but with a bit of role reversal.

But ‘Say Anything…’ is not a bad film. In fact it’s a great film, and one which gets forgotten about mainly as people think they’ve seen it because the scene where Lloyd Dobler holds up his beatbox in the early hours of the morning to woo Diana has been mimicked, spoofed and cloned so much since. Crowd-Say

There are problems though. The soundtrack is pretty awful and intrusive, though not as much as Crowe’s later films where the soundtrack seems to have been chosen before the script. It’s the original music by Anne Dudley and Richard Gibbs that grates most. It feels like a soundtrack lifted from another film.

Where the film scores its best marks is in the performance of not either of the leads but John Mahoney as Diana’s father, James Court. He’s got a great character to work with on paper, but he clearly brings more to it than that and his chemistry with Ione Skye is spot on. That Mahoney had only been acting in film and television for a few years at this stage in his career (he started acting at 37) is remarkable. He’s confident, assured and genuinely charismatic. I was 13 when I first saw this film and found him utterly likeable. I always hoped that my future father-in-law would be just like him and oddly enough, my father-in-law did actually look a bit like him which I only realised when watching this again recently.

SkyefallFor a 13 year old this is a cautionary tale. Relationships are nowhere near this easy to cultivate. Mind you, I never looked like John Cusack. Lloyd’s ease at wooing Diane is not to be taken lightly. However I learned a lot from Lloyd’s honest, respectful and polite nature around Diane’s father. Good manners are all-important for a first impression. Take note, kids. Manners cost nothing.

I digress. The story couldn’t be more basic. Boy meets girl, in fact boy doesn’t even meet girl on screen. Before the picture even fades in we’re told they’ve already met briefly and now he plans to ask her out. But boy meets girl. Boy is unfocussed without a particularly bright future, while girl is strong, determined, supported and going places. She’s top of her class, has a fellowship for education in the UK and her parents are divorced meaning she has to live with her father. Her father owns a retirement home and is being investigated for tax fraud. That’s it. That’s all you need to know and it’s enough to entertain for ninety minutes.

I recently had a conversation with Mr Frost, my comrade in this blog endeavour, regarding ‘The Swimmer’ (Frank Perry, 1968) where we bemoaned the lack of a good idea in modern film. A film doesn’t have to be explosions, tension, conflict and action. It doesn’t have to be a big CG-fest. A simple, sweet idea is more than enough to carve a suitable story. Audiences are being spoonfed endless crap by modern cinema. I know he plans to write up ‘The Swimmer’ soon so I won’t dwell on this, but with ‘Say Anything…’ we have a simple idea well done. You can’t ask for more than that.

ShagnastyIn my view, a film is successful if, after the credits roll, you wonder what happens next. If you care enough about these characters, and you should care about the characters in any film, then the film-makers have done their job well. Is it possible that Lloyd and Diane stayed together and lived happily in England? Would Lloyd have been able to kickbox in England? Chances are he probably took a job in Woolworths, rose up to store manager and is now unemployed thanks to the collapse of the Woolworths group and is currently on the verge of losing his benefits because of smallprint. Or maybe they did just live happily ever after.

This is a perfectly acceptable entry into any 24hr film session and is suitable for a slot in the first 12hrs. While entertaining and fun it could be a bit too restful for the tail end.

I leave you with this fantastic piece of art by Marco D’Alfonso.


‘Friday the 13th Part V – The New Beginning’ (Danny Steinmann, 1985)


There is a commonly held opinion that any film which has spawned many sequels will in fact decline in quality with each successive sequel.

This is of course bullshit. Utter piffle. The perfect example of this is the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise since the first film is arguably one of the poorest and the third (of ten) is really the lowest of the low.

However in terms of ‘Friday the 13th’ fandom and enthusiasts the fifth entry in the saga is frequently considered one of the weakest. In order to defend this it’s going to be necessary to get some seriously hardcore spoilers out of the way early on. If you’ve not seen this film and hope one day to sit through the entire Crystal Lake story then it’s probably best you stop reading now.

You were warned. ‘Friday the 13th Part V – The New Beginning’ has a fundamental difference over its fellow sequels in that Jason and his mother aren’t in it. This isn’t like ‘Halloween III – Season of the Witch’ (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982) where the film detours off on a tangent. The fact Jason isn’t in this film is actual the twist and it’s a bloody effective one.

So here’s the story, in a neat nutshell so we can move on to the other elements (aside from the cracking script) that make this possibly the best entry in the series. Little Tommy Jarvis is back. At the close of ‘Friday the 13th John ShepherdPart IV – The Final Chapter’ (Joseph Zito, 1984) little Tommy, ably played by the ever-reliable Corey Feldman, attacked and killed Jason while defending his family. Following a lovely pre-title sequece where Feldman returns, we hit the real world and little Tommy is all grown up, now played by John Shepherd. Tommy’s mental health is also suffering and he arrives at his new care home, presumably not far from Camp Crystal Lake given that the locals know about Jason Voorhees. Now, forgive me here as I’m no psychiatrist, but surely it’s not the best location to send the poor sod to recover? America’s a big place. He’s clearly very tense.

Pinehurst Halfway House has a fairly small guest list, all with their own problems which sadly we never really get to the bottom of. This could’ve been a fun opportunity in the guise of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street III – Dream Warriors’ (Chuck Russell, 1987) to have a band of misfits, each with a flaw and a strength who could work as a group. Instead we’re never really shown any indication that they have issues at all other than Jake and his slight stutter and virgin-status.

Fat FuckWithin seconds of Tommy’s arrival there’s a grisly killing. Slow, overweight stereotype Joey (Dominick Brascia) is suddenly and brutally murdered by Vic (Mark Venturini), another resident. As Vic is taken away by the police, the paramedics remove Joey’s body. This is where the film, on a second viewing, can be a little heavy-handed and personally I think it’s a pretty clever idea. You see Joey has no family that they know of. No-one knows what happened to his dad. We’ll find out at the end of the film, but the trick is – Roy (Dick Wieand), the the seemingly irrelevant paramedic attending the scene, is in fact Joey’s dad. And seeing his son’s chopped up body sends him doolally. But we don’t know that for now so forget I mentioned it.

Tommy settles in quite badly. He’s quiet, introverted, still makes his silly bloody masks and over-reacts in a pretty major way if someone borrows one. The other characters are rather thinly drawn. There’s an intriguing back-story with little Reggie the Reckless (Shavar Ross), his grandfather and his brother which is fleshed out reasonably well, if only through enthusiastic performances, but the other patients are ill-served. A nymphomaniacal couple, a body-popping goth and … Robin (Juliette Cummins). Robin is probably the most irrelevant, dull character ever to grace the cinema screen. If it weren’t for the fact she takes her top off for no reason one could wonder what she’s doing adding this to her CV at all.

Along the road from the care home we also have Ethel (Carol Locatall) and her backward son Eddie (John Robert Dixon). They’re your typical hillbilly comic relief and probably the film’s major embarrassment.

Anyhoo – people start dying and there are various suspects being lined up for us on the understanding that it can’t be Jason doing it because he’s dead. Although Tommy keeps hallucinating that Jason is stalking him, we never see the killer. Barbara StreisandSo our prime and obvious suspect is a visiting stranger who arrives at Ethel’s farm to ‘clean out all of that chicken shit and dump it behind the shed’. He’s offed almost as quick as he arrives, killed while ogling our nymphomaniacs going at it. Suspect number one of course is Tommy who doesn’t propel the narrative as much as you might expect, disappearing as he does for nearly thirty minutes.

Eventually enough people have died to indicate that the wholesome blonde doctor Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), the loveable but roguish young black boy Reggie and Tommy are going to be our troika of survivors. This is when Jason turns up. A fight eventually spills into the barn where he’s push onto some conveniently placed spikes below a hay loft (why are spikes always positioned below a hay loft?). He’s revealed to be Roy, the paramedic from earlier.

But wait! What’s this?! It’s not over yet. In the hospital Tommy wakes up, has a funny turn, grabs a Jason mask and knife from the drawer (who put it there?), kills Pam and leaps out of a nearby window. This is of course all a dream. Or something. Not really clear. But this is the eighties and all horror films have a nonsensical denouement involving a splintered reality so let’s leave it for now.

That’s the plot, but there are some other great elements that make this film stand out in the series and it’s my intention eventually to cover the whole run a film at a time as I have a real soft spot for ‘Friday the 13th’.

Oooh shit, BabyMusically this film ups the ante on the previous film’s Crispin Glover dance sequence (Google it). We get two stand-out moments. One is a musical murder on a toilet. This is Reggie’s brother Demon (played in a very early role by Miguel A. Núñez Jr.). As Demon shits out a bad enchilada, his girlfriend sings to him from outside. They keep this up for a while and then she goes quiet. She’s dead, and Demon will be soon in a moment. Run through with a spear from outside. Demon’s departure is a real shame. He’s a fascinating character.

Our next musical interlude comes courtesy of eighties goth Violet (Tiffany Helm) for whom I carried a torch as an 8 year old when I first saw this film. Always love a goth. But this goth, while rude and sullen to her friends, spends most of the film listening to various rock refrains on her enormous headphones. It’s odd then that she resorts to some awesome robot dancing/body popping to soft rock lords Pseudo Echo. It comes out of nowhere in the midst of murder and has been edited into a loop here for your enjoyment:

tumblr_m1y3be5Pwa1r2kncco1_r1_500So with two big musical numbers can the film deliver even more? Well yes it bloody can. There is a rare example of an effective use of a film within a film rather than a plodding example of a director showing us his inspirations and favourite scenes. Robin (oh, exciting, fascinating, deep, interesting Robin) and Jake sit watching ‘A Place in the Sun’ (George Stevens, 1951) while Jake tries to make his moves on this charismatic and appealing goddess. But the film serves to up the tension brilliantly since there’s not a lot else going on in the house at this time. Also one has to admire the balls-out method of Jake who rather than asking for a date merely asks for sex. You don’t get if you don’t ask so hats off to him.

The murders in ‘Part V’ (not actually called ‘Part V’ on release and in fact the original plan wasn’t to call it ‘Friday the 13th’ at all which would’ve been quite cool) are rather lackluster due in part by the MPAA’s vicious cuts to get the film from an X to R rating. This leads to the overall feeling that you’re watching a TV movie as each violent encounter fades to black or cuts away at the critical moment. In many ways this is to the film’s advantage as it no longer feels like a horror film and more of a thriller, which in essence it would be if the characters had a bit more… character.

One Bored Jasoneffective slaying comes courtesy of two stereotypes in a broken down car. As stereotype one (with the line ‘Those cunts ain’t gonna wait all night’ – nice, we can’t see blood but we do get the word ‘cunt’ – god bless America) nips off for a piss, stereotype two is slain with a distress flare in the mouth. It’s really well done but one can’t help but wonder where this distress flare came from.

Finally we have something rare in a ‘Friday the 13th’ film which is the classic ‘cat out of nowhere’. I won’t spoil it for you, just remember that it’s coming and shake your head in disapproval when it does.

If, as the title implies, this was intended to be a new beginning for the ‘Friday the 13th’ series then one has to wonder where they were planning to take it beyond this film. Tommy speaks barely five lines in the whole film and has no real menace to him at all. Perhaps they intended the mantle of Jason to be passed on from person to person in much the same way is implied in ‘Jason Goes to Hell’ (Adam Marcus, 1993). Whatever their plans, they clearly weren’t what we eventually got with ‘Part VI’ which really was a new beginning for the series. But in ‘Part V’ we have a stand-out entry which relies on plot and not killings. A film you can show a friend and they won’t feel like they’ve just sat through horror. It’s a brave and bold attempt at doing something new with the franchise and Steinmann should be commended for that much at least.

For a film session the recommendation would be to commit to the entire run over 24hrs, it’s just about doable. After the interminable 2 and 3 you’ll be glad when this baby kicks in the door.

‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ (Stanley Donen, 1954)


If ever a film took a subject and made light of it in a way that makes the viewer feel incredibly ill at ease, then it’s ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Or possibly ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2006) but sucking off a dog is the least of our worries here.

Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) is a no-nonsense backwoods mountain-man. He has a big ginger beard and tassels to match. A hearty voice, six brothers, a good Christian upbringing and a taste for baked beans. He’s also something of a musical sex pest. You see, Adam is in town today and he’s looking for a wife. He has an impressive shopping list of criteria for this woman: Pretty, slim, eyes just the right size but not crossed and as sassy as can be. Adam struts through town singing his heart out about his future wife’s arse while ogling Milly (Jane Powell) as she serves dinner, chops wood, fights off a similar sex pest and milks a cow. He asks her to marry him, she says yes, once she’s finished milking the cow, and so he sets off for a shave and haircut. We’re seven minutes in.

Six victims

Let’s step back a bit here and return to the opening credits for Stanley Donen’s hugely respected family musical masterpiece. The story is credited as being based on that of the ‘Sabine Women’, or more honestly: “The Rape of the Sabine Women”. Now while ‘rape’ here has changed its meaning over the years, it’s still an abduction. One of the abductees in the Roman tale confirms that no sexual assault took place. But this is a film about the abduction and sexual slavery of six women and one aggressive cow-milker. This is very odd material for a musical comedy.

So Adam and Milly are married and they go back to his house in the backwoods where a surprise is waiting for her (no, not that. Stop tittering). Adam lives with six brothers in a filthy, decrepit farmhouse. Milly is expected to cook for them, wash their clothes, keep the house tidy – she’s essentially their servant with perks for Adam.

Adam’s brothers are named alphabetically to make life easier, all good bible names: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank(incense) and Gideon. Being ‘sassy’, Milly rolls up her sleeves and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Having cleaned and prepared a meal she’s appalled at the behaviour of Adam’s brothers. Quite what she expected having met Adam is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for sure: Adam ain’t getting any tonight.

Slowly but surely, Milly trains the brothers in manners, civility and the ways of women. Having her around has given them all a raging horn and something has to be done.

Big fartLucky for all involved, there’s to be a barn-building in town. Milly decides the best thing to do is to make the brothers get haircuts and put on day-glo silk blouses. Unfortunately for them, the Pontipees are not terribly popular in town, and while the local talent seems up for it, the local lads are not happy at having their rhubarb rubbed by a Pontipee. There’s only one thing for it – a dance-off!

This is the film’s stand-out sequence and while I can watch it any time I like on DVD, a common treat used to be to go to MOMI (Museum of the Moving Image)  on the Southbank and watch the looped sequence on the big screen over and over again. The closure of MOMI was a great shame.

The dance-off goes well, the boys manage to pick a bird each and all seems sweet, but then during the barn building things go awry and a fight breaks out resulting in a lot of pain for all involved. Milly is livid.

Adam on the other hand resorts to his usual tactic and comes up with the bright idea of just kidnapping the women, holding them against their will for several months until they develop some sort of Stockholm Syndrome and put out.

Steak outThis is exactly what they do. Riding into town one early winters’ eve they sneak around assaulting family members and kidnapping women one at a time. The laughs come thick and fast as Gideon hides behind a door pretending to be a kitten so he can snare his chosen victim, but, ha ha, her other half sees him and just as he’s about to smash his brains in with a snow shovel, Gideon is saved by his brother who knocks the man out. So Gideon meows much quicker and eventually she relents and goes to let the cat in, whereupon he throws a bag over her head and drags her away from her family. Who knew abduction could be such fun?

Once they’ve got the girls part way up the mountain pass, Adam starts an avalanche to ensure they can’t be followed. This means the girls are stuck with them until the Spring when the snow thaws.

Milly, naturally, is delighted with the situation. The boys are thrown out, including Adam (who takes it badly and huffs off to a mountain shack) meanwhile the girls wander around in their knickers singing sweetly about what it might be like to get married in June. Whether it’s plain cabin fever or hormones or both, the girls eventually seem to be cooling to the idea of domestic and sexual servitude among the mean ‘ol pole cats. Just as they’re about to give it up, Adam gets back to defend the place now the pass is open.

AndBaby Loganberry aren’t the townspeople happy when they arrive? The girls put up a fight – they’re clearly warmed up now, and during the commotion, a baby is heard crying. This is the one Milly dropped earlier. It could be Adam’s, but my money’s on Gideon. Anyway, since the girls adopt an ‘I’m Spartacus’ stance, the only answer is six shotgun weddings. And as quickly as Adam can propose, the film’s over.

As rape/revenge films go this is no ‘Death Wish II’ (Michael Winner, 1982) but the silly thing is, despite its subject matter it is a very jolly, enjoyable romp. As a kid I loved it, as an adult I can only question the morals on display in what is clearly meant to be a ‘Christian’ film. The studio even panicked over the working  title (‘A Bride for Seven Brothers’) because it implied bigamy and the lyrics to ‘Lonesome Polecat’ which referred to zoophilia in the lonely mountains.

It’s probably not got a place in a 24hr Film Session, but it does have a place in our hearts. Now get out there and bless a beautiful hide.