Monday, 28 March 2016

THE HATEFUL EIGHT: Minnie's is the Warmest Place to Hide

Not only is it a considerably more satisfying Western than Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is undeniable top-tier Tarantino, right up there with the Kill Bill movies and Inglourious Basterds*. I don't dislike Django, but for my tastes the odds are heavily stacked in The Hateful Eight's favour. I'm a sucker for tense, confined chamber pieces with strong ensemble casts, but my real bias towards QT's latest is that I'm an inveterate fan of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Going in, I was fully aware that Tarantino had infused his new film with the spirit of the sci-fi horror classic. He's gone on record as saying “The Thing is the one movie that is the most influential on this movie". I was expecting the obvious superficial connections: Kurt Russell in a lead role; an Ennio Morricone score; an almost entirely male ensemble trapped in a confined space during a blizzard. What I wasn't prepared for is the revelation that The Hateful Eight hews so closely and faithfully to Carpenter's film, that for all intents and purposes it has to be considered a spiritual remake. I say "spiritual" because of course there's no DNA assimilating alien monster here. However, make no mistake, in every other sense this is a far more effective remake of the 1982 film than the dismal prequel that came out five years ago.

"Somebody in this camp ain't what he appears to be"
- Kurt Russell, The Thing

"One of them fellas is not what he says he is"
- Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight

Those echoing lines, deliberately calculated to jog the viewer's memory, are just the tip of the iceberg. For starters, passages are lifted wholesale from Morricone's score for The Thing, most noticeably "Despair" (as well as some unused material that can be found on The Thing's OST). Entire scenes and sequences from the '82 film are blatantly referenced, if not straight up copied. The blood testing sequence is reinterpreted as a scene in which Samuel Jackson's Major Marquis Warren holds the surviving lodgers of Minnie's Haberdashery at gunpoint. Also faithfully recreated are the tense exchanges between characters, as they test the true nature of each other's identities and attempt to form fragile alliances. Several instances of characters struggling off into the blizzard, their isolation from the group making them instant red herrings, are also the most obvious visual references. The final exchange, in the aftermath of the violence, between an exhausted MacReady and Childs is also cribbed. It's all there.

Just to leave you in absolutely no doubt that what you're watching is actually nihilistic horror in the guise of a Western, Tarantino throws in a cue from Last House on the Left - David Hess' "Now You're All Alone". Further confirmation of that comes in the form of exploding heads, vomited innards and splattering squibs. This is far and away Tarantino's goriest film since Kill Bill.

Watching The Hateful Eight was a blast for me. On top of the usual qualities that you expect from one of Tarantino's best - great dialogue, characters, score, visuals and action - this was the closest I've ever gotten to reliving the thrill of seeing Carpenter's masterpiece for the first time thirty-four years ago. Countless filmmakers have tried to emulate The Thing by one-upping Rob Bottin's fx (a lost cause from the get go), but Tarantino wisely approaches the material from the human angle, which is plenty alienating enough. As with The Thing, the result is riveting - a tangled web of paranoia, hidden identities and shifting allegiances that keeps you guessing until the final scene.

I couldn't be happier with the new breed of high quality, ultra violent Western that we're seeing (and I'm including the lesser, but still very enjoyable The Revenant). It's like an exploitation fan's dream come true to have a pair of Kurt Russell starring oaters that are as indebted to Deodato and Carpenter as they are to Corbucci, Peckinpah and Leone. Next up, following his strongest film to date (The Sacrament), I have high hopes for Ti West's In a Valley of Violence.

*I'm aware that this is a very subjective statement, and I admit that my appreciation of Tarantino's movies is largely driven by my preference for certain genres over others. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are objectively better movies than Death Proof any day of the week, but I'm more likely to want to revisit a violent horror/exploitation hybrid (starring Kurt Russell) than a straight up crime film.

Friday, 25 March 2016


From the earliest days of cinema, right up through the 1980s, major studios produced movie posters that were often so aesthetically pleasing that they completely demolished the line between applied and fine art. So is that era now truly dead and gone? After the last couple of decades of uninspiring Photoshop blandness, I'd have to say yes. For all the freedom that Adobe's products have given designers, there's a monotonous homogeneity to it all, the cancerous byproduct of every designer on the planet using the same tools. Monopoly is never a good thing, but to be fair, you can't blame Adobe's ubiquity for everything. There's other factors to consider - tighter deadlines, lazy designers, clueless execs etc.

It's not all bad though! If it wasn't for the death of the beautifully illustrated studio one sheet, would we have seen the rise of boutiques like Mondo? Would the growing movement of poster artists who work outside of the studio system be as healthy as it is now? Probably not. 

Rather than lamenting the death of the traditional movie poster, I'm all about celebrating the wealth of independent talent that we're seeing now. Having already sung the praises of contemporary masters of the form like Akiko Stehrenberger, Gary Pullin, Erik Buckham and Jason Edmiston, let's take a look today at the mind meltingly cool poster art of Canadian wizard Justin Erickson...

Monday, 14 March 2016


Feast your eyes on this video for Carpenter Brut's "Turbo Killer". Another certified synthwave banger from the Frenchman, accompanied by some slicker-than-slick fetishistic imagery, courtesy of CG wizard Seth Ickerman. This is four minutes of 100% pure, neon Miami, cocaine-on-steroids, faux grindhouse insanity (a decade on and the cigarette burns and scratches aesthetic is still going strong. Robert Rodriguez, what hath thou wrought?)

However, you might want to check your moral compass at the door. Beautiful women, literally driven as muscle cars? Now THAT'S objectification!

Hit full screen 1080p, crank up your speakers, and enjoy some French sci-fi cheese served with a side of blasting horror-synth.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson has died aged 71, and sadly it would seem that the musician took his own life. Fans of Italian horror will always remember the prog rock giant for his score for Argento's Inferno. Although more old-fashioned than the two Goblin scores that had preceded it, it's no less memorable.

He also scored Fulci's Flashdance ripoff/giallo Murder Rock and, along with Goblin, contributed some tracks to Michele Soavi's superior The Church.

Mater Suspiriorum! Lacrimarum! Tenebrarum!
Dominae, Dominae Dominae Dominarum!


I'm always looking for music that hits that sweet spot between the old sounds that we all know and love and progression into something new, and Montreal's No Negative fit the bill perfectly. Psychedelic deathrock supercharged with the heaviness and energy of hardcore. Aside from the obvious deathrock touchstones, I get a Gone Fishin' era Flipper vibe off of this, as well as a healthy dose of early Butthole Surfers. Those things make me feel good.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Sound and Fury

Polanski's Macbeth (1971) will probably always remain my favourite adaptation of the play, a film so full of trippy occultism, dread and blood that the experience of watching it isn't far removed from gothic horror. King Duncan's murder and the banquet scene (where Macbeth is tormented by the ghost of Banquo) honestly wouldn't feel out of place in one of Hammer's gorier offerings.

The final confrontation between Macduff and Macbeth is one of the most perfectly choreographed sword fights ever filmed. The desperation and single-mindedness of the two combatants is palpable and visceral, every second of fighting realistic, vicious and brutal. As with Boorman's Excalibur, you can really feel the weight of their armour, the two men battling exhaustion as they pummel and hack at the other. Macbeth's death (below) is horrific. Before a sickeningly realistic beheading, he's run through from armpit to clavicle, and it remains one of the nastiest stabbings ever committed to film. To this day, every time I watch it I feel queasy.

Now Australian director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) has delivered his own version of the Scottish Play, no doubt also destined for cult status, albeit for different reasons than Polanski's. Fassbender and Cotillard both give mesmerising performances, and Kurzel comes up with some interesting personal touches (here Birnam Wood advances on Dunsinane as embers, not felled trees, and the film opens with an explicit answer to the oft debated question of whether the Macbeth's ever had a child), but the real star of this latest Macbeth is its visuals, courtesy of Adam Arkapaw's exceptional cinematography. 

Kurzel's film strikes a fine balance between traditional and contemporary: the dialogue, production design and Highland locations are what you'd expect from a traditional adaptation, but visually this Macbeth is like nothing you've ever seen. The exterior locations and interior sets are breathtakingly shot, but the thing that really brings it all to life is Macbeth's moody lighting and colour palette. I don't know how much of this Arkapaw achieved on location and in camera and how much was done in post, but the end result is exquisitely eerie and atmospheric. Highlights include some shots of hand-to-hand combat captured in ultra slow motion, like a dramatic tableau come to life. It's powerful stuff. The siege of Dunsinane at the end of the movie is pure apocalyptic eye-candy, the action obscured in smoke and bathed in an otherworldly diffuse glow.

I've been a fan of Arkapaw's for a while now, as he also did some stellar work on Cary Fukunaga's True Detective, so I'm happy to see that he received the American Society of Cinematographer's Spotlight Award for his work on Macbeth Anyway, see for yourself as I spent a while pouring through my Blu to pick out some of the film's most striking images.