Tag Archives: Malcolm McDowell

Pandemics in Film: Nate’s Top Ten Virus Movies

It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!

10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage

I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.

9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies

This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.

8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday

It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.

7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever

The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.

6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later

I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.

5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones

This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.

4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil

This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.

3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak

While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion

This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Charles Winkler’s Disturbed

The horror genre has this hilarious unwritten rule that the head doctor of any asylum featured in a narrative simply must be far crazier than any of the patients and Charles Winkler’s Disturbed definitely checks out in that category. Malcolm McDowell stars here as the psychiatrist in question, an amoral basket case with a nasty habit of snatching female patients from their beds at night, drugging and raping them until one such atrocity ends in death, and he seeks to cover up his nocturnal escapades. When one would be victim (Pamela ‘Teresa Banks’ Gidley) takes a fatal plunge off the roof while running from he thinks he’s got away with it… until she literally comes back and starts haunting him. This allows McDowell to do his trademark loony bin routine and slowly lose it bit by bit, chewing more and more scenery with each new scene. Is he nuts? Is her ghost really there? How much were their paycheques to star in this trash? Not to be a hard ass but this really is sleazy, bottom of the barrel shock value trash and the only real reason to check it out is, naturally, McDowell. His Dr. Russell is truly an unhinged creation and it’s fun watching him between unorthodox group therapy sessions, whacked out hallucinations and his eventual grisly comeuppance. The film itself is unabashed bottom feeding swill but there’s other familiar faces like Irwin Keyes, Priscilla Pointer, Clint Howard and Geoffrey Lewis to spice things up. The highlight of the film is when a nurse tells McDowell he needs professional help to which he triumphantly replies “I AM professional help!!” and starts cackling like a witch. Sure, bud.

-Nate Hill

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

So, the sequel to Stephen King’s Firestarter is an interesting one.. more of a miniseries than an actual film and runs well up almost to three hours, is full of horrendous pacing issues and numbing filler and yet… I still kinda dig it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the languid runtime that fills up an entire rainy afternoon or who knows, but I own this on its own DVD and in the two pack with the first one and I pop it in at least once a year.

What’s it all about? Well the clairvoyant Charlie who was first played by Drew Barrymore is now grown up and embodied by Marguerite Moreau, who has some great charisma and pulls it off quite well. When she was a kid her and her dad were on the run from all kinds of nasty characters, most of whom fell victim to her incredible but severely destructive elemental gifts. One who did not however is John Rainbird, the vaguely occult weirdo played by George C. Scott in the first and now given the diabolical essence of Malcolm McDowell this time round. He wanted her powers for himself and if that didn’t work he was prepared to kill her, an agenda that kind of went up in flames (weyy). Now he’s back with gnarly burn scars and has spent the decade tracking down other kids with similar powers as Charlie and training them to be his evil little work force, eventually hoping to track her down and… who knows, the guy is beyond certifiable. Charlie has kept off the grid and struggled with these demons from her past as well as an understandable confusion in her own self identity. She finds companionship in a young journalist (Danny Nucci) who tries to help her and another psychic from their collective past played by Dennis Hopper in a warm, compassionate extended cameo.

So, what works? Well, McDowell as Rainbird is the film’s strongest point. Stephen King wrote this guy as a Native American and Hollywood just had to do their thing in casting a white dude so there’s this weird stoicism that didn’t come across well in George’s work. Malcolm reinvents the dude and fares far better as a manipulative, Machiavellian sorcerer hell bent on chaos and he eats up the role tremendously. We see flashbacks to young Charlie again and this time instead of Barrymore it’s Skye McCole Bartusiak, the excellent child actress who passed away sadly and too soon a few years back. Hopper is always terrific even in an easygoing paycheque role. I appreciated the genuine interest in the filmmakers part on building this world further and exploring new ideas. There’s a super cool, explosive showdown between Charlie and Rainbird that takes place in an all but deserted western style town. Moreau makes the most of the role and carries it pretty effectively. So what doesn’t work? The thing is two fucking hours and forty five minutes long, which is just a big no no. This could have easily been a sleek ninety minute flick and been all the more effective by pulling up the narrative slack and cutting all kinds of droning filler. It’s clearly lower budget, made for TV and we don’t get that beautiful Tangerine Dream score as we did before. It ain’t a great film but for what it is, it’s pretty fun.

-Nate Hill

Eternity’s Music, Faint and Far: Nate’s Top Ten Time Travel Films

I love a good time travel film. There’s something so purely exciting about opening up your story’s narrative to the possibility, and once you do the potential is almost endless. From the mind stretching nature of paradoxically puzzling storylines to the sheer delight of seeing someone stranded in an era not their own and adjusting to the radical development, it’s a sub-genre that always has me first in line to buy tickets. Here are my personal top ten favourites:

10. Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time

How’s this for a concept: H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack The Ripper (David Warner) around 1800’s London, through a time machine and all over 1970’s San Francisco. This is a brilliant little picture because as sensational as this high concept is, the filmmakers approach the story from a place of character and emotion rather than big style SciFi spectacle or action. McDowell plays Wells as a compassionate, non violent fellow while Warner’s Jack relishes in the ultra-violent nature of the time period. This is also the film where McDowell met Mary Steenburgen and shortly after they were married.

9. Rian Johnson’s Looper

Time travel gets monopolized by the mafia in this stunning futuristic tale that is so specifically high concept it requires a near constant expository voiceover from Joseph Gordon Levitt so we can keep up. Playing an assassin hunting his future self (Bruce Willis), this has a vaguely steam punk feel to it, an uncommonly intelligent and surprisingly emotional script as well as scene stealing work from Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano and a scruffy Jeff Daniels.

8. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

A young boy tags along on one hell of a epic adventure with a band of time travelling dwarves on the run from both the Devil (David Warner for the second time on this list, how nice) and God himself (Ralph Richardson). This is an exhilarating, lush example of what can be done with practical effects, from a giant walking out of the ocean to a Lego castle somewhere beyond time and space to a recreation of the Titanic. Not to mention the cast, which includes cameos from Gilliam’s Monty Python troupe regulars as well as Ian Holm, Shelley Duvall, Jim Broadbent and Sean Connery in several sly roles.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Back To The Future

“Great Scott!!!!” Man, who doesn’t just love this film. It’s practically it’s own visual aesthetic these days, and spawned two fun sequels that couldn’t quite capture the enchantment found here. From scrappy antihero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to demented genius Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) this just hits all the right notes and gets a little taboo in the process as we see what would happen if someone ended up in the past and got hit on by their own mom. Yikes!

6. The Spierig Brothers’s Predestination

The less you know about this tantalizing, twisty flick going in the better, except to know that it will fuck your mind into submission with its narrative. Ethan Hawke plays a rogue temporal agent who’s been pursuing a relentless terrorist through time since he can remember, and finally has a plan he think will work to end the chase. Featuring Noah ‘exposition in every other SciFi film’ Taylor and the sensational new talent Sarah Snook, this is not one to miss and you’ll need a few viewings to appreciate it fully .

5. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu

Scott’s trademark visual aesthetic blesses this kinetic, elliptical story of secret FBI technology used by keen ATF agent Denzel Washington to find and stop a mad bomber (Jim Caviesel) who has already slaughtered hundreds in a riverboat explosion. Adam Goldberg and Val Kilmer are welcome as agency tech experts but the real heart of this film lies in Washington’s relationship to a survivor of the incidents (Paula Patton) and how that plays into the fascinating central premise that doesn’t start *out* as actual time travel but gradually becomes apparent.

4. Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

A father son relationship is the beating heart of this tale of cop Jim Caviesel (again!) and his firefighter dad Dennis Quaid. They are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and the barriers of death itself via a miraculous HAM radio and some pseudo science involving the aurora borealis. This provides an exciting, involving and heartbreaking dual experience as the son races to find ways to save his dad from several different grim fates and take down a nasty serial killer while he’s at it. This film has aged so well mostly due to the genuine emotion felt between the family including mom Elizabeth Mitchell. The yearning to escape perimeters of linear time and reconnect with passed loved ones is especially prescient for me nowadays days based on my own recent experiences and as such the film holds extra weight now. A classic.

3. James Cameron’s The Terminator

Artificial intelligence works out time travel for itself in Cameron’s ballistic gong show of an action classic that sees freedom fighter Michael Biehn, civilian turned survivor Linda Hamilton, homicidal cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few hundred short lived cops engaged in a bloody, brutal fight for the future. I picked this over the sequel because the notion of time travel in the saga overall feels freshest and most well worked out here, despite my love for T2 being just a smidge higher on the gauge. Perhaps it’s also because the excellent Biehn makes damn believable work of convincing us that he’s a weary, distraught soldier from a different era, and sells the concept with his beautiful performance.

2. John Maybury’s The Jacket

Hazy, experimental, haunting and atmospheric, this was not a critical hit and it’s chilly vibe is evidence of that, but beneath that there’s a heartfelt story of confused gulf war vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) trying to make sense of his shattered psyche while surviving a gnarly mental institution run by a madman with a god complex (Kris Kristofferson). Somewhere along the way he discovers he can jump through time and uses the phenomena to investigate his own death and prevent others from happening. Featuring a low key, emotional turn from Keira Knightley and fantastic supporting work from Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this is a harrowing psychological thriller that gradually reveals itself as a meditation on life, death and the realms in between.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

Gilliam gets two on this list, lucky him! He deserves it though, this is a curious film with unbelievable production design, a deeply felt performance from Bruce Willis and one from Brad Pitt that kind of defies description and erases doubts of his immense talent from anyone’s mind. Willis is a convict sent back in time from a bleak future to discover how and why a deadly virus wiped out most of earth’s population and sent the rest into subterranean caves. It’s not the film you’d expect and the sad, eerie resolution at the end is something that will stick with you for a long time.

Once again thanks for reading! There’s many that didn’t make the list as it’s tough to just pick ten, but I’d love to hear some of your favourite time travel films!

-Nate Hill

Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape

A menacing black helicopter relentlessly pursued two mysterious escapees through the harsh landscape of an unnamed foreign land. Such is the slightly surreal setup for Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape, a strange, forgotten allegorical adventure film starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell. Less is more storytelling takes charge with a screenplay by Shaw himself, as very little is told to us about who these men are, what the setting and political climate is or why that big black bird won’t stop gunning for them, at one point staging a maneuver so hair raising the propellers almost take someone’s head clean off. The unspecified region here is actually Spain, and the photography is flat out gorgeous, stunning wide shots and sweeping vistas seemingly shot from the chopper itself, sprawling vineyards, dry acrid valleys and snowy mountain peaks are all captured in a film that would work as a travelogue ad for Spain if the story wasn’t so grim. Shaw is the salty, old fashioned badass who can’t keep his mouth shut and gets his hands dirty when needed, McDowell the sensitive youngster in over his head and struggling with both the chase and the elements. As the film progresses their dynamics shift though, which is fascinating to see through their two excellent performances. The climax set high atop a mountain somewhere is bloody poetic bliss and serves as both a fitting end to a well mounted thriller and an ambiguous enough wrap up for a story that’s just ‘out there’ enough to defy genre expectations. This one really has been lost to the sands of time, but luckily Kino Lorber recently remastered it for Blu Ray and it’s really something to see if you’re a fan of Shaw, McDowell, oddball films that slipped through the cracks or high adventure. Definitely recommended.

-Nate Hill

David Grieco’s Evilenko

Serial killer biopics and character studies have been all the rage since their inception in the early 90’s, but rarely do they get as earnest or serious as David Grieco’s Evilenko, an intense look at Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (renamed Evilenko here), a heinous child murderer that took advantage of loopholes in the post war soviet region and preyed on youngsters for years. Malcolm McDowell is harrowing in the role and gives the character human depth and dimensions beyond just lurking, killing, evading capture and awaiting trial. I saw a documentary once on his career and apparently he turned this role down several times, which is interesting because he’s absolutely dynamic and almost unrecognizable as the guy, quite the piece of work. Martin Csokas plays the inspector on his case with his usual well spoken gravitas, hunting the man down but taking so many years to nab him that the body count went well above fifty victims. The crimes are shown with a disassociation and removed coldness, blunt but never exploitive. There’s two other film versions of this true story, an HBO original film called Citizen X that takes the police procedural route and Child 44, a recent one with Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman that was a melodramatic, unfocused mess. This one is an intimate look into the killer’s psyche, a definite cut above most serial murderer films and anchored tightly by McDowell’s committed performance. Disturbing stuff.

-Nate Hill