Children Of The Corn is such an iconoclast franchise packed to the brim with as many sequels as your Hellraisers or your Pumpkinheads, and it has firm roots in horror pop culture so I was excited to finally check out the original 1984 that started it all and my strongest thoughts are that it’s just not a good movie. Like… this? This is what spawned an entire legacy that, to this day, still won’t quit? I expected something memorable, legendary and possessive of some quality or spark that genuinely lives on in your mind and fears after the credits roll, some quality that justifies two dozen sequels that stretch right into the new millennium, something that most lore-expansive horror franchise’s first efforts usually have, that this one simply doesn’t. All there is to this story is a young couple (Linda Hamilton & Peter Horton) driving through a desolate county filled with miles of cornfields, a region populated only by creepy little brats who have all killed their parents and every other adult in the area at the behest of some unseen deity who when finally made visible via some truly abysmal special effects, is a laughable, mostly absent antagonist. The child actors, spearheaded by irritating John Franklin and hammy Courtney Gains, are forgettable and nothing close to naturalistic or scary, the locations are over lit and drab, I’ve never seen a horror film set in and around cornfields squander the incredibly potent setting, there’s just no atmosphere at all. The story honestly just reminded me of that South Park episode where all the kids get their parents locked up for “molestering” them and live alone, which now that I think about it, they probably based that on this. I wish I had something nice to say about this but sadly I was so so letdown by a film whose reputation curiously says otherwise. I suppose there’s two of the little kids that give decent performances and elicit sympathy, I can’t find their names now on IMDb as they’ve grown up and the photos look different but they’re a brother and sister of maybe 5 and 7 with telekinesis who wish to defect and run away from this cult, they had my sympathy and I liked their work, but other than that this was just dire. There’s about as many sequels to this out there as there were weird little kids running around in the corn here and if you’ve seen them and know of any that, like those two little kids, rise above the B grade, cheap shit vibes of this one let me know, but I was about as unimpressed as possible here.
The Dead Zone is the combined efforts of three artists who can only be described overall as a trio of the most extreme storytellers of their day, Stephen King, Christopher Walken and David Cronenberg. It’s a bold, counterintuitive and brilliant move on all parts to then make this a restrained, humane and warm-hearted piece of compassionate thriller filmmaking, despite having the aura of a classic horror film. Christopher Walken gives one of his best, most soulful performances as Johnny Smith, a mild mannered schoolteacher who is blessed/cursed with the powers of spooky clairvoyance after a cataclysmic car wreck leaves him in a coma for five years. He can now sense the future, past and ill fated destiny of others around him based on touch, an ability that can save many lives but also has a draining effect on his own spirit forces. As he helps the local sheriff (Tom Skeritt) track a vicious serial killer, tutors the neurologically challenged young son of a rich businessman (Anthony Zerbe) and has growing suspicions about an overzealous, obviously sinister politician (a smarmy as hell Martin Sheen) running for senate, he tries his best to reconnect with the former girlfriend (Brooke Adams) who remarried during his coma and pick up the pieces of his life. Walken is excellent and reins in his usual eccentricities (apart from one brief, shockingly hilarious outburst) for a subtle, restrained and heartbreaking portrayal akin to his award winning turn in The Deer Hunter. Johnny isn’t a warrior, cop, leader or hero, he’s just a quiet schoolteacher who finds himself thrown into this extraordinary situation and has to deal, and Walken’s shy, awkward and otherworldly presence brings this to life wonderfully. The film is shot in rural Ontario during wintertime and as such there’s an icy, eerie blanket of small town atmosphere over everything, made thicker by a beautiful Michael Kamen score that lays on the orchestral swells and quirky, spine chilling experimental cues in perfect musical symbiosis. This is King at his kindest, with an ending that although is appropriately bleak, still has a sorrowful heart to it and not his often cynical, hollow hearted touch. It’s also Cronenberg at his most character based, ditching the body horror to explore the psychological strain a phenomenon like this would exert and taking a long breath in his otherwise hectic, gooey career to compassionately explore a character alongside Walken who is a dark angel revelation as Smith. Sensational film.
I didn’t really know what to think of Lisey’s Story for the first two episodes or so because it’s so disarmingly, otherworldly strange and surreal, but as the story unfolds in an almost subconscious vernacular, step by step I found my footing and it has become likely my favourite Stephen King adaptation ever undertaken. I think it’s the closest we’re ever gonna get to an ‘arthouse’ King story, and the sheer audacity and bizarro world sensibility of it might be why it’s not being received too well, but make no mistake, this is gorgeous top shelf stuff. The story, told in bold expressionistic strokes, tells of the core relationship between Lisey (Julianne Moore) and her deceased husband Scott Landon (Clive Owen), a famous writer and deeply troubled man who left a series of clues for her before passing that will lead her on a journey to the heart of his unfinished literary work and protect her from deranged homicidal stalker Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) who seeks to find his hidden manuscripts. That all sounds very straightforward but the creators opt to tell this story in deep, dense flashbacks, musical cues that take prescience over dialogue and an arresting, dreamlike visual palette that takes over for exposition. In Scott’s books he tells of another dimension called Boo’Ya Moon, a realm of the dead and half-dead that’s full of alien beauty and home to a terrifying monster called the Long Boy. This sort of exotic astral plane proves to be very real and integral in both putting Scott’s spirit to rest and killing Dooley, who becomes quite the force to reckon with for Lisey and her two sisters (Jennifer Jason Leigh & Joan Allen). Moore is fantastic as Lisey, full of emotional intuition and charisma, while Owen has never been better and his level of commitment and intensity to a role that is cast way, way against his usual type is staggering, I have never seen him so raw and vulnerable. There are frequent flashbacks to his horrifying childhood where he struggles to deal with his half mad Viet Nam vet father who is so mentally far gone he can barely get a sentence out. The dad is played by an unrecognizable Michael Pitt who manages to be despicable, relatable, pathetic, chilling and heartbreaking in the same notes, it’s a mad dog, candid performance you don’t usually see in mainstream stuff and he should win all of the awards. The show is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen, from the strikingly intense, almost David Lynch style work from the actors to the stunning mystical dreamscape of Boo’Ya Moon to the languid, formless narrative that’s free of peripherals or structure to the deep, haunting emotional core to the sweet, innocent and life affirming romance between Lisey and Scott to the wonderfully atmospheric, spine chilling score by ‘Clark’, this is just grand, unique storytelling that sweeps you away into its world. You have to be willing to go though, and I think that’s why so many people recoiled at this. Many were likely expecting an accessible, routine King adaptation firmly planted in the ground like we usually see wrought of his work, but this is simply something from another world altogether, it’s one that you feel your way through in images and impression rather than dialogue and drama. If you’re ready for that, I’d highly recommend it. Don’t listen to the hate out there, it’s truly, truly extraordinary stuff.
I had been dimly aware for some time that a Stephen King book called Mr. Mercedes had been adapted into a series, and I was vaguely versed in the plot being about a detective hunting a serial killer who kills people with the titular automobile. What I *didn’t* know was that this is a whole trilogy based deeply around the detective character, a cantankerous old school Irish cop named Bill Hodges played by Brendan Gleeson in what has to be the performance of his career. What I most definitely did not expect is what a deep, dark, psychological sprawl this saga was going to be, it’s much much more than just a cop versus killer thing and goes to places of boundless imagination, starkly nauseating horror, effective humour and the kind of development and dynamics that have me deeply missing these characters now that I’ve finished the whole series run. Hodges is a retired detective in a run down, really sad suburb of Ohio who never caught a demented maniac called Mr. Mercedes, who brutally ran the car through a crowd of people at a Jobs Fair and killed several including a mother and her newborn. That’s the kind of crime that haunts an entire town, with Bill at the epicentre of it all, and when the killer starts to taunt him, send him mocking emails and threaten those around him he loves, the hunt is on again. I’m not sure what I can say about all three seasons without spoiling too much so I’ll keep it vague but I do want to outline some of these wonderful characters. Bill isn’t alone in his fight and as the story unfolds he very organically puts together this team of family, friends and people he cares deeply for that all help in some way to bring this monster down. They include his neighbour, computer genius and lawn mowing guru Jerome (Jharrel Jerome), his other neighbour and longtime high school teacher Ida (Holland Taylor), his former partner on the force Pete (Scott Lawrence), the wonderful, anxiety ridden and cosmically intuitive Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) and many, many others. The killer himself is a twisted up piece of work named Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) and this isn’t a spoiler as the show starts off showing you exactly who he is and how he operates, a sad little freak with a booze soaked mom (Kelly Lynch at her most disheveled) who likes to bang him, he’s someone you could almost feel sorry for if he wasn’t such a little snot-fuck psychopath. Stemming out from Brady are some equally despicable antagonists including damaged goods asshole Morris (Gabriel Ebert), revered author and mean spirited local legend John Rothstein (Bruce Dern) and many other characters dotting the collective moral compass played by the likes of Mike Starr, Brett Gelman, Nancy Travis, Jack Huston, Glynn Turman, Mary Louise Parker and Star Trek’s Kate Mulgrew as quite possibly one of the most reprehensible villains King ever dreamed up, just the vilest bitch ever. I love a good King story because he often starts off with a concept so simple, so primal, so elemental, and builds from there to places you could never have dreamed: a gunslinger travelling across a desert, a writer caretaking a derelict hotel for the winter, or a cop hunting a vehicular mass murderer. The first season shows us exactly that, and by the time the show ends you’ve travelled worlds both inside and outside the mind, met hundreds of characters of every variety and experienced a story not limited to the bounds of what’s considered narratively traditional but exists outside the box in every sense of the term. He’s also uncanny at creating, devolving and nurturing characters that you care deeply for; his writing and Gleeson’s performance as Bill Hodges is one for the books, just this brittle old Irish goat with a pet tortoise in his backyard, a heart of gold in there somewhere beneath all the whiskey fury and years of hurt and frustration who learns to find himself again and take down some true evil, not only one of the finest characters I’ve seen put to the screen but a true force of good and one of the key lynchpins of light and love in the expansive Stephen King multiverse. Sensational experience from beginning to end.
This is going to be a tough one to review no matter how I slice it, so I’ll be upfront with my thoughts and afterwards I’m open to any and all discussions regarding them: I finally got a chance to watch the entire miniseries of Stephen King’s The Shining from 1997 (not in the right order I might add, as the discs in my DVD set were somehow labelled wrong) and in quite a few ways I much prefer it to Stanley Kubrick’s film, which I also love and consider a stronger piece in some aspects as well. Please hear me out: it’s no secret that King prefers this one and that it follows his book far more closely than than Kubrick’s film, but this was irrelevant to me as I’ve never read the book. What I enjoyed a lot about this is that it dives far deeper into the character of Jack Torrence, here played by Steven Weber in a performance I much prefer over Nicholson’s, his alcoholism and inability to control the addiction and anger issues, how that mirrors the evil forces at the Overlook Hotel who are trying to win over his soul and prompt him to murder his wife Wendy (Rebecca DeMornay) and son Danny (Courtland Mead). Here we see Jack go from a loving husband and father and slowly disintegrate into the deranged, possessed lunatic that stalks his family through the hallways in the third act. But what struck me here is how we clearly see a good yet troubled man with demons in his past who encounters new and very literal ones in the present yet fights fiercely against them, we see a clear trajectory from decent man to stressed out cabin fever victim to unwitting host of dark forces to full on, mentally deranged homicidal maniac and it’s an actual *arc* as opposed to Jack Nicholson, who just seemed like a loony oddball right off the bat and never earns or even asks for your sympathy or understanding. Now, what falls flat here? I mean obviously it’s made for TV miniseries so it feels chopped up by the obligatory commercial breaks and just, you know, has that ‘TV feel’ that’ll knock it down a peg in the eyes of cinephiles by default alone. There’s some startlingly terrible CGI including hedge animals that come to life, that could have totally been done with practical effects and just look laughable. The weakest link though is this young actor Courtland Mead who plays Danny, he is just painfully unbearable to even look at and when he talks you just want to flip the coffee table over, *very* bad casting choice. The dynamic between Jack and Wendy is explored far more in depth here with entire sequences devoted to dialogue that feels like a beautifully dark stage play unfolding, scenes that are incredibly well acted and affecting. The supporting cast is terrific with work from Pat Hingle, Melvin Van Peebles, Miguel Ferrer, Shawnee Smith, Elliott Gould in a brittle cameo as the Overlook’s bluntly skeptical owner and Stanley Anderson in a chilling turn as the place’s former caretaker, the ghostly Delbert Grady. One way in which this truly outshone Kubrick’s for me is location: this was shot at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado where King actually wrote much of the book and my god does it ever show; breathtaking Rocky mountain vistas surround the place, the architecture is baroque and creepy and gorgeous all at once and there’s just this atmospheric alpine feel outdoors and this spooky, lived-in aura within the building that drew me right in. Weber is truly terrifying, deeply sympathetic and even frequently very funny and candid as Jack, it’s an overlooked performance that struck many chords with me and felt palpably threatening, despite the fact the he carries around a Denver croquet mallet instead of an axe. I could go on, but the simple truth is this is more up my horror alley overall, it feels like a campfire tale, decidedly genre and very hot blooded, dramatic and full of rich storytelling whereas Kubrick’s, no doubt an incredible film that I also enjoy quite a bit, simply comes across as colder, more detached, scant on King’s mythology and ideas with a far less developed and intriguing Jack Torrence and very much like an art film in many instances. I love both, but this version just vibes with me more, and I don’t know what else to say, really.
It took me a while to finally catch up with Stephen King’s Misery (as adapted by Rob Reiner) but what spectacularly unsettling horror film, mostly thanks to an almost unbearably intense Kathy Bates. I can picture King during the writing process of this book waking up in a cold clammy sweat from a trauma induced nightmare about some psycho stalker fan (I’m sure he’s had a few), feverishly grabbing pen and paper from his nightstand and scribbling off another chapter. Reiner & Co. capture the cold dread, deafening isolation and mounting hopelessness of the story wonderfully, as unlucky hotshot novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself injured, stranded and finally ‘rescued’ by super-fan Annie Wilkes (Bates), rushed off to her remote snowy cabin and nursed back to health.. and then some. The great thing about Bates’ performance is she doesn’t make Annie a complete outright monster, there are momentary flashes of something resembling humanity, albeit of a lonely, bitter, misshapen kind. She takes the maniacal behaviour to extreme heights by starting on a slow burn that has us *slightly* on edge and gradually turning the dial up to a deafening roar of obsessive behaviour, delusional fantasies and homicidal volatility. It’s a wicked sharp, playful, very somehow simultaneously in control and unhinged piece of acting, while Caan, in a difficult role, is bed ridden as he bears witness to and takes the full brunt of her tempestuous meltdown. The chilly winter setting is a huge plus, my cup of tea atmosphere indeed and the beautiful snowed in locations make for a splendid visual feast. We spend most of our time with Caan and Bates yet there is a curated supporting cast of memorable folks including Lauren Bacall, Frances Sternhagen, Reiner himself, the late great Richard Farnsworth as a charismatic local Sheriff and the also late great J.T. Walsh as the county’s most inept state trooper. I feel like King took the masochistic route here and heavily projected himself into the role of Paul, the trapped artist forced to plonk out new work on an aggressive timeline not of his own delineation. What trials and hardships is he trying to wrestle out of his mind by telling this story? The crushing doom of a publishing deadline? The vacuous, soul-eating doldrums of writer’s block? The no doubt nerve-wracking, paranoia laced burden of dealing with a fanbase of oddball horror nuts? Who can say. But this feels like a personal story for him, and it’s certainly a very well told, acted and produced film full of deeply shocking moments, icy tension and an antagonist for the ages served up by Bates who, to quote herself, is one ‘cockadoodie’ chick. Great film.
Stephen King’s Desperation is a decent enough TV-movie adaptation made perversely, hysterically memorable by one actor’s performance, which I’ll get to in a moment. It’s based on one of of two Nevada desert set books (the other being The Regulators) he wrote under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachmann’ that exist in the same demonic dustbowl timeline and they are two of the best things he has written, just not quite as notorious as, you know, books that actually say ‘Stephen King’ on the cover. This is a grainy, leisurely paced but often quite brutal tale of various highway travellers terrorized, imprisoned and killed by a rogue sheriff who may be something more than human. They include an arrogant travel writer (Tom Skerritt), the cavalier roadie in his employ (Steven Weber), a spunky hitchhiker (Kelly Overton), a stranded couple (Henry Thomas and Annabeth Gish), a boozy old timer (Charles Durning) and others. The sheriff is played by Ron Perlman and he is the life of the fucking party here, a completely bonkers, unpredictably psychotic hoot who steals scenes and tramples over scenery like there’s no tomorrow. He’s got some truly perplexing one liners (“I love Lord Of The Rings!”) that make sense once you see that King himself wrote the screenplay for this and kept much of his trademark, pop culture laced bizarro dialogue intact. There’s spooky mythology at work here including haunted mining shafts, demon possession and legions of desert wildlife turning against our band of human survivors in the kind of well staged sequences that would have an army of animal wranglers working overtime. The film is about fifteen minutes too long and lags in places, and has the obvious look, budget and pacing of a very TV affair, but as a grisly little slice of oddball B movie fun, it works and there’s some inspired, Terry Gilliam style camera work that adds to the wonky vibe. It wouldn’t be half as fun without Ron Perlman though, who gives a deliciously deranged turn as one of the weirdest, wildest villains out there and deserves some sort of award, if not his own spinoff film. Good times.
Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:
10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again
Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.
9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things
Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.
8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune
A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.
7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd
Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.
6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape
This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.
5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island
Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.
4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report
The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.
3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist
This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.
2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic
This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.
1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come
The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.
I love stories that question the parameters of humanity’s collective ancestral belief, faith and reason, tales that dredge up ancient horrors and turn them loose on a modernized, very ill prepared and unsuspecting world. We’ve all turned the lights out to go to sleep at night and shuddered at the thought of something supernatural in the bedroom with us, pondered the presence of beings beyond trees and wildlife watching us when in the woods at night and entertained the ideas of the irrational, esoteric and unexplainable. HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Outsider has concluded its first season and my god what a stunner, a darkly gorgeous, oppressively uneasy and wholly human treatise on everything I opened this paragraph with and more.
This story starts routinely enough: in a small US community a young boy is found savagely murdered and sodomized in a rural area. All signs seemingly point towards local math teacher, little league coach and family man Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman displaying a startling level of gravitas I didn’t think him capable of), with multiple witnesses and various security cameras all over town implicating him pretty cut and dry. Lead detective on the case Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelssohn, fantastic as ever) makes his arrest, the DA viciously prosecutes and everything seems to be wrapping up pretty neatly… until it doesn’t. Bit by bit evidence starts to not add up, unease creeps into the procedural and something increasingly otherworldly hovers on the fringes of everyone’s awareness, some quick to believe and others skeptics until the last second. That’s about all I’ll say in regards to plot because every viewer deserves to have this tantalizing, shocking mystery furl out unspoiled for them.
This show is so effective because of how counterintuitive it feels compared to many other King adaptations. Because he’s predominantly a horror writer there’s a lot of gory effects, heavily dramatic performances and special effects employed when bringing his work to life in film and television, but not so much here. Yes, there is a supernatural element and yes there are gruesome aspects to it but there’s a lack of obvious FX and subtlety infused into each one of the human performances, all of which I genuinely cared about and felt each arc hit hard. Mendelssohn and Bateman are brilliant, the latter not getting as much screen time but using it for maximum impact in a soulful performance that goes against the grain of his largely comedic career. Others are wonderful including Paddy Considine, Bill Camp, Max Beesley, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Marc Menchaca, Yul Vasquez, Derek Cecil, Jeremy Bob, Hetienne Park, Michael Esper and more. My favourite performance and character is Cynthia Erivo as Holly Gibney, a slightly clairvoyant private investigator who sees the world just a bit differently and is the perfect person to have as head needle on the compass of this hunt for a heinous killer. Erivo got an Oscar nom this year, has been steadily producing brilliant work and I look forward to whatever she’s going to do next with great interest, her Holly is a sharply intuitive, subtly emotional, determined woman who is always just ahead of the curve and blends fierce pragmatism with empathy buried just below. Overall this season is a spellbinder, a dark story with touches of folk horror, well drawn characters, eerie music, haunting visuals and a real sense of place as is the case with King’s work. They have hinted at a second season and I’d be pumped if such is indeed the case but as it is this first instalment speaks for itself as a well crafted piece. Terrific stuff.
The 80’s are coming back in a big way within film and television and with them comes the always awesome sonic synth sounds of that era. One of the pioneering musical influences and inspirations in this movement is German electronic group Tangerine Dream, consisting of group members Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and a whole host of others who contributed over the years. They literally have hundreds of albums due to the simple fact that they loved to experiment with sound and release all sorts of eclectic material, first on tactile vinyl and these days strewn across the internet like hidden treasure. They also worked heavily in film, lending their pulsating, ethereal, gorgeous and incomparable aesthetic to many genre cult films throughout the 80’s. They are my favourite film composers of all time and it’s hard to pick but I narrowed their work down to ten of my favourite original compositions for film! Enjoy:
10. Rainbow Drive (1990)
This is admittedly an unspectacular film, an L.A. noir starring Robocop’s Peter Weller as one tough cop caught up in your garden variety political conspiracy complete with extortion and murder. The score here is driving, grungy while still airy with just the right hints of menace and murky danger. Favourite track: the moody, slow crawling opening theme.
9. Flashpoint (1984)
Another noirish conspiracy flick, this is set in the New Mexico desert and sees two opportunistic border guards (Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams) run afoul of dark forces headed by a cynically corrupt federal agent (Kurtwood Smith) and apparent ties to the Kennedy assassination. The work here is arid, dusty and atmospheric, accenting the remote, lonely locations well and swelling up portentously when danger looms over the sun n’ sand drenched horizon. Favourite track: Highway Patrol, a clap of rolling backroad thunder that suggests the danger to come.
8. Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985)
This old school fantasy is mostly remembered for a young Tom Cruise as the hero and Tim Curry as evil itself with a demon getup that puts the Devil from Tenacious D to shame. Dream composes a lyrical, melodic playlist here that holds the beautiful imagery and special effects onscreen nicely. Favourite track: ‘Loved By The Sun’, a particularly lovely passage of ambience.
7. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)
This fierce, arresting adventure film sees several lowlifes and hard-cases from around the world transporting giant trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. You can imagine the fun that Dream would have composing this score and they don’t disappoint, their score doesn’t properly kick in until we first see the trucks nearly halfway through the film, but when it does you feel it like a sonic boom. Favourite track: ‘Betrayal’, an intensely affecting, dark hued composition.
6. Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)
The elemental group goes decidedly more urban in Mann’s early career crime masterpiece about an expert safecracker (James Caan) taking one one last heist. The music is moody, dark and nocturnal to suit Mann’s blooming aesthetic we know so well today. Favourite track: ‘Final Confrontation’, a sweeping piece that plays overtop a blisteringly cathartic slow motion shootout and carries over into the end credits with epic grit and grace.
5. Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984)
Drew Barrymore and David Keith battle nefarious government forces in this thrilling Stephen King adaptation, made more so by Dream’s rhapsodic score, which suits the supernatural, trippy tone of this story so perfectly. Favourite track: ‘Charley The Kid’, a layered, star speckled composition that has a forceful edge appropriate for the character but also a playful curiosity that reflects her childlike mind.
4. Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988)
A film about a potential nuclear attack on Los Angeles seems like it would have a traditional Hollywood-esque score but this is the brilliant, unconventional cult classic that is Miracle Mile and it greatly benefits from the talents of Dream to make it so. Their proverbial surname fits like a glove here because there is an overall dreamy aura to this nocturnal neon nightmare, I’ve had a few dreams myself about impending, inevitable nuclear or otherwise inflicted disaster, probably why I connect so well with this material. The score may seem counterintuitive but there’s a momentous drive to it and lighter, brisk areas to underscore the very sweet romance at its core. Favourite track: ‘Running Out Of Time, which sets the ‘anything can happen’, pins and needles apprehensive mood just amazingly.
3. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
Any hardcore GTA fan knows that the main musical component that everyone looks forward to and remembers are the car radio soundtrack choices, but there’s also original scores deftly layered into the action, missions and cutscenes. Everything from heists to shootouts to plane rides to car chases to boat derby’s and every spectacle in between is outlined here in a California-lite series of compositions that see Dream slightly evolve out of their 80’s synth sensibilities yet still retain the essential soul that says ‘this is our work.’ Favourite track: ‘North Yankton Memories’… because I couldn’t count the amount of times this brilliant piece kicks in the minute I do something naughty, that two star wanted level pops up and the LSPD come careening down the highway after me.
2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987)
Atmosphere haunts this cult vampire western about a young cowboy (Adrian Pasdar) seduced by a gorgeous waif (Jenny Wright) and swept you in the brutal nomadic lifestyle of her roving clan. Desert sunsets, blood on chrome, choking smoke, hurtling police vehicles and the occasional moment of nocturnal solitude, it’s a rigorous, ravishing aesthetic and Dream gives it their all with an intermittently droning and ariose work. Favourite track: ‘Mae’s Theme’, a low key, hovering piece that accents the tragic nature of her character.
1. Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983)
This film is something of an artifact, hacked to pieces in the editing process by the dipshits at Paramount, causing Mann to disown the film and yank any distribution rights. One day he’ll cool off and we’ll get a decent Blu Ray. It’s a stunning piece of pseudo Lovecraft WWII supernatural horror and one of my favourite films. Dream’s score echoes throughout the halls of this Romanian structure as German soldiers, metaphysical warriors and Jewish historians try and piece together the meaning behind this ancient place. Favourite track: ‘Gloria’, a synth laden piece with orchestral strains and beautiful vocal work, full of mystery and reverence.