Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Cardboard Dog Halloween Movie List Part 2: Us v Them Movies

Stranger danger. We can't help but make snap judgements of people; it's how we stereotype and compartmentalise and ultimately, how we decide what kind of person is "safe" for us to approach. If a person is too different from us, should we be wary of them? In this section, the movies listed all play on that; those unknown or rarely visited corners of society and the dangers we think might wait there for us. If we believed these movies, we might never leave our houses again...

Top 5 Us v Them

5. Straw Dogs (1971)
Straw Dogs is up there along with A Clockwork Orange and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it has the dubious honour of having been banned on video in the UK from its original cinematic release. Many argue that the ban was appropriate as the level of violence (and in particular sexual violence) at the time was plain shocking. The ban surely couldn't have been a huge surprise as the movie was directed by Sam Peckinpah, who had a flair for the brutal and the bloody. All that to one side, simply put, the story is about an academic (dweeby) David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) who moves to rural England with his new wife to renovate their new cottage. It's genuinely unnerving as the local bumpkins bully Hoffman's character and the menace starts to build – inevitably pushing Hoffman's placid character to defend himself in the violent finale.

4. Deliverance (1972)
Another early 70's piece here. A film which will no doubt be getting remade at some point, this tells the story of four city boys (like City Slickers except there's no Billy Crystal) who aim to travel down a section of Cahulawassee River, in the good ol' southern states of USA before developers obliterate the land entirely. From the start, when the boys stop by a decrepit gas station, the director, John Boorman, sets the scene for what our heroes are up against. It's banjo playing, bad-teeth having, cross-eyed inbreds. It's ugly and hostile but the tone has now been set. This is the movie with the banjo duel, the one where Ned Beatty squeals like a pig and the one where even macho Burt Reynolds turns into a whimpering mess.

3. The Hills Have Eyes
Instead of teens or a group of friends setting themselves up to be slaughtered one-by-one, this time we have the family unit, travelling through the desert to get to California. As you can probably assume, this turns out to be a horrible idea. The family end up getting stranded and of course, picked off by a group of savage cannibals. The mayhem is orchestrated by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) who demonstrates a talent for creating truly creepy villains; even the way the savages speak is enough to send chills down the spine; while pillaging through the family's trailer, one of the creeps growls, “Baby's fat. You fat. Fat an' juicy!”. Some scenes are quite dark and shocking for the time (how Big Bob Carter goes, for example), and even though there's not a ton of gore, its still an uncompromising horror flick. It's allure was enough to grant it a remake back in 2007 but the update just didn't have the same menace that a 70's horror film seems to have.

2. The Wicker Man (1973)
Lets be clear, this is NOT the Nicolas Cage version. Wow. Anyway, this is the original with Edward Woodward as the clean living Sergeant Howie, tasked with travelling to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to find missing girl Rowan Morrison. Slowly, Howie finds that there must be a conspiracy at work – worse still the girl is likely being prepared for a pagan sacrifice. Trying to uncover the truth before it's too late, Howie butts heads with Lord Summerisle himself (Christopher Lee). There is much symbolism and macabre activity on the island and the locals are detached enough to generate a creepy what-the-hell-is-going-on vibe. It could also be considered a musical as theres plenty of folk tunes played throughout which will only serve to imprint Summerisle on you. The finale isn't as shocking as it once was but it's still got plenty of pathos as the fate of the unfortunate Howie is revealed. And no bees involved.

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
As with Straw Dogs, this was banned from a video release in the UK. Upon watching it though, you'll realise that there's not a lot of gore in it. The horror comes from the insane, cannibalistic family the unlucky teens cross paths with. The family's first introduction is when the teenage fools stop to pick up a hitch-hiker (Edwin Neal). Neal plays the part so superbly that a bit of you believes he is a genuine psycho who happened to turn up during filming. From there it gets better, Jim Siedow as the father figure is disgusting - especially when he tries to comfort one of his victims as they're tied in a sack, there's Grandpa- whose skills with a mallet aren't what they used to be, and finally there's Leatherface – the brute with the eponymous chainsaw.

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