Posted February 27, 2013 by Edward Boff in Features
 
 

Films You Should See Part Four


By Edward Boff – So many films, so little time. Fortunately here at FilmJuice we have a pool of talented writers, prepared to spend the vast part of their days hunkered down in darkened cinemas so that you don’t have to.

By Edward Boff

So many films, so little time. Fortunately here at FilmJuice we have a pool of
talented writers, prepared to spend the vast part of their days hunkered down
in darkened cinemas so that you don’t have to.
Earlier this year, we decided to put all this generated
knowledge to the test and ask our regular writers to come up with a list of the
Films You Should See … But Probably
Haven’t
. This week, Ed Boff shares his choices with two films that show how
great filmmakers can break all the rules and still create genre-defining
classics …

Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned
to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb (1964)

When Stanley Kubrick set out
to make a film tackling the Cold War, specifically the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.),
using the novel Red Alert by Peter George as a starting point, he
rapidly came to a realisation. The whole situation was so nightmarishly absurd
that he might as well make it a comedy. Thus Red Alert became the wonderfully
deadpan dark comic farce, Dr. Strangelove, which tells of an escalating nuclear
crisis, bought on by one General’s insanity and exacerbated by a new Soviet
defence system – a Doomsday Machine!

Stanley Kubrick’s films have often been said to be somewhat cold,
inhuman affairs. With Dr Strangelove though, inhumanity is the whole crux of
the matter. To that end, Kubrick’s
focus is partly on the procedure and protocol of the arms race, how matters of
death can be trivialised by bureaucracy and protocol (in one scene, folders on
“War Scenarios in Numbers Of Global Megadeaths” can be seen
prominently). This is an area
where his notorious perfectionism works wonders as, since the US Air Force
weren’t willing to let them put the actual nuclear attack plan or bombers on
film, they made their own extremely plausible versions. A highlight of this
includes the contents of the survival kit for the crashed aircrew (“Shoot,
a guy could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff!”).

The other focus is on characters who are all comically flawed and
definitely not the sort of people you’d want having that kind of power and
responsibility (like pretty much all real world leaders). The characters are
portrayed by a great cast, including George
C. Scott
and (famously playing three different roles) Peter Sellers. Kubrick got fine comic performances from everyone,
even those determined to play it as a pure drama, by letting the actors do
straight takes most of the time then having one over-the-top take afterwards.
Guess which takes ended up in the film! The humour is perfectly deadpan, with
so many great lines just flowing naturally; from the General’s insistence that
the Soviets have a plot against “our precious bodily fluids”, to the
title character insisting that surviving the disaster “would not be
difficult Mein Fuhrer… sorry, Mr. President”.

This humour has made the film’s very serious message a lot easier to
swallow, and has paved the way for many a great satire since, which is one
reason the film has aged so well.
There have been other great films made about the horror of nuclear
escalation (including its contemporary, Fail-Safe),
but none are quite as easy to get into.
For those just starting to appreciate Kubrick’s work, Strangelove is a
great place to start. Just remember that you can’t fight here, this is the War
Room!

The Wicker Man (1973) (Main Picture)
British horror, specifically of the 60s and 70s, will forever be
inextricably linked with the name of Hammer
studios, and rightly so. However,
there were other companies making horror in the UK at that time and by far the
most intelligent and well-aged film of that period came from British Lion. It also featured Hammer’s biggest star, who has since called
it the finest film he’s worked on: Christopher
Lee
.

The story follows Sergeant Howie (Edward
Woodward
), a strongly Christian police officer, investigating a reported
disappearance on Summerisle, a Scottish Island that practices older, pagan
beliefs. But despite everyone
there, including the Lord of the Isle (Christopher Lee) appearing friendly,
when it comes to Howie’s investigation everyone is oddly unhelpful. What are
they hiding?

This is classified as a horror but one of many smart things about the
film is that it’s not traditionally “scary” for most of the
film. Summerisle, as the name
implies, is a happy, sunny looking place with locals who love life, not some
gothic wilderness like Transylvania.
Instead, the mood is built by the islanders’ odd way of life, by the
mystery of the missing girl, and by the strange folk songs (provided by Paul Giovanni and Magnet), which might well make this one of the best horror
musicals.

Wickerman plays, on a plot level, far more like a detective story,
giving the now legendary final reel even more of an impact. The last act of this film, when all is
revealed, is where the true horror lies, and no one can watch its final scenes
without feeling the remorseless punch to the gut it gives. This is a film that doesn’t feel like a
horror movie most of the time but when it does go into that territory, it does
not chicken out. The real icing on the cake, however, is Anthony Schaffer’s script and the themes it provides. The whole story hinges on a fascinating
clash of belief systems and different sorts of believers. It’s not just that Howie is Christian
and everyone else isn’t that causes conflict but more how each uses their
beliefs. Howie uses them to limit his urges and impulses, whereas the islanders
do pretty much the opposite.
That’s just one layer to this complex and multi-themed story, but
suffice to say, if anyone still thinks horror films have to be stupid, here’s
proof to the contrary. All this, on top of amazing performances, and all round
stylish direction are why the film has endured even after the brutal treatment
it was given by the original distributors, who cut a quarter of it out, and put
it on the lower end of a double bill.
Forget the boneheaded Nicholas
Cage
vehicle, although director Robin
Hardy’s
own follow-up, The Wicker
Tree
isn’t half bad. Seek this one out, or you’ll never understand the true
meaning of sacrifice.


Edward Boff