Hellboy 2018 ***

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The knives were out for Neil Marshall’s reboot, rehash, re-imagining of the comic book property Hellboy, which crashed and burned at the box office with barely a whiff of brimstone or sulphur. And yet, it’s not by any means as bad as might have been expected, with some flashes of wit in the script, some huge visuals and a decent centre in Stranger Things’s David Harbour. Having an enormous face seems to be the requisite for getting cast in this role, and while Harbour’s countenance is undeniably huge, it’s not quite of the ironing board dimensions of Ron Perlman. Harbour seems a little lost under the latex and make-up, but still makes a fist of Hellboy’s laconic attitude, with Ian McShane having some fun as his dad. The story, about secret societies, Nazis, sorceresses and the usual Hellboy elements is familiar, although Milla Jovovich is a memorable villainess. Truth be told, this isn’t much better or worse that the two Guillermo del Toro versions, which were no great shakes either; for Marshall, who musters a certain vulgarity as well as some big action scenes, it’s a setback perhaps, but one that suggests he’s got what it takes to deliver a great action film one day.

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Penda’s Fen 1974 *****

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An untypical entry from Alan Clarke, this BBC Play for Today has developed a cult following and a BFI re-release. Written by David Rudkin, Penda’s Fen is as deliberately obscure as the title; Spencer Banks plays Stephen, a young boy wrestling with homosexual urges, but also struggling to understand the community around him at his Woostershire home. Elements include the appearances of supernatural creatures, conversations with composer Edward Elgar, potentially lethal environmental and pollution issues, and a religious father whose beliefs are not those of a conventional minister. Penda’s Fen is a mystical coming of age drama which looks beyond Christianity and attempts to find something else in the dreams of Albion of an English teenager. It’s hypnotic, doesn’t bother to explain itself and expects the audience to do the heavy lifting; it’s a unique slice of UK television history and as an insight into the kind of high quality  casually dropped into 1970’s tv schedules, a terrific primer in the lost art of drama.

Hereditary 2018 ****

Ari Aster made a big name for himself with his debut feature Hereditary, a sombre horror flick which manages to create it’s own scary ecosystem, despite a few clichéd speed-bumps along the way. Toni Collette gives a full-on performance as Annie, a mother who struggles to control her two kids in the wake of her own mother’s death.  Charlie (Millie Shapiro) is a young girl with strange obsessions, and prone to making a strange clicking noise with her mouth. Her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) is a frustrated stoner, and unwisely agrees to take Charlie to a party where he’s hoping to make out with a girl. Things go badly awry, and Annie begins to sense that Peter may have been possessed in some way. The worst part of any horror movie is when the old books with pictures of demons and rules about how to deal with them; Hereditary keeps this kind of hokum to a minimum, and manages to create an atmosphere of pure dread, with Annie’s uncanny evocations of scenes in miniature cleverly used to throw visual curveballs at the audience. There’s some startling and occasionally sickening visuals on the way to an intense finals; Hereditary might tick all the boxes in terms of clichés, but the silliness is only visible once this nerve-jangling film is over.

Truly Madly Deeply 1990 ****

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Writer/director Anthony Minghella made the jump to Hollywood with the sensitive and charming BBC drama, a British version of Ghost with less sentiment and more depth. Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, who finds herself lost in her rat-infested London house after the death of her soul-mate Jamie (Alan Rickman). Jamie returns to haunt her, but not in a sinister way; they enjoy music (Bach), share jokes, and he gradually moves back in, frequenting the sofa to watch old movies with his undead friends.  Nina is initially delighted, but comes to realise that much as she loves Jamie, she has to move on and allow his memory to rest.  Truly Madly Deeply is a very British affair, beautifully played and with something fresh and moving to say about the bereavement process.

The Eyes of Laura Mars 1978 ***

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A pre-Empire Strikes Back Irvin Kershner directs this American giallo from a script by John Carpenter, amongst others, with Faye Dunaway as a model who discovers she has the power of remote vision. She’s able to see the actions of a serial killer as he makes them, and so inadvertently draws herself to his attention when the police fail to take her claims seriously. There’s early roles for Raul Julia and Tommy Lee Jones, plus uber-glam fashion sequences featuring contributions for star photographer Helmut Newton. Eves of Laura Mars doesn’t quite gel as a thriller, but it’s stuffed with period detail and evokes the edge of the late 1970’s NYC fashion scene in style.

Deadly Blessing 1981 ***

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A pre-Scream Wes Craven makes good on the promise of his 1970’s horror films with this stylish and original thriller set in a Hittite community. Battlestar Galactica actress Maren Jenson is Martha, the widow who the Hittites believe is not only responsible for the death of her husband, but also for harboring some kind of demonic force. Grease star Susan Bruckner and a young Sharon Stone hole up with Martha while Ernest Borgnine and Craven regular Michael Berryman lay siege to the property. Odd sequences featuring snakes and spiders add to the atmosphere; Deadly Blessing is one of Craven’s best, and most under-seen genre entries.

Night of the Eagle 1962 ***

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Also known by one of its choicer lines of dialogue, Burn, Witch Burn, this is a working definition of a tight little B Movie.  Before self-parody was a glint in his eye, super-smoothie Peter Wyngarde plays a skeptical lecturer who finds out this his new wife (Janet Blair) leaves little dolls around the house. He confronts her, and refuses to believe that she is a witch, tossing the dolls out. But the forces of darkness are gathering, and Night of the Eagle lives up to its title when a giant bird pursues him around campus.  Very much a companion piece to Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 classic Night of the Demon in terms of creating tension from minimal situations, Sidney Hayers directs from Fritz Leiber’s novel.