My top 5 Halloween family favourites

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Happy Halloween!

Once upon a time I was a video store guy that wrote reviews (they’re all here)!

To celebrate the festivities, I’ve sifted out my top five reviews for spooky films to enjoy with the whole family.

Ready to trick or treat? Let’s go!

5. Godzilla (1954)

The review.

The original and the best. Need an in to introduce Kaiju to the kids? There have been many fine entries in recent years including Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Shin Godzilla (2016), but the original is still the best.

The destruction effects are top notch and the story is surprisingly engaging.

A solid classic.

Note: There is an English dub for the little ones not quite ready for subtitles.

4. Hotel Transylvania

The review.

With three to choose from (and a fourth on the way), if you are going to start somewhere – this is your ideal entry point. Adam Sandler is no stranger to spooky performances from the son of the devil in Little Nicky (2000) to the bumbling title character of Hubie Halloween (2020). His best, in my humble opinion, is his Dracula; a protective father afraid of being left in the past.

With all your favourite monsters, this one is guaranteed to get some giggles.

3. Metallica Through the Never

The review.

Okay bear with me, I know this is a stretch. Heavy metal and horror go hand in hand and Metallica are no exception. Their sound and lyrics draw from a rich history of horror influences from Universal Monsters to HP Lovecraft, the bible to Vietnam.

Metallica are all about horror, and the surreal trip of a movie that surrounds this live concert draws heavily on the tropes we’ve come to know and love.

And besides, is it ever too early to introduce your kids to some of the finest music of the 20th century? I think not.

2. Frankenweenie

The review.

Tim Burton’s career is tent-poled by Halloween classics. Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Corpse Bride (2005) just to name a few.

Frankenweenie began life as a live-action short film in 1984. It was Burton’s love letter to his spooky and sci-fi cinematic influences. This stop-motion remake expands on that idea with more mayhem and higher stakes to deliver a rollercoaster of fun that stays true to the monochrome aesthetic of the original.

1. ParaNorman

The review.

The best zombie movie you will ever watch with your kids. Part ghost story, part coming of age drama, this is storytelling at its finest. The stop-motion animation is second to none with tons of fun, scares, and genuinely touching moments by the spoonful.

A genuine classic that will not disappoint.

What are your Halloween favourites? Share your memories and recommendations in the comments!

Reviewed: Tank Girl (1995)

Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

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All the recent Gorillaz talk prompted me to revisit the film that introduced me to Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl.

When I was an impressionable 13-year-old way back in 1995, I saw a news item on TV covering the forthcoming set-in-Australia film Tank Girl. I guess this sort of thing was, and still is, considered newsworthy simply because Australia. We do love it when this little old chunk of land we occupy turns up in the movies (even if it’s not actually shot there). The fluff piece/promo was no more than two minutes in length, but it was enough to get me excited about this brand new movie about to hit the cinemas. The bright colours, punk aesthetic and weaponry on display only added to my anticipation of this cult comic adaptation, of which I had previously never heard.

I didn’t see it at the cinema. I did, however, become quite familiar with the soundtrack, which is a pretty good cross-section of ’90s alternative music featuring Bjork, Portishead, Hole, and more. Devo also appear with a version of their song Girl U Want. It was re-recorded to sound more like Soundgarden’s 1992 cover of the song, something that was cheaper to do than procure the rights for the Soundgarden version.

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So yeah, the soundtrack got me more excited to see the film and when I was able, I got me a copy of that flick on VHS.

Directed by Rachel Talalay and starring the likes of Lori Petty, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T and Naomi Watts; the movie itself is a strangely-charming mix of comedy, action and general weirdness. I’m quite sure my fondness for this one is mostly from nostalgia for my childhood.

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It’s a wildly uneven romp, and as reflected on IMDB, Hewlett and Martin do not have positive memories of the Hollywood process. The comic’s creators and Talalay have each commented on how studio interference hindered the project, along with many production problems. The addition of the animated sequences were not so much a stylistic choice but a necessity, when it became clear that portions of the film had not been shot.

I’m tempted to say that Tank Girl is a product of its time. As with many comic book films of that era (Judge Dredd, The Phantom, The Mask), it was homogenised to become a family-friendly romp, with little to no regard for the original source material. But then, two years before, we got The Crow. So, what the hell? I have to concede that Hewlett is right and that it’s the studio that turned this anarchic and subversive comedy into the child-friendly blandfest that occasionally gleans moments of brilliance, but not anywhere near enough to actually call it a good film.

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Visually, the creature effects by Stan Winston hold up, and the digital effects aren’t too bad either. As with a handful of films around this time, James Osterberg pops up in a grotesque blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. Like the aforementioned film, The Mask, there’s a song-and-dance routine in this one too. The animation, despite its last minute inclusion, works well and adds to the eclectic tone. The whole package feels a bit like a scrapbook of ideas hastily jammed together.

As a 13-year-old in 1995, I thought this movie was great. The music, the animation, the dumb jokes, the creatures, and a leg of ham from Malcolm McDowell absolutely sold it. But today, it looks cheap, the pace is all over the place, and it feels very much like a film from the ’90s.

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A curiosity at best, this was one of many comic book properties being turned into films before Marvel got their shit together, and it’s certainly not the best. It’s an oddity and a sketch that shows potential for what might have been.

That said, if ever there was a time to try bringing Tank Girl back to the big screen, perhaps this post-Deadpool/Dredd era is it. We’ve got the technology to do it right (seing fully realised Rippers in mo-cap would be great) and the big studios now seem more willing to risk not playing to the lowest common denominator (either that, or the bar has been raised).

Watch it under the influence and you may not feel the regret Naomi Watts feels with this experience.

Reviewed: The Lost Thing (2010)

Film Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Once upon a time I was a collector of those postcards that you often find in cafes around Melbourne. You know the sort, they’re usually on a rack somewhere near a window, and there’s about twelve different kinds promoting new films or exhibitions.

Back then I rarely took notice of what the cards were selling and only picked them up because I liked the images. I still have one that I found on a day not unlike any other, of a boy and a strange creature/machine walking side by side.

The Lost Thing (Shaun Tan)

 

I stuck this picture on the wall of my closet-sized bedroom where it stayed until I moved house.

Its now in a box, somewhere along with all the other trinkets and memories from that time, and was mostly forgotten about until about four years later when I was working one day at the video store. One of my regulars came up to the counter with a handful of DVDs. At the end of the transaction he asked if I’d accept a donation for the store.

“What are you thinking of?” I asked.

“It’s a short animated film based on one of my books,” he said. “It received a few awards at some festivals and I’d like the store to have a copy, so it can be seen by others.”

I agreed to take it. Thanking me, he handed me his DVD and left. I turned the box over in my hands to see the cover. The Lost Thing, it read, and under the title, a picture of the boy and creature/machine from my old bedroom wall.

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That evening I took the disc home to check it out. I can count the number of films that, once the end credits finish rolling, I put straight back on to watch again. This is one of them.

The beautifully-rendered computer animation of Leo baker brings Shaun Tan’s original art to life in a way that is truly magical, managing to emulate Tan’s picture-to-picture comic book style in moments while also creating a truly cinematic experience. Tan’s deceptively simple-looking designs are perfect for this style of animation that adds depth and character to a world already brimming with imagination and soul.

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A lesson in understatement, the contemplative score counters the naturalistic sound design of the film perfectly. Tim Minchin, you may have heard of him, delivers narration with a quiet ‘every man’ approach that really draws you in, adding to this understated tone.

All of this was a long time ago and a few months after Shaun donated the DVD to my store, the film won an Oscar for Best Animated Short.

Reviewed: The Trip (1967)

trip_poster_01An LSD film written by Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring Peter Fonda! And Dennis Hopper is in there too?! *mind explodes!*

Actually, if you’re familiar with this period in cinematic history, these guys worked with each other in different capacities more than once. Corman directed Nicholson in the original Little Shop Of Horrors (1960) and at around the same time as this one there was Wild Angels with Fonda, then in ’69 the classic Easy Rider (directed by Hopper, with Fonda and himself starring with a cameo by Nicholson).

This is not any of those movies. This is The Trip. Remember that bit in Easy Rider where they took acid in a graveyard? This is that bit stretched out to feature length. It was an interesting time when hippies roamed the Earth, counter-culture became a thing and Hollywood got all obsessed with being freaky and weird.

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The Trip is exactly that. The premise is “a man takes LSD for the purpose of experiencing the effects of LSD.” This is what happens. Some pretty top notch effects (for its time) are employed to simulate the acid experience including kaleidoscopes and projected oil patterns. It’s also surprisingly effective.

This movie was banned in the UK and includes a disclaimer at the beginning warning against recreational use of the drug involved. The film is rated R in Australia for Drug Abuse. Note the word “abuse”. Not the plain old “Drug Use” that they attach to films like Requiem For A Dream, Trainspotting and the highly popular TV series, Breaking Bad. Go figure. Any other drug and it’s simply “use” but as soon as acid is mentioned, it becomes “abuse”. I guess the message here is that acid is the devil and will make you a terrible person – much worse than Heroin or Methamphetamines.

The Trip is an experiment with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and its effects on film making – if this sounds like your bag, you just might dig it.