The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Director: Dwight H. Little (1989)
Starring: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Bill Nighy
Find it: IMDB

Robert Englund is the Phantom of the Opera in this very eighties retelling of the classic horror tale. An often forgotten member of the classic horror icons club, it's surprising that the Phantom isn't a bigger screen presence. While Frankenstein and Dracula have many a movie to their name, the poor Phantom has but a couple of classics and a horrible musical. This gory, garish horror feature attempts to right-side the balance by giving the Phantom his own franchise. And, with Freddy Krueger himself in the title role, it gets off firmly on the right track.

With Freddy at the height of his popularity (this film was released a year after the third Nightmare on Elm Street sequel) the timing should have been spot on for this re-adaptation. Scarred, cackling and wearing a hat, his Phantom isn't even that dissimilar from Freddy as a villain. The plot, as with previous adaptations, sees The Phantom/scarred composer Erik Destler obsess over Opera singer Christine Day (Schoelen) as she appears in a popular new version of Faust. Rival singers, incompetent set designers and snotty critics are all high on The Phantom's hit list. To be fair, I once ripped up an issue of Official Playstation 2 Magazine after they poo-pooed KT Tunstall's singing voice, so I can dig it. Just stick to reviewing Tomb Raider, assholes.        

This is a nastier, more sadistic Phantom than we've seen before, stalking and slicing up his enemies like some sort of slasher villain. The finale, set in his sewers, gives up any pretense of it being anything else, and transforms into full-on slasher film. Englund plays the Phantom as a sadder variation of Krueger, dressed up in his Sunday best. Although that's hardly a bad thing - he's at his most entertaining here, delivering a deliciously camp performance throughout.

Elsewhere, young Bill Nighy pops up in a small role (Bill Nighy, however, young, is always appreciated in any role) while Jill Schoelen is a sweet, likeable heroine. The ending offers promise - in a Darkman kind of way - but, alas, The Phantom's franchise was not to be. This 'all-new nightmare' isn't quite 'new' enough to win its audience, but it is a delightful spin on an old tale.   

How I Live Now

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay
Find it: IMDB

An American teenager with a horrible attitude visits her cousins in England just as nuclear war threatens to envelop the world around her. With the adults elsewhere, the kids live an idyllic life of whimsy and swimming holes, kissing cousins and cow whispering. Then, as they so often do, the military turn up, and this (literally nuclear) family is torn apart.

I am reliably informed by someone who actually read the book, that there is actually a reason why Daisy (Ronan) is such a massive arsehole to everyone all the time, why Eddie (MacKay) can talk to cows and an actual sense of character development beyond Daisy suddenly, inexplicably not being such a massive arsehole to everyone. But I haven't read the book, so all I can comment upon is the film's less than impressive handling of such matters.

It starts off just fine, an apparent slow-burn cross between Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games. Daisy, while unlikeable, shows ample room for redemption, and her cousins are enjoyably, well, British (in an Ron Weasley meets Outnumbered sort of way). The first quarter or so of the film is when it is at its best. Then the army arrives,and everything goes to shit.

Character development fluffed and rushed (Daisy's OCD is barely there), it's hard to care about any of the kids or their plight. It gets darker and is surprisingly unpleasant at times, but feels rushed and inconsistent. The cow whispering (think Aquaman, but with cows) comes to naught, and the central love story isn't even developed enough to be considered creepy.

My life continues now much as it did before I watched How I Live Now. An utterly wasted opportunity, it certainly won't change your life anytime soon.


Director: David Brooks (2012)
Starring: Brian Geraghty, Josh Peck, Alice Eve
Find it: IMDB

The compelling story of three idiots who don't realise that they outnumber a not-that-scary murderer by three-to-one. Following an office Christmas party, three drones (Geraghty, Drake or Josh from off've Drake and Josh, and Eve) stop off at a 24 hour ATM so as Drake or Josh can get the money to buy himself a pizza. Trapped inside as a violent killer decides he'd rather not let them out, the kids face the unenviable choice between being gruesomely murdered or freezing to death. Despite the fact that, you know, they outnumber him three-to-one.

A typical film of the 'trapped' subgenre, ATM does very little that you haven't seen before, but just enough that you shouldn't withdraw (like a debit card, not a penis) in boredom before it's all over with. At the very least, it might help cut down on that fucking ridiculous urban myth that if you enter your PIN number backwards on a cash machine, it automatically alerts the police. Bad luck if your PIN happens to be '0220'. No-one gives a shit about you, palindromes.

Fairly tense and frequently gory, ATM is just likeable enough to hold viewer interest, even as Drake or Josh tries to convince us that he's a real actor and a black security guard shows up to, predictably, die immediately. No-one has a lower life expectancy than the security guard or cop who shows up halfway through a horror film to offer the protagonists a glimmer of hope when all looks darkest. And if he's black, you know you're really fucked.

Peck is surprisingly good as annoying office worker Corey, while Alice Eve impresses as the token female. Geraghty is a dull lead, but his plight is such that we sympathise with him nevertheless. Cockblocked by a serial killer and Drake or Josh from off've Drake and Josh in the same night? Now that is unlucky. 

The makers of ATM would no doubt love for me to say that it "does for cashpoints what Jaws did for the ocean and Psycho for showers", but since the heroes of those films weren't incapable, cowardly idiots, that would mostly be a lie.

We Are What We Are (2013)

Director: Jim Mickle (2013)
Starring: Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Bill Sage, Michael Parks
Find it: IMDB

Largely exempt from film fans' anti-remake rants, due to the fact that (a) it exudes a bit of classiness and (b) no-one saw the original Mexican version anyway. I did see it, but I don't remember a thing about it, hence my lack of whining here. Besides, I like remakes. So there.

Following the death of the family matriarch, a dad and his kids come together in their grief to continue their cannibalism habit without getting caught out by suspicious local doctor Barrow (Michael Parks). You know a film is creepy when Michael Parks isn't even playing the scary one. Making that role his own is Bill Sage as beardy dad. An impressive screen presence, Sage brings a scary glare, awesome beard and quiet sense of menace to the role, owning the screen for all his time on it.

The kids are alright too, with Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner doing well as his conflicted, mourning daughters. There's a nice appearance from Evil Dead II's Kassie Wesley DePaiva (that's Bobbi Jo to you) at the beginning too, in the film's most saddening scene.

Those expecting Wrong Turn or Texas Chain Saw Massacre style action from We Are What We Are will be disappointed by this film's focus on family drama over lurid man-munching. There is still plenty of that, but the drama is what makes We Are What We Are stand out from the rest. Apart from maybe the original film, but I can't remember that, so we'll never know.