Exploring those modern movies that would have popped comfortably into the top loader
So I decided to do a feature on VHS Inspired movies, listing 5 of my favourites from the post video era. Whilst these movies may not have been released during the ’80s and ’90s, they were certainly influenced in some way by that period, and feature as a reminder that though the top loader has been consigned to the dustbin of history, the movies played on them continue to resonate.
Hot Fuzz: (2009)
Dir. Ed Wright
Hot Fuzz, technically Edgar Wright’s third movie after A Fistful Of Fingers and Shaun of The Dead, is a hilariously knowing homage to the relentlessly edited Jerry Bruckheimer produced action movies of the ’80s and ’90s, whilst also serving as a lovingly crafted send up of provincial England and tourist village mores a la Aardman Animations.
With a smattering of The Wicker Man and various other folk horrors thrown in for good measure, not to mention a slew of show stealing performances from the likes of Paddy Considine, Olivia Coleman and Timothy Dalton as smirky Little England villain Simon Skinner, the film is a violently happy, loud, buddy-cop action comedy, featuring big guns and stupid one-liners, against which the likes of even Bad Boys would struggle to compete.
Standout scenes include Nick Frost falling through a garden fence, a senior citizen being fly kicked in the head, Olivia Coleman smacking a knife-wielding shelf stacker with a Caution: Wet Floor sign, Olivia Coleman generally, a shootout in Somerfields (sadly now defunct) and Timothy Dalton’s stream of business-tosser murder quips.
The House of the Devil: (2009)
Dir. Ty West
Ty West’s lo-fi 2009 satanic cult movie calls to mind any number of mid-80s horror staples. Set in 1983, and packed to the gills with era specific mis-en-scene, the film follows would-be babysitter Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) as she takes a job at a creepy house for some much needed cash looking after a non-existent infant on the eve of a solar eclipse. As the unwitting focal point for a devilish ceremony of some kind, Samantha is forced into battle with her tormentors to stay alive, to survive the night and avoid being gutted.
Tight editing from West, quality casting (Tom Noonan, Dee Wallace, and Corman regular Mary Woronov all star as knowing genre totems), coupled with smart direction, also from West, working from his own script and multi-tasking to excellent effect, results in a fresh spin on old gimmicks that avoids pastiche and is genuinely unsettling.
Stand out scenes include Greta Gerwig on rebellious buddy duty, getting her face shot off in the front seat of her car. However, the real standout is when babysitter Samantha dances round her employer’s abode with her walkman cranked to the strains of One Thing Leads To Another by The Fixx. The scene acts as a canny introduction to the interior of the house, whilst also establishing audience empathy for the main character. As a prelude to escalating violence, it is a fun interlude, and as much an homage to the decade that unleashed Footloose and Flashdance into cinemas, as any of the film’s signature horror-movie forerunners.
Guardians Of The Galaxy: (2014)
Dir. James Gunn
Whilst it may be a Marvel property locked into the MCU mythology, there is no doubting the original ‘Guardians’ movie is the sort of fun, low-rent space opera that followed on the heels of Star Wars and its imitators in the early to mid-80s. Colourful misfit aliens band together with a displaced human to form a dysfunctional intergalactic family of outlaws. Clad in ridiculous outfits and make up, the team flies into battle against galactic evil-doer Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), a villain so dastardly he wouldn’t have been out of place in Battle Beyond The Stars. There is bickering, action, wisecracking and group bonding. The soundtrack is wonderful. The effects work is second to none.
Standout moments include the second dance sequence/walkman scene to feature in this article, during which Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), whilst attempting to infiltrate an interplanetary space temple in a bid to retrieve an artefact, dances his way indoors to the strains of Come and Get Your Love by Redbone. The prison breakout sequence is value for money, as is Groot’s sacrifice at the film’s terminus. However, it is this opening scene, when we first encounter Mix Tape Vol 1, that really sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Midnight Special: (2016)
Dir. Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols has gone on record as claiming Midnight Special, his fourth feature and first foray into bigger budget film making, is his ‘least well executed film’. Whilst this is a candid appraisal, and partially explains why it tanked at the box office, it is somewhat misleading, as the film is rather excellent.
Midnight Special is a lovingly crafted homage to character driven ’80s sci-fi classics, being the story of Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and his biological son, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), who has special powers and is being sought after by shady government officials and cultists who are out to exploit his gifts for their own ends. The film, spare in execution, restrained, and full of heartbreak and wonder, references everything from ET: The Extraterrestrial to John Carpenter’s visitor-from-another-planet movie Starman. Nichols attributed the film to becoming a dad for the first time. This goes a long way toward explaining why issues of fatherhood and the relationship between a father and son predominate, anchoring the film thematically whilst providing a spiritual core around which the narrative can develop.
Shannon gives an astonishingly layered performance as the emotionally conflicted dad of the picture, desperate to protect his son in the face of mounting odds. Lieberher’s performance, meanwhile, as space boy Alton, perfectly captures the growing intellectual maturity of an otherworldly man child as he speeds toward revelation in the film’s climactic reveal.
Bigger budget standout scenes include an emotionally wrought Alton raining meteors down on a motel car park. However, it’s the smaller scenes that really stick. An intensive low-key scene in which Alden tells his dad he doesn’t have to worry about him anymore, and Roy replies ‘I’ll always worry about you, Alton. That’s the deal.’ Is terrific. Stripped of schmaltz, the scene has an emotional honesty seldom encountered in modern sci-fi, and gently presses home the core tenets of the movie, without stooping to the sort of manipulative dramatics lesser films might have resorted to.
The Hole: (2009)
Dir. Joe Dante
Overlooked somewhat on release, The Hole was the first film directed by Joe Dante — Looney Tunes: Back in Action released in 2003 notwithstanding — post Small Soldiers in 1998. Ironically, it was released during the same period as Burke and Hare (2010), another comeback feature from ’80s regular and comedy aficionado John Landis, featuring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.
The Hole remains one of the only movies I watched in 3-D, aside from Gravity, that I truly enjoyed on its release in 2009. This may have been down to Director of Photography Theo Van De Sande of Blade fame, whose rich photography added depth and colour, making the 3-D experience seem less contrived than many movies released in the format. A by-the-numbers teen horror featuring a bunch of good-looking, wholesome American kids pitching their wits against supernatural suburban horrors, The Hole’s plot is basic. However, it manages to wring every creative drop from its central conceit, leaving no stone unturned and no scare unspent.
A family moves to the suburbs from the city, much to the consternation of older 17-year-old brother Dane Thompson (Chris Massoglia), and 10-year-old brother Lucas, (Nathan Gamble). Along with their pretty next door neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett), the displaced brothers soon discover a hole located in the cellar of their new home. The trapdoor to the hole is padlocked shut. In typical curious, retro-kid fashion they get it open, only to discover they’ve released their worst fears into the world to haunt them.
Featuring at least one diabolical clown (Poltergeist anyone?) and a raft of nods to similarly constructed horror-lite classics, (The Gate), in particular, is the one that springs to mind.) Mark L. Smith’s lean script is elevated by Joe Dante’s retro fitted direction. The scares are well timed, the kids likeable, and there’s just enough punch for it to act as a worthy intro to the genre at large. Standout moments include the aforementioned clown and a surreal climax, during which older brother Dane is pitched against a supernatural apparition in the shape of his abusive, estranged dad.