My top 20 Comic Book films-6-Batman

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence12Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 , 10, Barbarella9, Batman Returns 8, X Men 2 and 7, Dredd.

The film at the cusp of my top five is Tim Burton’s Batman.

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Let’s paint the picture of what comic books films were in 1989. Up til then they were, mainly, rubbish. Batman in comics was doing ok, but works like The Killing Joke & Dark Knight Returns had shaken the character up and suddenly there was a move to make a big budget Batman film. When the film was announced, the casting of Michael Keaton was something that made last year’s casting of Ben Affleck as Batman look like a kiddies party. Even before the internet, this was something which fans at the time ripped into in the fan press, but wherever  the film was discussed. It was ridiculous but the casting of Jack Nicholson as The Joker seemed to calm some down, but even though some were critical of Keaton, the hype for the film started ramping up to degrees never seen before. This film is as far as I’m concerned the film which changed how films were marketed, and was the first film of the modern era to capitalise on every single possible thing it could because it came with a loge, which was the Bat Signal.

At the time of filming I was working for Neptune Comic Distribution based in Leicester, and apart from having my finger on the throbbing pulse of comics, I on average used to travel between Neptune’s base in Leicester and out secondary warehouse in Staines so I could sort out deliveries for shipping to out customers. As the film was shot partly in Milton Keynes and we passed Milton Keynes an awful lot with it being on the M1, we used to see trucks and equipment come and go a lot, but one day we passed the junction for Milton Keynes and coming out past out van was a huge stretch limo with blacked out windows.

This had to be Jack Nicholson!

For the next 30 minutes or so we tried to stay alongside it and held up Batman comics at the window, and generally acted like enormous fanboy wankers to a car which may, or may not have held Jack Nicholson. Seeing as stretch limos were incredibly uncommon in 1988 I still think this was Nicholson, or at least something to do with the production.

Regardless if it was, the autumn/winter of 1988/89 saw a huge amount of buzz about the film. I remember speaking to Alan Grant, then writing Batman in Detective Comics,  about how he was smuggled onto the set and was generally amazed by the scale and craftsmanship involved. This was no cheapo comic film but people wanted to see what it looked like, and unlike today where leaks and spoilers are everywhere, the amount of secrecy around the film was pretty high. When a trailer was eventually released there was no going to Youtube to see it. No, you had to go to the cinema to see the thing or wait up til the wee hours of the morning for it to be on ITV’s film programmes which normally were shown for people staggering home from clubs.

1989 trundled on and Batman was enormous. DC Comics decided to stick Batman in virtually every one of their titles which worked in selling titles which may only sell, say 10 copies in a medium sized shop and boost it to 30 or 40 copies. At Neptune we could not shift enough Batman material. Anything with a Batman logo on it sold, and I mean anything sold, regardless of quality, tackiness and anything relating to taste.

Batman came out in the US in June, while here in the UK we had to wait til August, and I’ve told a tale of the film’s opening in a previous blog but needless to say the film was as huge as it was in the US.

Was it any good though? Well, yes, on the most part. Keaton was a superb Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Nicholson ate up plenty of scenery as The Joker, while the production design was indeed utterly impressive, the script was a bit thin in places and the final 15 minutes or so are an utter mess. That aside it worked in spite of it’s faults. It’s a spectacle and a triumph of atmosphere over anything else so in that, it captures the spirit of Batman perfectly. It’s a blockbuster but one that does try to be more at times, but it really works when it’s Batman and The Joker doing comic book stuff and this is what makes the film what it is which is a totally enjoyable comic book film.

It spawned a series of sequels, one of which is already on my list, while the others we’l draw a veil over….

 

Next up, Neo-Tokyo is about to explode!

My Worst Five Horror Films Ever

I did a list of my top 20 horror films but some things were missing. This is going to plug at least one of those gaps as I run as painlessly as possible through the worst horror films I’ve had the misfortune to endure.

Let’s start at #5 with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

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At this point I reckon most people are going ‘WHAT???!You can’t call The Shining a bad film?”. I’m not calling it a bad film, in fact in this short list of my worst horror films it’s by far the best made film by a country mile, but as a horror film that adapts a book by Stephen King it’s a sad failure.

Why? It’s just a very simple film that uses horror cliches to make you jump because Kubrick seems to be confused as to whether he’s making a horror film featuring characters you can believe in (which is the case with the book) rather than broad caricatures. It’s also the film that saw Jack Nicholson  play up the ‘Crazy Jack’ persona to such a nonsensical degree that you’re taken out of the film, and in fact, I’m constantly taken out of the film as there’s no sensible reasoning used by any of the characters in this film.

It’s a wasted shout at what should have been a great film but I can’t stand the film. It’s cold. It’s false and it doesn’t fill me with dread. I love Kubrick as a filmmaker but the sense of crushing disappointment I felt upon seeing this for the first time has never left me.

As we move on from #5, all sensible criticism gets blown away in the wind as we hit the shitefest of #4, it’s the craptastic Zoltan, Hound of Dracula.

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It’s Dracula’s dog. Really. It bites people on the neck and everything. It’s fucking awful.

Moving on swiftly to #3 it’s the even more fucking awful I Know What You Did Last Summer.

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Why is it awful? Well, it’s the film that gave us the genre of horror films made for people who really don’t like horror films. It’s the date horror film which gives minor scares and features amazingly glamorous, nubile American teenagers being murdered in a variety of boring ways. Even the Friday the 13th films were more fun than this and I fucking hate those films, but they at least allowed the audience in on the gag. This is smug, offensive patronising cookie-cutter filmmaking by fucking wankers for fucking wankers.

It also introduced a look for modern American horror films with this palate of grey/green/black colours that make all films looking identical. It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible film.

At # 2 it’s not just one film, but a number of them. It’s crappy inferior remakes of better films, so for an example let’s kick the crap out of the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street.

The original is a classic little horror that ok, has dated badly, but stands up still. The remake is a dismal little thing that should have been never made. So also, Last House of the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even remakes of naff films like The Amityville Horror show how incredibly desperate Hollywood is for ideas. Calling something A Nightmare on Elm Street and making it all ‘dark’, ‘broody’ and aimed at again, the sort of person who really doesn’t like horror films that much but recognises these names through the general drip of culture.

All you need to do is get a director who’ll churn out one of these remakes in what’s become a house style and hey presto! You’ve got a minor hit at the box office and a success on DVD as they market them to people who really do think a film can be made better by ‘up to date’ effects.

I hate these films so much I’m not even going to link to a trailer as they’re hateful crap.

And lastly, at #1 it’s The Purge/Insidious/Sinister. These films annoy me in a way few other films do, except of course the films of Michael Bay, the wanker!

Take Sinister as an example of how they annoy. It takes bits of the Slenderman meme with bits of the Found Footage genre, and should be a gripping horror film rather than something that constantly relies on the Lewton Bus for scares, that is, when the scares start to happen as the film is so amazingly dull thanks to cardboard characters you don’t care about from the start.

The Purge is the worst example of these current trend of film. It could have been a clever little exploitation film in the hands of say, Roger Corman back in the 60’s or 70’s rather than the deadly dull and serious piece of crap it actually is. It’s a decent enough idea but from the off it’s so badly executed with characters doing ridiculous things because the plot needs them to do ridiculous things that again, I couldn’t care less.

These films are contemptuous. They’re insulting and are made for people who really don’t care for horror films, or indeed, good filmmaking but want 90 minutes of mindless crap rather than search out something actually worthwhile.  Making a good horror film is tough, but there’s now a trick which is to hack out these films because they play to a dumbed down audience who think something like The Purge is ‘edgy’ when in fact, it’s badly executed, boring wank with a messed up set of politics.

Nihilism doesn’t make something edgy. It just makes you a moody teenager sitting on your bed playing too much Emo and wanking too much, which is in my mind, what these films are. They’re the cinematic version of moping around being moody because you once heard an Ayn Rand speech once.

So there you go. I feel better now that’s out. Next time let’s find out why there was no Hammer Films in my top 20 list…