For the larger general audiences of western world Jackie Chan is of course known for his own unique style in making explosive action comedy movies with a defining slap-stick touch. But apart from that subset of movies the man has a long history in the movie industry spanning six decades and even as I write this, he’s filming three more movies and three more are in post-production and a number of film projects are waiting in queue. While he has stayed most of his career in movies as an actor, he has also directed films, written scripts, choreographed action sequences, acted as a stunt coordinator and stunt man and even as a producer.
A number of his roles have been on historical epics illustrating fact and fiction from the vast and rich cultural heritage of mainland China and Hong Kong. Most of his films where he is the leading actor have a humane, even humble, aspect to life in general and Chan has made only a few films in which he’s depicted as the “bad guy”. Illustrated here is his character Keung from the Stanley Tong -directed action comedy film Rumble in the Bronx (1995). The incredibly cheesy action film is a Chan action comedy at it’s purest and was purposefully designed to fit in to target audiences both in Hong Kong and North America. And sure enough it has made back it’s budget many times over albeit it’s initial release did not predict that. A lot of legs and ankles were broken during the filming and seeing the stunts performed by Chan and his colleagues, it’s not that hard to believe either. The director Stanley Tong had worked with Chan before and they have continued to work together since the filming of Rumble in the Bronx. And while it’s incredibly awesome to see Chan performing his own stunts, it’s also equally awesome to know that the director Tong insisted on making the stunts himself before letting his actors perform them. Not many directors have the physique or courage to do that.
When Zack Snyder was green lit to direct the remake of George A.Romero’s zombie epic Dawn of the Dead, many fans of the genre expressed justified concern as how the movie would turn out in the end. Snyder had even commented that he had never watched Romero’s version of the movie. Well … when the movie finally was presented to the public, it actually turned out to be one of the best zombie horror films of the new millennium. The movie remakes are generally frowned upon by the genre fans but despite that and for some unfathomable reason the studios churn out these remakes by the boatloads and with increasing frequency to boot. Once in a blue moon, however, the stars are properly aligned and a modern milestone comes out from the assembly line.
Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) was following the new trend of fast zombies set forth by commercially successful frantic films such Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) and Anderson’s Resident Evil (2002) (which, by the way, was initially slated to be directed by George Romero himself but artistic differences with the rights owning company Capcom eventually led to him being replaced). While the attack vector of the contagion itself differs in each of these films, they do share many concepts and have striking similarities in how their antagonists and protagonists are defined and developed. Being an early adopter helped Snyder, of course, and since those days we’ve seen an entire legion of fast legged zombies that have pretty much replaced the slow walkers made famous by Romero in the 70’s. We do have some slow walkers in extremely popular super-hero epics (AMC’s hit television show The Walking Dead) and the occasional movie (like Ford Brother’s The Dead (2010) and it’s sequel) still doing just fine but they are more of an anomaly than the norm now. The vast majority of zombie films of the past 10 years are presenting us frantic and blindingly fast meta-humans called zombies in various situations and locales.
Illustrated here is the wonderful Canadian actress Sarah Polley who played the role of Ana in Snyder’s film. In horror genre films Polley has made but a few appearances in delightfully well acted roles but it appears she has shifted her talents to the other side of the camera for now.
Some actors and directors see horror movies not as real movies but use them only as stepping stones to get their asses into other genres. This dispassion invariably shows in the end product. But then again some other actors and directors regard horror not only as a noteworthy genre on it’s own but also one that is damned hard to master. From those latter actors and directors come the genre favorites, cult films and films that just might get their own chapters in future books detailing the history of horror films.
Visual effects specialist John Bruno tried his directorial wings in the film Virus (1999) and for some reason got a massive budget of tens of millions of dollars to spend on it. He never returned to direct another movie after the movie was absolutely crushed by negative reviews and flopped big time earning only a fraction of it’s costs. While Bruno’s Virus isn’t going to get it’s own chapter in future film history books, it’s way better than how it got treated back then.
Jamie Lee Curtis is, of course, one of those actresses that have returned to the horror movie genre voluntarily even after making big splashes in other genres. Everyone even somewhat distantly acquainted with the horror film genre can not deny Jamie Lee Curtis’ strong roles and importance within the genre and spanning several decades to boot. Illustrated here is Jamie Lee Curtis in John Bruno’s Virus where she played the role of Kelly Foster – a member of a ship crew that stumble upon a seemingly abandoned Russian cargo ship in the high seas and bit by bit learn the horrific secrets of the ship. I personally really think it’s way underrated nowadays and while it has it’s fair share of problems, it still is an exciting horror/science fiction hybrid.
Ronald Lee Ermey served for 10 years in the US Marine Corps between 1961 and 1971 and held a rank of Staff Sergeant during his later active years in the Corps. His first hand experience with the US Marine Corps and the Vietnam War was a crucial part for his first movie roles (Sidney J. Furie’s war drama The Boys in Company C (1978) and Francis Ford Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now (1979)). From then on, Ermey has appeared in numerous war movies – and often cast as a drill instructor – but he quickly managed to convince film makers that he can do other stuff too and has subsequently appeared in dozens of television shows and films spanning a wide range of genres and roles.
His commanding presence landed him his probably best known role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). Legend has it that Kubrick hired him as an advisor and not as an actor but on the set he was so damn convincing that Kubrick ended up manning the role with him. Kudos to Kubrick for his decision to cast Ermey. Ermey’s role in Full Metal Jacket is pretty damned strong even by today’s standards and his character’s mean-spirited, demeaning, misogynistic, anticommunist, hate-filled ranting is nowadays not only remembered but has a left a permanent mark in popular culture.
Illustrated here is Ronald Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s raw war movie Full Metal Jacket.
David Cronenberg is, of course, known to horror movie fans as the grandfather of the so called body horror sub-genre of films and his movies all the way from the 1970’s are rightfully revered by the horror movie aficionados. But – perhaps excepting The Fly (1986) – his main body of work is relatively unknown to the wider, more mainstream, audiences.
But when the film Spider came out in 2002, there was a noticeable change and while it certainly wasn’t an attraction for larger crowds, Croneberg’s next film was just that. A History of Violence came out in 2005 and it was a definite shift away from his former films being a dramatic thriller with nary a hint of horrific elements. While not a horror movie at all and rather commercial in how it was marketed, it still kind of works like Cronenberg’s former films: it is beautifully constructed and narrated, care has been taken on how the characters have been defined and most importantly it’s structural layers speak on many levels should the audience wish to listen. It turned out to be quite the little success story and since then Cronenberg has directed a few more internationally acclaimed dramas and thrillers which have been aimed toward more wider and commercial audiences than what made the man initially famous.
Illustrated here is Ed Harris, an actor I have always had a soft spot for, from the film A History of Violence (2005). In the film Ed Harris plays a tough gangster Carl Fogarty, who has come to seek retribution against the film’s protagonist Tom Stall played by Viggo Mortensen.
The so called rape-revenge sub-genre of horror and exploitation films was single-handedly carved out as a more violent and expressive genre from more thoughtful and visually serene drama films by the director Wes Craven in his 1972 film debut The Last House on the Left. The genre reached a peak in the middle-to-late seventies when many directors introduced such films to nauseate, test and provocate unsuspecting audiences all around the world. In Italy, many now quite seminal and very nasty rape-revenge films were produced in the following two decades. Some gained added notoriety as the Video Nasty craze of the 1980’s saw a number of such titles be altogether banned and film copies burned in public and confiscated by authorities.
Al calar della sera (Submission of a Woman, 1992) was a rather late entry to the rape-revenge films from Italy directed by Alessandro Lucidi who ceased directing after this film (although he is still today very much active in the film industry as an accomplished editor). The film is rather obscure and was omitted even from the seminal and thorough study of the genre: Rape-Revenge Films – A Critical Study (2011) by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. The movie does have an odd tone to it and even though the antagonist of the film is presented (and acted too, I might add) as quite the nasty psychopath, the film is still oddly muted. The violence and nudity are equally quite restrained and quite possibly that is why this film has not a had a wide audience and known by genre enthusiasts only.
The film is in essence an example of an early home invasion movie quite popular nowadays. Main roles of the movie were played by Paolo Lorimer and Daniela Poggi. Daniela Poggi is still active today but she is most well known in the polar opposite of genres from this film as she has dozens of roles in romantic comedies and dramas.
An illustration of Melissa George from the movie A Lonely Place to Die (2011) by Julian Gilbey. Melissa stars as Alison, a tough-as-nails mountain climber whose path happens to accidentally cross with some very dangerous individuals. A well made, nicely paced and criminally under appreciated British thriller.