Wolf Creek (2005)
An Australian take on the slasher movie (as well as films like Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and Southern Comfort), Wolf Creek was partly inspired by a series of murders by Ivan Milat in the late 1980s - early 1990s. The film starts with three backpackers (two British girls and an Australian guy), buying a car and heading off into the outback, travelling from Western Australia to Cairns, in Northern Queensland. Stopping off at a remote beauty spot, the trio return to their car to discover that the engine has died. In what seems like a stroke of good fortune, a passing motorist offers to fix their car and help them on their way. However, once they wake up at his farm, all hell breaks loose... This is a film which takes its time to build up the tension, though early scenes in which the travellers exhange some ugly banter with some local rednecks in an outback petrol station points towards the way the film is headed. However, once we enter the final third of the film, all bets are off, with the three backpackers facing a horrifying and terrifying ordeal with a remorseless and truly evil villain. Unlike most slasher movies, where the 'final girl' is usually pretty clearly signposted from an early point in the film, in Wolf Creek, there really is no way of telling which (if any) of the three will survive their ordeal, or whether the killer will be stopped at all.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
This classic movie, based on Harper Lee's novel of the same name, is set in the Deep South in the 1930s. Honest, principled lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) has been chosen to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. At the same time, Finch's young children, Scout and Jem (along with their friend Dill) are growing up in the poor Southern town, where racial tensions are constantly simmering under the surface. As well as keeping a keen eye on the events of the trial in which their father is acting, the children are fascinated by their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley. A powerful and gripping film which examines the themes of racism and prejudice in America. Though some of the characters are perhaps a little too black and white (as it were) - with Atticus Finch shown as a purely virtuous figure, and the ignorant farmer who falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape pure evil - this is a fantastic movie, with a message of tolerance which is still relevant today, and with Gregory Peck giving a brilliant performance as Atticus Finch.
This was another film being shown at the Sunday lunchtime slot at the Watershed cinema, and I was very keen to see it on the big screen - having previously seen it a couple of times on TV. It was definitely worth the trip to the cinema (even though the print they were using was possibly the dirtiest I've ever seen on a big screen, complete with masses of 'cigarette burn' marks, and specks of dust and occasionally distortion to the colour of the picture). Sissy Spacek plays Carrie White, a rather awkward girl who is bullied at school by a number of her peers, and at home is subjected to endless lectures on impurity and sin from her deranged, bible bashing mother. On reaching puberty, Carrie has discovered that she has the gift of telekenesis - being able to move objects with the power of her mind. Unfortunately for all concerned, a number of girls at her high school are planning a really nasty prank of Carrie at her senior prom, one which will spark Carrie into a rage which will wipe out most of her class and burn her house to the ground... This is still a brilliant horror film, particularly the explosive finale, which builds the suspense to breaking point with Carrie on stage, unaware that at any moment she will be soaked in pigs' blood. Some of the '70s excesses - costumes, haircuts and soundtrack - look a little cheesy these days, and provide some unintentional humour, but that doesn't really detract from the story. Brian De Palma would go on to marry Nancy Allen, who played Chris (Carrie's chief tormentor at school). He teamed up with Allen again on several occasions, including when he made perhaps his greatest movie - Blow Out - which also featured John Travolta (who had a smallish role in Carrie as Nancy Allen's boyfriend). Definitely up there with the very best Stephen King adaptations - I'd say it's on a par with Stand By Me, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption, though possibly not quite as great as The Shining.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Hitchcock's remake of his 1934 movie; in this version Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day star as a pair of American tourists in Marrakesh who inadvertently stumble across a web of international intrigue. After Stewart overhears a French secret agent's dying words (warning him of an assassination plot in London), Stewart's son is kidnapped by the ruthless gang behind the plot, in an effort to keep him quiet. In his efforts to track down their son and prevent the assassination, Stewart and Day head to London, where they are not exactly helped by the local police (who are portrayed as rather bumbling and ineffectual). A solid Hitchcock picture, but not one of his classics, though unlike Dial M for Murder, it does seem that this one was actually shot on location. On the positive side, the film is well paced and there are several excellent set pieces (particularly the scene at the Royal Albert Hall, where the killer is waiting to strike at the same point as the cymbal crashes on stage). On the other hand, in the early going, the film seems a little xenophobic in the way Stewart treats the Moroccans, and the plot is rather implausible; it would seem to be much easier for the cabal of international assassins to kill Jimmy Stewart in Marrakesh, rather than spiriting his son out of the country and keeping him hostage in London. Nevertheless, a decent film.