The Chocolate War Revisited

Mention YA films – a term most often associated with films adapted from books for young adults – and most people think of sci-fi/fantasy franchises. It’s understandable as they’re the most common and popular examples, with the seventeen highest grossing YA adaptations consisting of films from just three franchises. Keep reading down the list and you’ll find only eight of the top fifty tell real-world stories without genre trappings. (And that’s including The Princess Diaries and its sequel, both of which should probably count as fantasy if we’re being honest.) Non-genre YA titles typically focus on young love, sometimes with a dash of cancer, and while those are perfectly valid topics they’re often no more thought-provoking than that Shailene Woodley franchise where she plays a girl who saves the world by being really good at multitasking.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing it, but there are actually some truly challenging and provocative YA adaptations out there too. They’re just not typically the ones that make a splash at the box-office. From Lord of the Flies (1963, 1990) to The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), smart and stimulating adaptations for developing minds do exist, and one of the absolute best turned thirty years old this month. The Chocolate War is a fantastically affecting film based on a brilliant novel that should still be required reading in schools.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Quantum of Solace deserves better than the frequently snide dismissals you’ve all been giving it.)

Casino Royale (2006) is not only the best of Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies, but it’s the best Bond movie period. That’s just factual and not up for debate, but there seems to be less certainty when it comes to ranking the remaining three films from his tenure as 007. It’s easy, though, if you remember that the chronological order is also the order of descending quality – Casino Royale > Quantum of Solace (2008) > Skyfall (2012) > Spectre (2015). Yup, they’re a series of diminishing returns. You’re welcome.

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The things that make us cry are personal. Our reactions to most things are our own, of course, and what makes you angry might make me laugh, what might offend one person could bore the next, but those are reactions without personal, intimate investment. The things that make us cry, though, are the things in tune with our own empathies and memories. To that end, most of us have a trigger of some kind – something that’s near guaranteed to get us misty. For some it’s heartache, for others it’s seeing characters suffering some terminal illness, but for me?

It’s scenes of fathers who think they’ve failed themselves and/or their children.

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The Best Werewolf Movies You’ve Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week things get hairy as we go digging for some underseen werewolf gems!)

There are seemingly thousands of movies about vampires and zombies, but for some reason the werewolf doesn’t quite warrant the same degree of ubiquity. It’s arguably the cooler creature, but therein rests the reason why there are so few werewolf movies – and even fewer good to great ones. You can’t just toss some plastic teeth in an actor’s mouth or paint their skin gray. Werewolves require prosthetic effects/transformations, and they don’t come cheap. (Well, usually.) The advent and availability of inexpensive CG has seen a minor burst in the sub-genre in recent years, but quality-wise they’re more hairballs than hairy nightmares.

If the top tier of great werewolf films features An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Howling (1981), and Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941) then the next includes killer but less popular movies like Silver Bullet (1985), Bad Moon (1996), Ginger Snaps (2000), Dog Soldiers (2002), and Late Phases (2014). And then what? Seventy or so mostly forgettable tales of lycanthropes on the prowl? Yes, but there are also a handful of good ones you’ve probably missed! And I shouldn’t have to say this, but after seeing far, far too many lists including them I’m going to remind you that, while great, neither Wolfen (1981) nor Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) are werewolf movies.

Keep reading for a look at six good to great – and even lesser known – werewolf movies that deserve a bite out of your time.

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The Net Sequel

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we visit the dark web for a peek behind the digital curtain in search of the sequel to the Sandra Bullock hit The Net!)

Everyone knows the interweb is a scary place, but some of us are old enough to remember a time when the promise of an online wealth of information sounded like a good thing. Hollywood was even quicker than the real world in dissuading us of the notion, though, as they rushed to develop and release cautionary tales about the nightmare heading our way across dial-up phone lines and digital threads. Movies like Hackers (1995), Strangeland (1998), and You’ve Got Mail (1998) terrified viewers with the possibilities, but it was 1995’s The Net that really drove the point home.

If our lives are nothing more than a series of zeroes and ones, then we’re all just a keystroke away from being erased forever. The concept’s less frightening now that I have student loan debt, but in the mid ’90s? Nightmare fuel. Well, in theory. The Net isn’t exactly a good movie, let alone a classic thriller too precious for a low-rent straight to DVD follow-up. It’s fine.

That’s good news for a sequel, though, right? New filmmakers have less of a hill to climb in the hopes of matching the original and only need to deliver a solid, competent thriller. Unfortunately, we got The Net 2.0 (2006) instead.

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Movies About Inheritances

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we’re thankful we don’t have wealthy relatives as we take a look at movies about the untimely deaths that come before and after inheritances!)

Inheritances are something I’ll never have to actually deal with, sadly, but I still love seeing them used on plot set-ups in movies. They’re a great way to bring disparate characters together with a common goal, and while the films can cross genres from comedy to horror, their shared theme of absolute greed ruling the day is a fascinating motivator. One of my favorites is 1994’s Greedy, but everyone’s seen that comedic gem – yes, I said comedic gem – and if you haven’t you should remedy that immediately. The cast offers up a wealth of funny with Michael J.Fox, Kirk Douglas, Colleen Camp, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, and more bringing the laughs, but all of them bow before the godlike skills of the late Phil Hartman.

But to the point of this column, there are plenty more that may not get the same kind of play on cable or feature the same caliber of big name stars but still deliver the goods. I’ve listed six below, but fair warning, only the first few feature any degree of comedy. The rest are darker, grimmer, and bloodier.

Keep reading for a look at the best movies you probably haven’t seen about inheritances that leave some people richer and other people dead.

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Movies Directed by Makeup Artists

This month marks the 30th anniversary of one of horror cinema’s most memorable creature creations. Stan Winston‘s Pumpkinhead (1988) was no box-office juggernaut, but it’s found a home with genre fans over the years who’ve come to appreciate both its tight little tale of revenge and the mad genius of its title creature design. The film’s greatness suggests the argument that makeup effects artists might be ideal as directors of makeup effects-heavy horror movies just as action films like John Wick (2014), Police Story (1985), and Smokey and the Bandit (1977) benefited from having stuntmen and action choreographers at the helm. Artists who live and breathe prosthetics, puppetry, gory makeup, and more would seem best-suited for shaping a film that brings it all to life.

A strong argument, but is it an accurate one?

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(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we continue and conclude, for now, our descent into hell for the eighth, ninth, and tenth films in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise.)

Clive Barker’s imagination gifted horror fans with the monsters of Midian, the hook-handed Candyman, and the child-eating god named Rawhead Rex, but his most ubiquitous creation will undoubtedly be Pinhead and the cenobites of Hellraiser (1987). He could have hardly imagined that adapting his novella (“The Hellbound Heart”) for the screen would lead to a franchise that just refuses to die.

As mentioned in part one, where I explored the first three DTV sequels (films five through seven in the franchise), these are all first-time watches for me. As much as I love Barker and his original Hellraiser film, I felt no need to devote time to these desperate sequels. They exist almost solely as a way for Dimension Films to retain the rights every few years, and instead of finding new ways to explore the worlds that Barker’s creation set forth the studio more often than not simply crams Pinhead into unrelated scripts – and it shows.

So join me, won’t you, as I foolishly subject myself to the last three DTV sequels… for now. Let’s watch Hellraiser: HellworldHellraiser: Revelations, and Hellraiser: Judgment.

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Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria hits theaters very soon, and while it’s a magnificent creation with its own story, visual highlights, and meaning, it’s also all the reason you need to revisit Argento’s filmography. The man’s name is nearly synonymous with the giallo sub-genre, but as evidenced by films like Suspiria (1977), he also found time for more unnatural tales. He directed 18 features between 1970 and 2012 along with a TV movie (Do You Like Hitchcock?, 2005) and one half of an anthology film (Two Evil Eyes, 1990).

His 18 features are the focus here – well, 17 as his 1973 comedy The Five Days is not only his sole non-horror/thriller title but also incredibly difficult to find with English subtitles – and to that end I’ve given them all a re-watch recently for two reasons. One, I wanted to re-watch them, so I did. And two? Why a ranking of course!

So keep reading for a look at Argento’s 17 genre efforts as ranked by me, from the highs of my number one pick to the lows of…

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10 Truly Frightening PG-Rated Horror Movies

This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but a film’s MPAA rating has no real bearing on its quality. There are all manner of great to terrible movies rated G, PG, PG-13, and R. Still, this continues to get pushback from a vocal minority every few months. Most recently the furor was over Venom, which some fans insisted should have been R-rated and it represented something of a new contingent in the ratings war – comic book superhero fans who, buoyed by the success of Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017), now think certain characters can only work with an R.

It’s a new argument for them, but it’s one some horror fans have been fighting for decades.

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