Tag Archives: 1988

Rocks In The Attic #807: Michael Hoenig – ‘The Blob (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#807I’m not usually a fan of remakes. They’re either a cynical attempt to recreate the magic of the original (see 2003’s The Italian Job, 2006’s The Wicker Man, 2016’s Ghostbusters) or a remake of a foreign-language film to placate lazy American audiences who don’t like to read subtitles (see 2006’s The Departed, 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2013’s Oldboy). Sometimes, remakes are just offensive. I remember seeing Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, and people were laughing out loud in the cinema. It wasn’t intended to be one of the year’s best comedies.

There are exceptions, of course. Batman Begins (2005) and Casino Royale (2006) proved that reboots could provide a new perspective on a tired franchise, and some remakes – Philip Kaufman’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – offer enough innovation to justify the new version.

I’m not sure we needed two different versions of the Spider-Man origin story (2002, 2012) only ten years apart though. I’m just glad Andrew ‘mouth-breather’ Garfield isn’t the webbed-wonder anymore.

RITA#807aGiven the three good examples, it seems that 50s sci-fi films generally offer rich material to base a remake on. This could be due to the 30-year gap between original and remake, but we’re seeing remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s films nowadays, and the hit-rate isn’t good. It’s more likely that the advent of new technology enhanced the films and their special effects. I suspect the evolution of film in that specific 30-year period – from B-movies in the ‘50s, to New Hollywood at the end of the ‘60s, and the film-school generation of the ‘70s – is the main culprit.

And so we arrive at Chuck Russell’s The Blob, another ‘50s sci-fi b-movie remake. The original film was directed by Irvin Yeaworth and starred Steve McQueen in his leading-man debut. The remake’s co-writer Frank Darabont is the biggest clue of what lies ahead, as the film has a small-town setting and small-town mentality as his later works (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic, The Mist).

First, we’re treated to the classic Tri-Star studio ident, an evergreen favourite. A white stallion runs in slow-motion toward the screen. It sprouts wings and flies above the Tri-Star logo. Everything is going to be alright! Until Michael Hoenig’s ominous synth score over the opening credits tells us otherwise.

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The Blob
was an early favourite when my family first got Sky Movies, and for some reason I’ve been placing Matt Dillon in this film for the last thirty years. It’s actually older brother Kevin Dillon who plays the lead role of Brian – Brian! – but the two look so similar it’s not hard to mix them up. Looking back, it now looks more like Ethan Hawke playing the part of Matt Dillon, with the worst wig ever, in a biopic of his young life as a greaser.

RITA#807bThe Blob itself looks like the genesis for the slime in the following year’s Ghostbusters II. It looks lovely. Nice and pink, but not that threatening when you think about it. And if you thought the Blob was slow, you should have seen Slugs, another slow-moving horror which crawled into cinemas six months before The Blob. It was so non-threatening, I watched it with my Mum!

And yet, despite its beauty and slow pace, the Blob is threatening as a malevolent force. At least in the first half of the picture, before it becomes too big for the screen and the filmmakers resort to rear-screen projection to show its scale. The special effects by Tony Gardner are awesome: wonderful practical effects, akin to the groundbreaking effects by Rob Bottin in John Carpenter’s The Thing; all the more terrifying because they look and feel real.

My favourite effects shot is in the hospital when the Blob takes its second victim, the football-player Paul. His date Meg hears his scream from another room, and races in to find him screaming from within the Blob, as he tries to escape its clutches. That one shot is genuinely terrifying. Another fantastic sequence takes place in the diner, when the short-order cook is sucked head-first through a plughole. Mamma mia!

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I always chuckle at the finale in which the townsfolk figure out that the Blob’s weakness is cold temperatures. Brian’s solution is to go and steal the town’s snow-maker truck, and use its tanks of liquid nitrogen to freeze it to death. Now, you may ask yourself why a small town has a snow-making truck. It’s not like they explicitly state that the town is a ski-resort. As a plot-point, this is problematic.

The performances are mostly great and the script isn’t too bad. At least it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. In fact, the film’s major weakness is Michael Hoenig’s score. I usually love synth soundtracks, but not this one. I’d expect better from a member of Tangerine Dream. Apart from the main title theme and a couple of other cues, it mostly sounds tacky and melodramatic; like the High School AV club got use of the school’s cheap Casio keyboard.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Into The Sewer

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Rocks In The Attic #785: Alan Silvestri – ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#785You might know Alan Silvestri from his orchestral scores to some of the biggest blockbusters of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond, but the really surprising credit to his name is for something far earlier. The Academy Award-winning composer of such classic scores as the Back To The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Predator, The Abyss, Cast Away and Young Guns II first got his break composing music for television in the late 1970s.

From 1977 to 1983, Silvestri scored the music for the hit show CHiPs, including its amazing main title, eventually scoring 95 of its 139 episodes. He also scored episodes of Starsky & Hutch, Tales From The Crypt and T.J. Hooker. His partnership with director Robert Zemeckis began in 1984 when they collaborated on Romancing The Stone; he has composed the music for all of Zemeckis’ films since.

RITA#785a1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a watershed moment in cinema. In 2019, it seems an everyday occurrence for an actor to share the screen with computer-generated images or characters. Such technology was in its infancy in 1988 – the first fully computer-generated animated character had only hit the screens three years earlier in Young Sherlock Holmes (courtesy of Lucasfilm’s John Lasseter, who would go on to establish Pixar Animation Studios). Instead, Zemeckis’ film relies on physical actors acting alongside empty spaces which was then overlaid with hand-drawn animation featuring three-lighting layers to give the appearance of three-dimensionality.

It’s just mind-blowing to watch the scene where Bob Hoskins’ character Eddie is handcuffed to Roger Rabbit, and he expertly hides him from the evil weasels. This was filmed over thirty years ago, and it still looks great.

My kids are currently aged 7, 6 and 4, and I don’t think I’ll be letting them watch the film anytime soon. It’s just a little too dark for them – particularly the more violent aspects of the plot with Judge Doom murdering toons by dunking them in ‘dip’. Maybe when they’re older…

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Silvestri’s score sounds as majestic as anything else he’s done, possibly coming closer to the zaniness of Danny Elfman than usual, and the soundtrack is interspersed with Roger and Jessica’s songs, sung by Charles Fleischer and Amy Irving respectively. This reissue by Mondo Records is pressed on a beautifully bright Jessica Rabbit neon pink and white splatter vinyl, and includes a reproduction of Roger’s poem to Jessica.

Hit: Why Don’t You Do Right? – Amy Irving

Hidden Gem: Valiant & Valiant

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Rocks In The Attic #727: James Brown – ‘Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (1988)

RITA#727The Godfather of Soul would have been going through a bit of a revival in the late 1980’s. His screams and drum-breaks were sampled all over the burgeoning hip hop genre, and white audiences would have been reminded of him following his appearance on the soundtrack to Rocky IV. His output around this time, particularly on 1986’s Gravity and 1988’s I’m Real, sounds very of its time. The funk is there, but so are the synthesisers and drum machines.

So it would have been a great time to cash-in with a compilation of his Christmas-themed songs from 1966 to 1970. You might find it incredible that any one artist could have recorded so many festive songs in a four-year period – twelve are presented here, culled from singles, b-sides and three standalone Christmas albums – but James’ output during this period was incredible. Not only could he have released a song of him reading the South Carolina phonebook, but the resulting single, Funky Phone Book Pts. 1 & 2, would surely have been a hit on the R&B charts.

Most of these songs collected here show the slower, soulful side of James’ pre-funk career, but the standout is a song from the pointier end of the ‘60s. Soulful Christmas is a funk workout from ‘68, featuring James belting out the lyric ‘Happiness…Good gawd…Huh…I got plenty of!’ before calling for Maceo Parker to play his funky sax.

Santa would be proud. Merry Christmas everybody.

Hit: Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto

Hidden Gem: Soulful Christmas

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Rocks In The Attic #714: Enya – ‘Watermark’ (1988)

RITA#714Enya’s been on my mind recently.

I haven’t been thinking of her directly. She was just mentioned in passing online, and it really made me laugh. Apparently the ticketing agent Ticketmaster may be taken to court in a class-action lawsuit for being calculating, advantageous cunts when it comes to their business practices.

The outcome may be that Ticketmaster have to make good on everybody that they’ve sold concert tickets to in the last umpteen years – which is pretty much everybody in the western world.

‘Fantastic,’ somebody said. ‘Whatever they provide will be essentially useless. They’ll probably give us tickets to see Enya in the Philippines.’

Enya’s the type of music that I struggle to listen to, not because of how it sounds – which is essentially bland, inoffensive mood music – but more because I have trouble imagining the type of person that would be impressed by it.

We didn’t have any Enya on in our house when I grew up. I imagine it was played a lot in the home-counties, by boring, middle-aged married couples who don’t like foreign food or swearing.

Hit: Orinoco Flow

Hidden Gem: Watermark

Rocks In The Attic #525: Various Artists – ‘Cocktail (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

rita525God, I miss the shameful optimism of 1980s mainstream American cinema. Yes, it was soulless (at times) and offered little in the way of substance (again, at times), but I really have a deep feeling of nostalgia for helicopter tracking shots of American cities, soundtracked by the likes of Starship’s Wild Again. Throw a bit of neon in there, and a glimpse of bikini, and I’m hooked.

I’m a child of the 1980s so America has always felt like the centre of the universe – it still is – and the main driver of that image was American cinema. Cocktail, albeit directed by a New Zealander (Roger Donaldson), is a typical example. It may not be the greatest film in the world – it’s far from it – but I’d happily watch it again right now.

I would have been very aware of who Tom Cruise was in 1988, but it might have been the first time I saw Elisabeth Shue and Bryan Brown; a couple of actors I’ve always admired. Shue appeared as the love interest in The Karate Kid (1984) and as the lead in Adventures In Babysitting (1987), but Cocktail would definitely be the first time I’d seen her in an adult role.

One of my favourite moments from Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is when our anti-hero Patrick Bateman shares an elevator with Tom Cruise, who lives in the same apartment block:

The film actor, Tom Cruise, has an apartment in my building and steps into the elevator just after me. I press the “PH” button for him and he nods his thanks. He is wearing a sport coat from Ralph Lauren over a tshirt, also Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Jeans and Ray Bans and is very short.
‘I really liked
Bartender“, I say to him.
‘Cocktail.’
‘What?’
‘The movie is called
Cocktail.’
‘Oh, right, of course.’
We turn away from each other as the elevator hums along. Then, he slowly turns towards me.
‘Your nose is bleeding,’ he tells me.
I hadn’t noticed it, although it is bleeding heavily and I reach for my pocket square by Bill Blass as we arrive at my floor. As I step into the hallway, covering my nose with the handkerchief, I hear Tom Cruise stabbing frantically at the ‘Close Door’ button.

Hit: Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Hidden Gem: Powerful Stuff – The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Rocks In The Attic #512: Aerosmith – ‘Anthology’ (1988)

RITA#512Last night I finally watched Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I saw the first instalment on the 1979 L.A. punk rock scene. I’d heard about Part II ever since I’ve been an Aerosmith fan, and it didn’t disappoint.

Spheeris’ second film in the trilogy charts the comings and goings of L.A.’s glam metal bands from 1986 to 1988, all vying for stardom and attempting to out-do each other in the process. At first glance it’s not immediately clear who’s male and who’s female; the make-up and hairspray is so thick. And speaking of thick, there doesn’t seem to be a smart person among them. They’re the embodiment of Spinal Tap, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Intercut with these interviews and live performances are context-providing talking heads with the elder statesmen of the genre: Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Aside from the absurdity of  the sections featuring Paul Stanley (lying in a bed with four lace-wearing groupies) and Gene Simmons (standing in a ladies’ clothes store, ogling at women), these interviews are reasonably candid and they come across much better than the young upstarts who are trying to make a name for themselves in the dingy Sunset Strip bars.

Alice Cooper particularly is as lucid as ever, and it’s refreshing to see Ozzy talk openly about the metal scene without the mumble he’s now commonly associated with. Tyler and Perry come across well, with the pair being able to talk with an air of stateliness, having recently hit the big time for a second time with 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.

Their sections are not too different from the content of the interviews in 1989’s The Making Of Pump documentary, with Tyler reeling off soundbites about his drug addictions, and Perry sounding as lugubrious as usual. It must be hard to summon the effort to talk about anything with enthusiasm when your adrenaline reserves have been destroyed through years of drug abuse.

One short shot in the film doesn’t ring quite true. After we’ve seen a domesticated Ozzy cook a fried breakfast with no issues, he goes to pour a bottle of orange juice into some glasses on the kitchen table, and Spheeris cynically inserts a shot of him spilling the orange juice as though he has the shakes. It’s obvious that it’s fake, and exists solely to make Ozzy look like he can’t handle sobriety. The end result is that you lose respect for Spheeris as a filmmaker. She might point her cameras at subjects she believes to be ridiculous, but at least they’re being honest.

Anthology is a rare West German compilation of Aerosmith’s early Columbia output, released on the UK label Castle Communications in 1988. It includes a heap of tracks that don’t feature on any other compilation, so you get, for example, the likes of Push Comes To Shove and the title track from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, the mis-titled Bite The Hand That Feeds and Sight For Sore Eyes from 1977’s Draw The Line, and several tracks from 1978’s Live! Bootleg – stadium performances of Walk This Way and Back In The Saddle, and the awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall performance of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

Hit: Sweet Emotion

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn (Live)

Rocks In The Attic #428: Anthrax – ‘Euphoria’ (1988)

RITA#428Apparently it’s illegal to send this band’s records through the post…

The Big Four? Metallica? Yes. Slayer? Yes. Megadeth? Yes. Anthrax? Hmm. For some reason, these guys never got to my ears when I used to listen to metal.

It does amuse me how these four bands have been grouped together in their own little club. Isn’t thrash supposed to be full of ‘stick it to the man’ f**k you attitude, with an innate desire to avoid the mainstream? Well, Metallica’s transcendence into a household name is another story, but doesn’t branding them altogether into a nice little package sort of negate their collective manifesto?

But as always, record companies will do whatever they can to make money, and if putting a bunch of bands together to sell some tickets / live DVDs, then so be it.

Hit: Antisocial

Hidden Gem: Now It’s Dark