1971 was a watershed year for new cinema. Films like A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry and Straw Dogs pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on the silver screen. None are passive films. Each brims with the obsessions of their makers, and for that each was the subject of controversy and censorship.
Eventually they became accepted by the mainstream. A Clockwork Orange has become a cultural touchstone, with everyone from Lady Gaga to David Bowie to Kylie Minogue, who dressed in a black bowler hat and a white jumpsuit on tour in 2002, paying tribute. It was even played at the Cannes Film Festival and released on Blu Ray to mark its fortieth anniversary. Dirty Harry is on constant rotation on television and Rod Lurie’s remake of the Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs hits screens this weekend.
The movie stars James Marsden and Kate Bosworth as David and Amy Sumner, a big city couple who move back to her hometown on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Tensions with some of the locals (including True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård) bubble to the surface and soon boil over into violence.
“If you look at a movie like Straw Dogs, which was heavily influenced by a book called The Territorial Imperative,” says Lurie, “Peckinpah seems to be saying that violence is in the genetics of all men and therefore we must be aware of it so we can control it. It was extremely fascist thinking but that also seems to be the thing with Dirty Harry.
“A Clockwork Orange is a much more clinical look at that but I think artists were trying to provide the answers top what society was asking then. It was a very, very violent era.
“This was an era in which people were searching for answers to the madness that was going on around them,” Lurie continues, “and filmmakers were trying to provide some of the answers. You had everything from the assassinations of Kennedy and King to Vietnam to the Whitman murders to My Lai. I think all of society was trying to understand how human beings could do such things.”
Hollywood is so into recycling you’d think Al Gore was running a studio and green-lighting movies. This year alone we’ve seen reimaginings, reboots and redos galore, from Straw Dogs and Footloose to Conan the Barbarian and The Mechanic.
It seems Tinseltown never met an idea it couldn’t endlessly recycle.
This is particularly true in the horror genre. In the last 12 months, Colin Farrell clipped on Chris Sarandon’s used fangs in a remake of Fright Night, and this weekend, The Thing is, according to IMDB, “a prequel to a remake of an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?” Whatever it is, original it’s not.
Not that all original horror films are better than their remakes. David Cronenberg’s dark vision enhanced the story of The Fly, delivering the real scares that the campy 1958 version lacked, and 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is far creepier than its cinematic predecessor.
The Blob, the tale of what happens when germ warfare goes awry, has been made a couple of times.
The original is an unintentionally funny flick with more giggles than gore, but it inspired a sequel, a remake and, if the rumours are true, a bloody revamp by horror maestro Rob Zombie.
I have a soft spot for the low-budget charm of the 1958 version, although the 1988 reboot has a smarter-than-it-needs-to-be script co-written by Frank Darabont and a cool tagline — “Scream now! while you can still breathe!”
Count Dracula is one of the most portrayed characters on the big screen, having appeared in more horror films than any other famous monster of filmland. Eighty years after he first portrayed the vampire in the 1931 film Dracula, Bela Lugosi is still the most famous blood sucker of them all, although for my money, two British actors — Gary Oldham in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula — are tip-top Transylvanians.
Unlike his work in Scream, Wes Craven’s early films didn’t have any of the self-depreciating humour to go along with the scares.
His first movies were brutal, bloody and grim, usually all at once. Recent remakes of The Last House on the Left — rated R for “sadistic violence” — and The Hills Have Eyes — “The lucky ones die first!”— don’t have quite the impact of the Vietnam-era originals but still require a strong stomach.