Rampaging through Tokyo: You’re Under Arrest! The Movie (Junji Nishimura, 1999)

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This film comes between the first and second seasons of the police-centred anime, and I struggle to think that even a committed fan would enjoy it. Even if they’re familiar with the characters, the film has, by its end, devolved into something so dull and so silly that it’s near impossible to like.

Officers Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa, traffic cops in Tokyo’s Bokuto precinct, are our protagonists. A routine inspection of an abandoned car leads to far larger consequences for them and for the city. The film starts reasonably well, looking like a standard police procedural that happens to be animated. I’m a sucker for anime depictions of mundane Japanese locations, and so was perfectly happy to enjoy the film for its aesthetics.

A TV series that gets turned into a film, however, needs to have high stakes. It may be for this reason that You’re Under Arrest! steadily gets more and more ridiculous. The Bokuto Station’s chief is arrested for having a connection to the man who seemingly devised plans for a terrorist attack on Tokyo. Some terrorists attack the station to get the plans, and before you know it, their violent threats have brought Tokyo to a standstill.

Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa are weirdly attached to their patrol car and even take it along on a boat when they pursue the bad guys through Tokyo’s waterways. Things get more confusing here as they try to trap the terrorists between themselves and a larger ship, which involves raising a bridge that has been stationary for decades. There’s no tension in these sequences, partly because the film doesn’t make the progression of events clear enough, partly because the budget limitations on the animation become starkly obvious, and partly because Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa seem able to handle things on their own anyway. One of them even rips a tyre free from its securing ropes and hurls it at the baddies to slow them down.

Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa are competent, non-sexualised characters. The film’s treatment of the other policewomen is questionable, however. Are they portrayed as weak, or are they simply in over their heads and trying their best? Points must certainly be taken away for the scene in which all of the women in Bokuto Station prepare for a gunfight by ripping their skirts for better ease of movement, with their boss goggling at how far up the rips go.

The film is less than 90 minutes long, but the quality drops so much during the second half that it feels interminable. There’s too many broken laws of physics, too many unearned feel-good character moments, and too many static shots of Tokyo streets. (Yes, even I got sick of them after a while.) This is certainly the last time I go near the franchise.

Pinhead goes to Hollywood: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (Anthony Hickox, 1992)

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Hell on Earth is as far as I go with the Hellraiser series. This ride’s taking a downward plunge in quality, so I’m going to jump off quick and hope that I can’t get hurt in my own metaphor. It would be more painful, anyway, to see the concepts of the original film distorted further for the sake of grabbing a buck. The ideas haven’t quite run out yet and the budget certainly hasn’t, so there’s still some positives to find here if you can stomach how far the series’ intelligence level has dropped, and how quickly.

So Pinhead’s a slasher villain now, dispatching innocent victims at will. In comparison to the character as Clive Barker originally conceived him this is, in a word, stupid, but scriptwriter Peter Atkins at least tries to find a reason for it. As a result of Kirsty’s actions at the end of Hell Bound, Pinhead’s human aspect has been separated from the Cenobite, each now operating as independent beings trying to break through to the Earthly realm. In Pinhead’s case, this involves convincing New York fetish club owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), who’s in possession of the Hell Pillar in which the Cenobite is imprisoned, to bring him enough blood to create a physical form. In Captain Spencer’s case, this involves seeking help from Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), a TV news presenter who’s investigating the violence at J.P.’s club, by contacting her through her dreams.

Doug Bradley now gets to play two characters, and considering that his performance was one of the most enjoyable parts of the first two films, this is no bad thing. He seems to have seized upon the notion of Pinhead being totally free to kill and enjoy killing, and hams it up with gusto. The scenes where Pinhead annihilates a club full of people and commits sacrilege at a church altar may be far removed from anything the character should be interested in doing, but they do have a certain inventiveness about them. Spencer, meanwhile, is terribly British, a self-aware man who could have been quite different were it not for his experiences in The Great War. His realization that he needs to recombine with Pinhead, to give the Cenobite a sense of restraint and honour, works as character development and is a reasonably satisfying conclusion.

We didn’t need any of this development and backstory, and we didn’t need a film full of Pinhead. Hellraiser is a perfect example of how a character can have tremendous impact with less than five minutes screentime if the concept, actor, and makeup are just right. Nonetheless, a film full of Pinhead is what we get, and it is hard to say no to being shown a bunch of shots designed specifically to make him look good. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the fact that the makeup is also weaker here; a brief insert of footage from Hell Bound proves that a cheap British film did a better job of creating the character than this Paramount-funded production. Moreover, the name “Pinhead,” which Barker always disapproved of, is used as an insult here, and Joey calls him an “ugly fuck” to boot. These are pretty ill-advised ways of undermining the dignity of a character who embodies powerful concepts of morality, physicality and metaphysics.

Hell on Earth does manage to be almost as female-centric as the first two films. Joey faces the problem of not being taken seriously in her profession, and a chunk of the story relies on her friendship with Terri (Paula Marshall), a former girlfriend of J.P.’s who needs help to clean up her life. The relationship is actually just one scene away from being a romance, which J.P. makes some biting remarks about at one point. Bernhardt himself was clearly cast for looking like an underwear model, and the movie is arguably equal opportunity about nudity. On the whole, it’s less exploitative than the average slasher film, though more problematic than Hellraiser, Hell Bound or the Barker-connected Candyman. (I would like to write a post about the series’ female characters, but to do that I’d have at least watch Bloodline oh god help.)

I’m not going to claim Terry Farrell is a greatly talented actor, but she does have an innate likeability. Maybe I’m influenced by her role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I have no issues with her here. Despite being lumbered with plenty of lazy dialogue, Farrell is still charming and moves well in the many action and horror oriented scenes toward the end.

Hell on Earth has plenty of things to get annoyed about if you’re so inclined. The new Cenobites, in particular, have none of the style of the original lineup, and are the final nail in the coffin when it comes to Hell on Earth’s disregard for the first two films. However, the bigger budget gives the film a larger sense of scope as well as pleasing imagery in some scenes, and Bradley, Farrell and Marshall are quite enjoyable. While you watch Hell on Earth, forget that Hellraiser and Hell Bound were full of vivid ideas ripe for exploration, because that’s certainly what this film does. I managed to find a few things to like about it, for one viewing, at least. If the series gets worse than this, however, there are some things that I don’t have to see and don’t have to know.

Portrait of a madman: My Best Fiend (Werner Herzog, 1999)

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“In the urine of a donkey in heat/in snakes’ poison, old hags’ spittle/in dog shit and foul bathwater/in wolf’s milk, gall of oxen and flooded latrines/in this juice thou shalt stew the slanderers.”

So goes a reading by actor Klaus Kinski, from poetry by François Villon, as excerpted in Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend. It’s not hard to picture Herzog as the target, especially since he plays the monologue over a shot of his own face; this documentary about the relationship between the two men shows Kinski to have been capable of incredible wrath, frequently directed at Herzog. Dead since 1991, Kinski’s perspective on Herzog, with whom he made five films, is either absent or downplayed by Herzog himself. His monologue about slanderers, however, was no doubt one that Herzog carefully selected, if only as a bizarre bit of humour.

My Best Fiend is not remotely impartial, but it makes no object of being more than personal. We are not told the story of Kinski’s life, or shown an overview of his career. Rather, we largely get Herzog’s opinions of Kinski, with insights from a few others, and are left to take the film as it is. This view may be limited, but it is a vivid one. Herzog illustrates his points with new footage of his visits to locations of his earlier films, a few interviews and photos, and also clips of Kinski from various sources, including Burden of Dreams, about the tumultuous making of Fitzcarraldo. He shows some of Kinski’s best moments, and some of his worst.

Murder is a frequent topic when it comes to Kinski. While filming Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he used a sword to strike an actor on the head; the man was only saved from death by the helmet he wore, and still bears a scar. At another time, Kinski fired a gun into a tent full of people. In response to Kinski’s threat to walk away from Fitzcarraldo mid-filming, Herzog claimed he would shoot the actor and then himself. The Indians working on the film were so disturbed by Kinski that they offered to kill him as a favour.

It should not be particularly surprising that Kinski was also capable of being kind and gentle. Herzog includes a few filmed moments and anecdotes that show this. He claims that Kinski’s autobiography exaggerated the animosity between the two of them, that the two of them concocted some of the insults together, even, and that they were indeed friends. The viewer must, perhaps, be dubious about Herzog’s honesty at every turn. Most interestingly, he talks about any warm feelings he has for Kinski as though he wishes they didn’t exist.

My Best Fiend provokes questions about cinema and art. Why was Herzog so drawn to Kinski? The actor and his offscreen behaviour is inextricable from any consideration of their films, but did he make them better? Most people who like them would say, emphatically, yes. Indeed, the excerpts of Mick Jagger’s scenes from Fitzcarraldo, later refilmed with Kinski replacing Jagger and Jason Robards, are rather terrifying. But is the genuine suffering caused by Kinski, and by Herzog’s willingness to work with him, justified? We benefit from Kinski’s performances, appreciating his madness from a safe distance – but are probably fortunate if we’ve never met him.

And what about the Roman Polanski question? How far an artist can be extricated from their work? More recently, this has become still more relevant to Kinski. His daughter Pola has alleged that he raped her as a young child. There’s no mention of this in My Best Fiend –before interviewing Eva Mattes, Herzog that she’s one of the few women who had something positive to say about Kinski, and leaves it at that– but what we learn about Kinski here, even what we see incontrovertibly captured on camera, is enough to forever influence how the viewer sees him.

My Best Fiend is far too focused on Werner Herzog to be a complete character study of Klaus Kinski. It reveals near as much about its director, perhaps, as it does about its subject. Despite its inward tendency, however, it raises complex questions, even as it makes for an entertaining documentary. As a companion piece to the five Herzog/Kinski films, it is unmissable.

Franchise film holds its own: The Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty, 1990)

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It’s hard to believe that there could be a worthy followup to a film such as The Exorcist. Indeed, the first sequel is famously atrocious. The Exorcist III, while not able to stand alongside its predecessor, can still hold up its head as a thoughtful and well made film. A good deal of credit for this must go to director William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist and also Legion, of which The Exorcist III is an adaptation. This film manages to feel like it has a certain pride in itself that makes it more than a cash grab. More surprisingly, it has a confident and distinctive style that’s inseparable from the story – not bad for someone who only ever directed one other film, an adaptation of his own The Ninth Configuration, a decade earlier.

Lieutenant Kinderman and Father Dyer return in this film, played this time by George C. Scott and Ed Flanders, respectively. They’re not quite the same as they were in The Exorcist; we have to imagine that Kinderman and Father Karras were closer friends than they appeared to be, close enough that Kinderman commemorates each anniversary of the fatal plunge that Karras took down that flight of stairs. We can presume that Dyer took up Kinderman’s offer to go see a movie in The Exorcist’s final minutes, because he joins the policeman on these grim anniversaries. He also takes the opportunity to try to assuage Kinderman’s lack of faith. However, Kinderman has seen too many horrors to be convinced that God exists, especially now that a string of murders are being committed in the exact method of The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) – who was executed fifteen years ago.

This summary only hints at how closely this film ties into The Exorcist. The way in which this happens is one of the film’s best shocks, so I won’t spoil it. Another of them is how and when The Gemini Killer makes his appearance. The first hour of the film circles around these matters, at a mannered pace, creating a heavy atmosphere as it does so.

The Exorcist III has a smaller scope than the original, but small things (dead birds, dripping taps, gusts of wind) can unnerve. This film is full of horrific images and ideas, but approaches them with patience. They accumulate steadily, giving a sense that the world is full of ever-present evils. Many sequences are restrained, in which the lighting, often involving unnatural colours, shifts as though to indicate the movements of unseen forces. Near-inaudible rumblings and repetitive sounds do the same. There’s moments of gore and a few sudden shocks (this one has a well-deserved reputation), but they’re earned.

Some themes recur from The Exorcist. Setting much of the story in a hospital enables Blatty to continue to explore the indignities of old age and illness. More than that, he includes a dream sequence that envisions the immediate afterlife as a cross between a train station and a hospital, with ineffectual angels as the nurses. There’s a blackly humorous streak throughout, which was also present in Friedkin’s film but was easy to overlook. Still, Catholicism is taken as seriously as ever; to do otherwise would be to compromise the story’s gravity. The Exorcist III is all about the ugliness of human existence, which contributes to an argument concerning the nature of God that Blatty also explored in The Ninth Configuration. (Or so I’ve gleaned from reading reviews of that film; it’s a little hard to get ahold of.)

In a filmography filled with degenerates, crazies and murderers, The Gemini Killer still manages to stand out as one of Brad Dourif’s most intense roles. The character should not be particularly interesting; he’s confined by a straitjacket and chained to a wall, delivers dialogue that frequently involves exposition, and largely appears in just two scenes. However, the film anticipates his arrival so well that encountering him is something to dread, and Dourif handles his restrictions masterfully. The Killer is unpredictable, going from vicious to amused as a schizophrenic madman does. (At one point, while explaining something to Kinderman, he glances away and asks, “Is this true?” The novel was called Legion, after all.) He gets several long takes in which the camera shows a POV shot so that we, along with Kinderman, feel like we’re within reach of the Killer’s wayward spittle. Every motion the character makes is significant, especially when he gets to his feet and moves closer to the camera.

The most interesting thing about the performance is the way that Dourif controls his voice. When describing what the Gemini Killer did to a particular victim, he edges his pitch higher and higher, making his near cartoonish tones a mockery of the victim’s pain and intensifying the agony that Kinderman feels in listening to this. Then he drops his voice back down again, because there’s no real rhythm or sense to this character.

Less well-cast is George C. Scott. Yes, he was in a great horror film, The Changeling, a decade earlier. He also does bear some resemblance to Lee J. Cobb. At a hard-worn 63, however, he looks beyond weary. Perhaps the character is supposed to seem ill, but it is a constant distraction. Fortunately, his performance still works, even if he’s not the ideal actor for the role.

Expecting The Exorcist III to be in the same league as The Exorcist is an impossibility; that’s something few films in this genre can hope to be. Nonetheless, it’s more than a throwaway sequel. It’s an emotionally satisfying (if upsetting) continuation of this story, made with what seems to be sincere dedication by Blatty. Dourif’s performance is memorably insane, even for him. There’s a number of standout moments delivered in a restrained yet vivid style, and a well-constructed mood in the service of thoughtful ideas. It’s impossible to separate The Exorcist III from the first film in this series, but comparing them too closely would only lead to overlooking what this film has to offer.

Inessential Ghibli: Ocean Waves [Umi ga Kikoeru] (Tomomi Mochizuki, 1993)

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Ocean Waves is a little known Studio Ghibli film, made for television, that has no particular flaws but also few strengths. It’s a slice-of-life drama set in Kōchi, a city on the coast of Shikoku. The protagonist is Taku (Nobuo Tobita), a schoolboy who finds himself in a love triangle involving Matsuno (Toshihiko Seki), his best friend, and Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto), a transfer student from Tokyo who causes a stir at their school with her bad manners.

If Ocean Waves were not an animation with a certain amount of Ghibli style and charm, it would seem still more insignificant. It’s low key in a way that will only make much of an impact on viewers who feel a personal connection to the situations the characters experience. It’s pleasant enough to watch, but the Shikoku setting (the biggest draw for me) isn’t used to its best advantage and the whole film is markedly unambitious. One for Ghibli completeists only, perhaps.

Taking a Shot: Bride of Chucky (Ronny Wu, 1999)

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There’s some interesting things going on in this shot. Plotwise, Tiffany is learning that Charles Lee Ray, AKA Chucky, never intended to marry her before he was killed, as she believed. Motivated by love, she’s spent ten years searching for the doll housing Ray’s soul, only to hear him laugh at her.

One of the best things about Bride of Chucky is that the relationship between Chucky and Tiffany has a great dynamic, and that Jennifer Tilly and Brad Dourif (with his voice, at least), play off each other so well. They take the characters seriously, exaggerated as they are, and the movie is all the better for it.

Ronny Wu emphasises Tiffany’s emotions here by using a diopter lens, so that Tiffany and Chucky are both in focus at once. I don’t always like this type of shot, but the image’s unreal quality suits the heightened nature of the movie, and what Tiffany’s feeling.

Wu’s strong sense of style elevates Don Mancini’s script. Perhaps inspired by Wu, Mancini used a range of visual techniques, including similar diopter lens shots, in his next two Chucky films, which were both self-directed. Seed of Chucky and Curse of Chucky had weaker stories than Bride, which was more of a problem than how they were filmed.

By some slip up, this camera was not fitted with a filter that Tilly jokes is the due of “a star of [her] stature.” As such, we can see the textures of Tilly’s skin, which, apparently, we would otherwise have been spared. These kinds of filters have been used thoughout the history of cinema and aren’t inherently bad, but it’s always worth questioning why conventional female beauty must be so unattainable for any woman, star or not.

Impermanant, recursive: Ashes of Time Redux [Dung che sai suk] (Wong Kar Wai, 2008)

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The story behind Ashes of Time and its Redux release in 2008, 14 years after it was originally made, is a little complicated. Suffice to say that you don’t need to know it, or be aware of how the film compares to the rest of Wong Kar Wai’s oeuvre, to appreciate Ashes of Time Redux in and of itself. This film ostensibly centres upon Ou-yang Feng (Leslie Cheung), a man who acts as an intermediary between swordsmen and their clients, but the story onscreen requires patience to understand – something that definitely is worth trying to do.

Ashes of Time Redux is structured around the Chinese Almanac, divided up into seasons. This ties it into the natural world, the passage of time, and the inevitability of fate. The film was shot in an isolated desert area, which gives it a constant sense of liminality, its characters on the edge of existence, surrounded by inhospitable and indifferent landscapes. The seasons move in patterns that are unaffected by human passions and hopes.

The characters’ lives are at once impermanent and timeless. The past recurs with a power that diminishes the present; a man narrates his own death; we see a woman’s story long after she has died; and we are told in a brief caption, without emotion or context, that in years to come two of the people we have been watching will fight a fatal duel.

Although this is a wuxia film, the first fight scene occurs so late that it’s easy to forget the genre. As it happens, the scene is more psychological than physical, bound up in natural elements as well as one character’s divided soul. It’s an improbably beautiful moment and each subsequent fight scene, while not as powerful, is deeply concerned with emotion as well as action. Water, light, and earth all feel vital to these scenes. The characters are inseparable from their world.

Ashes of Time Redux is an intangible, restless film. Its beauty lingers but the hearts of its characters prove to be elusive as windborne sand. It’s one of Wong Kar Wai’s most little known works – but I’ve found that it’s not a bad one with which to start.

A complex take on a complex war: Ride with the Devil (Ang Lee, 1999)

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A sweeping tale of conflicted allegiances and ambiguous moralities, Ride with the Devil does justice to the complexity of the American Civil War as fought on the Missouri/Kansas border. Its large cast is lead by Tobey Maguire as Jake Roedel, the son of a German immigrant, who sides with the political views of his loyalist best friend Jack Chiles (Skeet Ulrich). Joining up with Bushwhackers commanded by Black John (Jim Caviezel), they strike back at the Union and the Union-sympathetic Jayhawkers alike. Jake will eventually find himself following the infamous William Quantrill into a massacre that leaves dead more than 200 male inhabitants of Lawrence, Kansas. However, Jake has little stomach for the warfare practiced by Quantrill and the crazed Pitt Mackseon (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). He gradually loses his belief in the South as he meets Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel), a soldier’s widow, and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), a former slave attached to George Clyde (Simon Baker), Bushwhacker and son of Holt’s former owner.

It’s little surprise that Ride with the Devil was not a financial success – it asks the viewer to conider the perspective of the war’s losing side, but it’s persistent in showing their racism and brutality. Of course, this is not at all a bad thing. This film respects the viewer’s intelligence, letting them draw their own conclusions about why each of these people fought their neighbours as well as the Union. It also offers up detailed characterisation, elegant period dialogue, lingering landscape shots, and impressive action scenes that often involve hundreds of men on horseback. For all of these reasons, the film doesn’t deserve the relative obscurity into which it has sunk.

Ride with the Devil was clearly cast in the hopes (for naught) that its lead actors would draw audiences. Some of them are much less appealing in hindsight, but though I certainly wish the cast were different, even these late 90s heartthrobs don’t bring down the movie. The younger actors aren’t bad, but they don’t bring much to their roles. They’re missing something. Maguire probably looks the part – Jake is young, impressionable and not physically imposing – but he has little presence.  Meyers tries for pretty/crazy, but doesn’t have the off-kilter quality the character needs, and Ulrich is just uninteresting. As for Jewel… Well, why not? Even Ricky Nelson couldn’t ruin Rio Bravo, after all, and she doesn’t stop the movie for a song. With her imperfect teeth and round face, she doesn’t look quite like a typical starlet, either. There’s nothing at all objectionable about her performance, and I’m disappointed that she’s done little acting since.

Maybe I’ve been too hard on these younger actors – my preconceptions make me averse to all of them, particularly Maguire and Baker. However, it’s plain to see that there are better actors in this film. Zach Gremier and Mark Ruffalo convey a good deal with their little screentime. Caviezel shows the way John’s mindset shifts as the war progresses. Jeffrey Wright, meanwhile, runs away with the film. Even in his early scenes, where he doesn’t talk much, he manages to keep the viewer wondering who Holt is and what his motivations are. Watching his character unfold, and make his choices, is the most moving aspect of this story.

Ride with the Devil would be better with a less of-the-moment cast. However, neither its lead actors, nor audiences’ disinterest upon the film’s initial release, are indicators of how rewarding it is as a nuanced presentation of history.

Revisiting, reconsidering: Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999)

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Revisiting Sleepy Hollow was something that I wouldn’t have done if not for my recent interest in Christopher Walken, even though I loved it back in 1999. (It was only the third movie I ever went to see at the cinemas twice, after Cool Runnings and Galaxy Quest.) The fact is, when watching Sleepy Hollow nowadays, it has three black marks against it before it even begins.

1. Tim Burton’s films of the past 13 or so years have retroactively poisoned all his earlier work. I now find it hard not to roll my eyes at the Burtonesque style. And he’s already repeating himself by Sleepy Hollow: I look at Christina’s final dress, the covered bridge, the iron maiden, and the floating pollen in the dream sequence and have to wonder how many ideas Burton had in his head to begin with. Or perhaps he has a Yayoi Kusama type of illness, only instead of seeing spots everywhere, he just sees crooked trees and black and white stripes.

2. I’m a little hesitant to say anything negative about Johnny Depp because people are more likely to think he‘s above criticism, but his own recent film choices have quashed any liking I have for him, too. Between The Tourist, The Lone Ranger, the endless Pirates movies, and his continued willingness to go along with anything Burton does, no matter how devoid of creativity, I don’t want to see the guy in anything anymore. I was a fan of his performance in Sleepy Hollow back in the day, and it does suit the film and is probably well considered, but it’s so similar to his other Burton roles that it’s hard to enjoy.

3. Many recent movies and TV shows, few of them good, seem to have drawn on Sleepy Hollow’s style. The only progression is that they’re more violent and have a blue filter slapped on them. By this point in time, Sleepy Hollow’s gothic trappings, inaccurate period costumes, choreographed fight sequences, and transposition of modern criminology into a historical setting come and go at the Cineplex and on the telly with some regularity.

Despite all that, however, Sleepy Hollow does have enough points in its favour that, yes, it is still worth a look. The biggest difference between this film and its recent clones, and Burton’s successive films, is that it has a strong script. The central mystery leads to plenty of scenes that dance around it in a way that’s so fun that the mystery itself doesn’t matter – and yet the over the top reveal at the end is enjoyable too. The romance between Katarina and Ichabod doesn’t work at all (I didn’t like it even as an uncritical teenager), but otherwise the film nicely balances big scares and smaller moments.

Sleepy Hollow’s cast is a real delight. Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Ian McDiarmid, Jeffrey Jones, and Richard Griffiths all in the same movie? Are you kidding me? They’re all in on the joke and play their roles to the hilt.

Most importantly, Sleepy Hollow‘s sense of humour is baked-in, rather than the artificial attempts to please audiences that we get in more recent films of the same ilk. Burton was strongly influenced by Hammer Horror and silent films, and manages to both aim for scares and poke fun at himself. I don’t find the film funny myself, but nonetheless, it does feel authentically humorous.

And oh yeah, there’s Christopher Walken. I genuinely smiled when I remembered he was in this, because he’s the perfect actor for the role. If you’re Tim Burton and you want someone to play a character who only has a head for a couple minutes of screen time, who has no dialogue other than “Hyaaaaa!” and “Raaaarrrrr!” and who you need to be so scary in his first apearance that the audience dreads seeing him again… You want someone who doesn’t even need proshetics to look inhuman. You want Walken. That he’s worked with Burton before and actually looked quite a bit like Johnny Depp when he was younger is just gravy.

A surprisingly effective remake: Nightwatch (Ole Bornedal, 1997)

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Nightwatch is an adaptation of a Danish film, Nattevagten, that managed to hang onto its original director, Ole Bornedal. With a screenplay by Bornedal and Steven Soderbergh, it keeps a European-feeling sensibility towards sex and death. It stars Ewan McGregor as Martin Bells, a weak-willed law student who gets a job as a nightwatchman in a hospital. Checking in at the morgue every hour would be chilling enough even if it didn’t hold the victims of the local serial killer, or without the rumours that a former nightwatchmen was a necrophiliac. That’s not all that’s troubling Martin. His best friend James (Josh Brolin) is a thrillseeker who’s getting ever more reckless and cruel. Inspector Thomas Cray (Nick Nolte), a weary cop, is a little too interested in Martin, while the Duty Doctor (Brad Dourif) takes an instant dislike to him. And Martin’s girlfriend Katherine (Patricia Arquette) doesn’t seem to trust him anymore.

Nightwatch’s mystery may be a little predictable if you’re trying to stay a few steps ahead. However, the story involves so many pieces regarding which character knows what and how they’ll react to what they know that it’s still suspenseful. It doesn’t even matter that an explicit sex scene that put Martin’s semen in an incriminating place was cut from the movie to get it a lower rating. There’s enough going on that the story still fits together, wihout seeming too neat.

The movie lays on a disturbing atmosphere from a start. Martin’s trepidation towards the hospital will be familiar to anyone who’s worked in a place a fraction as creepy, and the camera shows his fear through its positioning and movements. The story escalates to an unexpectedly violent climax that, effectively, relies upon surprising but appropriate character development.

Nightwatch has an interesting collection of actors. McGregor brings a familiar youthful vulnerability to Martin (though his accent is rather shonky), and has strong chemistry with Arquette, who makes Katherine a believable person. Nolte is stonily grave as Cray, and Brolin makes James thoroughly unlikeable. Alix Koromzay gives a tragic turn as unlucky hooker Joyce. And Dourif tries his damnedest to steal every scene he’s in (of which there aren’t nearly enough), even when he’s not in focus.

Nightwatch is the kind of edgy thriller that seems to get more critical praise when they’re made in a language other than English. As it stands, though, it’s a strongly put together movie that’s hard to shake off. Maybe the original’s better, but that doesn’t mean this one’s not worth a look.