PAUL LAIGHT PRESENTS ELEVEN UNDER-RATED CLASSICS

by Paul Laight
There are so many movies that don’t get the praise they deserve. Perhaps it’s because they are of a lower budget? Perhaps they’re considered more B-movie rather that A-status? Perhaps they’ve just fallen through the cracks in the over-populatedcinema market and been condemned to late night TV slots. So, for your entertainment and because I was bored at my soul-crushing office job I’ve compiled a list of a few such “forgotten”, under-rated and bona fide cult classics from the last 30 years.

None of these cinematic classics – and I’ve checked – have won Oscars and BAFTAS or appear on the AFI Top 100, IMDB Top 250 or the BFI 100 Great British films and none have appeared on the highest grossing movies of all time list. So, if you catch them showing after midnight during the magic-box-graveyard-shift, do check them out – you won’t be disappointed.

11.) BAD SANTA (2003)

Maybe because I hate Christmas Bad Santa never fails to cheer me up. It’s dark, crude and offbeat and has some of the most hilarious dialogue ever put to celluloid. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox and Bernie Mac and irreverently subverts the notion of Santa Claus as a bringer of joy; transforming him into an alcoholic, sex-addicted, foul-mouthed, safe-cracking waster. Willie (Thornton) is a worthless no-hoper who has lost touch with humanity, has no self esteem and is drinking himself to death yet somehow the filmmaker’s manage to redeem him by the end.

Billy Bob Thornton is an amazing actor who can make you care about even the scummiest loser and his double-act with the foul-mouth dwarf who hates him, Marcus (Tony Cox), is a joy. I think this movie is a genuine classic but perhaps the profanity and crudeness stop it from being taken seriously. Amidst the mayhem there are genuine messages about the importance of the family unit, nature of absent fathers and a critique of commercialism and greed which raises it way above your average gross out comedy. Best Christmas film ever in my opinion.

 

10.) DOG SOLDIERS (2002)

This is a cracking movie shot on a shoestring budget – in Luxembourg of all places – which shows you don’t need fancy CGI to provide movie thrills, spills and bloody kills. The story finds a group of soldiers up against a pack of hungry werewolves in the Scottish Highlands. With cinematic nods to Zulu (1964) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) it really packs a punch with both humour and gore as the soldiers become pinned down by bloodthirsty lycanthropes in a remote woodland cottage.

As he proved with The Descent (2006), Neil Marshall is an inventive director who is able to get the best out of a low budget and a relatively unknown ensemble troupe. Sean Pertwee as tough-as-nails Sarge “I’m in the khazi” Harry G. Wells, Kevin Mckidd (Cooper) and Liam Cunningham (Ryan) are uniformly excellent and the story is expertly paced and edited by Marshall himself. Where he doesn’t have CGI, Marshall uses good old-fashioned cutaways, sound effects, low angles and actors-in-suits to generate a series of convincing action scenes. When you see some of the garbage produced by Hollywood year-after-year you wonder why they don’t cap their budgets more and allow creativity through necessity; after all it is the mother of all invention.

 

9.) BRAINDEAD (1992)

I think this is Peter Jackson’s best film. For all the brilliance and spectacle of his LOTR trilogy and the haunting quality of Heavenly Creatures (1994), Braindead is an incredibly inventive and textured film as well as being one of the funniest and goriest EVER! It’s intrinsically a heart-rending story of a son’s love for his overbearing mother and the extremes Lionel (Timothy Balme) will go to protect her. The film dissects how such ‘Mother Love’ can take a hold and prevent personal growth and romantic fulfilment. Oh yeah, it’s also got an evil Sumatran rat monkey, a dog-eating monster of a mother, a kung-fu fighting vicar “who kicks ass for the lord”, a sexed-up pair of zombies who create a freak-zombie-child and a lawnmower-wielding-hero who shreds and slices and skins the undead at the same time as falling in love and unearthing the truth behind his father’s death.

Paquita: Your mother ate my dog!

Lionel Cosgrove: Not all of it.

Carlsberg don’t do the bloody-comedy-horror-gore-fests. . . But if they did.

8.) CHOPPER (2000)

I don’t like using the word “masterpiece” but I think it definitely applies to Andrew Dominik’s western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Dominik is a filmmaker of immense talent and this none more evident than in his debut feature film, Chopper. Containing a career-defining performance from Eric “hasn’t-been-in-anything-as-good-since” Bana as Mark ‘Chopper’ Read; it’s a brilliant, low budget epic concerning one of Australia’s most renowned criminals-turned-infamous-best-selling-author.

Kubrickian in structure the film starts with Read’s early life behind bars before Bana goes on a “La Motta” style physical transformation as the narrative moves to his time out of jail. How on earth this unhinged paranoiac actually got released is beyond me but his character is shown as a charismatic animal, funny, yet terrifying at the same time; capable of horrendous acts of violence and complete remorse within a split-second. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie-style banter between Chopper and the various low-life’s he encounters throughout; and some crunching violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. Like Jesse James, Dominik holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law.

7.) THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994)

Interesting fact about this film is its star, Linda Fiorentino, was denied an Oscar nomination because the film had already appeared on HBO. However, it’s not difficult to see why the film was picked up for cinematic distribution after it’s’ cable TV showing because it is that good. With dialogue so hard it can cut through diamonds the story – echoing Psycho (1960) – finds a female protagonist stealing cash and heading in country to escape her pursuers. But, Bridget Gregory/Wendy Kroy (Fiorentino) is no Marion Crane-like-victim-of-circumstances; she’s a ball-crusher of the highest order as she cons, connives, and strives to destroy the men who get in her way.

Fiorentino is incredibly sexy as a 90s femme fatale but also very smart as she devises a devilish plot to outwit her husband (Bill Pullman), using dumb country buck Mike (Peter Berg) in the process. At no stage do we like anti-heroine, Bridget, but we admire her intelligence and cobra tongue which spits out verbal poison that renders victims’ helpless. As fatal females go Bridget is up there with Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson for sheer evil and it’s a shame Linda Fiorentino could not gain a bigger star in Hollywood as she’s an actress of who combines both silk and steel to ballsy effect.

 

6.) THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (1995)

Produced by and starring Sharon Stone, who was at the height of her Hollywood powers following the success of sexpot-boiler Basic Instinct (1992), The Quick and the Dead is a Leone-style-pulsating-revenge-Western. The film has a B-movie plot but an A-list cast which includes: a very young Leonardo DiCaprio; pre-Gladiator Russell Crowe; plus a scenery-chomping performance from Gene Hackman as bad-ass ‘King’ Herod. Moreover, Stone also hired Sam Raimi who, until he got the Spiderman franchise paid his dues on a series of low-to-middle budget thrillers and comedy-horrors including: the Evil Dead Trilogy, Dark Man (1990) and A Simple Plan (1998); all of which could quite easily appear on this list.

I like the simplicity of this film, structured around a gun-slinging competition in a town called Redemption. It schematically establishes the various characters and provides them with easy-to-relate to motives before spinning the various stories together in a whirling dervish of stylised gunfights and imaginative deaths. There are some amazing Raimiesque flourishes including: canted frames, slow motion, extreme close-ups, smash-zooms and one jaw-dropping shot from the point-of-view of a bullet-hole through the back of a dead gunfighter’s brain. I personally, think that DiCaprio has never been better than in his role of ‘The Kid’ and Crowe shows the magnetic charm which saw him become a massive Hollywood star.

5.) DERNIER COMBAT/THE LAST BATTLE (1983)

Luc Besson’s debut film has, to my knowledge, never ever been on television but I would still urge you to track it down on DVD/Blu Ray/Download if you can find it. It’s a darkly comic vision of a post- apocalyptic future shot in black and white with absolutely NO dialogue. There’s not much plot to speak of centres as it centres on a series of mute characters and their attempts to survive in a futuristic wasteland. At the heart of the narrative is ‘The Man’ played by Pierre Jolivet and his rivalry with Besson regular Jean Reno, ‘The Brute’.

While I love Besson’s more colourful and pacy movies: Nikita (1990), Subway (1985) and Leon (1994) Le Dernier Combat moves slowly yet remains self-consciously cool and stylish like many of Besson’s movies. The nameless characters, sly humour, strange narrative events (raining fish for example) and noir photography combine to create a bleak and humorous, poetic piece of cinema which bleeds into one’s psyche rendering it an unforgettable experience.

 

4.) TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999)


I think this, Heathers (1986) and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1984) are the best ever high-school movies. It contains an incredibly well structured script and that’s not surprising given it’s based on a certain Mr Bill Shakespeare’s sort-of-quite-well-known play The Taming of the Shrew. Of course it features all the staple teen-movie genre types such as: the rebel, the geeks, the jocks, the stoners, the bitches, the over-protective parents, etcetera, etcetera; but it satirises such archetypes with affection throughout.

Above all else, this film is brilliantly cast including: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Julia Stiles and the sadly-missed Heath Ledger in his breakthrough Hollywood role. I like the energy of the film and the way the cast all seem to be enjoying themselves. The dialogue fizzes and there is real on-screen chemistry between Stiles and Ledger, in fact, all of the cast connect. There are no real antagonists as such either with the adults played lightly and for fun and there are some hilarious set-pieces. Above all, it’s funny, fast-paced and romantic and an excellent modern day version of a Shakespeare classic.

3.) TZAMATI/13 (2005)

 I really wanted to hate this film when it came out because I also had an idea for a low-budget movie about an underground Russian Roulette competition. And it was doubly annoying because it was really, really good. Then I thought I would wait a few years and start writing it when I’d forgotten about 13 but then the devilish director, Gela Babluani, has only gone and remade it in the USA with a cast consisting of such acting luminaries as: Michael Shannon, Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke, Sam Riley, Jason Statham and er. . . 50 cent.

This really is a fantastic brooding, minimalist; existential noir that’s so tense during the Russian Roulette sequences you should probably keep a brown paper bag handy to stem the anxiety. The film’s also an anathema to the star-led vehicles where you can guess what is going to happen to the characters based on their Hollywood status. I always like watching movies with complete unknowns because they render the story full of surprise and suspense. I haven’t seen the remake but its been shot in colour as opposed to the stark black and white of the original so I’d suggest catching the first one just in case the remake is ruined in much the same way of another “forgotten” classic was The Vanishing (1988).

 

2.)  MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

Before we had the recent sub-genre movie term “bromance” inserted into our lexicon, the term “buddy movie” used to suffice quite adequately. And thanks to the on-screen chemistry of Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, a smart George Gallo script and Martin Brest’s skilful direction Midnight Run is a fine example of the buddy movie. It concerns ulcerated bail-bondsmen, Jack Walsh (De Niro), who must take a fastidious accountant (Grodin) on a “midnight run” to ensure he testifies against a violent gang boss (Dennis Farina). Obviously, as is a buddy movie staple the two “opposite” characters argue, bicker and fight over the course of the story but eventually settle their differences and find a common bond.

The pace never lets up as the two “buddies” use every form of transport possible to get across country. I love road movies and this one marries crime and comedic elements together perfectly. It also contains some brilliant character actors such as: Yaphet Kotto, Joe Pantoliano, Farina and John Ashton who embellish the script with a world-weary toughness and humour throughout. Brest proved adept at mixing action and comedy in Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and he replicated that success with Midnight Run. If, like me, you’re a screenwriter get a copy of Gallo’s script – it’s a cracking read. But this movie ultimately belongs to De Niro and Grodin’s bromantic odd couple.

 

1.) DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004)

Every now and then you see an actor who is so frighteningly good you feel they deserve a standing ovation in a way the theatrical masters such as Gielgud or Olivier would’ve received playing Hamlet or the like. Because, in Shane Meadows’ revenge classic, Paddy Considine gives one of the most convincing acting performances I’ve ever seen. It’s acting of the highest calibre containing: hate, guilt, humanity, pathos, regret, pain, humour, self-loathing and physical violence. Considine plays a returning soldier out to avenge his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell), who has been brutalized by low-life Midland criminal-types. Considine’s Richard is a man paralysed by guilt and it’s his mission is to punish the men that harmed his brother. The film asks the question: can revenge absolve guilt? There is no easy answer.

 
 
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2 responses to “PAUL LAIGHT PRESENTS ELEVEN UNDER-RATED CLASSICS

  1. Good read – some thoughts. Bad Santa looks hillarious and a great concept. I have seen Dog Soldiers and agree that its creativity makes its low budget visuals gripping and scary. Visual effects need to ignite the imagination no matter what the cost and the film accomplishes that. Never seen Braindead because those type of over the top, gorey films don’t really appeal to me even if the film does sound hillarious. Last Seduction sounds really good as does Dernier Combat.
    Midnight Run is a very watachable film with real heart and well structured comedy – I wouldn’t call it a classic but it is very good. Still need to see Dead Men’s Shoes.
    Looks like I have some watching to do!

  2. Stumbling across this, I find that after reading I’m tempted to watch all of these movies that I haven’t seen yet. Thanks.

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