Written by Jan Egil Bjune
City of Lost Children – la cité des enfants perdus (1995)
I’m a great fan of everything Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and Marc Caro.) I could just as well have mentioned Delicatessen or Amélie. This movie, however, makes it to the top of my list because of the mood, the colors, the casting, the costumes and the music. It feels like an homage to the science fiction films of the 1950s. The story involves a mad scientist who is kidnapping children to steal their dreams. Set in an almost surreal world with cyborg-like creatures, clones, midgets, Siamese twins and other strange characters, City of Lost Children weaves a tale that will leave you breathless.
The Experiment – Das Experiment (2001)
This German movie is based on the infamous “Stanford Prison Experiment” conducted in 1971. On a psychological level, the film shows how easy it is for people to follow orders (and to start treating others like untermensch.) It begins with the scientist splitting a group of people in two camps. Half is going to play prisoners, the other half their guards. They are not allowed to use physical force, but will the players stick to their instructions? Tension is high and it reveals a lot about human coping mechanisms. At the same time it points a finger at earlier political situations – pre-WWII Germany being only just one of them.
The Blood of Heroes – Salute of the Juggers (1989)
I’m a fan of Rutger Hauer, he may have played mainly in B-movies (Blade Runner and The Hitcher might be the exceptions,) but he always gives a great performance. In this post-apocalyptic movie he plays a disgraced former star of a game called “Juggers.” The game consists of a group of players trying to place the cranium of a dog on a sharp stick while surviving the opposite teams effort to do the same. It is the type of super-violent filmmaking that abounded in the 1980’s but unlike most of those kinds of films from that era, it tells a clear story – not just a violent one. One word to the wise; it was released in two different versions. There is an R-rated US version (The Blood of Heroes) and a European version (Salute of the Juggers – with 12 extra minutes and a different ending.) The European version is by far the better version.
Battle Royale – Batoru rowaiaru (2000)
This is the original Hunger Games. A Japanese movie from 2000, it tells a story set not too far into the future. A future where society is so afraid of the possibly-destructive forces of its juvenile population that it has created a safety valve; behave or you’ll be put on the government’s short list. If you’re unlucky you’ll get a lottery ticket where you’ll have to fight against your classmates until only one is left standing. It is a game to the death, broadcast to all in the country, as much of a warning as entertainment. While it is extremely violent, it unveils serious issues in society (Media and Government are just two, like Das Experiment and Hunger Games it also tells how easily most people will revert to barbarism and baser instincts to survive.)
The mood in this horror film is both spooky and atmospheric. It is one of the few modern horror flicks that actually holds its own when compared to the greats of the 1970’s (The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, et cetera.) Carried on by a great story, excellent acting by Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle, and a musical score that really fits the mood, an incredible yarn is spun here. The main character is a former Captain named John Boyd, and how he gets a backhanded promotion to a fort in the middle of nowhere. It goes from that to combining the native American legend of the Windigo with the Donner tragedy and cannibalism to form an enticing horror film.
With music by Queen, a Scot (Sean Connery) portraying a (Spanish) Egyptian and a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert) portraying a Scot – what could go wrong? Actually I love this fantasy flick from the 1980’s, in which the Immortals battle – because there can only be One! I love the cheesy setting and the great music score (and the director’s panning techniques when scenes change.) It may be a 1980’s film, with all the trappings of that decade, but I still watch it now and again.
Pan’s Labyrinth – el laberinto del fauno (2006)
Directed by the great Guillermo del Toro, the stage is set in war-torn Spain in 1944. It is part war-movie, part fairy-tale about a young girl’s escape into an eerie fantasy world. In the dream-like labyrinth she is met by a faun who tells her true father (her step-father being a cruel, sadistic captain of the Spanish army) is a king and that by surviving three gruesome tasks she will prove her royalty and her father will be freed. The parallel and interweaving stories, along with gruesomeness of the monsters (both in the real world and the fantasy,) makes this a very compelling story.