Steven S. Crompton 7 of the Best

Steven S. Crompton’s 7 of the Best

Written by Steven S. Crompton

Much territory has been covered by other contributors to the 7 of the Best series, so I thought what I might do is try to pick seven lesser-known films that were a great influence on me in some way. Some of these films you will have heard of, others probably not. Perhaps this shall be a delightful way for you to discover a film you might not have even looked for prior to reading this article at the TSR Games blog. Besides, I did the Grimtooth’s Traps books and the art for the Nuclear War Card game, so chances are my film selections are going to seem a bit odd.

I’m not saying that these films are better than STAR WARS or AVENGERS et cetera…and yet these films stand out from the pack. Each one has something really special to offer – either a weird/cool concept, cinematography or characters that you just can’t forget.

SPIRITED AWAY
This is the film that really cemented my love for Japanese Anime. I enjoyed various anime films but this one is so unusual that it really left an impression on me and I never forgot it.

It’s a weird mix of Alice in Wonderland and BEETLEJUICE in some respects, and most of the characters are very unforgettable. The animation is both wonderful and moody. There are also some fabulous settings and you never know what is going to happen next while you are watching it. If you enjoy anime and you haven’t seen this film yet, it’s definitely worth a look.

LEGEND
Ridley Scott’s flawed fantasy masterpiece.  He makes a lot of those, doesn’t he?  The sets and cinematography in this film are amazing. There was nothing to even approach the look and feel of this fantasy film until the LORD OF THE RINGS films twenty years later.

The story is fairly simplistic, but just seeing Tim Curry in that amazing demon costume is worth watching the film.  Mia Sara and a young Tom Cruise are the stars. LEGEND really captures the feel of being in a mystical realm like no other film ever has. If you haven’t seen this film yet, you should.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
This movie was a big influence on the development of my Grimtooth’s Traps series.  The SAW films might not exist if this film hadn’t come along first.

It’s about an insane doctor/mage (Vincent Price) who is horribly scarred.  He exacts revenge upon ten doctors who he blames for his wife’s death. He uses the theme of the ten plagues of Egypt (locusts, frogs, fire and such) to kill each one of them. The strange way people are murdered (with elaborate machinery and traps akin to something Rube Goldberg would have dreamed up) is done so stylishly, with such a bizarre sense of humor and horror, that you cannot forget it once you’ve seen it.  They even made a sequel film; a rarity in 1971.

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
Some of you may ask, “What is a western doing on this list?”  But this western is actually about a ghost who comes back to take revenge on the town that wronged him. At least that’s how many people interpret it.

Made in 1973, this is the second film Clint Eastwood directed and starred in. It’s sort of the final film where he plays the “man with no name” except this time he’s dead. It’s violent, crazy and vengeful with a touch of the supernatural.  It’s a strange film and I love its ambiguity – has he come to save the town, or destroy it?

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
This was the forerunner of films such as 300 and SIN CITY.  It’s done almost entirely with a digital background using real actors.  But that’s not why I like the film.  It’s very much a 1930’s Pulp adventure with all the dials turned up to MAX.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Angelina Jolie are its stars. It’s very campy and tongue-in-cheek (and has the best closing line of any movie I can recall.) If you liked RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK but wished that it was weirder, then this film is for you!

THE SHADOW
This is another pulp 1930s genre film – this one starring Alex Baldwin as the Shadow, a mysterious anti-hero with a dark past and mystical powers.  They do a great job with the sets and costumes and the young Alec Baldwin makes a great Shadow.

The film is strange and off-kilter, which adds to the mysterious feel of the sets and storyline. Someone from the Shadow’s past follows him to New York and plans to release the Shadow’s inner demons in a bid to take over the world (or at least part of it.) It’s a weird mix of pulp noir, comedy and comic-book adventure all in one film.  This is a must-see for anyone who likes 1930’s noir-fantasy.

LAST ACTION HERO
I saw this film when it first came out in 1994 and loved it, but it got buried and forgotten as it came out the same weekend as the first JURASSIC PARK (ouch!)  This is one of the first films I saw that was “meta.” In other words, one of the main characters was aware that he was in a movie.

It revolves around a boy who is a big fan of a super-cop in the movies (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.)  The boy ends up (due to a magic ticket) IN the movie and has to help Arnold solve a crime, which then bleeds over into the real world. The villain gets the ticket to go back to the real world, of course.  Every buddy-cop cliché is played with here, except in this case the kid knows that they are movie tropes.  He tries to make them work in both his and Arnold’s favor. This is a really clever, fun film that plays with the difference between movies and reality.

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OK that’s my list – Have you seen all of these or any of them?  Is my list crazy or do you like a few of these? What are your seven favorite overlooked movies? Tell us below…

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Bio: Steven S. Crompton has worked in the role-playing and comic genres since 1981.  He is best known as the artist for the Grimtooth Traps books, Nuclear War card games, along with Tunnels & Trolls.  He is the current art director for Flying Buffalo Inc.