When screenwriter Dan O’Bannon sat down to write the science-fiction monster movie he’d been itching to create since working on John Carpenter’s Dark Star, it’s fair to assume he had little inkling just how successful his idea would be. Entitled Star Beast, O’Bannon wanted to ‘pay homage’ to the space monster movies of the 50s. In his own words, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” There’s certainly no denying that the basic premise of Star Beast was far from original. Even with several rewrites from other writers and a new title, Alien, it still seemed to be nothing that hadn’t been seen before.

However, sometimes it’s not the idea but the execution that makes all the difference, and after the introduction of a young, English director (Ridley Scott) and a slightly unhinged Swiss artist (H.R. Giger), Alien became far more than the sum of its parts. Scott was determined that Alien would be more than just a cheesy B-movie. He wanted something dark, moody, gritty and most of all, scary. Not so much Star-Wars-with-a-monster as The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-in-space.

Realising that a huge part of the movie’s success hung on the monster, Scott turned to Giger to bring his psycho-sexual nightmare imagery to life in the creation of what has since become the most iconic and inventive monster in cinema. Part human, part skeleton and part penis-with-teeth, Giger’s creature truly is the stuff of nightmares. From its mouth-rape impregnation to its chest-bursting birth and brain-eating maturity, this is about as far removed from the rubber-tentacled invaders of 50s hokum as possible.

Together, O’Bannon, Scott and Giger created something special. James Cameron later added his own brand of lunacy to proceedings, but continued success was not to be. The Alien franchise is the perfect example of how easily a great idea can be milked to exhaustion. It is also a great example of an idea coming full circle. What started as a low-budget, B-movie script was elevated beyond its apparent potential by a superb direction and inspired design. However, thirty years and six films later, the franchise ended up right back where it started. With talk recently turning to Scott’s return to the franchise with a possible prequel, Prometheus, Celluloid Zombie takes a look back at the Alien saga’s sliding scale, from excellent to dreadful.

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Alien

Ridley Scott – 1979

The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo land on a remote planet after receiving a distress call. They discover a derelict vessel on the surface and when one of the crew is attacked by an alien parasite, he brings aboard a nasty life form.

You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

The original and still the best. Ridley Scott could have made an all-out, rampaging monster mash, given the material, but instead gives us an atmospheric and terrifying horror movie. Almost a haunted-house-in-space flick, where the focus is on suspense as much as shock. Hyper-realistic performances, and much ad-libbing, from an accomplished cast give proceedings a believability which makes even the more outlandish events far more convincing. Alien also features some of the finest design work seen in any genre, with Scott’s decision to use completely different artists for the human environments and the alien environments paying rich dividends. The contrast is stark. Giger’s work on every aspect of the alien’s life cycle gives the title a rare veracity. Rarely has horror been quite so beautiful.

The Alien: Tall, vicious and utterly… well, alien. Despite all the CGI and model work that has been employed in subsequent interpretations of Giger’s creation, Scott’s man-in-a-suit still remains the most imposing, chilling and effective incarnation. The creature never quite seemed this menacing again.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Aliens

James Cameron – 1986

57 years after the events of Alien, Ripley is found drifting through space in hypersleep. She awakens to find that the planet where the alien was found has been colonised and returns with an army to determine why the colonists have stopped transmitting.

Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.”

Perhaps only James Cameron would have the chutzpah to attempt a sequel to one of the most successful horror movies of all time, seven years after it was released. His answer? Simple, don’t even try to make another horror movie. It’s an inspired decision. Although there are aspects of horror to Aliens, it is essentially an action flick. And a damn good one, too. This was the movie where the character of Ripley became as big a star as the monster, and Sigourney Weaver rises to the occasion admirably. But all-in-all the performances are a lot more comic-book this time around. In many ways, this is the rampaging monster mash the original never wanted to be. Rarely has a sequel had so much respect for its progenitor, developing its own magic rather than trying to recreate the original’s.

The Alien: Cameron employed effects guru Stan Winston to put his own spin on Giger’s alien, making them smaller and more insect-like than before. And while Aliens adds to the life cycle of the creature by introducing us to the thing that lays all those eggs, the mighty Queen, it suffers a little by diminishing the original creature. Because there are more of them this time they become somewhat more disposable, and in turn a little less frightening. However, Cameron does wonders with the facehuggers, and the battle between Ripley and the Queen at the end is very, very cool.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Alien 3

David Fincher – 1992

Ripley, now the sole survivor of the Sulaco, crash lands on the prison planet ‘Fury’ 161. Finding herself the only woman in a prison full of men, Ripley also finds that an alien has landed with her. However, this is a prison and there are no weapons with which to fight it.

“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

This is where it all started to go wrong for the franchise. A troubled production from the very beginning, the script and story went through way too many changes, even during shooting. That, coupled with budget restrictions and studio interference, left first-time director Fincher with an almighty mess on his hands. Alien 3 was an attempt to return to the single alien threat of the original, but it just doesn’t measure up. The script is awful, with too much pointless running around and very little for the characters to do. In the hands of a lesser director this could have been truly dire but Fincher injects enough mood into proceedings to rescue it. There’s no doubt that Alien 3 is the most depressing, bleak and uncompromising episode of the franchise and ultimately it is this which prevents it from falling into total mediocrity.

The Alien: The first time the creature emerges from something other than a person. Born of a dog, this alien runs around on all fours and only occasionally stands up. While it’s a novel idea, it doesn’t really work. Also, the early CGI used for the dog alien fits so badly with the guy-in-a-suit used for the standing poses that you have to keep reminding yourself that there aren’t two different aliens running around.


Rating - 3 Stars

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Alien: Resurrection

Jean-Pierre Jeunet – 1997

It has been 200 years since Ellen Ripley died, but scientists on a military space ship manage to clone her in an attempt to clone the alien Queen within her, too. While the scientists begin experimenting on the freshly born aliens, Ripley finds that she is not quite human anymore.

“There’s a monster in your chest. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours you’re gonna die. Any questions?”

French director Jeunet continued the franchise’s comfort with maverick directors, but even his unique style couldn’t save this next-step-down for the ailing franchise. Anyone who has some familiarity with Joss Whedon’s writing will search in vain for his trademark snappy dialogue as the rather weak, confused story creaks along. Ripley and a group of tough-by-numbers mercenaries try to escape the vessel after the aliens break free, but the threat is now predictable and tired. The only real saving grace is Weaver’s turn as the new, slightly psychotic Ripley, now with added alien DNA. The movie’s attempts to add new angles to the alien merely serve to reinforce that this is a franchise with nowhere left to go.

The Alien: Same old, same old for the most part. The aliens are rendered with improved CGI, we even get to see them swimming for the first time, and there’s another appearance from the Queen. But by now the novelty has worn thin and the grace and dark beauty of Giger’s original is all but lost. Worse, however, is to come with the introduction of Ripley’s half-human, half-alien baby… thing. It’s crap. And ridiculous. And looks like a really bad Muppet.

Rating - 2 Stars

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Alien vs. Predator

Paul W. S. Anderson – 2004

Present day earth, and a research team travel to Antartica to investigate an ancient structure buried in the ice. Once inside, they discover a bizarre temple containing alien eggs. When some of the team become hosts to the aliens, a group of Predators in orbit arrive for the party.

“When that door opens, we’re dead.”

So, just when you think it can’t get any worse, some studio exec has a bright idea. Why don’t we mix franchises? Huh? Huh? After all, the comic books have been doing it, why not the movies? Well, here’s why. Alien vs. Predator. It was a dumb idea way back when Universal decided to put Frankenstein and the Wolfman in the same picture and it’s a dumb idea now. Coming off like a cross between Tomb Raider and Alien: Resurrection, AvP (as it likes to be known) ends up being worse than both. Not even the great Lance Henriksen, reprising his role from Aliens (sort of), can save this movie from being far too occupied with cool to remember that we’re supposed to be scared. Or at least thrilled.

The Alien: Nothing surprising, imaginative or creative here. Aliens, a Queen, Facehuggers and some Predators (who are also aliens, so why isn’t this called Alien vs. Alien?) all make an appearance, but none retain a semblance of the dread they evoked in previous outings.

Rating - 1 Star

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Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Colin and Greg Strause – 2007

Following on from the events of Alien Vs Predator, the Predator’s ship crashes in the forests outside the small town of Gunnison, Colorado. A group of Facehuggers, and the newly born Alien/Predator hybrid, escape and overrun the town. Another Predator arrives to stop them. Yawn.

“Her stomach… It was gone.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than worse… well, brace yourselves. The once innovative, proud and glorious creatures finally find themselves picking off teenagers in a small, American town. The equivalent of horror movie retirement. There is pretty much nothing to recommend this train wreck of a movie. The dialogue is dreadful, the acting on par and it’s so badly shot that you’re hard pressed to see what’s going on for the most part. Among the fantastically original characters are the reformed bad boy returning to town, the small-time Sheriff out of his depth, the weedy kid with a crush on the hot blonde and the bully jock. The franchise returns to the B-movie dross that gave birth to it, finally becoming the very movie it so successfully avoided being back in 1979.

The Alien: The aliens run around, the Facehuggers do their thing, the Predator follows them and throws things at them periodically. That’s about it. And then there is the ‘Predalien’, which is neither Predator enough to be cool, or Alien enough to be scary. It just looks like what it is, an alien with dreadlocks. Dumb.

Rating - 0 Stars

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The Ten Best Movies of 2010 on my new site, Celluloid Zombie!

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films

Sometimes they are mini-movies in themselves, sometimes they are scene-setting primers for what is to come, and sometimes they are actually the best thing about the movie. Either way, the title sequence is an overlooked art form. Hitchcock would often bring in established artists, like Saul Bass, to create his titles, such importance he placed on them. They are the doorway into the movie, a taste of what is to come. They run, tragically ignored while the audience settles down, stops rustling the damn tubs of popcorn and chatting and generally getting up my nose…

Sorry, wrong blog.

Anyway, for your consideration, my top ten title sequences. Enjoy.

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10. Shaun of the Dead

A short one, this, but the opener for Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is a little work of genius. It gives us an amusing perspective of everyday life in Britain, before most of the population are transformed into shambling zombies. The question it postulates is very simple; what’s the difference? The fact that Simon Pegg’s Shaun later nips to the Newsagent without noticing the walking dead around him, and you totally believe it, just reinforces the gag.

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9. Vertigo

Most people choose North by Northwest as their favourite Hitchcock title sequence, and while that one is certainly highly influential (see David Fincher’s Panic Room opener) I’ve always preferred Vertigo. Saul Bass created what could be the signature title sequence for all Hitchcock’s movies. The fixation on a woman’s frightened features, turning blood red as the title appears, mixed with Bernard Herrmann’s spooky score, tell you all you need to know about the big man’s favourite pastime; basically, torturing beautiful blondes. Naughty Alfred. The spirals signify James Stewart’s fear of heights, his uncontrollable compulsions, and are also reflected in the hair of Kim Novak.

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8. Contact

Not, strictly speaking, a title sequence at all, but still one of the most effective openers to a movie. Robert Zemeckis’ underrated adaptation of the novel by Carl Sagan immediately shares with us Ellie Arroway’s (Jodie Foster) awe at the expanse of the universe, and the unimaginable possibilities of what may exist out there. For me at least, the sequence truly inspires a sense of wonder, but also a feeling of the crushing loneliness and isolation of our tiny little planet. Is anyone out there listening? Brilliant.

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7. Alien

Ridley Scott ditches Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, keeps it simple, and it works a charm. This is the dark side of Contact’s sequence, in that it perfectly encapsulates the despair, foreboding and the unknown dangers of deep space. The skeletal score, nothing more than a series of strange noises and a random tune, does indeed seem alien. This is a frightening place, very far from home and you feel it. Rarely has a title sequence so perfectly suited its title.

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6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Steven Spielberg had long wanted to shoot a Busby Berkely style showstopper, and with his second Indiana Jones movie he got the chance. Set on the stage of Club Obi-Wan (one of the series’ many in-jokes), Kate Capshaw’s small scale rendition of Anything Goes, in Cantonese, soon escalates into a massive, glittering dance routine. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous that the tiny stage can suddenly accommodate this huge production, but this is a director indulging himself a little. If Spielberg (all praise his name) wants to give his future wife a huge entrance (snigger), who are we to deny him?

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5. Zombieland

Zombies again, this time from the other side of the pond. It’s ridiculous, it’s gruesome, it’s fun! Yay! Ruben Fleischer’s Metallica backed title sequence couldn’t set you up better for the insanity to follow. The madness of zombie attacks, in ultra slow-motion, is somehow inherently funny and Fleischer milks it for all it’s worth. Add to this the movie’s continuing interaction between the real world and the words onscreen, and you have a good old, undead chuckle fest.

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4. Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s celebration of Hollywood’s worst ever director, Edward D. Wood Jr., had the perfect opening sequence. This is such an affectionate homage to the tacky, B-movie ethics of its subject, that there’s no doubt the man himself would have adored it. Howard Shore’s Theremin laced score is absolutely spot on, and the construction of a miniature Hollywood for the final tracking shot is breathtaking. Burton at his best.

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3. Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the graphic novel opens with this master class in condensing an entire back-story into a short sequence. Giving us the story of this alternative universe’s superheroes, right up until the main movie’s 1980’s setting, we see a history of the 20th century as it may have been with the addition of masked vigilantes and a superhuman. Bob Dylan’s classic folk song makes the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful, slow-motion scene-setting, and every frame looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of a comic book.

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2. Lord of War

Andrew Niccol’s study of a morally conflicted arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) was a fairly average movie, but what it did boast was this outstanding title sequence. Almost a mini-movie in itself, the POV journey of a single bullet from production to ultimate use is original, telling and ends with a depressing suddenness. The CGI already looks a little dated now, but that in no way detracts from the scene’s effectiveness. Very clever opening sequence.

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1. Seven

So many subsequent thrillers have imitated Seven’s dark, twisted title sequence that the power it held at the time may seem somewhat diminished. However, David Fincher’s opener to his second movie is still the Daddy of all title sequences. Unnerving, sinister and bleak, this left you in no doubt as to what you had in store. Part of its genius is that many aspects of what you are seeing are not revealed in their meaning until the second viewing, when you realise who it is you are watching. Coupled with a totally stripped down version of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, this is the mind of a lunatic at work and play. Chilling.

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The Movie

Seven, or Se7en if you’re into that whole smart-ass logo thing, is one of those movies that I find endlessly watchable. I love it. It never dulls, never seems worn with repeated viewings, its themes and visuals always sit comfortably in my mind and my eyes. Some people have mood music, I have mood movies and there are definitely times when Seven is the movie for my mood.

David Fincher managed to rise from the ashes of his much-maligned debut, Alien3, with this audacious, poetic take on the serial killer movie. He has since become one of America’s most original and inventive filmmakers. Much imitated but never bettered, Seven is the perfect example of suggestive horror. Of all the murders (or forced suicides) that take place in the movie, we actually witness only one being perpetrated. Of the others, we just see glimpses of the aftermath and our imaginations do the rest. Centred by outstanding performances from both Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Seven is dark, contemplative and merciless at its resolution.

The Scene

In a gloomy, unnamed city, new recruit Detective Mills (Pitt) and seasoned veteran Detective Lt. Somerset (Freeman) are investigating a series of murders which appear to be have been based upon the seven deadly sins. With victims mounting and very little to go on, the two men pursue the investigation in their own particular way…

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Why I Love It

Intermission

It would have been easy to pick some of the more recognisable scenes from Seven; one of the crime scenes, perhaps, or that infamous final scene with the box. But in the middle of all the darkness, horror and endless rain of Fincher’s movie sits this thoughtful and rather beautiful little moment of calm. It is almost an intermission, and I love that.

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The Music

Air on a G String is one of my favourite pieces of classical music, and Bach’s melancholy masterpiece suits the languid, pensive tone of this scene perfectly. The fact that it seems far more out of place in the moments involving Pitt’s Detective Mills than it does with Freeman’s Detective Lt. Somerset speaks volumes for who they are.

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The Location

I’m not entirely sure where this scene was filmed, but I wish there were a library like that where I live. It’s gorgeous! Almost all of Seven is set in run-down, beat-up looking buildings and offices, rain soaked and maudlin. The library, in contrast, is like some grand museum, with high ceilings and stone floors. From his familiarity with the Night Watchmen, you just know that Somerset comes here often, perhaps for refuge from the hellhole he lives in. And who can blame him?

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Highlighting the Differences

Seven is very much a character study of two contrasting police officers; the young, idealistic Mills and the older, wizened Somerset. This scene gives us a brief but telling comparison of men and methods. While Mills sits, beer in hand, endlessly studying the crime scene pictures, Somerset hits the library. Mills exists in the moment, for him all the answers are there in the event itself. Somerset likes to look deeper, to the past and to the things that may have influenced the event. Mills’ crime scene photos depict the recent crimes, that might seem original in their detail and savagery. Somerset’s reading choices are a poetic reminder that man’s cruelty to man is nothing new.

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.Seven may not be the most cheerful and uplifting of movies. It is harrowing, pessimistic and offers little in the way of hope when the end credits roll. But there are few films quite like it. It possesses an element of dark beauty, which is never more evident than in this scene.