Coco (2017)

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Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina

Stars: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt

Another first-rate animation from Pixar? I should coco!

Pixar needn’t fear about entering the land of the dead after Coco dazzling audiences and critics alike. They’ve been teetering lately with their three most recent films (The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory and Cars 3) all of which received relatively mixed reviews from a studio who have churned out more timeless animations than any other. Coco sees them back on top form though by emotionally weaving an engaging and constantly surprising story about family, love and loss.

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It follows a spirited Mexican lad called Miguel who wants nothing more than to be a musician. Unfortunately for him, his family are from a long line of music-haters after Miguel’s great great great grandmother’s husband left her and her daughter alone in order to pursue a career in music. Since then every child from the family has been raised to detest all kinds of music (as any sane family would do) which means Miguel has to tinkle his ivories in secret whilst worshipping his superstar musical idol, Ernesto De La Cruz. For reasons never quite explained, Miguel ends up in the Mexican land of the dead where a madcap adventure ensues, never failing to entertain along the way.

Coco fools you initially by pretending to be a straightforward family adventure film with stunning visuals and cute characters, but a genuinely shocking third act twist reveals itself to be so much more. It’s quite barmy how a film targeted for children is more unpredictable than the majority of films aimed at adults in this day and age. Nevertheless, this is Pixar and we all know that despite being family friendly, they’re really made for adults!

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What makes the film so memorable though is its pure emotion. Pixar have been pulling at our heartstrings for years from the infamous opening of Up to the tragic demise of Bing Bong in Inside Out. I’m happy to say that Coco is no exception. I’m not one to cry in films but I must admit to being quite choked up several times in Coco, particularly in its closing moments. This isn’t manipulative, sugary, trying-desperately-hard-to-make-you-cry kind of emotion seen in the likes of the recent Wonder but genuine tear duct pulling. This is a film which genuinely cares about its characters so the audience does too.

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Some people are calling this the best Pixar film ever but I think that’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. It lacks the innovation of say, Inside Out and the comedy of Up but that’s not say it’s a great film because it is. Pixar have just churned out such a high calibre of animated features that to say one is better than the other doesn’t really count for much. Coco will certainly be beloved for years to come though, I know I’ll be watching it with my kids all the time if anyone would have them with me!

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Twin Peaks: The Return

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Director: David Lynch

Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, David Lynch, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts

The greatest TV series of all time

It’s 11pm and I have just finished watching the last episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. Normally I’d give something else a watch before tottering off to bed but the images and ideas presented in the two-hour finale are relentlessly whirring around my head. David Lynch has done it again. 25 years ago he re-invented television with the original series which mixed offbeat comedy with pure horror and surrealism. Audiences were enthralled by the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, only to find that the startling cliffhanger left in 1991 wouldn’t be resolved until 2017.

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David Lynch has had an exceptional career. Debuting with surrealist masterpiece, Eraserhead and providing us with horrific treats in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Lost Highway. In 2002 he created what I believe to be the greatest film of all time, Mulholland Drive and seemingly disappeared off the Earth in 2006 after the impenetrable INLAND EMPIRE. However, we can now forgive Lynch for the frustrating ten-year hiatus because he has generously provided us with 18 hours of unadulterated perfection. The Return could very well be his magnum opus.

There has never been anything like this on TV and there will probably be nothing like this ever again, unless Lynch decides to delve back into the small screen again, of course. The series was shrouded in secrecy so people didn’t really have a clue what was going to happen when the two-hour opening aired. Unsurprisingly all expectations were cut dead within the first fifteen minutes. The whole season is nothing like the original run, in fact less than half the time is spent in the beloved town of Twin Peaks.

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This season is more interested in doppelgängers in Las Vegas, murders in South Dakota and frightening absurdities in the red room. Mysteries are constantly being raised and very few clear answers are ever provided. The series also runs at a very deliberate pace. Lynch really isn’t interested in wrapping things up quickly, in one scene we watch a man sweeping the floor for three minutes, yet somehow none of it is boring in the slightest. Instead we feel lost in an intoxicating dreamlike atmosphere where anything can happen. Many will find the lack of nostalgia and glacial pacing frustrating, but this is truly a ground-breaking work of art.

It also has to be noted that Kyle MacLachlan’s performance is the one of the greatest in TV history. It has to be said that he has never particularly shone in his acting career, aside from Dale Cooper (obviously) but here he does something extraordinary. Playing three different characters, MacLachlan shows an astonishing acting range and never fails to compel whenever he’s on screen. There are also memorable performances from Naomi Watts, Laura Dern and David Lynch himself, all in challenging and remarkably interesting roles.

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What’s really extraordinary about this 1000 minute masterpiece is that is manages to encompass every human emotion, often at the same time. At one moment side-splittingly funny, then pants-wettingly terrifying the next. There are also moments of desperate sadness, tension and surprise. What ever the feeling though, there is always a strong sense of mystery in the air. Don’t expect many easy answers though.

Many people were disappointed by the ending which offered absolutely no closure in the slightest. Much like the original series, the season ends on a extraordinarily haunting note. In fact, it could quite possibly be the most haunting ending of any film or TV show I have ever seen. Rather than providing answers, we’re left with even more questions than we had at the start but that’s where its brilliance lies. If Lynch gave us a cosy ending where all the pieces tied neatly together then we wouldn’t be talking about the series for years to come. There is so much to analyse and digest, fans will be picking this series apart until the end of days.

Unlike anything else on TV, Twin Peaks is always unpredictable. You can never guess what is going to happen next and although it isn’t easy to understand, it isn’t really supposed to be. This is an experience where you can leave your brain at the door and just go along for the sensational ride. Forget Breaking Bad. Forget Game of Thrones. Forget what ever you thought the best series on TV ever was. The greatest thing to ever grace the small screen is categorically and unquestionably, Twin Peaks: The Return.

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Boogie Nights (1997)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Mark Whalberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham

PTA Does MDMA

Paul Thomas Anderson is renowned for making weighty films filled with masterful directing, writing and acting. There Will Be Blood (my first taste of PTA) almost immediately became one of my top five favourites, resembling one of Stanley Kubrick’s very best. I gave Magnolia a watch more recently and the whole thing astounded me with its emotional depth and richness. I’d been saving up Boogie Nights as many consider it Paul’s greatest film. At a mere 26 years old, he created a critically-acclaimed masterpiece that blew his debut (which is still a pretty good film) out of the water. I couldn’t wait to give Boogie Nights a watch and it didn’t disappoint.

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I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I still think There Will Be Blood and Magnolia are far better than Boogie Nights. However, that just shows how talented our Paul is as a filmmaker because Boogie Nights is a seriously terrific achievement right from the opening sombre music. We’re then hit immediately by a blasting 70’s pop track and a sweeping camera which takes us into the mind of Madonna when she was working on Confessions on a Dancefloor. A beautiful retro disco with all the main characters being introduced with perfect camera timing, I don’t know how Paul managed to do it but it’s a fantastic piece of camerawork and it almost feels as though he’s showing off a bit.

The film is a rags to riches tale, with more than a touch of irony to it, of a young and naïve dishwasher who’s whisked away by Burt Reynolds to become the biggest porn star there’s ever been! The first half is the more entertaining and funny half. It’s full of infectious energy and memorable characters who jump off the screen. For a film about the porn industry, there’s surprisingly little smut aside from an extended sequence where Mark Whalberg films his first sex scene with Julianne Moore. It’s extremely lively and full of fab scenes such as another impressive Steadicam move around a pool party and a fun montage showing Dirk Diggler’s rise to pornographic stardom.

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The darker, second half is the more interesting one for me. We’re suddenly plunged into the 80’s and watch as everyone’s lives go spiralling towards hell. The once friendly Dirk has turned into an egotistical cocaine-addict and Burt Reynolds has become a desperate director pimping his surrogate daughter out to strangers on the street. It’s a sad chapter which adds weight and morality to the tale. The film could’ve been a terrific comedy in the vein of the Wolf of Wall Street, but the second half offers a lovely bleak balance and shows us that pornography is not an industry to aspire to get into. The seemingly fulfilled characters become much deeper and more tragic figures.

There are some lovely scenes. One sequence which I really loved was a montage where all the characters are at their lowest. The music suited the scene so well and it felt very unsettling and intense. I also liked the moment where we’re given a glimpse into Julianne Moore’s life as she discusses getting custody of her child with her ex-husband. The film stops being fun and starts to become a much more serious beast set in a real world more closer to our own. Boogie Nights handles its many characters so expertly, kind of in the same way Magnolia did, although to a slightly lesser extent.

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Just when you think the film can’t throw up any more brilliance, the best scene pops up towards the end. It involves Dirk’s pathetic gang trying to orchestrate a drug deal at Alfred Molina’s house. Everything about this scene is pretty much perfect from the acting to the music to the tense, unpredictable atmosphere. Even the firecrackers are a masterstroke! It erupts into a Quentin Tarantino styled shootout and the unpredictability of it all makes for a thrilling watch. In fact, the entire film is filled with so many terrific scenes that it makes for a very high rewatchability factor.

My only complaint would be that, like Dirk’s manhood, it’s quite overlong. I think I would’ve preferred more of a focus on the 80’s segment rather than the 70’s. However, Boogie Nights is still a really great film. The thing that stands out the most is the masterful directing by the young Paul Thomas Anderson. Some argue that it’s a Martin Scorsese rip-off but I’d argue that his style is even better than Martin Scorsese. It’s a fantastic ride which leaves you with a lot to ponder about. So get your glad rags on and hit the dancefloor kids!

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Alleluia (2014)

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Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Stars: Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra

Praise the Lord! Another fabulous Fabrice film

Even though a little middle-aged Belgian man called Fabrice Du Welz has only made three feature films in his career, he still happens to be one of my favourite directors. My love affair started when I sat and watched a film called Calvaire which left me dumbstruck and disturbed. How it still hasn’t become an iconic horror classic is still beyond me. I love every single thing about it, even down to the little details like the name, Marc Stevens and his bulky Michelin Man red coat. It’s one of my favourite ever films. Then came an underrated little atmospheric English-language horror called, Vinyan. You can imagine my excitement when Fabrice announced a thematic sequel to Calvaire starring Laurent Lucas and featuring Fabrice’s favourite theme of ‘mad love’.

I was blown away by the intense trailer but unfortunately the film wasn’t getting much buzz. Even now, after it has been released for yonks, no one seems to be talking about it or seeing it. There’s barely five reviews on IMDb and the message board is dead in the water, but oh well it’s everyone else’s loss! Alleluia is an electrifying slice of raw and intense romantic horror. Well, I say romantic, it’s Fabrice’s idea of romantic which tends to involve obsessive psychopaths. His debut short film, A Wonderful Love featured a woman falling in love with the corpse of a stripper and Calvaire saw an inn keeper convincing himself that a male guest was his long-lost wife. Alleluia tells the tale of an insane woman becoming besotted with an insane man and going on a killing spree.

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It’s frightening to think that Alleluia is actually based on a real-life case in America where a couple ended up murdering 17 women in America during the 1940’s. Fabrice of course puts his unique spin on things. It opens with a disturbing shot of our hero, Gloria sponging the body of a corpse in the morgue she works at. She then stops and looks directly at us sitting in our little living room arm chairs with her wide eyes penetrating our souls until ‘Alleluia’ flashes up on the screen. Right away you know that you’re in for the Fabrice Du Welz experience.

Alleluia has that same grainy, dirty look as Fabrice’s other films. It feels incredibly raw and scarily real, almost like one of Lars Von Trier’s Dogme films. There’s also a strong claustrophobic atmosphere throughout thanks to the intrusive camerawork which is almost always in front of the actors’ faces or backs. In fact, it’s pretty jarring whenever we’re given a long-shot, it’s almost as though the film is allowing you to breathe. All of the lighting feels very natural too with dark scenes being almost completely black and grainy so that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. All of this contributes to an overall atmospheric and intense experience throughout.

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What surprised me was the stupendous quality of acting from our main stars. Laurent Lucas is usually cast as the charming goody in the films he’s in but has lately been venturing into darker territory. Those who saw the recent French series, Witnesses where Laurent played an everyday family man who liked to put white make-up on his face and kill young women at night won’t be surprised to find out that he’s similarly chilling in the role of Michel. We first see him performing some sort of voodoo on a photo of Gloria before he meets her for the first time and he only gets creepier from there. Laurent puts on a strange raspy voice and plays the part of the serial seducer extremely convincingly and never without a psychotic glint in his eyes.

It’s Lola as Gloria who steals the show though. Lola too usually plays the part of the kindly woman, mostly in Pedro Almodovar’s terrific dramas. Here she’s in total psycho mode as the dangerously obsessed lover who will do absolutely anything and everything for Michel. In fact, Gloria makes Michel look positively normal in comparison and Lola acts the hell out of it without it ever feeling too over-the-top. In a fair world, the Academy would’ve recognised Alleluia and popped Lola up for an Oscar nom. I’m not even kidding, she really is that good!

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Alleluia is split into four acts, all named after the women Michel seduces. Their master plan is for Gloria to pose as Michel’s brother whilst Michel seduces the women and steals of their money. However, there’s that old green-eyed monster in the way called Jealousy. Gloria does not like seeing Michel being affectionate with the old women he’s marrying and so intense violence and chaos ensues for the majority of Alleluia’s tight 90 minute runtime. To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the fun of it all. I can tell you, though that there was not one moment where I was bored. Alleluia always kept me gripped by the throat and didn’t let go.

Whilst the film is less surreal than Fabrice’s previous efforts, it’s still absolutely insane and full of WTF moments. For me Calvaire feels like a string of iconic moments and Alleluia has a few of them too. My favourites include a bizarre Magnolia-styled musical interlude (with added corpses), a creepy Humphrey Bogart-infused trip to the cinema and a disorientating segment which sees the couple dancing around naked in flames with grinding electronic music. The film has more than its fair share of sensory overload and it all makes for an unpredictable and absorbing experience. It also has lots of brilliant uses of black humour. The best example probably comes from when Michel is trying to fleece a religious woman by telling her blatant lies whilst Gloria hysterically laughs, covering it up as hysterical cries.

The strongest segment is arguably the final act which results in a terrifyingly intense finale which leaves you begging for more. Alleluia really is a blistering thriller full of shocking violence, stupendous acting and intense directing. Chances are that you’ve never heard of it so it’s your duty to seek this out and give it the attention it deserves. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed.

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Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

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Director: Randy Moore

Stars: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez

Disney on Prozac

Disney World really is one of the best places on the planet. I spent the happiest days of my life there as a kiddy, at the tender age of ten and I’m desperate to get back there. Randy Moore’s disturbing vision is unlikely to convince Disney World virgins to go though! In this film, Disney World is more reminiscent of Banksy’s Dismaland. Whenever you read a review of Escape From Tomorrow you always get an essay on how the film was made rather than the film itself. The extreme guerrilla tactics are important to the raw and intimate atmosphere of the film (and are extremely impressive) but there’s much more to Escape From Tomorrow than ‘that film that was shot illegally in Disneyland.’

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It’s the American Beauty-esque tale of a man going through a midlife crisis, except it also sparks a total mental breakdown and it happens in the middle of Disney World. It begins with a ride on the Rocky Mountain rollercoaster which is sledgehammer foreshadowing of the rollercoaster ride we’re about to go on in our hero’s haunted head. What struck me was how funny most of the film was. The trailer would lead you to believe that it’s a full-on Lynchian horror nightmare, but in truth the majority of it is pretty hilarious.

That isn’t to criticise it because the humour worked very well. Roy Abramsohn is so amusing as Jim, the typical twat Dad. His acting is a little questionable but it did add to the humour of the whole film. The first hour is basically like watching a family’s home video of a trip to Disney with splashes of sinister surrealism (get a load of that sibilance!) but I mean that in the best possible way. It isn’t boring because there’s a strong dark humour layered throughout. It also feels extremely intimate and involving with a strong focus on characters to keep you interested.

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The film hits its stride once the gang enter Epcot and Jim starts to drink lots and lots. This triggers his descent into complete surrealism and the film abandons linear narrative. It’s loud, chaotic and absorbing but I was hoping for a little more Inland Empire styled directing, but perhaps I was hoping for too much. It could’ve been more surreal and dreamlike, but it was still suitably disorientating and inventive. There’s also very intelligent themes and symbolism buried underneath if you’re willing to dig hard enough. I like how a lot of it is open to interpretation.

Escape From Tomorrow might look a bit shoddy with its rough camerawork and dodgy acting, but that’s also part of its charm. I did find the black and white photography quite stylish and the searing Disney golden-era score is pretty brilliant. The low rating on Netflix and IMDb might suggest that I’m in the minority when I say that I enjoyed it, but I am definitely biased when it comes to these weird kind of films. Normal cinemagoers will see it as a curiosity piece, but us weirdos will be dazzled by the surrealist imagery, comedy and overall strangeness. It’s not as good as it could’ve been, but I still found a lot to like.

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100 Greatest Movie Moments

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Movies are essentially made up of moments. Below are some of my favourites. Now, some are there for different reasons, some make me laugh, some make me cry, some scare me or disturb me and some just hold a certain emotional power. They are in no order (although the last 20 would be my top favourites) so don’t have a go at me for putting Hocus Pocus above American Beauty! It was a surprisingly easy list to make. The scary thing is that I could probably do another 100 more because there are so many movie moments I just love. As to avoid spoilers, I haven’t said what films these scenes come from. Please let me know if you’re desperately looking for what film a scene is from and I shall tell you. So without further ado (hopefully all the images have loaded for you) let’s delve into my twisted world.

100. May’s creation moves

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99. The power of love

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98. Randy’s last jump

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97. Sara’s eaten by her own fridge

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96. Patsey’s whipped

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95. Candieland shootout

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94. Betty auditions

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93. Do the locomotion

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92. “One day more…”

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91. Kevin Specey’s final monologue

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90. A casual trip to the skies and back again

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89. Monica Bellucci gets raped for 10 minutes straight!

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88. Ulrich Mühe breaks down for 10 minutes straight!

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87. Laura Dern’s clown face

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86. The scariest movie moment ever!

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85. “Give me the bat.”

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84. “Call it.”

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83. Chainsaw ballet

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82. Travis goes mental

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81. Isabelle Adjani goes mental

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80. “The dark knight…”

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79. “Abracadabra.”

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78. Norman in drag

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77. You talkin’ to me?

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76. 360 degree taxi slash

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75. Teddy’s tragic flashback

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74. The last shot

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73. Sister Mary Clarence pats a dog

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72. “Detective… DETECTIVE!”

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71. Penthouse reveal

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70. Margaret White goes barmy

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69. Drew Barrymore screams

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68. Swimming pool saga

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67. “BASTARD FROM A BASKET!”

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66. Lighthouse woes

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65. Head cases

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64. Girl/thing in the loft

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63. Lawnmower man

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62. Foetal position

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61. Wrong place and wrong time

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60. Shock suicide

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59. George’s story

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58. Polish poem

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57. “Heeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”

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56. “A candy coloured clown they call a sandman.”

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55. “Those were dummies!”

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54. Laura dies

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53. “Silencio…”

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52. Nina’s swansong

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51. “You mean, all this time we could’ve been friends?”

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50. George and Peppy’s last dance

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49. John Merrick dies

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48. Beatrix Vs. Elle

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47. Tragedy in the mist

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46. Time destroys everything

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45. Hannibal escapes

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44. Selma’s last song

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43. The bells toll

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42. “I’ve abandoned my child!”

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41. “Game over!”

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40. “In heaven, everything is fine…”

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39. Adam meets the cowboy

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38. Mrs Doubtfire cooks

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37. Table saw kill

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36. “At last… My arm is complete again.”

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35. The hunchback

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34. Kagutaba lives!

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33. “I loved you”

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32. Erica stabs

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31. Hans Landa hunts after a glass of milk

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30. Winkie’s Diner

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29. Batman atones

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28. Lucie’s memories

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27. Intense dinner

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26. Intense dinner

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25. Intense dinner

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24. Opening montage

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23. The world ends

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22. Bat brutality

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21. Satan’s house

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20. “WHO’S IN MY HOUSE!!”

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19. Nothing is left

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18. The world’s most gruelling exorcism

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17. Hallway hammer brawl

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16. “HELLOOO!”

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15. The ancient ones rise

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14. Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother takes a shower

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13. “DON’T FUCKING LOOK AT ME!”

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12. Kitchen fight

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11. Rock-a-bye-baby…

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10. Chainsaw chase

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9. Cobb comes home

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8. “Lovely lovely voice…”

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7. “Llorando”

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6. “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!”

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5. Tunnel chase

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4. “Keep doubting”

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3. Bride Vs. Crazy 88

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2. Sweeney’s tragic end

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1. “I was perfect”

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