Archive for the 'Horror' Category

07
Jun
14

It’s Alive (1973)

What’s that you say? Larry Cohen directs a horror film steeped in social commentary bordering on black comedy? Oh, yes, and this time it’s your new baby in focus!

Honestly, the first time I saw It’s Alive I was underwhelmed. That is likely because I watched it at a time in my life where all I wanted to see was technicolor gore. We get a little bit of that here, but most of the horror in It’s Alive is psychological.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

Frank and Lenore Davis weren’t so sure they were going to go through with this pregnancy; they already have an eleven-year-old boy (Chris), and Lenore had been taking contraceptives prior to this “accident.” But together they came to the decision to give it another go, and when the big day finally arrives, the whole family is sweetly excited. After dropping Chris off at a family friend’s home, Frank and Lenore innocently drive to the hospital. That’s where the nightmare begins.

Lenore knows it before the baby is even born: this one is different. Her doctor insists it’s just a very large baby, and after heavily sedating and numbing her up, thinks the birth should be a piece of cake. Well, it was easier on Lenore than it was the doctors and nurses; none of them survived, after all. Seeing the Davis baby in all its malformed glory, the doctor tries suffocating it to no avail. After the massacre, the baby escapes and Lenore, tied to her hospital bed, is scared, confused, and drugged the hell up.

This baby's made Frank famous!  He loves it.

This baby’s made Frank famous! He loves it.

It’s not long before the police arrive, with a “doctor” in tow, who offers great medical advice, and is quite interested in discovering exactly how long Lenore had been taking her contraceptives, and if, perhaps, she’d been extensively x-rayed in recent months. Rather than consider Lenore’s opinion in her baby’s future, the lieutenant, doctor and husband alike agree it’s easier to sedate her than listen to her prattle on about motherly instincts and other such nonsense.

Frank experiences a different kind of torture. When he and his wife are named the progenitors of the murderous beast, his job at a public relations firm is lost to him, and he numbly accepts the responsibility of killing his own progeny. In hopes of showing the world how “normal” he is, he feverishly hunts down his own flesh and blood.

I'd be 'hysterical' too, if I gave birth to a monster.

I’d be ‘hysterical’ too, if I gave birth to a monster.

What can I say, I just love Larry Cohen’s style. His takedown of society’s shit attitude and expectations in this flick is so perfect. The Davis baby is simply a product of society; good old American marketing and consumption – everyone agrees its deformities must be a result of smog, medicine, tainted food, or some other untested evil unleashed upon the American public by companies hoping to gain a buck. The hunt for the child, and the father’s apparent zest to be the one to destroy it all point to how American society tends to reject the very monstrosities it is responsible for creating.

I’m not sure Q is completely convinced that Frank’s character isn’t a total dick. He is pretty dicky throughout the whole movie, but I think that’s because the man really had no choice: you’re either for us or against us, right? And if he blithely accepts the symbol of American fucked-upedness, he’ll surely never get his job back, let alone the respect of his neighbors and peers. That’s not to say I excuse his behavior, but maybe I pity the guy.

"It kills like an animal. When we find it, we're going to have to destroy it like one."

“It kills like an animal. When we find it, we’re going to have to destroy it like one.”

And let’s talk about Lenore for a second: the woman is nearly mute. Never do the doctors or cops ask her how she feels about the tragedy of birthing a monster, or how she feels about that monster’s right to live. Instead, she’s expected to stay within the confines of her bedroom, forbidden even to walk downstairs in her own home, and questioned as to why she doesn’t keep taking the sedatives the kind doctor has prescribed her. Now, I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but there are certainly a great number of folks who accuse the medical establishment of treating pregnant women and babies as commodities. I think Cohen captures that pretty perfectly here, not to mention how women were (in 1973) and still are (in different ways, perhaps) considered secondary players in their own lives.

So, yes, I really liked this movie. It’s not amazing, but if you’re familiar with anything else Larry Cohen has made, you can guess what to expect. And if you haven’t seen any of Cohen’s stuff, this is as good a place to start as any. But, perhaps you should hold off watching it if you’re in your third trimester.

 

21
May
14

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only LoversPeople tend to have strong feelings when it comes to Jim Jarmusch. He’s one of those love-him-or-hate-him guys. For me though, I guess I’ve always found myself somewhere in the middle; I loved Down by Law and enjoyed Coffee and Cigarettes well enough, but was left so cold by Dead Man I never gave him another chance. But all it took to spark my interest in his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, was Tilda Swinton’s mass of white, vampiric hair on the poster. Nothing could be cheesier than saying “I’m a sucker for vampires,” but I’ll be damned if it isn’t true. Yes, even today, when digging on vamps is probably at its lamest, I can’t help but find them irresistible.

And maybe that last point is what made me so interested in this film; why make a vampire movie now? We’re still reeling from the dreaded Twilight saga and stuffed to the gills with sexy vampires in True Blood (uh, is that show still on?). Oh, wait: maybe that’s exactly why Jarmusch chose to do such a film now; to bring some depth and life back into the genre! Well whether that’s what Jarmusch intended, I’d say that’s what he did. And, dear Jim, I am ever so grateful!

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a moody musician living alone in a dilapidated house in Detroit. His bibliophilic wife of centuries, Eve (Swinton) lives an ocean away in Tangier, where she hangs out with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), her connection to the sweetest French blood around. Marlowe can’t seem to understand why the two live apart when they so very clearly need each-other to survive, a fact which is made painfully clear after the two have themselves a little video chat and Adam reveals that he’s depressed. Like, suicidally so.

And so Eve books a night flight or two to Detroit. It’s pretty much bliss when Adam and Eve are reunited; a sweeter on-screen couple I can’t say I’ve ever seen. But this is a movie, so you know things can’t be pleasant forever. One evening after a long drive around Detroit, Adam and Eve come home to their worst nightmare: Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska). And that’s where things start to heat up.

As one might expect from a Jarmusch film, this is not action-packed. These aren’t vicious, blood-sucking monsters, nor are they dripping with lust at their prey (heck, they rarely even see the source of their sustenance). That’s precisely what is so great about it. It is perhaps the perfect antidote to that dreadful blockbuster I’ve now mentioned three times in a row and won’t mention by name here out of respect for this film. I know, the civilized, cultured vampire is not new territory, but these vamps are passionate in their art consumption. What would you do if you lived forever? Learn to play all the instruments, read all the languages, know all the books? With all this beauty around, perhaps the human infestation is worth living through?

What’s that, an inspirational vampire movie? Uh, yeah, I guess it is. It is sweet, and charming, and makes me want to touch old guitars. On top of the great acting and writing, Only Lovers Left Alive is also gorgeously shot and has a killer fucking soundtrack. Holy shit, I loved this movie. I can’t wait to hoard it on my movie shelves and make people watch it!

04
May
14

Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Gargoyles is a better-than-average TV-movie monster flick — no more, no less. That’s not a bad thing… but it’s not really good, either.

Dr. Mercer Boley is an anthropologist-professor-type who’s made a career out of publishing pop-science books about the real-world roots of old-time superstitions and monsters. The doctor’s headed to the southwest (they say to Mexico, but I can’t help think they must mean New Mexico, seemingly, given that everyone’s white and speaks English) to follow up on a hot tip. He’s joined by his perpetually-halter-topped college-aged daughter Diana, who hopes to get some good face-time in with her dad while he’s accessible. This “hot tip” comes from an old codger who’s presiding over a dying roadsite museum and general store. Seems he wants to co-write a book with the good doctor about his amazing discovery, rather than cough up the evidence he’s got, just ’cause. Naturally, father and daughter are suspicious, and are not much less so when the codger shows off a winged, horned skeleton that he’s re-assembled in his shed. Seems the local Indians had a legend about winged beasts, and… right then there are terrible noises, something outside breaks down the roof, crushing the codger and a broken lantern sets the place aflame.

Codgerin' it up over the mystery skeleton

Codgerin’ it up over the mystery skeleton

Diana’s really freaked out by this terrible death they’ve just witnessed, and the doctor seems singularly obsessed, playing the death-screams of the codger over and over, along with the horrible growling and rending noises that accompanied the collapse of the roof, and staring long and hard at the strange skull, which they managed to recover from the wreckage. They dare not tell the local police that they think whatever the things were that knocked in the shed might be related to this weird skull… not, at least, until more of these things — and living ones at that — come for the corpse of their brother…

So, these are the titular gargoyles, who appear once every few hundred years to menace humanity. They are the source of all kinds of the imagery that mankind associates with evil, and they are very well physically-executed by a young Stan Winston. Sure, they’re rubber suits — but what rubber suits! And there are different suit designs for each monster, rather than that old stand-by budget-saver of casting the same mold over and over again, or of showing the same two creatures and pretending they are legion.

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me...

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me…

By the end, the movie’s fallen into the King Kong monster trap: the thing’s got our women — in this case Diana — and the “decent white folk” have got to get her back. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that this, like so many monster flicks before it, is a not-especially-subtle cautionary about miscegenation, perhaps the moreso because of its casting of Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle, and the post-Civil Rights/Watts riots date of production. Even the hooligan bikers menacing the town (including a young, long-haired Scott Glenn) band with the police and the doctor — Establishment writ large! — to get Diana back. But, however reactionary those politics might seem to be on the surface, there is useful nuance here: we spend some time with the hatchling gargoyles, and see that these folks care for their young just like we do! Though the lead gargoyle talks a lot in all-or-nothing terms about one species ultimately winning out, it seems pretty clear that given the track record for extermination so far — generations of gargoyles, and the aforementioned Indians — the American society is the monstrous exterminator here, and not the gargoyles (though both sides have shed about equal blood by the time things are over). At the very end, there is a rather uneasy sense that maybe things can change in the future, but it’s a strange coda to a movie that seems to want to please both ends of the political spectrum that might be watching this as the movie of the week.

Maybe don’t run to seek out a copy of Gargoyles, but don’t turn it off if you run across it, either. It’s not super-remarkable, but there’s some stuff here worth the hour-and-a half investment too, all said.

04
May
14

Troll 2 (1990)

One of my favorite things about keeping this blog is having the opportunity to revisit some of the junk that I’d watched as a kid. Being forced to look at some of them again, occasionally a lightbulb goes off: oh, that’s why I like shit moviesTroll 2 couldn’t be a better example. I was a lucky enough kid to grow up with cable, and cable in the 90′s was chock full of shit movies. Better still, they were played over and over and over and over again. Perhaps I was first drawn to Troll 2 because it was the sequel of one of my favorite movies, Troll, a charming, silly horror/fantasy starring my childhood crush Michael Moriarty. But Troll 2 has absolutely, positively nothing whatsoever to do with its predecessor.

Is it a troll? A goblin? Whatever it is, it wants to eat you.

Is it a troll? A goblin? Whatever it is, it wants to eat you.

The Waits’ are your average American family. Holly is your typical teenaged girl, lifting weights in her bedroom and dancing in the mirror before bed. Joshua is a young, imaginative boy who routinely discusses man-eating goblins with his dead Grandpa Seth. Their parents, Diana and Michael, are a little concerned about Joshua’s attachment to his dead grandfather, and hope their upcoming, lengthy vacation in the country will help the boy get over his issues.

Mr. Waits is so cool even the collar on his PJ's is popped!

Mr. Waits is so cool even the collar on his PJ’s is popped!

Unfortunately, Nilbog doesn’t turn out to be the country haven they’d hoped for. Instead of relaxing family time, the Waits’ are confronted with evil goblins who turn people into vegetables so they can eat them! It’s a good thing Joshua maintained good relations with Grandpa Seth because without his help, his family and friends would be nothing but dinner for the ugly goblins of Nilbog!

Because nothing's sexier than an ear of corn.

Because nothing’s sexier than an ear of corn.

The plot, of course, is unremarkable. What is remarkable about this movie is just what a disaster it is on every single level. The acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, and it is across-the-board horrible. The writing is terrible and perplexing; it’s impossible to watch this movie and not wonder what the hell kind of drugs the writer was on. The film takes so many inexplicable, strange turns (corn sex?) that it keeps you baffled for its entirety. The most amazing thing about this movie is that it did, in fact, get made. The cast and crew got together and actually accomplished making what some would call one of the worst films ever made.

Grandpa Seth's knowing grin is almost as reassuring as that double-decker bologna sandwich in your backpack.

Grandpa Seth’s knowing grin is almost as reassuring as that double-decker bologna sandwich in your backpack.

Personally, I wouldn’t go that far – the films that actually deserve that label are far, far worse. Unwatchable, even. And Troll 2 is many things, but unwatchable is not one of them. In fact, it is such an easy pleasure to watch, it makes you wonder if it didn’t actually do something rightTroll 2 is often named as the pinnacle of the so-bad-it’s-good genre. I’m very much a fan of these types of movies, but even after all these years I’m still wondering what it is about movies like this that actually make them worthwhile. I could go on and on about my thoughts on the topic, but considering my next post is going to be written on Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2, I’ll save my deep thoughts for that one! Just know, if you’re ever curious about the weird, cult crap films out there, Troll 2 is a must-see.

23
Mar
14

Rubber (2010)

rubberposterUsually after watching a film, I have some idea what it was about. Additionally, it is normal for me to have some sense of how the movie made me feel: did I like it? Dislike it? Did I feel nothing? Almost always I’m able to answer all of these questions in some way, shape or form. In the case of Rubber, however, I must confess I am not entirely sure of the answer to any of those questions.

The movie starts off with a little lesson on Hollywood films. Movies have always had things happen for no reason at all, and we are told that this movie will be no different at all – in fact, Rubber is a sort of ode to “No Reason.” So when a group of random people who have no connection to one another collect together in the desert and don binoculars to watch a “movie” I try to let go of my skepticism and just go with it. Soon enough though, it is apparent the weirdness has only begun.

Finally, the “movie” starts: a tire named Robert has been left out in the desert to rot, and seemingly out of nowhere wakes up and begins to move. As it starts its journey out of the desert, it runs into things and has an urge to destroy them: water bottles, bunny rabbits, cars on the road with pretty girls behind the wheel, you name it! He has no problem destroying most of these things, he just vibrates insanely until the object of his ire explodes. Anyone who crosses Robert’s path is subject to his telekinetic whims.

Robert follows the pretty girl to a motel, where he leaves behind a trail of destruction. Eventually the cops show up, and it is here we find out that the Sheriff, Chad, is also in league with the people showing the “movie.” It seems they are on a quest to make the “movie” as short as possible, and will stop at nothing to destroy their own audience.

This movie is nothing if not filled with surprises, so it would be silly of me to reveal them all here. Suffice it to say, whatever you think is going to happen is probably not going to happen and vice versa. Rubber is truly one of the most bizarre and baffling films I’ve ever seen, and as I’ve already said, to this day I am still not sure if I liked it or not! Either way, the movie is certainly intriguing and I’m curious to see what else the director (Quentin Dupieux) has to offer. It is definitely entertaining; really, what could be more fun than watching a movie that could go in any direction it wanted? I’m still not sure what the point of the thing is, or if there was a point at all? Was this story shared with us for “No Reason”?

I can safely say that if you are a person who likes a movie with a clearly told plot, a discernible beginning, middle and end and lovable, relatable characters this is NOT going to be the movie for you. But if you appreciate a film that plays with its audience’s head and turns everything upside down, this is a must-see. That’s not to say that you’ll like it, but at the very least it will get you thinking.

 

07
Mar
14

RoboCop (1987)

I managed to go a very long time before first seeing Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Perhaps it is because I am not a boy, and RoboCop was for boys. Perhaps I was just a little too young when it came out, and Total Recall satisfied my Dutch-director quota. I really don’t know why it took so long, but when I finally first watched it, I was floored by how legitimately good it is. Now that a shiny new reboot is out, I thought it was time to revisit it and see if the five stars I originally granted it would withstand the scrutiny of a second viewing. The short answer is: of course it did. In fact, I think I liked it even more now than I did before, quite possibly because I am growing more and more pinko by the day. More on that later. First, the basics. Also: WARNING. SPOILERS LIVE IN THIS POST.

Alex Murphy, the unsuspecting, optimistic cutie.

Alex Murphy, the unsuspecting, optimistic cutie.

RoboCop is set some time in the dystopian future. Detroit is an absolute mess; there’s no money, no jobs, and crime is rampant. In a desperate move, the mayor signs a shady deal with a company called Omni Consumer Products (OCP), handing over control of the Police Department to the private company. OCP has a big stake in controlling crime in Detroit, because they’ve also got license to demolish the worst parts of the city to make way for the new, shiny corporate city of the future, “Delta City.” How could they market their new Utopia to the rich and powerful if they’d all have to worry about having their wives getting roughed up outside their own high-rise condos?
Detroit’s police force is in an uproar over the change, and many of the cops are considering a strike. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is the new guy on the scene, passionate, a little cocky, but optimistic and ready to take on the mean streets of Detroit. His partner, Anne Lewis, is pretty badass herself. Together, they make a really good team. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for their teamwork to gel: on their very first outing together they find themselves hot on the trail of Clarence Boddicker, a notorious drug lord and gang leader. The two become separated and Boddicker and his cronies pump wide-eyed Murphy full of lead. 

That's a big robot.

That’s a big robot.

Sad for the police force, but a boon to OCP, whose biggest decision-maker is on the lookout for a new, robotic policing option. The first proposal, brought to the table by senior president Dick Jones was nothing but a giant robot with bad programming.  When it blows a chairperson to pieces, the company’s at a loss, until up-and-coming corporate asshole Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) lets the RoboCop out of the bag. The only thing they need to start the cyborg project up is a fresh dead body. 
Enter Officer Murphy’s corpse. When the cyborg cop makes his debut at the station, the cops are more than pissed off, but Officer Lewis is pretty sure she recognizes what little of the cyborg’s face she can see – she knows it’s Murphy, but the cyborg has been programmed and reprogrammed to have no memory of its former life. It has only been programmed to seek out crime and squash it out immediately, by any means necessary. What could possibly go wrong?

RoboCop's Prime Directives.

RoboCop’s Prime Directives.

Imagine my surprise when I first saw RoboCop; I was expecting pretty standard shoot-‘em-up sci-fi horror fare, but it is so much more than that. The phrase “brilliant satire” is pretty irritatingly eye-roll-inducing, but god dammit, the shoe fits here. Just the company’s name in itself, Omni Consumer Products, is such a perfect name for corporate evil! I’m sure there are many films depicting the dangers of privatization and capitalism run rampant, but this is definitely the best example I’ve ever seen. It not only covers what people stand to lose when its government relies on corporations for protection, but also lets us in on the greedy guys who hide behind the corporate name and allow their insatiable thirst for wealth and power to consume their lives. 
Certainly RoboCop spoke to the political issues of 1987, when America was in the midst of Reagan’s presidency, but it is just as relevant today as it was back then. Living in the economically fragile time that we currently do, we hear all sorts of ideas about how to improve wealth and economic stability, but none are as loud as those who want to cut taxes and hand everything over to private corporations. I think we can all say pretty safely how Mr. Verhoeven feels about that idea.

The Future Has a Silver Lining indeed.

The Future Has a Silver Lining indeed.

As much as I love the message and how its conveyed here, there’s an even greater message to be taken away from RoboCop, and it speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Murphy’s reclamation of his own body tells us that no matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem, no matter how much they pump you full of lead, no matter how much of your body they morph into a robot, they can’t change who you are; they can’t own you – not if you don’t let them! Human will and character is too strong to be broken even by the biggest, nastiest corporations.
Wow, well, sorry for getting so intense guys, but what can I say, RoboCop inspires intense emotions in me. I wish more movies were as brazen and bold as this one. I sincerely wonder how it’s possible that Peter Weller is not the mega superstar he deserves to be. Sure, half the movie he plays a helmeted cyborg, but nobody does it better! I know this is a common Schlock Wave refrain, but why would anyone dare to attempt to retell this story? It can’t possibly be told as well as it was here. Admittedly, I am curious to see what they’ve done in the reboot, mostly I’d like to see if it holds any of the same values as the original. Even if it isn’t a total disgrace, it is most definitely unnecessary. I firmly believe Verhoeven’s RoboCop can’t be improved upon – it is nearly, if not totally, perfect. I love it a whole hell of a lot. I am gushing, and for that I apologize. But god damn what a fine movie!  
20
Feb
14

Bruiser (2000)

bruiserBruiser is an appropriate follow-up to our last post, They Live; both are almost-great films by directors who we know can be great. This time it is George Romero’s turn to take a great idea and turn it into an okay movie. Bruiser might in fact mark the beginning of the end for great Romero movies; everything he made afterwards have been mediocre cash-ins of the great zombie craze of The Aughts.
One thing Bruiser has going for it: there are no zombies! At least, not overtly, though our hero (if one dares to call him that) Henry Creedlow lives life an awful lot like one. He works for a magazine called, uh, Bruiser, where everyone is obsessed with image and status, especially Miles Styles, Henry’s boss (and the resident hot-shot). The only other decent human being that seems to work for the company is Rosemary, who just happens to be Styles’ wife, and who also has filed for divorce.
Working with a bunch of superficial assholes is one thing, but trying to live up to the standards of one you live with is another entirely. Unfortunately, Henry’s home life might be a little shittier than his work life; his wife Janine is never satisfied with the things Henry works so hard to give her. Their “home” is under constant construction, their car isn’t hot, fast or expensive enough, and the money she wants to spend just isn’t there. Henry is always trying his best to impress, but in the end, he does exactly the opposite: some drunken party-goers agree that Henry is nothing but a “blank slate,” an unremarkable, unnoticeable man who leaves no impression. The point is driven home when Henry sits at the bar and watches his wife diddle Styles and does absolutely nothing about it.
The next morning, he wakes up to two horrifying things. First, his wife Janine never came home from what must have been an all-night romp with Styles. Second, his face is gone, and in its place is a white mask that won’t come off. At first he panics, but as soon as his thieving maid shows up he starts to realize the opportunity behind the mask;  that anonymity presents an excellent opportunity to exact revenge upon all of those who have made his life miserable all these years. Unfortunately for the maid, she’s first on the list.
Here’s where the movie gets a little (or a lot) like Fight Club or Bad Influence; like the protagonists in those films, Henry finds the confidence and power to start taking control of his life, though instead of doing so through another person (imaginary or real) he does it himself under the protection of anonymity. What’s strange, though, is that he isn’t exactly anonymous; people still seem to recognize him, though they admit something has changed about him, they aren’t exactly sure what. 
And here’s where things get a little confusing. Henry makes some questionable decisions and the plot moves in some weird directions, and it’s pretty difficult to grasp the motivations behind Henry’s actions. Perhaps that is on purpose; after all, Henry is in the middle of losing his mind, maybe we are meant to lose it with him. On the other hand, it kind of makes things difficult to follow, and Henry a little unsympathetic, even though you really want to root for him. 
That is the shame about Bruiser; it starts off interesting, but somewhere in the middle things start deteriorating and I’m not quite sure what Romero is going for. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the movie as a whole. I know that I did not hate it, and I did not love it, but did I kind of like it, or kind of dislike it? Part of the reason why I’m not sure, I guess, is that I’m not certain what point it was trying to make, so I can’t even agree or disagree with its sentiment. I respect that it was trying to do something a little different, and applaud Romero for going out on a limb, I just can’t say that it actually worked. I will say the performance by The post-Glenn-Danzig Misfits might be the most confusing thing of the whole movie! 
17
Feb
14

Lady in White (1988)

When I was a kid, there was a handful of movies I watched over and over and over and over. The more of these movies I watch as an adult, the more I wonder to myself: what the heck kind of kid was I? I am very thankful to have had parents that trusted me to watch basically whatever I wanted, because the movies I considered favorites as a kid obviously have had an enormous impact on my taste in weird stuff later in life, and for that I am forever grateful! Though I wouldn’t call Lady in White a particularly weird movie, I think it’s at least safe to say that, despite the fact there are children in the movie, it is not a movie made for children! Just what the appeal was to an 8-year-old me, I can’t say, except I did have a thing for ghosts…

The story is set in Small Town, NY, 1962. It’s Halloween, and little Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is super pumped for his favorite holiday; the boy is, after all, an aspiring horror writer. He dazzles his class with his giant monster story, but two young boys are less than impressed, and decide it would be a great idea to lock Frankie in the coat room all night long. They trick him into thinking he’s left his hat, a gift from his father, in the coat room. While he goes in to look for it, they slam the door, lock it, and leave him to spend Halloween alone in the dark, conveniently overlooking a cemetery!

Frankie telling stories

Frankie telling stories

Frankie finally drifts off to sleep, but soon he is rudely awakened by the ghostly figure of a young girl, skipping and singing her way into the coat room. She is talking to someone, but we can’t see who. Their interaction becomes dark very quickly when the unseen person throttles the ghost and drags her out of the coat room by her hair. Frankie tries to keep silent and hidden, but eventually the unknown man notices him and starts choking him, too, until he passes out.

When Frankie wakes up, he is unable to identify the person who choked him, though according to the racist community all signs point to the African-American janitor, who had passed out in the school’s basement while drinking. The situation doesn’t look very good for the janitor; Frankie’s attack has been linked to the murder of eleven children over the years, one of whom is Melissa Ann Montgomery, without a doubt the same girl Frankie saw dancing in the coat room. Frankie senses the janitor isn’t the killer, but he has no proof. His only hope is to retrieve the man’s ring from the vent in the cloak room, which he is certain will identify the true murderer.

The ghost girl gets it

The ghost girl gets it

The film tells the story of a pretty standard murder mystery, intriguing for kids I guess because it’s kids who actually solve the thing, not the adults. And while there is definitely a lot of eye candy here for kids, there are some uncomfortable moments of violence against children that are definitely super creepy and must have scared the crap out of me when I was little. Perhaps the adult-world scary stuff was mitigated by Frankie’s friendship with Melissa the ghost girl; the two become “friends” and it becomes Frankie’s mission to reunite Melissa with her mother who committed suicide after her daughter’s death.

Then there is, of course, the actual story of the Lady in White, a local legend about an old woman who haunts a scary old house by the cliffs. The characters mention her throughout the film, and her true story is something Frankie uncovers while figuring out just about every other secret of his small town. So, there are an awful lot of dirty little secrets for a nine-year-old boy to stumble upon; good thing he likes a thrilling mystery.

All in all, this movie is good enough, though it must be said that it is absolutely dripping with sentimentality. Frankie is re-telling us the story years later, so I guess it’s understandable that a trip back home after years of being away would evoke strong nostalgia, but they lay it on pretty damn thick here – there’s Frankie’s grandmother, who is always yelling at the family to get out of the cold, and Frankie’s grandfather, who does his best to hide behind various buildings to get a smoke without being caught by his wife. There’s the general store with all your favorite old Halloween toys, goofiness between Frankie and his brother Geno; anything you can think of that would make you yearn for days long passed, it’s here and it’s a bit much. This is obviously something that didn’t strike me as problematic as a kid, but it’s virtually impossible to watch the movie now without vomiting a little in your mouth over its sickly sweetness.

The lady in white is... Katherine Helmond!

The lady in white is… Katherine Helmond!

If you can get past the overt nostalgia and the weird adult-on-child violence, this movie’s pretty okay, but it’s a far cry from a must-see. The best mysteries always involve a ghost here and there, so it’s got that going for it. But, the best part about the movie is probably the casting; Lukas Haas and his big eyes are just about perfect for the role of a budding mystery novelist. It is hard for me to see that guy as anyone other than Frankie Scarlatti.

 

15
Feb
14

Pulse (2001)

There was a time in my life where I was a little J-horror curious. I did my duty and rented all the staples; you know the ones, Ju-on, Ringu, Audition and the like. Looking back, I feel like I did this out of some weird sense of horror-love obligation, and not actually because I liked the movies. Audition marked the end of the road for me; after that one, which I did not like, I gave up on the J-horror experience. Ever since, I’ve been reluctant to sit down and dedicate time to them.

Never good when the weather guy loses his head.

Never good when the weather guy loses his head.

This is not fair, of course; one shouldn’t dismiss an entire sub-genre so easily. That being said, I think I still groaned audibly when the husband pulled out Pulse and informed me that’s what we’d be watching that evening. I probably said something along like: “Japanese horror? Ugh.” But I’ve too often said I’ll watch anything to declare J-horror off-limits, so I watched.

Pulse centers around a few different groups of young people working and studying in Tokyo. First we are acquainted with Kudo, a young woman whose co-worker Taguchi has been mysteriously out of touch for the last few days. Kudo decides it’s been too long and goes to his apartment to check up on him. When she finds him there, he is distant and aloof, and slowly walks away from her into another room where he promptly commits suicide. The only clues the group of friends has into Toguchi’s suicide are some mysterious pictures of him at his computer…

Meanwhile, Ryosuke, a college kid who doesn’t know much about computers gets his first internet connection. Without help from Rryosuke, his computer connects itself to a website that just shows dark,

You can try to tape up the horror...

You can try to tape up the horror…

grainy video of random people, all of them alone. Ryosuke goes to the university to see if anyone there can help figure out why his computer brought him to the website. Here he meets Harue, who offers him some suggestions on getting screen shots of the website for her to examine.

Throughout the movie, our friends continue to delve deeper into the world of this internet weirdness, and what they find is, of course, totally disturbing, though frankly I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is they do find. There are some creepy shadows on the walls, some disturbed people who refuse to talk, and other people simply disappearing into thin air. I guess really what they really find is alienation and loneliness. These feelings, naturally induced by the anonymity offered by the big city are only multiplied by the seeming connectivity of technology.

I appreciate what the film is trying to convey, but I don’t think I’m such a fan of how it goes about doing so. It bears a lot of the hallmarks of Japanese Horror, namely a deep, dark mystery that almost always has

Weird TV face!

Weird TV face!

long, black hair. There are weird ghostly creatures with mouths at jaunty angles and elbows and knees in all the wrong places. I guess I just saw this too long after I’d seen all the other J-horror flicks I’d already written off. I must at least mention that Pulse is one of the first of the new wave of J-horror as I think of it, so it definitely gets credit for that.

As far as Japanese horror flicks from the aughts go, this is probably one of the best I’ve seen. The fact still remains, though, I am just not all that impressed with the style of these films. If it’s the kind of thing you’re into, than this movie should definitely be at the top of your to-watch list, if you haven’t already seen it. If it’s not your bag, well, take it or leave it.

13
Feb
14

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Writing silly blog posts about schlocky b-horror and the like isn’t a hard thing to do; such films don’t necessarily demand quality reviews. The task of writing up a legitimately “Good” movie is much more daunting. For example, how can the words of an amateur movie geek possibly do a film like Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face any sort of justice? The truth is, I probably can’t. This, of course, is not going to stop me from trying.

Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor's ever-loyal assistant, looking for a good place to dispose of a body...

Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor’s ever-loyal assistant, looking for a good place to dispose of a body…

Dr. Génessier is France’s premier surgeon, famous for his lectures and innovative techniques. Lesser known is his penchant for hideous experimentation; his secluded, maximum-security laboratory is home to many poor creatures who are subject to his scientific whims. One of these subjects happens to be his very own daughter, Christiane. Unfortunately for her, she has yet to fully recover from a car accident caused by her father’s carelessness. She is suffering perhaps the worst deformity a person could imagine: she has no face.

After “escaping” from the hospital, the authorities have no idea what’s happened to poor Christiane, until they find a body in the local river. They are convinced it must be Christiane, for the corpse had no face. Once Dr. Génessier confirms the body is indeed Christiane’s, he no longer has to worry about his daughter being found by the cops, and he can continue on his mission to graft a new face onto his daughter.

A bandaged victim.

A bandaged victim.

The only way to do this, of course, is to lure unsuspecting young and beautiful girls to the laboratory. He does this with the help of his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli, whom you probably know from Suspiria), whose own face is a triumph of the good doctor’s surgical abilities. Naturally indebted to him for life, she skulks around town looking for unattached young women who could do without their faces.

While the doctor claims his intentions are only to help save the life and happiness of his daughter, it is clear the man is a real ego case with an awful lot to prove; he cares not that his daughter is kept prisoner in her own home, thought dead by everyone, including her poor fiance, Jacques. He also seems not to care a lick that he must ruin the lives of other young women to preserve his status as France’s top surgeon. Christiane is filled with despair, not knowing if she will ever escape life behind a terrible, expressionless mask. With her overbearing father and Louise constantly watching her, how will she ever get out?

And a masked victim.

And a masked victim.

This movie is creepy to the Nth degree! Masks often provoke discomfort and horror, no? Here, there is also sadness: Christiane does not want to be cooped up alone for the whole of her life while her father attempts to perfect his surgical résumé, and even though we cannot see her face, there is something inherently sad about that expressionless mask. Each time she calls her fiance Jacques and hears his voice, but cannot respond, it’s almost as though the mask gets a little bit sadder.

The film is also surprisingly gory for 1960; the surgical scenes are pretty up-close-and-personal, not leaving a whole heck of a lot to the imagination. Still, it’s nothing compared to the ridiculous, in-your-face garbage most horror flicks tout today. Perhaps that’s just because there isn’t much of the envelope left to push these days? Either way, Eyes Without a Face definitely earns its horror badge, though the film is in large part a crime drama in addition to a horror flick. Anyway, the film is more creepy-horror than gory-horror; the domineering father, the mystery behind the mask, the wanton kidnapping of young women for dreadful surgical purposes; all of these elements will no doubt inspire horror and disgust in the viewer!

Finally, it would be wrong of me to write up this post without mentioning Pedro Almodóvar’s recent film The Skin I Live In. While not a direct remake of Eyes Without a Face, Almodóvar more than nods to Franju, and while watching Eyes all I could think about is how desperately I need a copy of The Skin I Live In! If only more filmmakers could show imagination and flair while nodding to their predecessors instead of blatantly ripping them off or doing soulless remakes…




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Old Wave


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