Tuesday, 18 October 2011

October Horror 2011 - Chapter #5

Just for the record, Elisha Cook Jr. is awesome. I thought that needed to be said.

Dead Of Night (1977 - Dan Curtis) - No, not the classic 1945 anthology of horror stories called "Dead Of Night", this is the 1977 not-quite-as-classic anthology of horror stories called "Dead Of Night". In this case, it's three completely separate unlinked stories (without even a wraparound story for good measure) that were made for TV and bundled together as a single movie. Actually, there is one uniting characteristic across all three of them: each story was written by Richard Matheson (he of "I Am Legend" fame and countless other novels and short stories). It shows through in the concepts behind the stories and the way they are structured (if not in every spoken line) and this helps to make for a quite entertaining 70 odd minutes. The opening story is the least effective, but that may be partially due to my inability to see Ed Begley Jr. as anything but the perpetually goofy Dr. Victor Erhlich from TV's "St. Elsewhere". He plays a young man devoted to restoring old cars and finds that his latest project has actually driven him back to its own past. I like the way the time travel element is handled (no weird vortex needs to be entered, etc.) and where the story ends up, but it's all rather flatly told. On par with an average Twilight Zone episode (which still isn't exactly bad). The second story moves things in a more interesting direction even though it begins and initially unfolds as your typical Victorian vampire story. Patrick Macnee stars as the concerned husband who calls in a friend to help find the reasons behind his wife's apparent vampire attack wounds. The town is locking itself up at night and the servants have departed, but things may not be what you expect. A very nicely told and quite tense thriller. The final story simply entitled "Bobby" is, apparently, the one everyone remembers from its original showing on TV (similar to how everyone remembers that last story in "Trilogy Of Terror" with the tribal doll) and it's obvious why that is. After a distraught mother contacts the spirit world and asks that her recently drowned son be returned to her, she gets a big surprise - he shows up in the pouring rain on the doorstep. However, and you had to see this coming, all is not what it may seem...The boy starts to question and turn on her until it becomes a bit of a life and death hide and seek game. Terrific use of lighting to build atmosphere (yes, it's cliche to have a lightning storm happen during these type of scenes, but it establishes mood wonderfully well) and a kicker of a final image (that also leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks as to what happens next). I can imagine the talk in the grade 7 hallways the day after this aired...

Day Of The Dead (1985 - George Romero) - Took me awhile to get to the third installment of Romero's "Dead" films, but I'm (mostly) glad I finally got there. I'll blame Romero's tandem non-Dead films "Martin" and "The Crazies" for delaying me as I felt I needed to see them first. That actually worked out well since the former is likely his best film and the latter was still very solid and led to an even more solid remake. Back to zombies though..."Day Of The Dead" shares a lot with its predecessors: zombie bloodshed, crappy acting, rag tag group of individuals hemmed in by zombies, terrible character development, a satirical approach to broader subjects and poorly thought out dialogue. The good moments are awfully entertaining as the zombies really tear into their victims (apparently you really need to dig out those central organs for the tasty sections) and you never can quite tell when the next kill is going to happen. Yeah, the gore and effects are over the top, but I laughed long and heartily along with them. The overlong scenes of this group of twelve talking (I think it's safe to say that stating that the movie ends with fewer than that is not a spoiler) occasionally threaten to derail the whole enterprise, but it always managed to save itself. The military characters are far too one-dimensionally racist, power-hungry and violent which in turn makes them awfully dull and waters down the larger satire of military control over large populations. Particularly when the scientists aren't exactly an engaging lot either...Still, the zombie carnage is highly entertaining.

Mark Of The Vampire (1935 - Tod Browning) - At only an hour, Browning doesn't have a whole lot of time to pack in his story, his characters, his monsters and his creepiness into "Mark Of The Vampire, but he still somehow manages to do so in a very satisfying way. And that's even with a complete change of pace, plot, story and mood with about 10 minutes left. I'll admit I wasn't overly thrilled with that particular turning point, but it made for something different and certainly can't take away from the fun of the preceding 50 minutes. As you watch all the scenes of Dracula (Bela Legosi) and Luna slowly walking the halls of their mansion or wandering towards their prey at night, it becomes obvious that Browning had worked extensively in silent movies. The silence of those scenes and the glowing of the monsters provide all the spookiness you might want (bonus: lots of spiders, bugs and bats thrown in for good measure). Browning isn't afraid to add some subtlety either - whether it's having Luna just slightly widen her eyes in order to command her victim or changing up the lighting for an added surreal effect. He also wisely decides not to add any broad humour which, for me, sometimes impacts how well some of these old horrors work (see "The Black Cat").

30 Days Of Night (2007 - David Slade) - Both better and worse than I expected. The look of the film is sharp, detailed and quite lovely given that most of it happens "at night" (the story occurs in the Northern reaches of Alaska where the winter has just moved into a month of darkness) and the colours remain deep and rich. The action is actually comprehensible and not completely chaotic (only occasionally suffering from jittery fast motion) and the performances by Josh Hartnett (not one of my favourite actors) and Melissa George are strong and feel right for the characters. The flip side is that the story strains at its edges to make sure you believe the 30 days of darkness angle, but by trying to close off the realistic avenues of escape for its characters, it can't help but then make you think about what they missed or got wrong. And it's not a short list. First and foremost is the idea that as soon as the sun sets on a specific day (at which point a good chunk of the population leave for areas of greater daylight), it then literally completely disappears for a full month. I can let that slide (though it's a bit frustrating), but the vampires are another issue. Initially they appear to be interesting in both design and behaviour, but when they start speaking to each other in their own language (with nothing of interest to say) and don't stay consistent in their actions (their intelligence as well as their strength seems to waver throughout), I got a bit bored of them. Having said that, the film does provide some good tension as well as surprises and at just under 2 hours doesn't feel overly long. It's ending was somewhat unsatisfying though - whether it was partially to do wanting to leave a crack open for a sequel or just laziness towards wrapping things up is hard to say.


Davey V said...

There was a sequel to "30 Days Of Night" it was straght to video and it was dreadful!

Bob Turnbull said...

Oh right, that's true...As soon as I saw the title in IMDB ("30 Days Of Night: Dark Days") I remembered seeing it in video stores. A shame it's bad - I keep hoping Katharine Isabelle will be attached to a major film at some point.

I guess the original movie was based on a graphic novel and there were two "mini-series" that followed (which I think were initially webisodes). Don't know if that straight to video flick was also based on the graphic novels or if they spun it off themselves.