Sunday 31 October 2010
What's the Rush? Stay for some horror...
Zombie (1979 - Lucio Fulci) - So this is the pinnacle of Fulci's output, eh? Oh there's plenty to remember here - the eyeball pierced with the sharp piece of wood is indeed as wince inducing as you might expect (even with the obvious dummy stand-in), zombie vs. shark was extremely enjoyable and his raft of slow moving mummified zombies was impressively creepy - but overall it's flat and, most unforgiveable of all, kinda dull. It shouldn't be, but aside from some vague voodoo references in regards to the zombies, there's little story to care about and very little exciting going on. Sure there's a few group zombie scenes and those just risen corpses look pretty cool, but Fulci just doesn't seem to be able to carry any energy through any section of the movie. It just wilts after anything reasonably entertaining or shocking happens. It's likely not as bad as all that, but I was hoping some of Fulci's "genius" would show through here.
Suck (2009 - Rob Stefaniuk) - Yes, that's Alex Lifeson (guitarist from Rush) in my ever-so-clever opening photo and pithy comment. Though the screencap is mostly there due to my fanboy-esque love of the band Rush, it serves to illustrate how the film packs in the cameos from rock stars (Lifeson, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Moby, Carole Pope, etc.) as well as incorporating other references into its tale of a struggling club band who start finding success as the band members become vampires. There's lots of saturated colours and vivid images to go along with the goofy performances and occasional clever analogies to real band-on-the-road issues, but it really hangs by a thread sometimes. The band's French Canadian roadie provides most of the laughs while other moments seem greatly forced and simply not that funny. There's a tendency to use a far greater number of techniques and effects than is really necessary (the stop-motion car as they travel between cities, the sped up motion when a vampire is feeling sick, the music videos of the band's songs, etc.) and it dilutes the potential of what you could do with musicians clawing for success and then having it dangled in front of them - with a small price to pay. I eventually found a good rhythm with the movie, but early on I thought it was going to be a painful 90 minutes.
Bride Of Chucky (1998 - Ronny Yu) - After finally getting "Child's Play 3" under my belt at the start of my October marathon, I figured it would be fitting to end it with the two follow-on Chucky films. The third installment was bordering on straight to VHS video quality, but its two sequels dwarf it. The tone of this film works perfectly with everyone on board with the concept of two talking dolls forcing a young teenage couple to drive them to a graveyard to retrieve an amulet that will allow the souls in the dolls to return to flesh and blood hosts. Jennifer Tilly is just wonderful as Chucky's old girlfriend (when he was just a simple multiple murderer) and equally good as the voice of Tiffany the doll (it doesn't really matter much how her soul gets transported into the female doll, just that it is). A few gory kills and finally some consistent banter for Chucky. The movie stands tall on the shoulders of its trio of Child's Play films - it's really on another level (and it's the best looking by far of the bunch). Tremendous fun. And talk about setting up your sequel...
Seed Of Chucky (2004 - Don Mancini) - Possibly the most entertaining movie I've seen all month. Fun, smart, self-referential, a spiraling piece of deconstruction, gory, silly, satirical, surprising and sharp. And fun. Jennifer Tilly is even better here than in Bride - though she once again takes on the voice work of Tiffany the doll, she also plays herself - currently making a movie called "Chucky Goes Psycho" co-starring Chucky and Tiffany. When the dolls' confused child shows up from England (just go with it), he manages to accidentally re-animate the dolls and mayhem of the bloody kind results (this is likely the messiest of the series). There's some debate as to whether the little Brit is actually a boy or a girl (checking anatomically with dolls can sometimes still leave you undecided apparently), so Chucky calls him Glen and Tiffany calls her Glenda. Needless to say, the child doll has some issues and they're slowly getting worse. On top of that, Tiffany is trying a 12-step program to help her stop killing, but Chucky just can't kick the habit. Meanwhile Jennifer is concerned about her stature in Hollywood and wants better roles than stupid doll movies while also struggling to keep to her diet ("she's so fat" Tiffany says at one point). Tilly is fantastic here - not only gorgeous and sexy, but having a blast playing at the plight of female actresses in Hollywood. I was certainly biased going in that I would like it, but didn't think it would be this terrific.
OK, now what do I do in November?
The Prowler (1981 - Joseph Zito) - If you're going to go the Slasher route for your horror movie choice, you can certainly do a lot worse than this early 80s example. The story is set during the first high school grad dance the town has seen since a double killing at the last dance 35 years ago. The murders were tied to a Dear John letter one of the returning vets received, and decades later someone in military fatigues is still pretty peeved about it. It follows a lot of the standard conventions - very vague characters (except the Final Girl who gets a bit more screen time), girls with "loose morals" end up being targets and characters being chased make really stupid decisions (at one point a girl is walking down a flight of stairs and notices the killer a flight above her - instead of continuing down the stairs to leave the house, she runs to a hallway and tries to get into several rooms and eventually makes her way out a back staircase when she was on the front one in the first place!) - but it handles them quite well, takes its time with some of the scenes and provides some good scares. And who doesn't like a good pitchforking?
Madman (1982 - Joe Giannone) - If you're going to go the Slasher route for your horror movie choice, you can certainly do a lot better than this early 80s example. OK, so it's not that different than the previous movie described above (a madman who killed his family years ago still lives in the woods and reappears whenever someone says his name out loud), but the execution simply isn't there. The characters are less than shells, story threads are left dangling and there's never really a sense of anticipation built up as another death approaches. There's one or two inventive scenes and it never really tries your patience that much, but I suppose that may not be the most ringing endorsement ever.
The Crazies (2010 - Breck Eisner) - A great looking, well acted and pretty faithful remake of Romero's original from 1973, this past year's "The Crazies" is a whole lot better than I ever expected it would be. That's not to say it's without problems - though this is more violent and gory than the original, it's far less angry and perhaps isn't all that great at making its points. One can see how dropping out just about any point of view or interaction with the anonymous soldiers in their Hazmat gear hammers home the fear of government intrusion, etc. but it doesn't add a lot to think about. Having said that, the film is really well constructed and with Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson doing fine jobs holding down the fort, I was happy to follow it through it's attempt at a realistic scenario. There's a great amount of attention put in each setup, framed shot and usage of natural landscape.
The Eclipse (2009 - Conor McPherson) - Less a horror film than a weighty look at the struggles of a few characters to move on with their lives. In particular there's Michael, recently widowed and finding it hard to get anything in gear. It's actually been about a year since his wife passed away, but he still thinks of his children as being the age they were at that time and won't confront his grief. The literary convention at which he volunteers brings him into contact with several new people - a full of himself author (played by Aidan Quinn) and another writer who actually manages to divert Michael's attention (Iben Hjejle). There's a great deal of imagery and careful framing around religious artifacts, but the core of the film is about people obscuring their own views of what is best for them and their families. Michael is often cast is very dark shadows and struggles daily to put a smile on his face. The few shocks in the film seem a bit out of place, but are very effective given Michael's state of mind. Yet another beautiful looking film, this also has a lovely main storyline even though it may prove a bit slow for some.
Saturday 30 October 2010
Another set of horror already? Don't look so surprised...
Night Of The Creeps (1986 - Fred Dekker) - One of the many 80s horror movies that I'm finally getting around to seeing and which was fondly remembered by many , "Night Of The Creeps" was released fairly recently to much acclaim and enthusiasm. I should track down some of the reviews of those who re-watched it for the first time in 20 years to see how it stacks up for them. Not that it's bad - it's actually a good deal of fun and frivolity - but it's fiercely dated. The clothing, hairstyles and music place it so firmly in the mid-80s that I considered spinning the Miami Vice soundtrack on my turntable. The "hero" of the story is bland beyond all comprehension (he played Rusty in "European Vacation" - widely accepted as the worst of that series), so he doesn't help the proceedings much during the buildup, but once the alien leech thingies start popping into people's mouths, turning them into zombies, laying eggs and then exploding out of them, it's smiles all around.
Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1970 - Sergio Martino) - One of the stronger Italian giallos I've seen of late. Though most of the female characters are relegated to standard roles of screaming and being unable to defend themselves (especially since they faint so easily), it was nice to see a couple of instances where the woman exerted some amount of control on a situation. The story's pretty entertaining, if perhaps completely unbelievable and dependent on too many coincidences and far too convenient timing. Martino doesn't always capture the murders themselves in overly interesting ways, but he otherwise has a great eye for an interesting shot and makes great use of depth of field. Some of the usage of zooming and quick cutting seems a bit dated, but he never overuses it and manages to create several moments of rising tension due to his cross cutting between different scenes. Of additional benefit is the presence of the lovely Edwige Fenech.
Noriko's Dinner Table (2005 - Sion Sono) - "Are you connected to yourself?" "Only being close to death can make you appreciate living." "We all just want to avoid pain."
Heady stuff. If you were wondering whether Sion Sono's horror sequel to his earlier 2001 "Suicide Club" was going to find some dark corners to explore, it does. However, it isn't really a horror film. Nor is it a sequel (since it begins before the first film and spans a much greater period of time). It deals with some horrific concepts, actions and even images (in particular, it revisits the mass suicide of young school girls on a subway platform from the previous film and gives additional context to it), but it doesn't work on providing immediate scares. Since this is a very talkative movie, it leaves you with concepts, ideas and emotions that will bounce around in your head for awhile. It's when they pop out that you need to be worried. It starts, appropriately enough, at a dinner table - 17 year old Noriko, her younger sister Yuka (probably only about a year younger) and her parents are passively eating their end of day meal like most other families. Noriko is just picking at her food, though, since she's sulking due to a fight with her Dad who won't let her go to university in Tokyo. Feeling isolated, she latches on to the web site haikyo.com where she becomes very involved in discussions with like minded girls. This spurs her to run away to Tokyo and meet up with her new friends. The leader of the group is Kumiko who runs a "family rental" business that provides paying customers actors to fill any particular role they want (usually one vacated by a previous family member who has left). As the chapters unfold (each of the four main characters has one named after them), Yuka also runs away from home to join the group and their father investigates and finally makes his way to Kumiko. The overall guidance that she provides her followers seems to be that you need to lose yourself before you can find yourself. Though Noriko claims she finally becomes the person she always wanted to be after joining the family rental service, the conversations they have in their "roles" are incredibly mundane - they aren't actually living now that they've become cyphers for other people's needs. It's within this deep loneliness that they are supposed to truly discover themselves and really become connected. It's a rich, dense and difficult world that Sono has created and once again a fascinating and constantly engaging story that surges forward due to his choices of music, narration, and structure. He's become one of my favourite current filmmakers.
Cry Of The Banshee (1970 - Gordon Hessler) - Vincent Price, Elizabethan England setting, witchcraft, filmed in 1970. Need I say more?.