Wednesday 2 November 2011

October Horror 2011 - Chapter #8

Yeah, I'm surprised October's over too. 32 horror films in the month is my final count - a 33% drop from last year's total. I blame Toronto After Dark for keeping me busy...

The last four for the month:

The Shiver Of The Vampires (1971 - Jean Rollin) - It's quite surprising that it's taken me so long to get around to seeing one of Jean Rollin's art-horror films - you'd think this stuff would've been right up my alley. And indeed, it most certainly is. For whatever reason, I just never thought to dive into his output until one of his titles pretty much randomly came up in my lengthy list of items to investigate. In this case, the horror derives almost strictly from images - not sound, not story, not character and not slow builds of tension. It's all about the visuals. The bright colours mixed with neutral tones, the bits of bright blood red dotting the frame, the creepy statues and artifacts littering the castle, the faces of the undead vampires and the surprising places they can be found. The camera plays its own part occasionally as when it spins around inside a circle of all the characters or becomes the POV of the doomed central character. The nominal story has a newlywed couple visiting the bride's favorite cousins in their castle. Unbeknownst to her, these vampire hunters became the hunted and now must put up with eternity. The main female vampire (who converted the cousins) slowly pulls the bride over to "her side" as the hapless husband can do nothing. Throw in a large portion of nudity, gothic outfits and a psychy soundtrack (a slightly twangy low rent version of Goblin - the great band who did the soundtrack to "Suspiria", "Deep Red" and other Argento films) and you've got yourself a memorable picture.

Two Thousand Maniacs (1964 - Herschell Gordon Lewis) - As a director, Lewis wasn't exactly known for his specific style, storytelling ability or his way with actors. I think even he would say that he wasn't so much a filmmaker as he was a businessman. By pretty much any account, "Two Thousand Maniacs" is a terrible, terrible movie - the acting is atrocious, useless dialogue scenes go on and on and the whole thing looks completely drab. Except for the blood (primarily what Lewis is known for via both this film and "Blood Feast") which was bright and vivid. The idea was to shock with scenes of dismemberments and other such gore-filled activities and in this movie's case, they certainly had a structure that leant itself to such requirements. One hundred years after an entire Southern town has been wiped out by the North during the Civil War, it suddenly reappears and their "centennial" celebration is focused on finding some sacrificial Northerners to kill at their festival. It's a different spin on Brigadoon and as an idea certainly isn't the worst one for a gorefest. The odd thing is that it isn't filled with as much chopped up flesh as you would expect (of course, in 1964 it was rather infamous for a few scenes of severed limbs). It's not that I necessarily wanted or needed to see more gushing blood, but when that's all your movie has going for it, that's all you can hope for.

Doctor X (1932 - Michael Curtiz) - After seeing this two-strip technicolour film, I can't help but wish that someone would revive this old technology and make some new films with it. The green and yellow colour palette in this case worked tremendously well for the tale of a group of scientists who are under suspicion for a recent string of murders. Specifically, any scene in one of the wonderful laboratory sets - rife with flashing lights, liquids flowing in tubes and bizarre electrical contraptions - looked fantastic with that mix of two tones and all the shadows they could find. Doctor X is the head of the school where the scientists do their research and he convinces the police to let him conduct his own investigation with his own experiments to clear his fellow professors' names. The mystery is well handled, there are several good scenes that build up suspense and it's overall quite fun, but sadly it's marred by the comic relief of the newspaper reporter. Every line and every word has to be said with smarm or as a "zinger". It completely takes the steam out of anything built up previously. Overall it's good - averaging between fantastic and annoying.

The Return (2006 - Asif Kapadia) - I don't remember much about the response to the Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle "The Return" from 5 years ago, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't overly positive. That's a bit of a shame since this was a pretty effective supernatural thriller. Oh sure, the story doesn't really go anywhere overly different than any other "why am I having these visions of someone else's past?" movie, but it does it with (for the most part) striking visuals and a very patient approach. There are several long moments of silence and a mostly tempered soundtrack that helps keep you concerned for Gellar's character as she feels a strong pull to return to her native Texas. There's a car crash in her past, but she is also increasingly disturbed by images intruding on her reality from a place she's never been. It falls into a few of the standard traps, but resists going for too many easy scares by relying on the audience's empathy with the central character. One major issue with the film, though, is its use of the sudden zoom effect - you know the one where for no reason at all the camera seems to lurch forward like there's some auto-correcting zoom feature? It's used enough in the film to be extremely distracting and somewhat infuriating. It makes sense (to a certain extent) when being used in faux-documentaries to ape a cameraman trying to figure out the right shot and framing for something happening in front of them, but it's completely nonsensical to use in a film like this. Sometimes a single bad choice like that can ruin an entire experience, but fortunately there's enough in the rest of this film that allows me to overlook that glaring misstep.

No comments: