Sunday, October 19, 2014
6WH: Week 5 - The Week That Dreaded Sundown
Coming down the homestretch, it's hard to believe we're already 5 weeks into the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon. This was actually a light week for us here at Kaedrin, but in keeping with the emerging theme of originals and remakes, I watched both the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown (a famous precursor to the slasher that has nevertheless been out of print for a while) and the recently released remake.
- The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
- Alice, Sweet Alice (trailer)
- Werewolf Women of the S.S. (fake trailer - extended edition)
- The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) - The film chronicles a series of mysterious murders that terrorized the people of Texarkana, Texas, in 1946. It's based on a real-life case referred to as the "Texarkana Moonlight Murders", and supposedly director Charles B. Pierce (generally famous for his work in Blacksploitation films) wanted to make this in a documentary-style that comes off more like a standard police procedural than that implies. Unfortunately, he also sorta wanted to make a slasher movie that incorporates the occasional slapstick antics of a Barney Fife-like deputy. The result is like a less artistic, more lurid version of David Fincher's Zodiac. The scenes with the killer are actually pretty entertaining and even a little tense. This is pre-slasher, so not all the conventions are there, but the killer has a great outfit (including a sack-like mask that was clearly the inspiration for Jason's look in Friday the 13th Part 2), partakes in some stalking and heavy breathing, and you can see him breathing from behind the mask (which was a nice touch). His methods of dispatching his prey are decent for a pre-slasher, though he does resort to a gun at one point (a total no-no for slashers) and the trombone thing is pretty ridiculous (and I love it for that, but it does sorta call into question the veracity of Pierce's documentary ambitions). The procedural or documentary-like aspects of the movie are far less successful. They're punctuated by a particularly inept voice-over that mostly just explains the things you see on screen, and this is also where some of the silly slapstick type stuff comes out. I thought things might turn around when a famous Texas Ranger is brought in to help out, but he turns out to just be some dude in a suit who has a not particularly bitchin' mustache. It's easy to see why this is a cult classic, and its influence is certainly apparent, but this is actually one of those movies I'm happy to see is being remade. It's so uneven and disjointed that a modern remake which could smooth out some of those issues wile maintaining the good bits could be quite successful... All in all, it's a goofy little movie, definitely worth a watch for fans of obscure cult horror that prefigured slashers, even if it's got a fair amount of issues. **
- Black Christmas (2006 trailer)
- Jack Chop (short)
- Happy Halloween (short)
- The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) - Less of a remake and more of a sequel or perhaps re-imagining, this film starts off 67 years later. The film starts off much as the original did, with a voice-over explaining the original 1946 murders and in a self-referential twist, they actually mention that there was a film made in 1976 called The Town That Dreaded Sundown that covered the events. The film makes extensive use of that fact, opening the film proper at a drive-in showing of the original film in Texarkana (in the movie, this is an annual tradition in the small town), and frequently referencing the film all throughout. Since anyone involved in the original killings would be 80-90 years old at this point, the notion here is that new killings are being perpetrated by a copycat of sorts.
He tells our Final Girl heroine that he's doing it all for someone named "Mary", which sets off a sorta dualing mystery. Our heroes are trying to solve the 1946 murders as a way to reveal the current killer's motivations, a clever conceit. For his part, the killer here is a little more brutal than his 1976 movie counterpart even as he hits many of the same notes (including the trombone, pun intended), but generally effective. The police investigation side of things is a big step up. Gone is the slapstick, and the casting is quite an improvement - folks like Gary Cole and a quintessential "That Guy", Ed Lauter, bring some chops to the proceedings. Anthony Anderson as the Texas Ranger who is brought in to see this thing to conclusion is also a big step up from the original, though his role is a bit smaller than the original. Indeed, one of the film's flaws is that we don't get all that much of the police, whose investigation seems mostly redundant. Instead, we get a lot of the Final Girl Jami's investigation of old newspapers and, in a nice touch, interviewing Charles Pierce's son to see if Pierce had any info that hadn't been released (the son is an actual person, but he's played in the movie by another awesome character actor, Denis O'Hare). This separates the remake from something like Zodiac, while staying true to the original. Visually, the film certainly has more style than the original, and while this is mostly welcome, it can get a bit grating in the second act (not every scene needs to be spiced up with canted or 90-degree angles, thanks). That would be a minor complaint though, and the film is otherwise rich in visuals. The script has some clunky dialogue and the final reveal is a bit on the underwhelming side, but then, it's still a massive improvement on the original, which was really seeking to leave things perhaps a bit too ambiguous. As it is, the remake manages some ambiguity while still hewing closer to storytelling than documentary (or whatever the hell the original is supposed to be). Brian Collins notes that "we're now as far removed from Scream as Scream was from Halloween" and wonders if we're in for another Slasher film revival. I love the sentiment and would certainly partake, but judging from the release this is getting, I don't think we'll see it ushering in a new era of mainstream slashers. But I hope I'm wrong! It's far from a perfect movie, but it is really quite solid, and I'd love to see more like it. ***
Sorry for only covering two films, I was away this weekend and had little time to go further, but I thought this worked out well enough. Stay tuned, we still got a few posts left in us!
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
6WH: Season's Readings
During the Six Weeks of Halloween, I like to read a few tales of terror in addition to the usual onslaught of trashy horror films that I normally gravitate towards. Some of these are perfect fits, others are less so, but I read them anyways... So here are a few things I've read during holiday horror seasons:
- The Inhuman Condition by Clive Barker - Barker rose to prominence in the mid-80s by, of all things, writing short stories. They were so imaginative and evocative that they picked up a lot of admirers, and were collected into a series of compilations called the Books of Blood. This is the fourth volume in the series, published as The Inhuman Condition in the US. I picked this up at a used book store on my recent vacation, thinking that it would be perfect 6WH reading, and I wasn't wrong. Barker is an excellent writer of horror, able to tap into something deep and archetypal, while still feeling fresh and new. I don't often read short story collections because of their inherent inconsistency, but this is a particularly good set of stories (even for the Books of Blood). I won't detail each one, but the opening story is a sorta proto-Hellbound Heart with a group of punk kids beating up a vagrant and stealing a piece of string that has a series of knots that represent a sort of puzzle that once opened... well, I'll leave it at that. There's another story about our hands rising up in revolution (that was not a typo), one about a preacher, his wife, and some ghosts, one about a man who attempts to create hell on earth, and finally, a story about a potent aphrodisiac that works a little too well. This might be the best entry in the series, which is rapidly dwindling for me (only the 6th volume remains). Fortunately, it's looking like Barker's Scarlet Gospels will finally (after 20+ years of teasing) be published, so look for a review next year. In the meantime, this is a solid set of horrific short stories.
- The Burning Men by Christopher Farnsworth - I've long been a fan of Farnsworth's Nathaniel Cade novels where a vampire serves the President of the United States by fighting off creepy ghouls and the like. Yes, it's very trashy, but a whole boatload of fun (for reference, the best description of what you're in for in this series is this moment from the second book, which "opened with Bin Laden's assassination-by a vampire who stuffed a grenade in his mouth and then threw him over a cliff so he exploded in midair. Also, Bin Laden was actually a giant lizard, genetically modified by a vast international conspiracy of reptilian humanoids.") The last book, Red, White, and Blood was actually fantastic, but Farnsworth has taken a break from the series to tackle some other novels. In the meantime, he wrote this quick novella where Cade and his human handler Zach fight an outbreak of spontaneous human combustion. It turns out demons are responsible! Or something like that. It's not a particularly meaty tale, and there's not really much of a challenge for Cade, but it's just fun to be around these characters. Alas, it will probably be a while before the next book in the series... but I will read it when it comes out.
- Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets - There used to be this newsletter called Weird NJ, where these guys would travel all over New Jersey and find local urban legends, crazy happenings, and other things. It became so successful that the guys have expanded to other states, recruiting crazy people to track down all the wacky hauntings and weirdness local to whatever state. A well researched academic take, this is not, but it's always fun reading about urban legends, like Pittsburg's Green Man or one of Kaedrin's local tales - Satan Church. Much of this is creepy, but a lot of it is just silly stuff, like the quest for Midgetville (a rumor that seems to exist all throughout the country, but persists particularly in this area). Ghostly handprints, closed roads, Satan's grave, portals to hell, and hey, Spontaneous Human Combustion! It's a fun little book, if a little slight. Still, I could see some of these stories as being ripe for further exploration (and many would make an interesting story)...
And that's all for now, stay tuned for more movies and the homestretch of the 6WH!
Sunday, October 12, 2014
6WH: Week 4 - Neo-Slashers
The Slasher movie has a generally poor reputation, but for whatever reason, I really enjoy them. Indeed, regular readers will remember that I've gone on and on
and on about slashers
over the years of the 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon. I won't rehash too much of the history or tropes in this post, but some delineation is needed here.
Historically, the heydey of the slasher was the 6 year period between 1978 and 1984. This was brought on by the success of Carpenter's Halloween
, but also changes to the industry and distribution model that allowed low-budget independent filmmaking to thrive and produce copycats and imitations. The floodgates were open, and tons of slashers poured through. By 1986, the sub-genre had lost most of its steam, and the slasher entered a period of mostly direct-to-video hell. Mainstays like Jason, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger soldiered on in theaters, but even they were flagging. By the mid 90s, the sub-genre was basically dead (indeed, the early 90s weren't a particularly great time for horror in general). Enter Scream
, whose winking, self-aware take on the genre reignited interests.
This is a simplification of the history, but for my purposes, any slasher made after Scream
represents a Neo-Slasher. The ones that happed right after were derivative and maintained the satirical, self-referential tone of Scream
, but as we entered a new century, more earnest, serious throwback slashers started to show up (perhaps because the kids weaned on slashers in the 80s had grown up and started making movies of their own). The movies I watched this weekend are probably not the best examples of neo-slashers, but rather, ones that I simply haven't caught up with.
- Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
- Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
- My Bloody Valentine (trailer)
- Cold Prey - This Norwegian tale of snowboarders trapped at an abandoned ski-resort and being hunted down by a pick-axe wielding maniac is a solid example of the neo slasher. It hits all the tropes (the killer with his slashing weapons, the final girl, the historical tragedy revisited upon the present, etc...), and a fantastic setting. It's a little reminiscent of The Shining, what with all the snow and isolation, but this is obviously a very different movie. It takes a little while to get going, but it is very well made, with a reasonable setup and decent action once the killer shows up.
The killer is pretty cool. Though clearly just a dude in a snowy mountain man getup, he comes off as a sorta abominable snowman. The kills aren't super creative, but then, there really aren't that many of them either. Time is devoted to character in the first half of the film, and while I won't call them fully realized characters, they do feel like actual human beings who react to things in realistic ways. This is not a slasher where you're rooting for the monster to win, eve if you do want to see some creativity in the gore department. In the end, it ticks the right boxes, and it does its job well enough, though there's nothing particularly amazing here either. Recommended for slasher fans! **1/2
- It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (sorry no vid online)
- Scream (trailer)
- House of Wax - One of the glut of recent remakes (though honestly, this barely resembles the original), this one is only debateably a slasher, though I think it fits well enough. There are some very unslasher-like moments, such as when one killer wields a shotgun, but on the other hand, there are some really fabulous slasher-like sequences. As per usual, a group of kids go camping and run afoul of a local ghost-town complete with Wax Museaum, meyhem ensues. The film is completely absurd, but it knows it's absurd and almost revels in it. It is most memorable for casting Paris Hilton as a character who comes to a particularly gruesome end. As with most of the recent remakes, this is a very slick looking movie, with a respectable teen cast that you'll recognize from other things (including Elisha Cuthbert and Jared Padalecki, amongst others), and plenty of visual effects that look practical. There are some genuinely tense moments, and plenty of ridiculousness, and it's packaged up in a relatively fun ball of wax. Or something like that. Again, it's enjoyable, but not necessarily doing anything new. **1/2
- Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
- Shining (fake trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
- Cold Prey 2 - The ending of the first Cold Prey doesn't seem particularly open for a sequel, but they manage it. Indeed, this is one of the best neo-slashers since Scream itself. This sequel picks up right where the first film left off: Our Final Girl is found and taken to a hospital, where she tells her story to the authorities, who immediately go out to find the bodies of her friends and the killer (all of whom are presumed dead). I don't think you can call this a clever setup, but they walk a tight rope in getting the killer back alive, and we all know that Hospitals (especially sparsely populated ones that are closing soon) are great settings for horror movies.
This movie clearly owes a debt to Halloween II, with lots of corridors and hallway shots and symmetry, and a killer who has gone from being just a dude in the first film to someone who might have some sort of supernatural abilities in the second film. The killer is great here, and he's given a little more to do than the first film. Lots of atmospheric tension, and the kills are more creative. Jannicke was a strong Final Girl in the first film, and while she's sidelined at the beginning of this one, so is the killer, and once things start going down, she really takes charge and leads the fight. Not everything is perfect (there's a bunch of police investigation stuff that seems extraneous, though for some reason, they're on the disc as "deleted scenes" even though they're in the movie? I guess foreign films get short shrift in the DVD QA department...), but it's all very well executed and paced, with several tense sequences and near misses. Well worth checking out for fans of the genre. ***
That's all for this week. No idea what next week will bring, probably a no discernable theme week. Also watching a bunch of Simpsons Treehouse of Horrorses and reading a few books, which I'll try to write about some point as well...
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
6WH: Link Dump: Other Halloween Movie Marathons
It seems that I'm not the crackpot engaging in a horror movie marathon and general seasonal enthusiasm. These people are awesome, check them out:
- Six Weeks of Halloween - The man, the myth, the legend - kernunrex invented the six weeks of Halloween all by his lonesome, though some of us have followed in his footsteps, and are better for the experience. So much better than the regular old 31 day marathon that amateurs (and ok, some awesome people, as defined below) usually engage in... As evidence of kernunrex's commitment to the cause, his last few movies have been watched on a laptop, in a barn. Holy hell, people.
- Film Thoughts Halloween 2014 - So this Bonehead XL (that is literally what he calls himself, though is real name appears to be Zack) also plays along with the 6 weeks of Halloween, contributing very detailed reviews almost every day. Like kernunrex, he puts me to shame in his ability to watch and write about horror movies. Check him out, for sures.
- Final Girl SHOCKtober 2014 - Unlike recent years, Stacie Ponder is taking the month slow, simply posting about her favorite title sequences, from the exploding Friday the 13th to the classic "The Thing From Another Planet" title card. Awesome, as always.
- NeedCoffee 32 Days of Halloween - Widge tries, and surpasses the pedestrian 31 day marathon, but only by one day. That's admirable, but only barely.
- Hey Look Behind You 31 Days of Halloween - Alright, fine, 31 days is plenty.
There you have it. There are, of course, tons of other folks partaking, but these are the people I follow. You should too!
Sunday, October 05, 2014
6WH: Week 3 - Now Playing
I'm cheating a little bit here, as most of these aren't actually playing at a theater near you. Indeed, I don't think any of these got a particularly good release, mostly making the festival circuit or being released on-demand or something. That being said, they're all things that have only become available somewhat recently, and one just came out this past week, so there is that. I suppose I should have gone out to see Annabelle
, but I didn't get around to it this weekend, perhaps later in the marathon...
- Halloween Rare Deleted Scene 1978 (short)
- Jason's Deceiving Speed (Robot Chicken)
- Stage Fright (1987 trailer)
- Stage Fright - I don't really like musicals, but when you combine musicals with slashers, well, the result is pretty decent. At first, I thought this was going to be a remake of the hokey Italian slasher (preview above), but aside from being mostly set at a theater, the two are very different. The opening establishes the tragic past that will drive the plot in the present, which is set at a theater camp. When the show director picks the tragic show and casts the daughter of a dead theater star, a murderer dressed up as the show's villain starts offing the competition. Or something like that. We're hitting all the slasher tropes pretty hard here, is what I'm saying. The opening is fantastic, a flashback followed by a big musical number that sorta introduces the major players at the camp. Again, not much of a musical kinda guy over here, but these numbers really do inject a sense of energy into the proceedings that would normally be rather drab in a similar movie. The film flags for a bit in the second act, but finishes reasonably well once the killer (whose musical numbers are all metal music) starts picking up the pace. I had a lot of fun with this. Nice cameo from Minnie Driver and for some weird reason, I always love seeing Meat Loaf in movies. I think I prefer the original killer's mask to the Kabuki version, but what are you going to do?
The old style mask rulez!
It's a paint-by-numbers slasher, so there's not a lot of surprises on that front (even when we start revealing killers, etc...), but it has the added twist of being a musical that keeps the proceedings fun and energetic. Of course, the slasher film is an inherently derivative genre, so all those predictable tropes are actually somewhat comforting, and this film really did scratch that itch for me (so much so, that I think I'm going to make a week of it next week). Definitely worth the watch for slasher fans. ***
- Hell No (fake trailer)
- Grindhouse: Don't (fake trailer)
- The Cabin in the Woods (trailer)
- Willow Creek - This one has been making the rounds at festivals for a while, but has only recently become available on streaming. This is director Bobcat Goldthwait's found footage Bigfoot movie. Right away, you probably know what you're in for, so I won't go into too much detail about plot. In short, the found footage elements work (this is another one of those movies where the footage is from people who were themselves trying to make a documentary, in this case about Bigfoot) and the film holds together reasonably well. It is very derivative and The Blair Witch Project seems to have covered much of the same ground. Unlike the slasher movie's sorta comforting tropes, I generally can't get behind the found footage tropes. This worked reasonably well for what it is, but it didn't really do much for me until the last act. Most of this is done in a static two shot, with our two protagonists in a tent hearing all sorts of weird crap out in the woods.
That might sound boring, but it works really well, and when things do get out of hand, I like where the movie goes. It ends about how you think, but there are some tweaks to what that looks like that I found interesting enough. Ultimately, I'd been hearing about this movie for a long time, so it felt like a disappointment, but it's stuck with me reasonably well. **1/2
- The ABCs of Death (trailer)
- V/H/S/2 (trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III
- ABCs of Death 2 - Like its predecessor and indeed, most anthology films, this is a hit or miss affair. Unfortunately, after a promising start with A is for Amateur and B is for Badger, the rest of the film is mostly miss. There are occasional high points, but they're almost always surrounded by mediocrity. The brevity of each story/letter does keep the pace brisk enough that it never gets boring... and there are some that have really intriguing ideas. I'd say that it's overall better than the first film, but by evening things out, it also doesn't have the true standouts that the first film had. I won't go through each segment, but there are the ones that stood out for me as being pretty solid:
There are plenty of other solid entries, and quite a few mediocre or half-baked ones. All in all, it's worth a watch for horror obsessives, but perhaps not for most folks.
- A is for Amateur (directed by Evan Katz) - An amusing story told in Gambit/Boondock Saints style where we see how a crime is supposed to go down, then watch how the plan disintegrates in reality. Ends with a touch of irony that is perfect. A great start to the anthology.
- B is for Badger (directed by Julian Barratt) - An obnoxious television show host gets his comeuppance. It's pretty obvious what's going to happen right from the start, but it gets points for execution and the gag at the end of the bit.
- M is for Masticate (directed by Robert Boocheck) - When they were making the movie, they left M open for a contest to see who could make the best short. This was the winner, and it might be my favorite bit from the entire movie.
Slow motion rampage set to music followed by a hilarious stinger at the end. Maybe they should do a contest for all the letters next time.
- Z is for Zygote (directed by Chris Nash) - Unquestionably the most disturbing of the segments in this movie (though it never reaches L is for Libido levels from the first film), this one follows a pregnant woman in an old farmhouse who doesn't want to have her baby until her husband returns. It's nasty and grotesque, but it sticks with you and makes for a good way to finish off the anthology. **
And there you have it. Stay tuned for a week of Neo-Slashers. Exciting!
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
6WH: The Marathon Will Be Televised
Seeing as though we're living in the Golden Age of Television, it seems like I should be taking advantage of that in this Halloween Marathon of Horror. All the cool kids are doing it, so I might as well play along. Without further ado, here are some TV shows I've been watching of late:
- From Dusk till Dawn: The Series - S1E1 - Pilot - Based on the Tarantino scripted, Rodriguez directed 1996 film, this series appears to be nothing more than an expanded retelling of the same basic story. It is very slick, well produced, and generally competent in its execution, but it suffers from familiarity (if you've seen the first movie). This pilot episode is an expanded take on the little pit stop that marks the beginning of the film. It is very well done, tense and well paced, but again, we all generally know how it's going to play out.
There are some minor differences here, as we get a closer look at the police officers in search of the Gecko brothers and some more details on the Gecko brothers' alliances across the border, but they all seem like minor differences. It's not at all bad, and in fact, this is a pretty tight episode. I imagine that if you haven't seen the movie, it would feel very effective... it's just that I've seen this story before and I feel like I know where it's going to end up. I like it enough to keep watching, but like a lot of Rodriguez's recent work, I'm not entirely sure it needs to exist...
- From Dusk till Dawn: The Series - S1E2 - Blood Runs Thick - This second episode flashes back to the bank robbery that is only hinted at in the movie, and once again, it's well executed, but we all know where it's going to end, with mitigates the tension a bit too much. We are also introduced to the preacher (played by Robert Patrick, who is fine, but no Harvey Keitel) and get some more details into why he's doing what he's doing. We also see the Gecko's Mexical ally in more detail here, and it starts to diverge a bit more from the movie. It seems that Richie Gecko has some sort of value to the Mexican side of things (read: the vampires) that is not entirely clear to Seth Gecko (or, for that matter, us the viewers, as this was not really in the movie). It's still following all the beats of the movie, but I can kinda see the seeds of some twists and turns that might be different later on. I'm inclined to keep watching.
- The X-Files - S2:E13 - Irresistible - I'm following along with Kumail Nanjiani's The X-Files Files podcast, and this was one that was recently covered. I forgot just how effective this particular episode really is. It's about an "escalating fetishist" who has gotten a taste for murder. It is exceedingly creepy. The X-Files was always good at casting, but when it comes to amazingly creepy dudes, they almost always hit it out of the park. Think Tooms (where the actor seems to be almost as creepy in real life as he is in the show), but also the dude in this show, who has a thing for women's hair, amongst other things. Really effective episode, and since I've been rewatching the entire series (because of the podcast), it actually made a bit more sense. This is a standalone, but it makes more sense when you realize that Scully has just been kidnapped by aliens and returned (or something like that). And of course, Mulder and Scully have great chemistry, even when one of them is suffering from some sort of issue. This episode also represents the growth of the show from wonky alien conspiracies and supernatural monster stories to more prosaic serial killer themes, something that was quite popular in the 90s (perhaps kicked off by The Silence of the Lambs). It's something the series wold come back to often, and while there are some glimpses of something that is perhaps supernatural, it is one of the epsiodes that is well based in reality (the visions of some serial killer survivors describe similar hallucinations of the killer appearing demonic at one time or another, for instance). One of the better standalone, monster of the week episodes.
- The X-Files - S2:E14 - Die Hand die verletzt - I've already mentioned this before as one of my favorite X-Files episodes, and I have little to add to that. It's a great take on the old, hoary satanist fears of the 80s, simultaneously dismissing and reinforcing such fears. I love the idea of lapsed satanists being taken to task by more dedicated members of their own "religion", even if this is one of those episodes where Mulder and Scully really don't have much impact on the outcome of the story (except to act as witness).
I don't want to ruin anything and I've probably already said too much, but this one hits on many of the things that make the X-Files so great.
- American Horror Story - S1E1 - Pilot - Despite the above, Horror television isn't all that common, and this is one of the few currently active horror tv shows. It's a sorta anthology, except that each story takes up a full season. This particular story, basically about a haunted house and the dysfunctional family who moves in, was the first season story. The second season was about an insane asylum, the third season about a coven of witches, and the forthcoming fourth season seems to be about circus freaks. This initial episode really runs the gauntlet of horror tropes. We've got a haunted house, a Harbinger (in the parlance of The Cabin in the Woods), ghostly twins (a la The Shining, except male), a former resident of the house (perhaps also playing the Harbinger), a gimp suit (!?), a maid who appears differently to some members of the family (also akin to The Shining in some ways that I won't go into). Despite some shotgunning of tropes, this particular episode held my attention pretty well, though the cracks were clearly visibile and I expect them to widen in future episodes. Still, it was better than expected and I expect to watch a few more episodes. That being said, nothing about this show really appeals to me. I get the impression, even from this first, solid episode, that things will get pretty ridiculous and nonsensical as the series grinds on, and that it will be mean-spirited enough that I can't really see myself rooting for anyone in the show. I'd love to be proven wrong, and so far, the show is certainly compelling enough, but I could see this sort of thing quickly devolving into something less appealing to me. I suspect that I won't even finish this first season (full disclosure, I watched about 4-5 episodes of the second season and pretty much gave up on it, and I wouldn't be surprised if the first season goes the same way). But there's only one way to find out!
That's all for now. Stay tuned for what I'm hoping will be a recently released horror weekend.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
6WH: Week 2 - Seventies Horror
After enjoying last week's original Invasion of the Body Snatchers
, I decided to check out the remake, which I had never seen. Suitably inspired, I added two more seventies horror movies to the hopper for this week's theme. Not the most creative of themes, but it will have to do. Let's get to it:
- Night of the Creeps (trailer)
- Invasion Of The Bunny Snatchers (Looney Tunes)
- The Invasion (trailer)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Perhaps due to the usual stigma applied to remakes, I wasn't expecting that much out of this, so I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying it. It mostly follows the same beats from the original, but director Philip Kaufman brings a stylish eye to the proceedings, deploying every visual trick in the book. You could say that the camera work and goofy camera angles is distracting or showy, but it's all used to add to the story, so I was pretty happy with that aspect. Adding to the tension is a buzzing, pulsing electronic score that is stereotypically 70s (but in a good way). Gone are the Cold War allusions (which weren't that thick to begin with), replaced instead with the paranoia and conspiracy that characterizes so much of 70s cinema. The story has moved from a small California town to San Francisco proper (allowing for many interesting canted camera angles), and our heroes, played by Donald Sutherland (rockin a bitchin porno stache) and Brooke Adams, work for the Department of Health.
We also get a slightly better idea of how the actual imitation process actually works. As much as I enjoyed the first movie, the process by which the pod people duplicate people doesn't make much sense. Here it is marginally better, though still quite fuzzy in its own right. The special effects are also slightly better, and more creepy as well. There's a fabulous credits sequence that shows the pods traveling through space, landing on earth and taking root within our ecosystem (the sequence ends with a bizarre cameo featuring Robert Duvall dressed as a priest and swinging on a swingset with a bunch of kids, very weird).
The sequence goes on for a solid 5-10 minutes, which is representative of the movie overall. It is a bit too long, perhaps because Kaufman takes so much time playing with the camera instead of rocketing the story along. That being said, I kinda enjoy that they took the extra time to do that sort of thing, and I love that opening sequence. The supporting cast, including folks like Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy (!), is also pretty fantastic. As I noted last week, the ending of the original seemed rushed and a little odd. The ending of this remake is more cohesive, though being the 70s, it's not exactly upbeat (and if you goof off on the internets a lot, you've probably seen the gif of it floating all over the place). Overall, I really enjoyed this one, which certainly stands up as a worthy remake (if not quite the top tier). It's weird enough (the aforementioned Duvall cameo and of course, that dog with a human face!?) to have carved out its own identity, while still remaining true to the original story. ***
- Honest Zombie (Robot Chicken)
- Shaun of the Dead (trailer)
- Zombi 2 (trailer)
- Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things - Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about this early Bob Clarke (of Black Christmas and, uh, Christmas Story fame) movie is that I love the title. It calls to mind those weird titles from Italian Giallos, and the sequence leading up to the title is probably my favorite in the movie. So it started off well enough for me, but it sorta fell apart from there...
Instead, we're left with a rather bland zombie movie about a group of kids from some sort of theater troupe who travel to a small island that is apparently used solely as a graveyard. They dig up a body and play around with some evil satanic ceremony intended to bring back the dead. Naturally, they're more successful than planned and hijinks ensue. Clearly a very low budget affair, and though there's some decent makeup on the dead folks, there isn't really any real gore factor to make up for a lackluster plot. I'm not a big gore hound or anything, but since the story in zombie movies is uniformly non-existent and boring, I can usually count on gore to keep things interesting. This movie has decent performances for what it is and there's one or two small twists that work, I guess, but it's ultimately a ho-hum zombie affair that didn't really do much for me. The characters are kinda meh, and the cinematography leans a little too dark (though this is clearly a bad transfer - I wonder how much better it would look if it got the Criterion treatment or something). So I clearly didn't love this movie, though to be fair, I'm not a huge zombie fan to start with, so maybe you zombie lovers will enjoy it more than I did... *1/2
- How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
- Black Christmas (1974 trailer)
- Black Sabbath (trailer)
- When a Stranger Calls - What a strange movie. I could have sworn I'd seen it before, but it turns out that I only really saw the beginning of the movie. Indeed, most of what you think about with this movie is that first 20 minutes (the recent remake attempted to take this opening and stretch it out to an hour and a half. I haven't seen it, but reviews were mixed to poor...). There's a sorta reprise of the opening in the last 20 minutes, but everything inbetween is a curveball.
Our heroine (played by Carol Kane) disappears for a solid hour of the movie, where instead we follow Charles Durning's private investigator character in a weird sorta police procedural drama. The movie even attempts to humanize the scumbag murderer, though not too much. It's just a really odd way to pace the story as that middle act goes on way too long. Of course, the movie is famous for the "call is coming from inside the house!" gag (which was seemingly lifted wholesale from the aforementioned Black Christmas), but there's more to like here. If they had managed to tighten up that middle act, this could have been a really solid movie. As it is, it remains a kinda curiosity, albeit one that's worth checking out (not before you've seen Black Christmas though!). **1/2
That's all for now. Stay tuned for some more recent horror offerings next week, followed by a week of Neo-Slashers. Other than that, my schedule is still pretty open, so if you have any ideas for movies I should watch, let me know!
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Six Weeks of Halloween 2014: Week 1 - The Remade
My most favoritest time of the year has arrived, carrying with it leaf piles, mutilated pumpkins, decorative skeletons, fake cobwebs, and other oxymoronic traditions that are nominally ghastly but suddenly become socially acceptable. To celebrate the season, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon. Why six weeks? Because that's, like, two weeks better than four (the typical Halloween marathon length).
We kick things off this week with what I'm calling "The Remade". Mostly because that sounds cool and almost represents a horror movie title of its own, but in reality, I watched three classic horror movies from the 1950s that were remade in the 1970s and 1980s. Remakes have a somewhat spotty reputation amongst film nerds in general, and horror dorks in particular. The recent spate of Platinum Dunes
(amongst others) remakes of beloved horror movies seems to be driving the current distaste, mostly with good reason. Remakes from other eras are perhaps not as universally reviled. For my part, I find it difficult to get too worked up about this sort of thing, especially since I've realized that a remake is generally accompanied by a corresponding release of a remastered, high-quality edition of the original movie. So yes, the Black Christmas
remake wasn't great, but the original
got a fantastic DVD release, so it's hard to complain. Similarly, this year's forthcoming The Town That Dreaded Sundown
remake is welcome, if only because the original
will suddenly come back in print and be widely available too (in this case, the remake shows some promise too, especially since they chose a relatively obscure movie to remake). In any case, movies from the 50s that were remade in the 80s actually worked reasonably well for the remakes (not covered in this post, but could/should be: The Fly
, whose remake is superb
). But it's still interesting to go back and revisit the remade, as I did this weekend:
- G.I. Joe - S01E28 - The Germ (TV Episode)
- Phantoms (trailer)
- The Blob (1988 trailer)
- The Blob (1958) - A small meteorite containing a small, blob-like substance that eats everything it comes in contact with, growing as it goes. I don't know this is the first movie where something falls from the sky and some old dude finds it and pokes it with a stick, only to be consumed by whatever, but it's certainly the quintessential example of the trope. This is actually a local movie, filmed in a bunch of Philly suburbs like Downingtown, and the famous movie theater and diner are still around in Phoenixville, where they have an annual "Blobfest" and re-enact running from the theater screaming. As a film, it concerns itself greatly with the no-one believes the teenager angle.
You meddling kids!
More metaphorically, it's pretty clearly filled with Cold War symbolism, right up to the solution where they drop the blob off in the arctic, literally freezing the problem. I'm sure someone has a global warming polemic in store fore the inevitable next remake. As it is, the 1988 remake turned the threat from outer space aliens to a secret government project. And while the special effects are genuinely creepy and gory, there's something mean spirited about the remake that doesn't really jive with me. Which is a shame, because as these things go, the blob itself is a rather fantastic and genuinely alien concept. The original is entertaining enough, though it has some weird tonal issues (like, for instance, the absurdly silly theme song that plays over the beginning of the film). The remake overcorrects into making it a really unpleasant affair. Of course, it's been done over and over again in pop culture, including Dean Koontz's novel Phantoms (which is a gazillion times better than the movie adaptation and puts a different spin on a blob-like creature) and more goofy fare, like the episode of G.I. Joe linked above. In the end, this was an interesting enough watch, and worth the stretch for students of the genre. **1/2
- Who Goes There? by John Campbell (Short Story)
- Zombie Zombie (Stop Motion Short)
- The Thing (1982 trailer)
- The Thing from Another World (1951) - Very loosely based on John Campbell's short story, Who Goes There?, this movie follows a group of scientists and Air Force personnel as they discover a downed spaceship and its alien inhabitant frozen in the ice. Eventually he thaws out, and hijinks ensue. It turns out that I'd never seen this before, which is surprising. It's played more like a straight creature feature, and as those things go, it's actually pretty good. A little talky at times, but there are some great shots, especially when the monster shows up (and they do a good job keeping him hidden in the early proceedings).
However, it doesn't really leverage the "alien impostor" element of the story at all, which was surprising. This is a pretty clear case where John Carpenter's 1982 remake is superior in almost every way. Not only is it a better adaptation of the original story, but it just works all around. Unlike the mean-spirited nature of The Blob remake, this one strikes a good balance, even while maintaining spectacular creature effects and gore. That being said, the 1951 film is very different, and has its own charms. The Cold War symbolism is probably toned down a bit here, but it's clearly there, and that's unsurprising given the nature of the 1950s! The 2011 prequel is a little perfunctory and forgettable, but it's reasonably effective for what it is. In terms of influence, the original short story has certainly been referenced and homaged repeatedly throughout the years, such as the X-Files episode "Ice". The original movie is worth a watch for fans, but you'd probably be better served reading the original Campbell story. **1/2
- The Puppet Masters (trailer)
- Slither (trailer)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 trailer)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - I was surprised to find that this was my favorite of the three movies I watched this weekend. A small town is slowly being replaced by emotionless copies of residents. It turns out that they are grown in pods from outer space. More Cold War and Communism symbolism here, and it's funny, because it's based on what is, by all accounts, a second rate novel that was preceded by much better received stories by Heinlein (The Puppet Masters) and Bradbury. And yet, Invasion is the one that clearly caught the zeitgeist and has proven to be very influential, inspiring countless remakes and homages.
Not a Pod Person
I'll lay this success at the feet of journeyman director Don Siegel, who was famous for accepting junk material and elevating it to something interesting or even great. So while perhaps not as action packed as the other two films, this one nevertheless manages to be the most involving thing I saw this weekend. I wouldn't call it completely transcendent, and the ending certainly seems abrupt and a little strange, but I can see why it has garnered so much love over the years, and it's well worth a watch. I actually have not seen the 1978 remake (except for that one clip we all know about), but I'll probably revisit sometime during this 6WH. ***
So things have gotten off to an interesting start. Thematically, we've got a lot of Cold War fears being represented here, lots of alien menaces, communists are everywhere and they're going to take us over, don't you know? In addition, there's a lot of "No one will believe me about the crazy conspiracy" tropes. I'll have to see if these sorts of themes persist through other 50s movies, or if I just lucked out.
I have no idea what next week's theme will be, but rest assured, it probably won't be as quaint as the 1950s conception of horror. Also, just want to give a shoutout to the brainchild of the Six Weeks of Halloween, Kernunrex
, who is of course going to put me to shame in terms of the number of movies he watches and quality of commentary he posts, so be sure to check him out. Also, Bonehead XL
has already begun his marathon and will surely outpace me as well.