Saturday, October 24, 2009

31 Days of Terror!! Pt. 3

The Abominable Dr. Phibes – Vincent Price plays the titular Dr. Phibes in this tasty little revenge movie about a celebrated musician who decides to inflict his wrath upon the doctors who could not save his wife on the operating table. Due to a serious accident, Phibes can only speak through a bizarre stethoscope type machine he plugs into his neck. He also feeds himself through this hole. This of course means that an actor known largely for his voice, does not get to use it, and what comes out of his interpreting machine sounds much flatter than the sinister dialogue should imply. It’s a testament to Price’s genius that he still delivers such a memorable and campy performance. One need only observe his delighted handclap, applauding his own genius after one of his enemies is slain to consider this among his finest work. The movie plays out like a modern slasher film, most notably the Saw films. Characters are introduced when the plot requires another dead body, and they are disposed of in quite creative ways, inspired by biblical plagues. The finest being a lady’s face getting doused in a gooey brussel sprout concoction only to have hungry locusts attack her head and pick it clean. Great deaths aside, it’s worth viewing for the grandeur of the opening, with Dr. Phibes hammering away at his piano while his robot band plays along.

End of the line – Saw this one at TIFF a few years back. The gore and subsequent audience laughter provoked one man to storm out while yelling at us all for laughing. A religious cult believes the end of the world is near and begins ‘saving’ the less informed by dispatching them on the subway with their crucifix knives. This is a dark dark comedy, and has some tremendous gore in it. One scene in particular is probably pushing the envelope a little bit. This is a low budget Canadian film, (shot in lower Bay St. station!) so at times the lower end digital filming technology used is obvious, but there is no denying that it has some good jump scares and some unforgettable moments. By the end of the movie it’s hard to tell if this is a criticism of organized religion or not, but that doesn’t really take anything away from it’s enjoyment.

Jeepers Creepers 2 – So the first Jeeper’s Creeper’s was pretty scary until you found out that the bad guy isn’t a guy at all but rather an indestructible monster. Still, I thought this one might be fun. Nope. This was one of the worst I’ve seen in ages. Awful actors playing poorly written characters with all kinds of supposed racial tension added for no reason. By the way, if I was a director convicted of sexually abusing a young boy on a film set, I probably wouldn’t make a movie full of topless male teenagers tanning and urinating side by side, or have them hunted by a monster that represents a sexual predator of some kind. Really creepy and gross but not for the right reasons. This one gets a big zero.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

31 Days of Terror Pt. 2

The 31 horror flicks in 31 days contest continues. Still on pace, though I’ve slowed down a little bit. Looking forward to watching Sleepaway Camp, Black Christmas, Dr. Phibes, and I fear I will have to watch some more difficult films for a well rounded experience. Slightly worried by the concept of sitting through Cannibal Holocaust or Inside again, but one has to do what one has to do….

Rosemary’s Baby – With all this Roman Polanski media coverage lately, it seemed like an appropriate time for a viewing of this classic which I had not seen in five or six years. This second viewing proved much more enjoyable than my first. As often happens with younger generations reviewing older classics, it’s difficult not to be little underwhelmed by the lack of real scares or gore that they are accustomed to. Rosemary’s Baby can almost be considered more comedic than scary. Cassavetes plays the terrific shmuck of a husband, and the intrusive neighbors simultaneously elevate viewer curiousity while serving as comic relief. Nevertheless the general theme is quite horrible, with an unforgettable finale. Despite its 136 minute running length this one really engrosses the viewer and moves along quite tidily.

Pathology – More of a thriller than a horror film really, but it contained some gore so on the list it goes. A group of pathologists who all work in the ‘autopsy department’ form a special club in which every week one member kills somebody. The other members of the club must guess how it was done; an interesting and ridiculous premise. The new guy in the club turns out to be some kind of genius in this area and he immediately threatens the former champ who is a real bad-ass wild card. The whole thing kind of feels like a ski movie from the eighties, except instead of the best skier it is the best murderer that comes out on top. Lots of gore and sex beside corpses make this a fairly entertaining, though preposterous movie.

Friday the 13th Part 6 – Jason Lives – This movie kind of sucks. Redeemable only by a group of horribly unlikable cops who just refuse to believe that Jason is back again. These guys are serious assholes and are pretty much the only reason Jason has so many people around to dispatch. Typically most of the victims are introduced only minutes before execution, including some bumbling paint ballers who attempt to add comedy to the film. A couple of preteen campers at peace with their expected demise is also quite funny. Too bad they don’t actually bite the big one. The worst of the first six, but not worse than Jason in Space. This franchise in general is pretty poor.

It’s Alive - Should of watched this right after Rosemary’s Baby, as it almost serves as the perfect sequel. This one was quite pleasing, and surprisingly bloody for a PG flick. Immediately after birth, a freak baby goes on a killing spree, starting with the doctors in the delivery room. The father has much difficulty coming to terms with his child’s problem. The tone of the movie is different from anything I’ve seen before. The pre birth scenes play out like an afterschool special, with everything going so well for the family that you know something must go wrong. And when it finally does it’s quite amusing how nonchalant everybody is that there is a killer baby out there. The baby suspect is discussed the same as any adult suspect, as if there is nothing at all bizarre about the situation. For how ridiculous the film is, it is actually quite serious and touching below the surface. Ultimately this is a film about a father accepting his abnormal son, kind of like a coherent version of Eraserhead.

Feast – Part of Affleck and Damon’s Project Greenlight initiative, this is probably the most successful of the series due to a fairly big home video release and a number of sequels. A self aware horror film that tampers with conventions isn’t really a new thing, but this still has a few surprises. The story of a group of strangers stuck in a bar with bizarre, horny creatures outside is a good gore fest but otherwise unremarkable. One scene in which a baby monster does something really foul to a female victim is particularly memorable. Recommended if you’ve seen every important movie out there and are just looking for blood and guts.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

31 Days of Terror!!

I’m someone who really relishes tradition, especially when it comes to celebrating the holidays. I’m one of those people that starts blasting Christmas tunes in November. I overdo it so much that by the time Christmas roles round I have to force listening to the four or five jam packed Christmas mixes I’ve made. Every October I go through something similar, watching so many horror films that I kind of have to take it easy for the rest of the year. While TIFF does include a couple of horror flicks that I catch, the majority of the films I see there are less gag inducing, opting instead for ‘artistic merit.’ So with TIFF still fresh in mind, and last October a year in the past, it is nice to visit the old familiar faces of this terrific genre. It’s always exciting to see how one film outdoes another, stretches the formula to new territories, or perhaps just new extremes of gore. This year I will watch at least an average of one horror flick a day, running the gamut of horror new and old. I start things off with:

Nosferatu: Werner Herzog’s version. To be totally honest I’ve always really liked the look of the Noseferatu movies more than the films themselves. So while I enjoy the beginning and end of this one, I find it drags a little bit in the middle. My apprehension to praise this movie may come from the familiarity of the plot and the countless versions of the Dracula story that have been put to film, but there is no denying the movie’s aesthetic qualities. The cinematography throughout is fantastic, with lighting that mimics Murnau’s original in many instances. Klaus Kinski is tremendously effective as Dracula, and all the rats spreading the plague in the city towards the finale are great. I can just see Herzog reassuring the residents that the rats won’t escape, but I don’t really imagine him hiring a rat wrangler. While the Nosferatu look is superior to other versions of this tale, I must admit that I prefer the campy feel of the Universal and Hammer films.

Lifeforce – I’ve been wanting to see this for a while. There are so few really good horror/sci-fi movies and I was hoping I would find another one for the list. Not looking for The Thing, but just a good simple gory mess in outer space. The plot of alien vampires trying to suck up human souls (or ‘lifeforce’) sounds pretty great. Written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dark Star) and directed by Tobe Hooper (Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) this seemed like it could be a winner. Aside from some terrific effects (especially the fast forward aging of human victims) and the fact that the lead alien is an attractive naked woman walking around all movie, this was really lame. The acting is just god-awful and the story jumps around so quickly that one has to figure major bits of plot were scrapped. There’s some mildly interesting AIDS context in there, but that can be applied to any movie about vampires made in the 80’s. If this were eighty minutes instead of two hours this could have been a mess, but an interesting mess. Instead, Tobe Hooper threw away any Hollywood clout he gained by being attached to Poltergeist.

The Hills Have Eyes
– I needed a sure thing after the soul crushing experience of Lifeforce. Wes Craven’s sophomore effort may have been bested gore wise by Aja’s modern remake but this one still resonates for the simple reason that we get to know and cheer for the characters. After a middle-class family is terrorized by a family of desert dwelling cannibals they are forced to take extreme measures to fight back. Craven effectively creates similarities between the two clans, exploring the idea that all humans are capable of terrible deeds, including the viewer who ultimately supports violence as a necessary option. The gore is toned down by today’s standards, but the tension holds up, and unlike most horror films the viewer is affected by pain caused to the characters. It’s also got John Berryman, that scary actor with no hair or sweat glands.

[Rec] – When I first viewed this one it didn’t do too much for me, but when I saw a sequel was playing at TIFF this year, I began to think about it and actually got chills two months later. Upon revisiting the film I found it much more effective. A news crew following a fire department around for an evening wind up in a quarantined apartment complex, where something is terribly wrong. This Spanish take on the camcorder POV style used in Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project is terrifically effective in building tension among the residents who have no clue what is going on. I won’t say much more, but if you’ve seen the trailer for the American remake (Quarantine) try to block it out of your head. That spoiler filled trailer may have been what left me less than thrilled upon first viewing. The final ten minutes of this flick are terrific and terrifying, complete with images you won’t be able to shake for a long time. After years of redundant “Asian Extreme” horror flicks it’s nice to see an import that is worth the hype.

Carnival of Souls – Just as protagonist Mary is continually drawn to the carnival pavilion, I find myself returning to this film every few months. On late nights, when I want to watch a film but nothing seems to suit me, this classic is quickly becoming my go to pick. The story about a young woman who survives a car wreck and then begins seeing an ominous ghostly figure is an easy viewing with terrifically creepy atmosphere. By today’s standards the twist is nothing to write home about, but it’s fun to revisit all the ways this twist is foreshadowed throughout. A precursor to a slew of low budget horror films that followed, most notably Night of the Living Dead, this is a great one for just past midnight.

So after a few days, I’ve got good pace going. No signs of slowing. To be continued.