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.