Friday, 28 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Beetlejuice (1988)

Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren
Cast: Michael Keaton (as Betelgeuse); Alec Baldwin (as Adam Maitland); Geena Davis (as Barbara Maitland); Catherine O'Hara (as Delia Deetz); Jeffrey Jones (as Charles Deetz); Winona Ryder (as Lydia Deetz); Glenn Shadix (as Otho)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #52

My interest in obscurer films means I ignore most mainstream cinema out of priority and disinterest. Of course there are directors like the Coen Brothers that I love but many that I don't put forward in concern next to films unfairly neglected and more interesting in premise to me. This can be to a detriment sometimes and there are a few cases now where, when I take interest in certain directors and films, I find myself surprised by how good the films are. There are other cases, as with Tim Burton, where I grew up with his films and am only now returning to them with greater admiration. I won't comment on Tim Burton the current filmmaker of the 2010s, a debate that has exasperated many as they ask what films are good or not, because baring his throwbacks to his old style in Corpse Bride (2005) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) I've only seen films within adulthood from before the Millennium. Naturally his gothic aesthetic style wins me over but what has made films like Beetlejuice or Batman Returns (1992) far more rewarding to now as an adult is that, even when making blockbusters, his obsession with a macabre or heightened aesthetic isn't mere window dressing, as is a huge problem with "stylish" Hollywood films, but filtered entirely through to the performances and themes he has obsessed over in his career as well adding a greater texture to them and adding more to love within the films. (And it's not merely in horror and fantasy either, as with Ed Wood (1994) Burton managed to take one of the least effective and rewarding genres in cinema, the biopic, and make a movie that was actually good from it).

With this in mind, Beetlejuice is a film that feels from a completely different time in Hollywood alien to the present day from how gleefully morbid and anarchic it is as a mainstream horror comedy. The premise is simple - a couple Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) die and attempt to haunt the Deetz family that move into their home, Jeffrey Jones as the father Charles, Catherine O'Hara as the mother Delia who sculpts modern art, Winona Ryder as their daughter and Burton stand-in Lydia who can see the ghosts - a prop to lead to utter chaos and an incredibly twisted sense of humour when Adam and Barbara consider hiring Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) to help them get rid of the family, a vindictive and perverted entity who can escape the prison imposed upon him from the offices of the afterlife if someone says his name three times. The result is an excuse for countless moments stop motions, jokes and various ghoulish incidents, the cinematic equivalent to a carnival ghost ride, but why it succeeds is how idiosyncratic Burton's style is and how much character as a result the film has.

He is an openly fantastical director in his early work who gladly has exaggerated, aesthetically distinct worlds onscreen. This is something already said many times before by others, yet it's worth mentioning again as he's able to contrast various tonal references into his films through this style of his which greatly influences the type of stories he made and their tone. He was able to get away with the out-right German Expressionist influences in Batman Returns through his ability to take material which would allow him already to do so but also bring a carefully considered production and tonal aesthetic as well, something visible here in Beetlejuice as well with its juggling of its overtly macabre content with various tones such as Americana, slapstick and modern art parodies. An entire film, for example, could be made of the Afterlife as depicting in the film, an administration office with extremely long queues where, as Adam and Barbara were lucky just to drown, others remain as they died, including an explorer caught by a head shrinker and, amongst the more bleak moments of humour, office staff including a female suicide victim and a man flattened like a pancake from a vehicle who travels along rooms on a pulley system. That this style is as much part of the personality of the film, neither able to be separated as it influences how the plot goes along and the sense of humour, there's a greater sense of imagination onscreen because its more than gloss. Considering as well how dark and adult the film is in humour, when very adult jokes could be snuck into what is not really a film that would qualify for an American R rating, does allow for the story to be more playful in its content, bordering between the disturbing and the fun in moments such as the Betelgeuse snake attack the Deetz family.

The use of practical effects, as much for their visible seems as with the accomplishment behind them, adds to the gleeful tone, a distorted reality to when the actors are involved with them or transformed themselves by the effects onscreen,  such as seeing Geena Davis hung on a noose in closet rip her own face off, or the Skullmonkeys -like desert landscape where the iconic sandworms live, processors for the stripy sock snakes of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) only significantly bigger. Whilst the film in all these scenes is meant to have a humorous streak to it, it's still significantly macabre and it's the kind of cinema which would gladly feed the imagination of any teenager for the better, amazing me as an adult viewer now with what Burton could both get away with and how inspired it feels at the same time.

Musically as well its inspiring what was done for the film. Danny Elfman's exquisite music, including his obsession with the horn section, does evokes as a more knowledgeable person his days as part of Oingo Boingo but the decision to use two calypso songs by Harry Belafonte also evokes the importance of using classic tunes in the Oingo Boingo film Forbidden Zone (1980). Even when I hadn't seen Beetlejuice for decades since I was a child Belafonte's take on the Jamaican folk song Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) had been in my thoughts permanently since then, and revisiting this film, the use of this type of music as a contrast to the gothic influences is one of the best aspects to it, suiting the humour to have actors mime to the songs and also showing the little brushstrokes that make Beetlejuice more entertaining.

Another great aspect of the film, and something which is a key virtue to Burton as director and why he's able to balance his exaggerated aesthetic style with depth, is how the cast are clearly taking the material seriously whilst clearly relishing it. Geena Davis is charismatic and lovely in her role. Alec Baldwin, before he got strange with his politics and calling his real life daughter a little pig, is also charming as Davis' nerdy husband obsessed with his giant model of the town the film is set in. O'Hara's modern art sculptress is more than a one-note joke because of how the actress is able to make her irritated inflections and parody of an urban middle class personality humourous. Ryder, in a very early role, is a great stand-in for the outsider who is fascinated with the macabre that would appear in many of Burton's films. The late Glenn Shadix, as he does in the fun Sylvester Stallone film Demolition Man (1993), steals scenes as Otho, a gracefully voiced but obnoxious specialist of feng shui and exorcism. And then there's Michael Keaton who stands out the most in the film as Betelgeuse - you would think he was a completely different actor from the man who would an incredibly suave Bruce Wayne in Batman (1989) a mere year later, here perfectly playing a hyperactive and charismatic scuzz ball who dominates the film, both hilarious and utterly detestable as the titular figure.

Because of all these factors, what  is mean to be a fun popcorn film is actually a great movie too, tapping into a corpse humour with elaborate spectacle which is utterly irresistible and ultimately something I have found in almost all the Burton films I've revisited. 


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: The Terror (1963)

Director: Roger Corman (with Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill and Jack Nicholson)
Screenplay: Leo Gordon and Jack Hill
Cast: Boris Karloff (as the Baron von Leppe); Jack Nicholson (as Andre Duvalier); Dick Miller (as Stefan); Sandra Knight (as Helene); Dorothy Neumann (as Katrina); Jonathan Haze (as Gustaf)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #51

Not all Roger Corman films are created equal, and in the period of his legendary Edgar Allen Poe films The Terror was spawned from still having Boris Karloff after The Raven (1963) and deciding to take advantage of resources he already had from the Poe films he'd already made. Surprisingly, despite the ridiculous and illustrious list of people meant to have directed parts of the film unofficially with him, it's a surprisingly coherent and curiously woozy supernatural chiller, but the real issue is how undercooked in parts it is against the moments which do succeed completely. Jack Nicholson is a very unconventional choice for a French soldier, Andre Duvalier, who has lost his way from his regiment and into countryside where the alluring and mysterious woman Helene (Sandra Knight) is. Her existence, denied as merely his hallucinations, leads to the castle of Baron von Leppe (Karloff), an elderly lord who claims the woman is his long dead wife, causing Andre to try to get to the bottom of who is right.

Even if it suffers from being in the public domain, and lacklustre versions of the print, The Terror even if it looks like you're viewing it through a dirty sock at least has the same decadent, Technicolor style of the Poe films. Corman's films of this time aren't historically realistic in the slightest but, even on a small budget, are some of the only true examples of the baroque in American cinema, bright colours against dark shadows an irresistible combination in these films of his. As a result, everything from the dark woodland that Helene leads Andre to near danger to the sunny beach coast von Leppe's castle looks over, an opulent castle in itself which naturally has a dank underground family crypt which can be flooded, The Terror certainly has the look and style that made the Poe films so rewarding.

So much so you forget even as tamer films from their era how nasty and macabre Corman's gothic horror stories actually are. In terms of violent content, The Terror has a far more violent scene than many of the films from this period of his in a character having their eyes gouged out by an eagle and then falling off a cliff. Aside from this the plot is as appropriately morbid for a gothic story as you could get as it deals with murder, adultery, a woman getting revenge through witchcraft and bodily possession. If anything, especially with Karloff as strong a charismatic individual as always to safely support his scenes on, The Terror would've worked without being a Poe adaptation with its unconventional original story.

The issue is that Karloff is only in a few scenes and the film drags without a clear magnetic prescience to support it during the plodding periods of dialogue. Even when he wasn't the lead, Vincent Price still was the glue that makes a great deal of the Poe films successful alongside their other virtues. The Terror suffers from a lack of Karloff and how Jack Nicholson is very young and green behind the ears here, perfect to play the bumbling son of Peter Lorre in The Raven but still stepping forwards awkwardly as a lead here, before he became a more charismatic actor, dealing with less than perfect dialogue without enough relish to it. Barring Karloff, the film is deflated in terms of charisma, needed to prick its spirit up but only standing out in its more colourful and macabre moments. Likely the reason The Terror is lesser known is that it's quite a flat, sluggish story in spite of its short feature length and moments of sparkle. As much as Corman is an incredibly talented director and shrewd producer, his tendency to recycle and take advantage of resources didn't necessary always work, and there's moments to The Terror that are fun but does suffer from this.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Maniac (2012)

Director: Franck Khalfoun
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur and C.A. Rosenberg
Cast: Elijah Wood (as Frank Zito); Nora Arnezeder (as Anna D'Antoni); Jan Broberg (as Rita); Liane Balaban (as Judy); America Olivo (as Angela Zito)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #50

With no personal connection to the original Maniac (1980)1, I come to Franck Khalfoun and Alexandre Aja's remake as an entirely different film. Elijah Wood is Frank Zito, the son of a late mannequin restorator who suffers from deep psychological problems, an impulse to kill women and scalp them, the collected pieces of hair stapled onto mannequins with the victims' clothes at the time of the murder and becoming part of his fantasy world of interacting with them. It's a creepy, disturbing premise, and whilst the original film by William Lustig and Joe Spinell is known for being depressing and scuzzy, the 2012 version is still an uncomfortable experience in spite of being glossy with retro-techno music by musician ROB.

This is especially so as the main conceit to Maniac 2012 is that, like the first quarter of Enter the Void (2009) before it enters its esoteric spirit travels, it's entirely depicted in first person from Frank Zito's perspective, Elijah Wood only seen in reflections or an occasional out-of-body experience. The result could easily be an uncomfortable proposition for some viewers, entirely in Zito's head as he not only kills women but stalks them beforehand, even a voyeuristic sequence where he watches a woman change clothes from the wardrobe. However the result actually forces you to confront this potential morally problematic concept in that the viewer is forced into the mind of a psychologically damaged serial killer and forced to see everything he commits from his eyes rather from a safe distance from another camera off in the distance. The theory of the "male gaze" which has been a thorny moral debate with films especially in the horror genre, of a mostly male view of films leering over women, is turned on its head with this gaze being the only camera one sees the film through. Being forced to witness the murders committed from the eyes of the killer committing them turns out, at least for sane and intelligent horror fans, is actually a horrifying experience to sit through and through how carefully the film deals with the issue, not hiding from the extreme discomfort it causes.

As a result, especially with its very violent and gory content, you feel incredibly uncomfortable and ill at points in Maniac. Adding to this is how Zito is a damaged person, forcing the audience to suffer from his migraines, where everything becomes blurred and distorted, and hallucinations which plague his mind and visualise in front of us as much as him, of the mannequins turning into the real victim he killed or replaying his late mother and his younger self from the past. If there's only one issue with Maniac, it's not being forced to see through a killer's eyes, which instead forces us the viewer to be complicit in chasing and killing terrified women and feel awful because of it, but whether the back story of Zito's mother from the flashbacks, having sex with many men and taking drugs, is a bad cliché to detail Zito's later behaviour. Is it a tasteless and lazy cliché, merely an eye rolling cliché, or is having to be in the mind entirely of a man whose subjective reality is up to debate, with constant hallucinations, able to compensate for it in wondering if his view of his mother is entirely up to question and possibly fictionalised? Aside from this, the tone of the film is perfectly done, the only real area of question with a film that, while a nasty chiller, manages to avoid how poorly tasted it could've been in the wrong hands and actually effects you greatly in ways this type of serial killer genre film doesn't usually, actually having a real emotional effect.

This is particularly enclosed and made important in the ultimately tragic nature of Maniac where Zito meets a young woman Anna (Nora Arnezeder), the aspect of the film where it succeeds the most. Anna, who does art installations with mannequins and bonds with him, is a really significant emotional core for the film to have, bringing Maniac higher in quality than a lot of horror at the time of its ilk in forcing you to see Zito as a tragic figure, damaged, who will sadly destroy his only salvation whilst also being forced to suffer it through his eyes. Not only is how the first person perspective an incredible technical accomplishment but, despite only a few shots of him in the flesh, Elijah Wood gives an exceptional performance hinting at vulnerability, shy charm and a disturbing menace that, with only his voice for most of the film carrying this character dynamic on his shoulders, succeeds. Helped by Arnezeder and other actresses in their scenes2, Wood is able to command both revulsion but a sickly sympathy even through the extremity of the violent scenes.

Khalfoun's film is exceptionally well made, glistening with colourful night time sheen which is also nonetheless grimy and rundown. ROB's music, evoking the same audio aesthetics of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011) in choice of cues, does command a great deal of the mood, not only its shiny pop but also in the appropriately dread-inducing synth drones, evoking the old eighties films of yore where the droning noises of pioneering (or antiquated) electronics was apt for ghost stories with their haunting themes or down-to-earth serial killer films because of their grainy, dank sounds.

1 Have yet to see the original Maniac at the time of this review. Only a long out-of-print, old and censored DVD release of it exists in the United Kingdom and I felt put off trying to acquire an antiquated copy of such a film when it deserved better treatment whether my opinion of it ultimately is.

2 Of topic, I'm still wondering why actress Megan Duffy's feisty redhead, on a date with Frank Zito in her scenes, has so many keyboards in her apartment. A moment of brevity in spite of the grim nature of the entire film.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Ringu (1998)

Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenplay: Hiroshi Takahashi
Cast: Nanako Matsushima (as Reiko Asakawa); Hiroyuki Sanada (as Ryūji Takayama); Rikiya Ōtaka (as Yōichi Asakawa); Miki Nakatani (as Mai Takano); Yūko Takeuchi as Tomoko Ōishi)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #49

Unequivocally, I cannot give an unbiased opinion of Hideo Nakata's Ringu, a film I've lived with for years and love. It's emphasised knowing this is not the first ever adaptation of Kôji Suzuki's original novel - that would be Ring: Kanzenban (1995) (Reviewed on the blog HERE) which is said to be a more faithful novel adaptation, made for TV, but is insane, has a strange aesthetic that can only come from being made for nineties Japanese television, and is softcore erotica at points which feels amazingly explicit. The theatrical adaptation by Nakata strips the premise off almost all the details found in Kanzenban, keeping only the initial idea where you watch a cursed videotape, get a phone call immediately afterwards and die a week later from the viewing. The cause of it, as divorced mother and journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) views the tape as part of research of its urban legend and the death of her niece from it, and goes with her ex-husband Ryūji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada) to stop the curse, does involve a figure named Sadako and ESP, but the muted, down-to-earth nature of the story, how it's based on human emotions generating a monster with a simplistic cause-and-effect, made this premise universal.

Ringu works perfectly as an urban myth and could've easily become a real one. Anyone could find a cursed videotape that would kill, a lack of convoluted mythology to it allowing it to pass easily by word-of-mouth without difficulty. Unlike many horror films, it keeps the back story simplistic, which is more than likely why Ring's popularity including its US remake in Japan and the West became possible, the premise requiring little change even for the Creepy Pasta generation. (In fact it's a lot more simpler and more scary than many creepy pasta legends, which suffer from clichés of blood shot eyes and going over the top in their narratives, more chilling in how those who view the tape end up dying of apparent heart attacks with their faces contorted like Edvard Munch's more disturbing portraits). That the film is mainly a mystery, a slow drip fed of information where minuscule details of horror (distorted photographs, premonitions) are most of the scares, this proves to be in its favour in terms of aging gracefully as it doesn't feel tied to any clichés of its era, the innovator of modern J-horror to many in fact, and can still stand out greatly.

The grey, naturalist atmosphere of Ringu helps in its timelessness and also in terms of its immense sense of mood, an atmosphere without need of any fog covered hills or traditional sense of ghosts from classic Japanese mythology, commendable on Nakata's part for modernising the supernatural. Japanese films of the nineties into the modern day always stand out for me in how distinct they look - possibly different cameras from those in the West, the architecture and environments of modern Japan - where suburbia and urban environments have a distinction from similar locations in Western films, a sense of space in the exteriors and depth to the interiors which always stands out for the likes of Ringu to Pulse (2001) alongside a practical economy to them in how the environments look. In a film like this they have the distinction of being more appropriately blank as slates, allowing the dead to easily haunt them and paint character on the environments, especially when contrasted against more older and natural environments such as the coastal island the protagonists go to for their investigation of the tape.

That the film involves a videotape in its central premise doesn't date the film at all but makes it even more frightening to me. An update of a magical talisman that is haunted - from a whistle in an M.R. James short story found on a beach to myths around objects like mirrors - videotape however is actually one of the rare cases where, as it becomes more obsolete, it develops far more ominous qualities suitable for horror like certain artefacts in fairytales and mythology like black obsidian mirrors do. All film mediums, from celluloid to a YouTube clip, have the capacity to be haunted objects, filmmaking literally a form of channelling the dead back to life, but specifically with how it can be manipulated, how fragile the technology actually was and how its output of materials at one point in society means so much is left to accidentally stumble upon, the possibility of finding a videotape in a basement always likely and with an inherent mystery if the tape blahas no clear signs of what it is, videotape is becoming more of a mysterious entity where each failed moment tracking adds a sense of ghostly prescience. Also, if Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers (2009) proved anything, the curiosity laced with fear of what one could find if you found an unmarked tape becomes more increasingly felt. That it's difficult to find the technology to play videotapes on unless you go second hand adds to this, the sense of datedness against (now) alien technology for younger people having a profound effect on its form - that the cursed tape in Ringu is one in an unnamed white box found amongst a hotel's video selection emphasises this, the mystery of ancient tomes or scrolls transferred now to strange black tapes that punishes the curious who can actually play it.  The video content itself in this version of the story, monochrome nightmares with a bluish tint, is appropriately surreal as well, the one aspect of Ringu which gets overtly phantasmagoric and is also a major advantage for the story in how distinct images from it, from a woman brushing her hair in the mirror or a figure with a white cloth over their head, are constantly repeated and haunt the protagonists further.

The only pervading issue in terms of Ringu as a fan is knowing its long line of sequels afterwards (and I'm including the US remake and its ephemera in this too) and how it continued as a franchise it might've gotten. Franchises sadly denote most of the time the danger of a convoluted back-story being forced upon a great premise onwards, the lack of the haunting mood of the original, and with the new crossover film with The Grudge franchise called Sadako vs. Kayako (2016) the fear of parody without any meat to the bones, but all of those films are for another time. If anything this fear merely evokes how potent Ringu is as a horror film, a ghost story for the modern day which manages to tap into a primal fear of death and the unknown perfectly for me. 


Monday, 24 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: The Beyond (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MacColl (as Liza Merril); David Warbeck (as Dr. John McCabe); Cinzia Monreale (as Emily); Antoine Saint-John (as Schweick); Veronica Lazar (as Martha)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #48

To enter the world of The Beyond is to go into one of Lucio Fulci's least conventional horror films. Ironically this is his most well known film yet it is very unconventional, a story of a gateway to Hell under an abandoned hotel but one which slowly jettisons the entirety of logic bit-by-bit as the narrative goes along. Especially when able to view it in a pristine form, it's a deceptively alluring and haunting horror movie, its sepia prologue in 1920s Louisiana, when a sorcerer keeping the gate closed is horribly murdered by a mob, starting the events decade later, evoking a classical horror movie with its pace and music only for the prolonged nailing of hands to a wall and melting with lime to force you to remember this is an ultraviolent Italian film from the eighties. Paradoxically, like many of Fulci's horror films, this manages to be amongst the most lurid of Italian genre cinema at this time, prolonged scenes of sloppy practical effects gore for its own sake, like a Herschell Gordon Lewis shocker, yet amongst the most artistically beautiful from that era too. It confuses one's perception especially as its semblance of plot - an English woman Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) gaining the cursed hotel by inheritance - becomes infected by the more nightmarish content immediately after a construction worker renovating the hotel falls off a scaffold from fright.  

Many aspects of The Beyond are utterly silly if scrutinised by their own. The "realistic" spiders which crawl out from under a library archive shelf and eat a man's face very slowly. The 'Do Not Entry' sign in the hospital which belies the Louisiana on-location shoot with its palpable sense of dread for the rest of the time. Many things in another content, where there's no clear sense of irrationality as in The Beyond, would be ridiculous but, whether its fully planned out or includes accidents, inside this film they make sense still, Fulci in his films possessing a tone of real nightmares where nothing is entirely in control. Events inexplicably happen, an unconscious body perfectly placed under where a glass of acid will fall slowly on them, the dead in a hospital morgue rising up, and the small snapshots of people in the town the film is set in all eventually disappearing when Liza and doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck), the later dragged into the events around the hotel, find themselves eventually isolated in desolate corridors with only the dead as company.

It's clearly deliberate as much as its the result of Fulci's unconventional directorial style - very volatile and angry on set, a tendency to go off-script completely - an empty road in the middle of real life Louisiana haunting with only a blind woman with her dog, the ghostly Emily (Cinzia Monreale), in sight for Liza to have to stop her car. An occasional distortion of the visual medium which disrupts time clearly shows this, a moment of slow motion of a glass of acid falling out of reality, or when Liza repeats the image of Emily running out of a house over and over again, the film gladly able to break physical logic as it goes along with clear intentions. When the heroes find they've gone through a hospital door and end up back in the water drowned basement of the hotel, it's clear The Beyond is going further than even City of the Living Dead (1980), Fulci's previous film, did in being irrational.

Even as a gory film with prolonged shots of eye trauma and injury, the sense of immense decay and death is far more unsettling, the obvious practical effects in Fulci's films always evoking sickness in a slow burn mood. Fabio Frizzi's score adds a sense of the grandiose to this material but its severely, painfully even, melancholic and depressed; even by the standards of Fulci's nasty films this is nihilistic as the results don't bode well at all for those who try to escape the curse of Hell opening up.

Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist; Grotesque; Mindbender; Psychotronic; Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High

Likely the extreme of all of Lucio Fulci's career - A Cat In The Brain (1990) is another contender but one of the other spectrum of the bizarre content in Fulci's filmography next to The Beyond as his most dread inducing. Only the second of his unofficial Dead trilogy, the slow grower The House By The Cemetery (1981) capping an incredible triptych of Italian horror films for any director, The Beyond is somehow, when you stop to think about it, a film which manages to get away with countless things that shouldn't work in films (one note characters, silly prosthetic effects, a lack of explanation for what exactly the curse that devours the world is or any sense of its scope) but is entirely disturbing and powerful nonetheless.

The reality of The Beyond, to match City of the Living Dead's teleporting zombies, allows the dead to spring from any place, to rise from bodies of water to slaughter the living, for a ghost to even die again through a horrible moment of man's best friend turning on its owner. In many ways, a feint scent of Lovecraftian horror in its view of irrational horror is here, the hotel only one of seven gates to Hell, but entirely in the realm of religious dogma where anyone can be silenced whether they are by the layers of death under the earth in its own realm.

Personal Opinion:
Even by the standards of Italian genre cinema, and how gonzo it could be, The Beyond manages to be even more unpredictable on multiple viewers, still strange and compelling as a result. What was once a film of acquired taste is now something a lot more special to me. 


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Buried Alive (1990)

Director: Gerard Kikoine
Screenplay: Jake Chesi and Stuart Lee
Cast: Robert Vaughn (as Gary Julian); Donald Pleasence (as Dr. Schaeffer); Karen Witter (as Janet); John Carradine (as Jacob); Ginger Lynn Allen (as Debbie)
A Night of A Thousand Horror (Movies) #47

In another context Buried Alive, not to be confused with the Frank Darabont TV movie of the same year, would be prime trashy and psychotronic material for another blogger to relish. A late production by producer Harry Alan Towers, who I like many will know for his genre films such as those produced with Jesus Franco as director, another blog would have become intoxicated over a plot where teacher Janet (Karen Witter) joins an all female institute for mentally disturbed young women only for the girls to be picked off when they try to leave and, in the sole reference to Edgar Allen Poe in its full title, are usually bricked up alive behind a wall like in the Black Cat short story. There's bad end-of-eighties hair and fashion, bitchy female characters, a girl naked in a group shower wearing sunglasses, a girl being scalped when the electronic whisk she is using to curl her hair in the kitchen backfires, and Donald Pleasance as a pudding bowl haired man who is constantly eating.

All the above sounds in computer text brilliant to see but the execution is different almost always from what you can imagine. Unfortunately barring wonderful exceptions, I find that I can't appreciate trashy movies like this if they cannot generate any sense of mood, or any cohesive glue of atmosphere, not necessarily fog machines or menacing amounts of shadows on the wall, to make it all seem to have some connecting together and stand out further. It neither helps that it's such a tedious film to sit through for the most of it. One is foisted with a bland, dragged out narrative where the only interesting detail about the heroine in the centre of it is her numerous freakish hallucinations of breathing brick walls and thousands of ants crawling out of a toilet, aspects which suggest, when she gets there, she's more in danger of psychological breakdown than any of the girls there and should logically lead to some great things; the scenes I've mentioned themselves are memorable but in-between her concern about what's happening at the institute and its founder Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn) trying to get cosy with her, you're eventually numbed by the lack of dynamic or fun to most of the running length.

Without any sense of mood, that even the schlockiest Italian films of the later eighties could still drip in rivers of, this merely becomes a grab-bag of odd details, snippets that are fun by themselves but without a memorable film around them to allow them to stand out. If one is to take pleasure from the trashy, it only truly works if the entire film is one impactful effect on you, not merely something you can make a minute YouTube clip of its funniest moments of. Inherently a killer in a worn, browned Ronald Reagan mask bricking people up behind walls in a fun and surreal idea I can appreciate as a villain for example, dying for a film as strange as the image itself, but it becomes increasingly obvious once I got into odd films and watched them incessantly that without a metaphorical adhesive to connect these shots into once clear form, even if its utter madness of the z-grade variety of weird editing and narcoleptic acting performances, a standard directed and blandly in-cohesive film like this one fails. Instead even the fun moments start to lose their energy and the entire film drags one's mood down miserably.

Neither does it help I hate something controversially that most people like - that I've never held enjoyment for female characters, from mainly eighties slasher films, who only speak in bitchy comments and snark which makes up a large part of Buried Alive when it's not Janet onscreen. Not even the fact the main offending character Debbie is played by porn star Ginger Lynn can get me over the fact that I find such caricatures on American genre films of this period utterly irritating to see. Especially here, it's obvious how unlike real women these characters are, worst when the cast in mainly women, and that, without the graced penmanship of a film like Heathers (1988), a fine art to catchy and profane insults for any gendered character, the snotty comments and threats thrown by characters here is simple time killing dialogue without humour to it.

Neither does it help the fashion in display is dreadful to the point of being an aesthetic displeasure that effects this particularly film badly rather than a quaint time capsule - it would take a woman (or a transgender man to not limit ourselves by gender binaries) of such charisma to pull off the bird's nests stuck on some of these actresses' heads and look good in them alone. Ultimately it's down to Donald Pleasance (thank god) as the pro he is to add something watchable in his scenes - literally pudding haired with a thinning grey haircut, foreign accent for an unknown country and constantly with a bag of crisps (chips) or food of some sort in his hands as an Igor-like figure to Vaughn's head of the institute. That and spotting Arnold Vosloo in a tiny role as a policeman before he'd end up playing Liam Neeson in the Darkman straight-to-video sequels.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic; Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Plenty of moments, if to use the full title, stand out in Edgar Allen Poe's Buried Alive (sic) as being strange. Close-ups of a black cat that have no connection to the plot whatsoever but merely try to justify using Poe in the title. The constant references to ants, one on a plane of glass to many in a toilet bowl. The girl, already mentioned, who is killed by hexed machinery, presumably done through fiddling with the electronics but looking in the scene like the film has supernatural traits, when she though using an electronic whisk with a hairdryer in the institute kitchen in the middle of the night was a good way to style her hair. The fact the basement, full of sinister corridors, also has a giant room with black-and-white tiles and statues. John Carradine in his last role before his death in a wheelchair bond cameo and plenty of other strange sights. However because the film is merely perfunctory in style and lacking a good narrative strand, even if it was a frail thread, to make the scenes connect together fully, they are merely disconnected pieces unable to cohere together and have the impact they deserve for such odd moments.

Personal Opinion:
A film of conflicting aspects. Times utterly memorable for its weird content, but in the end an utter mess without the charisma to get away with it. Not a good film at all in the end.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Let The Right One In (2008)


Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant (as Oskar); Lina Leandersson (as Eli); Per Ragnar (as Håkan); Henrik Dahl (as Erik); Karin Bergquist (as Yvonne)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #46

A film that was in dire need of being revisited, Let The Right One In is a melancholic film, another modern movie which takes vampire mythology and intertwines it with a deeply introspective drama, here about adolescence. Many will know the film; for those who don't, it's set in 1980s Sweden, where an adolescent male outcast called Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), living with his divorced mother, meets the girl that's moved in next door  called Eli (Lina Leandersson), a vampire who he starts to fall in love with and encourages him to lash back at the bullies in his class. What's surprising revisiting it is how important the fact that it's a drama at its heart is, very much a character study of Oskar as someone completely disconnected from his parents, the mother unable to reach him despite moments of bonding, bullied at school and very much filled with an anger that is in severe danger of appearing externally. The drama is very much in the vein of quiet, thoughtful characterisation one that Ingmar Bergman set the tone for, only in a work that does openly embrace its genre tropes in how Eli's vampirism exists in the film, both her visceral need to feed but also how her elderly male aide Håkan (Per Ragnar) will gladly knock a person out chemically, tie them up and bleed them out, his growing inability to be competent endangering her existence and ability to sustain herself.

The vampire mythology is far more relied on in this narrative than most, willing to even evoke the lore of how a vampire has to be welcomed into a house to be able to enter it, seen in a very disturbing moment when this isn't done with the blood seeping from the body in vast quantities. What makes this interesting here is that the setting is completely removed from traditional gothic or even modern neo-gothic mood, in the cold and snow covered suburbia of Sweden of night-time streets and the corridors of Oskar's school, the introduction of classical folklore into this environment turning it into a modernist spin on the subject. That it's set in the eighties is a subtle aspect you can easily forget, only realised occasionally such as when Oskar and Eli bond over a Rubik's Cube; because its completely removed from the flashy sheen of The Lost Boys (1987), wood textures and lots of mutated colours, the result gives the period detail the sense that it looks like Sweden at the time and brings the vampire character into a new and fascinating environment.

In fact, far from Bergman, times within Let The Right One In, especially with a subplot where a man named Lacke (Peter Carlberg) struggling with his friend (unknown to him) becoming one of Eli's victims, evokes Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki in terms of its working class tone, only with a gloss that replaces his trademark down-to-earth aesthetic. This grounded nature allows for the more fantastic aspects to stand out more, few but striking as a result, such as a vampire scaling a hospital outer wall or an incident (while with obvious CGI) where its revealed cats with gladly attack a vampire violently when they appear in a room. The horror tropes are in the background of this story of two adolescents, one distinct as a vampire, the other a disconnected boy, but when they appear in the film the results can be violent, unexpected and nasty without becoming tasteless.

The fact the film has to be put on the shoulders of two young people in the central duo was a risk but one which succeeds, the awkward romance in each other found in Hedebrant and Leandersson as Oskar and Eli, difficult for Leandersson in particular having to play a world weary, adrift figure in gender neutral clothes who has been twelve for "a long time", a task to have succeeded in accomplishing in being an alien entity but one with interest in Oskar as a person she commits to fully. That her view of Oskar is up to debate past the ending, real love and friendship to him or the need for another aide she can manipulate, really makes Leandersson's performance utterly commendable. That the film is blunt in its content, not afraid to reveal the crimson or Eli's clear monstrous nature, makes this emphasise on adolescent characters more impactful, as the sustained injury of a cut on Oskar's cheek from a bully hits home further from the perspective of them being young teenagers or the climatic act of mass violence which is only seen in the aftermath. It doesn't allow you to brace the shock of the violence, nor the more unconventional and stranger moments, such as Elle's real form being briefly witnessed, or humour in aspects such as a white poodle appearing at the worst moment for Håkan in his busywork, which occasionally puncture the mostly sober and elegant film and always have an impact.

That it's also able to have the aforementioned black humour and aspects deliberately grotesque in tone, such as the unexpected introduction of hydrochloric acid that comes out of nowhere, without it seeming out of place is a testament to how Tomas Alfredson's film is quite haunting and considered in tone, without need even in its violence to become exaggerated and raise its voice in mood, the author of the original source material John Ajvide Lindqvist able to conjure a rewarding narrative from his own material in story and dialogue. As a result, it feels like a necessary homecoming for me, as with quite a few films from my viewing past, that regrets the distance since I first viewed it.