Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dubious Masters

So far, I've been keeping up with the October Challenge fairly well, though I've been lagging when it comes to blogging about it. I'm not doing poorly, really, but if I let myself fall behind, I'm pretty much screwed. So far, that hasn't happened. That's the good news. The bad news is that I'm not really pulling ahead, either. Part of this is the limited supply of movies I haven't seen before. Part of this is real-world demands on my time. Damn that pesky job and mortgage. Ah, well. Anyway, here's a recap of where I am since I left off.

*****

I suppose that, since it was his idea in the first place, Mick Garris had a right to direct an installment of the Masters of Horror. His long association with Stephen King does not grant him the status of "master" merely by association, and I don't think he's ever really knocked anything out of the park. His second season entry, Valerie on the Stairs (2006), sidesteps this complaint fairly neatly by adapting a story by Clive Barker, who has a much more legitimate claim to the title of "master of horror." Unfortunately, this isn't one of the better outings for either Garris or Barker. The story revolves around a writer who is accepted into an apartment building for unpublished (ie: "failed") writers. The complex is haunted by a beautiful woman and some kind of demon, which it becomes obvious are the fevered inventions of the other writers in the building. This is a hard one because Barker doesn't really translate to the screen particularly well. His prose emphasizes visionary scenes over storytelling, and unless the director is some kind of visionary himself, this is bound to strain the audience's credulity to the breaking point. Garris is NOT a visionary, and this is filmed in a flat, television style that torpedoes any kind of mood. The result is fairly ridiculous.

John Landis might have a better claim than Garris on the title "master of horror", but it's debatable. His two major horror films aren't anything like his best films, the horror community's fondness for An American Werewolf in London not withstanding. When he's on his game, Landis IS a pretty good filmmaker, though, and a lot of the beats of comedy filmmaking translate to horror. Especially if the production in question is conceived as a horror comedy to start with. Deer Woman (2005) is just such an animal. This installment finds Detective Brian Benben on the trail of some kind of Native American deer spirit who manifests as a beautiful woman in order to seduce men and trample them to death. The filmmakers are perfectly aware of how ridiculous their own premise is, and they incorporate this into a scene in which the nature of the deer woman is explained by a worker in a reservation casino. On the whole, it's intermittently funny, but rarely scary. Cinthia Moura, who plays the title role, is smoking, though.

I picked up the DVD double of Amicus's Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973, directed by Roy Ward Baker) from a bargain bin a couple of weeks ago, I've written at length about Tales from the Crypt in the past, so if you want my thoughts on that film, you can see it here. I'd never seen Vault of Horror before, though I knew it by reputation. For the most part, it's more of the same, though it's more of the same if you discard the first film's rising quality. The stories in this film are all more or less on the level of the first couple of stories in Tales from the Crypt. In other words, the weaker stories. These are all variants of the "heel gets his come-uppence," and they're directed with indifference by Roy Ward Baker. There are some interesting performances--particularly Glynis Johns's put-upon housewife in the second segment--and there's some interesting casting--real life brother and sister Daniel and Anna Massey in the first segment--but beyond the cast, there's not much to recommend, and worse, the film itself has been neutered to the point of mutilation. The censor's scissors are blatantly obvious in the first segment, where a shot of Daniel Massey with a tap in his neck for the benefit of a town full of vampires has been removed, with a freeze-frame of the shot with a blacked out area over the tap substituted. Given that this film could have used the nastiness to punch things up, this has to count as a murdered movie.

*****

I didn't have a lot of interest in Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans (2009, directed by Patrick Tatopoulos). I didn't like the first film at all, and I skipped the second film, given that it was from more or less the same cast and crew. Further, the first film is one of the films that suggests the Kate Beckinsale rule, which states that if Kate Beckinsale appears in your movie in a leather corset, your movie probably sucks. Beckinsale is absent for the prequel save for a shot at the end, and in her place we have Rhona Mitra, an actress who has already proven adept at holding the screen in B-movie genre fare. She certainly has more screen presence than her predecessor. This film is pretty much a wank fest for goths and LARPers, telling the origin of the war between vampires and werewolves. It turns the tables on the first film by painting the Lycans as the oppressed heroes and the vampires as the villains, and in doing so, it improves things immensely. Vampires SHOULD be the bad guys.



I should note that I LOVE werewolves, but I'm almost always disappointed by them. A movie that gets the werewolves right can get away with a lot of sins. This movie has pretty cool werewolves. While they won't displace the werewolves in The Howling in my affections (because Rob Bottin's transformation effects are still better than any CGI I've ever seen), these come pretty close to matching the werewolves of my imagination. For this alone, Underworld 3 is surprisingly not bad.

*****

1988's Evil Dead Trap (directed by Toshiharu Ikeda) predates the Japanese horror boom of the late 1990s by about ten years, but it has certain elements in common with it. Principally, it's in touch with the unease generated by technology. It's among the first Japanese films to put the ghost in the machine. But from there, the similarities become few and far between. This film is not a slow-burn horror movie; it's a gore-fest. It's first hour is a fairly merciless slasher movie, while its second jumps the rails with a grisly, bio-horror finale. I have to admit that the structure of the film gave me pause. After the first hour, our killer has knocked off everyone but our final girl, causing me to speculate on the wisdom of leaving her to her own devices for another forty minutes, but the movie itself is bifurcated, like two separate movies in one.



In any event, the story such as it is follows the crew of a late-night TV news program following the breadcrumbs of a video that appears to be a snuff film. Whoever made the video went to great pains to demonstrate how to find the scene of the crime, which should have been a warning to our heroes, but plausibility isn't one of this film's strong points. Once on site, the mostly female crew is killed off in sundry creative ways. The final murder in the first half of the film is a baroque trap that foreshadows the Saw movies. The second half of the movie is as aggressive as the first, but considerably more ridiculous, and slightly less cruel. And the very ending is vivid, but utterly laughable.



Director Ikeda isn't afraid of showing his influences. He steals the maggot scene from Suspiria outright, for one example, and the Goblin-ish score further tips his hand. There are also echoes of Cronenberg in the movie's videodromic dread, as well as hints of Larry Cohen and Frank Hellenlotter, of all people. It's fun picking out the influences, but when all is said and done, there's no new ground broken in this film. As film, though, Evil Dead Trap has some of the feel of the Hong Kong films from the same period. It's energetic and outrageous, which means it IS entertaining. I just don't know if it's all that good.





Current tally:

14 Films

11 First-time viewings.

3 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

My favorite line from Forbidden Planet is "Yes Morbius, a simple blaster".

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Have you seen Landis' Innocent Blood? I actually prefer it to American Werewolf, though I know I'm in the minority. And I hate to say it, but I wasn't impressed by much of what I saw on Masters of Horror either season.

dr.morbius said...

Hi, Cap.

I have indeed seen Innocent Blood. My favorite scene in that movie is when Don Rickles turns into a great big cigar ash. I also think that the knowledge that vampires have eyes that change colors as they're coming their brains out is fairly valuable. Don't you agree?