Friday, November 13, 2009

October Wrap-Up pt. 2

Okay. This is waaaay late. I'll get back on track this weekend. Promise. Anyway, wrapping up the October horror-palooza:

October 26:

Altered (2006, directed by Eduardo Sanchez) is a less gimicky sci-fi horror film from one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project. He knows his way around a camera when directing a conventional film. The movie, on the other hand, is pretty bad. It concerns a group of former abductees who capture an alien in the woods. While this might sound fun, the filmmakers have given the proceedings characters by giving us human characters who are a bunch of foul-mouthed rednecks. I had more than enough of THAT particular screenwriting convention half-way through The House of A 1,000 Corpses, thank you very much. Some interesting gore effects, but the story is an ungodly mess that pushes credibility way past the point of snapping.

The Blame (2006, directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador) finds an abortionist developing an unhealthy obsession with her nurse and her nurse's daughter after taking them into her home as live-in help. Serrador is the ring-leader of the Six Films to Keep You Awake series and is currently the grand old man of Spanish horror (having a career that stretches back to the 1970s). He knows how to turn the screws, and, as he did in Who Can Kill a Child?, knows that pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting are a minefield of raw nerves to be mercilessly exploited. He's good. I wish more of his stuff was available.

October 28:

Bob Burns Hollywood Halloween (directed by Lindsey Keith Jackson) is a kind of love-letter to the Monster Kids of the 60s and 70s, focusing on superfan/pop-culture collector Bob Burns and his famed Halloween haunted house shows. These shows were a proving ground for up-and-coming talent that would soon become big players in Hollywood, including special effects guys like Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Greg Nicotero, and William Malone, as well as genre stalwarts like Dorothy Fontana and Walter Koenig. I watched this with a fair degree of envy. These shows looked like a gas to produce (and they've given me ideas for next Halloween). Perhaps the best part of the documentary, though, is the rescue of George Pal's Time Machine from prop museum hell, much to the delight of George Pal himself. A portrait of the fun that creature features used to engender in the young and young at heart.

Red Eye (2005, directed by Dong-bin Kim, a Korean film not to be confused with the Wes Craven film of the same name), is another Asian film in which the ghost is in the machine. In this case, it takes place on a late-night train between Seoul and Pusan which has cars from a train that had been involved in a horrific wreck. Of course, the souls of the dead rest uneasily. The first two thirds of the film are a standard slow burn, but the end explodes with violence. This has a lot of ideas, but it doesn't connect the dots very well. It's a disjointed effort, though not without pleasures.

October 29

MOH: The Black Cat (2006, directed by Stuart Gordon) casts Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe, drinking his life away as his tubercular wife spirals downward. In his need, he falls into a delirium in which the events of his short story, "The Black Cat," enact themselves in his marriage. Combs is a surprisingly good Poe, and Gordon seems on top of his game with this. Of the big name "masters" assembled by this series, Gordon is the one whose work is most typical of the films that made his name, and reuniting with Combs gives this an added kick.

October 30:

A Real Friend (2006, directed by Enrique Urbizu) finds lonely Estrella living in a world populated by imaginary friends. Estrella loves horror movies, and her friends derive from the movies she watches when her mom isn't home. This installment of the Six Films to Keep You Awake series isn't wholly successful--in fact, I would call this the weakest of the lot--but it has several unforgettable images, including the unexpected and touching sight of Leatherface giving comfort to a lonely little girl. Whatever the merits of the film itself, this image is going to stay with me for a long, long time. Call it a personal quirk.

October 31:

The Spectre (2006, directed by Mateo Gil) is a character piece, concerning a man who recently lost his wife and who is haunted by the affair he had with a woman who might have been a witch when he was 16. This film is probably my second favorite of the Six films to Keep You Awake, but it's a hard film to talk about without dismantling the surprise of a first viewing. I will say that it's beautifully filmed and beautifully performed and adds a touch of bittersweet to the horror. Take it as a recommendation and be surprised if you like.

A Christmas Tale (2006, directed by Paco Plaza) closes out the Six Films to Keep You Awake series for me, and in many ways, it saves the best for last. It's the least cinematically subdued entry, and it's certainly the most playful. The story here involves a group of kids--reminiscent of The Goonies and Stand By Me--who stumble upon a woman in a sinkhole who has stolen a huge amount of money. Rather than turn her in, they extort the woman for the money and torture her when she doesn't comply. Unfortunately, she escapes. This set-up plays like A Simple Plan crossed with The Lord of the Flies, and I can't recall any American film that has as clear an eye when it comes to he cruelty of children. What's really interesting about this point of view is how it contrasts it with a name-dropping cultural milieu intent on evoking nostalgia for the 1980s. It's a heady mixture.

The finale of this film is an addition to the cinema of killer Santas, deliberately recalling Tales from the Crypt's ax-wielding Santa and placing her in the funhouse. And after that's all said and done, the movie turns a neat trick as it slips its reality sideways. It's totally earned by the film from the first frame, but it's unexpected. This is very much my favorite of these films, and it makes me even more anxious than ever to track down a copy of director Paco Plaza's other films (particular Second Name).

The Ring Virus (1999, directed by Dong-bin Kim) closed out my October. It's the Korean remake of that constant font of Asian horror, The Ring, and, like the American remake, it alters some things in subtle and not so subtle ways, returning to Koji Suzuki's book rather than the film for many of its alterations. The biggest difference between this film and its source is that it replaces Hideo Nakata's deadpan dread with oodles of atmosphere. Like most Korean movies of any pith or moment, this is a showcase for the craft of filmmaking, though also like many Korean films, it is a failure at the craft of screenwriting. This gives its characters short shrift, for the most part, and without an investment in the characters--something that both Nakata and Gore Verbinski got right--I was adrift, because, when it comes right down to it, The Ring is a ridiculous story, and if you don't buy into it, it comes crashing down. Bae Doo-na is in this, so it has some interest for me, but I was more than a little irritated at the way she was wasted. Ah, well.

And another October Challenge ends.

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