Monday, October 31, 2011

Women and Men

Lucky McKee's new film, The Woman (2011) finds the director in fine form after years of marginal projects and aborted films. It re-unites the director with writer Jack Ketchum after a troubled stint directing an adaptation of Ketchum's Red (which he wasn't allowed to complete) and after McKee produced another adaptation of Ketchum's The Offspring. That last project provides a jumping off point for this film, which is a sequel of sorts. I haven't seen The Offspring, so I can't comment on it, but I've read both the book on which it's based and Off Season, the book that precedes it. So this is a sequel to movie that's a sequel to a book that hasn't been filmed. Fortunately, none of that really matters. All that you need to know going into this film is that the title character is a feral woman from a family of cannibals. At the beginning of the movie, she's shown tending to a stab wound suffered in the previous film, but that doesn't really figure into things, so it's best to ignore it.

One of Us! One of Us!

One of the pleasures of October is the chance to discover horror movies that have, for one reason or another, slipped through the cracks. These are sometimes movies that through no fault of their own have been murdered by their distributors. These are sometimes pleasant surprises. This year's surprise is Blood Moon (2001, directed by Thom Fitzgerald, aka: Wolf Girl), a film originally made for Canadian television and given its frankly awful title by its American distributor. This has been made to look like a cheesy werewolf movie. It turns out to be a fairly sensitive examination of what it means to be a freak, of what it means to be "normal," and what it means to change during adolescence. This is closer in spirit to Tod Browning than it is to Paul Naschy, and closer in spirit to John Cameron Mitchell than it is to either of them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Devil, You Say!

Terence Fisher's The Devil Rides Out (1968) is a capstone of sorts to his career at Hammer. He would go on to make a couple of other films for the studio, culminating in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, but it's this film that pretty much sums up everything that Fisher accomplished at Hammer. For that matter, it's a summary of the studio's values in a year when the horror genre itself was turning those values upside down. It's no wonder the movie was a failure at the time. It's painfully un-hip. Downright square, even. But that's not necessarily a detriment to the movie itself.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

An Island Holiday

Peter Cushing had a hard time when doing the islands. In Shock Waves, he had to deal with zombie Nazis while hiding on a remote island, but that was perhaps not as dire a vacation as dealing with the bone-sucking Silicates on the Island of Terror (1966, directed by Terence Fisher). The Silicates are a new life form spawned by a cancer research station whose experiments have gone awry, and they leave a trail of victims with bodies without bones. They look a little bit like the silicon-based Horta from Star Trek's "Devil in the Dark" with a tentacle attached at the front, a familial resemblance, perhaps.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Random David Cronenberg

It's no secret that I'm a raving fan of David Cronenberg. I used to name Cronenberg as my favorite director (though I don't actually have a favorite director these days). It was Cronenberg who basically demonstrated the usefulness of auteur theory to me, and he was a director who simultaneously fed the adolescent sadist I used to be and the burgeoning film intellectual I turned into. Cronenberg films were formative experiences for me. So I'm always happy to see him show up in other people's movies. Whenever I spot him in films like Into the Night and Extreme Measures, I always perk up. My favorite of his appearances is as the assassin at the end of Gus Van Sant's To Die For, though I'll also admit that he's THE reason to see Clive Barker's Night Breed. I'm not sure how I missed Blood and Donuts (1995, directed by Holly Dale) all these years, but when I sat down to watch the film on Netflix Instant this week, I sat bolt upright when Cronenberg's name showed up in the credits. He plays a crime boss in this movie, and he's good at it. He always has a soft-spoken menace when he gets longer roles.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Late Night Picture Show

My first impression of Popcorn (1991, directed by Mark Harrier) is that I liked this movie better when it was titled The Phantom of the Paradise. But that isn't quite right. It doesn't have that film's cruelty (or misogyny, for that matter). Another point of comparison is Joe Dante's Matinee, what with the deadpan send-up of old school creature features, but that doesn't seem quite right either. It doesn't have that film's innate sweetness. Unfortunately, comparing Popcorn to other, frankly better, movies may be kind of inevitable given both its choice of subject and the way it's filmed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monsters and Misfits

When I was seven, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943, directed by Roy William Neill) was, like, the ne plus ultra of monster movies, only to be topped by House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. The story and the performances didn't matter. All that mattered was the monster mayhem and when they teamed up, there was more mayhem for the buck. Children are undiscriminating viewers, and if I have any love for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or the other films at the ragged end of the great cycle of Universal horrors, it's because I loved them when I was a child. I wish I could see it through those eyes again. But I can't.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Roughing It

I was talking to a friend of mine last night about the appeal of gore and violence to the exclusion of all else among some horror fans. Throw enough Christians to the lions and some horror fans are satisfied. I was there once. I was a first class adolescent sadist, and I'll admit that freely, but I grew out of it eventually. These days, I like subtext. I like having at least some kind of reflection of the human condition. Or, failing that, at least, something approaching artfulness (which can't help but reflect the filmmakers' own humanity). It is possible to film gore and violence artfully, or to use it as part of a larger design with a point. It's even possible to deploy it for its own sake and STILL connect it to some basic shared humanity among the audience. Maybe I expect too much, though.

I couldn't help but think about this as I was watching Wilderness (2006, directed by M. J. Bassett), because its primary appeal to a horror audience is going to come from its gore sequences, but also because this is a movie that understands what I'm talking about when I make more demands of art than just pointing the camera at the bloody thing in motion. There are plenty of gore scenes in this movie and they are brutally executed, if you'll pardon the pun. Seriously, this sucker is red meat city. In spite of this, I don't think this is necessarily a sadistic movie. It doesn't groove on the violence, or, if it does, it doesn't only groove on the violence. It's not meaningless.

Exquisite Corpses

I rediscover Mario Bava every few years. The entire time I was watching Bava's Sei Donne Per L'Assassino, aka Blood and Black Lace (1964), all I could think was: "Wow. Dario Argento has been trying to make this film for decades." This was a huge gap in my horror knowledge. I've seen pieces of the film before, usually on bad prints badly cropped, but this is the first time I've ever seen the whole movie start to finish. I can't believe what I've been missing. I've had this experience before, I should mention, when I first saw a good, uncut print of Bava's The Whip and the Body.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gloom from the Tomb

When it comes to Poe on film, you might as well give up on comparing the films to the stories. Filmmakers hardly ever pay any heed to what Edgar Allan Poe actually wrote. The movies are jumping off points for improvisation. Certainly, that's how Roger Corman went about it, and Corman is an inevitable yardstick for films, too, I guess. So color me surprised to discover that The Tomb (2009, directed by Michael Staininger) finds a way to do it both ways: it's veers wildly off model only to discover that what's in Poe's story is pretty durable. It's a neat trick. The movie has problems, though, and not the least of them is the fact that Corman's version of the same story, The Tomb of Ligeia, is one of the best of his Poe films. I think Corman might have admired how the filmmakers have gone about this, though. They've gone to eastern Europe (and St. Louis, which is like eastern Europe for filming purposes: cheap and evocative), they've hired a well-known science fiction and fantasy writer in John Shirley to write the screenplay, and they've populated the cast with familiar actors perhaps on the downward spiral.

Last Train to Nowhere

You know those genteel old English gothic horror movies? The ones from Hammer and its imitators? Those aren't the face of British horror anymore. British horror in the 21st Century has been brutal, gritty, and modern. It's shot through with the grit of British noir and has a sense of disillusion, a sense of things being wrong in the world distinctively its own. One of the new British horror directors is Christopher Smith, who is at home out in the woods or in the middle ages or in the London underground. Rural or urban, Smith sees the world through crap colored glasses. This all appears fully formed in his first feature, 2004's Creep, in which Franka Potente gets herself trapped in the subway system after hours only to find that she's not alone. There's another world under the city, and it's not the twee fantasy world of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but the abattoir of Gary Sherman's Raw Meat.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pub Crawl

This represents an accidental failure on my part: My personal challenge for this October was to best last year's tally of films and first viewings. Last year, I posted 37 first viewings, representing my entire tally of films. I had one level of failure last year, in so far as I wanted to write about every film I saw, but I skipped out on writing about Stay, always intending to return to it and never quite getting around it. I'm behind on viewings this year, so I'll be lucky to make the minimums. And I went to a party last night where one of the central entertainments was a showing of Shaun of the Dead (2004, directed by Edgar Wright). I suppose I can take some solace in the fact that I've never actually written about Shaun of the Dead, and, for that matter, I could just not count it, but there's no sense in being stubborn. As I say, I'm behind this year.

I liked Shaun of the Dead a lot way back when it was in theaters (which seems like just yesterday, I should add). I never bothered to watch it again, so I'm not part of the film's cult, I suppose. I don't own it on DVD, either. I don't know that this should be construed as indifference. Life just moved on for me. Watching it again was almost like watching it fresh and, well, I still like it lots. It's a terrific send-up of the zombie movie--perhaps the best send-up of the zombie movie, which has become something of a genre unto itself since Shaun came out. It's a stickler for the rules of Romero's zombie films, so there are not rage-y running zombies in this movie and it even makes a point to mock the premise of 28 Days Later and it's zombies. It manages all of the critique of consumer culture Romero ever dreamed of for his movies. The line between average everyday living and being a zombie has never been blurred as much as in this film. Like Romero, it postulates that the living dead are attracted to places that were "important" to them once, and, this being British, that place isn't the mall, it's the pub. And that's just brilliant.

Playing by the rules of the genre are the key. This is the lesson Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright take from Young Frankenstein: make the film as if it was a serious entry in the genre you're parodying. If it can stand as bona fide zombie film, then the rest will come. To this end, the filmmakers have a fine eye for mimesis. It gets the world right before it starts finding the humor there. The fun part of this is the oblique way the film lets the audience piece all of this together from elements in the background before it lets its characters know where they are. There's very much a sense of a world in chaos lurking in the background. It's interesting the way this film puts that genie back into the bottle with a variant of Romero's unfilmed Twilight of the Dead, in which the zombies become a commodity for the survivors.

Edgar Wright's directorial style is distinctive. No detail, no matter how quotidian is unworthy of style. The result is a kind of restless, hyperactive film, but this suits the genre, whether you're talking about a horror movie or a comedy. My favorite piece of pure WTF styling is Shaun's repeated encounters with his own distaff opposite number. There's a history between the two, but no hint of a relationship, nor even any real impact on the central narrative. It's just there for the gag. This is pure Godardian filmmaking, in which things are put on screen solely because the filmmakers feel like it. This can be self-indulgent, of course, and Wright isn't immune to that, but it can also be joyous, too. It's mostly joyous here. The film feeds off that joy.

Current tally: 19 films

First time viewings: 18

Around the Web:

Dr.AC over at Horror 101 is on a furious pace this year. He's blogging for charity, as am I, so pay him a visit and pledge to the cause.

Lee Price continues his own examination of The Golem over on 21 Essays.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Playing the Mind Guerrilla

How degenerate has the movie industry become that John Carpenter--John mother fucking Carpenter!--has to have the backing of b-movie actress Amber Heard to get a job directing a movie? Is this a reflection of how low Carpenter's own career has sunk or a reflection of the movies generally? Or both? I don't know. I DO know that I'm mad as hell that I never got to see his new film, The Ward (2010), in a theater. I mean, Carpenter's name alone would have guaranteed a decent release even a decade ago, but this film, like a LOT of independent films these days, is in the twilight zone between limited festival release and video on demand. It doesn't deserve it, either, because I think this would have played fine at the multiplex.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Down in the Trenches

“This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.War is god.”
― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

I have an acquaintance from my days in the gun industry whose favorite movie is Apocalypse Now. I got into a discussion with him once about why he liked the film and his response was that it was "badass." He was particularly fond of Robert Duvall's character, but I think he also grooved on all the severed heads at the end of the movie. This underlines the essential risk of making war films, even war films that are ostensibly anti-war. Some audiences are going to groove on them for all the wrong reasons.

Apocalypse Now has the right idea. It deals with war as an abstraction, as an allegory. More importantly, it approaches warfare in its second half not as an action film or as a document, but as a horror movie, which may very well be the only idiom for dealing with the concept of war with anything approaching honesty. Unfortunately, it spends so much of its running time depicting the Vietnam War realistically before it makes this tonal shift that it doesn't quite turn the trick of turning off viewers like my friend. It horrifies, but it also thrills. I can't exactly fault the film for this--big budget films are entertainments, after all--but it does suggest to me that whatever its other merits, for some viewers, it goes awry.

But I don't want to write about Apocalypse Now, per se. The movie I want to talk about is a modest low budget horror film from 2002 called Deathwatch, directed by M. J. Bassett, set in that most horrifying of wars, The Great War to End All Wars.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Into the Wood

Note to self: if I ever find myself in a position to take advantage of some supernatural boon, I plan to follow the conditions of that boon to the letter. Because, really, if you break the rules when, say, bringing your dead daughter back to life, things will ONLY end badly. This is the lesson of Wake Wood (2011, directed by David Keating), an unassuming little Irish horror movie released as part of Hammer Studio's recent revival.

In tone and spirit, it's closer to Hammer's aesthetic than either Let Me In or The Resident, vampires and Christopher Lee not withstanding. But it's still not quite there yet. It reminds me more of an Amicus production, or better still, a Tigon film, one of those films from the baby Hammers in which Pagan cults still haunt the British countryside. But the resemblance is only superficial. There are four decades between those old films and this one, and even though the formula is the same, the conventions of the horror film are dramatically different. Horror movies--even at budgets as low as the one for Wake Wood--show a level of craft these days that would have beggared Hammer or Amicus or Tigon. Visually, it's very much of its time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Suffering for Art

Anybody who comes to the cinema is bringing their whole sexual history, their literary history, their movie literacy, their culture, their language, their religion, whatever they've got. I can't possibly manipulate all of that, nor do I want to.

--David Cronenberg

I've been kind of stumped when it comes to Darren Aronofky's Black Swan (2010).

On the one hand, it seems like it's cobbled together from a bunch of other movies. On its surface, it's a quasi-remake of The Red Shoes crossed with Repulsion, Carrie, and The Fly. It's an exploitation film masquerading as an art film, right down to the Oscar-winning performance of its lead actress, who exploits and is exploited by the film. None of this is a criticism, by the way. Merely a description. Darren Aronofsky tends to make exploitation films dressed up as art films. You cannot tell me that Requiem for A Dream isn't pushed hard over the line into exploitation by the scene where Jennifer Connelly ends up impaled on a dildo the size of my forearm, and you can't tell me that Black Swan doesn't do the same thing when it shows Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman. That Aronofsky is able to convince A-list actresses to perform in these kinds of scenes speaks to a director of considerable persuasive skills. These kinds of scenes do tend to undercut the high-mindedness of the director's films, though.

...And on the other hand, this is a film that puts its index finger on the psychological pressure points of my own household. There's nothing in horror movies more apt to leave bruises than the shock of recognition. I'm actually reluctant to describe exactly why the film hits home for me so precisely because it's intensely personal.

So I'm stumped.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The New Flesh, Revisited

Don't Look Back (2009, directed by Marina de Van) takes on the shifting identities of an unstable woman and literalizes them on screen on the bodies of the actresses. This is a very Cronenbergian idea, and this film plays the same kinds of games with shifting realities as one finds in movies like Videodrome and Naked Lunch. Like those films, this is a visceral "body horror" movie, though one with a sheen of a high gloss A-list European film. If you're going to make a body horror movie, I suppose it doesn't hurt to have the bodies of Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci on which too enact your psychodrama. That its lead actresses are among the most beautiful people on the Earth makes the mutability of their flesh all the more creepy to watch. That they turn into each other over the course of the movie, is perverse enough, but the special effects that accompany the transformation are singularly disturbing.

The film follows Jeanne, a travel writer who is bored with her work and wants, instead, to write a novel. The novel has an ulterior motive, though, because Jeanne doesn't remember anything that happened to her before the age of eight and she hopes the novel will unlock those memories. Unfortunately, as she begins to write the book, things around her begin to...change. Her husband, her children, her mother, they all seem like they're becoming stranger to her. Worse, she's becoming a stranger to herself, and soon she actually finds herself changing into another woman. That other woman has no more anchor to her reality than she does, and she pursues the clues she finds in photographs toward her identity. Unfortunately, she begins to change back...

It's difficult to know what's real and what's imagined in the first act of Don't Look Back. The movie makes so many subtle changes in its early going that it never gives the viewer a steady place from which get her bearings. When the movie finally divulges its secrets, it seems a lot less subversive than one would hope from its Cronenbergian beginnings. The end of the movie turns into a standard Gothic "return of the repressed" narrative built around a childhood trauma. Unfortunately, the movie has torpedoed this with an early narrative that doesn't play fair with the audience. The end of the film seems entirely too benign after the horrors of its first half, and its transformation into a bittersweet quasi-ghost story seems unearned to me. Your mileage may vary.

Still, that early going carries a jolt. There's a period during this part of the movie where our two lead actresses inhabit the same body, and this is one of the creepiest special effects I've ever seen. The movie is a showcase, too, for its lead actresses, and regardless of my disappointment with the soft landing at the end of the movie, this is well acted by two genuine by-golly movie stars, and part of the joy of watching movies is watching actors, to say nothing of astonishingly beautiful women. The willingness of the filmmakers to deform the flesh of its leads is gravy. The movie itself is good looking, too. Marina de Van gives the film a high gloss polish. It's a film where all the rough edges come from the story itself rather than the way its presented. It goes down easy and never drags. In spite of its influences, this is neither an art film, nor a genre film (strictly speaking), so much as it is a commercial film. The surface polish is part and parcel of this. What cognitive dissonance and psychological discomfort the movie manages to inflict on a viewer is all smuggled under the surface. Its central horror--the dislocation of one's very identity--is one that easily exists in this context. And if, ultimately, it doesn't have an instinct for the jugular, well, that's okay, because it still goes down smooth.

Current tally: 14 films

First time viewings: 14

My internet has been unreliable today, so a light round-up of links:

The Vicar of VHS returns with his take on [•REC]2.

Meanwhile, Tim over at The Other Side gives Let Me In a chance.

Bob over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind has another challenge diary, including thoughts on Mad Love, The Man in the Attic, The Amityville Horror, and Martyrs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Horror is Hard, Dying is Easy

I wonder how people in film towns keep a straight face when watching movies. All through A Horrible Way To Die (2010, directed by Adam Wingard), I was distracted by the fact that it was shot in my home town of Columbia, Missouri, and parts of the film became for me an exercise in spotting the locations ("Hey! That's the Broadway Diner! And that's the wine shop!"). There are one or two crew members from the film that I've met, too. Does all of this constitute a conflict of interest? Maybe.

This movie represents something kind of interesting. On its most basic level, this is a low-budget, low-key relationship drama, made on a tiny budget and featuring seemingly improvised dialogue. It's one of the spiritual children of the films John Cassavettes used to make. But this film slightly changes the conditions of the idiom by introducing genre elements. One of the corners of the film's relationship triangle is a serial killer, and the movie spends some of its time documenting his rampage as he works his way back to the wife he left behind when he was sent to prison. Like last year's Cold Weather, this is a film that finds mumblecore expanding its field of view.

More Scenes from the Apocalypse

'Tis the season for economic horror movies, I guess. Stake Land (2010, directed by Jim Mickle) is another snapshot of the zeitgeist, in which the survivors of the apocalypse wander through the wreckage of America. The thing is, though, that the wreckage of America wasn't purpose-built for the movie. It was already out there waiting for the filmmakers to shoot it. This is the horror movie as looking glass, and what you see on screen is as through a glass, darkly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Growing Pains

The New Daughter (2009, directed by Luiso Berdejo) is one of those orphaned movies that distributors like to stuff in a sack and throw off a bridge. It barely crept into theaters before being unceremoniously dumped on home video. It stars Kevin Costner, who doesn't really do horror movies, and with good reason. It's surprising to find him in this movie, actually. I guess his career has seen its best days. Still, it's not the debacle you would expect.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Every Dream Home, a Heartache

Dream Home (2010, directed by Ho-Cheung Pang) is an artifact of the zeitgeist. The global housing bubble hit Hong Kong, too, and, as it did everywhere else, it popped in 2008. But in the run-up, people did a lot of foolish things. At the beginning of Dream Home, there's an onscreen credit that claims that it's based on a true story, though I haven't verified that. If it is, well, real life is more like a horror movie than we normally think. A pretty outrageous horror movie, at that.

The story here follows Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho), a telemarketer for a bank who dreams of owning her own flat. The one she's got in mind has a view of the harbor, but such properties are expensive and she has plenty of competition. When the deal she has lined up falls through, she takes drastic action to change the rules of the game to her advantage. This involves brutally murdering eleven people. Real estate can be pretty cutthroat. Literally, in this case.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sticks and Stones

At some point, Spanish director Jaume Balagueró needs to start entering the discussion as one of the premier horror filmmakers of the last decade. Film after film finds the director expanding his own idiom and finding more and more acute pressure points with which to scare audiences. Unfortunately, all of his films have had difficulties in the American market through no fault of his own, whether it's suffering at the hands of the Weinsteins or having the misfortune of having his signature film scooped up for an American remake (and held off the American market). The guy can't catch a break. It's no surprise that his 2005 film, Fragile, has been similarly ill-starred. It was finally picked up for video distribution by Fangoria. It deserves better.

Buyer's Remorse

I think the mistake I'm making with the October Challenge this year is that I'm not peppering my month with legitimately good movies. I haven't watched anything this month to alleviate the feeling that this year's challenge is a chore rather than an adventure. Things did not improve with The Resident (2011, directed by Antti Jokinen), a film that has an excellent cast and style to burn, but squanders both. I mean, it's watchable. It's even heartwarming to see the venerable Christopher Lee in another movie bearing the Hammer Studios imprimatur. But "watchable" isn't the same as "good."

Friday, October 07, 2011

Gone to Ground

The Burrowers (2008, directed by J. T. Petty) isn't the first genre film to channel The Searchers. I mean, you can see hints of The Searchers in movies from Star Wars to Taken. It's one of the most influential movies ever made, after all, so it's not a surprise to see it resurface in a horror movie even at this late date. I was thinking about this last night as the credits rolled at the end of the movie, because it seems perverse and funny to me that the two most influential narrative types in the horror movies of the last half century are Westerns (the other is Rio Bravo, by the way, which is the template upon which Night of the Living Dead and its imitators are built). I smiled a bit that I was finding an Nth generation version of this in a horror movie set in the American West, in which the central themes of racism and obsession are reenacted. Hell, it even has something of the same feel for landscapes.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

No Good Deed...

The most disappointing thing about Case 39 (2009, directed by Christian Alvart) isn't that it's ridiculous. That's a given in any movie about evil children and if you're in for horror movies about evil children, you had better be willing to ride that roller coaster off the rails. No, that's not it. The most disappointing thing about it is how unimaginative its monster turns out to be. I don't mean in the literal sense of its conception, though that's kind of disappointing, too. I mean in terms of its visual design. This is kind of a crisis in horror movies right now, because too many effects houses are concepting the same damned monsters. I'm giving away the plot, but screw it: there's a demon in Case 39, and it's a demon that looks EXACTLY like the creepy old woman that goes berserk at the beginning of Legion and the vampires in I Am Legend and any number of other human-ish monsters of recent vintage. From my perspective, horror filmmakers tasked with creating monsters have the best fucking job in the world and it's unconscionable to me that most of them don't give it their all and rely, instead, on boring designs already out in the world. It's lazy. Say what you like about Guillermo Del Toro or Peter Jackson, they at least take the job of creating monsters seriously.

Anyway, as I say, Case 39 is ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Ghost in the Machine

It's all that I can do to keep from counting Tron: Legacy (2010, directed Joseph Kosinski) as a horror movie. I mean, yeah. I get it. It doesn't feel like a horror movie, with its sleek, glazed surfaces and its visionary digital landscapes and its weird, quasi-fetish wardrobes. But the fact that Tron: Legacy is Frankenstein is completely inescapable to my way of thinking. That it doubles down on its roots in horror by casting its monster as a doppelganger only deepens its shadows. It's a horror movie in the sense that Metropolis is a horror movie. It's a Gothic set in an autoclave. Science fiction, it should be noted, has been a Halloween-y genre for a long time, from the publication of Frankenstein to that long-ago Halloween in 1938 when Orson Welles terrified the nation and beyond. Science fiction and horror both occupy le fantastique, after all, like two peas in a pod.

Blues for a Red Planet

Here's the first coherent opinion I formed while watching The Angry Red Planet (1958, directed by Ib Melchior): "Holy crap! Look at all that stock footage!" I didn't go through and count the minutes, but the percentage of the film that's constructed from other people's footage is dramatically high. The footage actually shot for the film jumps off the screen. That's never good. This is another sci fi film I managed to avoid when I was younger, and I can't say that I would have liked it even then, because this one kind of sucks. I'm four for four for the challenge this year, and I'm desperate for a film that I can write about without the urge to jump up and down screaming: "This sucks, this sucks, this sucks!" But that's what I'm stuck with, I guess.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Blood Will Tell

If ever there were any doubt that some actors have an indefinable suitability for horror movies, I give you Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961, directed by Sidney J. Furie), a film undone in its entirety by a lead actor who has no business whatsoever playing the lead in a horror movie, let alone a mad scientist. I've never seen a movie so completely bushwhacked by its choice of a leading man. It's not that Kieron Moore is attractive in a leading-man sort of way, which isn't necessarily poison to a career in horror. Hell, Christopher Lee was attractive. So was John Barrymore. It's just that there's something undeniably "wrong" with Moore relative to the genre, something that marks him as a fish out of water. He confirms the existence of "it" by the complete void left in "it's" absence. It's all in the negative space, I suppose.

The movie is a b-picture programmer about the title character, Dr. Peter Blood, who is expelled from his research program in Vienna for experimenting on humans. He returns home to England, where someone is kidnapping the locals and swiping medical supplies from the local doctor. When he joins the hunt, it becomes clear that Dr. Peter Blood is up to some serious hanky panky. Indeed, his experiments are designed to bring the dead back to life!

"Wait!" you might be saying. "Isn't this the plot of Re-Animator?" Well, yes. It is. It's also the plot of Frankenstein, I guess, but, man, this seems like a low-grade first draft of Stuart Gordon's film, minus the gore and Barbara Crampton's creamy flesh and Jeffrey Combs's "it" factor. In exchange, Doctor Blood's Coffin gives us Hazel Court (which is a good thing) and the Cornwall coastline (which is also a good thing) and a young Nicolas Roeg on camera (another good thing). Hell, it even has a sense of willful perversity as our deranged hero attempts to court Nurse Parker (Court) by raising her dead husband from the dead. I'm a little uncomfortable with the speechifying about god and the nature of the soul, but that's the grumpy atheist in me, so pay it no mind. But this film also has Moore, who sucks it all into himself like an errant black hole. Seriously, this should work, but it doesn't. It sits there lifeless on the screen.

Current tally: 3 films

First time viewings: 3

Around the web:

Insanislupus at 1001 things takes on Pinocchio's Revenge. He's braver than I am.

Andreas at Pussy Goes Grrr takes on It (the miniseries based on Stephen King's novel) and finds it wanting.

Hitching a Ride

Are great movies always sui generis? Are they always innovative? Not at all. I mean, when you have a movie based on a samurai version of a Dashiell Hammett novel and recast as a western, you're not dealing with originality but the result is A Fistful of Dollars. Digging back through the detritus of genre will unearth a lot of cases like this. Influences are like rocks thrown into placid water, with the ripples creating interference patterns and waves. I couldn't help think about that while I was watching It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958, directed by Edward L. Cahn), which is such a primary influence on Alien that I can't believe that there were no lawsuits. (There was a lawsuit from A. E. Van Vogt over Alien's similarities to his story, "Black Destroyer"). Alien is a legitimately great movie, though, and It! is not.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Challenge Links, Day 2

Around the web:

Eric at Expelled Grey Matter is inaugurating his blog with 30 Days of Night. Welcome to the blogosphere!

Pussy Goes Grrr is still stretching before the marathon. Andreas gives their readers an overview of their last year in horror movies.

Darius over at Adventures in Nerdliness is off to a flying start with The Devil Within Her and Sea of Dust. He even took time out for a kung fu movie on the side.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

From Heck

Pia Zadora once claimed that Peter Sasdy, the director who guided her to a Golden Raspberry award for her infamous performance in The Lonely Lady, was the worst director in the history of directors. I think that might be giving the man too much credit. When you get down to it, spectacularly bad directors have a kind of charm, which is why the work of such cinematic criminals as Ron Ormond or Al Adamson persist in the outer twilight zone of the pop culture imagination. To say nothing of Ed Wood. Sasdy just isn't in that league. His films are generally anonymous, often indistinguishable from workmanlike television productions of the period. They are vapid and unimaginative. A case in point is The Hands of the Ripper (1971), a film I've had in my Netflix queue for quite some time. I it dumped there with a bunch of other nondescript Hammer films last year and never did get around to it until now. It's pretty bad.