Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two in two days

It's a Halloween miracle!
...wait a second. That doesn't work at all!

Anyway, we move now into week 3. From here, we'll see how the other's fare tomorrow.

Years after this fateful incident, the only question asked more than 'What happened?' was 'Why didn't we think of legal waiver slips?'

10/14. Picnic At Hanging Rock
Well, as with many others on this list so far, this movie surprised me. I know many listed this as a horror film, but after watching it, I'm not sure I agree with this assessment. I feel it is still a very good film, but not necessarily one I would call a horror film.  At least not in the traditional sense. The film plays more as a drama/character study that happens to involve something of a supernatural element (in the sense that the disappearance of the girls in question is never explained, in the film or to the viewers.) Instead, the majority of the movie is concerned with the aftermath of their disappearance: the actions taken in trying to find them, the suspicions that arise, and generally the rash actions by those trying to sort out why four happy young girls vanished without a trace. It's still a fascinating movie to watch in its own right, don't get me wrong, just understand, the decision to label it as a horror film is rather misleading. That aside, the film does still have many things in its favor. The acting is quite good, especially for a cast largely consisting of unknowns. Likewise, the script handles the subject matter well in its focus and not really making any wild leaps to answer questions. Finally, and arguably one of the biggest points for me, the movie has some beautiful cinematography. Peter Weir and Russel Boyd make full use of the Australian landscape much of the film takes place in, resulting in some visually astonishing sequences. Even when nothing's happening, some of the establishing landscapes are still stunning. Certainly an unexpected find in this month, but one I'm glad for regardless.

Incidentally, the movie also sets a new speed record in horror
in that the black guy's dead before the movie even starts.

10/15. Land of the Dead
Twenty years after completing his initial trilogy with 'Day of the Dead', George Romero returns to the zombie saga that he made legendary with this return in 2005. Thankfully, where other directors get rusty when they haven't been able to stretch their legs for a franchise in two decades (obligatory crack at George Lucas goes here,) Romero proves he still hasn't lost his sense of what made these films in the first place. While the setting is indeed different, in this case focusing on a world where the zomie outbreak has already happened and the humans who've been dealing with it since then, as well as how the zombies themselves have adjusted over time. Despite this evolved setting, and the fact this is the only 'Dead' movie to feature established big name actors among its cast (in particular John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper,) it still maintains the two things that people remember Romero's zombie movies for the most - their sense of gore and their social commentary. The gore itself, to this day, still carries as believable within the setting, in the sense that it never feels exploitative, or as just 'gore for gore's sake', sure a few things get lingered on, but it's still part of larger scenes where things are moving forward. As for the commentary, in this case, Romero addresses a setting where there is a clearly structured order of 'haves' and 'have nots' being true Romero fashion, this self-destructs in due time.  But the message, while present, never feels like its being forced on the viewers. I wasn't sure what to expect from the movie when I started it, but I walked away genuinely pleased to see Romero hadn't lost his touch on these films over the years.

In the annals of bizarre internet 'vs' battles, it was only a matter of time before we wound up getting to 'Bikers vs Satanists'

10/16. Werewolves on Wheels
I'll say this outright now - I had more fun with this film than I really probably should have. It's not a great film by any stretch, the story is present maybe half the time, and for those parts, not really much to write home about, the production values haven't aged well, and the acting...actually, the acting is an interesting bit of trivia. As far as the story is concerned, much of the acting tends to be pretty awkward, and at points, even comedic. In other parts, however, in the interest of capturing a degree of authenticity, director Michel Levesque just filmed his biker gang cast as they were. As a result, many of the moments of just goofing around are, while somewhat nonsequitir within the film, a nice early experiment in reality filmmaking. For all of the faults mentioned above, there is a definite enjoyment to be had in this rather campy tale of a Hell's Angels-styled gang called Devil's Advocates running afoul of a demonic cult who then curses one of their members with a nasty case of...well...the title says it all. Alongside the generally interesting interactions, the film's on-plot scenes are just too ridiculous to hate. While I realize it's a tired cliche, this is one of those films where one really would do best to just sit back, turn your brain off and enjoy the ride...well, OK, leave some of your brain on and you might get some extra enjoyment out of verbally beating the crap out of it ( done with others though.)

Prince of Darkness

Lord of Lies

and apparently precocious little scamp

10/17. The Exorcist
Is this film one of the scariest of all time? That's a matter for some debate, and not necessarily a claim I'll agree with. I will say this though, it is still one of my personal favorite horror films to date. For a film involving the occult, and the numerous risky elements that can bring to a production made in the early 1970s, I still can't help but be impressed with how well much of this film has aged. Given many of the effects carried out within the movie, ranging from the now-classic head rotation to the infamous use of a crucifix (which further convinces me that, despite assertions otherwise, filmmakers in the 60s and 70s had a lot more freedom in what they could get away with in their work,) one would be braced to see this film showing a lot more of its age 38 years later. Despite that, many of the scenes still look fairly well made. This isn't just to praise the film on effects alone either.  For a film exploring the concept of demonic possession, the movie takes itself with enough of a degree of seriousness that it makes for interesting viewing. One of those cases where the Kubrick rule of having a director who's a vicious perfectionist pays off (in this case, the tales of some of the terrors William Friedkin inflicted on his cast are bordering on legend.) Alongside their generally surviving the film, the cast also turn in largely good performances, including Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller (who even got an Oscar nomination for this role) and Linda Blair in a breakout role from before her entire career went off the rails in the 80s. Several mixed to awful sequels later, the original has still endured as a very solid horror movie. I'm still not rightly sure I'd call it the scariest movie of all time in any sense...but it's still one I enjoy watching all the same.

...OK, MAYBE it's finally time I clean this place.

10/18. Kairo (Pulse)
This film, so far, takes the prize for being possibly the most unsettling experience on this list. I had heard very little about it going in, beyond the theme of technology within the film and the knowledge that it inspired a largely panned US remake (...that somehow still managed to spawn two direct-to-video sequels. I know, I was surprised too.)
The film I got was equal parts terrifying and, to my surprise, sobering. I won't give too much away so as to rob you of your reason to see the movie, but rest assured, if you've slugged your way through the American version, you haven't even really seen it. The ghosts themselves, while sufficiently creepy, take a backseat in terms of being disturbing to this film's greater theme about technology and the alienating effect it has on us. The truly terrifying part of this movie isn't what the ghosts can do that's not of this Earth, but what they show us of ourselves. A mirror is put to some of the darkest parts of one's self, with the express intent of driving people to the edge - and even the form of their decline is believable. Dancing on the line between a biting social commentary, a unique ghost tale, and even some strands of apocalyptic horror, it's rather sad that the remake completely missed what made the film so disturbing to begin with, settling for altogether bland shocks. Again, loathe as I normally am to invoke this adjective for a film, this is one of the smartest horror films I've seen in a while...which is part of what makes what it has to say that much more disturbing.

"Dear, don't get me wrong, I love you
but if you do this 'This Little Light of Mine' routine every night, I WILL kill you."

10/19. Hour of the Wolf
Billed as acclaimed director Ingmar Bergman's only horror film (though I would make the case for the use of other horror elements in some of his other works, such as The Seventh Seal,) this is quite probably one of the strangest entries for this month. Made even more so by the fact it's not entirely by design. Well, parts of it are, but parts of it are the result of production changes.  Bergman had said in interviews after the fact that, given the chance, there were certain things he would do over again, such as changing the character focus. The resulting film is one that's equal parts flawed and fascinating to watch. Despite his use of supernatural elements in other of his works, this is purely a tale of psychological horror. Taking its title from the time between midnight and 1 AM, the movie explores disturbed artist Johan Borg (played by Max von Sydow) as he sorts out his inner demons, both to himself and his wife Alma (played by Liv Ullmann, the one Bergman would later admit would have been a better focal point.) These demons are explored both through monologue and, as the film goes on and Johan's madness begins to take form, literal interpretations. In this regard, I will give Bergman one thing: some of Johan's inner demons are, for the age of the movie, still rather effective today. In particular, the Old Woman in the Hat manages to stay unsettling for reasons you'll know when you see her. Due to the earlier mentioned issues with focus, the story becomes rather muddled. An effect which, for both good and bad, lends itself to a fair number of interpretations of just what happens in the movie. Bergman has certainly made better films in general, but for his first and only delve into straight horror, the movie is still an interesting one to watch, warts and all.

...I'm just gonna let this image speak for itself.
Any caption for this movie would just be excessive.

10/20. House
After the disturbing nature of Pulse, and the psychological maze of Hour of the Wolf, this movie couldn't have come at a better time this month. Normally, Japanese horror is known for being very creepy and nightmarish, often with eery children. House (literally titled Hausu in Japan) has none of that. The product of director Nobuhiko Obayashi, from a story by his pre-teen daughter Chigumi, the film is marked by an appropriately childlike sense of whimsy as well as an appropriately 1970s sense of visual craziness. The story is fairly straightforward - a group of young girls, played by largely inexperienced, but still capable actresses, all visit the country home of one of the girls' aunts. What follows is one of the most surreal and fun haunted house movies I've seen to date. If you're expecting a taut, well paced and intricately plotted ghost story, I'll warn you that you're barking up the wrong tree. Obayashi's film wears its origins on its sleeve with pride, giving a bizarre blend of over the top special effects and, at times, animation that feels like something straight out of Monty Python. It's genuinely a tough film to try and explain in just text if you have no familiarity with it. It is really a film that you have to see to properly get a sense of, given how much of the movie is tied into its unique visual style. There's many films on this list that are good for getting creeped out and disturbed, but when everything's said and done, you can count on a movie like House to really help you unwind after everything settles down again.


and now, the race is on. Will subsequent entries make it up before tomorrow night, or will the rest be the classic post-Halloween candy. We're about to find out, folks. In the meantime, a Happy Halloween in either case.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Late, but still alive

Well, real life threw things for a bit of a loop (but even though this is a blog, I won't divulge on the details) but the plan for the October reviews is still going to continue. Rest assured, we're working hard here to get as many as we can up before the 31st, but some of these may run a bit late...
...think of it as being like all that great discounted candy everyone dives like a hawk for on November 1st.

Having said that, wave 2 begins here:

You know, this cursed video wasn't that bad the first time around... But after the hundredth internet parody, it's largely lost its charm

10/7. Ringu
Another of those films that I will admit I really should have seen sooner than for this list. Between its own reputation and the additional appeal care of the Americanized remake (which I will admit, I likewise haven't seen) this was, and still is, a pretty prominent horror film in several circles. Seeing it with no real expectations beyond a very basic knowledge of the backstory, I have to say I was actually rather pleased with what I saw. For the entire reputation the Ring brandname has generated in the years that followed, part of what I wound up really liking about this film was the simplicity of it. No needless deceptions or last-minute twists that you can tell were put in just to get one last gasp out of the audience, but a simple, straightforward 'curse' storyline. The curse itself being simple with several clearly set rules, though the cast has to learn them the hard way, and no exceptions or variations just for the sake of plot. Further on the simplicity point, I think part of what I enjoyed about this film overall was the fact that it wasn't like it was trying to be creepy per se. It had some disturbing elements, to be certain, but it never felt like they were just trying to make that classic 'evil stalks you at every turn' element that seems such a regularity in curse movies. You're given enough to confirm that this curse is indeed on the level, and much of the rest is just the combination of straight up mystery and the countdown till the curse is supposed to take hold. While there are still supernatural elements along the way, you don't feel inundated by them. As a result, the film feels more, strange as this is to say, real. Alongside the praise for how the subject matter was approached, the film is fairly well acted and several moments have fairly strong direction. I almost feel inclined to quit while I'm ahead, knowing the penchant for sequels and remakes to up the ante, and upset the good balance this film had going for it.

You know...I considered numerous captions for this film
Many of which I immediately felt guilty for afterward
Somehow how, this tagline says it better than I could have.

10/8. I Spit On Your Grave
This I added this to the queue on a suggestion from a friend (who, in the future, may join me for a more in-depth discussion on it and the controversy surrounding it,) Suffice it to say, it was definitely an interesting experience. I'm normally not one for the 'revenge' genre of horror most of the time, so I had no real sense of what to expect here. What I got was a film that was on the one hand, downright disturbing to watch, but on the other, sickly gratifying when it gets to the 'revenge' part of the equation. This is definitely NOT one for anyone with a shaky constitution - the film pulls no punches with the fact it involves rape and some rather brutal killings in vengeance. That said, once the shock settles, the film wasn't bad. I wouldn't necessarily say it's one for someone to go out of their way for, as it's definitely NOT for everyone (I again stress that warning from earlier). However, if you have any interest in controversial film history, or seeing what your cinematic stamina is, this film could be worth giving a watch. For all its faults, it is still fairly competent, if unsettling, in the story it tries to tell.
Also, for an interesting piece of trivia to consider when watching this - the lead role in the film was played by Camille Keaton, wife of the movie's director, Meir Zarchi. Now, as you watch this film, consider to yourself what the talks at night must have been like between the two while working on this project together.

"...of all the things you could have borrowed from Hitchcock, was doing this in a shower too much to ask?"
10/9. Dementia 13
Here's a fun fact for you to pull out at parties as a conversation starter (mileage may vary depending the manner of film geeks you run with who may already know this) - prior to his directing such classics as the Godfather saga and Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola cut his directorial teeth on a low budget horror film about ax murder at an Irish castle.
No, really. Hence the world has Dementia 13. As a film, it's a bit of a 50-50 prospect. It's not a bad film, really. It's definitely not as distinctive as Coppola's other films, but it's still a fairly entertaining piece of 60s horror. I think, if I had to mark anything as a strike against it, it would be the fact the story is actually pretty derivative. Not in a generic sense either. I mean watching this movie, one will automatically note similiarities to Hitchcock's Psycho, right down to the protagonist bait-and-switch. Just so we're clear, while I dock the movie points for this, I'm not just taking a cheap accusation here. Coppola has openly admitted in years after the movie's production that they were basically trying to make a film akin to Psycho at the time. In this vein, if you've seen the latter, you can pretty well guess where the former's headed. Despite this setback, however, it's still a pretty interesting imitator, and, as students of the Psycho school go, has its fair share of its own personality to stand up on (as opposed to, say, the infamous Gus Van Sant remake of the movie.) Paired with a cast of both relative unknowns and a few veteran actors, most notably Patrick Magee as the movie's doctor turned detective, the film manages to step out of the shadow of the movie it was trying to emulate. It doesn't manage it all the way, but it still does so enough to actually be worth remembering as imitations go.

"...and after I set fire to the barn, Lassie will save me instead of the real Timmy.
His body will be lost in the farm and no one the wiser!"

10/10. The Other
Next to the rules about going into the basement and getting laid, one of the critical rules anyone familiar with horror knows - children are evil. Always. Even when they aren't, there's always the potential to be. This is a film that plays that in its truest form. Unlike the earlier tots in last week's features, children can't fall back on Satan's influence in this film. Instead, Robert Mulligan gives us a rather curious tale of twins and the time-honored 'One of them WILL be evil' rule. Said twins, played by child actors and real life twins Chris and Martin Udvarnosky, actually wound up impressing me in this regard for two reasons. For one, as child actors go, they're actually fairly good in their roles in this movie. For another, the way the 'evil' twin is handled in this is thankfully understated. There are none of the familiar traits. No otherworldly stare, no withdrawn behavior, no creepy lines, Holland simply acts like a normal child, albeit one who seems to have no real sense of right and wrong compared to his brother Niles. As a result, there's none of that disbelief that comes from people being unable to process that the eerily staring child is responsible for the seemingly wild chain of tragic accidents befalling everyone around them. (Actually, that's not entirely fair to the Omen. Damien didn't start throwing off the obvious EVIL vibes until later installments, to the point his remake version was only missing the horns.) Anyway, to sum that up, the children in this film actually feel like children which is rarer in horror then one would expect. The adult cast, for their part, also carry their parts well, including an appearance by a young John Ritter in a supporting role. The script and direction actually have an interesting feel about them, as the setting at first feels more like a slice of Americana with the time and place it occurs in. This, of course, makes the seeming accidents that much bigger shocks within the setting when they happen. In fact, the whole film doesn't carry its horror elements outright. They are there, and lead to a couple of rather shocking moments, but if you just walked in, you wouldn't necessarily realize it was a horror film right away. There's also a bit of a twist to the film which, if you're actively looking for it, you will probably figure out on your own, but at the same time, I commend it for being one that's executed in such a fashion that it works without feeling like they were trying to feed you clues from the get go. Overall, while I'm not sure I'd necessarily call this a lost classic, I do feel it's a rather overlooked film that could benefit from a bit more love if you're looking for a bit of psychological horror.

" more arguing over this. We're going to put this to a vote
and we're going to pick ONE station and stay there. If I see even one hand
going for the dial after that, I WILL use the shotgun!"

10/11. Night of the Living Dead
"They're coming to get you, Barbara!" One of the quintessential classics for this list, as well as for horror in general. For the age of this film, it's impressive to see how well it's aged. The scares are still pretty jolting and the effects have actually held up quite well. I have to say, films like this make it tricky to do a write-up because they're so ingrained in the pop culture, it becomes a challenge of 'what can I say that hasn't already been said several times over?' ... despite that, I'm sure as Hell gonna try. As the film that both launched George Romero's 'Dead' series, which we'll be revisiting more in the next week's entries, and is prettymuch considered THE zombie movie, I still find it impressive that, alongside being an impressive gorefest, this film has held up as being surprisingly intelligent. Even outside of the social commentary, which is a staple of Romero's zombie titles, and is likewise present in this, the film never feels like it's just revelling in gore for gore's sake as many zombie films do (not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, letting the blood flow for a bit of brainless carnage can be just the dumb fun one needs.) Instead, the film carries itself as most any survival movie would. It just so happens that the disaster in this film is the dead rising with a taste for the flesh of the living. The characters, both their performances and the actions taken, as well as the reports of the situation in the world at large, really do feel like what could be expected of people within a disaster of the sort that unfolds within the movie. Even the film's shocking ending, both in its political message and just as is, is a plausible outcome of what could go down in a situation like this. While it may still be looked down on in some circles, the film has pretty well earned the accolades it receives to this day.

Amid all the orgies, drug use, and weird costumes,
THIS would be the year where Burning Man participants would consider
"...maybe we went a little too far."

10/12. The Wicker Man
Of all the films on this list, this seems to be the single biggest case of 'Mileage May
Vary.' I know some people who love it, some who hated it, and some who liked the idea, but just weren't that crazy about the execution. Personally, I wasn't that crazy about it the first time I saw it myself. I didn't dislike it, but I was really kind of uneven on how to feel about it. It wasn't until I rewatched it a few years later that I really came around on the movie. I still maintain it's definitely not one for everyone, but I'd still say it's worth at least giving a try to see how you feel about it. The story is an interesting one, even if the ending has been spoiled in some circles. Much like The Usual Suspects, even knowing the ending, it's still interesting to watch how it unfolds (well, interesting or downright bizarre depending who you are.) Nevertheless, despite the lack of many outright scares, although having its share of a few memorable creep-out moments along the way, the film pays off for its slow burn quite effectively in a finale that, as an idea, is still fairly disturbing to this day. Alongside this, the film has a fairly solid cast, with particular shoutouts to leads Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, in the role that proved he still had a future beyond just playing Dracula time and again.
Additionally, in the event you watch this and do enjoy the film, I'd also recommend reading up on the movie's production history. Its trek to the big screen was a long and rocky one, but one that was propelled along by the sheer love for the project many of the people involved had (most famously, Lee was so determined to see this film happen that he offered to give up his own paycheck to help shore up lacking funds.)
and yes, since you may see this mentioned in other reviews for it, the film does have a few musical numbers that may seem odd to watch...that's just the culture the movie takes place in. Just bear with it, as the culture shock is part of the idea of the film to begin with.

So remember, the next time you're thinking about filming a
found footage horror film -- someone's eventually going to retrieve your body
Be considerate. Die where they can find it easily.

10/13. Lake Mungo
If there's one thing this project has taught me so far, it's this: for all the foreign markets whose horror films have gained recognition and acclaim in the past 10 years, the Australians have been due for their turn in the limelight. The other thing it's taught me in this light - they actually seem to have a better handle on how to do the faux documentary/found footage horror film than we do over here. In this case, the film provides a much slower burn than the earlier feature in The Tunnel. Instead, we're given a fake documentary exploring a modern day ghost story revolving around the unfortunate drowning of a girl and her grieving family's attempts to cope. This is another film where I will warn this may not be to everyone's interests - as I've already said, it takes a rather slow buildup, and at times, you even wonder if there's anything truly supernatural at play or if you, and the family, are being taken for a ride. Likewise, in the end, not every mystery is resolved. When it comes to the final reveal, you're left with as many questions as the family within the movie. Some will be answered, others you will need to decide for yourself once you've processed the information. If you've got nothing against ambiguity in a film, then this is a rather interesting one to try your luck at parsing out.
...and no, I'm not lying when I say this is a ghost story, even if it may not seem it at first. Just keep a sharp eye out, one of the best marks of a ghost story is one that leaves you wondering just what you've seen.

and that makes week 2. Hopefully, week three will be up soon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What you are about to see is an experiment.

Well kids, as was promised, we're working on trying to get the Third Row back up and running on a regular basis again. In order to get back to writing on a regular basis, and practicing brevity, we're trying a little experiment this month.

As everyone knows, barring those of you with crippling short term memory loss, or records of hardcore substance abuse, this is October. With this being the token month when networks play horror films on an almost constant basis. As in, come the last two weeks, if you can not find a horror film playing, you're either up in the wee hours, or you are doing something wrong.

With this in mind, what better way to ring in the month than to salute some of these horror films. So, for each day of this month, in an attempt to get his sorry punk-ass working, the guy sitting in the third row is going to watch a horror film, with an 'end of the week' write-up.
...which, we realize, means this one should have gone up over the weekend, but this is a work in progress, bear with us.

Now sit back and prepare for the first wave of this month's offerings:

Trick or treat, folks

Will you just send help already?!
I've seen enough of these types of films to know my odds of survival are bad enough as it is!

10/1 The Tunnel

Well, with this, we officially kick off Octoberfest (Without the Germans and beer.)

Somewhat appropriately enough (or as appropriately as a randomizer will allow for) we start the month off with the most recent title on the lineup, the 2011 Australian film 'The Tunnel.'
I'm just gonna start off by saying, I've always had kind of a love-hate relationship with the 'found footage' sub-genre of horror. Sure, it can sometimes yield good results, but it seems that for every [REC] or The Last Broadcast, you're just as likely to find a Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project (...that's right. Didn't much care for either of them. No, I don't care if that's heresy.) So I went into this movie with a bit of apprehension.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, it seems to actively avoid many of the tropes that seem to pervade so many found footage films.
Even the premise, while conventional in a way, also kind of dodges the usual 'camera crew is actively looking for something horrible' trope, instead starting us off with something more akin to a political controversy. It isn't until the team has snuck into the film's titular tunnel system that the film's true nature slips through. Further on this, the film's approach to its horror is strangely refreshing as well. For much of the movie, the strongest element of fear comes from their locale (abandoned train tunnels beneath Sydney.) Even without the threat that emerges, these tunnels themselves become rather unsettling the further in the intrepid and unfortunate film crew go.
Finally, I will say this, in a set of films that, all too often, fall flat on the final reveal, this film is surprisingly good at adhering to the 'less is more' rule of fear. Even after everything is said and done, you have almost no idea what is down in the tunnels with them. That uncertainty, as well as the fact that, with one scene aside, never show any more than they have to, actually wound up making this film much more effective to me than I expected it would be. I will concede, this has convinced me the 'found footage' movie still has some life left in it afterall.

As an additional fun fact, this film has also earned itself a small footnote in cinematic history as being one of the first films to make legal distribution through BitTorrent a part of its distribution plan.
Doesn't really have much to do with the rest of the film, just an interesting note is all.

"I don't care HOW good those hors d'ouvres were,
we're never going to another party at Polanski's again!"

10/2 Rosemary's Baby

OK. I'm gonna start this off by saying this now. I do NOT condone of what Roman Polanski did. I feel the man is a talented director, but that does not square his actions. That said, this is not to be discussing his actions off the set, this is to discuss his movie.
...though I must admit, I do find it somewhat perversely ironic that he would direct a film whose big catalyst is the protagonist being drugged and raped.
...OK NOW I stop that.

Anyway. This is one of those classics I'm rewatching for this project. On that I have to say, it's also one that honestly gets better the more I see it ( light of that intro, that just sounds wrong, but I don't mean it THAT way.) This is a film where I first went in expecting a classic case of occult horror, a genre I've always had something of a soft spot for. In that regard, the film comes up rather light. In turn, however, it delivers much more on a level that is sadly underrated in modern horror: paranoia. The second half of the film, as Mia Farrow's title character slowly, but surely, begins to realize that she really can't trust anyone, is still among the most disturbing things I've seen in a horror film to date. Made even more effective by the fact that, until the end, the film never truly gives us any particular reason to believe the suspicions either. So alongside our suspicion of everyone else, we're also left to question our perspective character as well. For all of the above grievances with Polanski (NO! No...not gonna go there again) I will say this for the man - back in the day, he had a knack for being able to convey paranoia and uncertainty brilliantly in film.
This isn't, of course, to sell short the others involved in this film as well. The rest of the cast especially help make the film work as well as it does. From John Casavetes as Rosemary's husband Guy, to the stable of veteran actors who play the many people Rosemary grows to distrust (including Ruth Gordon, scoring a well-deserved Oscar win for her work as their ever-present doting to the point of being insidious next door neighbor.)
Overall, while the main gist of the film is meant to be supernatural, the film is still, at its heart, classic 'nothing is what you think it is' at its finest.

(and yes, I realize my choice in caption is running counter to my vow at the start of this. I checked with my lawyers, it's not legally binding. You have no case here!)

Surviving a Dario Argento Movie Rule #1
Windows are your enemy.

10/3 Phenomena/Creepers

You know, if there's one thing I've always felt a bit ashamed of as a horror fan, it's been the fact that, over all these years, I've seen very little in the way of Italian horror.

Prior to my viewing of this, all I'd seen was two offerings by Dario Argento (his classics Suspiria and Deep Red, which may get discussed in future years.) So in putting together this year's list, I knew I wanted to get something on here that I hadn't seen before from the field of Italian horror.
Enter Dario Argento's 'Phenomena,' (although, in terms of access, I wound up watching the truncated, US edited release retitled 'Creepers') like Argento's other offerings, a film that's a rather curious blend of supernatural elements and a slasher mystery.
Not having heard anything about this film going in, I wasn't entirely sure what I was in for. What I got was a film with many of the classic Argento elements, some strong use of visuals, a unique storyline for a horror film, and a great soundtrack (albeit a bit of a difference from Argento's usual score by Goblin. They still have a part to play in this one, but there are also other parts of music by bands such as Franky Goes to Hollywood and Iron Maiden.)
Pretty solid casting in the two leads, horror veteran Donald Pleasance (in the years before he got booked into Halloween sequels for the rest of his days) and Jennifer Connelly in her first leading role (it's still damn fun to see the earliest work from Oscar respected actors nowadays.) Admittedly, this film wasn't quite on the same level of classic as other Argento films (though part of that may be thanks to the fact I was watching the edited version). Despite that, it's still a fairly enjoyable film with some unique touches to it.
Shaky execution aside, the film still boasts some well-shot sequences and still a few decently jolting surprises, including one which will forever add to my leeriness of those 'faceless children' cards stores insist on putting at every bloody corner. Overall, while Argento has done better, it's still a well worth the watch. Just try and watch the uncut version if you can ( this end, I may be adding that to the queue for next October.)

She's just been told how much she's getting in royalties from the Billy Idol song of the same name
...while the mask doesn't show it, she's thrilled.

10/4 Eyes Without a Face

This was another film I went into with no idea of what to expect, other than the very basic summary: a doctor whose daughter was in an accident was left with no to speak. In hoping to treat his daughter, as well as advance his own research, he decides to try a bold new (and altogether illegal) experiment - kidnapping women, removing their faces, and transplanting them onto his daughter's. It a gesture that merrily dances the line between 'loving father' and 'No. Really. What the Hell, Dad!?'
While the plot sounds somewhat schlocky, I was pleasantly surprised to find the story was actually quite well done. While the story does have its shares of some violence, most notably a surgery scene that, for a movie made in 1959, is still rather effectively disturbing in its execution, much of this is really more focused on the characters involved in this sordid scheme that's somewhere between a dysfunctional family and the high-class European cousins of the Leatherface clan (...OK, THAT's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)
In particular, acknowledgments need to be given for actress Alida Valli, who plays the earlier mentioned faceless daughter, Louise. For her part, she has a rather curious challenge from an acting standpoint - she spends a good chunk of the film with her face concealed by a mask (for those of us playing at home, picture a feminine predecessor to the now famous Michael Meyers mask. All respect and love to John Carpenter, but the 'blank' mask as a disturbing element predates him by a good 19 years.) While she still has a few scenes following one procedure where we see her normal face, she spends much of the movie having to convey her emotions behind this blank slate. With this challenge in mind, she still does a good job conveying the daughter's shares of confusion and later guilt on discovering her father's experiments.
While the father's storyline is something of a mix of mad science and police investigation, it's still also worth investigating, since he does seem to have some inkling of concern for his daughter, even if his ambitions as a doctor do tend to outpace that love in many cases.
I won't say this film is necessarily one for everyone, especially with its ending, it is a rather curious example for its time, as well as a nice proof the French aren't completely out of the game on horror.

No, we're not there yet. If you keep asking that, I will let the hitchhikers have you.

10/5 Penny Dreadful

Released as part of the '8 Films to Die For' series of horror films, this was one of my first encounters with the slowly growing market of indie release horror films, often by big names working outside of the usual studio mechanics. Admittedly, this may not have been the best first encounter with them, but I definitely give them points for the attempt.
The premise is equal parts different and, admittedly, a bit cliched. The titular Penny is trying to get over a former trauma that's given her a phobia of cars. As part of this, she and her therapist (Mimi Rogers as the token big name in this project) head on a drive into the mountains to help her adjust and get over her fears.
...and then things get a bit more stock standard, as our lead finds herself repeated tormented by a sinister hitchhiker as the bodies start stacking up.
I wanted to be able to speak well of this film, but at the same time, it did not make that easy for me. It's certainly an ambitious film, but it also trips itself up at many points.
The sharp, stylized camera work runs anywhere from really helping to capture the feel of a scene, to moments where it feels excessive and almost comedic. Likewise, the story seems unable to decide if it wants to play more to the psychological horror and mindgames inflicted on Penny, or whether it wants to up the body count. The latter hurts in that it adds several extra strands of story purely for the sake of giving us more kills...I mean, I'm not one to say 'no' to a bit of extra brutality in a horror film...but at the same time, I'd like it to actually fit the film, instead of bussing in a bunch of extra characters that serve no purpose than to just get slaughtered.
Likewise, the final act feels rushed, and somewhat vague. Perhaps this was deliberately so (I've heard some speculate on the film's finale being similar to the ending of High Tension, but unless I see a statement from the director on this, I'm gonna take that idea with a HUGE grain of salt), but if it is, it still feels like it could have been done better.
I wouldn't say it's a bad film per se, but it's definitely one that has room for improvement. Actually, that could be an interesting reason to watch it - figuring out what you think could have been done differently to help a story with a fair amount of potential prove worthwhile.

In his later years, Patrick Troughton would look back on this as the third worst
Dr. Who convention story of his life... his dying day, he wouldn't disclose the details of days #1 and 2.

10/6 The Omen, the randomizer apparently decided the 'classics' theme for this week was 'Everyone Look What Satan Slept With This Time.'
That said, this is another one of those films I wind up appreciating more each time I watch it...and, loath as I am to admit it, I kind of have to thank the infamous remake for helping highlight parts of WHY I find this film holds up as well as it does.
The story...OK, do I need to recap the story for people? Satan knocks up a jackal, thanks to some cultist switcheroo, their offspring is snuck into the loving parentage of an American ambassador and his wife. Five years of loving upbringing quickly go (almost literally) to Hell, as Satan's little progeny begins to come into his own and those who try to warn the boy's father (played by Gregory Peck, once again proving he can take almost any role and make it a well fleshed out one) wind up dying in various, sundry, and disturbingly creative deaths.
Speaking of those deaths, the cast of victims is certainly worth their own accolades as well, Lee Remick, David Warner, Patrick Troughton (that's right, this movie kills The Second Doctor) and Billie Whitelaw...OK, she's not so much a victim of the Devil's love of Rube Goldberg, but damned if her turn as the sinister Mrs. Baylock isn't the stuff that distrust for nannies is made of.
Anyway, while Satan's perhaps overwhelming fondness for the game Mousetrap is certainly a memorable element of the film, it's far from the only one. Outside of the memorably gory demises, the film is still a fairly well composed mystery story. Especially when you consider the fact that, if you look at it from the perspective within the film itself, the events really DO seem like they could just be flukes. It's largely thanks to the Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith (including the nominated song 'Ave Satani') that we can realize the evil that's actually going on.
Though the film has spawned many imitators and sequels of varied quality, it's still held up well in its own right. When watching this one, just forget everything that came after it, and enjoy what, in its own right, is still a great supernatural mystery at its core, armed with a capable script, a great cast, and a phenomenal score.
That's right's all for you!

Be sure to come back next Friday when we'll hopefully have the next installment up on time!