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.

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