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.

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