Friday, November 11, 2011

Hallowen Coverage: The 'Down to Milk Duds Edition'

(...and now we owe the Milk Duds people an apology for that one, don't we?)

Anyway, it's run a bit later than we'd have liked, but at last, we come to the end of the October feature at the Third Row. It's been a lot of ups and downs, but also been a lot of great practice at getting these out in a more presentable and, to a degree, timely fashion. With fewer movies to manage in the weeks to come, hopefully this will help future reviews get sorted on a regular basis, starting next week.

That's right, not rid of me that easily.
...or you are if you just don't come back...
...please come back...

ANYWAY. This marks the last week of this year's Halloween run. The final four were a pretty odd spread after everything we've done to this point, but for the most part, I still feel it was a satisfactory way to send the month out.

Having said that, let's begin.

" It's not a Goddamn Voldemort costume."

10/28. Nosferatu the Vampyre

Up until it was suggested for this list, I had no idea Werner Herzog had done a remake of this film. Learning that he did however, and that he gave the title role to his colleague, the talented and potentially insane Klaus Kinski, I was automatically curious. I went in expecting well made insanity from the duo that, prior to this, had brought us Aguirre, Wrath of God. The film I got was unexpected, but certainly welcome. It was a good movie, certainly, but surprisingly not as insane as I was expecting (although some of the behind the scenes stories regarding the treatment of the rats echo back to the more classic tales of the proverbial gauntlet that is Herzog movies.) In terms of horror as well as a vampire story, this one might seem a bit daunting on the first watch - it takes its story from F.W. Murnau's silent film of the same name, but also takes advantage of the fact Bram Stoker's book that Murnau was loosely adapting is finally public domain, and changes up names accordingly. The result is a variation on the Dracula story that is equal parts traditional but also altogether unique. Alongside that, the movie is a very slow burn. Many have criticized the film as running too long and too slow, and while I can see where the complaints have some basis, I would say it's worth seeing anyway.
This is fueled in part by two things. The first, Kinski's performance as Dracula. The rest of the cast are all largely good, don't get me wrong, but it's Kinski's turn as the film's titular vampire that really sells this. While adorning the similar batlike makeup of silent actor Max Schreck, he manages to capture a sad sort of humanity in the Count: world-weary and tired of his immortality. Even just looking at him in many scenes, one can see a weariness in his eyes that Kinski delivers perfectly. The other strong suit that makes this film worth the watch - to be perfectly blunt, it's beautiful. No. Really. Herzog has a great eye for visuals on this movie, as well as with his music cues. Alongside some great locales, he is able to shoot some striking sequences within the film. Even a somewhat surreal sequence with minimal dialogue in which Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) wanders through the village in the throes of plague is handled in such a way that it feels more artistic than horrifying. As remakes go, I'm not sure I can rightly say this one surpasses its predecessor, in part since it changes enough to rightly stand on its own two legs (as any proper remake really should.) I will, however, say this certainly qualifies as a good case study, along with last entry's The Thing, for why remakes can be respectable if placed in the right hands.

Despite Kenner's best attempts to keep the incident silent,
it was only a matter of time before photos of Stretch Armstrong's
suicide made their way to the public.

10/29. Uzumaki

When I learned there was actually a live-action adaptation of Junji Ito's horror manga of the same name, I had to do a bit of a doubletake at first. This was cause I wasn't sure how one would be able to properly adapt the three-volume, somewhat episodic story of a small town caught up in the throes of a curse that induces obsession, madness, and finally David Cronenberg-level body horror (all themed around, as the title suggests, spirals.) It's a great read, but one that presents a challenge to put on the big screen. For all my misgivings, especially in learning that director Higuchinsky was adapting from the manga before it was completed, I was fairly satisfied with the film in question. It's definitely not the most faithful of adaptations, to be certain - alongside having to retool parts of the story that hadn't been told yet, as well as working within the confines of a movie length, the film has something of a lighter air to it than the original manga, with many scenes carrying a bit more of a humorous over the top element to them. While this may irritate purists, and even I admit I was put off at first, it still holds up for the film itself, as even without the humorous scenes, the movie never seems to try to lay on the full nightmarish feel that Ito's story gains as it picks up to its borderline apocalyptic finale. Story aside, the movie does still prove fairly competent otherwise - while some of the acting may be a bit over the top compared to the other J-horror features on this list, it still fits within the film itself, and the effects are actually quite good (especially given the general level of FX budgets in Japanese cinema.) Though the CG may be a bit dated now, the sequences of bodies literally spiralling on themselves still look fairly well done 11 years later.
Is this a flawless adaptation? Not really by any stretch. By the same token, however, it technically isn't by design. The lack of an 'official' ending to the source gives it the opportunity to take on more of its own direction to a degree. The end result is a film that, while somewhat flawed, is still largely entertaining. Just remember it's not going to be a carbon copy and enjoy the descent.

"Really now, Hutter, do I sneak into YOUR room while you sleep?
Sure, I do it to other people, but I haven't done it to you yet!"

10/30. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens

And so, as we come to the home stretch, we come up on F.W. Murnau's silent vampire classic (and for those wondering why I did the Herzog remake first, that was all thanks to loading up the titles in a randomizer and letting it sort them out, I swear.) As silent film goes, this movie has actually held up quite well. There's a few jolts in the editing, likely a result of the film's rather hectic hisory (it was nearly lost to the ages in a copyright dispute with Bram Stoker's widow.) Despite this, much of it remains in good shape and, for its time, is still a good movie to watch. The acting and FX, while showing some of the style of the time period, don't feel exceedingly aged. In particular with regard to actor Max Shreck as Graf Orlok, the vampire of the title. Both his performance and the makeup they used for his appearance still manage to work well. The story, for all of its allegations of copyright infringement, has actually changed quite a bit making for its own unique experience and one that, even if one recognizes Stoker's work, they won't necessarily predict. To be honest, I actually think the ending for this version is a bit better, if somewhat less climactic. Also, I feel the film's portrayal of the vampire is probably one of the best I've seen done in film: half the time, it strikes without being seen on camera, and is instead, within the setting, mistaken for plague. Finally, one thing I will say Murnau's version got arguably better than Herzog's was the emphasis on the plague element. In the remake, while it's present, it doesn't feel as strong a presence as it is in this version, where we see town policies in effect to try and halt its spread, and even the inevitable mob paranoia that ensues as a result of the 'disease'.
For an additional bit of trivia on the note of their depiction of the undead, this film has a secondary claim to fame as actually being the originator of the 'Vampires die in sunlight' concept. Prior to this, it mostly just slowed them down, as far as I can tell. Just another of the many ways this film has cemented its place in history. One that, if you have any interest in silent film, film history, or vampire cinema, it would be worth your time to look into.
On an additional note, while there are a lot of different copies of this movie circulating out there care of public domain, for what it's worth, I'd vote to see if you can get the version distributed by Kino entertainment. This is done for three reasons:
1) Many of the other public domain versions are made of earlier cuts of the movie, where certain scenes may be missing as they weren't available at the time
2) Many of the other editions use altered soundtracks. This particular release does feature a rerecording of the original musical score.
3) To be perfectly honest, their cleaned up remaster looks amazing for the film's age. Many of the other versions I've seen released under numerous other labels haven't held up anywhere near as well in quality as this one did.

...and no, I'm not getting paid by them to say this. They genuinely do good treatments for silent film.

That said, now on to the final entry to cap off this wild, somewhat erratic month.

Though the awkward silence at the table is mutual
only one of them is quiet due to their dead daughter
the other just saw one of the cooks spit in the soup
Try and guess which is which!

10/31. Don't Look Now

You know, while this isn't exactly the most 'Halloween'-suited film on this list by a long shot, I have to say, I feel it's appropriate the randomizer picked this to wrap up the month. This is, strangely enough, due to why it isn't the most Halloweenish movie on the list. If you were to just watch a sliced out segment of this movie, you might not even realize it's considered a horror film. Much of the movie is based around the character study of couple John and Laura Baxter (played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) and their coping after the death of their young daughter in the movie's prologue. It's only as the film goes on that one begins to get caught up in the mystery that makes up the undercurrent of the movie. This mystery, of course, being what makes this so fitting as a closer for this month - this is a film where, if you keep attentive during the buildup (which is good, don't get me wrong) it pays off in the final scene. I won't go into the full details of that, though I imagine some may have had part of it spoiled for them care of either the internet or Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (both of which, often, ironically tend to omit the part that really makes the ending such a jolt, focusing on the more immediate reveal) suffice it to say, it definitely shows the effort put into both Allan Scott's script (adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier story) and Nicolas Roeg's direction. Like many of the other worthwhile titles on this list, it's an interesting film in that it functions both as a good horror story and frankly as just a good story in general. The two leads both lend a lot of genuine emotion to their roles, to the point that many believed their then controversial sex scene wasn't just an act. There is a genuine chemistry between Sutherland and Christie, even when one considers the rift that's formed between their characters over the loss of one of their children. As an additional bonus, this film also joins Picnic at Hanging Rock and Nosferatu the Vampyre in the 'Wish You Were Here' category of films that really make the most of their location and manage to get some great setting shots as a result. I know I've said this several times, but it bears repeating here, this definitely isn't one I can guarantee will be a hit (...Hell, I can't promise that with any film thanks to general human nature.) However if you don't mind a slow burn with a rather surprising payoff (that disguises itself under another payoff) then this could definitely be worth your time. Worst case scenario, even if it doesn't necessarily perform for you as a horror, at least you'll get a fairly well made character piece out of it.

With that rather curious finale, we here at the Third Row now, after two weeks delay, declare this month's October sweep to be closed. We'll be attempting this next year and, hopefully, have it running in a much more timely fashion.
Speaking of, please come back next week when we'll hopefully have things running back up to par again...starting with one film that's been on the Third Row's chopping block for the better part of a year now.

See ya then!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First Week of November Clearance Candy Edition 1

Well, as promised, we here at the Third Row are going to continue, late as it is, to finish up the October month of horror (and rest assured in future years, this will actually end IN October.)

We realize we missed Halloween back there. Though, to be fair, so did much of the East coast, but that's another matter. Consider this the first of two entries akin to that other great Halloween tradition -- The candy the stores are marking down to get rid of so they can bus in the (far too early) Christmas goods.

With that, let's dim the lights and here we go...

"...I TOLD you we'd get stuck.
Now are you going to call for help or do I have to?"

10/21. The Others

Another from the files of 'How the Hell has it taken me this long to watch this movie?' I remember being aware of this film when it came out, and I had absolutely nothing against it. Quite the opposite, I was immediately reminded of a personal favorite ghost story by the ads alone (in the event one has to ask, it was 'The Turn of the Screw' by Henry James, which itself was also adapted into the movie 'The Innocents' back in the 60s.) So why did I not see this sooner? I have no idea, actually. Just didn't get around to watching until now was all. Suffice it to say, it was worth it. It's kind of surprised and, dare I say it, a bit refreshing to see a modern horror film still evading some of the conventional tropes. I don't just mean railing on gore here (which I wouldn't say is entirely without merit, as explicated on further below) but also the lack of traditional jump scares and broadcasted terrors. But I'll refrain from the usual old man railings on the state of horror and stick to this film. The other surprising thing was realizing I'd gone for as long as I had on seeing this movie and not had the ending spoiled for me. I have to hand it to them that, while there were definitely clues leading up to it, this still didn't feel like a film where it would be necessarily obvious. Even beyond that, the movie as a whole feels rather well put together, in particular in terms of its casting and setting, the latter of which feels appropriately like its own separate world while still feeling grounded in an actual period of history. It may have taken me ten years to see this, but all things considered, still glad I did finally get around to it.

This episode would go down in the annals of
television history as the single most disturbing
This Old House ever filmed.

10/22. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

For a classic I hadn't rewatched in years prior to this event, I have to say I'm really impressed with how well this movie's aged. I mean, compared to when I first watched this ages ago, I think I'm actually getting more out of it now than I did back then. A good chunk of this comes down to two things. The first is the way the movie is shot. Thanks to the pseudo-documentary style Tobe Hooper employs, one feels less of that usual 'fourth wall' separation one gets from many more recent films. Plus, I will admit, when younger, I believed John Laroquette's intro that this actually happened...granted, he wasn't TECHNICALLY lying, given the movie's backstory, but nevertheless. Between the shots taken, the grade of the film, and the somewhat chaotic display of some of the sets, there is enough of a sense of realism in many cases where one actually feels like they're almost within the film. Especially in Leatherface's infamous workshop, where one could start smelling the decay and not be at all surprised. The actors also lend their part to this realism as well. When one reads up on the behind the scenes for the movie, much of the stories are how this production puts its cast through Hell, and you can see it within the film. This was an intense experience, and the work reflects it accordingly, furthering that sense of grim faux-reality that pervades this film on the level that it does. The other of the two things I mentioned above, is what this film says about its viewers. I know, this sounds pretentious as Hell, but hear me out. This is one of those films where it's interesting to watch people's reactions to it. Especially the violence. Many speak of this movie as though it were a grand guignol style display of blood and gore. When one watches the movie,'s actually rather light on on-screen gore. In fact, compared to a lot of other films, it's fairly light in its bloodletting. Where it strikes a chord is less with what's shown and more what's implied, such as in one jarring sequence where one of the ill-fated travellers is killed with a mallet. You see none of the damage, but the wet sounds as the mallet makes contact speak volumes. In a way, the film is almost like a cinematic rorschach test. The amount of violence and gore you see within the film says more about you than it does about the movie itself (also makes a great way to respond to criticisms of the movie...if only for an interesting thought exercise.)
...and on a final note - that high-pitched squeal in the movie STILL chills me to this day.

Amid another year of song numbers and stilted comedy Jerry's reenactment of the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs with his grandkid would be the part of the retirement home talent show that would be remembered most.

10/23. The Devil's Backbone

Like the earlier entry regarding Picnic at Hanging Rock, I'd say The Devil's Backbone is another one of those films I wouldn't necessarily qualify as a horror as many seem to. There is indeed a supernatural element to it, and it does lead to some effectively creepy moments, but the overall nature of the film seems to be, technically speaking, more of a drama with a supernatural element to it. This isn't to say the film isn't without its scare factor, but like del Toro's later work on Pan's Labyrinth, the scares are balanced between the supernatural and the real. It's appropriate he considers the two films sibling pieces, as both offset their supernatural with the horrors of how war effects people, both using the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. In this case, the supernatural takes the form of a ghost story, and presents itself quite well. As things proceed, we soon learn there are things in this film more fearful than ghosts. Part of what surprised me in this case compared to del Toro's other work is there is less of an overall sense of an immersive dark fantasy compared to the realms presented in the above Pan's and his directorial debut in Cronos. In this case, there is no other world to escape into, it remains locked into the stark, war-torn world of Spain that young Carlos and his friends have been consigned to. In its own way, it takes del Toro's already signatorily dark style and manages to make it darker. Despite that, it's still as fascinating to watch as his other films, and one can see why he considers it to be one of his best. The film has a lot to say for itself and, like many of his other films, does a good job of taking the fantastic and making it feel human. Not a film to go into if you're just looking for a quick horror story, but definitely one would recommend seeing.

Fun fact:
As of this entry, four states of the union will excuse charges of grave robbing if you explain it's for a scavenger hunt. Go ahead, try it. You might be one of the lucky ones.

10/24. Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Remember a few entries back when I discussed how I feel paranoia is an underutilized concept in horror? This is another one of those films that makes such distrust its bread and butter to a marvelous effect. In particular, this takes it to an extent that is also rarer in film than it really should be - the concept of the unreliable narrator. Often, when this is employed, it's for little things. This movie, however, is one of those rare cases where you're left wondering if the entire movie has been painted by the narrator's paranoia. The titular Jessica, in a great turn by Zohra Lampert, is herself even unsure in many cases of what's real and what isn't. We hear her assertions as much to herself as the audience, as to what it and what isn't, and, like her, we are left wondering in the end if everything she saw was real, or just her losing her mind. Alongside the uncertainty, the story we see, or at least seem to see, is itself a rather fresh take on the vampire legend, exploring the concept in a different, but still familiar light. In some regards, the film shows its age as a product of the early 70s, moreso in aesthetic than in terms of the film aging problematically, but it's still something worth warning since some do get thrown by that. If you don't mind the idea of the early 70s look, however, you could be in for a fairly unique piece of both supernatural and psychological (both or none at all, depending on your interpretation) horror that you won't see many films similar too any time soon.

As the fear of the mythological hairy palms dissipated,
it was only inevitable the proverbial Old Wives would start escalating their claims of side effects.

10/25. The Thing

One of the few, the proud, the remakes that don't suck. Part of me's almost tempted to leave this at that, but that would be not only criminally lazy (especially for the fact these entries are late as it is) but also, despite the praise, still underselling this film. While he will probably always get most of his recognition for creating the original Halloween, this definitely outstrips it as one of John Carpenter's best. This is especially true as it functions beyond just playing a rehash on a familiar tune. In fact, all it really shares in common with the earlier Howard Hawks rendition of the movie is the title and the fact they adapted the same source material. In that regard, Carpenter takes the point, crafting a film much closer to the original John G. Campbell short story. Further, basing things more on that, he crafts a film that, on its own merits, does a phenomenal job with crafting an air of suspense and paranoia. Carpenter and his cast and crew do a phenomenal job with one of the trickiest concepts to do right in film - an enemy that could literally be anyone or anything. The latter in particular pays off, care of a full FX and make-up crew lead by Rob Bottin crafting a veritable menagerie of mutations and creatures whose design is a nightmarish reworking of the lifeforms they once took the shape of. Thanks to this, there's no monster design throughout the film to consistently get used to, and the audience is left wondering what form this invader could take next. This isn't to say the effects alone carry the film, as arguably some of the biggest elements of suspense in the film actually come in the lead-ups to the monstrous reveal, including the now classic 'blood test' scene. Like the earlier Texas Chainsaw, this is a movie where the people in charge realize the best weapon in their arsenal is the audience's imagination, and they use it to the fullest, as well as flexing their own in the process.

I will give the Italians one thing
Their version of 'hidden object' games are easily more hardcore than ours.

10/26. Cannibal Holocaust

One of the most controversial horror films on known record to this day, and I'm only now getting to it. This project's been an eye-opener. Thinking this'll have to be repeated next October.
That said, in the grand debate over whether this movie is cutting social satire or exploitative garbage...I'm actually surprised to find myself feeling a little of both. On the one hand, this is currently neck and neck with I Spit On Your Grave for this year's award for 'Film I've Felt the Least Comfortable Watching' and is one I'd have to do some actual psychological prep work to watch again, primarily with regards to the depictions of slaughter, both human and animal (and to a degree, staged and real.) With regard for what happens to the's where I was actually impressed with the film from a writing perspective, if not from a visual one. For starters, I liked how they handled on the final act. Traditionally in horror, if a protagonist is a jerk whose horror is reaping the rewards of their behavior, the film will show you that early on so it's established they deserved this. In this case, we start the film assuming these were naive victims, only for us to slowly learn they were, ironically, the callous monsters they were so hoping to find in the jungle. This element, really, is what gives a lot of justifiable ammunition to the arguments of this movie as satire. In an age where documentaries on certain topics still raise questions of authenticity in what the filmmakers may have nudged, tweaked, or conveniently left out to support their arguments, there's a certain grim familiarity in seeing the ill-fated film crew in this openly assaulting a suspected cannibal tribe purely to stage the illusion that they were attacked by another tribe (in one of the many disturbing displays of the movie.) By the time the fateful final reel is unfolding, there's a mixed sense of both revulsion and gratification - we can't help but be, understandably, disgusted by the acts we're seeing (which, for a bizarre bit of trivia, were so realistic looking the Italian government believed Deodato murdered his cast members and actually took him to court over it) but the people they are being carried out on are such utter bastards, a part of us, however small, can't help but feel they brought this down on themselves. This theme of shameless sensationalism also extends beyond just the film crew, whose drama is the 'film within the film' to the faux-documentary that is the main movie covering what happened to them. As we build to the vicious finale, there is concern over what protagonist Monroe (Robert Kerman) sees on the tapes, but the TV station still wants to run...until they see it for themselves.
Definitely not a movie to watch if you consider yourself to be weak of stomach, but at the same time, I will say a much smarter film than the initial premise would have you believe (despite the fact that, allegedly, there is much debate over how much of that was by design and how much was coincidental. Deodato has reportedly both confirmed and denied, depending on the interview, that the film had any statement on sensationalism in it.) I'm still feeling rather mixed on it even as I write this. I'm not even sure when I'll be able to really say one way or another on this. This is one where I'd say give it a shot for yourself, disclaimers noted, and see what you think. Just don't say I didn't warn you though...this alongside ISOYG for "If you're not sure, just let this one slide."

We here at the Third Row endorse only the finest in infant protection
Audio monitors, video monitors, even hiring a
creepy man with glowing eyes to watch your child as they sleep.
Trust us, they're worth every penny.

10/27. The Baby's Room

For a film I went in on comparatively blind, I was surprised by this one. To clarify, this is both a plus and a minus, for reasons I will go into. This was part of the Spanish 6 Films To Keep You Awake series of horror films they aired on TV. In watching, you definitely get a sense of their made for TV budget, but it's not in a bad way. This entry at least makes good use of its lower budget, relying more on its script and the ideas therein, as well as a few admittedly well placed jump scares, to get its ideas across. That said, I'm not sure I'd rightly agree it's a film that would keep me scared to close my eyes. This isn't to say it's badly done. Actually, the idea is quite interesting, I'm just not rightly sure I'd say it works too well as a horror movie, though it starts in that mold. To wit, we start with a classic case of a young couple and their new home, an old house they've just bought and are happily moving into with their young baby. One night while settling in, with a new baby monitor they got from the in-laws, they overhear what sounds like a voice in their baby's room. Spurred on by this, the husband Juan (played by Javier Guttierez) invests in an infrared camera...and discovers a mysterious figure sitting by his baby's crib. For the first part of the film, one feels like we're getting a traditional ghost story. What we actually get, both for better and for worse, is something entirely different. As Juan researches the matter, it becomes a story of parallel realities and other worlds. It handles the concept fairly well and at times actually feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone, which is a definite plus. The drawback is, novel as the idea is, the scares kind of take a back seat to the interesting ideas. That aside, for a made for TV movie, it carries itself quite well on most fronts. I think the one other thing I would count as a strike against this would be the secondary plot string introduced in the movie's prologue and then later continued via an old woman. It seems like it could have been interesting as a way to help carry the film along, and at a few points it does do its job of helping give Juan the extra momentum in his quest for answers. The problem is, a lot of the time, it just feels like dead weight, adding needless scenes to the movie that would have been better suited to either more directly fleshing out the concepts or at least trying to return some of the eery moments from the first half of the movie. As a straight up horror title, this is kind of a disappointment. As a movie in general though, it's actually still a rather interesting take on the parallel worlds concept. If you're looking for a nice piece of science fiction (somewhat, the concepts are inherently sci-fi, but they don't really go into the nature of them) this is actually a nice little surprise to look into. May not leave you afraid to turn off the lights, but could raise some interesting thoughts about 'what ifs'.


4 days left now. Hopefully these will be up within the next day or so. Keep your eyes out, since after this, we'll be trying to get this back to work on a regular pace again!