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!

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