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!

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