Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Week IV: The Revenge

So at last we come to the penultimate week of this year's Halloween entries.  Been a pretty fun year so far, and this week's entries have all proved pretty worth it.  Actually feels like a shame it's almost over.

On the plus side, that means I can go back to just one of these a week, so small blessings...

That said, let's get started.

In certain regions of the world, this degree of bloodshot eyes is a trait of distinction among filmmakers...
...or potentially homicidal insanity.
To be fair, in some parts of the world, these can go hand in hand.

10/20 - At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

With this, I finally check off another one of those horror 'to dos' I probably should have attended to years ago.  I can now say I've finally seen one of the somewhat famous 'Coffin Joe' movies that are staples of Brazilian horror.  I have to say, I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but the result was interesting.  For a lot of the film, I wasn't even sure I'd necessarily call it horror.  Good, but not horror.  It concerns the man who the US would call Coffin Joe (in the actual film, he's called Zé do Caixão (played by the movie's director, José Mojica Marins)) and his borderline nihilistic view that gives him an almost Mr. Hyde-like sense of entitlement.  This isn't to say that there aren't some horrifying bits to this.  In fact, his general view of himself as freer of consequences than many of his peers leads him to often resort to intimidation and violence to accomplish his ends, resulting in some surprisingly good effects shots for a 60s movie.  Effects that still hold up nowadays (a sequence involving a broken bottle and two fingers comes to mind, for example.)  It isn't really until the last half hour that the more otherworldly horror comes into effect, as Zé's crimes come back to haunt him when one of his victims vows vengeance beyond the grave.  Prior to this point, the horror comes simply with his willingness to torture, manipulate, and kill in his quest to continue his bloodline.  In the last half, it comes as a form of retribution.  It actually becomes somewhat gratifying, as it's seeing a complete bastard reap what he's sown.  It's a curious story, really - the setup and general narrative make it feel almost like the kind of ghost story one would tell around a campfire.  The classic tale of a complete monster who goes too far and that spooky element that eventually brings it all back around on him.  While I imagine the more heavily religious culture of 60s Brazil may feel a bit odd to some contemporary viewers, it still makes for an interesting experience for a sample of South American horror cinema.  I'm actually rather curious to give the sequels a go in the future.

KILL IT WITH--Oh, do I even need to bother typing it?  Half of you already thought it just by seeing this.

10/21 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Following up on The Thing last year, this will be this year's 'remake that doesn't suck' entry.  On giving it another watch for this list, I'm actually impressed with how well this movie's held up.  Even the 70s aesthetic doesn't really weigh on the film heavily enough to hold it back, and the narrative and cast all still work well nowadays.  That said, while I still believe the original has a lot of merit, I do like what this film does with the concept - the ante has been upped, but at the same time it certainly doesn't feel it at first.  Like in the earlier version, the invasion is handled as a very gradual burn, and it leads to some great moments as you try and sort out who's been turned and who hasn't.  What effects shots there are have also aged surprisingly well, as some of the pod births are still damned creepy to watch nowadays.  That said, this is still one where the scariest of the ideas comes from the concept rather than any visual conceits - the entire idea that something like this could get you so subtly while you sleep that you don't even realize it until it's too late is a downright unsettling idea to think over, and the film follows that through in spades.  As you get into the second half, a truly apocalyptic feel begins to sink in and the first film's lingering threat feels much more real - that there may be no escape from this threat after all.  As I'd mentioned before, the cast really do add a lot to this, both as humans and even after they've been converted - some even almost making a decent argument for the conversion (albeit not one I'd sign up for regardless.)  In particular, Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy as two of the major players in the invasion are in top form, each giving one of their best in their performances, which I feel hesitant to say too much about for fear of spoilers.  I admit that feels a bit odd to say on this one, at least with regards to its ending which is so well known it's become the subject of both popular internet memes and even several pop culture references (last season's Christmas episode of Community is a great recent example of this.)  Of course, like many other classics, you shouldn't let knowing the ending deter you from watching this one.  It's still a great take on a classic story.

The ultimate mark of a psychotic craftsman:
You see a kill that left a mess, he sees the makings of a creative new hand puppet.

10/22 - Versus

This is one it took me a bit to sort my thoughts on.  Not because it's a confusing movie, nor is it bad.  Actually, I had a lot of fun with this movie, I just felt a bit odd calling it a horror film.  Not that that's stopped me from reviewing something here in the past.  It certainly has some horror elements to it at least, which do earn it a spot in here, but at the same time, its overall presentation almost feels more like an action piece with supernatural elements than a straight-up horror piece.  That said, it's still a pretty wild ride from Ryuhei Kitamura (who many may recognize for the kaiju throwdown Godzilla: Final Wars.)  Here, he crafts an initially somewhat puzzling story involving two felons on the run and a mix-up with the Yakuza in a mysterious place known as the Forest of Resurrection (a forest, the movie's prologue explains, that is one of the 666 entrances to a world of darkness.)  In this forest, a battle for command of the powers of darkness is about to unfold.  Zombies, martial arts, gunplay, and katanas will all fly culminating in a showdown between two of the individuals (Tak Sakaguchi and Hideo Sakaki) who are in the latest round of a centuries old battle for this ancient power.  The film's narrative is a bit odd at first, but as you get into the ride, things fall into place and it becomes a pretty enjoyable spree of bloody kills and stylized-yet-messy combat.  Some of it's even pretty damn funny.  My only regret is that, for this project, I was only able to track down the original cut, as I'm now curious to see how the Ultimate Versus holds up.  Not sure I'd say this is a must for a horror ride, but if you want a nice actioner along the way, this one's well worth the time.

They always laugh when you tell them the things that can go wrong trimming a tree...when will they learn to listen?

10/23 - Phantasm

You know, this may sound a bit dickish, but I have to admit, this one surprised me.  This is a movie I have a lot of love for. I watched this one a lot in high school, so I've got some fond memories.  Coming at it again for this, I was braced and kind of dreading that I'd find the movie wouldn't hold up well.  While I admit a couple of the effects have taken a knock with time (the insect monster comes to mind) I was still pleasantly surprised to find the movie has aged better than I expected it would.  I mean, yeah, some parts of it are still very much a product of their times, but the movie is still fairly enjoyable to watch nowadays.  For a cast and crew that, at the time, were very much on the indy side of things, much of this is still pretty watchable, and for a young lead, A Michael Baldwin actually plays protagonist Mike and his fear a lot better than many in his age group would.  Next to him, of course, the one other performance that merits praise in this is Angus Scrimm as the film's antagonist, the mysterious Tall Man.  For an actor who gets very few lines or real moments to show his menace, Scrimm has the right level of presence to give the role a genuinely creepy air while also feeling rather mysterious.  The story itself is a bit odd in some regards, particularly with the nature of just who the Tall Man is and where he's from, but that unknown element actually adds to the fun - Especially with regards to the film's now iconic silver sphere, whose use is probably one of the single most well known scenes in the film (and still looks quite well done nowadays.)  I'm not gonna say the film has aged spectacularly, but for the resources and the age, it's actually kept itself together a lot better than I was initially braced for.  It felt good to be able to rewatch it now and find I could still enjoy it.  Plus, that theme song still gets stuck in my head to this day, but that's matter for another time.

...oh, what the Hell, just this once:

Also, before we go on, a fun bit of trivia, because I promised you people could learn something from this...and I was then informed that's a binding contract.

This film marks the second time for one of the more unorthodox cast members to be featured in this month's films - the house featured in the movie Burnt Offerings would go on to be used for the Morningside Funeral Home within this movie, as featured below:
Phantasm above, Burnt Offerings below.  Apparently it's also been featured in several more films besides these.


10/24 - The Beyond

Remember how I said last year I realized I hadn't seen nearly enough Italian horror?  Well this was my latest bid to fix that as well as a reflection of that fact - this marks the first time I've ever seen anything by Lucio Fulci.  As what's hailed as one of his best movies, it was a pretty curious film to start with.  Going into this, I didn't know much about it outside of its history of censorship within the US (which is, itself, a pretty cool little story, but not one I'll take up too much of your time with.)  The finished film is a bit all over the place, but it actually works despite that.  That said, there is some reasoning behind said all-over narrative: both in the fact that Fulci was interested in trying to create a sort of nonlinear haunted house movie and the fact that it got some of its narrative hampered by the fact the backers wanted a zombie movie, so he further modified it to suit their needs.  The resulting film, while a bit vague on narrative, still makes a strong name for itself through its individual scenes.  Especially the kills - just as Argento is known for his particularly brutal deaths, Fulci's are as brutal as they are fiendishly creative.  Spiders, nails, acid, and one pretty brutal eye gouge are among some of the memorable and painful ways people are taken down in this movie, and Fulci's effects further add to the squirms.  All this tied into a plot loosely hinged around a doorway into Hell makes for a film that, while not one you watch for compelling story, is still certainly worth a watch for the visuals it subjects you to.  Even if I found myself trying to make sense of some of what I saw, I genuinely enjoyed seeing it all the same.

Further adding to that documentary feel, there's days the bus really DOES feel like this.

10/25 - Carnival of Souls

Another film whose backstory is almost as interesting as the film itself.  The only feature of documentary director Herk Harvey, this is one of the granddaddies of cult cinema - complete with the fact it didn't really get its actual standing until years after its release when it gained a following from playing the late night film circuit.  Outside of the cult scene, it's also worth acknowledging as one of the first milestones in psychological horror.  After surviving a car crash, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss, in a debut role that makes it a shame she barely got work after this) tries to relocate and settle into a new life.  Something feels off, however, as she finds herself being subject to strange hallucinations, including being pursued by a mute, mysterious man (played by director Harvey.)  Mary's attempts to get to the bottom of this find her being repeatedly called to a myserious, abandoned carnival, and on the verge of revealing answers she may not like.  Harvey's documentarian eye surprisingly proves an asset on this film.  Rather than play things up with over the top scare tricks, his approach feeling more grounded in reality actually adds to the eeriness of the proceedings.  Even moments of hallucination are aided by this, as it adds to a sense of being uncertain of what is real and what is simply in Mary's head alone.  While the ending may feel a bit predictable to modern viewers, given how often others have imitated it, it still doesn't detract from the overall film experience.  It's actually something of a shame that so many of the principles in this only ever made this one grab at feature films - not only is this a great feature on its own, there's a lot of potential for future projects that they could have done from here.  Though I imagine the fact this film was practically forgotten and didn't get its fair dues until many years later may have unfortunately added to that.
Additionally, as I seem to be wont to spam particular edition cases where public domain is concerned, it's plugging time again.  In this case I would say, if you don't mind putting down a little extra coin for this one, the Criterion release of the film is well worth looking into - like the Kino releases mentioned in previous entries, they do a great job restoring the picture and sound, and the extras enclosed with it really do add to the overall experience.  Even if you're just looking for the film itself...well, again, this is a pretty trustworthy quality label (plus, they have both the original theatrical cut and the subsequent director's cut.)

and on one last bit of bizarre trivia here - alongside generally doing documentaries, the last directorial effort by Harvey was an episode of Reading Rainbow in the mid-80s.  Just one of those surreal little bits of food for thought.

Strange as it may be to believe looking at them, modern Japanese game shows have actually scaled back a LOT compared to the things they used to allow in the 60s.

10/26 - Jigoku

...and now to round out the week, we're gonna take a little stop off in Hell.  No, really.  That's the main focus of the second half of this film.  Made in 1960, this movie was the last hurrah of Shintōhō Studios, as the last film they made before going out of business.  And what a note they picked to go out on...
This is definitely one of the more ambitious titles have covered in this year's run, and thematically has some pretty unique ideas going for it.  The first half of the film isn't quite as directly horror-related, instead playing more into the themes of guilt and sin.  Of course, most of the guilt is largely just placed on protagonist Shiro (played by Shigeru Amachi,) whose involvement in a fateful hit and run involves him in an increasing spiral of horrible things involving himself, those connected to the victim, and the other people around him - many of whom have their own skeletons in the closet.  Further stirring the pot here is Shiro's friend, Tamura (Yōichi
Numata, playing a mix of smug and sociopathic,) who is all too happy to remind everyone of their crimes while passing the buck on his own misdeeds with impunity.  Eventually, everyone's crimes come to roost around the midway point and the film changes its gears into a more openly horror route - an all expenses paid tour of Japan's version of Hell.  While the narrative in this part is considerably less linear, it more than makes up for it in the visual elements - some impressive-while-minimalist sets combined with some surprisingly well done scenes of gore for the torture the film's cast suffer for their crimes make this part striking.  Likewise, the direction really helps here.  While the first part has a few interesting twists while it plays with Shiro's guilt (in particular there's a moment in a taxi that made me do a doubletake on the first watch,) it's the eerily dreamlike nature of the scenes in Hell that helps them to stand out.  On top of this, the cast all handle the material well, particularly impressive in Numata's case, as he had admitted to having a hard time figuring out what to make of Tamura at the time of filming - despite that, he still manages to turn him into a memorable, if enigmatic, antagonist.  As a straight-up horror film, this may leave some people wanting, especially in its set-up, but the overall package is still a fascinating piece of Japanese horror that sadly seems to be overlooked with much of the focus on the more recent works.  Between the cultural aspects explored in their vision of the afterlife, and really just the ideas the film plays with about the notions of guilt and the role it plays on people, this has enough of its own voice to more than make up for any sense one would have that it lacks in straight horror.

Well, one week left.  I don't mind saying now we've got some good ones lined up for sending this month off, so I hope you'll be with us.

and just to provide some incentive, if you don't come, something terrible will happen to this small chi--
...oh dammit.

Anyway, hope to see you again this time next week!

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