Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's That Time Again...

Well, with this we officially kick off this year's Octoberfest (...I've really got to find a better name for this in the future.  Suggestions are welcome!)

Featured here is one of the most common breeds of evil movie child, the evil British child.  Though featuring the eerie silence and unnerving stare of many other variations of evil child, the British breed is usually distinguished by the strangely dignified voice with which it either threatens you or tries to convince you it won't kill you.

10/1 - Village of the Damned

You know, it's interesting how this film's reputation compares with the actual finished product.  I mean, when you mention this title to people, the first thing evoked is usually the film's famous unearthly children that serve as its antagonists.  Surprisingly, however, the film doesn't focus on them nearly as much as its reputation would suggest.  They are still a key part of the film, don't get me wrong, but it also delves quite a bit into the circumstances of their arrival, among other things.  The children aren't even around until at least a third of the way into the 80 minute movie.  Much of the first section is focused around the phenomena that leads to their arrival - alongside the investigation at the start, there are also some surprisingly serious bits of exploring the fallout.  Most notable of these parts are the repercussions in the village of Midwich when all of the women become pregnant; as you can imagine, not everyone takes the news well.  Even after the children arrive, a large chunk of the story is devoted to the adults trying to ascertain what to do with them, particularly focusing on the conflict between the pragmatic Major Bernard (Michael Gwynn) and the idealistic Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders.)  Gordon's arc in particular helps carry much of the second half of the film as his views of the children become increasingly more conflicted by their own actions, building to the film's surprisingly tense climax.  However, this isn't to sell the children short, as the film still handles them well.  Specifically, the scenes in which they exert their will on others, between their acting and the directing, still have a surprising air of suspense to them as even the inevitable action feels more ominous than predictable.  All in all, for a film that tends to be viewed at large as just a classic 'evil children' horror film, this handles it subject matter with a surprising amount of thought and a good degree of tension to keep its story going.  If you're ever in the mood for a classic and haven't looked into this one, give it a shot - time has actually been surprisingly good to it.

Alas, this image is the only thing to survive from the infamous episode of The Muppet Show guest directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

10/2 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes

It took me this long to get to a Vincent Price title?  Wow.  Have to say though, this was a Hell of a way to welcome the guy to the festivities - vengeance from beyond the grave, Biblical curses, and some surprisingly good organ work all conspire to make this a pretty damn enjoyable piece of craziness.  This is especially entertaining since the story itself could have been rather down to earth - Vincent Price plays Anton Phibes, a well respected doctor with several degrees in several fields.  One night, his wife dies during a surgical procedure, his car crashes and so the two are believed dead.  Years later, the doctors who worked on the operation are now being murdered one by one in rather deliberate and elaborate deaths themed off of the ten plagues of Egypt - and the only suspect is a dead man...or is he?  The whole film makes for a pretty wild ride, with Price as a sort of bizarre mix of Phantom of the Opera and John Doe from Se7en in his quest to avenge his wife.  The entire plan calls for some elaborate murders that are, all things considered, fairly inventive, if a bit outlandish at times (the death by hail feels like something out of a James Bond movie.)  In the midst of this, the rest of the movie is focused on the investigation  that feels rather down to Earth, which just stands to make Phibes's insane world that much more memorable.  Probably one of the best touches within this setting, on comparing the two realms it plays in, is the fact the film never actively seems to try and condemn either side - the doctors (including Joseph Cotten as the head surgeon Phibes targets last) are all relatively normal people, and the film doesn't suggest the death was a result of carelessness or accident but rather sheer misfortune.  At the same time, despite the title, Phibes doesn't come across as a complete monster.  We certainly aren't exactly asked to take his side, but the film still takes time to show that for all of his wrath, this elaborate scheme is being done for his late wife rather than his own personal satisfaction.  Additionally, for a role where his appearance largely renders him unable to speak, and what dialogue he had was dubbed in after filming wrapped, Price still manages to make Phibes feel like a very signature character for his resume.  Admittedly, nowadays a lot of it feels somewhat over the top and silly, but that kind of adds to the fun in a way.  It may not necessarily scare you (though one scene involving rats may hit some if they have a phobia) but it's still a rather fun little revenge tale.

Passing up the temptation to Photoshop this into a 'Wish You Were Here'-style postcard was actually harder than I thought it would be.  Just so you all know.

10/3 - Sleepaway Camp

Now, anyone who's seen this is likely expecting some joke about the movie's infamous twist ending.  I considered one...more accurately, I considered several.  Then I realized honestly, let's keep it on the downlow, simply because knowing my luck, there would still be someone who didn't know the ending and I didn't want to be that jerk that spoiled it (I have a short list of standards, but there are some, thank you.)  That said, I have an odd relationship with this film - on the one hand, I think it may be one of the most riffable horror movies I have seen in years.  I mean, there's a lot I can say for elements of this movie in jest on many levels...and, admittedly, that's part of the fun of it for me.  At the same time, I can't bring myself to entirely call it a bad movie, even in the fun sense.  As a low-budget indy slasher of the early 80s, for all its faults, the film carries itself just on the line between earnestness and camp that I can't help but be won over by.  Additionally, the film actually does have some good for it - despite the afforementioned budget, the movie actually makes for some pretty damn impressive visual effects on the kills and the film's earlier mentioned twist ending manages to pull the rare feat of being incredibly hard to predict, yet actually making sense within the overall movie.  Actually, I will say this for said twist - this is one of those films where knowing the reveal doesn't really spoil things.  In fact, on rewatching it for this month, I actually found some moments actually feel even creepier thanks to that extra knowledge of things you don't have the first time around.  That said, outside of the twist, the writing is definitely one of the odder parts of the film - both in terms of some downright bizarre choices in wordplay (admittedly, the fact most of the cast are kids leads me to cut it some slack here) and in the overall plot.  On that note, I just want to say - next to Kamp Krusty, I think Camp Arawak may be the silver medal winner for one of the worst-run summer camps I've seen in fiction in years.  I don't even just mean the obliviousness necessary for a slasher film either, I mean between the abusiveness of some of the counselors and the openly pedophilic cook, this camp was bound for a lawsuit even before the bodies started stacking.  If anything, the killer was doing the camp a favor by given them an external reason for getting shut down. 

Overall, this certainly isn't going to be a film that'll take home any awards...but for all of its ridiculousness, I can certaintly see where the cult appeal comes from, and am happy to have a copy of it in my collection.

Pictured here:  The controversial cover art rejected for use on the reprinted versions of 'What To Expect When You're Expecting'

10/4 - Inside

Where to start here?
Well, I believe the comedian John Belushi said it best when he said "HOLY SHIT!"  This movie just...well, after doing I Spit On Your Grave and Cannibal Holocaust last year, it felt fitting to make sure this year had at least one infamous and generally disturbing film on deck.  It just so happened, this also allowed me to continue the other tradition Rosemary's Baby established by being this year's 'If You Show This Movie To a Pregnant Woman, You're Officially an Asshole' entry.  That said, wow.  I will admit, I'm still relatively new to the New French Extremity brand of horror (prior to this my only other direct contact with it was High Tension) so there's still a learning curve at play here.  That said, I should probably start with the story - which is part of what had me curious in the first place because damn, it's a pretty effective premise.  For those playing at home not familiar with this one, let me just sum it up as follows - Alysson Paradis plays the film's protagonist, a pregnant woman who will soon be giving birth.  One night she's visited by a stranger who knows who she is...and more importantly is determined to take her baby.
...and of course, she's got the crazy to act on it.  What follows is a visceral and brutal game of cat and mouse between the two where parts get mutilated and passersby wind up dead.  As a thriller, it's pretty intense - even outside of the pretty shocking gore (as years of jokes about the French being wusses blow back with a vengeance) the film builds up its suspense well, and much of the last half hour has a sense of dread hanging over it that really starts rubbing off after a while.  Additionally, and adding to this, the two leads play their roles well - though we only know a little about Paradis's Sarah and even less about Beatrice Dalle's unnamed antagonist, what the two bring to these characters still leads us to feel degrees of concern and fear respectively, and adds to the "Oh shit!" moment of reveal at the end.  Much like last year's "OH GOD!" entries, this is certainly not a film to consider if you have any doubts about your constitution.  That said, even outside of the brutal violence, the film actually carries itself well as a suspense film.  Just one with several moments of sheer 'drop the jaw in utter disbelief at what you just witnessed' along for the ride.

"So to review, you can either take the year's supply of soup, the entire living room furniture set, or you can trade it all in for what's behind Door #3.  Choose carefully."

10/5 - In the Mouth of Madness

Before I start this, I'd like to indulge for a moment in behavior I'm sure some would describe as 'hipster.'  To which, if I may be so bold, I'd like to say - fuck it, I don't care.  ANYWAY, this is one of those films I'm glad to see people have come around on.  When I first encountered this movie, it was back in high school when a friend introduced me to it.  One borrowed tape and some good natured abuse of the school's PR department equipment later and I was now up a copy as well that saw a good deal of use before I eventually picked up a copy on DVD years later.  Back then, this movie was primarily identified on lists of films inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft (deservedly so.  I actually have this movie to thank for my getting into his works.)  Seeing it finally come into its own nowadays where it has gained considerably more respect and something of a small following makes the embittered high schooler inside me smile.

Now then, back to the movie itself.  With this, we've now covered the third part of John Carpenter's 'apocalypse trilogy.'  Yes, I realize this means I've run them out of order.  I'll tell you guys what, this clinches Prince of Darkness for next year to round out the trilogy.  As the conclusion to his thematic trilogy, I'd say this is probably one of Carpenter's more ambitious films of his later years.  I mean, in a time when Lovecraft was still something of a smaller niche than he's become now, to make a mainstream film that takes as much influence as this film does from Lovecraft takes a lot to pull off.  To their credit, Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca prove up to the task for the most part.  While I'm not sure I can say this has the full appeal of many of Carpenter's earlier hits, among his offerings from the 90s on, I'd say this is quite possibly his best.  It shows a solid grasp of the mythos it's playing with while also making some interesting use of the metafictional ideas that make up the basis of the story.  One of the best components of the film in that regard then goes to Jurgen Prochnow as the film's antagonist - enigmatic horror writer Sutter Cane, whose works may not be just the pulpy monster stories they appear to be.  As the skeptical protagonist turned Lovecraftian narrator John Trent, Sam Neill's more straight-laced style fits his role well, and he manages to handle the film's chaotic finale well to boot.  If there's anything I'd say this film could be said to stumble on it would be with regards to the effects - while they're largely not bad, the big reveal at the end of the film feels somewhat anticlimactic.  I mean, on they're own, they're decent creature designs.  For monsters whose sheer existence is expected to be beyond the pale of human reckoning however, they feel rather underwhelming - doubly so from the man whose prior remake of The Thing STILL manages to wow people with its creatures.  Despite this shortcoming, it has still held up well as one of the first mainstream bids at Lovecraftian cinema, and it is nice to see it has come into its own since then.


Now then, to give a update so you guys all know in advance - the next entry will be a truncated one, however this will be for a good reason.  Next weekend I will be among the many foolhardy who will be braving the crowds in a chance to get a closer look at what the industry has in store at New York Comic Con.  As such, posting at my usual time next week will prove problematic.  As such, I will post what I have done on Wednesday next week, and then the subsequent week, to make up for it will include that week's entries as well as the extra from this up coming week.  And, as a further show of good faith, I will even throw in the time-honored convention report.  Given some of the titles being covered and the guests announced, it should prove interesting.

Until then...well, I'm not one to tell you guys what to do.  Just try and come by again next week when you can.

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