Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Third Row Goes to Hell - The Final Friday

...wait, Halloween's on a Wednesday this year?  Ah crap...

Well, it's been a damn good run this month (compared to last year, these posts actually got up on time...well, on time plus the NYCC diversion.)

But, all good things must come to an end, so here we are at the end of another horror-filled October.  Been a lot of pretty good surprises along the way, and I have to say I've had fun with it.  Made some notes for next year as well as some possible ideas for how to tweak the format when the time comes.  In the meantime, we're gonna be back to one movie a while for a while, albeit with longer reviews in turn (starting this Friday, so not off the hook this week yet.)

So, if you don't mind, feel free to sit down with whatever candy the kids didn't grab and join me in saluting the last week of movies for this year's run.

You know, in trying to come up with a caption for this one, it dawns on me...
Has there ever been a slasher movie where it's actually the babysitter that's the killer?  I imagine there's probably something, but it just seems weird there's nothing coming to me on that front.

10/27 - The House of the Devil

Movies like this make me realize how the concept of homage gets taken for granted in horror.  I mean, it gets tossed around a LOT, and often with very mixed results.  The plus side is, when a film like this comes around, it really does remind one that it can still be used right.  Marking relatively new director Ti West's first foray into horror, this film is a pretty open salute to horror films of the 80s.  The part where this works well is in the fact that, unlike a lot of homage films, there are no direct call outs.  Nor are there the old joking send-ups of the old tropes.  Instead, this plays out as a latter day attempt at making an 80s-style horror film (with particular emphasis on the styles of slasher and occult horror.)  With this in mind, admittedly the story is pretty basic horror premise - protagonist Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, in an overall good debut as the target/protagonist for the proceedings) has managed to get a babysitting job on the night of a much-hyped lunar eclipse.  Though the job seems a little dubious (thanks in part to the fact the man who hires her is veteran character actor Tom Noonan, who actually manages to dance between seeming trustworthy and creepy well here, is willing to pay VERY well for the night,) she still accepts.  As the night goes on, however, and strange occurences begin, it becomes clear this isn't going to be your standard 'watch the place for a few hours' gig.  Employing a lot of the camera styles and film stocks popularized in the 80s, West's approach to capturing a classic feel comes across less like the usual 'well meaning send-up' and more like an honest to god love letter from someone very well-versed in the workings of horror cinema.  It won't necessarily raise the bar, and to a quick glance, it comes across as a pretty standard horror film, not bad, but standard.  It's largely for horror veterans that this film really shows what it's made of, and does it with enough sincerity it's hard not to love it.

To their credit, while they're pretty ruthless to their enemies, the freaks are actually pretty kind here.  I mean, nowadays they'd have hazed the ever loving Hell out of her.  By comparison, a chant's actually pretty assuring.

(and for a fun fact - that dwarf would make another prominent appearance years later...after the circus fell through, he'd be running Bartertown.  He can afford to look smug here.)

10/28 - Freaks

OK, let's get it all out of our systems now before we start this one...and a one, and a two and a
...OK.  Sorry.  Had to.  It's almost tradition with that movie now.

You know, rewatching this and reading the backstory on the film, I've decided one thing.  In the event I was ever given access to a time machine (yeah, that old debate) I don't think I'd try to use it to do anything history-shaking, due to obvious long-term consequences.  Instead, I'd travel back in time to 1932 to see this as it ran in theaters.  This would be one part to see if there was any truth to the legend of audiences losing their proverbial shit over the movie, and one part for the chance to see the complete film in its original form (sadly, the better part of a half hour of footage has since been excised and is believed lost to the ages.)  That said, even truncated this remains a pretty fascinating film...and also one that it's a marvel actually got made as it did.  Based on a short story, Tod Browning's cult classic made one decision that still precedes much of the film's fame - the decision to cast much of the film with real 'sideshow' performers.  This is part of what made the film infamous so many years ago, as regular filmgoers were shocked by them (ironically adding weight to one of the film's main themes.)  It's also this knowledge, and the awareness of our own PC culture, that makes this film such a lightning in a jar piece of cinema.  No one would EVER be able to get away with making a movie like this nowadays, even though the film actually portrays the titular freaks as more human than most of the 'normal' cast.  Despite all that controversy, the film has endured and even carved itself a notch within the popular culture, so much so that even people unfamiliar with the movie will recognize the cry of "One of us!"  Rewatching the movie, I'm still impressed with how well it's actually held up.  There are a few awkward bits, admittedly, largely products of the rewrites the film was subjected to when test audiences took issue with its initially much darker finale, but overall the film's somewhat grim tale of the camaraderie between circus folk and what happens when that is crossed remains effective to this day.

The interesting thing about this is, despite all the various and somewhat intimidating equipment Hell has at their use here, they aren't actually in possession of the Machine That Goes 'Ping!'

10/29 - Jacob's Ladder

Whenever the old joke about spoiling twist endings comes up, I'm always a bit surprised at how often this one goes unmentioned.  Doubly so since its reveal has been lifted by later films that then become known for that twist (I won't say which for those who haven't seen it, nor will I claim this movie had first dibs, as other stories have also done it prior to this film.)  I think part of the surprise is also just being a bit saddened that this film isn't as well known as it feels like it should be.  Coming in fresh off the heels of his success with the thriller, Fatal Attraction, Adrian Lyne put together one Hell of a psychological horror film and one that's left a pretty strong indent on a lot of works that came after it (to name just a few - the Silent Hill game series makes many direct callbacks to the film, as does the movie Session 9, and just about anything you've seen where they do the high-speed head thrashing effect?  This was thee on that started that.)  Additionally, as 'surprise ending' films go, this is actually one of those films that still holds up well on repeated viewing, as I was pleased to be reminded of this time.  In fact, this is one of those cases where the ending actually gets strengthened on repeat watches since you can see how well Lyne and scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin put everything together.  With the exception of one subplot that, while good, kind of feels awkwardly attached (partially due to parts of it being removed from the finished film) everything fits together well here.  But, to get away from that aspect and discuss the rest of the film, it's actually a kind of curious mix in a lot of ways.  Between Jacob Singer's (Tim Robbins, doing a great job with the wringer he gets put through in this) visions of demons, questions of his time in Vietnam, and his own detachment in the present, the story seems to balance several different 'styles' in a way.  At any given point, the movie can feel like a character study, an occult horror film, or a conspiracy thriller, and all three surprisingly mingle pretty well, and actually lead to a couple of genuinely creepy sequences.  Those, in particular, I have to take a moment to really give Lyne and his team props for (seeing as this IS being picked for its merits as a horror film, after all.)  Between some eery flashes early in the film, all the way up to the film's famous hospital sequence, this movie creates a unique and still pretty damn disturbing vision of Hell.  By basing parts of his vision of actual medical deformities (thalydomide babies in particular) Lyne creates a Hell that feels disturbingly closer than the usual Biblical fire and brimstone, which causes the sequences to resonate that much more.  Hell, I still have flashes of this movie in subway stations.  It's definitely one of the films from this list that stays with you, and not just for the creepiness, during some scenes the film is also surprisingly pretty touching.  A bit of a different style of horror, but even outside of that, just well worth giving a watch to see what you think.

Well, I can't speak for the rest of you, but personally if I saw more workplace pools like this, I'd be more inclined to take part in them.

10/30 - The Cabin in the Woods

OK, I admit now it's gonna be a bit ironic to speak well of this after earlier busting on the practice of films that send up horror tropes...but Hell with it, just cause it's ovedone doesn't mean some films don't still do it well.  As the most recent film on this year's list, even factoring in that it was kept on the shelves for a couple of years, this was one I wound up enjoying more than I expected to back when it first came out.  On seeing it again for this list, I was surprised to find it still holds up as a pretty fun movie.  Not gonna be anything to keep me awake at night, but as we come to the home stretch, it's a pretty fun movie to unwind to.  That said, the rewatch has confirmed one thing for me - while I enjoy the whole movie overall, there is one aspect of it in particular that really sells it for me - the control room team.  The kids in the cabin are OK and have a few decent moments, and to their credit, the cast playing them all really look to be having fun with their roles.  For me, however, the real entertainment came in the film's idea of a behind the scenes crew that has to keep the carnage running on an operated system.  In particular, the two main controllers (played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who have both become so used to this procedure that they regularly joke through the proceedings and have betting pools made based on the outcome.  The whole movie could have been told just from the control perspective and I'd have still enjoyed it (though I have to admit, the film's second half WOULD be a bit awkward without the other pieces in play.)  As a humorous take on the horror tropes, the movie is helped by the fact it doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time doesn't seem to forget what it's sending up.  The result is a story that, while possessing a wonderfully sick sense of humor (thanks in strong part to the script by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard) still carries itself as a plausible, and, even as a genre-send up, still fairly inventive horror film.  Even the big reveal the end, while I'm not quite sure I'd call it the game changer some have suggested, still holds up pretty well as an end result for the idea they've built up and set into motion.  Again, I'm not sure I'd say this will change the face of horror, but damned if it hasn't been one of the most fun things to come into it in a while.

Much as I love his work, I'm not so sure how I'm feeling about Cronenberg's live-action South Park adaptation.

10/31 - The Brood

...and so we come to the big day...and the randomizer has decided to take us to a bit more of a personal dark side on this one.
In starting this, I just have to say - if I was ever given a chance to talk to David Cronenberg and discuss one of his movies and only one of his movies, I think this one might be it.  Not because I think this is his best work (if pressed, I'd probably give that to either A History of Violence or Dead Ringers,) but because I'm genuinely fascinated to hear what he has to say about a film that, just on watching it, you can tell was a personal project for him.  Granted, this has also been confirmed in part through some interviews, but even before learning he made this film as a result of a divorce and custody battle, one definitely gets the sense there was some personal sentiment feeding into the movie.  In a way, I think that's part of why this feels like the movie where Cronenberg finally came into his own.  I say this with all respect to the earlier offerings of Shivers and Rabid, by the way.  They were both great concepts and had some interesting scenes, but this really feels like the first time everything locked into place and he really started to develop the strong style we've come to know and love.
(On that note, 62 movies in now and this is the first time Cronenberg's made it in?  Damn...)
Leave it to the man to actually take the oft-visited concept of murderous children and still manage to take it into some new territory.  It helps that, in this case, they're not a main cause, but a side-effect of something else, that, honestly, makes for a much more compelling film.  The murderous little dwarves, while an interesting piece of bio-horror, are part of a much more down to earth storyline involving, as the earlier comments might suggest, a divorced couple (played by Art Hindle and a well-cast Samantha Eggar) in a custody battle over their child, whom Frank (Hindle) suspects is being abused.  Alongside this, there are some interesting ideas posited by a part of Nola's (Eggar) storyline, involving her membership in a sort of pseudo-science cult run by Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan, a man whose ideas suggest that certain emotions can take physical form.  Of course, even he is surprised as to just how far this is taken, and it's this element that really helps elevate this beyond just being a 'body horror gone awry' story.  Amid the strange body tricks and the murderous children, Cronenberg throws an additional, overshadowing specter into the storyline, that really shapes much of where it all goes.  At its core, the big monster that drives much of this film is a theme of the destructive nature a cycle of abuse can have if it's allowed to continue through generations.  The end result makes for a surprisingly memorable outing for Cronenberg, culminating in a rather squirm-inducing finale that really helps cement the man's reputation for intelligent body horror.  It's true he'd definitely go on to bigger and better things after this, but given the chance, I'd still be intrigued to hear him talk about the nature of a lot of the ideas that went into this movie.


and that, as they say, is that...feels pretty good to have now gotten this done two years in a row.  Rather growing to like this custom.

Anyway, as stated above, we'll be going back to a film a week here, starting with this Friday...and oh, this one's gonna be a prize (but we'll discuss that later.)

To everyone reading, I hope you have/had a Happy Halloween (and keeping fingers crossed for everyone on other parts of the east coast this week.  Things turned out OK up here, but I know other areas weren't as luck there.  Pulling for you guys!)

Additionally, may see about working more general entries in during the week in the future alongside the reviews Fridays (and if you guys have any suggestions for titles, either for future Halloween projects, or just general review, by all means, drop me a line!  Outside suggestion is part of how I get to find new stuff!)

But for now, till Friday!

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