Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Week 4: The Final Chapter

Well, the month is starting to wrap itself up.

I want to apologize for the delay on this one. That's what happens when you have teeth pulled out of your head.

Things will be back on track in time for the big day. For now, here's the first half of this week, the final three will be bussed in with the last wave.

"Seriously? You think that's gonna be enough?"

10/19 Godzilla

I imagine some people may ask how this qualifies as a horror film- And I will ask if they ever watched the very first. While it's hard to imagine given the franchise, the first IS actually pretty disturbing.
(At least to me, anyway)
Let me take you back in time for a moment: one of the first big things I accredit to my current tastes is my late grandfather. I don't remember him too well (though from what I hear, I take after him in several regards,) but one thing I remember to this day - Godzilla. I got into the Godzilla films through him. For a while, this was mainly in the form of the 'Godzilla VS *' films, where Godzilla himself is almost akin to the Incredible Hulk. He's uncontrollable, he's destructive, but when all the dust settles, he's still on our side.
Then I got to seeing the one that started it all. Granted, it was the Godzilla: King of the Monsters edit with Raymond Burr (for this project, I used the original IshirĂ´ Honda version.) It was like a punch in the gut - this monster who I had previously always viewed as a sort of hero was instead pure disaster. Further, the destruction that so often gets glossed over in these films was presented in a sharp and genuinely disturbing focus here.
With this memory in mind, I watched it again, and I have to say, the impression still holds up. There's a reason this movie is still considered one of the poster children for the 'horrors of the atomic age' brand of cinema - it doesn't forget the horror. Further, in this first film, Godzilla is treated as less of a character than it would later become. Most of the first half is more concerned with its human characters, with Godzilla treated more as an impending disaster. Fortunately, the human players in this are all worth the time the movie gives them. In particular the two standouts here being Kurosawa veteran Shimura Takashi as Professor Yamane, whose interest in studying Godzilla turns to horror at what it can do, and Akihito Hirata as Doctor Serizawa. The latter in particular is a performance I'm still impressed by to this day, both in terms of how Hirata plays the character and how he's written. If Godzilla is meant to be seen as the atomic bomb, Serizawa is this story's equivalent of Oppenheimer, a man horrified by the destructive potential his research has tapped into. Hirata handles that guilt and conviction with a surprising degree of intensity that has me curious to see more of his performances.
Further on the 'Godzilla as nuclear destruction' idea, the movie's viewpoint is one that is definitely informed by Japan's own experiences with atomic power. This is actually one of the things that really informs parts of this movie - in particular the scenes of Godzilla's main rampage and subsequent aftermath (to this day, there's one sequence in one of the makeshift hospitals after the attack that strikes a nerve with me. In a movie about a giant mutated dinosaur on a rampage, it's a sharp shot of reality that almost hits harder because of that.)
In all, this is a movie that has aged surprisingly well. Alongside effects that kicked off Japan's tokusatsu boom (effects that still look pretty good given the movie's age, I might add) the film has not lost its emotional resonance even after all of this time.
I can't speak for other people, but next year's update has a lot to live up to in my eyes. I'm not gonna write it off, but it's gonna have a tough job ahead of it.

...OK, does Alice Cooper murdering someone with a bicycle really need anything else said for it?

10/20 Prince of Darkness

We come to it at last - with this, John Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy, though out of order, is now complete.

This is one of those films I feel somewhat split on. On its own merits, I will admit that I like the movie. It's a different take on a horror film, and has its share of memorable sequences in it. On the other hand, it definitely feels like a weaker Carpenter film compared to his other works of the era.
That said, I think part of it is simply the fact that, as Carpenter's works go, this one feels a bit more experimental compared to many of his other 80s titles. This isn't a bad thing, mind you. Part of what strikes me about this one is the fact the narrative is such a departure from many of Carpenter's other films of the era, and as such, it doesn't always hit quite the same high notes as his other work does. Still, the ambition makes up for it.
Incidentally, while I've never found a statement confirming on this, I can't help but wonder if this was another film where Carpenter was inspired by the works of Italian horror. The influences have been noted before (most particularly the fact the theme to Halloween is definitely inspired by the theme to Argento's Deep Red) and in this case, watching the movie again, I couldn't help but feel a sort of similarity between this and Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. Complete with how the narrative seems a bit more freeform around the central item of evil (trading the door to Hell out for the Devil in a jar.)
The resulting film is a curious one in its own right. The cast, while not the greatest assemblage of Carpenter's players, has several welcome faces among them, including returning cast members Donald Pleasance, Dennis Dun, and Victor Wong. Probably the two big standouts as far as new cast members go here are Peter Jason, who would go on to be a recurring Carpenter veteran, and Alice Cooper (yes, THAT Alice Cooper) as a schizophrenic derelict turned into one of Satan's minions. The latter is actually a nice touch in part because Cooper plays the role completely mute, relying on sheer presence to make himself stand out.
In all, this is still a generally enjoyable film. While it has some flaws care of its more freeform narrative, it makes up for them in some pretty unique touches and a couple of pretty inventive scare moments. While perhaps not as strong as the start and stop of the trilogy, it's still a welcome piece in Carpenter's works.

" mean the guy who directed Clerks? He made a WHAT now?!"

10/21 Red State

OK, I'm gonna warn you guys now. I've had to rewrite my thoughts on this one several times now.
If any statement I've done on this site manages to make me enemies, this would probably be the one to do it. Cause this is one of those movies that it seems people either really like or really hate.
With that said, this is my second time watching this movie. I went in the first time having heard some mixed buzz, but honestly wanting to give it a fair shake. What I found was...well, I'll get to that, but let's just say, I wasn't particularly pleased with the result.
So this time, I wanted to see if  I could give it another chance. I read up on some of the behind the scenes, as well as hearing about the film from the horse's mouth, care of Smith's statements in Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell.

Incidentally, before I go into this film, I'd like to say two things to Smith regarding his statements in that special:
1) Regardless of how you feel about Red State, it doesn't wash the fact Cop Out was a bad movie. Film doesn't work that way.
2) As an extension of this logic, try suggesting people who like David Cross's stand-up shouldn't rip on the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, because Cross has acknowledged that they were how he funded other projects. (Incidentally, he REALLY doesn't seem to like being reminded of them.)
Seriously, you can't expect people to forgive a bad film just cause the money from it got used on a better one.

That said, I'll just get this out now - Red State is a VERY problematic movie, and on several levels. Which is a shame, since it has some interesting ideas, and certainly some commendable elements to it. Unfortunately, the overall product is riddled with issues.
First of these lies in the concept itself - I still would really, really like to see a good horror film about fundamentalists. The problem is, the practice itself is so disturbing in real life, that what horror films I've seen try and tackle the subject all ultimately pale by comparison (the documentary Jesus Camp remains my high bar for fundie horror.) At first, the film actually seems to be off to a decent start with it too, presenting a sort of skewed version of Westboro Baptist (Smith isn't exactly subtle about the fact they're the group he's calling out in this - complete with his confirming it in his stories of promoting the movie in BiH.) This first half hour, while it has a few hiccups, is actually still pretty good, and manages to even get a bit of intensity into a few moments. Unfortunately, the film then shifts gears, and the fundie horror is quickly discarded. This is one of those areas where learning about the behind the scenes on the film actually hurt matters, largely thanks to learning that many of the twists in this movie's script were somewhat arbitrary as a result of Smith's attempts to completely blindside his audience. The result ultimately causes any sort of message towards the WBC to fall on its backside, only to attempt to salvage itself in a rather heavy-handed message about how people's beliefs drive them to extremes all-around, which is then overtly explained in a rewritten ending to the movie that smacks of Smith having watched No Country For Old Men before working this.
Of course, even before that ending, the film seems determined to make sure you know what it's trying to say at several points. One of the biggest faults of this script, and it's something of a problem Smith's had in general, is that he's a very dialogue-driven filmmaker. When you look at his films, you find it's rare he simply lets an action speak for itself without accenting it with more dialogue (I found myself looking back and realizing several of the action scenes in Dogma are afflicted with cases of re-explaining just what the viewers have seen. The movie's still good, but the fact is, it's there.) This is already problematic enough in the horror genre, where actions regularly speak much much louder than words. This becomes a bigger stumbling block for Smith here as well because, rather than simply narrating the events as in other films, he uses these extra dialogues to keep explaining to his audience "Let me tell you why this is wrong." Probably one of the most damning examples of this comes amid the plot twists as the WBC equivalents, who have been revealed to be heavily armed, get into a shootout with the ATF. The ATF team, lead by John Goodman in one of the movie's two standout roles, is given orders to treat the church as a terrorist cell and wipe them out. As Goodman gives the order, he's treated to a heavy-handed speech by one of his subordinates about how what they're doing is wrong. This is just one of many, mind you. You could make a drinking game rule out of the number of scenes where people explain how what's happening is wrong for one reason or another, saying it almost more to the audience than their co-stars. It's heavy-handed moralizing in a film that, ironically, is pitched as critiquing a group notorious for its abuse of heavy-handed morality. Even stranger since the film spends much of the first part vilifying their equivalent here only to then try and make you feel it's a bad thing when the government comes in guns blazing in an awkward attempt at moral ambiguity. It's also somewhat ironic that, amidst the carnage, a would-be victim of the church (played by Kyle Gallner) responds to the horror by asking why he should care. It's a scene that inadvertently presents one of the other big problems with the movie - it changes sides and ideas enough times that after a while one finds it hard to really care about any of the players involved. Goodman's ATF agent is probably the closest this film really seems to have to a moral center or relatable character, and even he gets undone by having to tell the moral of the story at the very end.
I could keep going on this. Like I said, it is a VERY problematic film on a lot of levels, and its unfortunate, as it does have its good points. Alongside Goodman's performance, Michael Parks's turn as the head of the church is arguably one of the best things the movie has going for it. Watching the energy he builds around his performance, he is quite believable as the leader of a cult-like sect, and that further strengthens the first act of the film.

There's a part of me that's actually considering turning this into a full write-up somewhere along the line, cause this could keep going for a long while on the number of issues I wound up having with this film. But this is already running far longer than a short writeup should be. So for now, let's just leave this off as a case of some VERY misplaced ambition that, despite some strong aspects, ultimately falls on its own sword.

"'No Refunds' my eye! I'll show this stupid wishing well!"

10/22 AM1200

After a rant like that (which, let's face it, almost justifies the shortened entry here) there's something to be said for a film that has simplicity as its strongest weapon.
I'd had this suggested to me last year, and admittedly was a little uncertain at the time, given its status as a short film (40 minutes runtime.) But then I realized, after running Marble Hornets, this was certainly worth including.
That said, I'm actually rather glad for the 40 minute runtime in this case. 40 minutes is all the story really needs to tell itself, and I actually find the brevity refreshing rather than if someone had tried to pad this out with an additional hour or so of material.
Further adding to that simplicity, the film keeps to a few key players, and manages them well. Even of those players, the only one we really wind up needing much background on is Eric Lange as the film's protagonist Sam (though his flashbacks do allow for a good performance by Ray Wise as a colleague of his who he threw to the wolves.) The flashback part of the film is also interesting- it shows how the events unfolded and how Sam got where he is at the start of the movie - it's edited in such a way that you only see it in the relevant pieces that lead to what he did wrong. Once the stage is set, the film's later half plays out in a different, but still fascinating style. Rather than the disorienting flashbacks of the first part, the film now switches to some wonderfully uncomfortable sections of silence as it builds to the third act. This is where we are introduced to the other major player of the film, played by John Billingslea. What follows here could almost be a film in its own right, but with the buildup of the first two acts, is stronger all around here. I won't go too much into detail so as not to give anything away. All I will say is, as attempts at Lovecraftian cinema go, this is one of those cases of a film that does a great job with trying to capture the feel of what a modern day Lovecraft story would be.
Even the big reveal, while somewhat hindered by lower budget CG, is played with enough atmosphere and a careful enough hand to not reveal too much as to do justice to the man's legacy.
I realize this feels rather brief compared to the last writeup, but again, with only 40 minutes to speak of, I can only go so far into detail without giving things away.
Really, all that needs to be said for this is that it's a film that works at its best because of its simplicity. It takes a classically Lovecraftian style narrative and plays it with the just the right air of mystery to keep you hooked from start to finish.

So...for only four days, that still covers a good spread for about a week.

Keep an eye out on the 31st, when we cover the other three from this week as well as the final six in a big Halloween sendoff.

...oh, don't give me that grief about that subtitle. Friday the 13th played the same trick with their fourth and STILL cranked out six more after!

No comments:

Post a Comment