Friday, October 3, 2014

Halloween Week 1: WE'RE BAAAAAAACK

Hey, with the naming convention I've been using, it leaves the first week wanting for a suitable subtitle.

That said, we've got a good list picked out for this year. Some old, some new, some domestic, some foreign, and a few where I will confess I broke my random rule, though for good reasons.

But, I get ahead of myself.

Let's start this party.

"I don't mean to be rude, but you WERE hogging all the covers just now..."

10/1 – The Innkeepers

To the randomizing program, I thank you for picking a good title to start this year's festivities off with. We'll be kicking this year off with director Ti West's 2011 follow-up to his breakout debut, House of the Devil.
For his second feature, I have to give it to West on this one – one of the things I was really struck by in this was how stylistically different it was from his first movie. What made that first movie stand out was how it stuck to its stylistic concept as a callback to 80s horror films, and employed the style in a way that took it seriously without feeling like a parody. Here, it carries itself with a more modern sensibility, both in direction and story, and more importantly, proves West has range as a director. In this case, rather than dealing with Satanists again, we're given a modern-day ghost story. Two employees of a hotel on its literal final days (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) have been investigating reports that the building may in fact be haunted. With almost no guests left, they decide to double-down on their efforts during the final weekend. One can guess what that search results in.
One of the things that surprised me about this as a ghost movie is the fact that it actively avoids going for the jump scare. It's a pretty easy way to jolt an audience, and a ghost story gives numerous opportunities for that, but West dodges them. In fact, the one jump moment in the film is presented early on, and is almost done as a riff/jab at the tactic. Otherwise, its depiction of ghosts is in keeping with the general fictional nature of such spirits – that they are always there, waiting to be found.
Besides the ghosts, the other standout in this one goes to how well the small cast works together. The chemistry between Paxton and Healy helps keep a lot of the first act afloat before the movie starts to let the ghosts out to play. I know some people found the shift from the film's humorous beginning to its darker second half jolting, but honestly, I liked that the movie let us grow to like these people separate of the horror before throwing them into the peril. With this as a follow-up, I remain sold on West as a filmmaker. With these two titles already, he's done well at proving his horror isn't just a one-trick pony.

"I know what you're gonna say, and before you get the wrong idea - it was that guy."

10/2 – The Invisible Man (1933)

This is one of the classics the randomizer tagged this year. Just saying, keep an eye out for some others in the weeks to come.
That said, I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the movie for its age. In general, it's mostly a good story – not Whales's best, but still an enjoyable thriller. Also, I give it points for the fact that, of the Universal monster movies, this one was the closest match its original source novel. What really elevates this movie are two particular elements.
The first is the movie's effects. For a movie made now 81 years ago, the special effects have aged astonishingly well - especially given how often the movie employed an early version of greenscreen in capturing the invisibility effect. Despite its age, the effect is still quite seamless in many scenes, moreso than uses of the effect in movies made decades later. Really, there are only two areas where this film's effects somewhat show their age, and those are mainly more a consequence of the editing employed than the effects themselves – largely in moments of an invisible Griffin throwing things or pushing them over.
The other standout is the performance by Claude Rains as Griffin. I know others have commented on this before, but it really speaks to his ability as an actor that he's so memorable in this even though he's unseen for the majority of the movie. Yes, we see his body moving around, but even then, most of his personality is more remembered care of Rains's vocal delivery. For only being able to rely on his voice here, he does a great job of conveying first anger, then delusional mania as he becomes drunk on power. Even if the effects weren't as good as they are, his performance would make this movie worth the watch.

"No, trust me. This IS the secret to making old world pass me the bat wings, would you?"

10/3 – Kill, Baby...Kill!

As I continue to explore wonderful world of Italian horror, this year marks the first presence of Mario Bava on here. Once again, this is one of those movies that speaks to how much of what makes Italian horror is the director involved. The story isn't bad, don't get me wrong; same goes the performances overall (though I do have to give extra points to Fabienne Dali for her intensity as Ruth, the town witch.) Really, the big star of the show is the visual style employed by Bava and cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi. This movie has a great look to it on just about every level – color, style, setting, and, in true horror fashion, kills. From the get-go, the movie pulls you in visually, care of some on location shooting in the town of Calcata that really helps give the town a look that's both stylized and yet (for lack of a better term) authentic. On top of that, the effects employed for the movie's ghostly visions have aged well thanks to a minimal use of effects and some great camera work. One great moment that marked the point where I really clicked to “...this movie's got a great look to it” was a sequence introducing the ghost to a scene. We simply see the camera following someone as it zooms in, then zooms back out. In again, out again. Then the camera pans back further to reveal the spirit sitting on a swing, watching. It's a great little creative touch and a cool way to introduce the ghost in a memorable fashion.
This movie makes a great introduction for people into the appeal of Italian horror cinema – it's got a great visual sense of itself and the way it's employed here has aged very well nowadays. In some regards, this actually looks better than some films being made nowadays.

First week and we're off to a good start.

Next week marks our first full seven, and it's a pretty wild spread to work with.
There's a reason I love this time of year.

Till then.

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