Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween Week 2: Bud the C.H.U.D.

Yeah, I'm really digging deep on the subtitles this year. No, I'm not sorry for it.

I am, however, a touch sorry this one is a few days late in getting posted. It was for a good reason, however. This past Saturday, my older sister got married. So all the best to them, and rest assured, I hand-picked week 3's first entry to commemorate the event in that appropriate-yet-tasteless way that's a Third Row standard.

But enough about me, let's make with the ghosts, lunatics, dummies, giant animals, stalkers, murderous children, and one really, really awful movie to round things out.


10/4 - Poltergeist

I've said it before, but it bears repeating- one of the best parts of this project is taking the time to sit down with a familiar classic and take it as a fresh experience. Poltergeist is no exception to this rule. I mean, I have a lot of good memories of this movie -it's one of the all around great ghost story films of its era. That said, while the ghost elements of it are great, they actually weren't what struck me this time around. What really caught me, and it's something I'd been kind of aware of before but never fully weighed before in actual consideration, was how apparent Steven Spielberg's behind-the-scenes influence is. Yes, Tobe Hooper's name is on the director credit, but there's no denying the movie has Spielberg's fingerprints on it, especially where the family drama is concerned. I know it's a horse he has long since beaten into glue, but in his prime, Spielberg's family stories were compelling. In this case, it's one of the movie's strengths- particularly JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the parents of the Freling family. Despite being known actors, they both believably slip into their roles of just average people who are terrified just as much for their children as they are for themselves. The other standout is the effects work. I'll admit some haven't aged as well (for as wonderfully creepy as the idea is, the bathroom scene has lost a lot of its edge with time) but there are several that have held up VERY well by comparison. For example, and going back to that bathroom, the earlier "Steak explodes with maggots" scene is still a stomach churner. Likewise, the climactic sequence where all Hell literally breaks loose and the house collapses still looks great. Even if it doesn't get you on the scares (come on, at least admit that clown doll IS pretty creepy,) it's still just a very enjoyable and seasonally appropriate film.

"I don't know what the song is talking about. I most certainly CAN'T see it all!"

10/5 - The Tenant

Okay, as with Rosemary's Baby, I am only here to discuss this movie and Roman Polanski as a director (and in this case, actor). For the record, I do not support what the man has done in his personal life, but this isn't really the time or place to get into that.
Though I must admit, there IS an accidental sick joke in the fact several posters for this movie sported the tagline 'No one does it to you like Roman Polanski.'
Okay, NOW I stop.
Horrible joking aside, I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to. The third and final installment in Polanski's 'Apartment Trilogy,' this continues with the big themes that made the first two memorable in the first place- Most notably the shared elements of paranoia fueled by an unreliable narrator. In this case, Polanski places himself in that role as a new tenant in an apartment where the previous tenant attempted suicide. In trying to investigate what happened, we get a front row seat as he slides into his own twisted delusions that he is being guided to a similar fate. For me, the best
aspect of the movie is that it plays to its unreliable narrator in a way that I've only ever previously seen adhered to in Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Even till the last frame, we're never actually let in on the truth of what we've just seen. How much could have been a genuine conspiracy, and how much is the main character's mad delusions remains unknown. It's an effectively creepy twist and makes the movie stick with you after it's over.

As behind-the-scenes stories go, Anthony Hopkins was said to REALLY not like being around the dummy used for Fats.
I can't possibly imagine why, can you?

10/6 - Magic

Fun fact #1: This film was tagged in this year in memoriam of its director, the late Sir Richard Attenborough
Fun fact #2: apparently this movie was a favorite of my late grandmother on my mother's side. Given what I knew of her, this still surprises me to a degree.
Not that this movie is particularly graphic or gory, mind you. It's a film that largely works on its simpler touches. At the same time, it's also a fairly dark story. The entire idea of stories where the relationship between the ventriloquist and the dummy blurs are well tread, to the point where on release this movie was often compared to some earlier examples. With that in mind, what really elevates a lot of this one is the acting and direction. In the former case, it's actually a strong team- As the lead, a young Anthony Hopkins gets to show a lot of range in the dual roles of magician/ventriloquist Corky and his dummy Fats. As Corky, Hopkins is friendly, quiet, and even vulnerable. At the same time, one can see his appeal as a human being in order to make this movie's romance work- yes, he's a man with issues, but he's also likable. Meanwhile, as Fats, he gets to show those darker sides- at first simply sarcastic and crass, he slowly becomes more demanding and cruel as the story goes on. Despite that, when the movie's fateful, tragic ending comes, Hopkins manages to make both of these halves into sympathetic characters, turning the movie's bizarre finale into a sad one. Besides Hopkins, the other two standouts in the cast are Ann-Margret as Corky's former/now current flame, a more understated role, but one she brings out the human side in to really help sell the last act. Then there's Burgess Meredith as Hopkins' agent, in probably one of the best roles of his career. Besides the strong acting, the direction, as well as editing by John Bloom, are also worth noting here. One sequence that actually really caught me in this regard is how the movie chooses to first introduce us to Corky before he develops the dummy (and thus show us how dependent, in a way, he is on Fats.) Before Fats, we see Corky's stage debut - which goes horribly. Despite this, he attempts to lie to his mentor about how it went, all the while we see the actual show played out soundlessly, highlighting Corky's lie. It's a simple trick, but a very effective one. Which is probably the best way to sum up a lot of this film - it takes some very simple storytelling and ideas, and happens to do some very good things with them, simply by virtue of doing them well.

"This is an Asylum movie?!
Forget that! I'm out!"

10/7 - A Haunting in Salem

I had to rewrite my thoughts on this one a few times over. It's just...this is a really bad movie.
I mean, I think the main reason this one got into my candidate pool in the first place was care of browsing through what NetFlix had and not doing my research before grabbing it. The fact the movie opened with a credit from Asylum - the geniuses behind such straight-to-video box office remoras as Transmorphers, The Day the Earth Stopped, and Atlantic Rim - made it clear I was in for some hurt and there was no going back.
Of course, even beyond the general Asylum rep for slipshod filmmaking (a tradition that this movie carries on in spades) this movie annoyed me. This is in no small part from having lived in Massachusetts all my life. Why am I bringing this up? Because apparently neither the writer nor director has even been to this state. It is the best and worst part of this film -it's a ghost story about the Salem Witch Hysteria written and directed by people who apparently have never actually been to Salem (if they have, color me amazed).
It shows on so many levels: the assumption that Pasadena, California would be an acceptable substitute for Salem, a view of the entire witch hysteria that botches the body count (they only focus on the 19 that were hanged while skipping cases like the famous Giles Corey being crushed to death - which, ironically, DOES have a legend about cursed sheriffs - though strangely they DO imply people were burned at the stake even though that never happened in Salem) and then assumes they would bury the bodies under a building that their local sheriff would then live in. After enough sheriffs meeting premature ends, one would think the town would just pick a new location. Sort of like what has actually happened.
If this were a relatively obscure piece of American history, I could almost, ALMOST understand flubbing facts. But it's a pretty well known and documented chapter and very easy to find information on. At that point, it would have just been easier to make up a new witchcraft storyline (and hey, maybe set it in CA and save yourself some face!) and run with that. It would cost the movie its 'based on a true story' tag, but let's face it, it's not like that counts for much in horror these days anyway, especially with a story like this. Asylum, Hocus Pocus is a more historically accurate depiction of Salem than this. Think about that for a minute!
And I haven't even touched on the bad acting and continuity errors. That could be an article on its own. Really, this is just a very bad film all around. Wooden, clumsily written and poorly set up, terribly directed and edited, with effects that make Ed Wood look like he was breaking the bank. I at least take some consolation in the knowledge that at least one person on the film - lead star Bill Oberst Jr - acknowledged this was a bad film enough to issue an apology on his website for it. Bill, if you wind up reading this, you've got nothing to apologize for (unless you wrote and directed this under pseudonyms, anyway) you were probably the one cast member that actually was all that memorable in this movie. You are really the one person I would say doesn't owe an apology from this mess, though it is appreciated.
If people really want it, I will give this one a full autopsy at a later date, but for now I've spent enough time on this.

If you think it looks creepy now, you should have seen what the full photomosaic was supposed to look like when it was finished.
He had been planning this for YEARS...

10/8 - One Hour Photo

With this we come to In Memoriam tag-in #2, this time for the late Robin Williams.
And oh dear God. For a man who didn't really do much in the vein of thrillers or horror, he could be creepy as Hell when he wanted to. This is one of those titles it feels a bit weird to talk about, simply because so much has been said already, and for good reason. I do have to stress for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, this is definitely more thriller than horror. This isn't to say it's not scary, because it is incredibly unnerving. Plus, if you want a straight-up scare, one nightmare sequence will more than pay this film's way. A big part of what makes this film so effective is that it really is on Williams. He so thoroughly inhabits the persona of Sy Parrish and in doing so makes a character that is equal parts unsettling and sympathetic. The latter being probably the most disturbing part about him - the man isn't a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees figure where he's just outwardly intimidating and an unstoppable murder machine. He comes across as just this meek little man, who we only begin to fear when we see the extent of his obsessions. When he's finally pushed, he's even more disturbing because we have no idea just how far he plans to go.
On top of all of that, when we finally learn what's going on in his head (hence the sympathy) he still remains disturbing, simply for realizing just how utterly broken he is as a person. On top of which, learning his past gives his actions a horrifying new light that arguably makes parts of this movie's climax more disturbing on the rewatch. The rest of the movie is well done, don't get me wrong. The main reason I focus on Williams here is, really, a big part of what makes this movie work is just how thoroughly he inhabits its central character. The result of which is one of the more disturbing protagonists of the early 2000s (or Naughts, if you want to use that term.)
Not really a full-on Halloween blowout movie, but still a damn creepy one to get into the right mindset.

"Honey? Honey, it's me, Kong. Listen, I know we got things off to a bad start back at Skull Island, and I feel bad for that. But I'm willing to make amends, and if you'd just open the window so we can talk, I really think we can still make this work..."

10/9 - King Kong (1933)

While watching this, I was really struck by just how much pop culture has skewed the presentation of this movie. I mean, when you generally bring up King Kong to people, their minds automatically go to his famous rampage through New York City. To the point where even the two later remakes played it up more. In the original Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack film, this isn't until the final half hour of the movie's 100 (104 if you watch the version with the overture) run time. Instead, much of the film concerns itself with the ill-fated expedition to the misfortunately named Skull Island. In this regard, I have to say I will admit this wasn't a full blown Halloween pick overall. Rather, a lot of this is more of an adventure film that happens to deal in giant creatures. At the same time, those creatures help justify this movie's making the cut. In particular I was pretty surprised to see how many monster kills this movie factors in overall. Even more surprising given the movie's age, this movie shows quite a few on-screen deaths, including a few pretty well done shots of bodies hanging out of the mouths of dinosaurs and Kong. It's fairly tame by today's standards, but for the time the movie came out, this was pretty shocking stuff to get away with in film.
All in all, this is another which is tricky to say much on that hasn't already been said. Aside from a lot of the reputation and prestige, this is also just a really enjoyable adventure/monster film on its own. Given its age, I do have to concede, some of the racial depictions in this are...well...they're not the most offensive I've ever seen, but they aren't exactly progressive either. But I've seen worse in later movies by comparison. This is just one that's worth giving a watch even if only for the sake of having seen it. It's a great piece of early spectacle with some fine examples of early stop motion to boot.

Okay, can we finally agree that the corn lobby MAY have too much power now?

10/10 - Children of the Corn

Ah, the 80s and 90s...the magical era when Stephen King had proven bankable and every studio that could was buying up the rights to his stories, secure in the fact his name would be enough to move things. On the sliding scale of quality that covers the body of works based on King's fiction, Children of the Corn lands somewhere in the middle. It's certainly nowhere near highs like The Shining, Carrie, Misery, or just about anything Darabont's touched, but it's also pretty safely away from the level of works like Cat's Eye or the infamous Lawnmower Man. Probably the biggest thing going against this movie is the story it's adapting. Children of the Corn as a story works for two big reasons: it's fairly short, and its in media res style of narration means you're left in the dark about a lot of what's going on. You get enough clues to be horrified at just what's going down, but it's not like you ever really get to know a whole lot about the children. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things that really don't fly in a big budget feature, especially one that's getting theater time. By comparison, a 20 minute adaptation of the story done in 1980 does a better job of keeping closer to the original story's style, albeit with some dated production values now (look up Disciples of the Crow on YouTube.) So this film pads things out- we get kids who actually aren't that bad but still allowed to live within the cult despite being nonbelievers, we get to see our happy couple live, and in the end, evil is beaten.
Suffice it to say, it's a long way from the fairly grim original story, though traces of it are still present within this.
Probably the biggest example of the potential in this version is actually in the movie's opening scenes. Before we meet our two protagonists (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton in a less than Sarah Connor level role) we see the first moments of the cult's takeover of the town of Gatlin. This is actually a fairly creepy sequence and, paired with the opening credits detailing the rest of the rise of the cult in crayon drawings, makes a great piece of short horror. The problem comes when it's then all established with voiceover narration by young good child Job (Robby Kiger.) This explains parts of what's coming, giving exposition we don't actually need to really get the impression of what's going on here. It's a 'tell, don't show' moment and it hurts one of the movie's strongest scenes.
What follows is a really mixed bag of a film with some clunky writing and editing, some effects that have NOT aged well, and a stunted ending with a twist that really botches any sense of closure.
It's a fairly weird place in the King film gallery. It's got a lot wrong with it, at some points lapsing into accidental comedy ("OUTLANDERRRRR!"), but it's also not that unwatchable a movie. It's an alright story of evil children that has bits of a better movie hidden inside it that just don't get the chance to come out is all.

Once again, sorry for the wait on this one guys. We'll be back on schedule with this Friday. I promise.

Till then.

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