Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Week 5: Ravager

...Yeah, yeah, I know it's not even out yet. Humor me, it's a small pool of horror franchises that hit the fifth movie mark and still bother with subtitles.

Still, it's time for the final week – I told you guys I'd get this one up on time!

This has been a pretty interesting year, both in terms of scheduling and selection. Again, the learning curve is a factor. Future years will adapt and modify.

Hey, at least this time it's all still ending on time (remember the first year?)

With that, let's send October of 2014 off on a good note. We've had classic authors, some grindhouse pulp, one from the vaults of the esteemed Roger Corman, and several entries from respected horror names, albeit for titles they don't get as much acclaim for.

But first, let's start things off with something a little local, shall we?
...okay, does this scene even need a caption?
Half of you are already thinking the line anyway.

10/25 - Session 9

Okay, before I get into the film proper, I just want to get a quick rant out of my system.
To the 'good' people at Asylum Productions – THIS IS WHAT A MOVIE SET IN MASSACHUSETTS SHOULD LOOK LIKE!
Granted, that's because it was actually filmed locally (sorry to disappoint, but the Danvers asylum that served as the filming location has long since been condemned and demolished), but even then, it should be enough to show you that MA has a look to it, and that look is not interchangeable with California.

Whew...okay...sorry. I'm still feeling that mess of a movie.

Anyway, back to Session 9!

I already mentioned it before, but this was actually shot at an old asylum in Danvers. I bring this up because this movie's atmosphere/location is arguably its biggest strength. The acting's pretty good and the story holds up, but the biggest thing this movie has going for it is just how much it employs the asylum as a location. Rewatching it I honestly find it disappointing the building is no longer there. It's equal parts creepy and intriguing.
As far as the rest of the movie, this is one that really works well on its minimal elements. I mean, when you actually get down to it, most of the movie is just a small asbestos removal team in an abandoned asylum. Beyond them, the only other remotely notable player in this movie is a voice on a tape recorder. With just those elements in mind, the movie actually puts together a fairly tight narrative – establishing conflicts between the team members and making you wonder just who may be pushed to what as tensions run high.
On that note, that's one of the things I have to give this movie on a rewatch. Even knowing the ending, I was surprised to look back and realize just how much the movie tries to mislead you. There are certainly clues to the true ending, but it also throws quite a few red herrings in in the process. The end result is a fairly effective mix of haunted house and mystery, culminating in an unseen, but heard party that is among the creepier horror antagonists I think I've seen/heard in the last decade or so.
I'm not sure I can mark this as a rush out and watch it, but if you haven't before, it is well worth your time.
Coming up next on Fox - Magic's Messiest Bloopers!

10/26 - Lord of Illusions

So- am I alone in thinking this movie is kind of underrated?

Really. I mean it. I'm not gonna say this is Clive Barker's finest by any means (I'd still easily place the first two Hellraiser entries ahead of it as well as the first Candyman) but at the same time, I feel like this movie really deserves more acclaim than it seems to have gotten.

That said, I am struck by realizing that, like the second Hellraiser and Nightbreed, this is one of Barker's movies where the horror seems to be a secondary to the dark fantasy. It rides sidecar to the world of dark magic noir that Barker has put together, throwing detective Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula playing a relative straight man in a world of magicians and occult) into the investigation of the death of a revered illusionist (Kevin J. O'Connor, surprisingly downplayed) and his possible connections to a former cult leader. In true noir fashion, it has a fair number of twists and turns while also playing with the style that Barker does best at – blurring the mundane with the horrifying. One of the sequences that really emphasizes this (in the unrated cut only) is a sequence involving the rebirth of the mentioned cult, where we're treated to a montage of all the former members calmly preparing their returns as the camera then passes over their families and loved ones they have just murdered as they prepare to go. There's no shock, no jolt, no sharp music sting. Barker plays the scene entirely straight, and that's honestly the most disturbing part about it.
The finished film is kind of in a weird place (as Barker films often are) among genres. While there's a number of disturbing moments to it, it doesn't really feel like overt horror, and the fantastical elements sit oddly with the noir storytelling. Taken on its own though, it's actually a pretty enjoyable tale from the mind of the same man that gave us Pinhead.

That said, I will advocate for the unrated cut over the R here. Not in the full blown 'this is a travesty' way, mind you. The unrated just feels like a more complete movie is all.

"...look at all those Oscars with my name on them..."

10/27 - The Terror

Wait a minute. Is this right?
Let me check.
...Huh. It took me four years to get to a Roger Corman movie on this thing?
How did that happen?

As Corman's movies go, this one's not bad. Admittedly it's not as memorable as some of his more out there fare, but for what it is and what it wants to be, it's a fairly interesting mystery from him.
Also, the cast are surprising in a few regards. First and foremost is the appearance of young Jack Nicholson in the lead role. This is when he's still just getting started, so it's not quite the larger than life Jack filmgoers would come to know and love, and honestly, better as far as this movie's concerned. While he's our focal point, he's there to be the outsider. Ultimately, the story's big focus is Boris Karloff as the mysterious baron whose castle is housing a possible ghost as well as a few other secrets. As Karloff roles go, this is a nice break from type for him. He still has some classic moments – such as his defensiveness whenever Nicholson digs further into his past – but ultimately, it's a vulnerable role different from his prior success with Frankenstein. Here, it comes born out of a sense of guilt, and Karloff does a good job with that sense of lament. The story itself- an original amid an era where Corman was making bank on numerous Poe adaptations- is actually a pretty good attempt at making a similar but different story. The period setting, while largely owing to recycled props and sets (Nicholson's soldier's uniform, for example, was previously worn by Marlon Brando) is used well for storytelling purposes. Meanwhile, the central mystery of the story actually accomplishes that impressive hurdle of not broadcasting its ending, still having the big twist make sense within the context of the film.
Again, it's not as memorable as some of the more outlandish works of Corman's career, but it still remains a respectable entry in the man's prolific filmography.
Now if you want to make this scene in the film, even weirder, picture their dirge replaced with this.

10/28 - Something Wicked This Way Comes

I bet you never expected to see Disney make the list on this one, did you?
To be fair, even their marketing department was concerned about what their name on this movie would result in – more from the fact it's darker fare for them than any question of the quality.
That said, this is one of those movies that has a lot going against it, especially when you read about the uphill battle it had just getting to the screen. As a general rule I try not to let behind the scenes activities effect my review if I can help it- but in this case, it's hard not to. Especially when there are moments where you can clearly see sequences were reshot (most notably for one sequence midway where the film's two young protagonists visibly age a year or so before going back to normal). That said, for the technical issues involved, it's actually still fairly watchable. Though it doesn't really live up to Bradbury's original work, it makes a game attempt at capturing the book's overall spirit. The parts I was struck by are the movie's earlier sequences, before the arrival of Mr. Dark's carnival. Though they are brief, the scenes do a good job of capturing that sort of nostalgic feeling of a small town in fall. It's one of those bits of style that works in the movie's favor, however briefly. One of the other areas where this film has things going in its favor is with regards to the main cast. There are several standouts here, including Jason Robards and a young Pam Grier, but ultimately, the big winner here is Johnathan Pryce. As the vaguely demonic Mr. Dark, Pryce manages the appropriately mysterious air of the role, even seeming to channel a bit of some of the classic actors in the process. The end result is honestly the movie's high point, and as good a reason as any to see it (especially if, like me, you mainly remember him from Brazil and want to see another side of Pryce's range.)

Moments like this, maybe it's time to reevaluate one's priorities.

10/29 - Pieces

Sometimes, I just need a touch of grindhouse to help round out my Halloween season, especially after how disappointed I was with Eaten Alive. I went into this without much knowledge of it beyond the fact it had some of an infamous reputation in general, though it was popular within circles of slasher film fans. Having seen it, I can now see the cases for both sides. This made a bit of a mixed impression on me at first simply for how ridiculous the movie's prologue is. Without giving too much away, let me just say that the killer's family apparently all excel at violent over exaggeration, as one nudie jigsaw puzzle is enough to incite several acts of violence. It's not even like it's a particularly raunchy puzzle either.
After that somewhat overblown prologue, the movie settles into a bit more of a consistent tone, going with that time-honored place where people go to die horribly in film – college!
The story is somewhat cliched in that regard, but it's one the film tries to stay earnest with. As silly as elements of it can get (most notably one sequence involving a Bruce Lee impersonator, added purely because that was one of the studio's other wheelhouses) it's actually pretty watchable. Nothing amazing, but watchable. Besides, true to the grindhouse slasher style, the movie delivers where it counts – the kills are sufficiently gory for the movie's low budget. Also, the movie's ending works well – yes, the killer's actual identity is fairly predictable, as is the initial confrontation, but the stinger attached afterward delivers on the killer's project that the movie had been building to with a great grim payoff.
Can we finally agree Rupert Murdoch's matchmaking shows have gone too far now?

10/30 - This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse

We're now two-for-two on doing a film series in its proper order.
I know, I'm scared too.
As part two of Brazil's Coffin Joe trilogy, this movie picks up roughly where At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul left off. Much to the chagrin of the local townsfolk, everyone's 'favorite' hypernihilistic murderer Coffin Joe is freed of all charges. Back on the streets, he resumes his quest to find a suitable woman to bear his perfect child.
Within the last year, it strikes me just how much Coffin Joe is ultimately akin to an MRA with better dress sense.
Jokes aside, this is one of those horror trilogies that has seemed to be on the fringes for a lot of horror fans. Which is a shame, because they're an interesting, and classic in the world of South American horror. This continues with the elements that made AMITYS stand out in the first place. Between José Mojica Marins' iconic role as the sinister Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe and the movies' ability to make some surprisingly graphic effects on a low budget, they're fascinating pieces of foreign horror. Alongside the stylistic elements maintained from the first movie, this one also contains a new standout piece – an extended sequence in the middle of the movie, in color, where Zé do Caixão has a nightmare vision of Hell. It's not a major part of the movie narrative-wise, but it's a striking sequence, and not just because of the color, though that is used to great effect.
In the end, the movie follows a similar arc to the first – riding on his loose morality, Zé do Caixão's quest for immortality in a perfect child ultimately destroys him, but as with so many films, it's the journey, not the destination that makes this one work. In this regard, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse does well at building on what made the first work while adding some of its own signature touches.
Pictured: Hal Holbrook and a violent case of closure

10/31 - The Fog

Once again, I'm really pleased with what gets lined up for the big day.
There's a running discussion I've had with a few people about the question of what films mark the point when a director comes into their own. Curiously, when it comes to John Carpenter, most people don't actually consider it to be Halloween (which will eventually make it in here; blame the randomizer on this one). This isn't because people consider Halloween bad – in fact, many of the people who answer this still call it a classic – but it's more the fact that it doesn't have quite the distinctive Carpenter touch to it. Even listening to him talk about it in interviews seems to support this: he doesn't dislike the movie, but it was more a job than a passion project for him. Rather, the answer usually tends to be split between the 1981/82 combination of Escape From New York and The Thing. Personally, upon rewatching this, I have to amend my answer. I believe he solidified his voice and style with the above-mentioned combination, but I think this is the movie where he starts to find his voice. It has some setbacks, but you can also see the stylistic bridge between Halloween and Escape From New York.
Even with those problems – many of which are born from behind the scenes issues resulting in rewrites and reshoots that Carpenter would later lament – this is still a fun little movie for Halloween. It's not one of the all-time greats, but it's a movie that still works on the strengths of keeping it simple on just about every level. We have a small group of characters (with a cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook), a story that takes place over the course of a single day/night, a small body count, and some effects that embody less is more perfectly. It takes those small elements and puts together an entertaining modern day ghost story involving old secrets and revenge from beyond the grave.
On top of all of that, for being a last minute addition, I have to give this movie's opening a special shout out. The fireside story about the ill-fated ship, the Elizabeth Dane as told by John Houseman is a wonderfully atmospheric segment to set the movie up with. It establishes the movie's backstory while also helping capture the flavor of the ghost story that the film's going for.
It's not the greatest horror film never made, nor is it even Carpenter's finest, but that certainly doesn't make it a bad movie. For as many problems as it may have had behind the scenes, it's still a promising entry form a then up and coming Carpenter that takes a fairly basic story and tells it with a wonderfully creepy sense of atmosphere and escalation.

So ends another October.
It's been another fun month – even with the setbacks, I always love this project.

I have some special plans lined up for next year on top of that.

Consider yourselves warned.

Until then, a Happy Halloween to you all.

Good night, and till next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment