Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sombre (1998)

Being Film #11 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to Leaves for the recommendation.

Extra Note:  One week later this movie still sits like a bad meal in my gut, proof (perhaps) that there's more to the film than my experience and consequent write-up get across.  Leaves came back with a lengthy comment that goes into detail why he thinks the film works, and it's a great counterpoint, so I link to it here and heartily recommend checking it out.

SOMBRE, the debut film by experimental artist Philippe Grandrieux, eschews straight narrative, opting instead to provoke visceral reactions in the viewer.  It succeeds in its goal.  Everything is dark and oppressive, even in daylight.  Images are either ramped up or slowed down to such a degree that even the most innocent activity - children being delighted by a puppet show - turns into a Lynchian nightmare.  The story centers on Jean, a serial killer who preys on prostitutes until a chance encounter with two women in a broken down car on the highway provides a new diversion and a chance to consummate the act whose failure seems to drive jean to his murderous acts.  There is the barest hint of fable in this, but its glow is dampened by enough abuse and violence to take any artistic message SOMBRE has and leave it by the film's end abandoned on the side of the road.

Or at least that's my impression.  I knew after about 15 minutes I was going to hate this movie, although part of that reaction could conceivably be Grandrieux's whole point.  Unlike the stylized (though equally brutal) acts of violence perpetrated by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, there's a depravity and bluntness to Jean's sadistic acts that leaves you sick in the stomach.  This feeling is only enhanced with numerous dead scenes of driving on highways, evil looking children, and sickly pale yellow light when there's any to be found.

So, yeah...not a movie I even remotely enjoyed or recommend.  However I'm open to the chance that I'm just not the target audience for this kind of thing (my tastes running more classic Universal, Hammer, and giallo) so in the interest of fairness there's an in-depth review of the film available at d+kaz which really picks the film apart.  I can definitely see all its points, but it doesn't do anything to improve the experience I had with SOMBRE.

That's it.  One more quick review done in pictures, and then a final 13th review for one of the most anticipated horror television series in a long time...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Habit (1995)

Being Film #10 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to J.D. at Radiator Heaven for the recommendation.  

You ever keep hearing about someone, a director or a writer, someone that people keep telling you to check out, and you want to, only somehow it never seems to happen?  And then when you finally do you can't understand what took you so long to do it?

Well, for me that's Larry Fessenden, and HABIT, his 1995 re-working of an independent video he shot back in 1982 is kind of an indie revelation.  Fessenden wrote, directed, edited, and stars in HABIT as Sam, a lost soul in New York City - a witty, nice enough guy who unfortunately is so far down in the drink his entire life is a crumpled heap.  All of this is communicated in a few short sequences as Sam arrives at his friend's Halloween party, "costumed" as a vagabond Cyrano de Bergerac.  It's there that he meets Anna, a mysterious beautiful woman with who he shares an immediate attraction.  She seems to come and go, leaving him after a party in the street but suddenly behind him a few days later at a street fair.  Their first night together leaves Sam in a daze the next morning in a park, his lip bloody...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Being Film #9 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to Sean at Spectacular Views for the recommendation.

Is there a horror fan left on the planet that isn't at least familiar with George A. Romero's DEAD films?  Both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD influenced entire schools of horror, and established the rules by which hundreds of zombie films adhere to.  Romero's game - both in his zombie movies and in his other films like MARTIN, KNIGHTRIDERS and THE CRAZIES - is to address larger societal themes under the guise of horror, more often than not showing the real horror to be the "normal" folks trapped in whatever scenario Romero devises for them.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Don't Look Now (1973)

Being Film #8 in Hail Horror 5. Thanks to Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder and Captain Blake of The October People for the recommendation

Cut away the non-linear structure, the running visual cues and kinetic editing, and DON'T LOOK NOW would probably still be a good, if fairly predictable movie.  But fortunately for us we don't have to do that, and the fact is that Nicolas Roeg in only his second feature as a director has crafted a masterpiece of mood and tone, and DON'T LOOK NOW stands as an achievement of the presentation of pure dread, and a stunning example of how a director can directly engage the audience in his vision.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Splice (2010)

Being Film #7 in Hail Horror 5

There comes a point about three quarters of the way through Vincenzo Natali's SPLICE, his 21st century cross-bred homage to the Frankenstein story that significantly changes the stakes of what you've seen up to this point.  And you're going to make a split-second decision in your head as to whether you can accept that this is actually happening and carry on, or if you think a line's been crossed and you turn it off.  There's a small chance that you might think, "What's the big deal?  That's not so bad," and just keep watching, never giving it a second thought.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

 Being Film #6 in Hail Horror 5

Before writing this I went back and read the previous reviews I've written on Dario Argento films (for those curious, TENEBRE, PHENOMENA, and FOUR FILES ON GREY VELVET), and the same theme crops up again and again: even when things don't make a lick of sense, Argento is such a visually striking director it becomes easy to fall into his films and enjoy the ride.  So far I've been lucky in my selection of his work: besides the above, I've luxuriated in the saturated colors of SUSPIRIA and marveled at the ingenuity on display in works as early as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and the Godfather of giallo films, DEEP RED.  But that was the trick; Argento has a large enough discography you can bounce around and find classic after classic and take a while before you bump into a clunker like THE MOTHER OF TEARS.  The general rule seems to be, stick to the early stuff - anything in the last twenty years and you're in danger of some serious crummery.

But I had heard a lot of good things about THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, the first Italian film to use CGI, and it certainly didn't hurt that Argento cast his lovely daughter Asia as the lead, and since it was available in HD on Netflix Instant Streaming I curled up in bed Saturday morning and checked it out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meme: 15 Directors

Ah, the Internet Meme.  If it weren't for the proliferation of these dastardly virtual viruses we'd probably all be a lot more productive but not nearly as entertained.  I caught this particular bug from J.D. over at Radiator Heaven, who apparently was infected after seeing the kickoff over at Films From the Supermassive Black Hole and the most righteous posting over at The Dancing Image.

The easy part is coming up with the list.  From J.D.'s post:
List off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don't take too long to think about it.
After about a minute or so I had about 20 directors.  This list is simply the first 15 I scribbled down, with the bonus 16th cleverly concealed in the image above (try and figure it out!).

The harder part was deciding how to visually present the list.  I'd love to take some time and care with this and use video clips like MovieMan0283 did (seriously, his entry is a crash-course in film and should be checked out), but for now I'll follow J.D.'s steps and use simple images of the people themselves:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Two Cents on The Social Network (2010)

It's a good movie.  A really good movie, entertaining as hell and filled with great acting, spectacular direction and a score that is so perfectly attuned to the action on the screen it's almost eerie.

That being said, it's not my favorite film of the year, and I cringe a little whenever I see the words "masterpiece" or "game-changer" tossed about.  Like any movie (or every movie), there are choices I don't agree with, things that are clunky or don't work, but none of that should take away from what is a excellent look at the lengths people will go to to try and connect, to fit in within a larger circle, and the things they may lose along the way.

There are many excellent reviews out there in the film blog community: I went into a lot more detail regarding what I did and didn't like in the comments on Ryan Kelly's excellent post on Medfly Quarantine. I also referenced Tony Dayoub's review from Cinema Viewfinder, equally outstanding.  Clicking on the comments from both sites will lead to many more great opinions on THE SOCIAL NETWORK, some positive, some negative, but all informed, intelligent, and well worth your time whether you agree with the findings or not.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gothic (1986)

Being Film #5 in Hail Horror 5. Thanks to Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder for the recommendation.

"Russell provides you with your money's worth. Why he would have wanted to make this film is another matter. This is the kind of movie that Roger Corman was making for American-International back in the early 1960s, when AIP was plundering the shelves of out-of-copyright horror tales, looking for cheap story ideas."

-Roger Ebert, in his review of Russell's LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
A similar thought ran through my head as I sat and "experienced" the hallucinatory nightmare that is Ken Russell's GOTHIC, a film loosely based one of the most famous events in horror history - the night poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. John William Polidori, and Mary Shelley spent at Lord Byron's estate, and the challenge to create a work of horror that ultimately led to the creation of Polidori's Vampyre and, more famously, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  That thought was that this would have been perfect fodder for Corman and AIP, or even Hammer Films back in the early 60s.  The pairing of this type of story, told with the visual flair and camp that is a signature of Russell's work, must have seemed to be a perfect match to the film's producers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Monsters (2010)

Being Film #4 in Hail Horror 5

Turns out the surprise was on me. Not because MONSTERS, the micro-budget (reportedly made for $15,000) debut from British visual effects artist Gareth Edwards is a bad movie - it most definitely isn't - but it also definitely isn't a horror movie.  You wouldn't necessarily gather that from the trailers, however, which try to push the "dangerous thing hunting down the young couple" aspect a bit more than I think serves the film.  Despite all that, though, MONSTERS is a incredible example of what one can do with limited funds but boundless amounts of passion.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

War Within the Mind: Two Looks at the Climax of Village of the Damned

Being a Hail Horror Interlude, and the second of two contributions to Radiator Heaven's John Carpenter Blogathon.

Wolf Rilla's 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwitch Cuckoos known around filmdom as the wonderful VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED remains one of my favorite SF/Horror movies, a film I can easily slide into any time of the year.  Boasting a clever "what if?" premise and a gaggle of eerie children, its climax is a classic of suspense: one man's will to shield his thoughts from the evil around him, and the slow disintegration of that will beautifully interpreted as a crumbling wall.

I'd be lying if I said John Carpenter's 1995 remake fared as well.  In an effort to update the threat to appeal to  the audience of the time, I think it loses some of the original's grace and simplicity.  That being said, Carpenter can still wring out a tense sequence with the best of them and also knows that, like Howard Hawks, if something worked the first time, best not to mess with it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Being Film #3 in Hail Horror 5, and also one of two contributions I'll be making to Radiator Heaven's John Carpenter Blogathon.  Thanks to J.D. for inviting me to participate.

"What is it?
"A secret that can no longer be kept."

Like many people, I was slightly disappointed the first time I watched John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS when it was first released to VHS (man, am I old).  This was not a horror film for a 14 year old kid who grew up on larger than life monsters both on the screen and in his own head.  Watching now over 20 years later I'd love to smack that 14 year old in the head, but although PRINCE OF DARKNESS hits a sweet spot for me now, I can kind of understand why I was disappointed that first time - it's a really slow build: the terror, like SESSION 9, comes from a growing sense of unease and random unexplained instances rather than ferocious, dripping monsters with tentacles and acid blood (in 1986 I was forever changed when at 13 I saw my first rated R film in the theater - ALIENS) and when you do get to the climax, instead of the titular Prince of Darkness in all his glory you get part of his hand - and even that lasts a fraction of a second.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Session 9 (2001)

Being Film #2 in Hail Horror 5

SESSION 9 is an odd, unsettling transitional film from Brad Anderson, who had a small independent hit with the romantic NEXT STOP WONDERLAND in 1998.  Falling between the quirky romantic comedy of 2001's HAPPY ACCIDENTS and the paranoid thriller of 2004's THE MACHINIST, SESSION 9 is Anderson's move into darker territory, a haunted house story where the "house" in question is an abandoned mental institution and the focus is on the madness that infests a small team of asbestos workers attempting to clean out the building.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Horror of Dracula (1958)

Being Film #1 in Hail Horror 5

Happy October, folks.

With the release of LET ME IN, Hammer Films, that wonderfully blood-saturated UK production company looks to be getting its foot back into the world of horror. To celebrate Hammer's reintroduction into the spotlight, I decided to kick off the fifth year of Hail Horror with Hammer's version of the Bram Stoker classic, DRACULA, or HORROR OF DRACULA as it was known upon its release in the United States.  Filmed with lush, vibrant urgency by Terence Fisher, who was responsible for many of Hammer's best films such as THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE MUMMY, and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, (the latter two films solidifying, along with DRACULA, the powerhouse pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), HORROR OF DRACULA offers all of the earmarks that typify a "Hammer" film, and provides a few pleasant surprises for those familiar with the source material.

Truer Words

"I think of a good film as like a favorite record album that I might listen to time and again. In a sense, a movie is a place for me. I go there. Just as I return time and again to London, I return to "Fitzcarraldo," "Dark City," "Late Spring," and Bergman's trilogy "Through a Glass Darkly," "The Silence," and "Winter Light.""
 - Roger Ebert, from his introduction to The Great Movies III


And that, written much more eloquently than I ever could have, perfectly captures the sense of excitement, expectation and nostalgia that fills me up every time I sit down in the dark of a theater or a living room and make my compact to believe, to be transported for the duration of what it is I'm watching.

Read the entire introduction over at Roger Ebert's blog here.