Lots of horror films in this latest chunk as my (and many other fellow film freaks) seasonal Halloween viewings come to a close. Tragic, I know. Another year where I’m reminded that October is my favorite time of the year, not just for that transition into the autumnal bliss that is late-year New England, but because everyone in the online film community is watching, considering, and discussing horror films with the consideration and passion the genre deserves.
#189. This Is the End (2013, Rogen & Goldberg)
Completely outlandish in its very existence, this is self-indulgence done largely right, a grand scale look at the raunchy things that amuse these actors. It’s also very much about their relationship to fame and friendship. Unsurprisingly, this was not a film I was looking forward to (though I actually really like Seth Rogen and most of these guys for that matter), because as if we need more of this kind of exclusively male club of comedy. It sold me because these guys know how to construct, depict, and exploit their own dynamic for laughs. It even uses an Emma Watson cameo to boldly reveal just why there is no room for women within the group (hint: they can’t see past their own vanity) Simply put, I laughed harder during this than any film I’ve seen in a long time. But it crumbles to pieces in the final third. From stellar set-up to entertaining down-time, the last third goes into spectacle mode, drowning out any of its humanistic remnats with bawdy effects-driven broadness. I don’t like spectacle-driven comedy so unfortunately Rogen & Goldberg’s experiment in meta-examination crosses the finish line in overblown fashion.
#190. Opera (1987, Argento)
Features some of the most memorable kill scenes in any horror film I’ve seen, made further abrasive through its unconventional use of metal to contrast a soundtrack otherwise filled with opera. One moment in particular, a gunshot through a keyhole, reaches a state of rare brutal divinity that left me beside myself. Notable for the way Argento reaches into his more experimental side, (about half this film is a playful and genuine accomplishment about the act of seeing) unfortunately leaving the lame non-stories that often accompany giallo on fuller-than-normal display.
#191. The Boxer’s Omen (1983, Chin-Hung Kuei)
Hong Kong horror that ranks alongside Hausu and Freaked as the full-stop craziest and most demented films I’ve ever seen. Absolutely loved this because it attains a very peculiar level of being at once extremely over-the-top and silly but also deeply unsettling in the way it spotlights goo, slime, sludge, ooze and the like in relation to the body. There isn’t a ton of blood in The Boxer’s Omen (relatively speaking; I mean yes a crocodile gets cut open, its entrails taken out only to be replaced by a mummified woman which they then stitch into the carcass to reanimate it), but the constant fixation on gook, and then the skeletal, in relation to the body really gets under the skin after awhile. It recalls of an article I once had to read (for what I don’t remember) which discussed these kinds of liquids in relation to the body, mortality, and decay; why these kinds of images get at something indescribable and irreconcilable. In its truly out-there and awesome way, The Boxer’s Omen gets at this with its hokey anything-and-I-mean-anything goes credo.
#192. Magic Magic (2013, Silva)
Deserving of far more than its unfortunate direct-to-DVD fate, Chilean director Sebastian Silva makes an uncomfortable fray into mental collapse. It toes the line between treating Temple’s mental illness as such, staying true to her experience without embellishing too much for genre convention. What I love about Magic Magic is the way that it depicts the group of young people she is surrounded by as assholes. Her experience of them is paranoiac and completely different, and yet the components are all there; her initial isolation justifiably felt. The way Silva balances the social aspect of these off-putting folk and the way Juno Temple (in a fucking great piece of acting) distorts her mindset in relation to them is a different kind of subtle concoction than I’m used to seeing. Michael Cera performance is genuinely creepy-crawly. His natural ineffectual awkwardness is tilted left-of-center for an extremely unsettling character named Brink who seems at the start like he is either one extremely annoying/creepy individual or an outright sociopath. He makes the performance extremely naturalistic and seemingly on-the-fly which is what makes it so effective. But the last third takes a completely nosedive and undoes most of what came before for a blunt and distancing climax that is thrown in with all sense of control removed from every character, not just Temple, resulting in most interest lost. It’s a shame because the first two-thirds features some really strong material, acting, and dynamics through atmosphere and subjectivity created by Silva and Christopher Doyle.
#193. Valley Girl (1983, Coolidge)
I was so hoping to love Valley Girl, but I didn’t even like it. It really all boils down to the fact that there was nothing for me to grasp onto, even in a superficial sense. Except for E.G Daily who should have been in every 80s teen film ever. I expect more craziness from an early Nic Cage performance. Peggy Sue Got Married clearly spoiled me on that front. The soundtrack is great and I find it compelling as a cultural touchstone (was the ‘valley girl’ subculture widespread at this point? still regional? It also seems to both occupy an exaggerated stereotypical space as well as a fairly grounded one) but this was uninteresting in its vapidity.
#194. Zelig (1983, Allen)
A delightful yet somber high concept anomaly from Allen that pushes its themes of neurosis and Jewish identity completely outside of the box. It may deal with ideas of cultural assimilation but that wanting to fit in urge makes it universally relatable. It’s a curious piece of work; not one I fell head over heels for, but one I spent most of my time admiring.
The technical achievement of Zelig is, well, to be facetious, fuck Gravity. I’m going to spend my time being in awe of what Allen accomplished 30 years ago. He and cinematographer Gordon Willis spent years perfecting a wide variety of techniques getting the newsreel period footage to look accurate from the cameras they used, bluescreen technology, applying damage, etc. It’s absolutely seamless. On a final note, Mia Farrow channeling Liv Ullman is just a lovely thing.
#195. Gothic (1986, Russell)
Gothic never comes together as a compellingly over-the-top take on what inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein during her famed stay in Geneva but it does scar you in the way logic quickly disappears from the evening, replaced by Freudian fears and imagery which feel inescapable. There are a lot of images that are going to stay with me from Gothic, none more than the entirety of Timothy Spall as Dr. John Polidori in a feverishly repressed performance that becomes more and more revealingly skinned.
#196. The Dresser (1983, Yates)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two more exhausting performances in a film. And I don’t mean this in a good way. The craft of the work is impressive in a sense, with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay getting double lead actor nods at that year’s Oscars. But both are dialed up to ‘11’ from start to finish. This is ACTING in the most thespian of manners with both playing to the nosebleed sections at all times. It makes for an ineffectively abrasive experience with side effects that include not being able to hear myself think and an inability to appreciate the macabre tone of the piece and the meat of the story. They feed off each other and the basic components of storytelling such as dialogue, direction, and build-up so all that is eventually left is a collection of raving, screaming, hand-wringing, crying, and ineffectual mannerisms.
#197. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Zito)
Surprisingly enjoyable, especially considering I don’t care for this franchise at all. Basically it comes down to Crispin ‘dead fuck’ Glover, whose presence elevates every single scene with the group of teenagers to something damn near holy. I also greatly enjoyed Corey Feldman and his origin story-of-sorts as well as the family unit in general, all of which makes for a relatively fun slasher.
#198. From Beyond (1986, Gordon)
Say hello to one of my new favorite films because From Beyond is kind of the greatest. A follow-up to Re-Animator with outrageously disgusting (and thus awesome) practical effects work, a purple-pink color scheme you won’t soon forget, the perfect lead trifecta of Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Ken Foree and so much more. These are the kinds of films we have to cherish because they don’t really exist in this particular combination anymore. You feel the work and the personal touch amidst and within the way the story’s limits are pushed on. It is at once ridiculous yet darker in tone than Re-Animator. I love the Combs/Crampton role reversal and the ways in which each embody their characters. Lastly, the ending is a perfect moment to close on, one of a series of stellar endings in the horror films I’ve been watching lately. Basically, yes to everything about From Beyond.
#199. Asylum (1972, Baker)
Silly anthology film with an absurd, and thus fantastic, framing story. Most of the vignettes are flat and undercooked and at least one is outright boring (despite the presence of Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland). However, there is something to latch onto for each segment whether the crinkly sound of a head wrapped in paper, the empathy Peter Cushing is able to bring to anything, or Herbert Lom’s army of automatons.
#200. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Wallace)
One of those horror films that seems like it would improve exponentially in a crowd setting. I really love Carpenter’s idea about making Halloween an anthology franchise. It’s something that should have been implemented right after the first one. I’m weirdly fond of this even though I can’t say I liked it all that much as a whole. The leads are laughably miscast (oh Atkins and your manly man ways) and there are whole sections that fail to stir the imagination or even the basic attention a film asks of a viewer. But then there is a moment or a shot that would take me by genuine surprise every fifteen minutes or so. These bursts of creative or, at the very least, violent flair uprooted me enough to feel oddly fond of it. It is completely removed from the rest of the franchise with a Twilight Zone-esque story that is deceptively offbeat. Its best moments genuinely fucked with my head and it ends on an impossibly high note, a horror movie capper for the ages, that I walked away from it giddy, severe warts and all.
#201. The Right Stuff (1983, Kaufman)
Looks at the the mythmaking hero by contrasting the idealized and unrecognized sage cowboy with the manufactured boyish build-up and media frenzy (the press are portrayed as a pack of fiendish animals complete with snake hissing and rattling on the soundtrack) of the Mercury Seven (miraculously without actually denigrating the men or their accomplishments). It takes a conventional model of the rah-rah USA historical film and does something very astute with it.
This is a surprising film in so many ways. I often found myself amazed by the way it takes on different sections of story, not worrying so much how it relates to the rest but concentrating all energy on making the section at hand seem front-and-center. I think of, for example, how much time we spent on the testing done for all Mercury Seven candidates. This section is treated as its own entity seemingly without the before or after in sight (of course it is), so you get distinctly wrapped up in each portion on its own terms. So during the testing section, while there a concentration on the ongoing theme of the childish one-uppmanship between comrades, there is also a vignette-like dynamic between Dennis Quaid and the cold nurse in charge of testing. It bears no storytelling drive to anything but itself, and for those ten minutes it becomes the entirety of content within the film. That’s just one of the many reasons and examples on why The Right Stuff gathers impact as it accumulates history, moments, and the idea of myth within American history. It smartly starts at the roots, with the test pilots and with Yeager, portrayed as incomparable forefather of everything that follows.
I’ve come to realize that nobody does vulnerability better than Dennis Quaid in his heyday. His hotdog hotshot persona and endless smile, whether in roles squeaky-clean or rough around the edges, belies an open heart I often find myself extremely moved by. See also; Breaking Away.
#202. In the Mouth of Madness (1994, Carpenter)
Truly the most inescapable fictional scenario of them all. There are many ways to interpret this film, because its events are so tenuous and loopy. But I took it as the meta-trap it presents as the very non-existent reality. Characters have no agency in the sense of their fiction and creation. In the Mouth of Madness throws this in the mix which is an inescapable mind warp for everyone involved. Carpenter filters his deceptively simple methods into something increasingly unnerving. It has stuck with me really well and the end (completing my streak in incredible endings) is one of the best ever. Ever. EVER.