Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hey, Dummy!

Film: Magic
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

When Magic was released in 1978, I had just turned 11. This is important only in the sense that I remember the trailer. It’s one of the few trailers I can actually remember (along with Suspiria) because it’s one of the great minimalist trailers in horror movie history. In fact, the original trailer was pulled from broadcast because parents complained about how scary it was. I have to admit that it made an impression on me.

If you watch that trailer, you’ll get at least half of the point of the movie, provided you think about if for just a second. Seriously, watch the trailer. If you can’t figure out at least the main thrust of the plot from that, you don’t get to read any further.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Title is the Most Shocking Part

Film: Zombi Holocaust (Zombie Holocaust; Doctor Butcher M.D.)
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

Where do I even start with a movie like Zombi Holocaust (also known as Zombie Holocaust, and, in a severely edited version, Doctor Butcher M.D.)? I already think that a great deal of Italian horror is just an excuse for meaningless gore, and with a name like this, I didn’t really think I was going to get anything different. In fact, one of the reasons I grabbed this before going into quarantine was as a way to make myself watch this. I’d checked it out from the library before and just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

Really, this is everything you expected from a movie with any of these names, or any of the other names (Zombie 3, Island of the Last Zombies, Queen of the Cannibals) under which it was marketed. The bar is set pretty low here. There’s a lot of gore, a substantial amount of Day-Glo blood, and a soupçon of nudity. There’s not a great deal in the way of plot, at least in any way that would matter. Plot, after all, just gets in the way of the gore, blood, and tits.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reading Rainbow?

Film: The Babadook
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Being under lockdown has given me the opportunity to watch a lot of the movies I have bought in the hopes of eventually watching. In truth, some of these I inherited in a way as well. Movies on lists I am pursuing that I own are always low-priority, because I can always watch them whenever I want. Lack of access to libraries has changed that for me. It’s meant that now, to watch movies I haven’t seen, I’ve got a back stock that is ready to go. I’ve been working my way through them at a rate of between 8 and 10 per week (along with some movies I got from libraries before the lockdown). Today, it was time for The Babadook.

I had, of course, heard a great deal about The Babadook before watching it. It is, from what I’d heard, another example of the idea that women direct horror movies far better than they have traditionally been given credit for in the past. And, true to form, director Jennifer Kent has directed one feature-length film since this film came out in 2014. Seriously, I’m tired of banging this drum—someone give Jennifer Kent a script.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Space Adaptation Syndrome

Film: Pandorum
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Pandorum is one of those movies where I don’t exactly know where to start on breaking down the plot. It goes in a lot of directions initially, and it doesn’t always make a great deal of sense in the big picture. That said, I rather enjoyed this movie more than I expected to. In my head, I think I got this mixed up with Primer for some reason, and I wasn’t really that excited about watching another time travel movie after seeing both Looper and Triangle recently.

Anyway, Pandorum is a grimy outer space science fiction movie with a deep horror streak. We start with Bower (Ben Foster) waking up from long-term stasis and freeing himself. It takes him a little time to realize who he is and what is going on. Evidently, in the world of Pandorum being in hypersleep means temporary amnesia for any number of things, including name, location, and purpose. Eventually, Bower figures out that he is a part of the flight crew of a ship called Elysium and that things aren’t going well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Cautionary Tale?

Film: Monster
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Aside from the movies that have been on my Oscars list for a year or two, there is still a handful of movies I haven’t watched. Most of these are movies that I can’t find, but there are a couple I just keep putting off. In the case of Monster, it might be that I just didn’t really want to dive head-first into the world of Aileen Wuornos again. The 1001 Movies list is scant on documentaries, but over its history, two of those documentaries are about Aileen Wuornos. How much did I really want to dive into a slightly fictionalized version?

Because here’s the thing—I don’t know how fictionalized this is. The documentaries more or less tried to tell the story of Aileen Wuornos from her point of view, and essentially presented the case for someone deeply disturbed. Monster very much does the same thing. The real Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute who killed a series of Johns. As depicted here, her first victim was attempting to rape her, and she defended herself. Following this, Aileen (played in an Oscar-winning performance by Charlize Theron) essentially decides that all of her clients are going to kill her and she acts pre-emptively. She makes an exception for one person, and also kills another who was legitimately trying to help her.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

"Based on a True Story"

Film: The Conjuring
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Say what you will about The Conjuring, the producers and director James Wan made something that is terrifying for people of a particular mindset. The story behind the production is that this was handed an R-rating by the MPAA immediately. When asked what could be done to bring the rating down to PG-13, they were told that there was nothing they could do. The film is simply too scary to ever be rated PG-13. There’s no gore, no real violence, not much language, and no nudity. It’s just too scary to be seen by kids without supervision.

So is that really the case? It kind of is. There are some supremely scary moments in The Conjuring, and I appreciate that a great deal. The problem for me is that so much of what makes this movie scary for many people is completely lost on me. The claim is that this story is based on the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of paranormal investigators who have claimed to be involved in real hauntings. Well, that’s fine, but I don’t buy into the supernatural. I don’t doubt that they’ve had some interesting experiences, but for me, things like demonic possession and the like is about as real as pixies and leprechauns. When you don’t have that basic belief, a great deal of the impact of this story is lost.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Bungle in the Jungle

Film: Vinyan
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

A lot of movies are naturally combinations of other movies or of multiple ideas. Sometimes, those are unique combinations, or at least unexpected ones, while some are commonplace. There are plenty of movies that are essentially “Die Hard on a _______,” for instance. Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” Some movies are far more interesting combinations of movies. Vinyan, for instance, feels like the novel “The Lord of the Flies” combined with the last part of Apocalypse Now with a sizable dollop of Cannibal Ferox.

If you think that means we’re going to have white people traveling to the middle of nowhere and attacked by groups of native people, you’d be exactly right. We start with the tsunami in the mid-2000s that killed off a quarter of a million people. Among the dead is Joshua, the young son of French couple Jeanne (Emmanuelle Beart) and Paul Bellmer (Rufus Sewell). The couple has stayed in Thailand, and six months later, while at a fundraiser for an orphanage, Jeanne sees footage of a child that she is convinced is Joshua.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Everything All at Once

Film: Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor)
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

I have complained in the past about the fact that a lot of anime don’t have a great deal of exposition. I felt exactly the same way with Night Watch (also known as Nochnoy Dozor or Ночноы дозор if you prefer the Cyrillic), which is Russian and not Japanese. Night Watch is based on a novel, which is actually kind of reassuring. The problem with the movie is that it wants desperately to fit all of the material from the book in regardless of whether or not it has time to really help the audience understand it. A hell of a lot of concepts come flying out here right at the start and they aren’t fully explained except through a sort of osmosis.

So where do I start here? The basic premise of the movie is that there are forces of good and forces of evil in the world known as “Others.” The others are essentially human, but have a variety of powers and abilities like vampirism or being able to see future events. The “Light Others,” who are the good guys and the “Dark Others,” who are the bad guys have reached a truce. The truce is enforced by a group called the Night Watch (the good guys watching the bad guys) and a group called the Day Watch (the bad guys watching the good guys).

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Like Father, Like Son

Film: Son of Frankenstein
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

One of the great characters in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein is the local police inspector with the trick arm played by Kenneth Mars. I’d always considered him just a concoction of Brooks’s fevered imagination until today, when I watched Son of Frankenstein, the third movie in the series and the last, I believe to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. It turns out that just as the peasant played by Gene Hackman was a riff on Bride of Frankenstein rather than the original, the police inspector who had his arm ripped off by the monster is canon as well. They even play darts!

Awesomely-named Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) has inherited the family castle and has moved his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson, the character name being an obvious nod to Elsa Lanchester) and young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) to start life anew. The townspeople of the village of Frankenstein are none too happy that someone has returned to the family home, especially when that person is the son of the feared and hated Baron who created the Monster. The Frankensteins are given a cold reception by the townspeople, notably the Burgomaster (Lawrence Grant) and the aforementioned Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill).

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coffin Something Up

Film: The Oblong Box
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

You never quite know what you’re going to get with an adaptation. For instance, you might get something that is relatively accurate to the source material with some changes due to time constraints. Jaws, for instance, is similar to the book in a lot of respects (and better in most). You might get something with significant changes for one reason or another. Minority Report has the basic idea in common with the original short story, but little else. Major characters in the movie don’t exist at all in the story, and none of the characters in the film resemble their short story inspiration. And then you get a movie like The Oblong Box. This claims to be inspired from the Poe short story of the same name, and yet the only resemblance the film has to the story is the title and the presence of a coffin.

In the original story, a man encounters someone on a ship off the coast of South Carolina. The man in question is alleged to have a beautiful, young wife but is seen with a wife who is quite unattractive. The man also is traveling with the titular oblong box in which the narrator believes he has stored a piece of valuable art. When we get to the end of the story (yes, spoilers for a 150+ year old short story; deal with it), we learn that the man’s “wife” on the voyage was actually his servant. His wife died shortly before the trip, and it was her body in the oblong box, because, well Edgar Allen Poe.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Le Loup des Baskervilles

Film: Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups)
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Silly me thought Brotherhood of the Wolf was going to be a werewolf movie. It’s not; as the title of this review would suggest, it’s a great deal closer to the old Sherlock Holmes story of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Our story is going to be told in the past tense, as a sort of reminiscence of a noble named Marquis Thomas d’Apcher (Jacques Perrin as an old man, Jeremie Renier through the bulk of the movie). The reflection he’s going to give us is of this event in his past, when the province of Gevaudan was held in the grip of terror by a marauding monster that killed more than 100 people.

Enter Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist and taxidermist, who is exploring the flora and fauna of the area. He is intrigued by the stories of the creature and comes to investigate along with his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos!). What he learns is that the creature is evidently wolf-like, but much, much larger. He also meets a number of the locals who are properly noble and stuffy. This is particularly true of weasel-faced Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel), and decidedly untrue of Jean-Francois’s sister Marianne (Emilie Dequenne).

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Personal Demons

Film: The Wailing (Gok-seong)
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

I’ve said for a long time that one of the more interesting national cinemas going is South Korea. South Korean films, at least those that get exported, tend to be interesting, smart, and well-made; evidence Parasite. One of the genres in which South Korea excels is horror. The Wailing is one of those films that people point to not merely to suggest just how good South Korea’s film industry is, but as an example of their exemplary horror movies.

The real question about The Wailing is what kind of horror movie it is. Is it about possession? A haunting? Some sort of plague? It’s kind of all of those and none of those. We start in a small Korean village called Gok-seong (hence the Korean name of the film) where a rash of bizarre murders is taking place. Police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) is one of the people charged with investigating the crimes. What he discovers is that a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) has recently moved to the village, and the problems started soon after. He also hears rumors about the man that seem to coincide with disturbing dreams he’s been having.