Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/27 – 10/28


Thing from Another World, The (1951)
(3rd viewing) d. Nyby, Christian (USA) 87min
Along with The Day the Earth Stood Still, this represented the first wave of extraterrestrial visitor movies and with producer Howard Hawks standing behind longtime editor Nyby’s rookie effort (closely behind, some might hasten to say), a classic of sci-fi cinema was born. A team of military and scientific minds gather at the North Pole when a UFO is discovered in the ice, as well as an encased alien lifeform. As 60 years of creature features have taught us, that ice is gonna melt and “things” are gonna go crazy. There’s little I can add that hasn’t been said before and better, but I will say that I was struck on this viewing of just how much information – both plotwise and character – is packed into Charles Lederer’s dialogue (with uncredited assistance by Ben Hecht). The rapid-fire exchanges maintain a fever-pitch, keeping the early expository scenes humming until James Arness’ monster action takes over. Great stuff.

Thing, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. van Heijningen Jr., Matthijs (USA) 103min
Ever since the production announcement of the prequel/remake to John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece (itself a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks classic), I’ve wavered between soul-preserving pessimism and cautious optimism. After all, setting the action at the Norwegian camp three days prior the events shown in Carpenter’s 1982 film is a novel and worthy approach, and it seemed from all accounts that everyone involved in the production revered their cinematic source material and were intent on getting it right. Sadly, they get it wrong in two fundamental ways: 1) in trying to outdo Rob Bottin’s miraculous practical effects with “CGI-enhancement” and 2) the introduction of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s paleontologist/final girl to-be character. Regarding the former, this supercharged version of the space creature is completely inconsistent from the incarnation that will in 72 hours menace the residents of Outpost 31: it moves too fast, nimbly drops off limbs, attacks at completely random times... While the ’82 version took its “man is the safest place to hide” tagline to heart, here there’s no reason for it to hide since it can overpower and destroy anything in its path. Winstead does her best, but she’s just wrong for an overly cliché role that is wrong for the film in general – the smart young empowered woman who comes up with all the answers about everything. The venture is not a total loss, managing a few effective sequences and an impressive aural assault (full marks for Rick Hromadka’s shrieking creature effects), but in the end the naysayers were right: best to have left MacReady’s legacy alone.


Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Joost, Henry/Schulman, Ariel (USA) 85min
I enjoyed the original PA quite a bit, having seen it before the hype. I enjoyed PA2 a little less, only because I felt the demonic possession plotline suffered from being overly explained and justified. With this installment, which takes us back to 1988 where we encounter the female leads from the previous two films as children and how they come into contact with the supernatural presence for the first time. I agree with another reviewer’s assessment that the scares here are the most explicit of the trilogy, and on that level it works a treat. As has been the case with all the PA films, one’s enjoyment level is directly proportionate to the degree of suspension of disbelief one is able to generate in order to go along for the ride. For me, it was a satisfying enough diversion with legitimate tension developed, but it’s far from flawless.


Devil’s Rain, The (1975)
(2nd viewing) d. Fuest, Robert (USA) 86min
This pokey Satanic thriller survives on the strength of Ernest Borgnine’s captivating performance as a cult leader and some memorable makeup f/x, particularly in the awesome (if overlong) meltdown finale. (Borgnine’s goat demon makeup is pretty impressive as well). There’s some gobbledygook about a mysterious volume and William Shatner’s ancestor’s family curse, but really it’s all about seeing Ida Lupino, John Travolta (in his first film role) and Keenan Wynn wearing eyeless masks doing battle with the likes of Eddie Albert, Tom Skerrit and Joan Prather, which isn’t very interesting when someone isn’t melting…which is most of the time.

Ruins, The (2008) (3rd viewing) d. Smith, Carter (USA) 93min
Based on Scott Smith’s bestselling novel, this highly effective squirmer manages to provide nasty, gory goodies by the handful without skimping on believable and identifiable characters. A quartet of vacationing American college grads (Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) take a break from soaking up the booze and summer sun for an impromptu expedition to an ancient Mayan temple. Upon their arrival, they find themselves trapped by the locals atop the titular ruins, which soon reveals itself as the breeding grounds for a particularly nasty species of plant life. The notion of “killer vines” may not initially strike fear into the hearts of the strong, but screenwriter Smith (who adapted his source material) and director Carter Smith (no relation) have delivered a genre movie that’s as concerned with the physical and mental deterioration of its main characters as it is with grossing viewers out or dazzling with effects. The capable young cast admirably scours the emotional spectrum, devolving from entitled hedonists to cold-hearted savages, hysterical naysayers and/or near-catatonics. For the mainstream genre fan looking for an alternative to the steady stream of 80s classic remakes, you could do a lot worse.

What’s kind of remarkable regarding these three seemingly unrelated features is that they all traffic in the dubious subject matter of humans torturing other humans, and yet all three bring a degree of sophistication, intelligence and individuality to the proceedings that separates them from the likes of other, lesser cinematic exercises in degradation. It also helped that I knew absolutely nothing about the trio’s content – though I was aware of their “shocking” reputations – as it allowed them to do their jobs unfettered by expectation or foreknowledge of what was to unfold before my wondering eyes.

Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Six, Tom (Netherlands) 88min
Centering around Laurence R. Harvey’s rotund, bug-eyed misfit’s unhealthy obsession with the notorious midnight movie sensation, Six’s follow-up knowingly goes further in every respect than its predecessor and it is this glorious excess that brings the film’s black humor to the fore. It’s hard to recall the last time someone married such vile screen imagery with such a sense of glee, including the viewer in the joke instead of merely assaulting us. Harvey (in his screen debut) proves incredibly adept at mining both the empathy and villainy of his monster – all the more impressive considering he is given no dialogue to work with. A legitimately great sequel to a wildly divisive film.

Serbian Film, A (2010) (1st viewing) d. Spasojevic, Srdjan (Serbia) 104min
When former porno star Srdan Todorovic is approached by mysterious entrepreneur Sergej Trifunovic about doing a new feature, the down-on-his-luck cocksman agrees to saddle up for another go-round…not knowing what – and who – he’s being asked to do. A surprisingly accomplished feature, considering the odious and dark places we are unknowingly led, and one that cannot simply be written off as mere crass exploitation. Not saying it’s an “important” film, but credit must be given to Spasojevic for creating a legitimate, nuanced film that elevates its reprehensible subject matter to a place beyond blind knee-jerk moral-high-ground rejection.

Woman, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. McKee, Lucky (USA) 103min
Working from a script by himself and bad boy novelist Jack Ketchum, McKee unfolds a haunting fairy tale about a feral female captured by Sean Bridgers’ evil ogre of a family man, keeping her in his workshed while his complicit family pitches in to conceal and contain their new prize. There is some extreme, uncompromising violence and degradation on hand, but the real damage is inflicted on a psychological level (a Ketchum staple) with the weak-hearted preyed upon by the smiling monster dressed as Man. Great performances, and if taken as a mythic parable as opposed to realistic drama, it definitely goes down easier on a narrative level.


First Time Views: 54
Repeats: 53
Total Films: 107

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