Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fool's Views (6/4 – 6/17)

Hey troops,

Saddled as we were here at the Doc’s office with getting a certain show (Inherit the Wind) up on its feet these past couple weeks, there wasn’t much time for viddying (in fact, half of the flicks below were screened via laptop during the hefty hour-plus commute traveling to and from rehearsals). However, in addition to catching up on some recent fare – a mixed bag indeed – we also revisited two underviewed (some might say justifiably so) drive-in horror efforts as well as taking in another virgin viewing from the great Akira Kurosawa, who might end up becoming my director project for the year. Lots of his stuff I still need to see and even more I need to revisit.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



My Soul To Take
(1st viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA)

I first heard about this feature via the pages of HorrorHound, where Craven described it as being a project where he was given complete creative freedom to do whatever he wanted. If that truly ended up being the case, the man should never be left unsupervised again because not since the doldrum days of Deadly Friend or Shocker has the writer/director so profoundly bungled the task at hand. The scattered yarn features a revived serial killer stalking a group of youths who were all born the night that he was shot dead by police 17 years prior. Lazy, sloppy, often incoherent plotting takes turns with snoozy kills, with Max Theirot’s social reject acquiring the consciousness of his expired peers for no apparent reason or payoff. A real strikeout.

Skin I Live in, The
(1st viewing) d. Almodovar, Pedro (Spain)

Stylistic and visually dynamic dark fantasy about an eminent plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas, in fine form) who loses his wife in a car crash, shortly after which his emotionally precarious daughter is sexually assaulted at a party. These two tragic events spark the remainder of the eye-popping narrative, which deserves to unfold organically without any further extrapolation on my part. However, I will say that one should probably check one’s logic circuits at the door, because several plot machinations don’t hold up well to close scrutiny, as dramatically delicious as they might be. The extraordinarily fetching Elena Anaya (Room in Rome), when not sporting her birthday suit, spends a welcome amount of time in a skintight body stocking – a seemingly exploitative move that achieves deeper resonance with repeat viewings.

Take Shelter
(1st viewing) d. Nichols, Jeff (USA)

Oil rig worker Michael Shannon starts experiencing horrific visions of an apocalyptic storm to come – is he a prophet or merely going off the deep end? Nichols, who directed his own script, keeps us guessing at all times, injecting Shannon’s schizophrenic mother (Kathy Baker) and a healthy dose of self-doubt into the mix, further complicated by his protagonist’s refusal to confide in an understandably frustrated wife Jessica Chastain. Things come to a head when Shannon begins expanding the backyard tornado shelter, an endeavor that strains not only the family finances, but the understanding of his community. A slow burn to be sure, but Nichols and his star hold our sympathies and attention throughout.

True Nature
(1st viewing) d. Steele, Patrick (USA)

Having heard about this supernatural thriller for several years on the interwebs, I finally reached out to writer/director Steele who revealed that they are still struggling to secure distribution but was gracious enough to pass along a review copy. Having finally viewed it firsthand, the DVD companies’ reticence is perfectly understandable, as this is a difficult film to categorize and harder still to sell. Within its intriguing premise (young woman Marianne Porter mysteriously returns home after a year-long disappearance, crippled with disturbing visions…or are they memories?), there is much to equally recommend and repel. Nature has a glossy, polished look, as well as a notably different spin on the vengeful ghost story. However, there are more than a few issues to be had with Steele’s plot and character motivations, and the slow burn may in fact be too slow for where it ultimately leads us. For every great atmospheric moment of horror (of which there are several), there’s another that comes off as contrived, especially with regard to Porter’s parents. These are not game-enders, but they do provide drag on an already deliberately paced feature. Nevertheless, I hope some enterprising distributor picks it up soon so that fans can weigh in for themselves.

Twice-Told Tales
(2nd viewing) d. Salkow, Sidney (USA)

Mildly engaging trio of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s supernatural stories that acquires the star (Vincent Price) of American International’s Poe series, but director Salkow displays little of Roger Corman’s enthusiastic storytelling zeal. (The opening image of a rather limp skeleton hand opening a rather limp volume doesn’t inspire much confidence.) In the first story, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” old coots Price and Sebastian Cabot (via some dodgy old-age makeup) discover a youth-restoring elixir. When it also revives their long-dead sweetheart Mari Blanchard, romantic rivalries are sparked anew. “Rappuccini’s Daughter,” the best of the bunch, offers the dark fable of an embittered scientist (Price) who infuses daughter Joyce Taylor with the essence of a toxic plant, making her touch lethal to human contact. All this plays havoc with suitor Brett Halsey’s social life, as he learns that his first kiss with the lovely lass could be his last. The final tale, an incredibly truncated version of “The House of the Seven Gables,” follows the scheming Pynchon family searching the ancestral mansion for a hidden inheritance, amidst family curses, ghostly music, and otherworldly lovers. This dramatically uneven segment features spectral effects both impressive (model houses imploding in slow motion) and ridiculous (Price lamely throttled by a disembodied skeleton hand). As anthology films go, this is by no means a disaster, just not terribly inspired.

Undead, The
(2nd viewing) d. Corman, Roger

I’ve been meaning to revisit this largely ignored Corman feature (surprising, considering how well the majority of the B-king’s AIP horror features have been kept alive via MGM’s Midnight Movies collection) for a while now, first brought to my attention by Bruce Lanier Wright’s excellent tome Nightwalkers: Gothic Horror Movies and procured via the internet gray market a few years back. Inspired by the Bridey Murphy phenomena of the ’50s, screenwriters Charles Griffith and Mark Hanna introduce to us streetwalker Pamela Duncan, hired by a spiritualist to explore her past lives through hypnosis. We follow her back through the ages to a non-specified time – let’s call it fairy tale land – where Duncan is accused of witchery, a charge furthered by romantic rival Allison Hayes (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), who actually is a witch. Along the way, we also encounter thickheaded minstrel/gravedigger Mel Welles (Little Shop of Horrors), Billy Barty as Hayes’ grating silent-laughing imp, and inimitable character actress Dorothy Neumann as helpful hag Meg Maud. It’s a whole lot of nonsense, but like the majority of Corman’s efforts, it’s well paced and entertaining nonsense, directed with energy and vision.

Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to discuss the three features below, as they were submitted in competition for the Elvira’s Horror Hunt film festival, the opening round of which will take place during HorrorHound Weekend Indianapolis 2012. (I’m on the selection committee.) But I can say that I watched them, along with the 30 short films also in competition.

Awakened, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Simon, Lou / Villalba, Douglas
Day Job (2012) (1st viewing) d. O'Shea, Dave
Severed Footage (2012) (1st viewing) d. Arnott, Don


Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
(1st viewing) d. Rapaport, Michael

Not being a hip-hop fan, I didn’t know much about the influential musical group prior to watching this fascinating and vibrant documentary, but I’m almost inclined to seek out some of their material based on the high marks their peers and fans give them herein. A terrific passion piece by actor Rapaport, who serves as moderator for many of the interview sessions.

Green Lantern
(1st viewing) d. Campbell, Martin

Recalling my comments on The Avengers from a few weeks back, there’s little wonder or magic to today’s greenscreen and CGI-filled superhero films, and while Ryan Reynolds provides a winking charm to hotshot pilot/reluctant superhero Hal Jordan, there’s more fizzle than sizzle going on here. Watching Peter Sarsgaard wrestling under massive facial prosthetics is more diverting than any energy-formed green roller coasters the keyboard clickers can conjure up.

High and Low
(1st viewing) d. Kurosawa, Akira

Loosely based on Ed McBain’s novel King’s Ransom, this electrifying crime thriller features Toshiro Mifune as a wealthy businessman who finds himself morally conflicted when kidnappers abduct his chauffeur’s son mistaking the child for Mifune’s, but demand the same ransom regardless. At once a terrific, meticulous detective story, examination of how social perception can be manipulated, and study of one man’s financial implosion resulting in his emotional salvation, this is a must-see.

2012 Totals to date: 251 films, 214 1st time views, 139 horror, 71 cinema

The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein


  1. As you might expect, my reaction to The Skin I Live In is complicated. I like it a lot, but there are a whole crapload of troubling elements for me. I find myself making allowances for it because the filmmaking is so assured. I don't know if you've read my write up, but I'll invite you to do so if you'd like my further take (since I don't want to clutter your comments with spoilers).

    You're kinder to Twice Told Tales than I am. Hawthorne really resists the AIP treatment, especially given that the make more of an attempt at faithful adaptation than they ever did with Poe. Not one of my favorites.

    You liked Take Shelter better than I did, too. I thought it was kind of a mess that wanted its cake and eat it too. Michael Shannon was amazing, but the movie wastes the suspense potential of the scenes in the shelter and I hate the ending.

    Also, Ryan Reynolds is an off-putting actor. One man's "winking charm" is this woman's self-satisfied dudebro smarm. Not a fan. Green Lantern is faring a LOT better in the Cartoon Network's animated show (which is really excellent, by the way).

    High and Low is pretty great. Have you seen The Bad Sleep Well? That should be your next stop if you've already seen the samurai films.

  2. I will absolutely check out your TSILI write-up, because I'm sure you'll have some great observations. I was pretty forgiving while watching, but when it was over, the logic police were pulling up in full force.

    Huh, I didn't think I was being all that kind to TTT. I went back to check if it was as meh as I remembered and yep, it is.

    I liked TAKE SHELTER for its slow burn, but I also saw the ending coming a mile off and was bummed about that. Thing is, I don't think I'd ever need to see it again - got all it had to offer in one viewing.

    I can see the dudebro offensiveness of Reynolds, but he doesn't overly irk me. I think he's as shallow as a petri dish, but considering the material he was working with, it somehow felt appropriate.

    I have not seen THE BAD SLEEP WELL. And now I will.

  3. Glad you enjoyed High and Low. That's one of my favorite Kurosawa films. If you haven't caught up with Stray Dog, that also comes highly recommended.

    And I was introduced to Corman's The Undead by Mystery Science Theater 3000, so it's pretty much a given that I was unable to give it anything resembling a fair shake. I should probably give it a second look at some point.

  4. Not sure why H n' L got away from me for so long, as it seems to be universally beloved. I've had STRAY DOG on my radar for a while, but have yet to take it in. Have a feeling it's on the short list now, along with TBSL.

    UNDEAD is not a great movie by any stretch, but it's a fun little cheapie programmer. Not as goofy or outlandish as BUCKET OF BLOOD or LITTLE SHOP, but you can tell it's from the same Corman DNA.