Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE EXORCIST (1973)

The only thing backwards looking about the film is
Regan herself....
“Where is Regan?"
“In here. With us.”

1) One of the reasons this film is so brilliant--and the scare scenes so shocking--is how Friedkin approaches it almost as a police procedural.  The clinical way in which the story unfolds, and the way it progresses, mirrors a mystery story.  Hell, it’s probably the only reason Lee J. Cobb’s Lt. Kinderman is in the film!

2) Part of the reason the key scenes continue to shock decades later is that these scenes are shot with an almost documentary-like clinicalness and without music.  What Friedkin seems to be doing is forcing us to realize these things are happening just because awful things happen to everyday people, and they happen without drama or elaboration....and that elevates what should be a shocking effects scene into something that feels all the more grotesque.

3) Supposedly Friedkin wanted Jack Nicholson for Father Karras, and Stacy Keach had been cast.  Thank God he changed his mind and cast Jason Miller.  In a film full of great faces, Miller’s is the best.  His craggy features and sad eyes speaks volumes of his inner conflict and his past before he even utters a word.  And when he utters those words, it makes us sympathize with him immediately.
There is no way any of the other, more famous actors could
do better than Jason Miller.

4) Yes, the film can be a little plodding in the first act--but I love how Friedkin uses the parallel structure contrasting Ellen Burstyn’s Chris’ life of leisure and her loving relationship with Linda Blair’s Regan and Father Karras’s more austere life and complicated (but no less loving) relationship with his mother.  Friedkin doesn’t judge or come out one way or the other when examining these two lives, but allows us to decide who is using their time on earth more wisely.

5) Okay, I’ll call it--there’s no reason for that beginning sequence in Iraq and connecting Regan’s possession with it.  If anything, it detracts from the concept that this horrible thing is happening at random.

6) As I watched the Extended Director’s Cut, I can safely say I didn’t care for the spider walk sequence.  It seems to detract from the very gradual and subtle turning of Regan into a vessel for Pazuzu, and doesn’t have nearly the impact the other scare scenes have.
One of the single most iconic images in 70's cinema...

7) You have to give Blair credit.  Yes, she’s a limited actress (something we cannot write off due to her youth once you take into account her full body of work), but she does work to make the bond between her and her mother, and her physical acting as she slowly falls under Pazuzu’s control is very effective.

8) As scary and disturbing as the scenes of Regan possessed are, the single most uncomfortable scene for me involves the spinal tap and encephalogram.  The sheer quietness of the scene makes her cries of pain sound like rifle shot.

9) One of the things Friedkin excels at (and still excels at, as witness from some of his recent efforts) is making the best use of limited spaces.  So much of this movie takes place in a single bedroom--hell, there’s really only two or three sets where most of the action takes place--that it needs someone of Friedkin’s spacial creativity to break up the visual monotony.

10) Reasons This Film Could Not Be Made #57: The bittersweet ending, where Father Karras knowingly sacrifices himself by damning himself to Hell, would never stand. And because it would never stand, the film’s ambivalent nature would collapse in on itself in an instant.

Overall...still pretty hard to watch after 40 years, a seminal movie for students of horror.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

"I am the Devil, and I endorse this message."
"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

1) I am loathe to call this a horror movie, even though there are horrific things within these 91 minutes.  The combination of Neil Jordan’s surrealism, the source material by Angela Carter and the unconventional narrative structure makes this something singularly unique that has to be experienced so that each person can determine what it is to them.

2) And speaking of horrific things--I don’t care how much it’s obviously an animatronic, the transformation of Stephen Rea’s Young Groom into a wolf is absolutely grotesque, and pure nightmare fuel.

3) Of course, one of the amazing things about this film is how Jordan took a feminist sociological text and turned it into a film that thoroughly disguises that it’s an anthology film with big heaping piles of dream logic woven in.

4) Casting Angela Lansbury as Granny was a masterstroke.  Lansbury is able to walk the thin line between being a kindly relic of an older age (even in the medieval setting her segments occur in) and being a very sinister presence.  Thus we sort of agree with Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen’s mother that the girl spends too much time with her, but also feel awful when the fate we know is coming for Granny comes.
"Crackd mirror on the wall/who's the wolfiest of them all?"

5) I’ll be the first to admit that the dream-within-a-dream-where-stories-are-told structure makes the narrative unclear--but that might be exactly what Jordan intended.  He wants us to be disoriented and confused, just as we would be if we were dreaming this narrative.

6) Just as I think Lansbury’s casting was genius, so do I think the casting of  Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen is brilliant.  She is able to convey that weird mix of awkwardness, innocence and confidence of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and manages to reflect what others try to feed her--thus she becomes a miniature of Granny when interacting with her mother, and her mother when interacting with the boy in the village who is courting her.  It’s a tiny little complex performance that is a perfect fit for what Jordan and Carter are trying to achieve.

7) I think every movie could be vastly improved by having Devil Terence Stamp rock up in a Rolls Royce driven by a female albino chauffer holding a skull to hand out gifts.
/"Nightmare FUUUUUEEEEEL!"

8) For a film with a number of werewolf transformations spread out over its various stories, I am struck by how Jordan makes sure each one is unique in and of itself.  While most people would remember the ‘wolf out of the mouth’ transformation that became the film’s poster, the one that’s the most visually striking is the mass transform taking place in a shattered mirror.  That Jordan was able to give us this variety in a film that’s obviously low budget is amazing.

9) A lot of the main thread was shot on set, as were key scenes of the individual stories....and I think this once more feeds into the dream-like tone Jordan is going for.  When the skies are colored just a little bit wrong, you have to accept that you’re not in anything close to reality.

10) The last story, featuring Danielle Dax, is so sad thanks to Dax’s physical performance.  And even though the story says more about the teller than the character within, it provides an excellent coda to the film and a rationale for Rosaleen’s decision at the end.

Overall...a singularly original piece of work that weaves a number of disparate elements to produce something that stands out from other horror films of the period.  I cannot recommend this film enough.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ten Statements About....CHRISTINE (1983)

Just a reminder--someone drove this car while it was on fire!
"Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I'll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that's what we have."

1) The first thing that strikes me is how quiet this film is for a Carpenter film.  The music cues are few and far between during the first hour, and we don’t hear that signature Carpenter synth whine until that hour is almost over.

2) Good ol’ Keith Gordon.  It’s obvious that Arnie is something of a nothing role, and the script is very confused as to whether he’s meant to be a dupe of Christine or a willing co-conspirator (something we never get resolved, even up to his ultimate fate), but Gordon does everything he can with this role.  What little there is that elevates Arnie from a series of stereotypes is all Gordon.

3) This is another film which is specifically meant to be a period piece (it’s set in 1978), but is not enhanced in any way by its setting.  I suspect Carpenter does this to remain ‘true’ to the novel, but there’s nothing in the novel that demands that period be used.  And given how almost everyone is styled in the 80‘s (check out the hair on Alexandra Paul’s Leigh!), it’s a pointless exercise.
"But Mr. Kot-tah said I could beat on the nerd...."

4) You know, I would accept the seriousness of the bullies in this movie if they weren’t played by a bunch of goofballs.  William Ostrander’s portrayal of Buddy, in particular, is laughable; the man comes off as Cosplay John Travolta.  Thankfully, their presence is limited and their tickets punched before they get too annoying.

5) You wanna know why I love practical effects?  Because there’s an immediacy to these set pieces you just can’t get with CGI.  When you realize that at one point in this movie an actual human being drove a car that was set entirely on fire after another human being blew up an actual gas station, you appreciate what you’re seeing all the more.

6) I really liked Robert Proskey’s Darnell.  While he comes off as very antagonistic, it’s obvious that he’s not.  This makes his death after Christine’s killing spree an indicator of how evil ‘she’ is, as he’s drawing his shotgun to get at the perceived thief, not the car itself.
"Stupid movie...I'll become a director and show everyone how
to direct with style....stupid movie...." 

7) Some people just have old faces...right, Harry Dean Stanton?

8) I find it fascinating how Carpenter has Gordon visually go through different levels of classic 50‘s rebellious teen.  He goes from typical geek to the windbreaker of James Dean to the leather of Marlon Brando the deeper into his mania he gets.  It’s like Arnie becomes symbiotically linked with Christine and is pulled backwards in time psychologically by her.

9)  I’m not sure if Carpenter resisted the urge for Alexandra Paul’s Leigh and John Stockwell’s Dennis to grow romantically close in the third act (it’s been years since I read King’s novel, but my gut says he did pull the trigger on this)...but it never quite works out.  Now granted, this might be because of Paul’s rather stilted performance, but there’s still a whiff of ‘it’s in the script’ to this development.

10) I think that the film benefits from Christine being established as evil right on the assembly line, as it throws out all the ambiguity of the book’s reasoning for her becoming this steel-and-glass ghost.  By just letting us know that Christine is a malevolent entity right from the start, she becomes a motorized version of Michael Meyers, and we accept that its malevolence just exists.

Overall...not the greatest of Carpenter’s films, and arguably the beginning of his decline, it still has some merit thanks to the practical stunt work and the performance by Gordon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY: FORSAKEN (2004)

For some guys, this might actually be a fantasy....
1) This film automatically gets a few points over its predecessor by the use of Tony Todd as the main villian Stark.  With his literal hawk-like features, smooth voice and imposing figure, he is exactly what we need instead of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch and a shape-changing demon.

2) ...and speaking of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m somewhat pleased that John Light has a) less screen time, b) isn’t made out to be a heroic figure and c) acts kinda sinister at points, starting with his first act in the film.

3) If I was irked by the way writer/director Joel Soisson tried to force his story into the continuity of the first three films, I’m not as annoyed here--but still annoyed.  While I like the idea that angels can also be killed by shooting them through their third eye, there are other additions that bugged the crap out of me, particularly the hierarchy of hell Jason Scott Lee’s Dillon rockets through at one point and the revelation that the voices inside Alison’s head is a specific personage from the first film.
Sometimes in Heaven you need a neckband....

4) I’m sorry, but Kari Wuhrer’s Alison this time seems to be an entirely different person.  Yeah, I’m pleased she actually displays more than one emotion this outing, but the way she goes on about her history as a theology student and faith and all this seems at odds with the broken girl we met in the previous film.  And when the film suddenly decides she’s an action heroine, well...it’s a disconnect.

5) Once again, I appreciate how this film decides not to hide that it’s shot in Rumania, but even more so than the last one there’s no reason why this movie has to take place in Rumania.  Hell, given the fact that our heroine is from Chicago, it’s to the film’s advantage not to be set in Rumania.

6) So we’ve got Jason Scott Lee playing a hitman named Dillon because...a supernatural thriller about warring angelic factions needs a hitman?  It certainly does detract from the otherworldliness of the angels, as it reduces Stark to the same level as a mafia don.

7) You know, introducing these lesser angels called ‘drones’ doesn’t make the film scarier; it actually lessens the awe of the angels from the previous films.  The only thing the angels needed up until this film were humans at the brink of death, and only then to operate technology they don’t understand.  By having the angels here rely on what amounts to badly dressed zombies, Soisson doesn’t enhanced or open up the mythology.  On the contrary, he diminishes it.
As if I needed more evidence that Twinkies are the devil's
handiwork....

8) Soisson still hasn’t learned to avoid cliches.  There are long stretches where I was able to predict both the action and the dialogue of the movie exactly.  This extends to the ending, which is supposed to be chilling but ends up bland.

9) Given what we learned about the biology of angels, there is no way that Alison is what she is revealed to be.  If she was, the back story revealed in the previous film (which is called back to here) could not happen.

10) I have to wonder if the idiots who made Legion saw, and was inflenced by it more than the earlier, better entries in the series.  There’s a scene set in a seemingly abandoned church in the middle of a graveyard that mirrors that entire film.

Overall...marginally better because of Todd’s presence and a better performance by Wuhrer, it still stands as a pretty terrible film and a bad coda to what started out as a promisingly great film series.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ten Statements About....PATRICK (1978)

He's got...Marty Feldman eyes (and one Hell of a unibrow)...
1) While it’s obvious that this is notorious Australian producer Anthony Ginnane’s rip-off of Carrie, let’s give screenwriter Everett DeRoche and director Richard Franklin an A for effort in doing their best to make it something unique in and of itself without losing sight of what they’re supposed to be doing.

2) Boy, are all the guys in this film dicks.  Whether we’re talking the husband who tries to play rape Susan Penhaligon’s Kathy or the Cosplay Jim Carrey boyfriend who brags about their sex life to a cop or the doctor who casually kills a frog to make a point, they’re an unpleasant assortment of characters.

3) The spitting angle is unintentionally silly, and is thankfully downplayed when Kathy unintentionally speaks one of the film’s funnier lines.  Besides, the angle where Robert Thompson’s Patrick communicates with Kathy via the electric typewriter is way creepier.

4) While I don’t think it’s as much of a liability as in other horror films, this is a very long, very slow moving film.  Franklin seems to be more interested in creating atmosphere than moving the story along, resulting in some grinding of the plot.  If it lost roughly five to ten minutes, it might be improved.
Somebody used that Real Doll a bit too hard....

5) ...and my nominee for what could be lost are those involving Rod Mullinar’s Ed being stuck in an elevator.  It happens suddenly at the beginning of the second act, and we’re frequently treated to cutaways of him sitting around in this elevator with his hands bandaged thanks to a previous burn scene.  Those scenes take up what seems to be an awful lot of time in that third act, and could be cut as many of the scenes around them conveys the problem Kathy faces in locating Ed.

6) It’s a little thing, but those weird, almost comical sound effects that sometime accompany the manifestation of Patrick’s powers distract from the film as a whole.  The sound effect accompanying Robert Helpmann’s Dr. Roget trying to take an axe to the door of Patrick’s room is unintentionally in its ‘boingcrackle’ hilarity.

7) Keeping in mind that Franklin probably never expected his film to be viewed in a high definition format, some of the practical effects just don’t hold up.  There’s a dummy in particular, the after effects of an electrocution, that looks like, well, a not very convincing replica of the woman who is electrocuted.

8) I really have to wonder how much of Patrick is Robert Thompson, and if there was a dummy involved.  Thompson is only required to move/react for maybe two minutes and the rest of it is Patrick lying in bed literally staring into space.  If that performance is all Thompson, it is impressive.
Don't try to win a staring contest with Patrick...

9)  Okay, I get that Penhaligon was English, and Ginnane and Franklin tried to make the film sound less Australian for international markets....but she sounded Australian, which made the whole ‘first time working in this country’ thing make no sense.

10) While I’m sure Franklin intended the electrocution death to be the big scare, the one moment that made me jump was much more subtle, involving Dr. Roget and a frog.

Overall...a fairly interesting film (and a historically important one given its place in Ozploitation history and the career of Franklin) that may be deliberate in its pace but does manage to entertain.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY: UPRISING (2004)

"Yes, Watson--I mean Alison--making this sequel was
elementary."
"God created the Earth in seven days.  This is the eighth."

1) So we go from Vigo Mortensen’s wonderfully quirky and creepy Lucifer in a key supporting role to....Cosplay Bernard Cumberbatch in what amounts to a starring role.

Not to evoke a cliche, but O, How The Mighty Have Fallen.

2) This is so obviously a stand alone horror film retrofitted to become a Prophecy sequel, and no amount of references to ‘monkeys’ and an AIM Chat with ‘Joseph_1995‘(Really, movie?  REALY?) will convince me otherwise.

3) I’m one of the few men of my generation who doesn’t get Kari Wuhrer and actually doesn’t find her attractive at all.  And her Alison doesn’t quite work.  She’s required to be this broken woman, and the most Wuhrer manages is to appear half asleep.  She’s barely a type, let alone a character.

4) The reason the revelation concerning John Light’s Reigert doesn’t work is simple--writer/director Joel Soisson tips his hand waaaay too early, relying on our assuming things based on the original trilogy to hide his real identity.  Plus, you know, he’s the only guy who wears all black, so there’s that.
This pretty much is all Kari Wuhrer does throughout the
whole film....

5) While I give the film credit for actually setting their Rumanian shot film in Rumania, there’s no reason for it to be set in Rumania....especially given that one of your main characters is American, and the other two are British (what, Lucifer doesn’t know how to speak Rumanian?).

6) Okay, I get that there could be body swapping demons in this universe because the mythology never said they didn’t exist.  But it’s obviously a cost cutting measure (you know, like shooting in Rumania) to avoid any sort of special effects....

7) You know, Soisson was involved in the original trilogy.  So he has to be aware of how, in his effort to force his film into Prophecy continuity, he contradicts some of the mythology of those films.  Justifying how the demon Belial kills people by ripping out their hearts because ‘the heart is the seat of the soul’ only muddles what was established in the original trilogy.  And deciding suddenly that angels don’t have bodies and have to grab ‘skin suits’ is insanely silly.
Yep...pretty much how I felt watching this crap....

8) So why exactly did you hire Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley and shove him in a nothing role just so you can have him have a short conversation with Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch?  It’s not like the conversation is, you know, interesting or anything.

9)  Especially given that the first film concerned ‘the original Bible,’ you know what would be an interesting MacGuffin for these last two films?  Anything but another crazy supernatural Bible.

10) I think the biggest problem with this film is that it seems to toss away the themes of faith and religion in favor of what amounts to a haunted house story and the way the tragedy contained within the house affects the children.  All the Prophecy gewgaws draped over the film can’t hide how gratuitous and inconsequential they are.

Overall...an awful, badly written and directed film that tries to hide its lack of ideas and characterization behind the name of a much more intriguing film.  Pretty much the bottom of the barrel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ten Statements About....PHENOMENA (1984)

It's Jennifer Connelly playing with a blog...there's a fetish for
that, isn't there?
1) You want some proof that Dario Argento is interested solely in the moment and not in the story?  Look at how the killer turns out to be a character who literally appears in the beginning, disappears completely from the film, only to reappear in the third act to behave totally in opposition to how her behavior was in that long ago first scene.

2) Supposedly, Argento intended this to be ‘a fairy tale for adults’....and once you know that information, you can see the Brothers Grimm influence throughout, from the evil house in the woods to the kindly old wise man to the guardian spirit saving our heroine.  Okay, granted the guardian spirit in this case is a mass of bugs, but still....

3) You know, people always focus on the weird gore when it comes to Argento and they don’t realize the man has a real eye.  There are a number of compositions in this movie that use color to draw the eye.  Some of the shots of Jennifer Connelly’s Jennifer walking through these vast fields really pop because of Argento’s decision to have Connelly wear an Alice-In-Wonderland-style all white dress.  And speaking of Connelly....
"So I'm going to slash Daria Nicoldi and bite Jennifer
Connelly's thumb...anything else, Don?"

4) ...for someone assaying her second film role in a movie whose director is notorious for putting his female leads through the wringer, Connelly really acquits herself amazingly well.  She manages to both be creepy and otherworldly while also keeping the audience empathy, primarly through the genuinely sweet interactions she has both with Donald Pleasance’s  McGregor and Federica Mastroianni’s Sophie.

5) What a freakin’ weird soundtrack, switching from heavy metal songs to long time Argento collaborators Goblin to cues from the original Dawn of The Dead.  Admittedly there are moment where this strange Frankensteined things works, but there are other times when you know the soundtrack should be underplaying things and Argento has chosen to have Lemmy from Motorhead screaming in your ear.

6) It’s interesting how Patrick Bauchau looks vaguely sinister even when he’s playing a good guy cop who’s actively interested in helping Jennifer.  Of course, this being a film set in Argento’s Universe, he ends up being not so competent, and dies in the third act.
It's a woman's head going through plate glass....there's a
fetish for that somewhere...oh, yeah, in Argento's house!

7) It’s obvious that even though Tenebrae was made between this and the two ‘Mother’ films, this movie is much more influenced by the look and feel of Suspiria and Inferno.  Argento is still exploring monochromatic compositions and unconventional set-ups, and his sometimes infuriating habit of throwing stuff in not because it strengthens the story but because it contributes to the feel he’s trying to achieve (I’m looking at you, sleep walking Jennifer Connelly) is very much in the forefront here.

8) Even though she slashed Daria Nicoldi and bit Jennifer Connelly’s thumb, I am struck by the performance of Tanga as McGregor’s chimpanzee assistant Inga.  Whether through intelligence or manipulation by her owner, Tanga manages to convey actual emotion, especially affection towards her master and rage at his killer.  And while we can see Inga as one of Jennifer’s protectors, we also realize that she is acting out of grief for the man who showed her care and affection.

9)  Considering what Argento has his then-wife Nicoldi do, and what happens to his daughter Fiore...well, he must have conflicted feelings about his family.

10) You know, given how much is made of how sinister Dalila Di Lazzaro’s Headmistres is and how antagonistic she is to Jennifer, having her literally drop out of the picture whole makes no sense.  She doesn’t even have enough screen time to qualify as a red herring.

Overall...one of those films that made Argento’s reputation before he went diving in the shit barrel, it’s an essential view for people interested in what we all see in the man, and for people curious about seeing Jennifer Connelly at her very beginnings.