Friday, April 18, 2008


I feel like I’ve seen to many Horror flicks of late. That explains my personality, somewhat flaccid.
Always in search of a ‘find’. I always hope to be surprised and see something of quality, but alas, I rarely do.

For the record: If say you love the Saw or Hostile flicks, or if you find Rosemary’s Baby not fast or bloody enough, then you won’t agree with any of my thoughts.

There’s a whole bunch of junk I tried to watch, but didn’t finish, I won’t write about.  

Like just last night, I watched the first half-hour of P2, there was nothing wrong with it and the actress is a knockout, but after a little while I was like, “man, I got All In The Family on my TIVO I could be watching”.  

I also was watching the British kiddie-devil cult flick and enjoying, but haven’t finished yet, Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971). 

Which is playing at The New Beverly Cinema this week with one of my all the favorites, the Christopher Lee/ Peter Cushing slam-bang  Horror Express (1973), costarring Telly Savalas as a whip totting Cossack cop. It’s a sorta Hammer meets The Think with zombies on a Trans-Siberian Murder On The Orient Express.

THE MIST (2007)

I haven’t read the Stephen King book it’s based on, but it shares a lot with The Stand (one of the few King books I have read). Like that epic, a bunch of archetype characters are introduced and as bland as they are King’s force of will ends up  making them compelling. Watching The Mist I experienced the same edge of my seat nail-bitting, I was giddy with anxiety, I couldn’t wait ton see what would happen next.

Briefly the plot, a group of small-towners (and visiting Big City folk) hole up in a grocery store as a mist that seems to be killing people engulfs their town. Nothing is fully revealed but at different times we see giant tentacles and later giant bugs. 

The setup has the same eye witness feel as the attack on the gas station in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Later their are moments out of The Thing and Alien (besides the obvious acid like blood and creature effects. The Mist replicates the famous deleted scene where Ripley discovers Dallas cocooned, mutating in goo and pleading to be killed). 

If the first half of the Stand was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever read, the second half was one of the most disappointing. The first half of The Mist has some of the best horror/adventure elements I’ve seen in a while, the second half has some of the lamest .

Poor Marcia Gay Harden, a really good actress, reduced to channeling her inner Mercedes McCambridge from Johnny Guitar (1954). She plays the town religious kook, unfortunately what looks at first like a superficial supporting character takes over the movie, preaching fire and brimstone, written it’s all one note- mad.  So the Oscar winner becomes the villain and we, like the poor survivors are subjected to her ranting. Credibility is fleeting. It’s completely unbelievable that the majority of the survivors would join her and even follow her whims to kill other survivors (it took the SLA weeks to brainwash Patti Hearst. This nutty lady does it to a bunch of Northern Exposure extras in less then 48 hours). Horrible.

And I won’t even go into the other doubters, like Andre Braugher’s NY lawyer who has some character reactions that make no sense. Or the last ten minutes, (bold, but I could see it coming and I saw the consequences coming. I thought wait tell the danger gets closer before you do anything rash, who know what might be just around the corner) though exciting and yes shocking, it’s shot and scored so self- tragically like it’s the Russian war flick Come And See as opposed to a silly Steven King flick about hungry bugs eating cashiers.

But all that aside....

It’s still a blast, despite itself. 

Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) almost makes up for the one feature he made without holding King’s hand, his whimsical (gulp) Capra-esqe Blacklisting fantasy The Majestic, which may be my most HATED film of ALL TIME. For once I wanna see a flick about victim of the McCarthyism who isn’t an ‘innocent’ someone who, yeah was a member of the Communist party and proud of it.

The ORPHANAGE (2007) (DVD scheduled release April 22)

Horror and suspense screenwriters should study this Spanish flick's script. In terms of creating mystery and tension it’s so clean. It’s perfect. There is no extra gabbley -goop. It seemed to me that every single shred of plot was carefully put into it’s place and every morsel of horror presented was eventually explained. There were no extra frayed moments that were left unjustified.

My only problem, maybe a compliment.  Perhaps it all felt too clean and cleaver. It’s so slick. And feels so professional, to get the atmosphere right maybe it needed a little dirt, a little more grit. Still it was well done and did have some legitimate scares.

THE SIGNAL (2007) (DVD scheduled release June 10)

How did this ultra low budget flick get a theatrical release? And at the Mann's Chinese 6, no less. I don’t think of that a bastion of 'Indi cinema and it ran there for a couple of weeks. I guess there were no Rush Hour flicks to open up that week.

Three different directors each took on a third apiece of this apocalyptic /disease (zombie) flick. It borrows from about 20 American, Canadian and Asian horror movies sources, as a 28 Days Later/The Crazies/ Videodrome type plague takes over society one woman’s (well played by Anessa Ramsey ) struggles to survive the madness The opening third was great, I was on the edge of my seat and legitimately frightened as mayham slowly took over first her apartment building and then the streets. And then it was all down hill. The second third started out with promise and then degenerated into unfunny absurdism, reminiscent of early Peter Jackson. The last third the cast ends up in some kind of terminal and boredom and clichés ensue. I’m glad low budget southern flicks are getting some play, I just wonder why this one?

THEM (Ils) (2008)

This French flick scarred the shit out of me. There’s not much plot and thankfully not much violence, it’s rather simple. This is what you can do if you have a great location (a big ass crib in the French country side), a great Cinematographer and you stick to the basics... It’s all about what you don’t know, what you don’t see. A couple are terrorized by who or what they don’t know. Proves that little creaky noises are much scarier then big gaudy special effect. One other brilliant thing I noticed: it’s mostly all their POV, their are no little scare moments for the audience, no cheesy noises on the soundtrack that the protagonists don’t hear, if they don’t see it or know it, the audience doesn’t either. 

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) (AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) 

To The Devil A Daughter (1976). Two cult movies I always kinda wanted to see. The first an overly explained Spanish/ Italian groovy-sorta-zombie flick shoot in England with a possibly drunk American Arthur Kennedy as a Limey police Inspector practically stalking a couple of mod hipsters.

The second a British Wicker Man-esqe sex and the Devil thriller. With Richard Widmark as a occult  author who gets recruited by Denholm Elliott to protect his daughter (the often nude ten year-old Nastassja Kinski) from a a nasty Satan worshipper, intensely leered by Christopher Lee. I also seem to remember Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore herself) popping in there somewhere. 

Both flicks carry some heavy Psychotronic-critical street-cred and I think I enjoyed them but those couple of sentences I jotted down are about all I recall of them.

After Dark Horror Fest: 8 Films To Die For

I’ve watched two of these DVDs and they both were pretty good.

MULLBERRY STREET (2006) was the better of the two. It takes a while to get cooking, But once it does I was fully involved. As a bunch of downtown Manhattan misfits scramble to survive an ‘apocalyptic’ plague (see The Signal (above), The Crazies, Dawn Of The Dead, etc, etc, etc) only instead of boring old zombies, they are turned into... hungry savage rat-people! And it works.

Though likable, this flick may have the most unattractive horror cast since, since, since Freaks. That’s not to say they’re freaky or even ugly. They just look like, um, like normal people, not the usual pretty faces you find in most horror flicks. 

It’s all quite audaciously impressive and all on a micro budget in the most expensive town in America. And how did they score the excellent song The Rat by The Walkmen for their soundtrack? Well worth a look for fans of the genre.

BORDERLAND(2007) Typical 'torture porn' bullshit. But it's done with style and an almost docudrama feel as it’s claims to be based on a true story. As 3 graduates representing a little something for everyone to love: a right-wing A-hole, a goony virgin, and a cheesy pretty boy who wants to chuck collage in order to... join the Peace Corps (or was it Greenpeace? I forget) get stranded down in scary ol'’ Mexico and even while being chased around and/or tortured by a crazy drug dealing, religious cult 

the ‘nice guy’ manages to hook up with the foxiest Senorita in town. Oh and Sean Astin shows up as a fat psychopath. But it was better then it sounds because it was all done with care and some craft.

THE LOST (2005)


I was not familiar with the work of the novelist Jack Ketchum but I gather he’s popular and some sorta brand because his name is all over both of these straight-to-DVD boxes, I also am gonna assume he's some kinda twisted sadist, who loves to torture his characters and his readers.

Already building a mini-cult, from what I can see, The Girl Next Door was a sometimes disturbing little flick. But what is it? Because of the emptiness of the look and the dull 1950’s period detail at first, I thought it was, maybe a made-for Lifetime Channel movie with a some bad-words later put in, until the graphic nastiness got amped up. 

Apparently based on a true story, two girls recently orphaned move in with their drunken white-trash Aunt and her mini-me monster sons. They begin picking on the girls, then molesting them and rapping and torturing them all encouraged by their psychopathic mother. Other kids in the neighborhood join in the basement torture chamber fun. One kid sympathetic to the girls ordeal tries to find the courage to act.

The acting by all the teenage boys is across the board, lame. Blythe Auffarth as the adolescent victim proves to be a pretty believable actress, which is no small feat having to go head-to-head the scenery munching Blanche Baker as the Suburban sadist (the ‘Marcia Gay Harden role’) If this sounds like fun to you, it’s not terrible. Hopefully, a flick based on the same crime, the upcoming An American Crime with Ellen Page and Catherine Keener will be more effective, less explotive.

Maybe worse, but definitely more outrageously entertaining (in a bad-meaning-bad, not bad-meaning-good,

 bad way) another Jack Ketchum crap'tation... The Lost

Auteur-director Chris Sivertson honed his ‘tool’ with this lurid junk-epic before making his future candidate for “the worst film of the 21st century”, the Lindsey Lohan disasterpieceI Know Who Killed Me (2007).

In the aptly titled The Lost, dependable character-actor veterans Michael Bowen and Ed Lauter pursue the town creep they are sure was responsible for a senseless murder some years earlier. A fearless 20-something actor named Marc Senter really goes for it as said town creep, Ray Pye. Even though the mascara wearing sicko comes off  like a cross between John Glover, Crispin Glover and a Robert Palmer video model, the town hotties all throw themselves at him, first usually taking off their tops to give him (and luckily us) a sneak peak.  And there are some potentially talented actresses in the cast, in particular the beautiful Robin Sydney and the very likable Megan Henning (whose character is inexplicably having an affair with the grizzled Lauter). But alas the Auteur-director Sivertson seems to have almost a Brian De Palma -like hatred of women, yes he loves their bodies but, like the “sleezoid-bearded, Hitchcock rip-off king” before him, he seems to really get off on the torture and cruelty his main character inflect on them. And to really play his cool-card a a hard rock soundtrack often blares, a couple of full music videos seemed to break out in the middle of the flick. Oh did I mention sometimes this Auteur- genus switches film stocks and colors and shutter speeds in the middle of a scene... You know man, to like show the different stuff going on in the guy’s head. Whoa, that’s heavy dude.

I rewatched John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing From Another Planet, the gross-out epic THE THING (1982). I hadn’t seen more then bits and pieces in years. I probably  had written it off, as an Alien rip-off, but it holds up well. Actually it was refreshing to see three-dimensional creatures, not flat computer cartoons we usually get in Sci-fi today. The atmosphere and tension is sharp, peaking in the scene where the men, tied up, test their blood to see who is the invader. Kurt Russell is cool as hell in it (I still hope when I grow up I can get a bad-ass beard like that).  He supported by a   really nice cast of 80s character faces, led by the under used Keith David.  

Interesting observation:  If I knew it , I forgot, but I was really surprised to see Ennio Morricone name as the score’s composer. There is barely any music in the flick and what there is sounds like the scores that director, Carpenter had composed himself. I’d be curious if anyone knows any back story on that.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interview with Morricone (Fangoria #135, Aug '94):
Carpenter flew to Rome and showed me his film. He was very insistent, and I liked his movie, so I decided to do it. The only thing is though, we barely talked about what he had in mind. When I flew to Los Angeles to record the score, I brough along a tape that contained some synthesizer music I had recorded here in Italy. It was realy difficult for me to unerstand what kind of score he wanted, so I composed an array of totally different things, hoping he'd find something of particular interest to him. Now I've been in this business for 30 years, and I think I know what my clients want, and guess what? He (Carpenter) picked the piece which mostly resembled his own personal compositions. That is of course the main theme, which can be heard throughout the movie.
I wrote an hour of music for 'The Thing,' and I just can't believe the way it was ignored. So when they asked me what to put on the album, I recovered all the stuff we had previously recorded.

(Note: Following track numbers from the Varese OST CD, the album tracks heard in the film: first half of 1, last half of 5, pieces of 7, most of 10, and track 8 - or about 20 minutes of the 50 minute album at the most, with heavy editing and repetition.)