Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Halloween Movies Part 2

Well, late with this one as well. As expected I never got to 31 horror movies in October – the count was 18 though if I hadn’t spent time watching other movies and TV probably could have made it. (And as it turned out Red State is marketed as a horror film but it isn’t, not really.) So onward:

The Horde (Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher 2009) - So many zombie movies look pretty much the same and while this one is from the same template (group trapped in an enclosed space) it does most things right. For one thing it’s quite grim, almost excessively so, without the joking or in-references that fill (and dilute) other z-films. The set-up of a group of quasi-rogue cops forced to band with Nigerian & Eastern European gangsters is an unusual set-up and the film follows the logic of the story to the bleak (though expected) end.

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald 2008) - Another zombie movie but about as far from The Horde as possible. Pontypool could almost be a play since with one minor exception all the action takes place in one location and there are only a few characters. (Maybe horror films are one of the last bastions for the dramatic unities.) While The Horde is almost an action film at heart, Pontypool is an intellectual puzzle leaning towards artfilm. In fact the source of the zombie outbreak is utterly unique and so unpredictable and so completely appropriate to the nature of Pontypool as a film (and maybe even cinema itself) that it had me laughing out loud. But the whole thing is anchored by two burrowing performances by Stephen McHattie as an arrogant radio host trapped in a small town trying to make sense of the senseless and Lisa Houle as the exasperated producer wanting to keep the whole show going.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (Seth Hold 1971)- Another late Hammer film like Vampire Circus but unlike that one this is mostly plodding. If nothing else there’s no mummy in it – a preserved Egyptian priestess yes but she’s not mummified. The story moves along far too slowly and completely predictably with mostly in-it-for-the-paycheck actors (though Valerie Leon seems to have been hired for the impressive cleavage she displays).

I Married a Witch (Rene Clair 1942) – A light supernatural comedy from Clair’s American period most notable for Veronica Lake’s bubbly performance. Films like this and Topper haven’t received the attention of say the Universal horrors perhaps because they aren’t at heart horror films and quite likely because they’re also so spread out chronologically that it’s a tad tricky to make genre connections (though such clearly exist). And you can’t rule out that mostly male horror fans are likely to dismiss anything that’s to a large extent a romantic comedy. This one may be predictable but it’s fairly clever and the cast puts a lot into keeping the proceedings swift and the dialogue crisp. Sometimes that’s really all you need.

Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura 2008) - That title will tell you this isn’t any light supernatural comedy though I suppose it is more or less comic in approach. Which is probably just as well considering that it’s possibly the most violent or at least bloodiest film I’ve seen and at times one of the most imaginative. There’s some stuff here that is unique and if that’s a lot of effort for something of this nature well hey at least it keeps the filmmakers off the streets.

The Last Exorcism (Daniel Stamm 2010) - Yet another fake documentary, this time about an exorcist who’s realized it’s all a scam and decides to take one last job. As you could guess nothing turns out quite right though the way it doesn’t turn out quite right keeps the film from being dull with some plot twists and a few effective Blair Witch-styled spooky scenes. A couple of problems though. First is that nobody seems to have a cell phone which while I realize this was done to keep the story on track (can’t have them calling the police all the time can we?) it does seem odd. Especially when it would take only a very short bit of dialogue to explain that phones aren’t working, either because they’re so far out in the country or for more mysterious reasons. The other issue is the ending which I’m not going to reveal except to point out that since the film exorcist spends time at the start showing how he fakes demonic effects then at the end shouldn’t we also think there’s a strong possibility that what we’re seeing was also faked? The ending is presented so bluntly that I think we’re supposed to take it at face value but the film itself raised the question of falsifying appearances so it’s not unreasonable to take that approach. Still, if the description of The Last Exorcist sounds like your kinda movie then it almost certainly is.

Madhouse (Jim Clark 1974) - I’m not entirely sure how Vincent Price got to be such an icon. He always seems to be if not quite mocking his roles and the genre then at least to be unserious about it. This approach works to advantage in his Corman films and a few like Theatre of Blood but then you get things like Madhouse that isn’t comic but is certainly a bit too loose for its own good. Price playing a disgraced horror film icon (more or less like Dr Phibes) is self-reflexive and pairing him with Peter Cushing must have seemed like a great idea during pre-production. And certainly there are some unusual characters like the spider-loving wife or the greedy parents of a murder victim but overall the murder mystery aspect overwhelms any sense of suspense or even sometimes even plain old storytelling. Price fans will probably get more out of this than the rest of us.

Giant from the Unknown (Richard E. Cunha 1958) - I love these 50s b-movies that seem tossed together in a week. The location filming adds a bit of documentary feel (I suspect those old general stores and cabins were real and not sets) and the idea of a resurrected Spanish conquistador is unusual. B-Western vet Bob Steele appears as a suspicious sheriff.

Session 9 (Brad Anderson 2001) – David Caruso stars as an asbestos remover working on an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Just that one sentence tells you about everything you need to know. The attempt is towards spooky and psychological but really it just sort of wanders along with a bit of is-this-real and a tad of is-he-crazy. Ken Loach vet Peter Mullan does a good turn but there’s just not much to work with. Doesn’t help that this was shot in a form of digital that ends up blurring the image a bit too much (though I suppose if I liked the film this could be justified as adding to the ambiguity).

I Sell the Dead (Glenn McQuaid 2008) – An attempt at horror-comedy that doesn’t work either way. The basic idea of 18th century graverobbers who discover that reanimated corpses bring more money than plain ole nonanimated ones has some potential but there’s not a real story. Instead this is closer to a collection of short films, not smartly done enough to be called picaresque and not episodic enough to make me suspect it was a failed TV pilot. I’m not really sure about the story's date because the film is a bit unclear about that and about exactly where it happens (Scotland? England?) though there’s a good chance I was just snoozing when this was explained. I do wonder if the guillotine was ever used in the British isles – seems wrong.

Grace (Paul Solet 2009) – A pregnant woman whose husband died in a wreck must deal with medical complications, an intrusive mother-in-law and a baby that might be Something Other. There, I just saved you an hour and a half so use it wisely.