Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Maze (1953)

I'm not sure why I chose this particular movie to watch. I was pretty sure I'd seen it before, in 3D, as 'The Key' (though IMDB doesn't list that as one of its AKAs). It wasn't so great then and I had no reason to think it had improved with age... though my first viewing had been in a crowded midnight show of rowdy younguns... so there is a good chance I wasn't paying a lot of attention. All I really remembered of it was the climactic scene at the end, and that's gotta be the weakest moment of the entire show.
The Maze is fairly weak on story... a modern-day Scottish noble is engaged to be married when he gets called to the ancestral manse to tend to some unspoken emergency. His strong-willed fiancee becomes impatient for his return and packs up her aunt to go seek out an explanation... and finds even more mystery (just a little).
I've read loads of tales with similar plots... man returns to ancient family home to find some ancient curse/disease/ghost/skeleton in the family closet. The only aspect that sets The Maze apart from these others is how anti-climactic (and not horrifying) the secret is once revealed.
That might be part of why I watched it again... to see if I'd missed something.
The missing fiancee is so burdened by the secret that he (and seemingly the servants) are physically aged by the knowledge. The way he behaves you'd think he's guarding the gates of Hell...
The nature of the matter comes close to some of Lovecraft's tales... at least morphologically... but cuts itself short of the genetic heritage aspect that might have given the whole thing more weight. Instead the fiancee's histrionics and premature gray hair just reveal him to be a big drama queen in the face of what essentially amounts to inheriting the family dog.
I could go on about all the various silly bits of The Maze... including the questionable nature of the secret... but those points are all fish in a bucket.
What is worth mentioning is how this thing was originally shown in 3D and some of the gooftacular things they did to that purpose... such as having the opening scene of the engagement party include acrobats so that a girl can be thrown at the camera. Other horrors that are shoved at the viewer include a beach ball and a telegram!
There some shots that were oddly framed and I can only assume that 3D was the reason. The scenes with the narrator (Aunt Edith, who is really the most peculiar character in the film... I'd watch a sequel just to find out what's up her alley) often have her head sitting at the bottom of the screen. Why?

Anyway, The Maze is not a good movie... but it's entertaining if this is the sort of thing that entertains you like it does me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Soft Focus On The Zombie Apocalypse...

I just got done watching the final episode of the first season of 'The Walking Dead'.
Overall I'm feeling kind of, "Meh" about the series and I'm not entirely sure why.

Maybe it's just a general overdose of zombies over the past few years.
As a little kid I stayed up late and watched 'Night of the Living Dead' and became an instant (though sleepless) zombie fan. I then had to wait years until another zombie film came on my radar (I was still underage when my friend and I tricked my mom into taking us to see 'Dawn of the Dead'). After that we knew there would be more... but we still had to wait years before seeing the various Italian ripoffs. 'Day of the Dead' was only a vague rumor.
Nowadays you can't swing a cricket bat without hitting a new zombie movie... they've even crossed over into comedy (always the sign of excess). Add in all the not-zombie stuff like 'Rec', '28 Days Later', 'The Crazies'... and we are in an age of total zombie movie infestation.
Yet I still love them!
So... why don't I love 'The Walking Dead'?
Maybe it's because of the format? Maybe zombies are best when they hit and run... as opposed to sticking around for multiple episodes.
I mean, once the zombie apocalypse hits... either everyone gets eaten or... hmmm... I'm trying to remember a zombie film that ended with anything more than a dying pen-light's ray of hope ('Shaun of the Dead' doesn't count). At worst you're only going to have to suffer through one, maybe two, heartfelt conversations while the characters discuss those they've left behind. 'The Walking Dead' has those tender moments every week.

But really, I think it's the characters on 'The Walking Dead' that are helping me to suspend my lack of enthusiasm.
I'm fine with the sheriff... he's not a purely goody-goody, you can see it in his eyes. Sooner or later he's gonna go dark. He's got a bit of complexity going on.
The Asian kid and the redneck? I like them too... stereotypes, yeah, but they're fun and don't whine a lot. They don't stink of 'thespian'.
The rest of them though? Let the zombies eat 'em. The sheriff's wife is annoying she's got all of 2 different facial expressions... worry/concern and shocked indignation. The little kids are barely there except for reaction shots and (I assume) to be placed in danger later on. The 'wise old man' is chock full of corn. The blond woman belongs on a soap opera. I'm not sure what the skinny/scared looking woman is going to be up to now that her husband isn't around to beat on her... mostly she is just for reaction shots too.
Oh, and the deputy guy... I disliked him from his first scene, mostly because that actor's pretending-to-eat mannerisms during food breakfast/lunch/dinner scenes, along with his bogus accent, makes me want to scream... but also because he's such a glaring non-entity except for his position as 'impending storm'... and I much prefer the 'Merle' character in that role, despite him only appearing in one episode so far.

Maybe it didn't matter that most of the un-undead folks in previous zombie movies weren't all that fleshed out... but they only had to last for about 90 minutes. We've had six 45-minute episodes of these people and I'm NOT getting any fonder of them. They're the same two-dimensional twinks they were at the start.

It's not that I want more action, more flesh-eating, more gore... all that stuff is great so far. The problem is that when that stuff isn't happening the show becomes very ordinary... and dull. The show needs to be about something more than just running away from the monsters.

31 Days Of Horror... kinda

In an effort to get myself writing more I'm gonna jump on the '31 Days Of Horror' bandwagon... though I'm not going to actually join the club or whatever.

So... seeing as this is already the second day... a quick recap of some back to back horror films I watched yesterday (at least I'm gonna claim that it was yesterday).

After reading the Kindertrauma blog on 'The Sentinel' I jumped at the notion of it being on Netflix streaming and dashed over there to watch it once again (it had been a while).
Instead I got distracted by the also-streamable presence of 'Lord of Illusions' which I'd seen a couple times before but I'd just read Barker's short-story 'The Last Illusion' which LoI is based on. 'The Last Illusion' turns out to have zilch-zip-nada to do with the plot of the movie except for having the same characters (doing different stuff for different reasons).
Actually, I kind of liked the movie better... probably because of the Manson-esque cult angle mixed with magic (Manson was the big boogie-man when I was a kid).
The short story version probably would have been a more expensive proposition anyway... seeing as it chock full of demonic beasties that would have jacked up the FX budget.

Strangely, the Netflix version I watched seemed to be missing the scenes where the disbanded cult members are shown shedding their conventional lives to ready themselves for the return of Nix. I know there is a 'Director's cut' of LoI but it's not clear on Netflix that that is what this was. As it is D'Amour and Swann show up at the desert compound and all the cultists are there shaving themselves... as if they'd stuck around the whole time, waiting.
Anyway, though I'd seen it before it stood up to the test of time for me.
The bit at the end where Nix transforms and then plummets into the pit is always the most disturbing bit for me... it's pretty bleak. As is the ultimate fate of Swann.

I did, ultimately, continue on to watch 'The Sentinel' as I had intended. I'd read the book as a kid and seen it once... somewhere about the time I also saw 'The Tenant' and Chiller's 'Someone At The Top Of The Stairs'... both movies about creepy houses full of creepy neighbors (and both free of the laughable religious hokum at the core of 'The Sentinel').
Such a great cast and depiction of that place and time. The house and its occupants (as well as some of the not-damned-yet crowd) really are creepy... too bad the plot hinges on such a ridiculous premise. I've never been much for religious horror and the idea of a literal gate to Hell existing in NYC was dumb even to my eleven-yr old self when I first read the book.
Still, as someone pointed out on Kindertrauma, if it had been an Italian horror (Argento? Fulci?) the entire affair, and its attendant lapses, would have seemed a much better fit.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Serbian Film (2010)

I finally got around to watching this infamous thing last night.
Late last night.
Going by the images I'd seen (all 2 of them) I figured I didn't want anyone walking into the room while I had it on. I'm a horror fan lost in a sea of... people who don't like horror movies... and this surely wasn't going to convert them.
I'd purposefully kept myself in the dark about this movie because I wanted to keep any surprises intact. All I knew going in was that it was about some evil folks making a snuff film... that the protagonist was a burned out porn star... and at some point in the film... well, there's this scene that I'm not going to describe, partly to avoid spoiling it and partly to avoid alienating any of my RL friends who stumble in here.

Now, I'm not a gore-hound. I like suspense and mystery and weirdness... mood and tension. Blood and shock are just spices, best when used sparingly.
I want my horror films to be more like burlesque, less like cheap rotgut porn.
That's why David Lynch knows more about creating tension than Eli Roth ever will.
I wanted to see this movie because... reportedly... it was disturbing, because the concept of the underground culture of 'snuff' films interests me, because it was extreme and transgressive.
Turns out it was fairly transgressive, disturbing in places... and also a bit predictable, at least in terms of the big 'reveals' at the climax. When the hoods came off I knew exactly who was under each of them. I'm not even sure it was meant to be a surprise, it was so obvious. Even the very end of the film was on my radar early on.

What WAS a big surprise was how well-made it is. It takes its time telling the story, nothing awful happens for the first half of the movie... it sets the scene, lets you know who the protagonist is, why he's putting himself in this situation... gives you a reason to care... all the time sharpening the knife it will stick you with later on.
It's not in a rush to get at you because it knows, in the end, it will.
It's a good looking film, there's a lot of thought in the camera work and lighting and set design. Many details that would probably mean more to me if I were Serbian.
The acting was great too... while watching it I never had one of those horrible lapses where I can see the actors 'acting'.
Considering what's going on in the later half of the film I'd say the acting was even understated... subdued. Nobody came off as if they were trying to win an Oscar... though I'd say that Srdjan Todorovic really deserves a nomination (if the 'Academy Awards' would EVER give nod to a Serbian horror movie about the snuff industry).
Seriously, compare Todorovic's performance in this film to any of the performances that have won 'Best Actor' over the years and see if he doesn't at least deserve a shot at the title.

This is a film about HORRIBLE people doing HORRIBLE things. Much more deranged and brutal than any slaughter at Camp Crystal Lake.
It needs to show you those horrible things because it wouldn't be enough to just suggest them, because in this case they probably go beyond where your imagination would. So I'm fine with whatever gore was present, because it had a purpose beyond mere titillation.

Is it a good movie? Yes, in the sense that it accomplishes what it set out to do.
Is it a good horror movie? Yes, there is tension and fear and things to be horrified about.
Is it a movie I'd recommend to friends, even friends who like horror movies? Probably not. I know one person I'd even mention it to and even he might give it a pass.

How does it compare to other transgressive horror gems like 'Martyrs' and 'Irreversible'? Well, I think it's more overtly offensive than either of those... more deliberate in its desire to get in your face about certain things. I think the subject matter demands it... I don't see how you could be subtle or poetic about such things. 'Martyrs' was a bit more... ethereal... in my opinion. Its subject matter was stranger and more surreal, despite the violence.

Really, when I sat down to watch 'A Serbian Film' my only concern would be that it would depress me... that it would leave me feeling bleak and lonely. That didn't happen, because despite the awful things happening on the screen I didn't feel it was crass or empty of meaning... even though I'm still not entirely sure what the meaning is.
I'd need to read up more on the current affairs of Serbia to see how this film reflects/illuminates... but it certainly seemed to have something to say, scream, about that country and its place in the world.

I might watch it again at some point... I'm not sure. It's not casual entertainment, that's for sure. If you're going to seek it out and watch it I think it's important to see it in its uncut form. For one thing its creators have stated it is a comment on censorship. For another, I think some of what is cut removes meaningful elements.
From what I've read most of the violence and blood was left in the censored version... the stuff that was removed had more to do with the presence of children and certain interactions... and that one scene, which I won't describe.