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.