Monday, November 10, 2014

Return to Boggy... oh, wait...

Last night a friend and I watched Willow Creek... Bobcat Goldthwaite's (!) love song to Bigfoot and The Blair Witch Project. I liked it quite a bit... slowly building dread... a long sustained scene of encroaching horror... a sudden chaotic mess of violent weirdness before the darkness... and then some crappy music over the credits that kinda shit all over the mood but... meh, up to the end credits I was firmly on its side.
Anyway... my point isn't to review the thing... it comes down whether you hate found footage movies or micro-budget horror or anything that requires an attention span and imagination (no, you do NOT get to see the monsters)... if so this one isn't going to please. On the other hand... if you love The Blair Witch Project, June 9, Bigfoot in general... or movies that take their time telling the tale... maybe it's worth a watch.
The thing I thought was worth discussing about this one, besides the fact that I found it pretty scary, is that up until the very final moments... and mostly after it was over... I hadn't found it creepy. Scary... but not creeeeepy. And then I did.
From here on it's all about the ending... so... lots of spoilers... so... whatever.

The thing is... at the end of the movie... amidst running and screaming and unseen monsters and weird inhuman noises... there's this woman. A naked woman.
You'd heard her a bit earlier in the film... and maybe seen a photo of her on a missing poster in the diner. She whimpers and jabbers out in the darkness and you're not really sure until that brief glimpse that it's a human woman you hear... but it is.
She just standing there. Huge and naked and obviously a bit past sanity.
Only a glimpse. But it changes the context on much of what came before it... and made the movie haunt me for a good while after.
Being naked is important here... because if she'd been fully clothed it would have implied something much different. 
See, up until that naked mumbling woman showed up I was pretty firmly expecting that this wasn't really about Bigfoot at all... that it was angry mountain folk exacting revenge on the city folk for nosing around in their woods. There would be a violent beatdown... but it would come from fists and axe handles and maybe a gun... and would probably involve rape and/or cannabilism of at least one of the protagonists if not both.
Just saying that was my guess... it seemed reasonable because if the movie just ended up with the couple being smacked by a hairy claw... that would seem kind of anti-climactic, even if it was in fact a climax (and maybe it was just a bear, yeah?)

So anyways... there's this naked woman. Out in the woods, in the darkness, just standing there like she's in a daze.
The obvious implication is that Bigfoot (Bigfeet? The movie implies there's a bunch of them) kidnaps human women... but kills human males (so sorry birthday boy... but at least your beliefs were vindicated).

Now... here's the second squicky aspect of that ending. Earlier in the movie the female of the couple, who has no interest or belief in Bigfoot at all, makes several jokes about Bigfoot's sex organ. How big it must be and whatnot. At one point she mock strokes the (non-existent) penis of a wooden Bigfoot statue.
This seemed like pretty standard joking around early in the movie when it all seems a lark... but seeing that naked woman in the woods... and the final sounds of that girlfriend screaming out in the darkness... followed by multiple howls of her captors... well, there's not much way around the idea that she was about to get up close and personal with cryptozoology in a way she (and I) never expected.
Captured and raped... probably gang-raped... by monsters.
It's a horrid, lurid thought... and in a way a really really black bit of humor giveb her earlier comments about the big hairy guy's privates.
It's creepy... it's horror. It bothers me. That's good right?
So is this a successful horror movie? I guess so... it scared me... then it creeped me out... and it's a bit squicky as well. Not that the idea of monsters raping women is anything new... implied or not. Humanoids From The Deep did it in the Wayback with a whopping lot more exploitation dolloped on top.
The idea of Bigfoot running off with women isn't anything new either.

So should I be 'offended' by this movie? Bothered about Mr. Goldthwaite's choices and such? Is there some nasty undertone of something here? Not that a WHOLE LOT of horror films don't pack in the overt misogyny. But I guess I'm not sure if I should identify this as one of those... or not. There's no exploitation angle... no shots of horny Bigfoot. That one shot of the nude woman in the wood is NOT something I imagine any normal male could build a house with.

I'm also on the record for thinking that modern horror films often shy away from sexual horror, particularly when it obviously SHOULD part of the story.
Chief on that list would be the Hostel movies... because it just seemed so damn weak that they failed to address what very likely would have gone down in those filthy little rooms before the final cut/drill/saw. And I don't mean just to the female victims. 
Sure, there are lots of nude women in horror films... and there's often some sexual predation on the minds of the hillbilly cannibals or mutants or whatever is chasing them... but it hardly ever comes to pass. Male characters are generally pretty safe from anything rapey happening to them at all.
Compare that to a rarefied something like Calvaire... where the protagonist seems to generate unrequited lust in everyone he meets... and DOES get the blunt end of it eventually.
Things seem wilder in 70s horror... could something like They Came From Within even get made nowadays? Maybe/probably? Even if it did those little girls on leashes would NOT be there.

I'm not saying I WANT to see rape and other genital nastiness in horror... but when it really should be present and it blatantly isn't... AND yet tosses in loads of topless women in the non-horror sequences... what's that about?
So... circling back to Willow Creek... yeah, I guess it makes total sense and feels appropriate that the female protagonist ends up in THAT sort of awfulness. It's a much more shocking and confrontational ending than anything else I can think of. The movie didn't pull its punches and I appreciate that. Even if it does leave me feeling a pretty icky.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More October horror!

So... more with the October horror viewings... 

After The Whip and the Body I was in the mood for more Mario Bava... if I could find something I hadn't seen... so I remembered this:

Lisa and the Devil... which I think I must have skipped over because of the presence of Elke Sommer and Telly Savalas... which is of course silly of me. Did Telly start his lollypop thing with this movie or with Kojack (started the same year)?
I was never a huge Telly Savalas fan but I think he's just right here. Not too malevolent, not too comical. The lollipop thing is a bit distracting though.
I particularly liked the music and opening credits in this one, very 70s... and the atmosphere/sets are great. The plot is a bit of a mystery... reminding me both of Nightmare Castle and Carnival of Souls. I love anything that hints at old forgotten tragedies reaching out from the past... sad/tragic horror, which is what this is. The basic tale is pretty easily discerned but murky in the details... which I'm fine with and somewhat expect in Italian horror. My only real complaint is the location of the very end... which kind of takes it out of its otherwise solidly gothic mood.

Next up I watched:

I'd been wanting to see Deliver us from Evil for a while and finally got the chance. Its idea of a rash of demonic possessions had me thinking of Rec and Fallen... which I had liked a lot. Once it got started it was obvious they were going after the style of Seven... with near constant rain and darkness and filth... a theme of madness and corruption (one of the secondary characters even has the seven deadly sins tattooed on his upper back). It's an obvious 'homage' but they did it well and the first three quarters of the film are genuinely creepy.
Where I lost interest was in that last quarter when the mystery has been pretty much solved and the films shifts over into Exorcist territory. The Bible and crucifix come out for the big exorcism extravaganza we knew was coming. For whatever reason (maybe my not being Catholic) this sort of stuff never much works on me and I found it all a bit ho hum. Not scary... and fairly predictable.
Pretty good horror flick though. 

Last night I finally got around to watching:

I'd heard mention of Banshee Chapter in some of the darker internet holes I frequent. Probably in some vague connection to Slenderman and the Marble Hornets videos (which it kindasorta reminded me of). 
It's a weird/uneven movie, stylistically... jumping in and out of 'found footage' and traditional styles. It probably moves a bit faster than it should have. Obviously low budget but doing a lot with what its got. 
It made me jump at least once and set up a very creepy tone that lasted after it was over. A lot of that lingering fear was due to the wise choice of never defining or showing what exactly the threat was. There are various suggestions... and Lovecraft is pulled in at one point (the movie is basically a re-imagining of his story From Beyond)... but the extent and nature of the 'monsters' is left mostly to our imagination, which MUCH better for me than whatever CGI fest we would have gotten if someone had rained cash on the production.
I think the low budget really helped the atmosphere in general... many of the spaces feel quite real (because they are) and not like sets at all.
Outside of the atmosphere, by far the best thing going for Banshee Chapter is having Ted Levine along as a Hunter S. Thompson/William S. Burroughs avatar. His performance brought the whole thing up several notches for me. I've seen some folks complain that his character brought too much comedy... but for me it was the sort of humor that just makes the scary parts even scarier.
Uneven and quirky but I really enjoyed this one. 

Next up I'm going to try to get back to more gothic fare... my original plan was to stick to movies I hadn't seen and which exemplified atmosphere and ghoulish fun over gore and outright violence... Wolf Creek 2 was my only big step off that path so far... so no more serial killers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October Movie Challenge... worse and better

Despite the fact that for the past couple days all I've watched were more old episodes of Dark Shadows (which I'm enjoying but not feeling inspired to write about) I was inspired to keep posting after reading Undead Johnny over on The World Of The Weird Monster Blog... 

So tonight I watched this:

I knew nothing about it, picked it mostly because of the title (being a sucker for anything with Witchdoctor in the title) and the kindasorta 'grindhouse' poster art. 
Anyway, it was utter crap... so why waste any space on it?

Really, utter crap.

So... to wash that bad taste outta my brain I moved on with another something I'd never seen but had little doubt would be much better:

And... it was indeed much much better. Hard to go wrong with Mr. Bava and Mr. Lee and loads of creepy gothic atmosphere.
I'd certainly heard of The Whip And The Body... and love Mario Bava's films... but had somehow never gotten around to watching this one.
It might just be residue from too much Dark Shadows but Christopher Lee here reminded me quite a bit of freshly decanted Barnabas Collins... no fangs but cruel and conniving.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

So once again I'm trying to do the October horror challenge and watch a new-to-me horror film each day of the month.
So far I've kept up despite not having written about them... so... catching up:

Oct 1st. I Vampiri. A B&W Italian horror with Mario Bava's influences all over it. It's got a 'vampire', a mad scientist, a resurrected corpse, a dungeon full of skeletal victims, a creepy castle w/ nearby creepy crypt accessible by secret passageways, nubile coed victims, determined reporters and an electronic gargoyle burglar alarm.
The story is nothing special but that's more than made up for by all the gonzo elements at play.

Oct 2nd. The Demon. Another old B&W Italian movie. This one is much more cinema verite... most of the cast seem to be non-actors and there are no overt FX or gore to be seen. The sets seem to be real buildings though in some cases I wondered why people were living in what appeared to be ruins.
Here it's the story that's of main interest. A young woman named Purif is romantically obsessed with a local stud named Antonio... based on some earlier roll in the hay it seems. Purif goes a bit nutty when she learns that Antonio intends on marrying another local girl and sets out to put a curse on him that will either ruin him or bring him to her arms.
I'm not real clear on what Antonio has against Purif, she's the definitely the prettiest girl in town and has a load more personality than the bland woman he's betrothed to.
Anyway, the curse leads to the rest of the townsfolk wanting to chase Purif out of the village. Purif herself gets so distraught over Antonio's wedding that she tries to chase a herd of goats into the church and then... appears to become possessed.
At some point she has a chat with a dead boy... undergoes and exorcism that might include being raped by a priest... does the Linda Blair spider-walk (a decade before Linda did)... and generally acts like a bit of a loon.
The scary/creepy stuff is a combination of Purif's bizarre behavior and the rampant old world superstitions of the townspeople. Purif might just be insane but the local nuns just seem to think she's got a bad attitude... meanwhile the townies are running through the streets with burning branches looking for her.
This one is kind of bleak and doesn't have much nice to say about rural Italy.

Oct 3rd. On the mention of someone in my reading group I watched Wolf Creek 2... which I'd been avoiding after only barely enjoying the first one.
The first one played a bit coy with its villain, not giving him all that much screen time and kind of lulling you into thinking he might be an OK guy to have a beer with. The sequel just drops all pretenses of such mystery and puts him on camera, spouting wise-cracks, every chance it gets.
In the original the guy was menacing, creepy, mysterious... a decent monster. In this one he's just fucking annoying. I kept hoping someone would manage to kill him, or at least break his jaw... but that obviously wasn't in the cards.
Another thing that bugged me was how the sequel felt the need to be much BIGGER... we've got Mick driving all over the outback, shooting random locals and police... using a semi truck as a torpedo, riding a horse into the sunset, showing off his fancy new tunnels of terror complete with pit traps and attack dogs. It's MORE not less. 
About midway I was actually considering turning it off and looking for something less stupid... but then it kind of got better... or less bad... as it closed frame and got up close and personal between the two leads. Still not good, but less annoying... and I made it to the end.
I fully expect the next installment to have Mick on a Carribean cruise ship or maybe in space.

Oct 4th. I kind of copped-out here and watched the first several episodes of the original Dark Shadows... which were new to me since I'd only seen later episodes and even on Netflix they usually only have the later episodes from Barnabas onwards. I've always had a soft spot for the show... despite it's soap opera failings... and it's fun watching the pre-Barnabas episodes, knowing that Barnabas was only ever intended to be a brief storyline, not the primary protagonist he became.