Sunday, November 7, 2010

Movie Review Quickies, Part IV - Halloween Edition

My late Halloween entry skims through Suspiria, Scream, Final Destination, Halloween, From Beyond, and Saw... It's a last little grasp at the holiday - and, for the next spell, scary movies. I actually don't watch horror often, outside of the rare mood or the great Pagan holiday. But I think a good scare-fest is a truly beautiful creation. Many of us have been terrified in real life, and I think we'd agree that it's better to be afraid of something on a screen. And you can still find roles and exciting sequences that are every bit as impressive, inventive, or character-heavy as any drama or comedy... I chose a small stable of solid pictures.

This film does not contain stupid voiceovers or repeating the word "Suspiria."

This Dario Argento classic is on Netflix Instant Viewing, a surprise since the rest of their genre selection is mostly junk. I feel sad that "Suspiria" just doesn't feel as great as when I was 19, or even 23.

Story: A pretty young American is entering into a famous European ballet academy... On the same stormy night that a furious double-murder leaves a mess in 4 rooms of a local apartment building. I guess in order to survive, the new student better stay on her toes (...Sorry) The pic is still beautiful, still fun, with skilled and inventive use of camera-work and color…

It hasn't lost much over the years, at least insofar as the violence remains jarring, cruel. The ideas are neat and the visuals are fine, so it's an easy film to like. Nice appearance by a young Udo Kier, too. The biggest victims of age here are the flaws in story and dialogue, which seem greater and more problematic now. Large bits of exposition (aka infodumps) are awkward, tho I guess it makes sense that the narrative is a bit like a fever dream. At least it's a pretty, entertaining fever dream, full of black magic…

If you haven't seen this yet, DON'T watch the trailer. See the movie first.

Things get bloody in a small California town full of good-looking people. Like every secluded spot, personal feuds and problems lurk beneath the pretty, quiet exterior. Soon, no one knows when or if violence is going to break out. Or even why. I would normally do this flick as a full review, and I still might...

It's amazing that the sequels were so painful - I guess smugness sunk them, but I saw no intent make a frightening film. The first "Scream," however, was better than I could have hoped. All I knew before I watched it was "Wes Craven" and "Drew Barrymore." Perhaps the self-aware, post-post-post-modern dialogue will grate on other people now. I was just impressed by how many times this movie made me jump from a great scare. Or left me shocked by its brutality. 

The ratings board hated the fact that the violence here isn't cartoonish. I agree that it's both more frightening and more revolting to see an up-close killer who beats or cuts down victims. "Scream" is also terribly funny, doesn't rely on one-note humor, and has a solid soundtrack. Finally, since I never saw the film series' famous mask, its reveal was exceptional. Given the horrors real life can inflict, it's much better experienced at a midnight show with someone. Right?

Final Destination

Be warned: This weird trailer gives you the whole story, but doesn't spoil many scares.

Another movie I like enough to give a solo post. Clever, vicious, and entertaining. It's not a dumb effort either, especially considering the premise: a high school group seems to escape death, only to suspect they're in bitterly ironic danger. 

Many think this film is cheap, derivative, or pretentious. I think those criticisms apply perfectly to the sequels, which seem/are a massive waste of time and money. I laughed, I gasped, I smiled. Whether in script, premise, or terror, "FD" is a gem.


Donald Pleasance loves saying the word "Evil."

On Halloween night, 1978, a small Midwestern town turns into a hunting ground after an escaped mental patient has returned to the scene of his childhood crime. The only person aware of this is the patient's own doctor (the fabulous Donald Pleasance), who says stuff like this:

I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply evil...

"Halloween" scared me every October 31st - at least sometime in college. People loved John Carpenter's movie because it nailed a few things: Jamie Lee Curtis has no idea she's in the middle of a massacre until the last 20 minutes. The violence takes the style of the Italian giallo, but, here, the mindless silence of the killer is worse. 

The fight at the end is great, especially its use of darkness. I may not find it too scary or even entertaining these days, but I'll always respect those things. The great music cues outweigh the bad ones by a lot, and I love the movie's October 25, 1978 release date. Also it's long-standing record for most successful indie movie of all time. Bonus points for the sweet ending.

From Beyond

Freaky. As. Hell.

Give credit to Stuart Gordon: he makes disgusting, creepy, worthy films. "From Beyond" followed Gordon's great "Re-animator," keeping the same male and female leads, as well as the mad-science theme. 

Discovered holding an axe and babbling wildly, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (what a name!), is blamed for the headless body that used to be his partner. Pretty psychiatrist Kate McMichaels takes Crawford and a police escort on a mission to reveal what truly caused the murder. They make the classic choice to stay at the murder scene 24/7. 

The gore can pretty much unnerve anyone, and may shock horror newbies. Think GWAR or "slightly erotic early David Cronenberg," and you'll know if you can take it. 

In keeping with the theme of its H.P. Lovecraft origin (and classic horror principles), sex and sexuality come into play. Since the story centers on madness and corruption, this isn't the feel-good kind of sex so much as it is the "I don't want this, but my mind is slipping and it is good and DON'T EAT MY BRAIN" kind of sexuality. Everyone loses control here, in little or innocent or awful ways… 

The horror story remains effective because it stuck largely to three characters, and thank heaven someone chose to include a minority in a prominent and engaged role; it happens too seldom in drama, much less others genres. I liked the bit at the very end too. I'd never seen it before, this was the best that Instant Viewing had to offer on Halloween, and I consider myself pretty lucky for it.


This Halloween, the Dread Pirate Roberts learns a new lesson… in terror!

If you want a well-made, viciously mean-spirited, graphic thriller in the same style as "Seven," then watch this. It's not as clever as Final Destination," but it's certainly more harsh. And, honestly, this is pretty entertaining. Importantly, it keeps a semblance of its "murderer on the loose" opening throughout. That probably imperfect effort - to keep the high-profile violence tied to a mystery/detective story - is important. It means I'm willing to be nice to the guys who made "Saw." 

Since that effort failed, however, I'll say it might truly be a cheap and inappropriate picture. I was jolted repeatedly. I laughed hard many times. It was spooky and atmospheric, and it will have an appeal to fans of a "complicated" premise full of scares. I didn't see any controversy or "torture porn" context because I saw no reason to take it so seriously; it was an impressive indie film. The sequels, however, seem to be the perfect subject for all the criticism leveled at the first entry; What I've seen suggests they're desperately pointless efforts to shock. 

I hope the creators' real intentions aren't showing up in the hack-tastic, boring, narcissistic later installments. Viewers split on whether the acting in "Saw" was decent or painful, but I enjoyed myself even when I was laughing at a line or its delivery. The cast is full of fine actors, so it could only be so bad...  And I loved Danny Glover's montage. 

Of course I would've solved the central mystery in a minute, and the reality of the ending was BS (I saw it coming). Still, I had a good time. Even with its flaws, "Saw" did a steady job of maintaining its atmosphere. Or perhaps I gave this so much credit because it was made for nothing, and in less than a month…

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