Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sweet Home

Holy crap, Mr. Subtlety reminded me that I completely forgot to post about Sweet Home, which we watched with some other folks the same night as The House With Laughing Windows. (I blame alcohol for this oversight). I think that brings my total up to 78, and now I'm officially starting to feel less proud about all of this and more concerned that I might have some sort of mental disorder/compulsion.

A Japanese film crew visits the dilapidated old mansion of a deceased painter in search of his lost artwork. Buried under layers of dust and dirt, they find elaborate, disturbing frescoes painted on the walls hinting at dark, traumatic secrets in the painter's past. Finding the paintings, of course, awakens an evil spirit who controls the shadows, and the crew must fight for their lives and try to escape the mansion.

(Somehow I didn't realize until right now that I watched two movies in one night that involved creepy, old frescoes that also serve as clues to a bizarre mystery; again, blame the booze).

Sweet Home is very much in the vein of Poltergeist; a special effects heavy, 80's horror/adventure roller coaster ride. It's got some touches of Japanese weirdness (like an interlude where one character serenades the others for a while) and some over the top graphic violence and a dark backstory that turn the otherwise tame movie into something not family friendly, but it still has more in common with a Spielberg production than it does something like, I dunno, a Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie.

Which is fuckin' weird, because this is a Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie. That's right, Japan's go-to auteur of slow, atmosphere heavy, ambiguous, narratively obscure art/horror films made a rollicking, somewhat comedic horror/adventure film in the 80's. It was relatively early in his career, so I'm not sure if Kurosawa hadn't yet developed his signature style, or if he didn't yet have the clout to make that kind of movie, or what.

Somewhat surprisingly, he turns out to be rather adept at making this kind of film; it's energetic, packed with nifty visuals and cool effects, and doesn't feel at all like his usual deliberately paced, brooding output. Kurosawa has frequently display serious technical chops in his films, so I guess I shouldn't have found this too surprising, but he never seemed particularly versatile, either. Goes to show that his signature style isn't a sign of a limited skill set, just his favorite way of artistic expression.

Rating: B

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Halloween (and farewell for now)

As I've done before, I finished out October with perhaps my all-time favorite horror movie.

And holy shit, what an October! Not only did I beat my record for most watched horror movies in October (I believe I hit 76 this year... yowza), but I saw a shockingly high number of really damn good ones. Even better, a lot of the best ones were newer films, which helped renew my faith in modern horror cinema.

Now I retreat back into the shadows to take a break from horror movies for a bit and go back to the kind of austere, pretentious, arty-farty shit I neglected throughout October.

See you next October, kids!

The Man Who Changed His Mind

Haha no that's not a terrible title, silly, it's actually a pun. Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist who invents a machine that uses electrical energy to swap the consciousness of two different individuals. When those who do not believe his invention works seek to defund and discredit him, he uses his device in quite unethical ways.

What you have here is a rather enjoyable body-swap movie. The high point is when Karloff's sidekick takes over the body of an enemy, and has to try to pretend to be the man in front of the man's family. I love scenes like this in movies, which when done right are always funny and tense. And you can't help but think "why doesn't anyone realize what's going on?" Except, imagine if it happened to you. If one of your loved ones suddenly started behaving completely different, your first thought probably wouldn't be that they had switched bodies with someone else. Unless they seemed dangerous, you'd probably just go along with it.

Rating: B

The House With Laughing Windows

After travelling to a small town to restore the art work at a church, a man begins unraveling a strange mystery in the deceased artist's past, involving bizarre murders.

At 110 minutes, The House With Laughing Windows is an interminably long giallo almost completely lacking in the elements that usually make the genre entertaining. I'm not just talking about graphic violence and nudity. Forget that stuff. I'm talking about things like style, atmosphere, suspense, action, intrigue. Instead, this film is 90% flatly photographed scenes of a guy walking around town slowly uncovering a not very interesting mystery, while few people die and he never really seems to be in any real danger until the end. I watched a few seriously uneventful movies in October, but this might have been the worst.

The House With Laughing Windows seems to have something of a (minor) cult following, and I think that mainly stems from the last ten minutes or so, when something finally (FINALLY!) happens. The ending is... weird, to say the least, and I'll give it credit for that. I'm just not so sure it's good weird. The solution to the mystery doesn't make a damn lick of sense, and it too abruptly shifts from blandness to weirdness that it lacks the nightmarish feeling I suspect the filmmakers were aiming for.

Rating: D

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Corridor

A young man has a psychotic break, freaks out, and accidentally hurts some of his friends. Years later, while he is in recovery, he and the friends get together at an old cabin in the woods to try to patch things up. In the woods, the men discover a bizarre force-field-like energy that makes them feel strangely good, but also slowly begins feeding off of them and warping their minds.

The Corridor is a slow and thoughtful supernatural horror film, which gains its impact by spending time with the characters for a while before bringing the hammer down. At least the first half of the film is angst-ridden moping; just dudes talking about their feelings, settling old scores, trying to learn to forgive and shit. The emo-ness probably goes on a little longer than necessary, but it's helpful in establishing these characters so that you care when the shit hits the fan. And the payoff is mostly worth it: a good mix of intense emotions and nasty violence.

Sadly, the film stumbles in the finale, where it relies on special effects that it does not have the budget to make work. The "corridor" grows all big and is full of light, like something out of Spielberg, but the lousy CGI makes it look more like a Sci-Fi channel movie. I'm thinking if the filmmakers had held back and left the corridor up to the audience's imagination (as they do for much of the middle section of the film) it would have made for a more effective finale.

Rating: B-

Dark Corners

A young, blond woman (Thora Birch) with a seemingly idyllic life begins have strange, half remembered dreams where she's a brunette (Birch again) in a far more hellish existence. Only, that brunette may be a real person who sometimes dreams that she's the blond. As the blond's life begins taking bizarre, tragic turns, the two realities seem poised to collide, and the question remains: which one is real?

Apologies again, but the details are already beginning to get hazy on this one. Dark Corners has an irresistible premise, but my sense was that it was a little slow to get rolling and not entirely satisfying in how the story plays out. I thought it was weird and neat enough to be watchable, but not anything special.

There's a recently cancelled TV series (Awake) that I've been meaning to check out that has a similar premise, which I'm hoping will make it to DVD soon.

Rating: C+

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Return of the Living Dead

Punks Vs. Zombies!!!

I think what makes Return of the Living Dead such a classic that I have to return to every year or so is that, underneath the comedy and the outlandish special effects and all the goofy fun, is a real darkness and cynicism that give it a little extra punch. There's also at least one truly, deeply disturbing idea at the core of the movie: that death hurts and the zombies do what they do because it somehow dulls the pain. The idea of oblivion is scary enough; to imagine that death could some how be agonizing in a very literal, physical way is an intolerable notion. The film is full of strange, thoughtful subtext that gets under my skin, even when I'm laughing my ass off at its shenanigans.

Rating: A

Forget Me Not

A bunch of extremely obnoxious assholes are terrorized by the ghost of someone they had done something bad to when they were kids. Not only can the ghost kill them, but when they die, they are completely erased from existence.

Just, ugh. Forget Me Not suffers from the most egregious case of Random Asshole Syndrome I can recall seeing, maybe ever. At a bloated 103 minutes, the film is just an endless parade of douchey, underwear model looking motherfuckers bitching at each other for no apparent reason. You will stand up and applaud when they start getting wiped from history.

The idea of the characters being rubbed out from history is potentially interesting, but it's not utilized in any novel ways. It could actually be kind of cool if it impacted the plot more; if, say, Jacob Q. Douchenozzle's erasure from existence caused butterfly effect ripples through time that effected the other characters and elements of the story. Instead the film is just content to be a tedious rehashing of ghost movie cliches, replete with the tragic backstory doled out like a mystery even though you can basically guess the ghost's motivation from the beginning.

Rating: D

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Golem

To fight back at their persecutors, a rabbi builds a giant clay man and brings it to life to protect the Jewish community in his town. Only, can he keep the monster under his control?

A precursor to the cinematic Frankenstein in some ways, The Golem is a nicely atmospheric and entertaining silent, German horror film. While mostly staying literal, there is some crazy German expressionism in effect, with a great use of sets, set design and color tinted film. Although at times it feels a little more like fantasy or adventure, you can see the seeds of horror cinema starting to sprout here, with the expressive use of shadows, and a hulking, unkillable monster. The Golem not only strikes me as a visual inspiration for Boris Karloff's Frankenstein's Monster, but for later hulking serial killers like Jason Vorhees.

Rating: B+


A young man is abducted by a mad scientist, who subjects him to bizarre physical and psychological tortures. It becomes clear that the madman is preparing him for something heinous... but what?

Although it's not a well made enough movie that I think it would worked on it's own, Victim seriously suffers from the fact that another movie came out around the same time with a very similar premise. If you've seen The Skin I Live In, then that will pull the rug right out from under this one. Victim is not a very good movie, but the premise at the center (which I won't spoil in case you haven't seen Skin) is seriously fucked up and might have had some impact if I had been unprepared. Victim was actually released a few months earlier; I bet the filmmakers fucking hate Almodovar for stealing their thunder. It's actually amazing how close the two concepts are; even the mad scientist's motivation is more or less the same.

Of course, the big difference is that Almodovar is a brilliant filmmaker who uses the profoundly disturbing concept as one small piece of a twisty, turny puzzle that explores the nature of identity, and surface appearance vs. the inner-self. Victim is just a sick joke stretched out to feature length. Props to the filmmakers for really going all the way with a nasty idea, but the final result is surprisingly tedious (especially once you figure out what's going on); there's only really enough material here for a short film.

Rating: C-

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Not going to lie, my memory has already gotten pretty fuzzy on this one. There's a weird rash of suicides that may or may not be caused by sunspots. However, a medical students theorizes that some of the deaths may in fact be murders disguised to look like suicides.

Weird enough not to totally suck, but not weird or interesting enough to really be any good, Autopsy is probably not the best place to start for someone looking for a good giallo. Even at the time I don't think I fully followed the damn mystery, and I'm not sure the premise even makes any sense. I mean, sunspots don't cause suicides, right? That's not a thing. And then some serial killer is also killing people under the guise of the sunspots? Wha...?

Rating: C

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Basket Case 3: The Progeny

The now totally crazy Duane, his mutant brother Belial, and the rest of their gang of freaks take a road trip to a small town, where they run afoul of the overzealous local law enforcement, who are intent on wiping them out. The twist this time is that Belial's girlfriend has given birth to a whole litter of mini-Belials, just as ugly and murderous as their old man.

Frank Henenlotter is a contemporary of folks like Stuart Gordon, Sam Raimi and Dan O'Bannon, who made some ridiculously violent and disgusting horror/comedies that delighted in trying to go as far over-the-top as possible. The difference is, Henelotter never really made a classic. Frankenhooker, Brain Damage and the Basket Case films are all fun in their own ways, but none really add up to much more than an amusing but forgettable experience. I think the problem is most likely that his films aren't very funny; despite the demented imagination and the gruesome/silly special effects on display, Henenlotter tends to rely on corny jokes and deliberately bad performances that make the whole enterprise feel a little dopey and tossed off.

Still, if you like this crap (and I do), Basket Case 3 will deliver. It's got mutant birth, baby Belials, a cadre of goofy freaks, horribly facial mutilation and decapitation, and for the finale Belial dons some sort of low budget, man-sized mecha suit to fight the evil sheriff. You won't laugh much but you will smile a lot.

Rating: B-

Don't Deliver Us From Evil

Loosely inspired by the same true events that were the basis for Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, Don't Deliver Us From Evil tells the story of two inseparable best friends who decide to dedicate their lives to wickedness. This includes theft, vandalization, animal torture, and seducing grown men only to abruptly reject their advances.

Don't Deliver Us From Evil is not bad, exactly, it just isn't what it's trying to be. I believe it to be an earnest art film trying to explore a bizarre relationship, and maybe some other themes about religion and alienation. It wants to be slow, dreamy, eerie, thoughtful. But it's not, except for the slow part. It has this tawdry vibe to it, frequently showing off the bodies of its jailbait protagonists, that suggests a more prurient appeal to the film that undercuts whatever serious aspirations it had. I'm okay with the sleazy stuff; in fact, I think this would have been a far better movie if it has just embraced the trash and made it a blood and sex fueled romp. As it stands, the filmmakers lacked the necessary talent to make the artsier parts successful.

Mitigating factor: the final scene, where the girls commit public suicide in a very bold manner, has the impact the rest of the film lacks.

Rating: C

Burn, Witch, Burn

A college professor who teaches a class on superstition slowly realizes that his wife is practicing witchcraft; or, at least, believes that she is. She says she does it to protect them from outside forces, but not believing in that hogwash he asks her to stop. Only, when she does, his life begins crumbling down around him.

Burn, Witch, Burn gets off to an amusingly corny start, with an unseen narrator invoking an ancient incantation (or some such nonsense) to protect the audience from any real, evil magic that might be conjured during the film. It's an undignified beginning to what turns out to be a pretty classy, suspense driven film that plays with the tension between the rational and the superstitious. It's an Arkoff/Nicholson production, but not like some of their more lurid, psychedelic later films. It's got a slow burn, psychological vibe more in key with the Val Lewton productions of the 1940's. Very much recommended to folks who enjoy talky, deliberately paced older horror films.

Rating: B

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Dr. Phibes pops right back out of where he entombed himself at the end of the first film, with another scheme to revive his dead wife and get revenge on his enemies.

I have a real fondness for these silly films. Dr. Phibes is like a proto, corny, psychedelic version of Jigsaw from the Saw movies, what with his absurd death contraptions and penchant for speechifying. These are corny movies, but good corny movies, based more around the joys of gawking at the ridiculous sets and costumes, chuckling at the grotesque murders, and marveling at just how profoundly Vincent Price can ham it up.

Rating: B

Suspended Animation

A cartoonist crashes his snowmobile outside of the home of two weird, backwoods sisters living in a remote cabin. Of course, they turn out to be sadistic serial killers planning to torture and kill him. Pretty standard stuff, really, but the movie has a few curveballs up its sleeve.

Suspended Animation is a pretty glorious gear-shift movie. I don't want to discuss the plot too much, because I don't want to ruin any surprises, but suffice it to say that it's the kind of horror/thriller that takes an abrupt left turn every 20 minutes or so, and knows how to do it right. Production wise, it unfortunately looks like a mid 90's Canadian TV show, and has some iffy acting here and there. But don't let that scare you off. The story (based on an unpublished novel by the director's wife) is a work of demented inspiration, managing to spin it's way through enough plot for 3 or 4 serial killer movies. The only real letdown is the very end; the final twist is the only predictable, disappointing one.

Rating: B


A man with an almost cult leader-esque ability to win friends and influence people teams up with a corrupt detective to start something like a backwoods Korean mafia. Years later, after the man's death, his son comes to visit his seemingly sleepy, rural town, only to slowly uncover its violent, sordid history.

First note: sorry for the delay in posts. Life has been intervening. I have about the last week or so's worth of movies to still post, and I will try to get them out ASAP. Still, I'm pretty busy right now so I may be making my posts more terse.

More moody crime drama than full-out horror film, Moss provides further attestation to the fact that South Korea is producing some of the world's most interesting recent genre films. It's an ambitious, complex, multi-character, multi-generational mystery that bounces back and forth between past and present. The story is dense enough that it is hard to follow for the first half hour or so, but like The Wire, you'll eventually catch up to the film's stride.

At nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes, I wish Moss had a better denouement. It's so rich in mystery and possibilities (and doesn't skimp on the thrills, either) that the final revelations feel like a let down. Just goes to show you that it's usually the question and not the answer that makes a mystery compelling.

Props should go out to the actors portraying the villains, who have to play themselves in modern day as well as young men. The old-man make-up is, if not perfect, convincing enough, and the performances deal with a considerable technical challenge without looking like they are breaking a sweat.

Rating: B

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Ghoul

A dying man (Boris Karloff) constructs a tomb in which he is to be buried with an Egyptian diamond, which he believes will help grant him eternal life. After his passing, his heirs come to his estate, the diamond is stolen, and Karloff returns from the dead to seek revenge.

The Ghoul is one of the most baldly atmospheric horror films I've seen from the 1930's. More or less the whole film takes places at night, and every shot is a rich tapestry of deep shadows and eerie, almost abstract swathes of light. They lay it on thick, which is just the way I like it. The damn thing almost looks like it was shot in a pitch black cave with only a few candles for light.

Which is why I was surprised that, after a dark and moody opening, it turns much more into a light-on-its-feet comedic adventure/horror film after the heirs are introduced. And not in a bad way. As much as I would have loved it if the film had tried to really go for something nightmarish, the characters are likable, the banter is witty, the set pieces are fun. The only downside is that Karloff is mostly wasted; after he dies early on, he disappears for awhile, and then comes back as a silent, personality-free hulk with nothing to do but kill. I think they were mainly trying to capitalize on his role as Frankenstein's monster, but he's way more of a cypher here and it might as well have been anyone playing the ghoul.

Rating: B


A widowed detective, growing increasingly alienated from his self-reliant-by-circumstance young sons, becomes tied up in a series of horrific murders. Only, evidence suggests this is not the work of one crazed individual, but rather the doings of a well organized group of 4.

Horsemen is like the umpteenth million post-Silence of the Lambs and Se7en serial killer movie to come out. It's overall story and style is pieced together from countless stock elements; bizarre murders, cryptic clues deliberately left for the police, a serial killer/genius who verbally spars with the protagonist (granted, this role is cast with an actor you wouldn't normally think for the role), shots of desolate, snow covered fields, and a ridiculously convoluted modus operandi for the villains. It's competently done all around, but there's nothing original in the basic outlines of its story or style.

And yet, I kind of really liked Horsemen. Its following shopworn cliches, but it does them right, and gets a strong boost from by a great cast, who are given meatier-than-usual characters for the genre. The cast includes, but is not limited to (I want to leave a few names out because there's a pleasant surprise or two) Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang, Lou Taylor Pucci, Eric Balfour and Peter Stormare. Quaid is the lead, and at first he seems like your standard issue "down on his luck cop," until the movie starts fleshing out more and more what's going on with his sons.

The Horsemen's methods are ridiculous; convoluted to the point of absurdity and ultimately kind of arbitrary (all of the biblical stuff turns out to be a red herring). Yes, but the motivation for the killers' turns out to be surprising, emotional, and fits perfectly in with the film's themes of distant fathers and family members. Anyone who has seen a movie before should be able to guess who the mastermind of the Horsemen is early on, but they might not guess how it all shakes out. Instead of your usual action/suspense climax, the final scenes of Horsemen are surprisingly emotionally raw and heartfelt. It's not often you see a serial killer movie that ends with the hero and the killer trying to find some sort of emotional catharsis together, but that's just what this one does.

Rating: B