Archive for Random Thoughts

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 18: Santa Sangre (1989)

Oh boy… I mean… wow. So, I watched Santa Sangre. You should watch this, and since I’m about to spoil it to hell and back, you should stop, go watch it, and then come back.

Spoilers will commence in 3… 2… 1…

We begin with a naked man sitting in a tree that appears to be inside an insane asylum. The nurses come to coax him out of his tree with food, a fish does the trick. As they dress him, we see a phoenix tattoo on his chest. Then we flash back to his youth…

This man, Fenix, grew up in the circus. He was a child magician, his father a knife thrower and his mother an aerialist. There is also a tattooed woman, a young deaf mime, a midget, clowns and an elephant. Fenix’s mom is also the leader of a religious cult that worships an armless girl – she was raped and had her arms cut off. Her church is bulldozed as blasphemous. When she returns to the circus and finds her husband cheating on her, he hypnotizes her into forgetting.

The elephant dies, they have a funeral, and then people carve it up to eat. To console his son, Fenix’s father forces him to get the tattoo we saw earlier. Later, Fenix’s mom catches dad cheating again, pours acid on his junk, he cuts her arms off and then wanders into the street where he slits his own throat.

In the craziness, the tattooed lady runs off with the deaf mime.

Back in the present, Fenix goes on a field trip with some other people from the asylum to the movies. A pimp convinces them to come do some cocaine and have sex with prostitutes. There Fenix sees the tattooed lady, who is pimping out the deaf mime girl (now also grown up), Alma. After returning to the asylum, Fenix’s mom calls to him from the street. He escapes. Then the tattooed lady is murdered, and we only see hands with painted fingernails.

Fenix and his armless mother put together a new act now that he’s out. She sings and plays piano and other tricks, all while Fenix stand behind her with his arms through her sleeves, giving her the appearance of arms. Very quickly he learns that his mother can actually control his arms with the power of her mind. Using his arms, she forces him to kill the women she deems unfit for him.

Alma finds Fenix and the two of them fall in love and plan to run away from Fenix’s armless mom. But mom catches them and tried to make Fenix kill Alma. He fights back, however, and stabs his own mother in the stomach. At that moment, mom reveals that she doesn’t exist at all, that she died back when her arms were cut off and that Fenix has a mannequin that looks like his mom, arms missing and everything, that he’s been pretending was her. He smashes it and destroys the temple he apparently build – very much like the cult his mother used to run – with the help of his circus friends, who are also imaginary.

Alma is real though, and the two of them again plan to leave together. Then step out of the house into the street where the police are waiting. They are told to put their hands up and they do. Fenix is amazed to have complete control of his own arms again.

I thought I would hate this movie when I read about it. It seemed like it would be a bizarre surrealist trip… and in some ways it was, but it was also a horror film, where our hero is the killer. As I watched, I found myself enraptured by the tale as it unfolded. Despite its low budget, the film is put together very well and it makes me feel even worse for some of the terribly made low budget horror I’ve seen.

Anyway, I liked it and would recommend seeing it even though if you’ve read this far I’ve spoiled the whole thing. That is, unless you took my earlier advice and watched it first. Now I want to find other people who’ve seen this and discuss it with them.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 17: The Tenant (1976)

The Tenant bills itself as a psychological suspense thriller. If you held a gun to my head, I might give it the psychological part, seeing as at the end the guy may or may not be crazy. I could even be generous and give it the suspense part, as there are many parts of the film where I had no idea where it was going. But thriller? No even close.

I’m pretty certain the 90% fresh rating the movie holds on Rotten Tomatoes has to be either from former or current film students who admired the technical construction of the movie, or from people who simply saw Roman Polanski’s name and gave it a pass, because it seriously cannot be for the plot, which is sullen, plodding and dull. It is full of subtleties so subtle that they barely differentiate themselves from the plot, and subtleties so subtle that they feel like being hit by a truck. No more than fifteen minutes in I thought I had this movie figured out, I knew where it was going, and then I settled in to wait for this psychological suspense thriller to take me for a ride… I was extremely disappointed that the movie never deviated course for one minute. It plowed onward directly toward the ending it had framed from the start, it plowed toward it and through it.

Despite the predictable plot, the movie is filmed beautifully. The use of mirrors and camera movements alone makes it worth sitting through once. And the performances of many of the actors, even Polanski himself in the main role, are quite good.

Ah well, at least now I can say that I’ve seen it. Though I suppose I could have always said that, now I just won’t be lying.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 16: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Somewhere, a film student is about to drop dead. I didn’t like Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bergman’s work over the years, and not one bit of it has clicked with me.

There really isn’t much more to say about it than that.

On the other hand, I always enjoy watching Max von Sydow work. The man who would be Jesus, the Devil and Ming the Merciless.

I’ll probably never watch Hour of the Wolf again, and it’s another black mark for me against Ingmar Bergman – though I still hold out hope for both The Magician and The Seventh Seal, I like the sound of them both, but I’ve avoided them because I don’t want to be disappointed.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 15: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 (1988)

I’m pretty sure at some point in my life I enjoyed the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. But after a run through of the entire original set, from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street to Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare, I can say that I still sort of like the original, the third one has its moments, six is fun and the seventh is a nice end for the series. And while the remake of the original is decent enough, I think we can all agree that Freddy vs Jason has no real point but fan service. Missing from my list are two, four and five – which I remembered not liking all along. So I was moderately unhappy that it was A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master which was picked for SHOCKtober.

First off, I hate when a series can’t get an actor or actress back. So when Kristen shows up portrayed by Tuesday Knight instead of Patricia Arquette I’m already annoyed. And then the movie quickly kills off everyone who managed to survive part 3, Dream Warriors.

Next, you know, I forgot how completely campy and ridiculous these movies are. I now know with absolute certainty that I prefer my movie monsters to be either more serious or more silent, or both. The constant jokes, puns and quips from Freddy are just so terrible. They aren’t even funny. I cringed my way through the movie, not from blood and gore but from the sense of humor.

And to top it off, the decision to make Freddy the supernatural guardian of the gate of bad dreams while Alice is the supernatural (yet mortal) guardian of the gate of good dreams… ugh. And that rhyme about the Dream Master? It’s the 4th movie… why haven’t we heard that before? Oh, right, because it didn’t exist until this film. Double ugh.

However, as much as I don’t want to recommend anyone bother watching this movie, unfortunately the entirety of the arc of the movies, through A New Nightmare is actually quite good, and in order to really appreciate that final film, you need to have suffered through the rest of them.

For my money though, Wes Craven did a much better job using dreams in 1989’s Shocker. In fact, snag this collection and get three Wes Craven movies that are each better than the entire Nightmare series.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 14: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

There is only so much you can show on TV in the US, and sometimes it is that very limitation that can result in something that truly rises above. Originally aired on October 10, 1973 – exactly one year before my birth – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark tells the story of a woman who inherits a house from her grandmother, and in that house is a locked room, and in that locked room is a bricked up fireplace, and in that bricked up fireplace are a bunch of goblins.

Of course, she opens the fireplace and the goblins start to stalk her, hiding in the shadows and trying to bring her into their realm beyond the fireplace. And those little bastards are creepy looking.

Guillermo del Toro apparently saw this movie as a kid, and it stuck with him enough that he remade the film in 2011. His remake had a number of changes, introducing a child and revealing a lot more of the mystery behind the monsters than the original. And while I think those reveals are really cool, I do think that it also lost a lot of the creepiness and charm of the 1973 version by swapping out people in make-up for CGI goblins. The originals almost sad and forlorn, while the remakes are going directly for fright.

Both versions, in my opinion are worth watching, but I would probably suggest watching the original first and letting it sit a while before experiencing the remake.

Anyway, there are a lot of parallels between the two films, but for me I think the remake is less scary because it introduces the kid. Kids are supposed to see monsters in their closets and under their beds, so having the monsters be real for a kid is a tired trope of horror films. With the original, it’s all happening to an adult and so there is a bigger level of disbelief from the other characters. Grown ups aren’t supposed to see creatures in the shadows, so is she having a mental break-down? It would almost be acceptable if the movie ended with everything being in her head. That it doesn’t is a sharper twist than in the remake.

Along with the changes in look for the goblins, the original monsters – being people in costumes – move more regularly, and lend more credibility to the idea that these are all former humans who have been trapped and transformed. In the remake, the goblins bound around the room the way most CGI creatures do in films, which to me makes them so much more easy to disbelieve.

Both films end equally bleak, which is good for a horror film. Watch them both and judge for yourself which one is better.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 13: Left Bank (2008)

Left Bank is a classic tale of girl meets boy, girl loses chance to become a running champion, girl moves in with boy, girl befalls a great evil. Okay, so maybe not so classic.

The movie is served with several extra helpings of mood. It’s a sluggish tale told in muted tones and melancholy. Don’t try to watch in when you are tired or it’ll take you two or three times as long to watch, like it did for me. I kept falling asleep.

That’s not a very good endorsement. Let the Right One In was similar in this fashion, very moody, very slow, very quiet. In the end, worth watching, but it is such a slog to get to the stuff that makes the film worth it. At least the aforementioned vampire film had a sense of foreboding, that things were building within the characters. Here, there is some idea that something odd is going on, like that apparently dirt is coming out of her vagina, but it is very slight, until nearly an hour in when the movie punches you in the face with the history of the land the building rests on, at which point the vast majority of its wad is blown and the film proceeds exactly as planned to its inevitable conclusion. And it proceeds to that end slowly and methodically, somberly and in shades of drab colors. I kept falling asleep.

I’ll have to keep Left Bank in mind for the next time I’m having trouble sleeping. I haven’t had this much trouble staying awake for a movie since the ironically named Insomnia – which I’ve still never fully seen because just a few minutes of that movie sends me off to slumber land.

Despite the slowness and frequent bouts of unconsciousness, I found the movie to be very well shot. The cinematography was often beautiful, and the acting was good. Everything about the film was well crafted, it was just extremely unexciting. Well, it did pick up a little in the final fifteen minutes. It’s just the previous hour and twenty that was so slow.

The ending of the film will probably be a bit of a head scratcher for most folks, it even had be confused for a little while…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants - Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 12: Shivers (1975)

I’m just going to come right out and say the best thing about Shivers is that it was David Cronenberg’s first feature directing gig and he would go on to make incredible movies like The Dead Zone, The Fly and so much more. Shivers, on the other hand, is fairly terrible.

Oh, I suppose there is some sort of subtext here about the dangers of promiscuity. I mean, the movie opens with a juxtaposition of scenes, a young couple looking to move into the swank building and inside the building James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio is raping and killing a school girl. It turns out that James, or rather Dr. Emil Hobbes, is part of a team working on using parasites as organ replacements, or something. Anyway, he’s been testing it on this girl, who it turns out is very popular among the other tenants. James Emil has discovered that the parasite is winning or taking over, so he isn’t really killing her but killing the parasite. Her sleeping around has passed the parasite on to others, and before long we’ve got an outbreak.

People die, sometimes grossly, and others are just hosts for parasites, such as the one that crawls into a bathing woman’s vajayjay.

Despite all that, the acting is bad and the special effects often look… well… special. Imagine that the second time I wrote “special” is was done in a very condescending and yet gentle manner.

Look, they can’t all be winners, and Cronenberg has plenty of those, this just isn’t one. If for some reason you feel like tracking down a copy to watch, you might find it under one of its alternate titles: The Parasite Murders, They Came from Within, or Frissons.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Money and a Half

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 11: Pulse (2001)

Have you ever been so lonely that you turned into an immortal black smudge on the wall that will never die but will also never do anything? Me neither.

I’ve been on the Internet so long and made so many friend, many of whom I interact with daily, that it is completely alien to me the concept which people worried about for so long and worry about still, that people will just sit and stare at the PC screen, surfing the web, talking to no one, completely isolated. I suppose there is a certain kernel of truth to it, but I think it’s extremely rare.

Even so, as Pulse paints a picture of people becoming separated by the world they live in and literally fading to ash it is unnerving. Although nothing is ever said for certain, it appears that wherever ghosts go when people die is full or for some other reason ghosts are pushing through into our world. After death is eternal loneliness, and the ghosts share that with people, who get super lonely and either kill themselves or become listless and eventually fade to ash. It’s happening all over the world, and, the film posits, the only people who remain are those who are okay with being alone or with being surrounded by ghosts.

I guess that means if this were to happen I’d probably be okay.

For a ghost story, Pulse lacks any sudden jumps or freak out scares. When ghosts appear they slowly float toward people, though occasionally they do that weird “stand in a way that people don’t stand” thing that is common to Japanese horror films. It’s like a shortcut that says, “What you are seeing isn’t a person.” It works too. A silhouette breaks from the shadows and moves toward someone. It could be anything, and then, bang! that’s not a person!! For most of its length, Pulse is a more subtle sort of film. Totally not for everyone, but I think some people will really… not “enjoy it” exactly, but will get something from watching it.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Scarina’s Scary Vault of Scariness, Money and a Half

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 10: Possession (1981)

I first met Sam Neill on a submarine. While his captain stormed around the boat speaking English with a Scottish accent, Sam wanted only to see Montana. Keeping a nautical theme, we met again as he took his wife sailing only to be accosted by a madman. Next, he was a member of the CIA. Of course, he really came to the forefront as a man fighting for survival against dinosaurs.

But for me, there were really two roles that stuck in my head, and as which I always think of Sam Neill. The first was In The Mouth of Madness and the second was Event Horizon, both of which could easily fit onto a list of horror films to watch during the month of October. Both of which are crazy supernatural films.

Until recently, I was unaware that he’d done crazy supernatural before. 1981’s Possession is just such a film. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Sam plays Mark, who is a spy – but that’s really unimportant – and has just returned home from a secret mission to find out his wife wants to divorce him. Hindsight being what it is, he should have just let her go. Instead, he wants things to work out but decides to give her some space. Oh, and their son. He just kind of walks out and gets a new place for himself. Rather than getting on with his life like he should, he becomes obsessed, calling all the time, and finally going back home to discover everything is a mess and their son is home alone. Mark moves back in to take care of the kid, and Anna moves out. Mark gets a call from Heinrich, Anna’s lover, who says Anna is staying with him. Mark, despite being a spy and having access to other stuff, gets info about Heinrich from one of Anna’s friends, and then Mark meets Helen, his son’s teacher, who is played by the same actress as his wife.

It’s important to notice this, and the movie hits you in the face with it, having Mark freak out a little and bring up that Anna and Helen look so much alike.

So Mark goes to meet Heinrich and learns that Anna isn’t there. In fact, Heinrich has been out of town and didn’t call Mark before. He hasn’t seen Anna in a while. Anna comes home but won’t talk about where she’s living. He beats her and she leaves. Mark, who once again I will point out is a SPY, hires a common private investigator to follow his wife. Then goes home and possibly has sex with Anna’s friend who gave him the info on Heinrich. The next day, Mark and Anna have a fight, Anna cuts her neck with an electric carving knife, he bandages her up and then sits listlessly cutting his own arm with the same electric carving knife. She leaves.

The private investigator follows her to a squalid apartment. He pretends to be the building manager to gain access, and finds some sort of ugly creature in the bathroom. Anna kills him with a broken bottle. Meanwhile, since his wife left Mark has only one option open to him… start dating the woman who looks exactly like his wife, because that’s going to end well. The private investigator’s lover shows up looking for the private investigator. Mark gives him the address for his wife’s new apartment, which the private investigator never gave him, probably because Mark is a SPY and got it himself anyway… did he just get someone killed for no reason? Anyway, the lover goes looking for the P.I. Anna attacks him, he tries to shoot her then she takes his gun and shoots him a bunch, but not before admitting that she’s been having sex with the creature in the bathroom.

Anna comes home again and starts putting food in the bedroom and clothes in the fridge. She admits to Mark that she had a miscarriage and we are treated to a flashback that looks nothing like a miscarriage but instead like someone having a flailing seizure and then bleeding profusely. She doesn’t appear to have seen a doctor.

Heinrich goes to see Anna at her new place. Or rather, Mark calls him and says, “Hey, why don’t you go see my wife?” He does, he sees the creature, she shows him a collection of body parts she has in the fridge, and Anna stabs him but he gets away. Hmm… first the address, now this, maybe Mark isn’t just a spy, maybe he’s an assassin of some sort. Heinrich calls Mark says, “Hey buddy, your wife is messed up and stuff.” Mark goes to the apartment, sees the body parts, then goes to meet Heinrich and murders him. At this point, Heinrich’s mom calls Mark, because for some reason she has the phone number for her son’s lover’s husband, looking for her son, whose body has been found but she’s looking for his soul.

Mark finally catches up to his wife at her apartment, where he watches her has sex with the monster. Let me restate that, Mark walks by the camera and WE watch her have sex with the monster.

Heinrich’s mom comes to visit, poisons herself and dies.

Mark’s employers show up and ask him to do a job. He refuses, runs away and kills a police officer. Then he wrecks his motorcycle and runs into a building where Anna follows him, because she’s there. Anna reveals the creature, which is now “finished”, and it looks exactly like Mark. Then cops shoot them all in a hail of gunfire. Monster-Mark isn’t hurt.

Anna shoots herself with Mark’s gun and dies. Mark jumps to his death in the open stairwell. Monster-Mark escapes.

Later, at home, Helen – the teacher who looks like Anna – is with the son. The doorbell rings and the kid starts repeating “Don’t Open” while running through the apartment and finally diving into a full bathtub. We close in on Helen’s face as she gives us a “What’s going on?” look. In the background you can see Monster-Mark writhing against the glass door. Sirens and plane noises are heard. Light illuminates her eyes.

So… now that that’s over… what the hell did I just see? Is Helen a Monster-Anna? Was the light in her eyes explosions and the kid was actually super smart to dive into the tub for protection? Why was all this even happening? I have no idea! I love it! I will probably never ever EVER watch it again, but I love it!

You might be thinking, “Jason, you totally just spoiled the whole movie!” and you’d be right, but you would also be so very wrong. It really does have to be seen to be believed. However, if you wish to see it, you might have to .. um.. find a copy. If you know what I mean. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants - Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Money and a Half, nijomu, Creatures of Light and Darkness

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 9: Dead Alive (1992)

Peter Jackson became a household name with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But before he got into large budget sprawling epics he made a few splatter horror films, Dead Alive – or Braindead – being his third feature-length film.

The film concerns a man, Lionel, who lives with his domineering mother. While he’s on a date with a woman his mother doesn’t approve of, his mother – who is spying on him – is bitten at the zoo by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey. From the bite she slowly turns into a zombie. But Lionel is a dutiful son, and tries to keep his mother under control by keeping her locked in the house and drugged. Of course, if he kept her separate from the world, this would be a pretty boring movie, so she starts murdering people, who turn into zombies, which Lionel tries to keep locked in the house.

It’s an odd reversal on the old zombie movie trope. Rather than people trapped in a house surrounded by the undead, Dead Alive offers up a house full of zombies surrounded by an unsuspecting world.

Peter Jackson and his special effects team unleash buckets of buckets of buckets of blood. It’s quite possibly the goriest film I’ve ever seen. “Splatter” doesn’t really begin to describe it. There’s this scene with a lawn mower… wow. The blood and guts is tempered a little with comedy, but if you are the squeamish sort, this movie is definitely not for you.

Personally, though, if I have to pick a favorite Peter Jackson film, despite the awesomeness of the Lord of the Rings films and how much I do enjoy King Kong, until The Hobbit movie drops this December, my favorite has to be The Frighteners. There is just something about that movie, I can watch it over and over.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Creatures of Light and Darkness