SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 22: Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

Who Can Kill a Child? Our gut tells us that we should protect children. But then, most children aren’t actually trying to murder you.

Tom and Evelyn go on one last holiday before the birth of their child, and arrive on an island populated almost entirely by children. The kids they encounter don’t speak to them. And soon it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right.

Then it become REALLY apparent when the kids start to attack them.

Children as killers is actually a fairly well tread ground at this point, but I suspect back in 1976 is was much more rare. I mean, at this point we’ve had 9 Children of the Corn movies. But even before this particular movie we had things like Village of the Damned. And still, children as murderers is really creepy. I find this stuff more disturbing than monsters or zombies or regular plain old psychopaths.

There was a lot to like in this movie as a horror film. Especially that nothing really stood out as a giant glaring plot driven idiotic decision. “Hey, let’s split up and enter these dark tunnels without weapons but waving flashlights around and yelling the name of our missing friend… that won’t be dangerous at all!” Didn’t happen here.

By far the most disturbing part of this movie is the opening, which uses documentary footage to show the atrocities committed against children all around the world beginning with the concentration camps in World War II. I like horror films, mostly because they don’t happen. I’m a huge fan of zombie films because the likelihood of a real zombie apocalypse is so near zero as to be zero. In fact, it probably is zero. But when I see real footage of real stuff that really happened… I almost turned the movie off a couple of times. If you can muscle through it, though, or skip past it, then Who Can Kill a Child? is a good horror movie to watch.

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 21: Battle Royale (2000)

Before there were the Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale.

Imagine if the “kids today” were so ungrateful and disrespectful that the government decided it needed to sort them and quell rebellion through pitting the children against one another in a fight to the death… This is Battle Royale. Forty-two students, half boys and half girls, are gassed and transported to an island where they are given equipment, exploding tracking collars and three days to reduce their own number to just one winner.

Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it does make for a fun, bloody thrill ride of a movie.

You’ll see kids killing kids, and kids killing themselves. You’ll see kids get shot and stabbed and blown up. It’s just wall to wall dead kids right up until the end.

Watching BR, I can’t help but think, “If I’d seen this 10 years ago when it came out, I might have been shocked.” Instead, thanks to the torture-porn style horror films, this is merely an action film with a slightly twisted premise. And of course, I can’t help but compare it to the Hunger Games. The book, in its way, is fairly ruthless, but when HG was translated to the screen it was sanitized for mass consumption and so many of the fights and deaths of the film lack the gravity they held in the book.

Anyway… I enjoyed it. I think I’ll track down a copy of the book…

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 20: And Soon the Darkness (1970)

And Soon the Darkness. That is such a damn cool name for a movie. It is foreboding.

It’s just a shame this movie doesn’t live up to its title. Two English girls are touring the French countryside on bicycles. One of them is getting tired of seeing the countryside and wants to stay at a town, meet some boys and do stuff. The two girls fight and the one who planned the trip and doesn’t want to stop rides on. In the next little village she waits at a cafe for her friend to catch up. When she doesn’t show up, the girl heads back to look for her friend, but she’s gone missing.

She meets a man the two of them met earlier, and he claims to be a policeman looking into the disappearance of another girl whose description matches the friend who has gone missing now. But there is something not quite right about this guy…

At that point the rest of the movie is about the girl running from this guy who is either trying to kill her or is trying to protect her from the real killer. Only at the very end do we discover the fate of her friend and who the killer is.

While the film is ultimately fairly boring, as are many of the older “horror” films that are really more thriller than horror, and the ending wasn’t much of a surprise, they did do one thing extremely well: language. When pulling up this film on Netflix, the description mentioned France and the details said it had English subtitles, so I went in thinking I was watching another foreign language film that I would need to read. Instead, there were no subtitles at all. The two girls are British, and don’t speak much French. Meanwhile, most of the people in the villages speak French and not much English. The French isn’t translated or subtitled, which leaves the viewer, assuming you don’t speak French, in the same position as our lead character. She tries to explain things and then tries to comprehend their answers. It adds quite a lot to the mood and tone of the film, heightening the tension for our heroine.

Overall, And Soon the Darkness is a decent film, but not great. I don’t know if I want to watch the 2010 remake that seems to change quite a bit of it, but it has a pretty decent cast…

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 19: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

What we call horror movies today might actually frighten the people of the 1940s to death, or at least disgust them and send them running from the theater. What they called horror movies are often what we might call light dramas with a touch of the supernatural. I Walked with a Zombie is such a film. Don’t go into this expecting to be chilled down to your bones from the terror of the zombies. First off, this isn’t the flesh-eating sort of George Romero. This is closer to the Weekend at Bernie’s sort of voodoo zombie, only with 100% less wacky hi-jinks. Is it wrong to love those two movies as much as I do? … Probably.

Betsy is a nurse in Canada who takes a job to care for the wife of a sugar plantation owner on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. It’s a tiny island with a small population of whites and the rest the descendants of slaves brought to the island to work the cane fields. The plantation owner’s wife is in a semi-catatonic state. She is awake and responds to simple commands, but appears to have no will of her own. With the island full of voodoo believers, rumor spreads that she might be a zombie.

I Walked with a Zombie is not a great film, but it’s a pretty decent one. It sells the island, the plantation and its community very well. Plus, the soundtrack is catchy. Check out this scene that includes a couple of songs.

The second song appears again shortly in the movie, but here is a version of it done with a band, uninterrupted. Before you listen, however, it should be noted that the lyrics are spoilers, sort of. Later versions of the song by other bands changed the words so that they weren’t so movie specific.

Anyhow, if you get your hands on a copy, it’s just under 70 minutes long, so even if you don’t enjoy it you won’t have wasted much time.

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 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