Friday, October 31, 2014

Slither (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 24

Audio commentary mini-series: part 3 – Slither (2006)

I've been curious to revisit Slither ever since director James Gunn tried his hand with Marvel and made Guardians of the Galaxy. While I'm afraid to rely too heavily on comparisons to such a new film, essentially Slither feels like it has slightly more personality and slightly less polish. This is definitely a low budget feature by comparison, but as an homage to classic horror b-movies I wouldn't want it any other way.

Teeth (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 23

Audio commentary mini-series: part 2 – Teeth (2007)

This review is definitely NSFW. You have been warned.

I'm one of those idiots who is obsessed with style and will often fall in love with movies which fall solidly into the category of "style over substance," but my love for Teeth is precisely the other way around. The movie's not very stylish, but the idea of reversing the myth of vagina dentata—a myth perpetuated by dominant male fear-fantasy—is about as close as you can get to "exactly my cup of tea" without burning yourself. Yeah, I know, I'm a little weird. Just hear me out on this one.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

World War Z (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 23 – World War Z (2013)

World War Z is Contagion For Dummies.

When I saw it in theaters, I thought the problem was simply that the film dumbed-down its zombies to fit a PG-13 rating (and the trailer spoiling all the big visuals certainly did nothing to help). Essentially, I found that none of the film had any lasting impact, and I assumed that this was caused by the producers and the MPAA neutering the film to reach a wider audience. So I decided to give the unrated cut a try.

Halloween (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 22

Audio commentary mini-series: part 1 – Halloween (1978)

This is the film that defines the season.

In the trifecta of famous 70's–80's serial-killer slasher flicks—Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween is undeniably king. From the dreamlike steadicam to the moody lighting to the iconic soundtrack, it's hard to imagine that this landmark horror film was made on a tight budget of only $325 thousand. Nevertheless, it managed not only to establish the career of John Carpenter, then a young independent filmmaker, but to live on to maintain its influence on the genre over 35 years later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

YouTube Horror Shorts (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Spooky YouTube!

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 21

We all love October, and there's nothing like celebrating Halloween by watching horror movies all month long, but sometimes there's not enough time to sit down for a full-length feature. Fortunately, there is an abundance of short films available to watch on YouTube for those of you looking to feed that hunger for horror without cutting into your day too significantly. These shorts are all right around 10 minutes long, and they're all thoroughly enjoyable in one way or another (I certainly enjoyed them all anyway). So what are you waiting for? Get you comfiest blanket and get watching!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Inferno (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 19 – Inferno (1980)

Finally, I found a Dario Argento film I'm not virtually tripping over myself trying to watch again. Inferno is the spiritual successor to Suspiria, but while they share a similar lineage this feels more like the unloved second child whose parents just weren't trying as hard. It's still an enjoyable watch—it still had good parents even if they seem less inspired—but some of the magic is missing.

The Blair Witch Project (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Narcisus Ilustrius
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 20 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project is a groundbreaking movie, and I'm not the man to do it justice. I just don't like found footage. In fact, the only time I've liked found footage was when it invented reasons to not actually be found footage (e.g. Chronicle). I thought maybe The Blair Witch Project could change that, but as much as I'm fascinated by its production design (5 years in the making) and as much as I can admire its no-budget approach to film (turning $25,000 into $250,000,000), I still just don't like found footage.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Village (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 17 – The Village (2004)

The Village is a film that I really like to stand up for. I get an almost perverse joy out of defending it. And it's not just that I enjoy talking out of my butt (although that's also the case). I genuinely think there are interesting ways to interpret the film. The readings aren't unbreakable, of course, but they're intriguing enough to keep my brain at attention. That and I think Shyamalan gets a bit more flak than he deserves. But today I learned (or relearned, perhaps) that, as much as I like talking about this film, I don't particularly love watching it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Eyes Without a Face (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 15 – Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Of all the movies I was hoping to watch this October, Les Yeux sans visage was among those I was most frightened to actually see. Something about the premise and the fact that I'd seen it on a few favorite films lists around the Letterboxd community had me thinking it would be the kind of movie to scare me out of my pants. I didn't find this to be the case at all, but the film does nonetheless deserve to be held among the greatest horror films of all time. It's just that Eyes Without a Face isn't scary. It's beautiful.

The Mummy (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 14 – The Mummy (1959)

I think I finally got it. I finally understand what I've been missing with these Hammer Horror films. They're silly and campy, and maybe they're a little shallow, but that's not the point. They're also beautiful and fun, and there's little in this world of more objective value than watching Peter Cushing do his thing. Of course, the irony is I had apparently already figured this out back in June when I watched my first Hammer Horror film, but whatever.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Art of Madness in The Darkness Within

The Darkness Within is a microbudget Hitchcockian psychological thriller from independent filmmaker Dom Portalla, and it's a perfect example of how to do everything right with no money. In spite of its limitations, the film manages to not only establish its own sense of style, but more importantly it builds and maintains a high level of suspense.

Chad (Jimmy Scanlon) and Ashley (Michelle Romano) move into their new house with high hopes, and while the place clearly needs some work, the young couple is willing to try as long as it means being together. But the one thing Chad can't cope with is their neighbor, Mr. Reed. After catching him peering in through their bathroom window, Chad takes the matter to the police. He just can't stand being watched. Meanwhile, Chad spends more and more time escaping his problems by hanging out upstairs with his delinquent landlord and her sometimes-boyfriend. But as his frustrations continue to pile up, the reemergence of one of Ashley's old lovers threatens to finally push Chad over the edge into madness.

Tenebre (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 13

Dario Argento double feature: part 2 – Tenebre (1982)

I think that, technically speaking, Tenebre might be the best film I've seen from Dario Argento so far.

It's certainly his most self-aware and self-reflexive. The protagonist is a clear stand-in for Argento, a famous writer of what appear to be giallo novels in the same vein as Argento's giallo films. Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is also criticized for his purportedly sexist subject matter: "Tenebre is a sexist novel! Why do you hate women so much?" But that's not where the connections end. The murderer, who keeps killing fans of Neal's work, has a penchant for photographing his victims. In the duality between writer and photographer, here we have the two most common aspects of a director's work brought to life. Each half of the whole embodies different aspects of Argento's idea of himself and of directors in general. And insofar as the author and the killer are doubled representations of the director, Argento is here literally killing his own fans.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Police Violence and Sexual Intolerance in Sabotage

Expectations are a tricky thing. I went into David Ayer's Sabotage expecting—hoping for—a mindless action movie. It didn't have to be on par with The Raid, I merely wanted something better than other disappointing entries we've seen this year, from 3 Days to Kill to Brick Mansions. Unfortunately, while Ayer handles his action scenes well, no amount of cinematic bloodshed would be enough to make me want to spend another second with these infuriatingly immature idiots. After almost two hours of objectifying women and reinforcing negative gender stereotypes, these characters all deserved much worse than what was coming to them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Phenomena (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 13

Dario Argento double feature: part 1 – Phenomena (1985)

Finally! The horrific, absurdist, female-centered, heavy metal superhero movie I've been waiting for all my life!

Jennifer Corvino (a perfectly charming Jennifer Connelly), the daughter of a famous film director (wink #1), has a telepathic connection with insects. She travels to a foreign country for school, and in spite of her general social alienation she makes fast friends with her roommate (Argento's real life daughter; wink #2). Jennifer also has a habit of sleepwalking, and one night her dreams and a firefly lead her to discover her new friend murdered. She decides to take the matter into her own hands, and along with the reclusive Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) she uses her strange powers to find the killer and exact her own unique brand of entomological justice.

The Brood (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 12 – The Brood (1979)

The Brood was one of a very short (and ever-shrinking) list of David Cronenberg-directed films I hadn't seen. It's his fourth feature not counting his student films Stereo and Crimes of the Future, and marks the beginning of his transition from pure body-horror exploitation movies to more dramatically-minded thrillers (although his roots in body horror would still show until at least the turn of the century). It follows the story of Frank Carveth and his young daughter Candice as they struggle with the deteriorating mental state of the child's mother Nola and her experimental therapy with psychoplasmics. Also, there are creepy mutated little people, and they may or may not be controlled telepathically. It's a weird movie.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 11 – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles is another Hammer Horror production in glorious Technicolor featuring Grand Moff Tarkin and Saruman. But this time, the legendary Peter Cushing gets to take a stab at the equally legendary role of Sherlock Holmes, and he handles it with exactly as much class and sophistication as you'd expect. Also making this stand out from other Hammer films is the fact that Christopher Lee actually gets significant dialogue and screen time as the debonair Sir Henry Baskerville instead of playing the guttural Frankenstein's monster or the absent Count Dracula.

Beetlejuice (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Ken Taylor
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 10 – Beetlejuice (1988)

Part of me is disappointed I didn't see this when I was younger, because if I had seen it before I became interested in more traditional film stuff and was more concerned with things that simply played to my tastes it could have been my favorite movie for a little while. Which is not to say that Tim Burton's Beetlejuice is anything like a bad movie—it isn't—it's just that its success rides heavily on whether or not the method of its delivery (its "voice") appeals to you. I'll unpack that a little, but as a simple thesis you could say that Beetlejuice might be a "just good" movie, but for the right person it could be the perfect "just good" movie.

Monday, October 20, 2014

SIFLW: Early Claymation & Stop-Motion Shorts

Behind the scenes at Laika

After seeing Laika's new claymation film The Boxtrolls in theaters, I found myself curious to investigate the origins of claymation and stop-motion animation. There's plenty of information available on Wikipedia (not to mention in film textbooks, for those of you with an excess of free time), but if you're looking for a more hand-on approach you can also find several early animated shorts on YouTube. Here are my three favorites:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Identity Politics & Being "Gone" in Gone Girl (Full Analysis)

***This version of my analysis contains spoilers. You can find the spoiler-free version here.***

David Fincher's latest film Gone Girl has been called many things. A problematic portrayal of women. A postmodern analysis or a pessimistic critique of marriage. One thing most readings of the film can agree on, however, is that—whether or not they take it as a point of contention with the film—Amy Elliott Dunne is a bad person. She's a psychopath. But, while no one denies that Amy embodies the central ethical conflict of the film, surprisingly few critics have looked at the film through her eyes. I'd like to take a step back from making any judgments about her character or the film's portrayal of women for a moment and talk instead about the film as a deconstruction of the psychological coordinates of contemporary identity. I believe the film provides unique insight into the nature of the modern self, and that through this perspective we can gain a better understanding not only of its conception of identity politics, but of feminism as well. I hope to show that Amy is not only sane, but is in fact the moral center of the film.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Boxtrolls: Beautiful Box, But What's Inside?

The Boxtrolls tells the story of Eggs, a boy raised from infancy by a community of trolls who live underground in boxes. Lord Portley-Rind opens Pandora's box when he hires Archibald Snatcher to rid Cheesebridge of its boxtroll infestation, and the group finds itself suddenly boxed in. Eggs must think outside the box and use his entire box of tricks, or he and his friends will go home in a box. Boxtrolls box with box-boxers who try to box the boxes in a box.

Okay sorry, I'm done.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Deep Red (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 9 – Deep Red (1975)

I really loved Dario Argento's Suspiria for its intense atmosphere and absurdly vibrant visuals, and in that sense Deep Red is a very odd and almost disappointing follow-up. This film actually came out first, but I watched them in reverse order, which is not something I would recommend. Deep Red is much more restrained and character-driven than the atmospheric indulgence of Suspiria, and I think it's a much more subtle access point into the director's filmography. Because of that, however, I had to spend the first half hour or so readjusting my expectations.

Rope & Silence of the Lambs (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 8

Classic genre-bending thrillers double feature: part 1 – Rope (1948)

Rope is a classic Hitchcock murder mystery best known for its inventive use of long takes and creative cutting to try to appear as a single, uninterrupted shot, and while some audiences may find this distracting, it effectively puts the viewer at the scene of the crime and creates a feeling of claustrophobia or entrapment, as if events are escalating out of control and there's nowhere for you to escape to—likewise, confining the action to a single apartment with a view of the New York skyline increases the anxiety of the situation by creating the sense that we're not allowed to leave (and it's this tense and uneasy atmosphere which makes it a perfect candidate for a horror marathon)—and the two central performances from stage actor John Dall as Brandon and Strangers on a Train star Farley Granger as Phillip not only succeed in light of the difficult conditions of doing 10-minute-long takes at a time, but also manage to provide convincing arcs for their characters, with Brandon becoming increasingly excited and Phillip becoming increasingly drunk and nervous as the two face the prospect of either getting away with their crime by a slim margin or getting caught at the last minute, and James Stewart provides a lovably comedic supporting role as Rubert Cadell, a professor who initially takes light-hearted pleasure in the frivolous entertainment of the party but eventually begins to worry that his students have taken his teachings a bit too literally; but the real star of the show is the script, which is as pun-derfully filled with sexual innuendo as anything else in Hitchcock's uniquely sexy filmography, and continues to develop the director's exploration of the connection between sexuality and violence, depicting its murderers as sexually liberated or frustrated in relation to their respective enjoyment or fear of their crime, which they committed as an intellectual exercise: the "perfect murder"—but will they get away with it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Maze Runner's Response to Dystopian YA

The Maze Runner is the latest installment in our culture's current obsession with young adult post-apocalyptic science fiction, and despite not being part of its target audience I had a splendid time with it. Don't get me wrong, it's no revolution in adapting YA fiction for the screen, but it has its fair share of memorable moments and is generally entertaining despite its clich├ęs and contrivances. And all things considered, it should have been so much worse. It's The Hunger Games for boys, with no Jennifer Lawrence and no grown-ups to anchor the performances. But somehow it hops effortlessly along, and by not setting its sights too high it feels like it achieves exactly what it sets out for.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day of the Triffids (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 7 – Day of the Triffids (1962)

The Day of the Triffids is an adaptation of John Wyndham's novel of the same name, and it's no surprise to learn that the film is considered far from a faithful recreation, since it somehow manages to make the idea of gigantic murderous monster-plants boring. It takes the premise of carnivorous extraterrestrial vegetation from the book and guts the characterization and plotting to make room for an uninspired caricature of an alcoholic scientist and a rewritten ending so contrived it makes War of the Worlds's look like the paragon of complexity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

28 Days Later... (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 6 – 28 Days Later... (2002)

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later used to be one of my all-time favorite zombie movies, but whether I've finally seen it too many times or my tastes have shifted since the last time I saw it, I find myself falling out of love. Boyle's story about a man who wakes up in the middle of the apocalypse still has its merits, but on this viewing I felt its strengths almost—almost—overwhelmed by the weaknesses in between them.

There are three scenes I still love:

Suspiria (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 5 – Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento's Suspiria is a surreal arthouse fairytale of a horror movie. The young Suzy Bannion comes from America to Germany to study ballet at a renowned dance academy, but one of its students has recently gone missing and the teachers are acting strange. When Suzy and her roommate begin to act on their suspicions, they slowly uncover a conspiracy at the very heart of the school. It's like The Red Shoes played out in an alternate reality where everyone is possessed by demons. I love it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 4 – Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is an experimental Japanese sci-fi horror film that will really knock you off your rocker with its absurd-surrealist insanity. The best I can do by way of a plot synopsis is say that it's about a cyborg who gradually loses his grip on what little humanity he has left as his mechanical half progressively takes over his body, but I can't really be sure that's even accurate. It is absolutely bonkers.

The Curse of Frankenstein (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 3 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Curse of Frankenstein is the first color film in the Hammer Horror production series and arguably the one which launched its revival of Gothic horror into the spotlight. Like the best of the Hammer films, it features Peter Cushing (aka Grand Moff Tarkin) and Christopher Lee (aka Saruman) presented in beautiful 1950's Eastman Color (a late version of Technicolor with rich, vibrant color which was eventually discontinued because it was slow and expensive to produce).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Chef's Allegory for the Problems of Hollywood

Chef, Jon Favreau's new film about a culinary artist who loses his job and buys a food truck, was both a pleasant surprise and a slight disappointment. The surprise? What could have been made-for-TV food porn mixed with contrived family drama is instead more like artsy, high class food porn mixed with charming family drama. Director Jon Favreau throws a surprising amount of cinematic flourishes into his culinary love letter, and it's clear he has a passion for food and for film; but the disappointment? This love isn't woven throughout the film's entirety.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dracula (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 2 – Dracula (1931)

After some guilty pleasure contemporary horror on day 1, I'm jumping back to the classics with the original 1931 Universal Dracula directed by Tod Browning. The story tells the classic tale originally formulated by Bram Stoker, albeit cut down quite significantly for its all-too-brief 72-minute run time. There's something about Stoker's iteration of the vampire narrative which never gets old for me despite having seen at least five adaptations of it on film, and the story's success is a testament to its continuing cultural relevance more than a century after the novel was first published.

Evil Dead (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 1 – Evil Dead (2013)

Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead remake may seem like a strange place to start a horror marathon. It takes the unique sense of style and comedy born out of Sam Raimi's budgetary constraints and Bruce Campbell's maniacal screen presence and washes them out to make a standard, color-by-numbers modern horror film. But there's something about it I love.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Identity Politics & Being "Gone" in Gone Girl (Spoiler-Free)

***This is the spoiler-free version of my analysis. You can find my full analysis here.***

David Fincher is a director with an exceptional interest in exploring the coordinates of modern identity. This trend began in earnest with Fight Club's examination of the destructive effects of consumer culture, and continued through The Social Network's recent depiction of the emotional distancing caused by immersion in mass media. Our current era is in the middle of an identity crisis, and the director's newest film Gone Girl plays out like a neo-noir companion piece to The Social Network, with its focus shifted from masculine to feminine identity.