Saturday, October 17, 2015

Halloween Movie Roundup Pt. 1

I've been slipping in my duties as a Halloween celebrant. I had planned to have mini-marathons of movies every week, and write something every day about horror (films/comics/music/books/games), and yet here it is halfway through the month and I've written less than I had originally hoped (though I am not displeased with my output, truth be told), and I've seen a lot less movies than I had planned. I still watch at least one horror movie a day, but I have had only one day in which I've had one of my desired mini-marathons. Extended hours at work for the season, on top of a bifurcated sleep schedule caused by past-midnight work hours and the need to get my daughter to school in the morning make it so my available times to write about and/or watch movies is a bit smaller than ideal. Add to that the fact that the Fall TV season has just started up, and I find myself falling behind (pun definitely not intended). I mean, I know I should be watching my recently arrived Vincent Price bluray set, but The Flash is just so much fun, especially now that they've introduced Jay Garrick and Earth-2, and are gleefully referencing the nerdiest of Flash mythology.

I've got a piece I've been working on for a few days, which I thought would be a quick and easy movie writeup, but continues to grow at a rate I hadn't anticipated. But in order to keep my blog active and try to keep some consistency, I feel the desire to get something out there today. So I've decided to do a quick roundup of the films I've watched this Halloween season, that haven't yet made it into longer pieces or reviews. Keep in mind I started my season back in mid-September, and then committed wholly to it around the 18th of that month, when Universal started their annual Halloween Horror Nights and I began spending my every work night in the Bates Motel. It seemed appropriate.

Darkness Falls (2003): This movie seems to have fallen from people's memories since it was released barely over a decade ago, despite the fact that it was fairly high profile at the time of it's release, at least for horror films. It opened at #1 in the box office, and more than quadrupled it's budget, and yet I don't know many people who could tell you what it's about, even those that have seen it. And now, just a month after having seen it myself, I'm having trouble remembering it. This film is like the supernatural menace in a Stephen King novel; you begin to lose all memory of it once it's been defeated. The film, if I'm recalling it correctly, concerns an urban legend concerning a kindly old woman who was burned as a witch by a nervous and angry mob who believed her guilty of child murder. She was innocent, of course, and now she appears to any child on the night they lose their last tooth and kill them if they look at her.

This film came out at a time where I was trying to see every horror movie that came out in theatres. Darkness Falls was one I just never felt any desire at all to see, and yet now when I saw it on Netflix I figured a bit of forced nostalgia could be fun. The biggest problem I have with this film is really one of editing. Every time the Tooth Fairy (the moniker given to the vengeful spirit, for obvious reasons) pops up on screen the film goes crazy, with tons of shaky, whip-pan camera movements and rapid fire editing. This makes the moments of the film that should be the scariest come across as goofy and nearly indecipherable, which is a shame, because the design of the Tooth Fairy is pretty cool, actually. Unfortunately you rarely get a chance to admire the design, and it's marred by some unnecessary CGI enhancements.

Cottage Country (2013); Tyler Labine (Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil) and Malin Akerman (Children's Hospital) play a yuppie-ish couple heading out to the country for a romantic getaway at Labine's parent's luxury cottage. The arrival of Labine's bohemian brother, with girlfriend in tow, provides a growing list of frustrations, prompting Labine, in a fit of rage, to murder his brother. The two leads in this film, and the generally lighthearted tone, had me hoping for a nice dark comedy, and to be fair that's pretty much what this film is. Unfortunately, it really only has one joke; that of the two proper, uptight yuppies driven to murder and the complications that arise from trying to hide the crime. There's a good concept here, in the way the couple becomes more honest with each other the more people they kill and the more lies they have to tell everyone else. But as I said, there's no variation in the humor, and no deep exploration of that theme. Things just get more shrill and drenched in flop-sweat as the film progresses, culminating with a finale that, I think, was supposed to put an ironic button on everything, but really just felt like cheap cruelty to the characters.

Waxworks (1924): I'm not sure if this is the first true anthology film, but it's at least a very early example of one. It's also not much of a horror film, though it sometimes gets credited as one. In truth it covers several genres, mostly historical fantasy, and only the final segment could be considered horror. Directed by Paul Leni, whose earlier silent epic The Man Who Laughs is mostly remembered for inspiring the visual look of The Joker, the film concerns an unemployed writer arriving at a wax museum answering an ad calling for someone to write adventures about the wax figures to be used as part of their displays. Each segment casts the writer as a character in a drama concerning the figures, which include Ivan The Terrible, Harun al-Rashid, and Jack the Ripper. The final segment, where the writer falls asleep and dreams he is being pursued by the Jack the Ripper figure, is the only one that can be considered anywhere near horror. The segment is full of multiple exposures which lend the already-distorted sets an even more confusing and disorienting dimension.

Waxwork (1977) & Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992): I must have had wax figures on the brain, or perhaps amazon prime was acting as an oracle and had somehow divined that I had watched Waxworks earlier. For whatever reason, I chose to revisit this vaguely remembered film from my childhood, about, you guessed it, a wax museum where the exhibits come alive. About 10 minutes in I was regretting my decision, as the characters were all, without fail, obnoxious idiots. Not in a 'I'll enjoy seeing these people die' sort of way, but in a 'I can't believe I'm still watching these people' sort of way. I'll admit my enjoyment grew as the movie went along, and the cast of characters dwindled a bit. I'll also say that I think I enjoyed the second film, where the characters are no longer encountering wax figures but are just slipping through time to visit various horror themed incidents, to the first, though I enjoyed the plot of the first, where the exhibits were portals to alternate worlds, and each victim was a sacrifice to open the gates of hell (or something) more. The second film seemed to just go for broke in being fun and nonsensical. It's not a classic, it's not a great horror comedy, but it has more of a sense of humor and brings up some more inventive scenarios. Also it has a Bruce Campbell cameo, which was great fun.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Rik Tod Johnson said...

The Beyond had come to Anchorage previous to the time you saw it at the Capri, only it was in the edited American version of the movie and was called 7 Doors to Death. I remember fond;y the super cheesy poster for the film in the newspaper, which pretty much guaranteed I would see it. And I did, at the three-screen Polar Theatre, around a similar time to when The Evil Dead first came to town. 7 Doors to Death was a mess, and except for unintentional comedic value, left a bad enough taste in my mouth that it put me off Italian horror films for a few years, until I had a proper re-introduction via Argento.

I never warmed to The Beyond, as you know, even after eventually seeing its uncut version. I have far more affection for Fulci's City of the Living Dead (even though I know that film first as Gates of Hell, which is a far more appropriate title). Overall though, Fulci is just really not my bag.