16 October 2010

2010 Horror Challenge - Week Two

10 October
The Darkroom
We picked this up at Half Price Books a while back because it was 1) cheap and 2) starred Reed Diamond, whom I've liked since first seeing him on Homicide: Life on the Street.

In this, he's spent 15 years in an institution with amnesia, having been found wandering a dirt road with blood on his hands. After receiving a dosage of an experimental drug, he's flooded with snippets of violent images. A psychotic reaction, or memories of things he may have done? Those scenes are pretty solid; they reminded us of the Scarecrow drug sequences in 
Batman Begins, only with more gore. The feature itself clocks in just shy of 90 minutes, and the truth is it could probably stand to shed about 5 to 10 minutes to make it less predictable.

Horror Express
The A/V quality was terrible; it looked like someone had taped it off a TV broadcast, and this gave it more of a feel of a sophisticated play than an actual film. Still, the premise was really solid and compelling, and the performances were (mostly) mood-appropriate. The premise is that Lee is bringing back from China a 2 million year old fossil of some kind of ape/man being he believes to be the missing link. It awakens on the train ride through Russia and goes on a killing spree. There are some interesting science vs. religion debates--made somewhat smugly, given that it's set in pre-Bolshevik Russia--and the creature's whole story just kept turning out to be more interesting each time something was learned. Loved it.

11 October
The Terror
A young Jack Nicholson plays a French soldier in 1806 separated from his regiment. He stumbles into a mess where Boris Karloff has been dwelling in a decaying castle with just his servant and is now being haunted by his dead wife. It was alright; Nicholson seems like he's acting through a pain treatment program the entire time; very tenuous and wooden, like he just wanted to get through his scenes and back into a chair. The A/V quality wasn't particularly great, either.

The Sixth Sense
I'd heard this was good back in 1999 when it was released, but I was pretty busy then and didn't get to see it during its theatrical run. By the time it hit home video in 2000, the final twist had already been spoiled for me by any number of people who felt it was their manifest destiny to ruin the first vaguely inventive story in mainstream film in ages. So, I kept deferring getting around to it, not really wanting to reach that moment where knowing what I knew would ruin the movie.

It didn't take long to reach that point, but what I discovered is something that I would have found true even if I'd been entirely unaware: that while the film really isn't much on the Horror side, it's an extremely well acted drama. I can easily appreciate all the acclaim Haley Joel Osment earned at the time; his performance stays within the realm of believability throughout and he even injects some authentic humor at times. It's not a movie that will keep me up at night, but I did find it touching and it's been a long while since I found my heart breaking for movie characters.

12 October
Dawn of the Dead
I'd heard this one was pretty good, and holy damn did it deliver! From the unique pre-credits camera work to the coda played over the end credits, I loved every minute of this 2004 remake. The cast is great, and the characters are all recognizably believable people. I just know that any random assortment of zombie survivors is going to include a guy like Michael, who feels entitled to deride everyone else or a C.J. whose territorialism supersedes any sense of compassion. Everyone's motives are clear, and identifiable and that's what drives the movie. I could easily associate each of them with my own friends and family, and was counting down the moments until it became necessary for someone to shoot my uncle. The zombies are extremely well done here, the music is great (I'll never hear Cash's "The Man Comes Around" the same way again) and the pacing is brisk. Maybe there's a way this film could be better, but I don't know how.

13 October
For the most part, these short stories are cheesy and dated, but I really liked two of the five: "Tide You Over" featuring Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson, and "Creeping Up on You" where a cutthroat business tycoon with O.C.D. is threatened by cockroaches. I probably would have recommended separating the Hal Holbrook segment and further developed it as its own feature but they didn't ask me. I was all of three at the time, so maybe that's for the best. George Romero and Stephen King seem to know what they're doing.

Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride
I was reassured I needn't have seen the preceding Hammer "Dracula" films, and warned that this one was flawed: both proved true. The story is rather ho-hum: a handful of dedicated investigators (whose organization escaped my notice) have traced a group of prominent pillars of society to a singular Satanic cult. And since this is a "Dracula" movie, naturally the age old vampire turns out to be involved with the cult. Very dated, and somewhat tired.

16 October
We traded in a bunch of stuff at Half Price Books and found the "Roger Corman Classics" release of this brand new for $3.00 so we took a chance. It was exactly as advertised, which is to say a whole lot of fun. The humor was great, there was just enough real tension to keep us interested between each mauling and there's even some commentary on the military industrial complex and increasingly outdated views of masculinity. Loved every one of these 92 minutes.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
John Barrymore is perfect in both roles; his Jekyll is perfectly dull and his Hyde seethes with unseemliness. The rest of the cast is clearly overshadowed, and it's always hard to criticize silent film acting anyway. I was surprised to hear sound effects and even some crowd noise; were these part of the original film, or have they been added after the fact? They were startling at times, distracting at others.

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