01 November 2010

2010 Horror Challenge: Week Four

24 October
Sometime last year, I believe, I re-watched Ghostbusters and said I found it hadn't aged very well for me. Last night, my wife and I met a friend for a midnight screening of it and I have to say I have no idea what state of mind I was in when I took such a dim view of the movie. Horrible special effects aside, the movie is flat-out great. Maybe it helped seeing it with an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. It's a shame our plans with my cousin fell through, because we had originally planned to see Paranormal Activity 2 right before, and that would have made a great double feature.

Ghostbusters with audio commentary by Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman and Joe Medjuck
It was a little strange hearing Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis make a few "approaching millennium" jokes. Joe Medjuck almost feels like he was recorded separately throughout much of the film because he interjects thoughts apropos of nothing, and the other two don't really respond to him; it's like they're having a back-and-forth and he's randomly inserted into their conversation. In the final act, though, they interact with one another much more organically. Would've been nice to have had Dan Aykroyd contribute, since the majority of the commentary track is dedicated to giving him credit for originating the whole idea in the first place, and tracing the evolution of his 40-page treatment into the film icon we know today.

25 October
Oh, you silly government scientists and your dreams of tampering with a species and then controlling it. This time, it's a group of bats that have escaped from their lab and have begun preying on a small Texas town. Dina Meyer is a bat specialist called in by the CDC to help Sheriff Lou Diamond Philips contain and destroy. Predictable and simple, but there are a few moments of people being swarmed by bats that were genuinely bothersome.

My first ever giallo, this is about an opera understudy who is forced to watch as members of her production company are killed one by one. At times it feels like a B-movie; at other times it reminded me of Hot Fuzz (partly because the actor playing the director looks like Simon Pegg). It's an Italian production, but the version I streamed from Netflix was dubbed in English. Very enjoyable for a slasher film.

26 October
La Manoir du Diable
It's a 3 minute short filmed in 1896 that many regard to be the first ever horror film. The narrative is weak, but the ideas and visual effects--despite being primitive--are clever and engaging.

A 10-minute mash-up of footage from The Cat Creeps, Nosferatu and Frankenstein played for laughs, produced by Universal in 1932. It's especially interesting that they elected to use the Nosferatu material (in which Count Orlock is actually called "Dracula") given that they had their own Dracula film from which they could have used footage. A nice addendum to the Frankenstein Legacy Collection box.

Frankenweenie - uncut version
Tim Burton's 1984 short film about a young boy named Victor Frankenstein who resurrects his dog Sparky and incites the fearful wrath of his neighbors. The universal appeal of the story about a boy and his dog are the heart of this take on Frankenstein and give it some emotional depth.

A six minute short about a boy named Vincent who is obsessed with macabre icons Vincent Price (who narrates the poem) and Edgar Allan Poe. Sort of a morose Shel Silverstein project.

The 1910 silent short film version presents a very abridged adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. The copy I viewed was downloaded from Archive.org and it's pretty rough, but I have to say I totally dug the creation of the Monster and his make-up. Far more grotesque than, say, the iconic Karloff version. A shame this was so short.

The Ring
This one is pretty high on the creepy-factor, but then any story that involves freaked out animals, emotionally distant children with unnatural knowledge of the supernatural and a bleak color scheme is gonna be creepy. That DVD menu by the way isn't clever; it's obnoxious.

Don't Watch This
A short film comprised of deleted scenes that offers some new insight into The Ring. Necessary? No. But a nice supplement and a clever use of such material, rather than the standard presentation of deleted scenes as standalone excerpts.

The Ring Two
Ah, the sequel. Sometimes these follow a protagonist, sometimes the antagonist. The Ring Two opted to reunite both..."and this time, it's personal." There's a scene in which a bathroom is made to be scary and for a guy with Crohn's that was out of my comfort zone. The rest of the film was pretty predictable and weak; in other words, an obvious sequel.

A short film that serves as sort of a bridge between The Ring and The Ring Two. Unlike Don't Watch This, this is a complete short film unto itself and is actually far more effective and interesting than the actual sequel. It follows the spread of the Ring video as it's gone viral to Jake, whom we meet in the opening of Ring Two.

27 October
Full Tilt Boogie
I loved this documentary about the making of From Dusk Till Dawn, because it focuses primarily on the non-creative crew that are almost always ignored in behind-the-scenes features. George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are featured prominently, which seems in keeping with their extroverted personalities. Most interesting in this 13 year old documentary is that the non-union crew's biggest victory is winning health insurance.

28 October
Blood for Dracula
I wasn't particularly drawn to Flesh for Frankenstein when I streamed that for the Criterion Challenge, so I was a bit reluctant to explore this companion film. I found I enjoyed it far more, for two basic reasons. Firstly, I found the premise more interesting: Dracula is dying and must find the blood of a virgin to continue living. Secondly, there is a lot of commentary on class issues as well as an exploration of sexual values. The sexuality here feels more organic and artistic than it felt in Flesh for Frankenstein; it actually advances the story. I think I prefer this to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and I certainly enjoyed it more than the lethargic Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride.

Paranormal Activity 2
It was really weird, because my wife and cousin and I were the only three people there. On the whole, I enjoyed it and thought they were very clever about the story they told but it definitely felt like a studio production. The actress that played Ali was quite impressive; I expect we'll see more of her in the coming years.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
It's been years since I last saw this, though I have recently seen the brilliant Robot Chicken parody a few times. I was struck by how intelligent the special really is, from the wordy dialog to Linus's completely insane campaign speech.

29 October
Friday the 13th, Part 2
Five years after the events of the first film, another camp is set to open near Crystal Lake and attracts the attention of the mythical Jason Vorhees. It introduces quite a lot to the "Jason" mythology, establishing him as an adult character. A fun little slasher film, though I'd prefer to re-watch Club Dread.

30 October
Talking with a friend of mine about this challenge recently elicited some heavy endorsement for this that swayed me to splurge and buy it on Blu-ray for $10 at Walmart. My viewing was interrupted by several trips to the bathroom; enough that it added an entire hour to the viewing, and the consequence was that the momentum and tension didn't get a chance to really build properly for me. Still, I loved the idea of placing Michael Myers's stalkings in the middle of suburbia; sometimes it's creepier when someone is doing things right in front of everyone than it is when they're out in the middle of nowhere.

Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein
A nice little coda to the Universal Monster features, the comedic duo are caught up in a plot by Count Dracula to place a more docile and controllable brain into Frankenstein's Monster. The fiends are opposed by Larry Talbot, himself now committed to stopping the vampire. Bela Lugosi is actually more interesting as Dracula here than he was in Dracula, partly because Tod Browning's production was so static and partly, I'm sure, because by this point he'd become more comfortable with such performances. Especially fun is Lon Chaney, Jr. who really gets into the spirit of things as the Wolf Man, playing for some laughs with a great physical comedy performance.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
The cast and soundtrack date this as a late 90s production, and even if they didn't it just feels like a movie from that era. It's an alright mystery, but there were several "Wait just a minute" moments that detracted from the overall story. Still, I'm a sucker for Jennifer Love Hewitt so it wasn't a complete loss.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Ah, the slasher sequel. It's always problematic to keep pitting survivors against the same killer, because at some point you ask just why it is that so many other people in two damn movies have died so quickly but the guy doesn't seem to be able to dispatch these few otherwise ordinary characters. Where this movie works, though--and actually improves on its predecessor--is the charisma of its cast. Mekhi Pfifer is far more likable than was Ryan Phillippe, and Brandy lights up the screen in all of her scenes. In fact, she and Jennifer Love Hewitt have better chemistry than any of the other on-screen friendships or couples in either film. The final 10-15 minutes were weak, and I could have done without that entirely forced coda.

The Little Shop of Horrors
I've seen and enjoyed the remake, but this was my first viewing of Roger Corman's original picture. The DVD transfer was horrible, but I was still able to enjoy the film for its originality. Mel Welles was hilarious as Mushnick, and it was entertaining to hear such a high-pitched, young Jack Nicholson. The Seymour/Audrey relationship reminded me of Where's Poppa?, especially the dinner scene.

31 October
The Crow
I remember when this was still in production, even before Brandon Lee's unanticipated death, and several classmates of mine were absolutely stoked about this. My perception at the time was that it was a goth movie for the MTV audience. Today, that would be an oxymoron, but in the early 90s there was still some credibility in the idea. Viewing it for the first time now, I see a lot of ways in which I was right with my speculation, from the soundtrack to the editing and production design. What I didn't account for was Brandon Lee's fascinating performance, alternately sympathetic and imposing; it takes all of about a minute of screen time to be charmed by the guy.

From Hell
Jack the Ripper, as postulated by Alan Moore. The whole film is one large conspiracy theory, but just plausible enough to be even more chilling than the widely accepted notions of the notorious serial killer simply having a predilection for prostitutes. Glad I finally got around to seeing this; now I just need to get around to reading the source material.

The Walking Dead "Days Go Bye"
Premiere episode of AMC's TV series, adapted from the comic book series. I had seen the sneak peak promoted on iTunes recently, and a conversation with a friend of mine about this horror challenge prompted him to encourage us to check it out based on his enjoyment of the source material. As far as pilots go, this one was a cut above the rest; the characters and rules of the series are established without a lot of awkward exposition, and the zombie designs are among the best I've ever seen. If I had one nitpick, it's that at the end of the 90 minute episode, I can't say I felt like much else happened aside from those introductions. But then, this is the advantage to TV: they have the luxury of time to explore things that films (especially in the horror genre) can't afford.

1 November (challenge ended at dawn)
Le Chaudron Infernal
A 66 second short film produced in 1903 featuring a pair of green skinned demons who round up three people, chuck them into a cauldron and watch their spirits ascend and then erupt into flames. From what I read online, each frame was hand colored; no small feat for the time. It's freaky to watch, 107 years later.

Bubba Ho-Tep
By 1:00 in the morning I decided that I just wasn't interested in squeezing in some more stuff from the unwatched pile and elected to run this challenge out with some of my favorites. This viewing was just like all the others, in that I found myself enjoying it even more than the last time I saw it. I still don't know how they ever sold Ossie Davis on this role but he's the whole reason that it works as well as it does; his presence elevates Bruce Campbell's truly delightful performance as Elvis. Here's my review of the DVD.

Shaun of the Dead
My pick for movie of the decade. No, really. Aside from being infinitely re-watchable because of its quick pace, identifiable characters and snappy dialog, I see the film as the perfect microcosm of the post-9/11 world, in which the daily lives of everyone around the world were constantly interrupted by reminders of ever-present dangers around every corner. The retreat to the pub marks a universal desire for the safety of "home," wherever that may be, and as it turns out we can go home again...but it won't be what we want it to be. Plus, Kate Ashfield is cute as hell.

Roseanne "Boo!"
The first of seven Halloween-themed episodes from the series, what makes this one interesting is that it's a series of escalating tricks being played by the family on one another. I never did any "tricking" growing up, so it was left to TV shows for me to get my vicarious kicks in that regard. I wonder if perhaps tricks aren't a dying part of the Halloween tradition, yielding to marathon viewings of torture porn instead.

From Dusk Till Dawn
It's funny, because the first time I ever saw this was a night back in high school when my friends and I stayed up all night watching movies and we finished with this just as dawn broke. Three things: George Clooney is hilarious, Tom Savini is cool as Sex Machine and Salma Hayek may never have been hotter. I love this movie. Perfect way to end the challenge!

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