Saturday, October 23, 2010

Horror Thoughts 2010: Week 3

Suspiria (1977) ***½
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli

The violence of Italian horror auteur Dario Argento is famously grotesque and brutal. “Suspiria” is considered one of his masterpieces. It could be easy to see why some might disagree. The acting in his films is rarely top notch, the dialogue often awkward; but what Argento is trying to achieve has little to do with these elements. “Suspiria” is wonderful at painting both beautiful and shocking pictures with its vivid use of color and the macabre. The scares are genuinely frightening, and the violence is very unsettling. Argento’s brand of horror is both unique and effective. Those willing to acquire his taste will find this classic every bit of what its reputation suggests.

Antichrist (2009) ***
Director/Writer: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

For a good portion of this film, it seems as if it’s an intense therapy session for a mother who’s lost her young child in an accident, but when a fox says to her husband/therapist “chaos reins”, it becomes evident it’s something more sinister and perverse. Yes, “a fox says” to him. I can see why this unsettling film will probably turn most viewers off. Of course, that’s pretty much par for the course for director Lars Von Trier. I, however, was fascinated from the very first frame of the film.

It’s obvious that Von Trier has totally abandoned the cinematic Dogme 95 movement he’s often credited for creating, in which filmmakers were encouraged to abandon filmmaking “techniques” such as special effects, studio lighting, and music scores to focus more on basic storytelling techniques of story and character. In this film he certainly isn’t using just natural lighting. He uses slow motion photography. He uses dramatically overblown music. Yet, his focus is still squarely on character and story. And what a deeply dark place this story takes us. Hell, it starts pretty dark. Who knew it could get so much darker than its opening sequence.

My Name Is Bruce (2007) *½
Director: Bruce Campbell
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi

It’s not that I’m not a fan of Bruce Campbell. I love an actor who knows why he’s famous and has a penchant for self-deprecating humor. Campbell knows he’s famous for bad movies. Unfortunately, he’s made one in celebration of that. The ideas are funny here, just not the execution. I did very much enjoy the musical interstitials, however. They were a great entertaining way of letting the audience know that none of this was to be taken seriously.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) **½
Director: Frank De Felitta
Writers: J.D. Feigelson, Butler Handcock
Starring: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Jocelyn Brando, Larry Drake

So, “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” was the final film to be added to the planned screenings for Horrorfest 2010. I added it because of a recommendation from a dear friend who shares my passion for horror movies. When he recommended it, I got the impression that he had neither seen it or knew anything about it beyond the fact that it looked like a cool movie from the cover art. After I had already announced I would screen it for this year’s festival, I decided to read a synopsis. The story about a small town’s people being hunted down by a scarecrow after they wrongly executed a mentally handicapped man for injuring a little girl sounded vaguely familiar, like something I’d seen on television as a kid.

What a surprise I got when the disc finally arrived. I was right. I had seen the movie when I was young. And thanks to the disc’s special features, I was able to recall the exact circumstances under which I had seen it. It was a CBS Saturday Night Movie. The disc includes the original promo spot for the movie, which had its world premiere on broadcast television just before Halloween in 1981. Seeing that old CBS promo brought back a flood of memories from when all the movies we watched at home were on broadcast television. I remembered “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” being advertised and watching it. I think my mother was worried it would give me nightmares. Truth is, it is a little intense for what I had remembered as family television time.

Unfortunately, the fact the movie was made for television does hold it back from being a good horror flick. The story works, but they just weren’t able to go far enough with the horror. I’m sure in 1981 it was plenty enough for me, however.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2003) **½
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli, Joe R. Lansdale (short story)
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout

After the disappointment of “My Name is Bruce”, I decided to watch this cult favorite of Bruce Campbell’s. I won’t say I was equally disappointed, as “Bubba Ho-Tep” is a much better film than that one, but it wasn’t everything I’d hoped for. It wasn’t quite silly enough. The filmmakers chose to go for pathos more than silliness, and considering the premise of an aging Elvis and a black JFK fighting off an Egyptian mummy in a convalescent home, I don’t think it quite works. I will say, however, that Campbell’s work as the King here is some of the best I’ve seen from him. The pacing of the film gets too bogged down in Elvis’s past and there just isn’t enough of Bubba Ho-Tep. It gets a ten for originality, but it falls flat in the execution.

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