Blood Is The Life Which Flows In You: Fascination (1979)

I thought after viewing the aptly named Vampyros Lesbos film that I had undertaken all the vampire lesbian films which existed in the world, as I have come to realize some years later, not only is the vampire lesbian film a well-represented segment within the horror genre, French born director Jean Rollin proved to be one of the premier filmmakers within the subject.  I realize from the onset that my dislike for this film is not shared, and that there is a general consensus that Rollin as a filmmaker, and the vampire lesbian genre as a whole offer much to be enjoyed.  With that in mind I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography and soundtrack within the film and despite being a rather weak plot, the movement around a metahistorical narrative was quite fun.  Of course, these few moments of greatness are not enough to make the film soundly watchable.  It becomes quite evident that at least a third of this film will be devoted to characters undressing themselves and each other only to build up to moments of sexuality that are for all intensive purposes soft-core erotica.  Furthermore the already sexual composition of the film is worsened by the many on the nose references to phallic imagery and masculine endeavors of oppression which occur throughout the film.  Even when the film appears as though it will be redemptive by portraying female characters in central roles of power, Rollin, ultimately, allows for what can only be describe as hysteria to take control of their actions, despite the clear suggestion that they are not human, but vampires.  Unfortunately in the world of Rollin a female vampire is still a woman and, therefore, unable to properly control their emotions and engage without the slightest inkling of reason.  Where Fascination could have been revolutionary it is exploitative and where it could have used sexuality in a contemplative a manner it simply comes across as trashy.  Fascination is by no means a bad movie, it is indeed quite decent, however, its problematic moments are so egregious that they manage to detract from the movie considerably.

Set in 1905, Fascination begins with a group of upper class women stopping by a slaughter house to consume what is allegedly ox blood as a means to cure anemia.  With little to no explanation the film then jumps to the narrative of a bandit named Marc (Jean-Marie Lemair) who is now on the run from a group of fellow criminals after a deal with heavy monetary value goes sour.  Seeking refuge from his pursuers, Marc hides in a large castle hoping to evade them through nightfall and sneak away in the shadows.  His plan is quickly curtailed, however, when he realizes that the castle that he assumed to be unoccupied is very much the opposite as indeed inhabited by two ethereal and beautiful young women named Eva (Brigitte Lahale) and Elisabeth (Franca Mai).  Quickly asserting his masculine dominance, Marc demands that the two women obey his requests, as well as explain why the mansion is empty with the exception of the two of them.  Blatantly dismissive and mocking towards Marc, it is revealed that Eva and Elisabeth are lovers and part of a satanic cult which is destined to meet at the caste at the stroke of midnight.  As much confused and intrigued, Marc falls for the women, eventually sleeping with Eva, much to Elisabeth's demise, going so far as to use her to kill her pursuers in incredibly violent manners.  Despite the various pleas by Elisabeth for Marc to leave, he decides to stay at the possiblity to spend a night in what he assumes to be a orgiastic cult ritual.  However, with the emergence of the other women, who it is revealed have been consuming far more than ox blood, Marc become hesitant and attempts to extract himself from the events of the evening which have turned incredibly dark.  Marc   confesses his love to Elisabeth after rejecting her multiple times, an act Elisabeth notes before killing him only to leave with the head vampire woman, thus concluding the bizarre sex-laden story of Fascination.

I made it quite clear that I am not particularly fond of the manners in which sexuality manifests itself within Fascination.  To me it is far more exploitative than it is metaphorical.  Some of the acts of male sexual dominance are problematic in their rape like context and have no grounding on the films narrative advancement, this is certainly the case when Eva engages in intercourse with one of the bandits chasing Mark.  It has no justification beyond the means to add another sex scene to a nudity filled work.  In fact, the only scene in the film that is even remotely logical is the initial moment of intimacy between Eva and Elisabeth, but that goes on for far too long.  Essentially, sexuality in Fascination is not earnest as it is in something like The Kids Are All Right, nor does it have the heavy political ambitions and implications of the controversial film Salo; Or the 120 Days of Sodom.  Sex is just sex in Fascination attempting to mask itself as artful filmmaking.  Even the metaphors with sexual implications are heavy-handed.  Eva and Elisabeth's suggestions that their knives are silent, as they rub them across their lips and face are worthy of a double face-palm, while Elisabeth's stealing of Marc's clearly phallic gun only to put it in her mouth and contemplate suicide defies logic, in fact, Eva's possession of the scythe seems to be the only remotely well-executed use of metaphor in the entire work.  Metaphor does not work within Fascination like it does in a work of Hitchcock's, hell metaphor just does not work in the world of Rollin.  Things are forcefully and repetitiously explained to viewers as though the slightest moment lacking clarity would mean a complete failure to Rollin.  If anything Fascination suffers from being too on the nose, while, simultaneously, having no idea what it is trying to say.

Key Scene:  The moment when Eva emerges from the barn semi-nude with the scythe is cinematically oneiric.

Fascination is an alright film, not something that is dying to be viewed, should you be bored or just happen to be fixated on vampire lesbians then the watch instantly option of Netflix should prove just fine.


This House Has Many Hearts: Poltergeist (1982)

Yet another of the many movies I only have brief memories of watching during my childhood and of course I can only remember the parts that scared the living hell out of me, Poltergeist has also managed to cement itself centrally into the greatest horror films of all time, and deservedly so because it is genuinely quite good.  Upon initially watching this film one will find themselves worried that it is not only an incredibly cheesy film, but that the overall plot provides for some characters that are damn near impossible to relate with.  Yet about an hour in the movie shifts tones and appears to begin taking itself quite seriously, resulting in a combination of what can only be describe as high-intensity family drama and special effect heavy horror.  Sure a good bit of the film is dated, between the obvious fake gore and some of the animation based spectral effects, but for as many obvious tricks that are incorporated within Poltergeist, so to are some genuinely amazing tricks, particularly in the sequences involving crossing through to another portal.  While at some point in its production, Steven Spielberg, who while not the director, although he clearly has a heavy hand in helping Tobe Hopper make this film, probably decided that he wanted to give a shot at making the film family friendly, or at least heavily oriented towards a family commentary, however, the grotesque nature of many of the films moments, as well as a few to many drug and sexual references cause the film to be a bit more adult than I think Spielberg intended and the film was famously contested for its initial R rating, eventually earning a PG-13, I am sure the prolific director had to pull a few strings to make that happen, as the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated Shows, he basically committed the impossible.  Overall, Poltergeist is a film clouded with urban legend and schlocky special effects, but somehow still manages to capture the imaginations of viewers twenty years after its initial release, it is a welcomed reminder that not every horror movies main focus needs to be explicit sexual and violent imagery,  although there is a tad sprinkled into this classic.

Poltergeist centers around the experiences of The Freeling's a family living in a a suburb in what can assumed to be somewhere in the midwest.  The father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is a realtor in the area and is credited for the boom of sales in the area, his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) is a stay at home mom who seems far more concerned with her continuing vanity, while their oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunn) and son Robbie (Oliver Robbins) prove troublesome with their incorrigible attitudes and undermining demeanors.  It is only their youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) who seems to be void of a disobedient bone, yet when she starts acting in an unusual manner by starring into a snow filled television or talking to people who are not around the family becomes worried and this sense of dread is only heightened by the clear occurrence of paranormal activity within the house, whether it be moving chairs or attacking trees.  One night the acts become so intense that Carol Anne is kidnapped into another realm, causing Steve and Diane to seek out help from a parapsychologist team led by one Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) whose own expectations are altered when she quickly realizes that the heightened level of paranormal activity occurring in their home is unlike anything witnessed before, particularly in the ever increasing malevolence of the entities involved.  After a realization that many of the homes in the area were built near burial grounds and the complete psychological breakdown of one of her crew members, Dr. Lesh calls on the help of a renowned paranormal investigator named Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) who helps to exorcise the ghosts from the house and return Carol Anne to safety.  The Freeling's after this fortunate rescue quickly plan their flight from the suburbs and seem assured in their escape until on the last night Robbie and Carol Anne are yet again attacked.  While trying to save them Diane falls into their unfinished pool ultimately revealing that the land they are living on is indeed on on coffins, the owner of the land was gracious enough to move the headstones, but not the actual corpses.  The end of the film is action packed and thrilling and eventually sees the escape of the family to a motel on the outskirts of town, one in which they remove the television from on their arrival.

One could read into the various commentaries on the decaying suburb ideology in America during the early eighties, which is reemphasized by the character of Steve who is simultaneously depicted rolling a joint and reading a book by then president Ronald Reagan, or the disconnect of a family in the wake of technological advance as is evidenced through each of the children's attachment to some form of electronics, although it can be said that the parents are equally guilty.  However, my favorite and perhaps the most fun reading of the film is the one in which the whole narrative serves as a metaphor for a couple struggling with the loss of a child to what can be assumed either an abortion or a miscarriage.  In the case of this reading it is clearly Carol Anne and both Steve and Diane suffer from its ramifications, going through their actions with a blasé attitude, often ignoring the children they already have, only to become so racked with desire to reunite with the lost child that they are willing to welcome bizarre fantasies into their daily thoughts.  Furthermore, the entire rescue scene plays out like a rebirth of sorts, with the closet to Robbie and Carol Anne's room serving as a womb that Diane must reenter, with the aid of Steve in order to rebirth their child.  The presence of an umbilical-like rope and a severe amount of afterbirth-like blood drive this ultimate metaphor home and the placement of Diane and Carol Anne into water after their rescue is only a greater addition.  Of course this is just one very specific reading of the work and is by no means a certain commentary within the film, but it would be interesting to stack this work in relation to Tobe Hopper's other works, Spielberg aside and see what they collectively say about birth, I know Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a few, at the very least backhanded, comments.

Key Scene:  There are one or two well placed monologues in this film that help completely reset the pace of the film and make the two hour movie seem all to short.

This is a classic of horror cinema and a must own to any one who claims to be a buff of the genre.


We Cant Leave Without Saying Goodnight: Pitch Black (2000)

Words that I never thought would be uttered on my blog are about to be written into the proverbial stone that is the internet.  I have found a movie in which Vin Diesel out acts the rest of the performers in a film.  In many a Diesel driven film he either plays a lesser character to established actors, as is the case with something like Saving Private Ryan or he ends up just being yet another terrible performance in a even worse film, as has proved true in the Fast and Furious franchise.  However, it is hard to deny that 2000's Pitch Black is very much helmed by the performance and precision of Diesel playing a convict who is forced, rather unwillingly, into a position of authority and leadership due to a trait his character possesses.  Vin Diesel embraces this place in the film with zeal and just enough of a suaveness that it manages to work and even the ridiculous nature of his character within a larger science fiction plot manages to work wonders.  Cinematically speaking Pitch Black is a flawless movie, it employs a great brilliance of traditional camera tricks, post production magic and a load of justified CGI to create a new planet within a galaxy, although the characters within the narrative clearly reflect our global ideals circa 2000, the extra terrestrial nature of the work manages to center the social commentary in something more transcendent.  Furthermore, the work contains a some what positive depiction of an Arabic character, however, I need only draw your attention to the year in which the film was released as a means to help explain why this portrayal was approved in the first place.  I know including Pitch Black on the blog this month seems a bit of a stretch, however, I stand firmly in it entrenching itself to some degree or another within the horror genre, particularly in that the narratives main point of progression centers around a group of people surviving through a pack  of monsters attacking them during nightfall, the only thing making it non-traditional in its horror leanings is that it is set on another planet, were it the same concept set in suburban America its place in the genre would not only be unquestioned but understood as certain.

Pitch Black begins with a space freighter of sorts traveling through the depths of the galaxies, as the voice of Riddick (Vin Diesel) explains that he is a prisoner placed in confines on a ship carrying civilians, a choice he thinks to be terrible considering that the lengthy trip could prove dire at any moment, a prophecy that soon comes true when some sort of meteor materials pierce the hull and begin destroying the ship and causing it to spiral downward towards a unknown planet.  The captain dies during the crash leaving Carolyn (Radha Mitchell) unwillingly in charge of the group, which includes the ever divisive shipmate and cop William (Cole Hauser), a Arabic priest aptly named Imam, played by Keith David who would have got my vote for best actor in the film were it not for his constant moves in and out of an accent.  Along with this group are a antiquities dealer, a few archaeologists and a young androgynous person who takes a quick liking to Riddick. When they emerge onto the bright planet the party realizes that the world they now inhabit does not follow the celestial rules of Earth, instead having at least three identifiable suns.  Tensions rise as the group navigates the new space, particularly when it becomes apparent the Riddick's help is necessary to escape the sand trap that is the planet, only worsened by William's refusal to grant the prisoner any sort of breaks, his motives are later revealed when viewers discover that he is indeed a bounty hunter and not a cop as he claimed.  When night falls it the group realizes why the planet is uninhabited, because the area is lurking with boney alien bat creatures that crave destruction and seek out the group with much zeal.  Eventually going underground with lanterns after discovering that the aliens are destroyed by sunlight, at this point the group severely splinters over what role Riddick will play upon reaching a supply ship that they intend to take to get off the planet, eventually leading to the death of William.  Riddick and others do make it to the ship, but must fend off many more of the creatures before leaving the planet a task that comes with a new set of dangers.

Pitch Black, like many a film centering on the experiences of inmates tend to do, studies the line between good and evil, as well as lawfulness and ethical forgiveness.  Similar to Luke in the film Cool Hand Luke, Riddick has a certain suaveness and hipness to his actions, often spouting poetic one liners to those who condemn them and even engaging in purposefully humorous moments, as is the case when the camera zooms in on him lounging under an umbrella while the group fearfully looks for him. In contrast, we are provided with William who is a drug fueled bounty hunter whose southern accent and dismissive attitude to Riddick help to assure that the already on-the-nose slavery commentary is not completely overlooked.  We are also, as viewers, led to believe that the murders in which Riddick partook were a matter of self-defense and necessity and that overall he lacks a genuine desire to hurt people.  In fact, compared to the self-serving attitudes of some of the characters in the film, including Carolyn who grapples with her own self-worth in relation to a group of unknown persons, Riddick seems rather saintly, certainly his ethereal, almost angelic presence is intensified by his glowing eyes.  However, that is not to say that the criminal is not void of is own faults, in some of the closing moments Riddick does indeed falter in face of his own survival, realizing that if he concedes to returning for the other members of the party he will voluntarily provide witnesses to his whereabouts and existence.  However, the higher good prevails in Riddick and he returns for the group, unlike Carolyn whose initial attempt to dismiss the group to death is inevitably and tragically punished as her and Riddick finally share an understanding embrace.

Key Scene:  The moments we are afforded Riddick's vision are a bit of a cinematic treat in their technological newness, as well as their hearkening back to sic-fi classics of the 60's and 70's.

Pitch Black is a movie I enjoyed much more than I anticipated, however, I can see it being less exciting to many others and as such only suggest renting it.


Look At Me Damien, It's All For You: The Omen (1976)

As I am approaching the actual date of Halloween I am realizing that there are so many real classics of the horror genre that I have completely failed to watch, particularly some of the works from the seventies, and a whole ton of the films from the eighties.  As such I am going to try to sneak a few more of them in in these last few days before Halloween, and who knows maybe next year I can undertake an entire new set of works and focus specifically on some of the major holes in my viewing list.  The Omen is one such film and I was quite excited to undertake the work, because something about Gregory Peck dealing with demonic children just seemed to be a great concept to me, however, I must admit The Omen was considerably underwhelming when the entire product comes together.  Sure the famous moment of the nanny committing suicide and some of the frantic cinematography lends nicely to a horror vibe, but it is clear that the film has become somewhat dated and despite my adoration for Gregory Peck, it is clear that he phoned this performance in, but I may just chock it up to his age at the time of performance or a lack of general direction to the film.  While I can applaud the movie for being transnational in its concept, it manages to take a great concept of the devil's child and blow it way out of proportion to the point where some brilliant commentaries on evil within politics, the philosophical nature of faith and the problem of assuming the necessity of a child are outdone by laugh inducing beheading scenes and one of the worst replicas of a baby skeleton that has ever been produced.  Of course, The Omen is not all bad, it is generally a better than average movie and I can certainly see why it has accrued such a reputation, I was blown away by at least a few scenes and their cinematography and the message they are attempting to posit is quite ambitious, unfortunately the sum of all The Omen's parts just does not equal what it could have.  For a film about a demon child, Damien factors in quite little into the plots movement.

The narrative of The Omen begins in Rome with the birth of child for husband and wife Robert (Gregory Peck) and Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick).   Tragedy strikes though when Robert is informed that his baby has not made it through the night and has died, but that the church had another child born at exactly the same time that could easily pass as their own.  Not wanting to destroy his wife's happiness Robert agrees to take on the child and the two raise a new boy who they unknowingly name Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens).  During Damien's fifth birthday party his then maid yells from a window of their house that everything she does is for him and then proceeds to jump off the balcony with a noose tied around her neck.  This dark and unusual moment leads to a spiraling of equally bizarre events beginning with the emergence of Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) who claims to have been sent by "The Agency" to take care of Damien, along with her comes a scary dog who was by no coincidence preset during the suicide.  Robert is then approached by Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) a maniacal Irish priest who warns Robert that if he does not seek salvation that he will die.  A photographer who works closely with Robert catches images of this priest at another event only to discover that whenever he takes his picture an unusual black line pierces through his body, something that eventually foreshadows the priests death by impalement.  It is during this point that Robert realizes he is dealing with something larger, particularly after his wife's pregnancy and eventual miscarriage are visioned by the priest prior to his death.  This realization leads Robert, along with the photographer, who fears for his own life, on a quest to find the origins of Damien's mother, a quest that takes them all about biblical locations and through the deepest bowels of satanic attachments to the church.  The climax is intense and suggests some rather intense things about the state of global politics and would be extremely brilliant were it not for the films roundabout methods.

While I mentioned the political commentaries in this film multiple times, I am more concerned with the films statements on birth and motherhood as they relate to Damien's presence.  One almost feels bad for Damien throughout the movie because the ways he reacts to being near a church or the defeated looks he gets on his face when the animals at the zoo flee at his presence almost seem to suggest that the young boy is merely a vessel in a greater evils actions.  Even the one scene in which you can attach direct blame to Damien for a violent act is set up in such a way as to suggest that it was an outside force literally causing the boy to break out of his orbit and attack his mother.  Perhaps this set up suggests that it is not Damien to blame for the actions, but, instead; Robert for thrusting the child in a situation in order to placate a worried Katherine.  It is obvious that these grandiose issues of demonic presence and evil afoot would have been avoided were Robert to simply be honest with Katherine and tell her that their child had not made it, particularly since we learn he is murdered.  Furthermore, the emphasis that Katherine have a second, sort of replacement, child alongside Damien adds another layer of issue in that one can assume that Robert and Katherine's answer to fixing their familial issues is not to address the issue at hand, but instead to add another body to the problem.  Ultimately, of course, this is completely undermined by the films end as not only is the new child exacted from the situation, but (SPOILERS) so are Katherine and Robert, leaving the troubled Damien to exist in a world in which he is destined, arguably, against his will to do evil.  If only the Thorn's had not been so focused on having a child all would be well.

Key Scene:  It is hard to top the iconic suicide scene, but the cemetery scene sure comes close.

I am not completely enthralled with this film, but to tell you not to watch it would be to ignore its incredible historical presence, and I am sure the bluray looks way better than my watch instantly version did anyways.


Death Has Come To Your Little Town, Sheriff: Halloween (1978)

From that ever iconic musical score to the commentary on repressed sexuality, right down the the awkward placement of jack-o-lanterens a revisitation of Halloween was a long time coming for myself. I have not seen this film since I was quite young and I only recalled it being incredibly scary, particularly the heavy use of POV shots to help intensify the actions and chases undertook by the films iconic killer Michael Myers.  Now that I have a far deeper understanding of cinema than the one I did as a child, I can better understand exactly why this film is hailed as one of the horror cinema classics.  From a psychological example the films combination of great editing, pulse heightening music and just the right amount of stagnant pausing camerawork to intensify discomfort in the viewer.  Not to mention that it is an incredibly cinematic film, particularly in its early use of solar flares, something that has become all to common and nearly unbearable in contemporary movies.  I had not realized how low of a budget Halloween was recorded on initially, because when watching it John Carpenter manages to make a film that seems far more intense and grander than many of the films from the same period that had far grander budgets.  It always amazes me when I find out that films that not only I love, but many other people seem to enjoy, suffer from almost falling to the wayside in the politics of film production, this was certainly the case for Halloween which as conversations show was, ultimately, funded purely on the realization that Carpenter was quite passionate about making the work.  Long sentences aside, one can quickly pick up on Carpenter's passion in the work as it is a seemingly flawless film, everything happens so perfectly and the suspense rises and falls with such magnitude that one would be hard pressed to find a reason not to love this film.  It is Halloween for Christ's sake it is a classic of horror and cinema in general.

Halloween begins with a point of view shot of the murdering of a woman named Judith Myers (Sandy Johnson) on Halloween night of 1963, only to quickly reveal that murder was undertaken by a young boy, Judith's brother Michael, the younger version played by Will Sandin.  The narrative then flashes forward to a few days before Halloween in which one Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Peasance) along with the assistance of a nurse returns to an insane asylum where the older Michael Myers (Tony Moran) is staying to bring him to a local penitentiary as part of his sentence changing.  Unfortunatley, while stopping off at the asylum it is evident that not all is right when one sees many of the patients roaming the fields, in a matter of moments it is revealed that Michael Myers has also broken free and manages to steal Dr. Loomis's car and drive away.  It is then revealed that he is returning to his hometown to continue his murderous rampage.  At this point we are introduced to the narrative's heroine Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) a chaste young woman who has decided to spend her Halloween babysitting local kids, instead of boozing and sexing it up with her less than respectable friends.  After a request by her father to drop a key off at the old Myers house a newly returned Michael begins to follow Laurie, assuming she has some attachment to the location.  In a creepy game of cat and mouse Michael incessantly follows Laurie about town and eventually around the house where she is babysitting, killing off her friends one by one, interestingly enough while they are all engage in sexual activities.  By the films closing scenes it is left to Laurie to fend off Michael, an act that is incredibly intense because Laurie assumes victory on more than one occasion only to realize that the pyschotic killer is seemingly immortal.  With the eventual help of Dr. Loomis they are able to exile Michael from the house, however, upon going to find his body outside it is revealed that he is gone yet again, setting up nicely for god knows how many sequels have followed.

Despite the many dismissive statements on the part of John Carpenter the sexual nature of the violent acts within Halloween cannot, and should not, be overlooked.  From the very onset of the film, Michael kills his sister after she has engaged in sexual activities with her boyfriend, suggesting some level of repressed sexuality that inevitably acts out in violence.  Sure if this were the only case of this occurring in the film then perhaps it could be seen as a misreading, but one only needs to continue analyzing the murders in the film, his killing of the nurse after exposing her breasts adds a layer of sexuality, and while he stripped the man for his work outfit, it, nonetheless, suggests a sexual action.  Furthermore, the victims he is able to kill throughout the narrative are inevitably engaged, had been moments earlier, in sexual acts.  Perhaps this triggers a particular form of violence within the killer that makes him punish those engaged in that which he has particularly negative connotations.  It then is no coincidence that he is incapable of punishing, via death, Laurie, because the film suggests her virginity and as such he has no ground for murder thus explaining her ultimate survival.  Furthermore, it always adds a lovely layer of phallic imagery to Michael's possession of  knife, as well as a means of observation in Laurie's refusal to possess the knife for more than a few fleeting moments.  With this sexual commentary in tact, perhaps the most interesting scene arises when Laurie attacks Michael Myers with a coat hanger, an attack that is ultimately botched...I will let you delve into the possible metaphors with that act.  So while I am at no liability to say with certainty, it is hard to believe that Carpenter did not fully realize the suggestions latent in his film.

Key Scene:  There is a segment where Michael Myers is following Tommy (Brian Andrews) in a car and the camera simply pans back and forth from the backseat of the car...it is perfected cinematography if ever a moment existed.

I bought the bluray on a whim a couple months back and have just now cracked into it and was more than amazed by its quality, the film pops nicely on the screen and makes some of the films lingering shots on Michael that much scarier.


I Like You...: V/H/S (2012)

I will be the first to admit that this was the most anticipated of the films I would be reviewing this month and was quite worried when my car got put in the shop limiting me from going to the theaters to see this  film, however, thanks to its somewhat limited release and a watch instantly option on Amazon I was able to catch up with this found footage anthology with much elation.  I am aware that there are two camps for this film, the first claiming that is lack of plot and non-notable performances result in a weak film overall, while another camp claims it to be the savior of the horror genre and a veritable renaissance in scary movie creation.  I have firmly centered myself with the latter group, because not only did I find this conceptual horror film to be intensely scary, but it went far above any level of expectation I had formulated.  Sure some of the segments in the film are weaker than others, but overall each story commits to an idea or form within the horror genre and creates a suspense driven narrative of ten to fifteen minutes that had me more than leaning out of my seat.  I was taking notes on the film for this post but completely forgot about it within moments, the work was far to intriguing and certainly to scary to become distracted by what would invariably be half-assed comments on the social nature of the film.  If anything we as a film viewing community, particularly those favoring horror films, should be praising the efforts of such a film, regardless of what you may think of their execution.  The directors Adam Wingard, David Bruckern, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg and the group Radio Silence deserve acknowledgement if only for trying to breath some fresh life into a flailing genre.  V/H/S purely on a experimental level is something to be enjoyed with great pleasure and a certain level of psychological discomfort and remember this film has been said to induce vomiting and black-outs, even if it is purely because of the rattling camera work and onslaught of color bars and film tricks.

As noted the film is series of "found footage" pieces, all centered within one story titled Tape 51, in which a group of found footage enthusiasts are hired to retrieve an unexplained tape from a house.  Upon arrival to this house they find a man dead on a chair and a handful of televisions displaying either blue screens or electrical snow.  Perusing the house one of the members decides to pop in one of the tapes into his camera thus beginning the series of the films.  The first work Amateur Night follows a group of college males, one equipped with a glasses cam as they attempt to pick up women in a night club only to return home to video tape the entire conquest.  One of the women they meet named Lily (Hannah Fierman) is particularly attached to a member of the group starring blankly at him wile uttering the phrase "I Like You"  over and over again.  A bit paranoid the group agrees to take her and a few other women back to their hotel, only to discover that Lily is not exactly a woman and a creature far more disturbing an event that proves cataclysmic to the whole group.  The second tape title Second Honeymoon follows a guy named Sam (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Stephanie (Sophia Takal) as they travel through Arizona on a trip to celebrate their marriage, all seems uneventful until a young woman awkwardly asks them for a ride one night, only to break into their hotel later in the night and steal their money, an act that is caught on tape by the girl as she films it with their camera.  The next day leads to an awkward moment between Sam and Stephanie as they argue about money, an issue that becomes all the more intriguing when the young woman returns with a vengeance later that night.  The third story titled Tuesday the 17th follows a group of young people as they travel to the woods for a vacation, only to become the prey of some sort of spectral maddened assassin, however, what one would assume to be a group of unsuspecting youth is turned on its head when one girl admits that she has experienced this all before.  The next, and perhaps my favorite has the lengthy title of The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger is a webcam based video in which Emily (Helen Rogers) confesses to her doctor boyfriend about having an insatiable desire to itch a bump on her arm, something he promises to look at upon return from school.  Later that night Emily explains that she has been seeing ghosts and is able to catch one of them, a small child, on camera, leading her boyfriend to agree to help with her confrontation with the ghost.  This confrontation is far more than Emily bargains for and we come to realize that her relationship with her boyfriend is also not quite what we expected.  Finally, a tape called 10/31/98 focuses on a group of young men, one dressed as a nanny cam, providing for the found footage video, as they travel to a Halloween party.  This party upon arrival appears to be empty and the group discovers what they assume to be an intricately designed haunted house, yet when they get to the attic of the house and attempt to join in what they think to be a fake occult ceremony the falseness of the entire experience is undermined and the group undertakes an attempted rescuing of one of the houses victims.  These films compose the main narrative of the film, yet it should be no surprise that the video about finding this video also has its own twists of horror as well, something that I dare not ruin because it is yet another moment of brilliant metacinema scares.

A lot of the complaints directed at this film are about its lack of scary qualities, as they relate to its unexplained narrative and little to no back story.  I would argue that it is precisely this lack of logical connection that makes this work indeed unsettling.  Imagine if you will that you were to randomly buy a set of unmarked VHS tapes from a local thrift store as a means to do some found footage experimental work, say like the folks over at Everything Is Terrible.  Most of the stuff would probably be dubbed television shows or awkward home videos, but what if you were to find something like a group of kids being murdered in the wood.  The context would not be explained and under no circumstances would you find this not scary.  Conceptually I think this is what V/H/S was aiming for, an attempt at creating something that would genuinely reflect a piece of "found footage" of the paranormal degree.  While I am certainly a huge fan of the Paranormal Activity franchise it does bother me at times that the narratives spend so much time explaining a back story and having character be a bit to keen on occult and supernatural occurrences.  Sure the film has a slew of social criticisms, whether it be the condemnation of male sexual dominance, something that often leads to date rape or group sexual abuse and another film makes a blatant commentary on the effects financial strains can have on the unity of a marriage.  Hell one of the works could even be seen as making an backhanded commentary on women's reproductive rights, but they all exist primarily as horror works.  To me it is very much like The Shining, in that so much of the horror is such because it has not logical explanation for occurring and this is definitely what makes V/ H/S so intense.

Key Scene:  There is a moment during Amateur Night in which the camera pans across the bar and catches Lily starring into the camera, it is really really creepy and more than sets up the intensity that will consume the remainder of the film.

Buy this movie.  Buy your friend this movie.  Buy anybody you love this movie...although it may cause them to question why you love them.


But She Isn't Going To Say Anything, Is She?: Dial M For Murder (1954)

I am beginning to think, after watching so many Alfred Hitchcock films that the man had to have murdered a few people in his illustrious life.  As is the case with Dial M For Murder, as well as so many of the autuer's other works, the execution of the perfect crime seems to be a topic of great concern for Hitchcock, and while this work in particular is based on a play, it, nonetheless, finds itself filled with various influences from the master of suspense.  Furthermore, I am fully aware that this particular Hitchcock film is not exactly the most entrenched within the horror genre, but I feel quite strongly that this landmark in cinema still packs in enough suspense to deserve mention this month on the blog, not to mention it is one of the Hitchcock films that I had not seen prior and I am always ready to move through more of his oeuvre.  A film that is based on a play is nothing new, but in Hitchcock's hands, the performance and setting aspects of the film become heightened considerably, he, as a director, is keen to pay homage to the play by setting the opening shots in a frozen manner, suggesting the opening of a scene right after the curtain has raised.  Furthermore, in a manner that has become Hitchcockian in its execution, the film manages to take actions and items within the plot and drastically change their meaning and representation to the audience once the plot thickens a bit, and as many a film scholar know, one cannot watch a Hitchcock film with out considering the deluge of various Freudian implications latent to any of his works.  Essentially when viewing a work by Alfred Hitchcock you can be assured that plot, acting and miss-en-scene will come together in a masterful way and provide a film that magnetically pulls you towards whatever screen you are watching the work and Dial M For Murder is certainly no exception to this idea.

Dial M for Murder's central figure is Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) a former tennis player who has retired from the game and is living rather comfortably of the wealth of his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) and appears content to do so, if it were not for his knowledge of an intimate affair Margot is engaged in with a former American beau named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Playing oblivious to the involvement between the two lovers, Tony plans an elaborate ploy to get both himself and Mark away from Margot, ultimately, intending to murder his wife.  However, realizing that his motives would be rather clear Tony calls upon a former college mate named Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), in trouble with authorities for identity fraud and various forms of theft, all aimed at paying up his serious gambling debts.  Tony explains in great detail how he has planned the perfect crime for Charles to commit and that if he is willing to undertake the task he will be handsomely rewarded.  At first hesitant to do so, Charles attempts to counter Tony by threatening to turn him into the police, yet as Tony points out through various actions Charles has undertaken just by walking in the door, it would be in his better interest just to go through with the murder, because he as already set him up for trouble if he refuses.  Begrudgingly agreeing to the task, Charles goes through with the murder, however, in a moment of hesitance Margot reacts to the attack by Charles causing him to fall fatally on a pair of scissors, resulting in his death, as opposed to Margot's.  Frantic, Tony returns home to attempt to cover up his involvement in the entire course of events, suffice to say no matter how much practical planning Tony can go through certain things cannot be foreseen, such as the logical capabilities of those involved with the case, as well as occurrences within nature that lend to the emergence of one or another form of evidence.  In the end a perfect crime is impossible within the narrative of Dial M for Murder, because at some point a fact will not match up with the lie that is ultimately being told.

I mentioned the Freudian implications latent within Dial M for Murder and as I have attested multiple times on this blog I am by no means versed in my psychoanalytic theory, however, watching Dial M for Murder has made me want to uncover some of the film theory surrounding Hitchcock specifically, meaning of course that I will attempt to crack into some heavy Zizek in the upcoming months.  However, at the moment I can make a few observations of Freudian influence within the film, firstly, the notion of impotence manifests itself quite blatantly in this film, at the onset Tony is a man who is scorned by his lover, causing him to feel a strong degree of impotence, Hitchcock brilliantly provides the character with a cane as a visual metaphor for his lack of sexual drive.  However, notice the disappearance of this cane upon Tony's believe that he has succeeded in killing his wife, all be it a bit backhandedly.  The impotence, at least metaphorically disappears and he is able to exert his masculine zeal again.  One could also read Tony has being a character with a degree of homosexual desire, whether it be his unusual attachment to Charles or the way in which he robotically deals with Margot by way of affection.  Even Charles, who is relatively minimal to the plot has his moment of phallic pride when he is shown in a picture with Tony, smoking the "biggest cigar in the room," a clear reference to penis size and envy surrounding such rhetoric.  In this picture, Hitchcock never one to shy away from metaphor, the cigar referenced is truly something to be seen.  Finally, much could be said about a certain affixation with one's facial hair in the films closing scenes, but that is an entirely new critical approach all its own.

Key Scene:  Margot's trial scene is rather surreal and minimalist, but probably the most intense moment of the film.

Dial M for Murder is a classic, I would suggest purchasing the film, but if you are anything like me you probably want to get the huge bluray boxset that has just been released, so waiting is certainly justified.


It Was Such A Gruesome Scene, I Could Not Watch: 13B (2009)

Leave it to a Bollywood film to create a horror genre offering that was almost as zany as the previously reviewed House, while not as experimental as Obayashi's seventies work. 13B: Fear Has A New Address, directed by Vikram K. Kumar certainly is unlike any horror movie I have seen to date.  However, from what I have come to understand, Bollywood filmmakers are infamous for borrowing heavily from the plots and themes of Hollywood films to drive their points home, and 13B is certainly no exception to this act.  It is quite easy to pick up the influences of Hitchcock specifically, as well as moments from famous horror movies, whether they be Poltergeist, Videodrome or some of the more contemporary hack and slash works, the images and acts mirror these films far to nicely to be mere coincidence.  To say that Kumar borrows heavily from these films is not a critique on my part by any means, hell, Tarantino has made a career out of it, yet the film does so in such a way that you are offered moments of cinematic familiarity, only to have them robbed when you realize that 13B is genuinely its own work, one with multiple elements of the horror genre engaged into a lengthy film, along with unusual inclusions of moments such as music videos and the required dance number that appears to show up at the end of every Bollywood work.  Furthermore, like many of the movies mentioned this month, 13B makes note of the problematic place technology plays within our society, particularly when it comes to the disconnection of relationships and this film takes some broad steps in showing how cataclysmic such lack of attachment can become in communication in times of emergency, particularly when such moments are so insane that any non-direct means of talking fail to express the problem.  13B is a fresh film, with a heavy zest of classic horror works that has made my desire to consume more Bollywood work all the greater.

13B focuses on middle class construction overseer Manohar (R. Madhavan) as he is moving into a new condominium along with many of his family members, a move that represents a huge boost in his class placement, but also a heavy burden on his finances.  Despite small omens such as the milk constantly curdling and being shocked by appliances, Manohar believes that his new life will be rich and rewarding and that eventually his somewhat detached family will come together happily, even if they are constantly glued to the television to watch "their serials."  After a creepy encounter with a man in the complex who owns a dog named Harry, Manohar notices that the newest television program his family is tuned into titled "Everyone Is Well," is beginning to reflect his life, often simultaneously, as he witnesses conversations occurring on the television, as they are also occurring in the room next to him.  He is dismissive at first, until the show predicts that his wife will have a miscarriage, something that leads Manohar on a quest to discover what is going on at his house and why it is being haunted by, of all things a television.  After discussions with an expert in paranormal studies, Manohar, along with the help of a police friend named Shiva (Murali Sharma) they begin to unfold a suicide and mistreatment of  a mentally challenged person which occurred at the location some thirty year earlier.  When it becomes clear that the actions occurring on the television show suggest that Manohar's family will be murdered, by Manohar himself, he plans to lock himself in a room to avoid such occurrences, yet even after this blocking of Manohar the show manages to alter its course ever so slightly to make a new threat for Manohar's family, one that could be said to come from out of nowhere, yet in a daring venture Manohar is able to save his family, allowing them to return to their happy, one that they are sure to praise the gods for earning.  In the closing scenes, Manohar has a conversation with one of the integral characters to the plot in which he suggests that if paranormal entities really wanted to interfere with human lives they would use cell phones, and not a measly television.

13 B is a Bollywood film through and through, yet its inherent commentary on television perhaps most closely relates to the previously mentioned Videodrome, in that it suggests a unhealthy nearly addictive attachment to the television screen.  Manohar's family refuses to even acknowledge a world in which they cannot watch their favorite television shows and while the younger members of the family are not necessarily focused on the television specifically they do indeed have their own problematic connections to the material world whether it be through cellphone use or a desire for a new vehicle.  The overarching commentary then becomes what role as a means for moral and emotive reactions a television should play, this is certainly the case in the scene in which Manohar witnesses the news from the doctor that his wife will survive the miscarriage.  The news is good in that he will keep his wife whom he loves dearly and we witness Manohar fall to his knees, weeping in front of the television set, an action that allows him to prepare for his real life encounter with his wife, in which he is noticeably more stoic.  Overall, the television program appears harmless to everyone until violent actions occur, particularly when the murdering via sledgehammer occurs, at which point Manohar's wife Priya (Neetu Chandra) begins questioning the relevance of the show, her moral compass says that the actions are reprehensible, even for a fictional program, of course she does not realize the reality occurring off screen.  This suggests then that to some degree art must question its validity once it delves into realms of gore and violence, a theme pertinent in not only this film, but more than one of the movies I have reviewed this month.

Key Scene:  The moment when Manohar realizes that his apartment is a threshold for some sort of paranormal presence is well executed and suspense laden.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but am not entirely sure on its rewatchability.  The film is luckily available on Netflix Watch Instantly, although I will warn you that some of the subtitling is quite awful.


I'd Rather Your Tell Me, Simon: Session 9 (2001)

Over the nearly two years that this blog has existed, I have made it clear on at least one or two occasions that my favorite horror film is the 2001 American indie work Session 9, directed by Brad Anderson who is perhaps better known for The Machinist.  My revisiting of this movie last night, not only reaffirmed by love of this unconventional horror film, but allowed me to read it in a far grander way, thanks to considerably more film and critical theory under my belt than the first time around.  It is one of the burgeoning works of digital filmmaking, which to some may mean it is a bit off putting because, tragically, digitial filmmaking has become sort of synonymous with cheap movies.  Yet, in Session 9 the filmmaking only helps to add an aura of disturbing feeling to the film, particularly when the camera appears to simply float around scenes, as though it were entirely its own spectral spirit.  The acting, while a bit wishy-washy overall does lead to a handful of very well-executed performances that add yet another level of paranoia to the films already complex plot.  For a film that requires no CGI, and very minimal special effects, it manages to still gather together a magnificent array of horrors and a the minimal amount of blood and gore to help justify it being considered for the genre, despite its clear attachment to the psychological thriller genre.  I am well aware that Session 9 is by no means for every person, but I can say, after this recent revisiting of the work, that it will definitively reside as my favorite horror film to date, however, I have also not seen a good bit of the horror classics so there is always a possibility of that changing in the future, all be it considerably unlikely.

The narrative of Session 9 centers on Gordon (Peter Mullan) the head man for a asbestos removing company that is trying to land a huge job at the Danvers State Hospital, a mental institution that has been closed since 1985 and has become nothing more than a place for graffiti and vandalism.  After winning the bid for the place by agreeing to do the immense task in a week, Gordon brings along his diverse team of workers which includes his right hand man Phil (David Caruso), Mike (Stephen Gevedon), Gordon's nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) and the rebel of the team, and advisary to Phil, as he lost his former girlfriend to him, Hank (Josh Lucas).  It seems as though the job will go on with little to no confrontation, aside from the usual male pissing contests, until Mike uncovers a set of reel-to-reel audio tapes that recount the experiences of one particularly disturbing patient named Mary Hobbes, who suffered from a severe case of dissociative identity disorder.  As the unveiling of Mary's various personalities occurs, so does the fracturing of the sanity of the group members, as Hank goes missing after wandering about the ward late at night.  Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Gordon is hiding his home life from the crew, most notably Phil, in that he has not been spending the night at home after hitting his wife for accidentally dropping a pot of boiling water on his foot.  As the voice of Simon, Mary's darkest persona is revealed, it becomes evident blatant that things are not alright within Gordon, as the group splits up to find Hank.  Things come to a jarring conclusion as an unseen attacker begins to  prowl the halls of the insane asylum.  I would elaborate a bit more on the plot, as it is quite complex, but it would spoil far too much of the film for me to feel justified.  So much of the enjoyment in this film lies in the dark ambient advancement between the days in the narrative to be ruined for the sake of my blog post.

I mentioned in the opening that the film seems to deal a great deal with notions of masculine competition, as well as levels of deceit.  If there is any critical reading to be done without delving into heavy amounts of psychology, it is within this gender commentary.  Gordon has failed as a paternal figure in the film and is visibly seen confronting these problems, perhaps most intensely in his closing phone call conversation during the film.  However, he is certainly not the only one suffering from a shock to their male power role, Phil is at ends with Hank, not because he particularly detests him as a worker, but, instead, because he directly affected his ability to justify his masculinity through sexual dominance and conquest.  Hank, also suffers from an attachment to wealth and luxury based power, something he clearly associates with being masculine.  Even, Jeff suffers from gendered guilt when he begs repeatedly not to be placed into dark rooms as he suffers from crippling nyctophobia, which has all kinds of Freudian gender implications, whether they be regression to childhood or things related to the womb, regardless he begs each of the members of the party not to make this fact known, completely overlooking that he is indeed making it known to everyone in the process.  In fact, the only character to not be completely preoccupied with his masculine power is Mike, excluding the one scene in which he demonstrates a lobotomy, Mike is sequestered from the group and finds joy, instead, in his discovery of the Mary's sessions.   These varied approaches to masculinity confront one another in the film and at times hide, leading to an incredible climax of testosterone gone wrong that is a cinematic whirlwind.  I am not certain that Anderson intends this reading, but when paired with his other work The Machinist ,it would be hard to ignore.

Key Scene:  A few of Gordon's nightmares are quite surreal and scary.

I cannot express how necessary it is to see this film, even if you find yourself not liking it, its unique offering to horror cannot be overlooked and is certainly worth owning if you are lucky enough to find a copy.


Can The Internet Dial You Up?: Pulse (2001)

Known as Kairo to Japanese audiences, Pulse is the inspiration for the American remake about a film in which a ghost spreads through technological devices, in a way very much matching a virus.  While the American version in all likelihood incorporates lots of high-end shock values and gore (admitedly I have never seen it so I can not say with certainty, it is purely speculation), the Japanese original predicates itself on a very drawn-out dreary and desolate vision of horror.  While this focus on isolation can be off-putting and even boring to many viewers, I found the film to be profound and gorgeous in its  lackluster appearances.   A palette of dull greens and greys, as well as a heavy use of jet black allow for a film to capture both isolation in a cinematic sense, as well as the computer inspired world from which it draws its inspiration.  I would gladly compare the cinematic stylings of this film to The Matrix, although thematically they are two starkly different films.  Pulse is firmly a horror film, one that has ghosts, death and a discernible eeriness that is rarely matched in contemporary genre works.  I know that J-Horror has come to be associated most closely with The Ring and The Grudge, but I am certain that a strong case could be made for this being the biggest signifier of what Japan had to offer with a new era of filmmaking in the late 90's and early 2000's.  They were keen to comment on the affects and effects of technology on a post-modern society and were especially willing to make note of the separation anxiety which ensued from a harsh severing with tradition.  An argument could easily be made for this film, as well as the others perviously mentioned existing in a specifically Japanese context, which would help to explain exactly why the works have not excelled as well when remade in America, even with literal shot for shot transfers.  It reflects anxieties, unique to Japanese society, particularly those living within Tokyo and as such one must watch this definitively unconventional horror film with this notion stuck in the the back of their mind.

Pulse exists as two seemingly divergent story lines, one involving a young woman named Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant shop along with a handful of other friends, most notably a young man named Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi).  It is clear that Michi has feelings for Taguchi, something that is problematized when Taguchi shows up to work with a computer disc that contains an unusual video of ghosts.  The video on the disc seems to cause Taguchi to commit suicide, the moments prior caught in their own video moment, depicting a pale wraith-like Taguchi simply staring into a computer monitor.  As their interactions continue, it becomes apparent that the video is causing all those who view it to become profusely depressed to the result of suicide, something Michi is forced to witness, causing her greater despair as she is forced through Tokyo as the suicidal virus spreads.  The second storyline involves a computer novice named Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) as he comes into contact with the virus accidentally and seeks help after he realizes the video continues to play even after he unplugs his computer.  He ends up recruiting the help of a computer science student named Harue (Koyuki) who her self becomes entangled in the problematics of the virus.  After an interaction with a graduate student in computer sciences, Ryosuke is informed that the apparitions he is witnessing do, in fact, exist in the real real, although they still contain an ethereal nature about them.  The ghosts apparently have a sole purpose of driving those who see them into a suicidal fit, as to join them in their disparaging loneliness.  After separate interactions with the desolation of the world around them, Ryosuke and Harue eventually encounter one another making it their quest to outrun the isolation and the virus, eventually making it to a freight ship that is to leave to Latin America, one of the few places with living human contact believed still to exist.  Tragically, despair has overwhelmed Ryosuke and he vanishes into ash in the films closing scenes.

This film is fully about notions of isolation and despair, suggesting heavily that the reason for such disconnections can be found to some degree in contemporary society's refusal to detach itself from technology.  However, as Colette Balmain argues quite eloquently in her article for Japanesestudies.org, the loneliness existing within this film, as well as works like The Ring and Suicide Club express a unique despair to Japan, one that is influenced heavily by cultural attachments to architecture, as well as environment and memory.  While I do not intend to reiterate what she has already said, as it is a great read and well worth checking out in the attachment, I instead want to draw upon a few other moments where this isolation occurs within the film.  First off, the computer program created by the graduate student in the film is essentially a glorified star movement screensaver in which a group of dots move about, without colliding.  The dots cannot cross, because to do so would mean their destruction, however, the farther they separate the strong the force to pull them together becomes.  In this sense, it represents the technological divide faced by the characters in the film, in essence they use technology to become "closer" only to realize that physical interactions inevitably result in loss and the pain of such moments will cause inevitable grief and untimely death.  This metaphor is furthered when a bug in the program causes the creation of phantom dots that follow around the original dots, suggesting a spectral essence.  Ultimately, the program and the film suggest a ethereal presence that emerges as a result of technology, very Buddhist in its creation, not in its interactions.  This notion is quite intriguing in that it raises questions of mind, body and how it is problematized with a non-physical presence, or what we have come to call our online personas.  While much of the technology in Pulse has become quite outdated the message is more pertinent than before, because the fears posited in the film have only grown exponentially.

Key Scene:  There is one capturing of a ghost on a computer screen as it moves in and out of nothingness that is particularly intense.

Buy this movie if you even remotely like horror films, Japanese films or works of cinema that comment on technology in contemporary society, it will fill a cinematic void in you that you were probably not aware existed.  It is relatively cheap on Amazon and free to watch instantly to Prime members.


Experiments in Film: Begotten (1990)

What kind of blog month at Cinemalacrum would it be if I were not to include at least one outright experimental film in my set of horror films.  I vowed to include more experimental films in my blog at the new year and was doing relatively well for a few months before failing a bit, as such I have included E. Elias Merhige's Begotten this month as one of the definitive experimental horror films of the past few decades.  A horrific film in every sense of the word, Begotten manages to make viewers uncomfortable both in what they can contextualize in what is being shown, as well as troubling over what they cannot make out, let alone understand.  Incorporating black and white negative images of gore and violent sexual acts, Merhige manages to completely eviscerate any sense of comfort upon viewing this film, which is allegedly a reconsideration of the creation stories found in Genesis, as well as a few other global religions.  At no point is it evident that Merhige attempts to comfort his viewers with images of safe familiarity, even when we are clearly show something like a mother nature figure it is only quickly disrupted by either jarring angles, awkward encounters with sexuality or a saturation of the screen with some degree of blood and filth.  Even the presence of  a soundtrack manages to complicate the viewing experience, as many of the sounds only consist of out of place cricket noises or disturbing gargling and sloshing sounds.  One could got at lengths about what is possibily commented upon within Begotten, but it is clear that its main course of action is to both deconstruct and undermine the seemingly high amount of respect attached to these ancient religious figures, by depicting them engaged in some of the most debasing and dehumanizing acts possible, not only stripping of their deity powers, but even the basis of human relations as well.

At the onset of the film, Begotten posits a statement concerning the dismantling of language traditions and memory, suggesting that such incantations of the past are dead, going further to suggest that they shall flicker away like a flame.  With this in mind we can at a very simple level attempt to appropriate the manner in which the images formulate and function upon the screen.  All of the imagery is black and white, and the construction of the scenes often causes their to be a clear delineation between the whites and blacks on the screen, perhaps making reference to textual history, something the film seems adamant about destroying.  In fact, the only time the film seems to offer images of grey, or any other merger of black and white is when the shot cuts to a skyline, perhaps positioning the questions to why such grotesque actions occur within the hands of spiritual inquiry.  Of course, the film manages to dismiss this as it is never ended with just a skyline, but always followed by more images of horror and violence.  In fact, if Begotten manages to provide any insight into what one should consider about religion it is that it is a misogynist, patriarchal and violent oppressive force that takes pride in slaughter and forceful sexual dominance, and for it to be discontinued one needs to return to a natural world, but this natural rebirth necessarily requires a large death of sorts, one that, according to Begotten, is all but metaphorical.

Begotten excels in being disturbingly beautiful, while the imagery is certainly problematic and at times nearly unwatchable it is interjected with some truly provocative and awe-inducing cinematography that makes the viewing worth one's while.  It should also be noted that Susan Sontag thinks this to be one of the ten most important modern films, a point of high praise if I say so myself.

For more information on E. Elias Merhige, or to watch the film online click on either of the screenshots below:


A Naked American Man Stole My Balloons: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Quick you guys let's make a werewolf movie, in which every song used within the film has "moon" somewhere in the title...I imagine this is what John Landis said to producers when creating An American Werewolf in London.  Where Evil Dead begins humorous and spirals into a considerably scary movie, this work begins humorous, considers being scary and then decides just to continue being absurd instead.  I am not sure if you are supposed to laugh as much as I did while watching an American Werewolf in London, but it goes without saying that the wry humor and somewhat mockingly over-the-top special effects lend to a comedy more so than a horror film, but, after all, it is John Landis, the guy made Animal House.  Living on the edge of the late seventies which were witnessing a thriving punk rock movement and the early eighties which emphasized a focus on capitalist conservative values, An American Werewolf In London manages to deal with both these cultures with great zeal and a maddening silliness that makes the movie incredibly watchable.  I was wondering why the guys over at Filmspotting felt so adamant about this being included in their top films of 1981, but after viewing this work I can see why it made their list, and more importantly managed to land right outside of the AFI's top 100 films of all-time, a pretty surprising feat, even if the list only includes works by American directors.  While all of the films I have viewed throughout this month of horror movies, I have enjoyed most everything I have watched, however, I can say with some certainty that this work has proved to be the biggest surprise so far in means of its enjoyability, as well as cinematic fervor.  An American Werewolf in London epitomizes everything that a cult classic film should.

Beginning with two young men, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne),  getting off of a sheep herders truck to begin backpacking across Europe.  While their adventures begin with them traveling through the English countryside both express a great desire to arrive in Rome where they assume a large amount of hot women will await them.  However, their trip has just begun and they find themselves stopping by a local pub, aptly named The Slaughtered Lamb, initially unwelcome the two begin banter with the bar patrons only to discover that they are hiding a secret about some creature roaming the hills of the area, unfortunately, they discover this far too late and Jack is killed by a creature, while David is scarred before being saved by the locals.  David awakes in a London hospital with wounds and bizarre nightmares of running through the woods naked.  It is explained to him by one Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) that his friend Jack has died and he was attacked by some sort of lunatic person.  David adamantly believes that he was attacked by some sort of furry creature an exclamation that only receives the support of an attractive young nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter).  As David's visions worsen he even begins to see the undead corpse of Jack who explains that he has become a werewolf and as such will desire human flesh and all those he kills will only continue to rise unless he commits suicide.  After release from hospice, David movies in with Alex and continues to kill people during full moons, ending up waking up in a zoo after one particularly bad night of killing.  Revisiting Jack in an adult cinmea, David comes face to face with all his victims as they plead once more for him to end his life, after another spree David is surrounded by cops and a pleading Alex, who apparently gets the turned version of David to have a brief change of heart, yet the bestial nature takes form and attempts to attack her, resulting in his being gunned down dead.  In the middle of her tears, the film cuts dramatically to the credits with yet another moon related song playing loudly.

An American Werewolf in London could be read in a few different ways, perhaps commenting on othering, sacrifice or cultural decay.  However, my reading of the film could not help but focus on the element of tourism and miscommunication that results.  Of course this is an absurdist representation of that, considering that much of the plot is predicated on David not being told the truth about werewolves, but this can serve as a metaphor of the lack of knowledge many tourists have to social customs when they enter a new place, in this case David, nor Jack, were knowledgable enough about this foreign culture to understand that they were in werewolf country and thus subject to attacks.  Perhaps this can serve as a reflection to when a foreign traveller, or more appropriately tourist, crosses certain borders to a place that are unwelcome, often with disastrous results.  It reflects nicely to the occurrence a year or so ago when American hikers unknowingly crossed into Iran only to be arrested by the police, as they were unwelcome.  While this is a very real tragic example of such actions, perhaps Landis is reflecting on this action.  Furthermore, An American Werewolf in London is one of the best post-modern horror films I have ever seen, trumping even Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead in its cult epicness.

Key Scene: David's turning scene is quite excellent, although the cut to credits is so jarring that it cannot be ignored.

Everyone should have a copy of this film, it makes for a great horror/Halloween screening and I am sure it has a fair share of drinking games floating around the internet.  Get the bluray whenever finances allow.


Only A Witch Cat Can Close A Door: House (1977)

A film that is constantly referenced on my blog, Nobuhiko Obayashi's House is hands down one of the most insane and logic defying films to ever come about, and as one of the guys on Criterion Cast put it, House is one of those films that Criterion releases in which you have no idea you wanted to see, but love watching it once it becomes available.  A film that is wholly experimental, staunchly within the horror genre and yet still not quite capable of categorization, Obayashi's work exist as an example of what is possible in cinema when one truly drops all notions of traditional filmmaking and instead focuses on making a work unique, as well as a celebration of their past work, in the case of Obayashi work on commercials, something that Japanese autuers deemed lowly.  Perhaps no movie deserves to be called trippy more so than House, as it's technicolor backdrops, schlocky after effects and unbridled use of sexuality as a means to advance plot all suggest it as having a place right next to the classics of b movie horror, yet again though, this placement manages to overlook so much of what is being created both in terms of genre hybridity and the way in which cinema is viewed and consumed.  A blatant, and self-proclaimed answer to Steven Spielberg's Jaws, House manages to capture the exact same sort of unconventional zeal and enthusiasm of the classic American horror film, in that we can clearly see that the film is not made by a master filmmaker like Ozu or Kurosawa, but by somebody who is still finding their footing as a director, however, this footing is clearly to be grounded in the absurdist tradition, far more indicative of the work of Seijun Suzuki, than a Mikio Naruse.  I often place House on as many top ten lists as I can because quite frankly it is one of the few films I could countlessly revisit, as well as something that I feel required to share with the rest of the world.

House certainly has a plot, figuring out exactly where it comes and goes is admittedly a bit troublesome.  Suffice to say the film's main protagonist is a young woman nicknamed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) who is still adapting to the recent announcement by her father that he will be remarrying after the death of his wife, and Gorgeous's mother over eight years earlier.  Frustrated, Gorgeous asks her Aunt (Yoko Minamida) if she can stay at her mother's former home for the summer...along with her group of friends from high school, which include an eponymous group of women like Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato) and Melody (Eriko Tanaka).  Sending a cat named Blanche as an aid to fetch Gorgeous and the other girls, Aunt is ecstatic to have them stay.  Informing their school teacher that they are headed there the girls pack and travel to the house, only to discover that it is in the remote portion of a rural village and has become quite dilapidated.   Aunt, a much older woman now, explains that she cannot move as well any more and that is why the house is not only in such ruin, but also seems to take on a life of its own.  However, it become evident quite quickly that the house is possessed by a demonic spirit of sorts, one that begins attacking the various girls, often in ways that reflect their personalities, Mac is killed via food, while Melody is killed while at a piano.  All of this crashes together in a bloody climax that defies explanation and is certainly not benefitted by spoiling, suffice to say you will come out of the ending probably knowing a little less than you did going in, but in this situation it may well be for the better.

House is a horror film, one could comfortably place it in that genre with little or no confusion.  Yet when it comes down to explaining why this film is creepy, many a critics find themselves explaining that it is far more comedic than scary, and after screening this to my film club during my undergraduate it would seem to be the case with the amount of laughter that occurred throughout.  Despite this the movie does have a very tense and creepy quality about it, in its lack of explanation.  Every scene that exists within the film, even before it becomes a horror narrative, suggests no sort of linear composition and has the viewer perked up in anticipation and at some points dread of what will occur next, and in my mind that is a major necessity in a horror film.  This notion that it is scary is furthered when on realizes that Obayashi recruited the aid of his daughter, who at the time was ten, to help create some of the scenes in the script, particularly the one that occurs in front of a vanity mirror.  In an interview regarding its relationship with Jaws, Obayashi explained that things like bear and giant ant attacks were horrors created by the rational adult mind and he wanted something far more surreal and imaginative with his work and he felt his daughters freed mind could provide such occurrences.  I find this fascinating and it certainly helps to elucidate why the horror seems creepy, without altogether being grotesque or unbearable.  It is a horror movie of a different conception and different execution and one that its scary in its unpredictability.

Key Scene:  Anything involving the piano is magical.

Buy this move...here's a a link.


Shadows, Voices And Faces Seemed To Take On A Hidden Meaning: Vampyr (1932)

In my book, Carl Theodor Dreyer can do no wrong, his adaptation of The Passion of Joan of Arc is without out contest one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever produce and with this knowledge going into my month of horror films I leapt at the opportunity to include his work Vampyr in the list of films I would watch and review.  I am here to attest to the brilliance that exudes throughout this grand piece of cinema and could very well make a short list of the best cinematography I have seen in a black and white film to date sitting nicely aside Last Year at Marienbad and Carnival of Souls (A film that may end up being reviewed within the month).  However, what surprised me the most about watching Vampyr, is that in relation to the other movies I have watched thus far, it may well be the scariest of them all, particularly in its starkness and the way the sets and their shadows invade every mise-en-scene, never allowing for a moment of comfort or familiarity.  Furthermore, without the use of heavy make up or an onslaught of CGI, Dreyer manages to make some creepy vampires simply by great casting and demanding some driven performances by the actors involved in the film.  Traipsing the line between silent and talkie film, Vampyr is both an experiment in filmmaking with its horror themes, as well as a perfectly crafted execution of melodramatic traditions.  I am ready with much conviction to claim this as my new favorite Dreyer film, not only because it deals with his traditional themes of religion, and the existential self in times of death, but because it is far and away one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, more so I have not found myself asking "how did they do that scene" as much as I did during Vampyr since I initially viewed Inception, and the later had the benefit of 75 plus years of technological advancements to make it look so cool.  Vampyr is a masterpiece and a film that is beyond fully realized one that is a pleasure to watch and ends all too soon.

Vampyr focuses on a journey undertaken by a traveller and lover of the bizarre named Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg) to a remote village known as Courtempierre.  When Allan takes up residence at a local in he is bothered by voices on his very first night, ones that lead him to an old man who provides him with a package that he demands be opened upon the old man's death.  Taking it in a bit of suspicion, Allan is then led to a manor in the village by an assortment of bizarre and inexplicable shadow figures.  Entering the manner, Allan witnesses the man he just saw being murder, leading to him opening the package to discover a book detailing the horrific exploits of demons known as Vampyrs, and of their particular effect on the town of Courtempierre.  Simultaneously, Allen discovers that a young woman in the manor named Leone (Sybille Schmitz) has taken seriously ill, or as he realizes has become infected with the curse of the vampyrs.  This leads to a confrontation with the local doctor, who Allan suspects as being a henchmen of the vampyrs, and Allan demands that the doctor perform a blood transfusion between himself and Leone.  After an incredibly unusual nightmare sequence in which Allan watches himself being buried alive, he comes to the aid of Leone, as well as her sister Gisele (Rena Mandele) who Allan has taken a liking to, which involves driving a stake through the dead body of a local woman who is believed to be the origin of the vampyr curse.  While seeking refuge in a mill, the doctor who has been an aide to the vampyrs becomes trapped under falling flour, while Gisele and Allan cross a river into an idyllic forest, suggesting movement to a better place.  The film then closes as the cogs in the mill begin to slow down, almost as though the flow of time itself had stopped.

As I noted in the introduction, Dreyer's films almost always preoccupy themselves with notions of death and how one's spirituality plays into coming to terms with such occurrences.  If one looks at the text cards throughout the film, they alone help to indicate the possible religious commentaries, as well as existential motifs that run through the film, whether it be the hourglasses signifying time or the crosses helping to differentiate good and evil they serve a purpose to remind viewers of what morals they can glean from the film.  Furthermore, a couple of scenes in which Dreyer breaks the fourth wall, as well as some stunning point of view shots later in the film allow for the viewer to assume the role of the protagonist in the film, subsequently reinforcing the themes and religious commentary latent in the film.  The overarching commentary then becomes something to the nature of the importance os self-sacrifice in the name of good and a suggestion that in performing such an act a person affords an opportunity to directly confront evil and if successful ultimately destroy its existence.  However, Dreyer is careful not to claim that this action is by any means easy.  Allan's out of body experience reflects a sort of existential reflection about his life and the reality of such sacrifices, in that he essentially witnesses his own death a vision that is eerie because once again it is done in a pseudo-point of view manner that causes the viewer to simultaneously consider their own life.  One could easily walk away from Vampyr brooding over their own life in relation to the cogs of time and while that may seem like an awful experience, perhaps it is not all together a bad thing.

Key Scene:  Either the shadow directions or the funeral procession, both are equally stunning.

This is a movie you need, no excuse necessary as to why you do not own it.  Criterion has a DVD available, go ahead and buy yourself and me a copy.