Saturday, October 16, 2010

Female Vampire and other kid-friendly horror films

It's been all vampire lesbos and demon children for me this week, as I hit new highs (and uncontested lows) of Horrorfest 2010.

Paperhouse (Bernard Rose, 1988)
Although it's not exactly terrifying, I'd still file this under horror. It's an exceptionally inventive tale of a young girl who creates a simple fantasy world from pencil and paper, and gradually begins interacting in her hand-drawn world. Things take a sinister turn when she pencils in a menacing father-figure and both her and the boy living in the drawing find themselves in danger. Gorgeous art direction makes her fantasy world all the most unsettling, and much of the suspense comes from never knowing what could lurk behind the corner. It was dark in places, but also warm and sentimental - a bit more than I usually go for, but the sheer imagination behind it made up for that.

Female Vampire (Jesus Franco, 1973)
Franco is not known for his wholesome filmography, but I (perhaps unfairly) expected a little plot to go along with the flesh. In fact, this is essentially just a medium-core porn flick masquerading as a vampire movie (she wears a cape, I guess) and not a particularly engaging one at that. I'll chalk it up to Franco, who seems perfectly content splashing around in the trashy erotica pool, which is a shame since great films and lesbian vampires are not mutually exclusive, as I will get to shortly. To be fair, his only other film I've seen was Vampire Lesbos, another disappointment, and I haven't given up just yet. But things are not looking good for the Jesus.

The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970)
That, my friends, is how you make a lesbian vampire movie. Granted, Hammer knows what they're doing, and having a cast that can act their way out of a paper coffin helps, but this felt fresher and sexier than usual. Not to knock Drac, but it's always nice to see some of the classic female vampires get screen adaptations, in this case, the lusty Carmilla, no stranger to female neck. Peter Graves shows up as a tireless vampire hunter, but this has quite an ensemble, with everyone slipping comfortably into Hammer's gothic studio atmosphere. Between this and Daughters of Darkness, I'm ready to dub the early 70s the golden age of sapphic suckers.

Who Can Kill A Child (Narcisso Serrador, 1976)
Beyond a doubt, the most outright disturbing horror film I've seen this year. Here's the premise: a vacationing couple find themselves on a remote Mediterranean island where the only occupants appear to be children. Turns out, this is because the children have gone bonkers and murdered all the adults. Logically, there's going to be trouble, and with a setup like that, horrible, socially unacceptable things are going to happen. And they do - but not until late enough in the film for you to wonder whether it has the stones to follow through with the concept. The build-up though is concerned with stranding you on this darkest of streets, and it's enough to tie your stomach in knots. One particularly graphic scene finds a crowd of urchins overwhelming an old man and turning him into a human pinata, and from that point forward, the malicious grin on every child's face is truly terrifying. And the ending, it's enough to make you lock your children in their room every night, and maybe premeditate several ways to fend them off should they bare their teeth.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)
I've said it before and I'll say it again, movie lovers are fortunate to have someone like Guy Maddin, whose work is something of an alternate cinematic history. It's no surprise then that his take on the age old Dracula story is presented not just as a silent film, but as ballet, a brief and breathtaking one at that. Set design, choreography and music swirl together in an icy, spellbinding hour, timed perfectly so as not to wear out its welcome. Scary it ain't, but it is a vampire movie, one unlike any other you're bound to see, and it reminded me in a way of Haxan; a bit silly, but sufficiently spooky to fit right in at Halloween.

The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
Deborah Kerr had never watched Who Can Kill a Child, so she didn't know that the way to deal with possessed children is to kill them quick as you can. So she spends most of The Innocents scared out of her mind while being framed by some of the most stunning cinematography of the decade. She's like the anti-Mary Poppins, governess of two children who walk all over her and pull spooky stunts that make her head spin. It's a mesmerizing movie and actually holds a few genuine jump-from-your-seat moments. Kerr, as always, is sensational, and this was my favorite performance of hers outside of her Powell & Pressburger collaborations. And again, that cinematography is marvelous, just look at the image below.

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