Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This Week In Horror

Without fail, I get a late start on what's supposed to be a month of mind-numbing, threshold shattering, horror porn - an annual smattering of blood, broods, spirits, serial killers, ghouls, giallo, cannibals, lesbian vampires (I swear, they are inescapable) and whatever else falls into the yearly pot. So each October I strike some balance between catching up on horror classics I've never seen and tracking down the old, the underrated and the unacceptable from the closet of horror films past. By the time November 1st rolls around, I'm dizzyingly desensitized, but not without having a few more favorite horror flicks to add to my endless recommendation list.

I've been at this now for a week, and before things pile up any further, I'll spew some thoughts on the six films I've caught so far.

Let's Scare Jessica To Death (John Hancock, 1971)
Pictured above. This will sound like a back handed compliment, but this was a good tame way to break into a month of horror. But consistently creepy is often better than occasionally terrifying, and like Jessica herself, Hancock's film hangs on the edge of sanity. Zohra Lampert is plagued by all manner of spooky shit, which on the one hand makes her mental deterioration all the more dire, but it also throws a bit too much into the mix. This is everything but the kitchen sink horror, with vampires, tribal etchings, family curses, scary old people, eerie photographs, and an ominous cello case; there's just a few too many threads here, and they don't all successfully merge. Overall though, it's well worth the look, and it set the pace for the string of effective and unsettling films I would follow it with.

Alice, Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1977)
Does this man terrify you? Because he terrifies me, although it's more in the way he stares you down like you're a bacon cheeseburger trapped in albinoland. He might be the scariest thing about Alice, Sweet Alice, which is saying something since it involves a sweet little girl who just might be a pint-sized serial killer. The film sports some down-right dingy art direction, which adds nicely to the ambiance, although the twists seemed too obvious to me to sincerely impress. But still, just look at that man. Look at those eyes. How can you say no?

Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
With the American remake having just hit theaters, I'm officially behind the times on this one. In my defense, I netflixed it the day it came out on DVD, only to hear about all the subtitle woes and ship it back until the studio corrected the problem. They did, and I finally caught up, and to all the hype I have to say I'm just a little bit baffled. Shot with icy-cold beauty, it's certainly a welcome variation on vampire love, but it has these ridiculous slips every now and then (the body bursting into flames is overdone, and Jesus Christ, what the hell were they thinking with the cat attack?). But yeah, it's still one of the better horror films from the last decade, not high praise, but there's a lot to like here, and now I'm curious how the remake addresses some of my problems with the original.

The Funhouse (Tobe Hooper, 1981)
Carnivals and cannibals - those are the two ultimates in creepy for me - and Tobe Hooper gives us his take on one of those here. The Funhouse almost wastes its first half in run-of-the-mill teen horror territory, but I'll vouch for the setup being worth the payoff. Once these blazingly stupid high schoolers decide to spend the night in the funhouse, things get good and dark soon enough. Because, let's face it, animatronics are terrifying, as are people who wear scary masks because their real face is even scarier, and those are the things that The Slut, The Jock, The Virgin and The Pothead have to contend with inside this nightmare maze of death. The final confrontation in the bowels of the funhouse is especially suspenseful, and whatever its shortcomings, this did it for me in the end. Definitely more Texas Chainsaw than Poltergeist, which is certainly a good thing.

The Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Easily my biggest horror blindspot, it didn't disappoint me, although its lofty place among scary movies is a little misguided. The concept carries the film. Don't go to sleep is a frightening mandate, and Craven wisely doesn't overdo the dreamworld, which keeps the films instability eerily unpredictable. Funny enough, it's Freddy himself that's the letdown. He flails around like a drunken scarecrow and instantly knocks the chills out of me whenever he surfaces. But his kills as observed from reality are fantastically excessive (as seen in the pic) and are worthy highlights of the film. Glad I finally got around to it.

The House With Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
By far the bleakest film so far, and commendable for managing to go through obvious motions in less than obvious ways. By that, I mean that I called most of the twists here, but they still took me by surprise when they came about, and damn did they manage to make my skin crawl in the process. A painter arrives in an Italian village to restore a sinister painting in the local church. There's another thing that terrifies me, disturbing religious iconography, and that's essentially the springboard for some grisly murders and troubled town history. Creepy townfolk begin coming out of the woodwork and pretty soon our protagonist painter is up to his neck in a local mystery. So far, it's the best of the lot, and I'll try to catch another Pupi Avati film before the month is up.

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