Wednesday, October 31, 2012

25 Horror Films: #11 and #10


The War Zone (Time Roth, 1999)

The Reflecting Skin (Philip Ridley, 1990)

“Who is killing all of our children?”

The Reflecting Skin is an allegory about growing up that is sometimes overwrought, yet the feel and tone of the film is so odd and mysterious that somehow it all works.

Children are often frustrated by their perceived powerlessness, forever waiting for the time to come when they'll mysteriously be granted certain rights that will bring them closer to being "somebody." They live life in the same fashion—openly, playfullyknowing they're under its spell.  

Many adults like to think the world is spinning because they've not yet told it to stop.

At one point in The Reflecting Skin, Seth Dove blows in his hand. The camera cuts to some wheat blowing in the breeze. The childa phantom, a ghosthas grown. And now he has the power to alter the world.

(Some overwrought words for an overwrought film. Speaking of which, did I mention that the child's name is Seth Dove!?)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

25 Horror Films: #13 and #12 (a double feature)


Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

One of cinema's visceral masterpieces, and one of its most haunting. Come and See is a great anti-war film because it's not an action oriented, thrilling film about war; it's a war film shot like a horror film. A young boy must navigate his way through a world full of killers... (Which is all war boils down to once you rob it of its heroics.)

Clean, Shaven (Lodge Kerrigan, 1994)

It's worth noting that Kerrigan's Keane (2004) and Claire Dolan (1998) are also very good. (Worth noting because Clean, Shaven is the only one of the aforementioned films inducted into the Criterion Collection, which I assume also means it's the one that's been most widely seen.)

In Clean, Shaven, the main character, Peter Winter, is constantly at war with himself.

At one point he even "snuffs out" his image on a car mirror in an act of symbolic suicide (or murder, depending on who exactly it is that he's seeing):

So why a double feature? For one thing, Come and See and Clean, Shaven both meticulously (and brilliantly) use sound to create a sense of heightened subjectivity. But more than that, the two films work as the flip side of the same coin.

The war within, and the war without.

And also because both films feature protagonists who are haunted by images.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

25 Horror Films: #15 and #14


Sombre (Philippe Grandrieux, 1998)

Sombre, with its minimal dialogue and dusky atmosphere, is more like a dream or sensation than a narrative filmthe kind of dream you barely remember but which can nevertheless stir emotion. Although there's plenty of sound and musicat one point we even hear the majority of Bauhaus' lengthy "Bela Lugosi's Dead"it's easy for Sombre to sometimes feel a bit like a silent film, which I think is a testament to its visual qualities. It's basically two films spliced together: a European art film, and something more abstract and experimental.

And it pulses between these "two films" throughout. One is in focus, the other an impressionistic blur.

It could even be said that the two modes operate in a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like fashion similar to the film's protagonist. And, like him, the film is more Mr. Hyde.

Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Elephant was made with a style that best renders the chain of murders it depicts as brutal and without purpose, and in doing so it lacks even the slightest exposition. At first this ends up giving the deaths a matter of fact quality, perhaps best exemplified when the sound of a car zooming by outside can be heard while the camera stays with the lifeless body of a recently murdered man. Life goes on, and not many people are going to notice when you're gone. But the "indifferent" style of the film ends up compounding Clarke's intent, which was to bring attention to the frequent civilian murders that were taking place in Northern Ireland
at the time (the Troubles)—murders that were largely ignored or being met with indifference everywhere else. The more objective the film strives to be, the more appalling and intolerable the never-ending cycle of violence and revenge becomes to the viewer.

Along with this stark, utterly real quality, Elephant also contains elements that very subtly make it feel somewhat "off." For example, the sound of footsteps (people, life, action) contrasted with large, open spaces in nearly vacant buildings. Patterns deliberately set up and then broken in order to confuse and disorient the viewer so it's not always clear who's hunting and who's being hunted. And two figures in a bright open space lit in such a way as to suggest walking shadows.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

25 Horror Films: #17 and #16


Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964)

A simple story perfectly realized.

The way films tend to exist in my mind
that is, what I remember about themusually revolves around certain images, scenes, performances, feelings and sensations. Not plot. And Onibaba exists in my mind as rustling bamboo, hot, sweaty nights, and the sound of cooing pigeons. Now, that might sound like a criticism, but Shindo renders it all as poetry, which is why Onibaba continues to stick with me when so many other films have turned to vapor.

The horror? It's there. Perhaps more in the shadows and darkness than in what's captured on film. At least for the majority of its running time.  

Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)

On the surface, Cure would be more easily categorized as a thriller, a detective film, a police procedural, or even more simply as a "serial killer movie." But this being Kiyoshi Kurosawa, it's best to forget about the surface. The deep horror in Cure becomes most apparent once we realize that, above everything else, it's a film about identity. That might not sound terrifying, but it is. (Doubly so if the prospect of thinking terrifies you.)

Cure also features one of my favorite endings. Supremely subtle and haunting.

"In what is without doubt one of the purest horror films made in recent times, Kiyoshi Kurosawa unleashes a shadow. It is the shadow of apocalypse, an apocalypse which is not seen or heard, but sensed." Tom Mes

INTERVIEWER: You've stated that a common theme in your films, and certainly in "Cure," is "men and women whose value systems are shattered by a particular event, which utterly undermines their sense of self." What is it about a shattered value system that you find interesting?

KUROSAWA: To elaborate on that, I would say my characters have had their value system shattered, but by film's end, wind up with an altogether different value system. Living in the democracy that is modern-day Japan, I am told I am quite free to do what I want. But I think in fact, I am bound by common practice, laws and accepted morality, so I don't feel very free at all. So in that sense, while I may be incapable of cutting myself free from all these ties that bind me, in my fictional stories, I take a fictional character bound by all of these conventions and allow them an opportunity to break free. They can walk towards what, until then, had been an unfathomable freedom.

INTERVIEWER: In "Cure," you take a much quieter, "less is more" approach to horror films. Why do you feel this is more effective than the louder, tongue in cheek attitude found in the current crop of American horror films?

KUROSAWA: I don't think that blood spurting or screaming instigates abject human fear. They may be shocked, but this doesn't lead to pure terror. What I consider a genuinely effective horror film is that well after the film is over and the audience has gone home, the fear and terror instilled in them survives, forcing the spectator to wonder "What did I just see?" 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

25 Horror Films: #19 and #18


Spider Baby (Jack Hill, 1964)


A film of many tones that somehow manages to be simultaneously campy and earnest, funny and creepy.

A wonderfully strange performance by Jill Banner, who was said to be the love of Marlon Brando's life.

Lon Chaney, Jr. is also great. The scene with the girls when he's crying about their possible separation lifts the film out of camp and into believable drama.

City folk come to stay with a sick family, though the former group is afflicted with its own disease: greed. At least the murderous family is capable of love, fun, and laughterhowever perverse. Perhaps that's why their surname is "Merrye."

Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)

Jodorowsky's second best film after The Holy Mountain.1

1 That I've foolishly said such a thing without having seen all of his films is worth pointing out. (Sometimes it's just too much fun to feign omniscience.)

Two more images, because some films are better suited for pictures than they are words: 

In Roger Ebert's typically horrendous summary-style review of Santa Sangre, he somehow opens with a paragraph that's quite a bit better than anything I could think to write:

"To call Santa Sangre a horror film would be unjust to a film that exists outside all categories. But in addition to its deeper qualities, it is a horror film, one of the greatest, and after waiting patiently through countless Dead Teenager Movies, I am reminded by Alejandro Jodorowsky that true psychic horror is possible on the screen—horror, poetry, surrealism, psychological pain and wicked humor, all at once."

NOTE: This post is a bit goofy, I realize. More so than usual. Results may vary depending on the mood I'm in when I sit down to write. Don't think I'm not being serious in my own unserious way.

Santa Sangre, featuring a special guest appearance by celebrity chef Mario Batali