Sunday, December 23, 2007

Catsup, Part 2

Part two in my attempt to recap all the movies I haven't already written about. I'm allowed to keep it to one sentence if I want. Funny that hasn't happened yet.

The Return of Count Yorga (1971, Bob Kelljan) [68]: Kelljan died too early with too few features under his belt to get a Taratinoized rebirth, but dammit, he deserves it. His three vampire films -- Count Yorga, Vampire, Scream, Blacula, Scream, and this, the Yorga sequel -- are all crude and shocking bits of pulp that hit like barbed wire wrapped around a two by four. What Kelljan lacked in subtlety, he made up for in aggressiveness -- his slo-mo running vampires, shock cuts and freeze-frames feel like they're dipped in nightmare. But while the first Yorga is severely crippled by the awful lighting and lumpy screenplay, the sequel (written by Yvonne Wilder, who also plays the deaf-mute housekeeper) is comparatively elegant. There's a definite feminist subtext going on, with focus on the Mariette Hartley character and the gaslighting of the housekeeper (quite similar to the same year's Let's Scare Jessica to Death), that contrasts well with the sexist original. There are lulls, and it doesn't always hang together perfectly, but the set-pieces make up for it. Kelljan tops the first Yorga's tense, gut-wrenching ending with a climactic sequence that's both exciting and dread-inducing, ending with two of the most terrifying freeze-frames in horror film history. That Kelljan never got to grow as an artist, and that his contributions to the mechanics of suspense are ignored by modern filmmakers, is a fucking tragedy.

Day Night Day Night (2007, Julia Loktev) [76]: Key image for me was watching our confused emo protag try on different outfits for her big day, and briefly donning a jacket with "Baby Girl" on the back. She rejects the jacket, but the she never really shakes off the label -- despite the deathly seriousness of her task, she's still a kid, really, incapable of understanding that she's not doing this for any great cause (pointedly, we have no idea what the cause is), but simply because she hasn't figured out who she is (pointedly, we have no idea who she is). This would've been impossible for Loktev to convey (at least, not without making a terrible film) without lead Williams, who does more with her body before six a.m. than most actors do all day. The first half is the best, all controlled, claustrophobic angles, yet comforting in their directness, not unlike the obscure cause that's been embraced by these masked men. Then she's let out into the "real world", the camera goes handheld, strangers start looking at the camera, and the tension, rather than heightened, is diffused (defused?) by the hustle and bustle. It's air squeaking out of the balloon, and while that's mostly the point -- the group's ideology crumbling against the chaos of modern existence, a life intended to be meaningful through sacrifice that suddenly loses meaning in the anonymous crowds -- it's still a bit of a drag. Good job with that last shot, though.

Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci) [34]: Boring boring cool cool boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring cool cool how'dtheydothat cool boring boring boring boring boring gross gross gross boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring boring nice nice nice boring boring boring boring stupid stupid stupid boring boring boring boring boring boring dumb dumb oh thank god it's over.

Fright Night (1985, Tom Holland) [71]: Yeah, I know. This has 80s written all over it, from the hair and clothes, to the way the narrative is honed-down, in the Syd Field manner, to its bare essentials -- there can't be more than eight characters in the entire thing. Still, it enraptured me when I was 13 and still does today. Probably has something to do with a fondness for the Savant-as-Hero, the guy whose head full of useless trivia becomes a weapon against monsters. (Today we'd recognize both Charlie and Evil as a bona-fide geeks, but the movie can only situate them, vaguely, as outsiders, which is probably why we never meet any other kids, apart from Amy). But a monster movie is only as good as its monster, and Chris Sarandon's suave and menacing neighborhood vampire is just as worthy of an Aurora model kit as the Tall Man in my opinion. (Love how the film demonstrates his toughness -- stripping the wood off a banister with his fingernail.) And the disco scene, while a homage to Polanski's ballroom scene in The Fearless Vampire Killers, outdoes its predecessor in sensuality and just plain cinematic snap. Watch Amanda Bearse's Amy become a woman over the course of a cheesy synth-pop number! (Must I turn in my Hipster's Learning Permit if I admit that I found Bearse, pre-Married With Children shrew, kinda hot? Is it significant that we now know she's a lesbian?)

1408 (2007, Mikael Håfsröm) [22]: Here's what's wrong with this movie: the haunted room is omnipotent. It can do anything it wants with Cusack; he's powerless. How can there be any meaningful conflict if one character has literally all the power? The movie tries to make up for this lack of conflict by making the experience about whether Cusack will come to terms with his dead daughter, but you know what? That's not horror. That's Lifetime. Oh, and don't get me started on the Jackson/Cusack scene. Suckas act like it's the second coming of True West or some shit, when it's just a frickin' speed bump on the way to the CGI. Oh, and don't get me started on the CGI. There's a ghost from the thirties, and one from the fifties? Let's make them look like scratched up B&W film and Technicolor, respectively! Woo! Fucking hacks.

30 Days of Night (2007, David Slade) [65]: Here's what's wrong with this movie, and really, it's the only thing that's wrong (without necessarily implying that the rest is "right"): Thirty days is just too damn long for drama. The film does a terrible job of showing how weeks of avoiding vampire-induced death affects the characters physically and mentally, and just a terrible job of demonstrating the passing of time in general. (A "Day 15" title card just don't cut it.) There's very little difference between Day 3 and Day 30, and considering the ferociousness of the vampires, it starts to beggar belief that anyone would make it past day two. But then, what about the vampires? You tell me they got thirty days to eat everyone, and they haven't razed the entire town in a week? What, did they break into someone's house and find a copy of Berlin Alexanderplatz and think, "Well, when are we gonna be back here?" Yet, change the title to "Three Days of Night", and you got a winner. But I guess that isn't horrifying enough.

Hostel Part II (2007, Eli Roth) [59]: So Martin suggested that David Poland was paid by someone to have a shit fit over this, and damn, he might be onto something. Feels like Roth lost his nerve -- he could've really earned that shit fit, but instead backs away from most of the carnage (I can't even remember what happened to Bijou Phillips). All of the ideas here are good ones, from the gender switch to the focus on the torturers' perspective to the "money talks" ending. (Probably the best idea is simply showing the contrast between the boys' trip in the first movie -- an abbreviated sex comedy -- and the girls' trip, which is threatening long before they reach the hostel.) But Roth ultimately doesn't know what to do with his ideas, so the whole thing lacks any kind of depth. Everyone hits their marks, torture set pieces come and go (quickly), and then it's over. Bart tries valiantly to make his character work but can't make his third act change of heart believable. Best scene isn't even in the movie: on the DVD, check out the deleted scene "Rape Shower". Yeah, yeah, I know, sounds tasteless, but it's just two of the women talking. It's pretty funny and lends credence to the rumor that Tarantino has a hand in Roth's scripts.


Scott W. Black said...

"Must I turn in my Hipster's Learning Permit if I admit that I found Bearse, pre-Married With Children shrew, kinda hot?"

I thought the same back in the summer of 1985. And my fondness for the movie in general has only grown over the years. It helps that William Ragsdale is a genuinely nice guy who used to bring his dogs to the vet I worked for in NOLA.

ALSO, great job writing about movies you saw months ago. Not sure how you managed.

Kza said...

Thanks! I don't know how I'm managing, either. Wait, I do -- I'm starting with the recent stuff first. Let's see how good it looks in a few posts.

I'm incredibly heartened to hear that you like FRIGHT NIGHT. Martin and I are working on a vampire story, and I had him watch it for research. Needless to say, it did not warm his cold, hipster heart.

Did you ever talk to Ragsdale? Tell him FRIGHT NIGHT rocked? :-)

Scott W. Black said...

Guess Ragsdale lives (or lived pre-Katrina) in NOLA. We talked briefly about Fright Night. I think he was happy to hear that it was sort of a cinematic touchstone for me as a horror movie-loving teenager.

Damn, now I'm going to have to watch it and its much lesser sequel again. :-)

Martin said...

"Cold hipster heart?"

Ouch! I don't know what's worse, being called cold, or being called a hipster. Also, "cold hipster" might be oxymoronic, no? Isn't coldness the very beating heart of hipsterism? That and ironic t-shirts?

I didn't dislike Fright Night, I just didn't get scared. I agree the seduction scene is sizzly, and I was WONDERING why Bearse was so familiar. I actually think that her MWC character is like the Fright Night character grown up, but without the vampire encounter: sexually repressed but wild in her dreams.

Anyway, I took some good points from it, but since I didn't have an adolescent encounter with it, I can't find the love.

Kza said...

Martin: I only called you that to get you to comment. And it worked! Ha!

Also: ah, adolescent encounters...

Scott: I have a lot of fondness for FN II as well. It's not quite as solid as the first one, but has enough to recommend it, I think -- the nightclub scene where Ragsdale can't tell if the people around him are vampires or not, and the attack in the library being highlights.

Martin said...

Nicely played, Mr. Beeson. Nicely played indeed.