Short Film Saturday: La jetée

OK, I know that I promised that I wouldn’t let 61 Days of Halloween interfere with normal posting activities. For a while, I was keeping up on this series at least. Then last weekend I slipped.

To make up for it. I figured I’d choose a great film that needs minimal introduction. We recently lost Chris Marker the director of La jetée one of the most influential shorts in the history of film. It’s composed of stills. It’s certainly inspired me (examples here and here), countless others and was one of my favorite discoveries last year. Enjoy!

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61 Days of Halloween: The Last Exorcism

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Last Exorcism

I thought of a (American) football analogy as I was watching The Last Exorcism as the most apt description of the film. This film reminds me of a team driving down the field to win the game and taking the ball to the opposing one-yard line and then throwing an interception, or to put it otherwise, it’s a film that comes real close to doing something special but ruins it at the end.

The first thing that absolutely has to be said is that the cast of this film is just absolutely outstanding, pretty much pick a cast member and you weren’t likely to find a better fit for the part. Everyone knows who they are what the role demands and how to deliver it in spades, and this goes down to the smallest roles. It is indeed a rare treat to see acting of this caliber in a horror movie and it is most of what propels this film to the edge of greatness before it plummets of a cliff terribly. It is worth viewing for the performances alone.

The second thing this film does very well is that is convincingly portrays its story in a documentary/cinéma vérité style. It opens with a lot of exposition through questions and the thoughts of our protagonist Rev. Cotton Marcus. Then it morphs from Q & A mode to recording things as they happen.

The cinematography throughout manages to be rather good and economical in its movement, despite the ever-present handheld images. It is only on the rare occasion that things get wild and visual information is hard to interpret.

It’s like the metaphor above implies, the film does a lot right but it really botches it with its ending and in truth most if not all the weaknesses that drag it down are story-related.

While it is very effective, at times, for horror films to have their protagonists be non-believers this one takes it a bit too far and has Rev. Marcus steadfastly disbelieve what his eyes are seeing for far too long such that it’s out of character because a man that smart can’t be that stubborn for that long.

He believes there is no possession and continues to even though they have recordings of Nell (Ashley Bell) having a conversation with a person unknown in Latin, a language they have established she cannot speak. Nell also picks up the camera at one point and tapes herself attacking livestock. It’s never made clear whether they watched the footage, the ways the characters act towards the end make you think they did not. Yet the camera is found damaged and bloodied, they know she used it but they didn’t check the footage? It’s the first thing a cameraman would do.

Then there is the end where there are a few twists one of which is major and we see coming the other which we really don’t. The second of which is truly the extraneous, one in which the film is trying to be a little too clever for its own good. Also, the end does raise up a few more questions and is a bit frantic and the one place where things can be lost and that’s where you can’t afford to.

This is a film that has so much going for it on the technical end, but it was all in service to a story that could’ve been more tautly rendered and more well-told. Such a shame.

5/10

61 Days of Halloween: Survival of the Dead

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Before diving in and talking about the film itself there are two tales to tell about the actual viewing of this film which are rather relevant. First, being that even though this film is set in Delaware for much of it there were no showings on its opening weekend in either Wilmington or Newark, why? Which leads to the second tale: The film is available on Video on Demand through Verizon FiOS. Me and two friends viewed it at $7.99 for three as opposed to a movie theatre where that price would’ve been in excess of $30.

While some fans of Romero might be a little put off by this different approach to the zombie tale he takes, I love it personally. The zombie subgenre has been vastly overexposed in recent years, in fact, it’s likely that only vampires are more in vogue at the moment, for better or worse. Yet, amazingly Romero keeps finding new ground to tread and he does so in this film with incredible deftness and skill.

The main issue examined in this film is how to handle the overwhelming amounts of the undead that exist. This debate is examined through the guise of a family feud. The opposing sides of the quarrel is kill them on sight versus capturing and trying to rehabilitate them to eat other game. As is frequently the case Zombieism is seen as a disease so it’s a logical question to ask: why is this the only disease in which summary execution is the only remedy?

Also vastly improved in this installment is the dialogue and the script overall. In fact, here Romero seems to have addressed one of my main problems with Diary of the Dead head on and leaves his social commentary only in the voice-over narration, and, as expected, that works brilliantly and adds poignancy to the tale and allows for a subtlety in this film, which is rarely seen in his works.

Those who admire and/or frequently view horror films develop quite a high tolerance for incompetent thespians, however, overall this cast may be the strongest he’s had, seeing as there is no one who makes you want to run smack into a brick wall while screaming. The standouts aren’t many, but again just the fact that there are standouts is great, but there are three: Richard Fitzpatrick as Seamus Muldoon, Kathleen Munroe and Devon Bostick, seen earlier this year as Roderick the bullying older brother in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Not that everything is absolutely sparkling about this film. The cinematography, for example, is not always on. It has in it the kind of video images that show you why 35 mm film stock is still king. The framing is never terrible and the lighting is never godawful but a lot of it is awfully video. Based on what your tolerance is it may have a great effect on your view of the film. Some of the CG is surprisingly good some tries to do things beyond the capabilities of the film and is comedic, at times intentionally.

In this film, there is also an awesome dovetail into Diary of the Dead as one of the minor characters carries over and we see where their stories intertwine. It is a great and fascinating storytelling technique not employed often enough in film. The fact that Romero chose to do it and executed it so well is the mark of a true auteur.

Another thing this film has going in its favor is an open ending- to an extent. Open endings are very hit and miss. Some work brilliantly and some make you wish they had sewn it up. Considering the narrative that proceeded the climax a neat ending just wouldn’t have worked at all. The reason the openness of the ending is qualified is because while it does give you a verdict on whose assumption about the undead was correct, Muldoon or O’Flynn, it puts a twist on it that you’re left thinking about. All this is done visually reinforcing the more subtle nature of this work as opposed to his others.

Survival of the Dead is definitely Romero taking his series in a different direction and if he can keep it this interesting I am definitely all for him continuing the series, as he has stated he intends to.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween- The Haunting in Connecticut

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It happens rarely but every once in a while a film will come along that not only has a great trailer, but lives up to the potential that its trailer promises. Such is the case of The Haunting in Connecticut, which is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a long time. It may seem strange to begin the analysis of a film with its trailer; however, films more so than any other art form are inexorably linked to their marketing. Before the work itself can be discussed, a few more pieces of marketing must be quickly touched upon. First, the film’s MPAA rating, PG-13, which is generally the kiss of death in the horror genre. Just knowing a horror movie is rated PG-13 has deterred me from viewing the film. Fear not – blood and gore wouldn’t make this film better, it flat out works brilliantly without need for the violence, vulgarity, gore and gratuitous sexual content we come to expect from lesser works in the genre. Second, the film is “based on a true story.” If you know anything of that true story, as I do, please don’t expect a documentary, or even a faithful re-telling based on fact. I always take the assertion “based on a true story” with a grain of salt. The truths in this film are the circumstances surrounding the family’s life, their rental of a house that formerly served as a funeral home, and some of their supernatural experiences. However, the true story doesn’t allow for a tidy ending or a very linear plot, so liberties have been taken. Many things have been embellished or created, and all brilliantly executed.

Haunting is a film that excels on many levels. Most importantly it never forgets that drama is the foundation of all other genres and thus you must build characters and make the audience care about their problems. Not that these are the most complex or dynamic characters ever created, but they are developed enough such that we can engage and have an interest in their plight.

Another manner in which Haunting excels is its utilization of all the techniques at its disposal to create a chilling tale. Many weaker efforts in the genre only achieve scares with overly-loud effects. The entire soundtrack of Haunting is subtle and beautifully mixed allowing you to hear voices, footsteps, and rustling in parts of the house unseen. The sound levels are great. Sometimes you could barely hear what was going on, making your anxiety greater. The score is solid and highlights the fright. The editing not only allows for great jolts but also tells the story in a fascinating way cutting from the present to the past, seen and unseen, using L-Cuts (dialogue continuing from scene which is no longer being shown) to move the story along and quick cuts to black. There was a wonderful sense of symmetry, as several situations repeat themselves with different results, like the game of hide and seek for example.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is its relentlessness. It hardly if ever seeks to cut the tension but seeks to keep the baseline pretty high, leaving the audience anticipating the next jolt. And the jolts are fantastic. One was done with the clever use of misdirection. There appears to be a bird under the bed that we can’t see and as it is to be revealed the jolt comes from elsewhere, and it is purely visual. The film is very visual and uses its dialogue wisely.

The performances are spot on. Elias Koteas has never been better. It’s also Virginia Madsen’s best turn in the genre. I can’t say that Madsen’s performance in Candyman excels over Haunting because I understood this character better. Kyle Gallner is cast properly and plays his character perfectly.

I personally judge each movie on its own merit and take it for what it is, for example I will never say “Well, this was no Casablanca or Citizen Kane so I can’t give it such and such a grade” – that’s bunk. The Haunting in Connecticut makes no pretensions about what it is, and does its job incredibly well. It was the most transfixing horror movie experience from the beginning to end that I’ve had since The Exorcist re-release in 2000 so having said that I give The Haunting in Connecticut a score of 10/10.

61 Days of Halloween: Zombieland

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The facile comparison, and also the attention-grabber, when discussing Zombieland is to try and compare it to Shaun of the Dead. The impulse is understandable but an errant one. There is a major but subtle difference between the two, Shaun of the Dead, like the subsequent Wright/Pegg project, Hot Fuzz, is a spoof which about midway through metamorphoses into the genre spoofed. Meanwhile, Zombieland is a tongue-in-cheek zombie story which is much less self-conscious.

The most self-conscious aspect of it serves a very valuable function, which is the list of rules for survival which the protagonist, referred to as Columbus, develops. The rules serve very good comedic effect, if at times becoming too prominent a part of the story by appearing on screen as a graphic, but at the very least the filmmakers have fun with it.

What is most surprising about Zombieland is that in being consistently funny, and remaining myopically focused on four central characters, it manages to become a more complete experience than most zombie films can be. There are actually a few real scares including Columbus’s first encounter with the undead, and what’s impressive is that it tries less often than a traditional horror film but succeeds more frequently.

Conversely, the rare dramatic/serious scenes also work quite well, again because the characters are well established, their conundrum is easily recognizable and we can identify with their plight, as surreal as it may seem.

What Zombieland proves is that when well done, people are always ready for a new twist on an old hat genre. The zombie is undoubtedly the hot commodity in the horror genre, sorry vampires. The reason for this is because they offer the perfect vehicle for social commentary, even when you’re not trying very hard. Even though Zombieland tries a little too hard at the end; it’s forgivable. Just having the living dead roaming about makes reference to both our humanity and inhumanity; either we are walking through the world in a daze or we are savagely mistreating people and killing off our own kind; any attempts to expound on this imagery only furthers the concept.

Zombieland always stays, first and foremost, a comedy with very funny dialogue and hilarious performances by all those involved. Perhaps the funniest being a very unexpected but welcome “as himself” appearance towards the end, which will be left as a surprise.

The film moves briskly, with great fun and has some of the creative and artistic use of slow-motion that has been seen in some time. The narration, while ever present, never seems to get in the way even though you never learn what causes such omniscience you laugh anyway at things like the cutaway to the Zombie Kill of the Week.

In the landscape of the horror genre that is so full of sludge that people latch on to anything halfway decent as if it’s gold, it’s great to see a film come along, even though mostly comedic, that both doesn’t misrepresent the genre but enhances it. The makeup is very good and these zombies didn’t try to re-invent the wheel like the first fast ones a few years ago did.

It is a very enjoyable movie-going experience that you’ll likely want to see again.

9/10

61 Days of Halloween: Devil

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

One thing you will not get in this particular review is citations of other reviews and rebuttals in defense of M. Night Shyamalan. While I stand by the opinion ultimately expounded in my review of The Last Airbender, I would’ve altered my approach if I had to do it over again (Thus, it has not been re-posted yet – and may remain so). As for this film, it’s the first of what is being referred to as the Night Chronicles Trilogy. His impact on this film is a story credit alone so mention of him will be minimal, aside from saying that his stamp can definitely be felt on this story regardless of the level of involvement he actually had. This is a thriller which hearkens back to some of his earlier films and oddly one where you’re not necessarily waiting for a twist, but you get it anyway and it does not color the whole film.

The film starts with inverted shots of the Philadelphia skyline. They are shots whose significance is not immediately made known, and not overtly explained. They set the tone for a film where something is slightly amiss throughout.
 The film does well to keep its tale confined to the elevator as much as it possibly can. Granted to investigate and to try to get to the bottom of the mystery it is necessary to go outside on occasion; the fact that so much of the film is contained to that cramped space definitely is a boon to the narrative and aids its effectiveness.

When dealing with a film that is so confined such that its part-absurdist chamber drama it is crucial that your cast be capable of carrying the film and this cast is definitely capable. The core of the cast being: Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend and Bojana Novakovic. What is most compelling about not only the story but also their respective portrayals is that at one moment or another they all lead you to believe that they, in fact, are the devil in the elevator car.

The film also employs a narrator, who acts as storyteller. A technique it seems that is a bit on the rebound in film. However, in this case this narrator does not get into the fray too much but merely fills in a few blanks and acts, essentially as the glue binding this tale together. It is this voice that gives a little reason to the tale. Whereas without this narrator it might just send a chill or two up your spine with the narrator there is a point made and something to reflect upon.

With the combination of the opening montage and the narrator setting the stage the tension level in this film is ratcheted up pretty early and rarely if ever dissipates throughout out. There is a consistent feeling of dread which is pounced upon at opportune times and while there are peaks and valleys the highs are high enough to sustain a significant level of interest.

The only things that can be questioned are very minor points which could’ve been addressed by more judicious editing of the footage and story itself. One concern is that while most believe the elevator is malfunctioning due to possibilities that are terrestrial we follow around a janitor. He vanishes from the story for too long. Pieces of his journey to the roof and basement could’ve been spliced in real quick so he wouldn’t disappear for so long after having been a significant player in the early going. The characters also don’t think to use their cell phones as flashlights during the temporary blackouts for far too long. The introduction of the religious element of the film is a bit clumsy and lastly our protagonist, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) does a Sherlock Holmes impersonation in deducing the circumstances surrounding a suicide early on that is not only a bit extraneous but also a little hard to swallow.

However, Devil is still a highly effective and well-crafted tale that is an edge-of-your-seat kind of film that is well worth your time.


8/10

61 Days of Halloween: Case 39

Case 39 is a film with tons of squandered potential that earns the rare distinction of Film Most Deserving of a Remake Due to Lack of Execution. Unlike others in the past like Captivity it does not, however, come even close to being good for a number of reasons. It should also be noted that this film was in the can for two years and likely to remain undistributed- not that something like that always matters (Blue Sky) but it should be taken into consideration.

To borrow a journalism term this film buries the lead, which is to say that it does not tell the most compelling story it has to offer. It decides to tell the tale of a well-meaning social worker who thinks she is doing this child a favor and saving her from abuse. As time goes by it turns out the girl is demonic. The more compelling tale would be to follow this girl’s life with her “parents” then the scene in which she is taken away has an added layer of emotion and becomes even more poignant, frightening and impactful. However, you cannot punish a film for what it should’ve done. What it did do wasn’t that great either.

It gets off on the wrong foot right away by trying to introduce too many things in the early going. There is Emily (Renée Zellweger) and her work, then we see a little about her personal life and meet Doug (Bradley Cooper); we see her working one of her other cases which comes into the mix later, Diego (Alexander Conti) and there are a few meetings with Lilith’s (Jodelle Ferland, who is rather good in this part) family when there could be fewer. Edward’s, Lilith’s father, tight-lipped attitude prompts Emily to contact Detective Barron (Ian McShane) to try and look into their history. All this before Lilith is taken out of their custody, which would not be an issue if the film had measured its pace.

Instead once Emily has custody of Lilith she starts to jump to the supernatural conclusion far too soon and the only reason that would happen is because there is a concern about running time. While strange things had occurred things hadn’t gotten to a supernatural state just yet. Either the build had to be more consistent while bringing these people in or there needs to be a slower escalation of the Emily-Lilith conflict.

So it all becomes a question of reaction, or rather overreaction. A similar thing happens when Doug, a psychologist, has a session with Lilith. It is a disconcerting and somewhat cloying standard horror scene. As an audience, we can read between the lines and see she’s messing with him but Doug walks out of the encounter saying he feels “shaken” but he looks like he saw her head spin around the reaction is far too big for the scene we just witnessed. The only function it serves is to fuel Emily’s fears.

Then Emily’s approach to the final confrontation is all wrong. She is told that Lilith can only be killed in her sleep, which she hardly does at all. What that factoid is based on is beyond me. Her first approach is very hands-off and then although we get some very good intercut flashbacks what finally does it ends up being too easy a solution especially after having seen examples of her strength not moments before.

The concept this film tries to prey upon is that you are never safe from this demon if you are on her radar as she doesn’t actually kill you but rather makes circumstances more conducive to your death. It doesn’t quite succeed in that regard either. There is the aftermath of a gruesome scene which isn’t shot to its potential. The most effective onscreen kill is likely the hornets, however, their CG-ness is rather apparent throughout.

Inconsistency abounds in this film from pace to logic to effectiveness and even the performances aren’t immune, most of the times they are victimized by the script though. Case 39 has promise in many areas but never comes close to realizing it in anyway shape or form and ends up being a wasteful disappointment.

4/10
 

61 Days of Halloween: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

A Nightmare on Elm Street shares one, and likely only one, distinction with the film The Perfect Game. That distinction is that it excelled, for the most part, in elements that were new and unique to it and botched what it attempted to recreate. In the latter the recreations were from other sports films, in the former the recreations were from the original version of the film.

Perhaps the best thing this film has to offer is that it seemingly breaks new ground in belief in the horror film. One of the most tired clichés in the horror film is the fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence some characters just flat out refuse to believe that there’s something out of the ordinary happening, or as Buffalo Springfield would say “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Very quickly someone does believe the theory that it’s a nightmare come true. The majority do not believe right away but at least someone does, laying the foundation for the rest of the dominoes to fall.

What this film does casting-wise is unusual, it seems to subscribe to the theory of “Put your worst foot forward and kill it,” meaning that the first two characters focused on and killed (Kellen Lutz as Dean and Katie Fowles as Kris) are the worst actors in the film and thankfully those who receive the majority of the focus are progressively better.

Another positive is Kyle Gallner who carries this film in similar fashion to how he carried The Haunting in Connecticut. His sidekick Rooney Mara is also quite capable and a good sidekick in the film.

So, here comes a mandatory talking point: the CG. Most of the time it’s not great, not great at all. One of the things this film tried to recreate digitally was Freddy stretching through the wall. However, who would possibly want to get that in the can on set by using latex like they did in the 80s? Let’s spend money and use CG so Freddy can squirm all serpentine behind the wall and have it look totally bogus. Yes, bogus. I had to revert to 80s slang to communicate the ineffectiveness of the non-practical technique. Even when the CG was good, like when Kris could no longer fight that she was dreaming and the classroom around her exploded into ash, it only aided the film in going more over-the-top than it needed too.

The major knocks against this film will follow, and again, it’s a shame that they are big and many because it wastes a new interpretation of a now classic character. By having a new actor fill the role of Krueger in such a different way it proves that the character does have as much elasticity and room for creativity as the Joker in Batman. Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy in a much more straightforward manner and less comedically than Robert Englund, making him more effective in this viewer’s opinion. His performance aside there were sadly some character issues with Krueger.

This film, while it does try to make Freddy a more straightforward and scary version than in the past – most noticeably by giving him a more realistically burned appearance than his prior incarnation, managed to both soften and coarsen him simultaneously. The coarsening was in his dialogue and mainly his diction. It’s a more foul-mouthed, blunt and disgusting Freddy. Apparently, his being a child molester isn’t enough anymore and to push the envelope he has to talk about it some. The way in which he was softened, however, is that he is only now, in death, a killer. His victims were all allowed to live. What was wrong with having him be a ghost-like entity who was still seeking to wreak havoc because he’d been killed by a mob is beyond me. The fact that while alive he didn’t kill one of the children he harmed does give Freddy more motivation, but we’re not dealing with the most plausible concept to begin with so that justification hardly needs addressing and does create a logic flaw in the past, mainly being why would a psychopath think the kids wouldn’t talk?

While there is more to Freddy’s back-story, which is new and good to see because it was a compelling and chilling part of the tale, it created and contributed to the number of issues with logic this film has. Examples of logic flaws include: Nancy at one point sings the “Freddy Song” yet never really follows it up or wonders why she knows it, yet she has repressed other kinds of memories, so what purpose does it serve? Jesse, aptly played by Thomas Dekker, is arrested way too quickly it’s almost like a Reichstag fire situation and aside from lacking credibility it hurts the story. The line “Who can remember being five?” stands out as being quite lazy on a few accounts, firstly, it’s clear Dr. Holbrook (Connie Britton) is hiding something and is not pressed about it and, second, even if I buy that these kids all repressed memories of what happened to them (which is easy to believe), the film also wants me to believe they all stayed in the same town and now almost all go to the same high school and don’t remember having known each other? Also, while the factoid about insomniacs experiencing micro-naps is a good touch and an added suspense element, as then one won’t realize they’re dreaming, it’s repeated ad nauseum in dialogue to make sure we remember the fact. Similarly, the allusion to the Pied Piper of Hamelin is duly noted but has no effect whatsoever on the story and is clumsily done. If the reference was to be fit in why not have Krueger read it to the kids?

Perhaps the biggest logic flaw, which is also the biggest argument for the fact that for some reason they also sought to soften Krueger, is the fact that at one point Quentin (Gallner) doubts Krueger’s guilt. Quentin’s contention is that it’s mass hysteria and they all made it up and were instantly believed, which in a post-McMartin Trial world is a legitimate enough point to address as it wouldn’t be the first false accusation of its kind. The problem is that there is no moment of decision for the character and it’s not even debated it shifts immediately from “this happened” to “we lied” with nothing in between. And only their continued investigation into how to rid themselves of Krueger proves otherwise.

So, here you have a film in which not only is Krueger not a murderer until after his death but you also have his victims believing that he may not have been guilty in the first place. It is not something that increases his villainy. What then is the point of having his absolute evil doubted? Is it armchair psychological reassurance to those who identify, however loosely, with Krueger that it’s OK because he’s not that bad? It seems unlikely but whether people want to admit it or not there is some level of identification felt with an antagonist. As Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss in an interview talking about Psycho there is a degree of that identification in that film and hence a slasher film such that the longer a franchise goes the more the villain is the star and the less you want to see him toppled. Ultimately, it just seems like another unusual decision which muddles the film.

Putting a more human face on Fred Krueger does not make him scarier. Having Jackie Earle Haley play him and not Robert Englund does but all of that is rendered nearly pointless by the rewrite of the character.

An examination of the back-story of A Nightmare on Elm Street was something I wanted to see. What it had the potential of is to intensify the fear because you more readily understand the evil. What should be sought from a more intimate portrait of the cinematic psychopath is not a softer, cuddlier interpretation of what it is he did, by having it be doubted and thus stripping it of its visceral impact, but a closer examination of it.

This very type of close examination was exactly what the Halloween remake did succeed in. It may or may not have crossed every T and dotted every I with regards to why Michael Myers became the way he was but it gave you a true, no-holds-barred glimpse of who he was before he was legend. It didn’t rewrite a history it enhanced a history, and that is what this film had the opportunity to do but it failed.


3/10

61 Days of Halloween: The Mist

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

When it was released The Mist was one of those films that just fell through the cracks for many. Mixed reviews are likely the reason. It is a film that should be seen if only as a conversation piece because it does have one of “those” endings, you know the kind that will get you talking and will inflame passions. In other words, it takes a risk and that alone makes it worth watching.

However, for the two hours leading up to said ending it earns that “should be watched” distinction. The running time alone is worth noting. Few films in the horror genre have enough substance to add a half-hour to the usual running time to build character but if a film can it should. Knowing who these people are and whether we as an audience love them or hate them makes a huge difference. The personal dramas and threats keep us locked in when there is no threat from the creatures in the mist.

The situation in which these varied characters find themselves in is built up steadily, slowly and sinisterly; such that before any of the characters realize the peril they are in we are already feeling tense. In combining two techniques of the genre we get in this film a very compelling drama with a horrific backdrop: characters trapped in a building with assailants outside (reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead) and a multi-character yet character-driven tale, which is a forte of Stephen King’s, whose novella is the source material for this film. Darabont’s handling of King’s difficult-to-adapt material is again nearly spot-on, Darabont creates and in some ways amplifies King’s effective scenario and makes it one of the most enthralling and captivating no-win horror scenarios ever created. There just seems to be no escaping it.

In a horror film one can forgive flawed acting from a lead, Thomas Jane, but the antagonists and most of the cast, especially in a film such as this need to be solid and they are. Andre Braugher plays his character convincingly enough such that you despise him, forgetting that it’s the part and not the man annoying you. Marcia Gay Harden, as always is brilliant, and downright frightening in this role. Her ability to convince those in the supermarket, though a bit overwrought at times, is fantastically illustrated. Some of the smaller parts are also very well-played like the Woman with Children at Home (Melissa McBride), Nathan Gamble as Billy (most well known from Dolphin Tale) and the Terrified Woman (Kim Wall).

The thing which is the most inconsistent in the film is the CGI. It seems whenever there was a good to great sequence of effects they would extend it too long or cut too close to the action and the illusion would fall apart. Typically, CG looks better on DVD than in the theatre, but not here. Some elements, like the bugs, were very impressive but the CG was not judiciously used and not carefully crafted enough, which is the only major inconsistency in the film. However, there has been worse it’s just upsetting to see such a glaring problem in a film which is of a very high caliber most of the time.

The ending is a conversation piece. It is strong and unlike King’s story it’s not open. King approved of this change. Certain elements are very effective some aren’t. What you make of it is up to you. It does not detract from the whole and the film is definitely worth watching.

This review pertains to the standard edition DVD not the two-disc special edition.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween: The Other

Introduction

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Other (1972)

Some films are worth the digging they require to find on DVD. This film was found while sifting through the “for sale” options at TLA. It was one I had seen on VHS way back when and was unaware that it was now available on DVD.

The film is the 1972 film adaptation of the Thomas Tryon novel The Other. The first thing this film did right was that they had the novelist adapt the screenplay. Quite often you want someone as familiar with the material as possible to transition it to the screen. The second good thing they did was to get Robert Mulligan at the helm as director. He is the man behind such greats as Fear Strikes Out and To Kill a Mockingbird. This man handles the story with a deftness and sophistication that few in the genre could.

The film tells the tale of twin brothers Niles and Holland (played by Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) and the deadly secret they share. The Other is also a film that has not one but multiple twists well before The Sixth Sense made it the thing to do in horror and/or suspense for a time. These twists are set up in at least 16 instances where the truth, as we know it, is reaffirmed, only to be flipped on its head later.

Another major strength of the film is the character of Ada, the boys’ grandmother, played by Uta Hagen. Uta Hagen’s works on the craft of acting are some of the most insightful and respected in the field, and this film shows you why. Ada is the only one who holds a special bond with the boys, tries to help them and understands their special ability, which they refer to as “The Game.”

The Other is a film that is full of genuine shocks. It is the kind of film in which no character is safe from the threat that presents itself and that makes for the most realistic, palpable and enjoyable type of suspense film, one in which anything and everything can and will happen.

This may be a film that time forgot, but it is certainly a hidden gem which deserves to be unearthed.

9/10

Postscript

Prior to my ever having started the 61 Days of Halloween theme and I believe after my previous posting of this review, Christopher Udvarnoky died at the unjustly young age of 49. May he rest in peace.