61 Days of Halloween: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Usually with these 61 Days of Halloween posts I am usually writing about an older film. However, owing both to the fact that I want to come as close to having 61 posts in this theme as possible, and also that new horror film releases are now virtually year-round; I figured that a film being released between September 1st and October 31st in cinemas also warranted coverage.

It also warrants discussion because not only is it a sequel to one of the best horror films of 2010 (Back when I still didn’t have a genre-specific list) but also because of how it goes about being a horror sequel. It seems that, for one reason or another, many horror sequels: a) don’t take chances b) are very hesitant to stick too close to the end of the first film in terms of chronology.

However, what James Wan, Leigh Whannell and the team at Blumhouse did here is akin to a few things. First thing that came to mind was John Carpenter’s Halloween II that was very close in chronology treatment of his and Debra Hill’s story. The second, being a modern reference, is what Marvel Studios is doing. Their initial films in series be it Thor, Iron Man or Captain America have all been variations on the origin story, but as the franchises built up goodwill, and their cups runneth over after The Avengers; there’s been some risk-taking.

There’s a glorious dichotomy omnipresent throughout all of Insidious 2. After a teaser scene that takes us back in time, but is also referenced a few more times, and key to the story; the film picks up the narrative the day after events in the previous installment. For while the narrative picks up where it left off it goes down paths and alleys that are not entirely expected. It takes you there with mellifluously macabre scoring, mesmerizing edits and wondrous camerawork. It rips a few other pages out of the euroshocker (namely Argento) catalog, but it also continues to expound upon its myth building. It doesn’t do what’s expected, but none of it feels inorganic or forced. Both Wan and Whannell have very consciously crafted a story that warranted this kind of exploration. For what’s the point of a follow-up if its to be a carbon copy rather than a continuation?

I have yet to attend a double-, triple- or any other multi-film experience to mark the release of a new installment in a series, however, this is the one I most lament because I fully intended on going to but life got in the way. It’s not that I felt seeing the first film over was necessary when I walked out, it just would’ve been all the more glorious.

While a chapter of the tale closes at the end of this film (the syntax of the title is very apropos) there can still be more to tell as the film branches out. This marvelous bookend of a story also leaves one wanting more and can easily deliver it. To date Insidious: Chapter 2 is the best horror film I’ve seen this year not only for its bravado, but, also because of how it follows through on its characters searches and arcs, which gives the actors room to stretch and also expand or contrast to the prior film.

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61 Days of Halloween: The Case of the Bloody Iris (1971)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

The Case of the Bloody Iris is a giallo film from 1971 by director Giuliano Carmineo. It’s written by Ernesto Gastaldi based on his own story. Now as is the case with many Giallo films it could end up being “just another one,” especially considering that this one does take place, at least in part, in the world of fashion (as quite a few do). Staple actors of the genre Edwige Fenech and George Hilton are leads. A lot of it boils down to how it all shakes out in the end.

Without spoiling it, I was highly satisfied with the result of the whodunit. There were, in my estimation, a few unsavory possibilities in that regard, and the best path was taken. The outcome does leave a question or two, but most of it works.

Yes, there are a few elements that do date it however some of the representations (both in terms of ethnicity and sexuality) while ensconced in the lack of political correctness of the day are somewhat departures from the norm, which was refreshing to see.

The mystery is cloistered about one building. The police involvement can be counted on for a bit of bumbling, and comedy, but they are mostly competent. It’s just that the enigmatic nature of the case does prove to be a rather difficult one.

For as many complications this film foists upon itself and engaging in the occasional flashback sequence, it never gets confusing which is another win for it. And, on a pet peeve note: gialli have some of the greatest, most florid titles in cinema. However, the more often than note end up being a bit of a stretch (one example would be The House with the Laughing Windows) that is not the case here. Despite its strong elements I can’t say it’s a great giallo, but it is a good one that is worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre.

Silent Feature Sunday- Haxan (1922)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Yes, folks, I missed this post last week. The reason was I had a feature I’d not seen scheduled and I didn’t have the time to see it. This weekend I wanted to get you at least one title I had already seen. Thankfully, in researching I found I had neglected Häxan. In fact, it’s a title I previously wrote about. Here are some of my thoughts on it when I discussed its DVD release.

Häxan is a fascinating piece of cinematic history for a number of reasons – the first certainly being that it is one of the earliest films to straddle the line between fact and fiction; narrative and documentary. Second, because it is one of the earlier (#134) releases by the Criterion Collection.

The film tells its tale of witchcraft and satanism from the middle ages through the modern times. It cleverly uses vignettes (dramatizations if you prefer) and slides, illustrations etc. It goes from a title describing reasoning and custom behind an act or belief to a scene in which it is depicted or to an illustration where typically a pencil held by an unknown person indicates to us the area of interest.

The film goes along chapter by chapter revealing reason and the cause and effect of the hysteria concerning witches and the devil. Although, we at one point find out that several trials involve people from the same household there is little by way of a through-line, and that is by design. However, it does make it slightly troublesome to follow in part because you expect it to come back to one scenario or another but it doesn’t. Alas, one of the perils of blending fact and fiction, it moves and is structured like a doc but is portrayed as fiction much of the time so the audience member expects similar conventions.

Towards the end it does do a fascinating feat of simulacrum and tell the audience its reusing actors, does demonstrations and the titles take on a very analytical approach but it is some of the more enjoyable stuff in the film.

Criterion gets very high marks for this particular release for a number of reasons. First, there are two versions of the film on this DVD – one the 1922 silent, and then a 1968 re-score, voice-over included re-do by avant-gardists called Witchcraft Through the Ages.

In the former Criterion did a great job re-recording the score and returning the film to its original intended tinting. Tinting was a fabulous technique which was widely practiced in the silent era because it gave you the wonderful contrast and grain of black and white but it was bright and lively. It was also a tremendous tool for symbolism of time, place, emotion and so forth as colors hold many associations for people.

The original Häxan is very much worth watching.

I scored Häxan a 7/10. Enjoy!

61 Days of Halloween: Dead of Night (1977)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Dead of Night (1977)

I can’t say I’m a Dark Shadows fanatic, but I can say I’ve seen enough to know that I love what it was on TV and that I really dig Dan Curtis’ style. That was reinforced when I saw Burnt Offerings a few years ago and it made My Favorite Older Movies First Seen in 2011 list. I purchased it soon after that rental, and if I forced myself to rank that list it would’ve come out on top.

Yet, due mostly to my very split interests, I have scarcely gone back to Curtis’ filmography since, although this title did intrigue me. Ironically, as I was recently mentioning that I was on an anthology kick and hadn’t seen one in a while; the kick is now back, as this film is one also.

Another huge name attached to this film, this time as writer, is Richard Matheson. When Matheson recently passed away I noted that though I had not read him I had at the very least been influenced by his work in film and on television.

This is a TV movie that tells three tales, and the opening monologue does not lie, each tale works in a bit of a different milieu: the first, regarding a very odd time traveling incident is a fantasy, a work of imagination, that is not bereft of eeriness. The second is a mystery tale though also with a decidedly horror slant, as in this one Matheson is working off his own short story about vampires. The grand finale, and it is grand, is the truest horror tale of them all, titled simply “Bobby” deals with the horrific results of a grieving mother getting what she wished for: the return of her deceased son.

It is a taut tale, it runs 72 minutes for the three tales, so each is roughly the equivalent of an episode of a half-hour TV show; which is a perfect vessel for drama. There is a tenor of seriousness and an undertone of tension throughout the film, which culminates in rather narrative film fashion in the last tale, which is absolutely pitch perfect. Joan Hackett and Lee Montgomery are the only actors in the tale, barring a voice-over husband away on business, and they are frequently in singles and could not be more flawless in their commitment and delivery.

Dead of Night is a great anthology and one that really gives me an impetus to move Curtis further up my queue, as this is masterfully done.

Short Film Saturday: If I Am Your Mirror

Last weekend was the first time in a while I missed one of these posts. I will attempt to make it up at some point. Essentially I didn’t have my horror shorts lined up yet.

This one I found courtesy of Film School Rejects. It’s a rather apropos star because one of the earliest scares I remember was listening to The Tell-Tale Heart read aloud in grade school. This film offers quite a unique spin on the tale, rightfully citing it draws inspiration from it; as opposed to being a direct, literal adaptation. It’s a very visual tale with a unique style of animation employed to convey it. There is only one significant piece of dialogue in its 20-minute running time. A lot of the film is told in montage and flashback. If ever you needed proof that animation is a medium and not a genre, this should do the job quite well.

Enjoy!

61 Days of Halloween – Films to Keep You Awake: A Real Friend (2006)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles please go here.

Films to Keep You Awake: A Real Friend

In continuing to chronicle the titles in this series of horror films we come upon perhaps the most unfortunate title of all of them just because of how misguided certain efforts within the film are. One staple of horror filmmaking is the teaser scene. It’s a scene that’s an early instant jolt to get the audience in the mood, and also give them an early scare prior to some time spent character building. What some films do (like a few in this series) is have the connection to the main thrust of the plot be nebulous. The problem with that in this case is that the connection is practically trivial as the character involved ends up being almost a non-factor.

I, for one, love developing character when there are unique or interesting aspects that were previously unknown being revealed. This film dabbles in a bit of redundancy establishing certain things about Estrella repeatedly: she doesn’t interact, she likes to read, she has an over-active imagination are all facts that are beaten to death in this tale. Due to the fact that she likes reading, horror fiction mainly, and likes watching horror movies; it’s a license for the film to fawn over influential horror figures, but A Real Friend drowns in influence. Not just influence but a grab-bag of them: a Leatherface-like character, zombies, vampires and such. That can work, see The Monster Squad, but the film has other tricks up it’s sleeve that make it harder to tolerate.

As I’ve stated, films on the shorter side need to do a little more work if they also want to have a slower burn; the shorter a movie is the quicker patience runs thin. Yet, while facts about characters are known in some cases motivation remains a mystery for it: you wonder what the man Estrella refers to as “Vampire” wants, what anyone wants really.

There are more serious, more detrimental missteps later on that detract from the fact that we eventually do get fairly satisfactory answers to questions asked for far too long in a film of this length. There are laughable moments, ones where you step out of it because things are just unbelievable; unconscionable lapses in judgment and eye-roll worthy extraneous twists. It finds one way after another to be worse in act three. If you’re a completist, watch this title. You may like it better than I did. However, if you’re a bit more discerning pass it by.

Review: V8 – Start Your Engines!

Writer/Director Joachim Masannek’s claim to fame to date is Die Wilden Kerle, or The Wild Soccer Bunch as it is known in English. Hitting German cinemas today, and likely expanding internationally through the end of the year and into 2014, is his latest film. V8 – Du Willst der Beste sein, or V8- Start Your Engines!. In a manner similar to the trajectory of the aforementioned series, V8 combines elements of myriad genres to put a unique spin on its tale.

At its core it’s a sports movie about four kids who are selected to challenge the reigning local go-kart champions, who are one win away from solidifying their place in a mystical castle. However, the myth of that locale, the secretive nature of these races and other things layer on a fantastical element to the story. Whereas Die Wilden Kerle seemed to leapfrog its predominant genre from film to film Masannek here it creating a melange from the get-go and what makes it even more impressive is the naturalistic way in which it occurs. It functions even with these disparate elements, such as being a film designed for kids, but also having its coming-of-age aspects, not unlike The Crocodiles (Vorstadtkrokodile), allows it to work on a few levels.

Not forgetting that while the core group of character are four, the antagonists (The Barracudas) are at least that excluding their posse; it’s highly impressive that the film does not get bogged down, the leads don’t get sketched like the multi-character tales in the prior franchise, but knowing them is key to driving the story forward. The Barracudas use what they know about the interpersonal dynamics of the V8 team to precision in trying to get an upper hand. So, yes, there are comedy elements (most which do translate- some remain obscured in the unique brand of dialogue Masannek’s films occasionally have); there’s manipulation that gets you on the side of the challenging team; there’s the struggle to individuate, to do what you like and do it well, all the clashing that budding friendships can have, as well as a subsumed love triangle which plays into all that – as well as a sibling rivalry. And, even with all that the film doesn’t feel messy at all because for the most part this disparate elements rise above the fray organically.

V8 - Start Your Engines! (2013, Universal/Rat Pack)

Yes, and then it’s a racing film as well, which it is predominantly, but focus needed to be given to what separates it. The racing are very well done and one of the motifs the film frequently employs to great effect it many iterations of split-screens in its montage building and it’s one of the most effective consistent uses I’ve seen.

While Masannek demands a lot of himself as a writer and director juggling these emotional tones, genre tropes and plot elements that also puts a lot on the shoulders of the young ensemble who rise to the challenge on countless occasions. The leads being David (Georg Sulzer) and his sister Luca (Maya Lauterbach), David’s love-interest Kiki Lilou (Klara Merkel) and Robin (Samuel Jakob) his rival, the poor little rich boy whose father care more about his success than him. Sulzer easily communicates his frustrations with his his sister, with Robin, when they’re at odds; as well as more sincere emotions. David is an imperfect protagonist who does make mistakes but is ultimately affable enough. Lauterbach carries herself with a poise of an actress at least twice her age and pulls off many of the affectations of her character flawlessly. Merkel’s character has to be equal parts tough-as-nails and sensitive and is never off-putting, but always endearing; a very promising screen presence. Whereas Jakob has the most deceptively difficult challenge before him, playing the character with the stiff upper-lip who only occasionally cracks and does very well.

However, the exploits of the rival team are nothing to scoff at. Namely, Nick Romeo Reimann, who up until this point has been a heroic lead, plays a villain adept at mind-games brilliantly. Also, noteworthy is Tom Hoßbach who must quietly portray that deep down he’s the good-natured one of the lot.

V8 - Start Your Engines! (2013, Rat Pack/Universal)

V8 not only does more juggling of genre elements and themes in kid-centric sports film than say something like Real Steel, but it also is a more sophisticated implementation of Masannek’s style as well as a series starting off on the right foot. As opposed to say the Fast & Furious franchise, which it does tip its hat to. V8 finishes its tale in a very gratifying fashion. How the final outcome is achieved is excellent and there are some good turns in the road along the way. It’s especially worth noting that the race that all the drama lead up to is also very well-executed. The film makes no secret of its intent to set-up a sequel, but it also finishes appropriately. With this as a set-up building quite a fascinating and endearing mythology, I welcome that prospect with open arms and I’m quite sure there are audiences worldwide that would too.

9/10

61 Days of Halloween: Bride of Chucky (1998)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

This is the point wherein the Child’s Play series takes a departure from its original course. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that. In general, horror sequels can be repetitive enough as it is without having the same antagonist/protagonist paradigm every time out. However, what happens here, after a halfway-decent setup, in which Chucky’s ex-girlfriend finally hunts him down in doll form and resurrects him; is that this installment wanders too far into the realm of self-parody.

As I previously noted, comedy was always a part of the equation in the initial run of these films, as there is a reboot in the offing. However, far too much of this one is comedy. Furthermore, it falls into the trap of late-series horror films of making the antagonist the star. While the films were always referred to commonly as “Chucky movies” his name never made it into the title until this installment.

The antagonist becoming the lead late is not inherently a bad thing, but what matters is who they’re up against, how present they are and what they hope to achieve. Far too much of the film is spent with Chucky and his newly-formed doll-bride sitting and waiting, listening as a troubled girlfriend and boyfriend are eloping, and then running from the law because of what the demon dolls did.

Not only are this couple annoying but the girl is portrayed by Katherine Heigl so it’s essentially doomed from the start. The Frankenstein myth-lending is fine but the spiral this film goes down, and ends up being even more ridiculous, less humorous and interesting than I had anticipated. Mind you this is following a first act that was slightly better than expected. However, at the end I was left wondering not only what Jennifer Tilly was doing in this film, but everyone involved.

61 Days of Halloween: Die Farbe (The Color Out of Space) (2010)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Die Farbe (The Color Out of Space)

As I have discussed in two prior posts, the 61 Days of Halloween features on both The Curse and Die, Monster, Die!; H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space is not only a great horror story but also a tremendously malleable one. When I happened upon this title at a Second and Charles (a secondhand media retail chain) I just had to jump at the chance to see it, and I’m very glad I did.

The malleability of the tale again shines through as in this rendition while the tale begins in Arkham, Massachusetts; the protagonist is in search of his father who vanished in Germany after World War II, and that is where he will spend most of his time. As he arrives in his last known whereabouts he meets a man who starts to tell him of the strange events that had occurred in that town. These events make up a bulk of the short story.

Now the film being transplanted to Germany is already a bold decision that works out quite well. The next emboldened choice is that the film is predominantly in black and white. It’s a great choice for Lovecraft’s antiquarian style, but also aids in selling a majority of the effects work that is needed to render this tale. Yet, in a tale about color it is further brave – and without putting to fine a point on it, does serve a purpose.

There is some English dialogue in the film, but a vast majority of it is in German, and due to that performances are usually spot on. Both the cinematography and the edit do tremendous things to build the atmosphere of outre and foreboding that is one of Lovecraft’s hallmarks. Things in this tale are slightly askew and on a precipitous decline leading to one earth-shattering moment and it moves there almost unerringly.

The workmanship in this tale rivals what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has been able to do with its films. It really is quite a work and proves that The Colour Out of Space is what I would refer to as one of the great stories, meaning that I can view many renditions of it and revel in the tweaks an modifications each brings to the table.

What’s odd is that apparently this film was released on video in the US in August of 2012, however, I never heard of it until the day I found it, so I think I will enter it into the mix for this year’s BAM Awards. It is available to stream free for Amazon Prime members and on DVD and Blu-Ray.

61 Days of Halloween: Child’s Play 3 (1991)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Child’s Play 3 (1991)

As with any series of horror films that runs long enough, there comes a point where shifting the protagonist becomes necessary. Andy Barclay (here played by Justin Whalin) is still the central figure of his tale but the innovation of this film is that Chucky, through a creative loophole, finds a new target body to try and take over.

As is the case with many later-on sequels in horror series, you have to further suspend disbelief than is even normally required just to stick with things. There’s a few examples of that: the fact that Chucky, melted and virtually dead, is recycled by the factory and fashioned into a new toy; or the fact that the company both would restart the Good Guys line after the bad publicity and changes in the marketplace; and, lastly, that they would have Andy Barclay’s whereabouts on file. As if corporate spies would keep tabs on a person that closely, a person they were now vowing to forget as they reintroduced the toy.

One course correction this film has is the reintroduction of a strong, relatable female character. As Andy is now remanded to a military academy, he meets De Silva (Perrey Reeves) who becomes one of his closest allies. The new target of Chucky’s quest for a human body is Tyler (Jeremy Sylvers) a younger boy closer to the age Andy was in the first film.

Two things become readily apparent as the series progresses: first, the comedy element is always there, so unlike Freddy there’s no real unfortunate shift in the character but rather one in focus it would seem. The series is always stronger when a toy is targeting a child, in the next installment, and likely in the final one (to date) that focus is lost and cartoonishness finally rules.

What occurs in this installment is that the first kill of any kind takes a while so it does build suspense. There are some unsavory types running the school so it makes those creative kills rather enjoyable, and through the events there is revealed to those close to Andy that what he’s saying about the doll is true so the insanity plotline, as strong as it is to establish his world, is less necessary here.

The film is not without missteps, like Chucky laying low until lipstick is applied then suddenly war is on. The change of venue to the amusement park is nearly without purpose save visual interest, and there are other awkward moments and imperfections, however, fewer of those come out in the characters where we’re supposed to draw identification, so it works better than the previous film for sure.