Friday, October 1, 2010

Diary of the Dead 2010: Week 1

Welcome to another creepedelic Halloween season here on Psychobabble! In lieu of performing real work I’ll be double-fisting horror movies all month, which I’ll be documenting with a log of ultra-mini reviews (using a five-star rating system) every Friday. I write them. You read them. No one needs to get hurt.

It begins…

September 24th

Peeping Tom (1960- dir. Michael Powell) ****

Hadn’t seen this one in a decade, and it didn’t hold up quite as well as I expected. Still Peeping Tom is a relatively smart and beautifully filmed story about an unsettlingly sympathetic psycho-photographer. I’d forgotten about the weird humor percolating throughout the picture. Moira Shearer steals the show.

Werewolf of London (1935- dir. Stuart Walker) **1/2

This six-years-early dry run for The Wolf Man mostly gets it wrong. The mythology is way off, the make-up is half-assed, and Henry Hull’s Dr. Glendon might be the most unlikable lead character in a classic Universal monster movie. Entertaining and atmospheric enough, though.

September 25th

Mark of the Vampire (1935- dir. Tod Browning) ***1/2

Tod Browning’s sound remake of his own London After Midnight still sports a disappointing denouement, but the spookiness that precedes it is aces. Great, creepy graveyard sequences, and it’s always a pleasure to see Bela Lugosi donning the cape, even if he isn’t doing so as Dracula. That surreal scene where Carroll Borland descends from the ceiling on giant bat wings is worth the price of admission alone.

Sleepwalkers (1992- dir. Mick Garris) ***

I watched this Stephen King-penned movie several times during its early ‘90s HBO stint and decided to revisit it even though it’s mostly bad. Fortunately, Sleepwalkers is more fun-bad than bad-bad. Brian Krause, who plays a teen shape-shifter that subscribes to the ol’ “incest is best” tenet, should never have been allowed to carry a picture. But Alice Krige as his mom and Madchen Amick as his school chum are both terrific. They deserve better than this bunk, but at least it ain’t boring.

September 26th

Jigoku (1960- dir. Nobuo Nakagawa) ****1/2

This very early Japanese horror film takes a while to reveal it’s horrificness, but once it does… yow! Shigeru Amachi plays a theology student with the worst luck in the world. The supernatural element of the film’s opening half is limited to a general air of uncanny unease and an encounter with a doppelgänger. In the second half…well, you’d do well not to know too much about that before heading into the picture, but let’s just say it makes Hieronymus Bosch look like Bob Ross.

September 27th

The Hitcher (1986- dir. Robert Harmon) **

I’d been kicking myself for ages for never having seen the minor classic The Hitcher. Honestly, I could have kept procrastinating indefinitely. Devil Rutger Hauer thumbs a ride with moron C. Thomas Howell. Hauer does an adequate job of terrorizing Howell. Howell fights to survive by doing lots of really dumb things. Did you know that Howell is working more now than he was during his mid-‘80s heyday? Wanna know why you haven’t seen any of his recent movies? Because filmmakers who make movies you’d actually want to watch caught on to a hard fact long ago: the guy sucks.

Child’s Play (1988- dir. Tom Holland) ****1/2

The dull ‘80s slasher trend taken to its illogical extreme. Infinitely more interesting than Friday the 13th; infinitely funnier than Some Like It Hot. Watching Chucky bean that annoying kid with a baseball bat is one of cinema’s great pleasures.

September 28th

Alligator (1980- dir. Lewis Teague) ****

Who’d imagine John Sayles was once the go-to guy for goofy Jaws cash-ins? Like Sayles’s Piranha, Alligator is a witty little satire about an aquatic nightmare. This one is a tyrannosaurus-sized gator named Ramón. I made sure to catch this whenever it ran on TV in the early ‘80s. Nice to see it’s still a fun way to spend 87 minutes.

Survival of the Dead (2010- dir. George A. Romero) **

It’s an improvement over the awful Diary of the Dead (the awful movie…not this awful article), but Survival of the Dead is still evidence that someone needs to put a bullet in this series’ brain. Romero is on autopilot throughout this undistinguished zombie romp. It’s always good to see Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle of “Twin Peaks”) though. Rewatch Night of the Living Dead instead.

Coraline (2009- dir. Henry Selick) *****

This was the first time I watched the 3D version of this DVD. It kind of made me want to barf. Then, an hour into the film, I realized I needed to set my TV’s mode to “standard” in order to watch the 3D disc properly (after the adjustment, it looked pretty fantastic aside from some blurry patches). Mind you, it took me an hour to follow an instruction explicitly stated at the beginning of the film. Can you really trust someone so stupid to provide you with adequate assessments of movies? That’s up to you. As for my assessment of Coraline: great, great, great.

September 29th

Countess Dracula (1970- dir. Peter Sasdy) ***1/2

One of the better late-period Hammers, when sex threatened to hip-check horror for good and camp reigned above all. Countess Dracula actually has nothing to do with Stoker’s vampire. Rather, Ingrid Pitt plays Elisabeth Bathory, the infamous aristocrat who bathed in virgin blood to maintain her youthful complexion. As usual for a Hammer production, the sets and costumes are gorgeous. Obviously, Pitt is very watchable too, but more importantly, she supplies a frenzied energy too often missing from Hammer pictures.

September 30th

The Stepford Wives (1975- dir. Bryan Forbes) ****1/2

The Stepford Wives is mainly a feminist Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with Katharine Ross in the Kevin McCarthy role, but it’s also a darkly funny satire of suburban blandness and advertising (“I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!”) . William Goldman’s script and Bryan Forbes’s direction are super sharp: nearly every line of dialogue and every image underscores the film’s themes without being ham-fisted. The ending is just as terrifying as that of Body Snatchers and quite a bit more heartbreaking. Paula Prentiss steals the film as Ross’s wacky neighbor.

¡Vampiros en La Habana! (1985- dir. Juan Padrón) **1/2

Primitively animated but occasionally amusing Cuban cartoon for grown-ups. A mad scientist has invented a formula that allows vampires to survive daylight. A cadre of vampire gangsters want the formula for their own nefarious purposes. The heroes are pre-Castro revolutionaries, although the depiction of the black one is unfortunately stereotypey. Good music by jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, though, and there’s a neat sequence in a cinema in which the cartoon characters watch a live-action Dracula movie.
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