Friday, October 28, 2011

Diary of the Dead 2011: Week 4

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Friday in October (this year I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 21st

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972- dir. Charles B. Pierce) **½

The Legend of Boggy Creek arrived amidst a weird wave of Big Foot Fever. A few years earlier, two jokers named Patterson and Gimlin made news with grainy film of one of their buddies in a monkey suit. A few years later, the Six Million Dollar Man duked it out with Sasquatch. Fonzi jumped over him in water-skis. Boggy isn’t much more convincing than any of those things, but the documentary conceit was certainly novel at the time. It also justifies the amateur acting and “In Search Of”-quality narration. Stretching the gimmick to 87 minutes is a bit unnecessary. A reasonable person can only watch so much footage of NRA cardholders assholing around in a swamp. I admire director Pierce’s restraint in not giving us a good look at the monster. The country muzak songs are delightfully wretched.

Blood and Roses: U.S. Edit (1960- dir. Roger Vadim) ***½

Joseph Sheridan le Fanu’s pre-Dracula novel Carmilla was adapted a bunch of times, most famously as The Vampire Lovers. Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses was the first one to leave the book’s essential lesbian romance intact. That theme was gutted from the U.S. edit, which is
apparently the one I watched. Blah. What’s left has some exquisite music and cinematography, as well as a spectacularly surreal finale, but no soul.

October 23rd

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962- dir. Joseph Green) ****½

Store your political correctness in a body bag and dig Joseph Green’s sleaze-o-rama alternative to Eyes Without a Face. Jan (Virginia Leith) is decapitated in a car crash. Bill the mad doctor (Jason Evers) is able to rescue his fiancée’s head, which he props up on his workbench and keeps alive with wires and bubbling liquids and other sciencey things. Dr. Bill scopes out the local strip joints and swimsuit competitions in search of
a voluptuous new body for Jan’s chatty, telepathic head. There’s a gibbering monster in a closet and a graphically phony brain surgery sequence and wrestling strippers and choice dialogue that deserves some sampling here:

“How can you make of her an experiment of horror?!?”
“You can flip any chick in the house. Why me?”
“My deformed friend, horror has its ultimate, and I am that.”
“I am only a head, and you’re whatever you are, but together we are strong!”
“You’re nothing but a freak of life… and a freak of death!”

Filmed in 1959 as The Black Door and shelved for three years, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die oozes with the kind of bunk and scuz that only seems charming now because of its utter fiftiesness. Green does an ace job of capturing the high-speed, chaotic car crash.

October 25th

Today’s theme is movies recommended by Edgar Wright in a new interview with The A.V. Club.

The Sentinel (1977- dir. Michael Winner) *½

First up is The Sentinel, a bit of post-Rosemary’s Baby demonic gobbledygook from the inappropriately named Michael Winner. That half star is for a scattering of unintentionally hilarious scenes—a girl walking in on her elderly dad having a birthday cake orgy, Beverly D’Angelo’s evil masturbating— and not for the exploitative finale featuring actual people with disabilities portraying demons. Winner must have cast some sort of hoodoo spell to get the impressive cast to act in this dreck: Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Christopher Walken, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jeff Goldblum, and Chris Sarandon, to name a few. Wright seems to dig The Sentinel as camp, but the laughs are too sporadic and the concluding “freak show” made me feel miserable. At least the characters in Freaks were allowed some humanity and power. Yuck.

The People Under the Stairs (1991- dir. Wes Craven) **½

I’d seen The People Under the Stairs before and wasn’t bowled over by it. But Wright’s interviewer’s suggestion that the villains are “Ronald and Nancy Reagan, more or less” intrigued me. That analogy swooped over my head the first time I saw Wes Craven’s movie. So let’s assume Wright’s recommendation of The Sentinel was some sort of cheeky prank— like his decision to waste his considerable talents on Scott Pilgrim Plays X-Box with the World— and revisit The People Under the Stairs. How does it hold up? Well, Craven’s politics are commendable, and “Twin Peaks” fans will be happy to see Everett McGill and Wendy Robie reunited, but the tone is all wrong. Elements that must have been creepy on the script’s pages have no power on the screen. The shocks are spongy. The satirical touches are strong, as when our villains play Ward and June Cleaver for some clueless cops, but the more overt comedy is really dumb. McGill and Robie are too clownish to take seriously as threats. Everyone acts as if they’re in different kinds of movies. Bernard Rose made a much sharper urban-horror movie the following year with Candyman. Craven’s finale is pretty cute, though.

The final two films in this year’s Diary of the Dead fell just behind the victorious Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies readers poll. Consider the following consolation entries.

October 26th

The Innocents (1961- dir. Jack Clayton) *****

It’s been years since I’ve seen The Innocents, which is my only excuse for not including it among this site’s essential horrors. After rewatching it I’m a bit ashamed I passed it over. I misremembered Jack Clayton’s adaptation of The Turn of the Screw as slower than it is. It’s definitely livelier than Henry James’s fairly dry novel. Deborah Kerr is so convincingly uneasy throughout the picture—even before she learns of the ghostly presences at the Bly estate—that she singlehandedly maintains the tension when nothing explicitly spooky is happening. Everyone always remembers the face at the window as the scariest image, but the ghostly figure Kerr sees in the reeds across a pond is the one that most gets under my skin. Freddie Francis’s high-contrast, deep-focus photography gives the film a modern look even though the story is more old-fashioned than most of the other great ‘60s horror movies. Themes of pedophilia are kept ambiguous, although Miles’s behavior is as shocking in its own way as anything in Psycho or Eyes without a Face. Let’s call The Innocents essential horror movie number 121 with my apologies.

October 27th

Deep Red (1975- dir. Dario Argento) ****½

Dario Argento bridges giallo mystery and pure horror with Deep Red. We see absolutely awful murders through the killer’s eyes, which Argento achieves with roaming, first-person shots. Those who are as squeamish about broken glass as I am may find the first murder unwatchable. But Deep Red is also beautiful. Argento’s obsession with vivid color doesn’t end with the buckets of Sherwin-Williams blood spilled throughout the picture. A mechanical puppet makes an appearance for no other reason than its extreme creepiness. David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi's comedic-romantic sparring is lots of fun. Argento's skewering of traditional gender roles is refreshingly atypical of ‘70s cinema, although he does a bit of copping out in the end. Half-a-star deducted for Goblin’s totally inappropriate prog-funk score, which ruins the mood of the suspense scenes.
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