Friday, October 5, 2018

Diary of the Dead 2018: Week 1

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews at the end of every week this October. I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 1

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972- dir. Lucio Fulci) ****

Well, we’re off to a good start with a refreshing surprise. I’ve never been a fan of Lucio Fulci’s gory nonsense, so I wasn’t expecting to find anything appealing about one of his most famous flicks. Yet there is a quite a bit about the charmingly titled Don’t Torture a Duckling that is appealing, such as a central mystery—specifically, who’s murdering the kids in a little Italian village?— with a gaggle of suspects. This little village has the highest population of weirdos this side of Twin Peaks. There’s an accused witch, a hermit who practices black magic (and cut a police interrogation short because he has to “take a crap”), and Barbara Bouchet as a drugged up pedophile. Fulci keeps the excessive gore to a minimum, allowing it to shine in one scene that is genuinely disturbing and one that is unintentionally hilarious. I saw the culprit coming from a mile away, but the twist will be a neat one for those who aren’t programmed to look for that kind of thing.

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962- dir. Riccardo Freda) ***

With its Gothic, Corman-esque atmosphere, and its Barbara Steele, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is more my cup of tea than a Fulci gore opera, though this picture is less satisfying than the previous one on our roster. Dr. Hichcock, who accidentally poisons his wife and schemes to resurrect her by bizarre means, is pretty horrible but he’s also kind of an idiot, which isn’t the most villainous quality (our current president is the exception to this rule). What this movie lacks in sense, it makes up for in style and Steele.

October 2

The Witch (2015- dir. Robert Eggers) ****½

It’s slow going, but stick with it! The Witch is a wholly original look at the much-abused topic of the New England witch trials. An air of oppressiveness drenches the quietest passages (and this movie has a lot of those) in dread. However, the grand finale is bizarrely celebratory, and makes the most effective use of imagery culled from ancient wood engravings since Häxan. Anya Taylor-Joy is a stand out new star as the accused witch but a goat named Black Phillip steals this particular show.

The Stone Tape (1972- dir. Peter Sasdy) **

This made-for-telly movie apparently gave a whole generation of British kids nightmares, but The Stone Tape has not aged well at all. A bunch of scientists who behave like the biggest assholes at your local pub move their operation into an old castle where they start having ghostly visions. Unlikable characters who freely engage in racism and sexism, cheesy Dr. Who-esque effects, stagey style, and repetitious action won’t win this thing any new fans. Next time you need a Nigel Kneale fix, just rewatch The Quatermass Xperimient instead.

October 3

Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles (1987- dir. The Brothers Quay) ****

This short film by the Brothers Quay is apparently based on stories by Bruno Schulz, a Renaissance man—writer, artist, critic, teacher—who was murdered during the Holocaust. Don’t expect a history lesson, though the horrors Schulz endured are still effectively represented by grungy, nightmare imagery. The Quays cast their film with a crew of broken, dirty, distorted dolls who twitch, creep, and flicker their light bulb heads for 21 unpleasantly hypnotic minutes. Hardly a traditional horror film, but just as unsettling as the best of them.

Body Melt (1993- dir. Philip Brophy) *½

Speaking of unpleasant, there’s this glob of grue from Down Under. Writer/director Philip Brophy was clearly aiming to make some sort of social statement with this rot about scientists testing new dietary pills on the unwitting members of a small community, but it gets lost in sloppy structure, dumb humor, and a lot of sheer grossness. The pills cause eyes to pop out of skulls, heads to deflate, dicks to explode, fetuses to go haywire, and everyone to sneeze gallons of goo. The effects are pretty well done for a cheapy such as this, but none of it adds up to anything particularly pointed or funny. Lighting your farts will have a similar effect while being less time consuming and less unpleasant.

October 4

Eden Lake (2008- dir. James Watkins) ****

Kids today with their loud music and their cellular phones and their burning people alive! This little picture that won over critics in 2008 initially threatens to be nothing more than Deliverance with obnoxious teens instead of inbred hill people and Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbinder instead of Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. However, Eden Lake gradually reveals itself to be more complex than its more famous predecessor since most of the villains are reluctant ones (oh, peer pressure!). The complex dynamic between the kids and the adults (one of whom is a school teacher who has trouble turning her back on children even when they’re conspiring to slaughter her) ultimately makes Eden Lake more of a Lord of the Flies-indebted drama than a horror movie despite all the grisly gore. Because of its realistic behaviors and less realistic but still tragic logic, it’s more horrific than most fully committed horror movies.
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