For this week’s Midnight Screenings, being that Halloween is upon us and all, here are reviews of three modern would-be Halloween films destined for years of “Midnight” Screenings all throughout the land.
Ever heard of Creepshow? Well, Trick ‘r Treat certainly has, and it wants you to know it. It’s a quintessential omnibus anthology film, but at the least, its four stories are a little more diegetically connected this time out, all taking place on the same night (naturally, October 31st). This doesn’t so much sacrifice episodism as it bends it toward the film’s own more leisurely, fluid pace, with characters cavorting about and moving between segments just like the sublime, giddy chaos of Halloween itself.
Essentially, this gives us an anthology film without quite the explicit guiding hand of a narrator or wraparound narrative to explicitly render these stories “fiction”, making this film somewhat more grounded in traditional narrative filmmaking. And if this inter-connectedness doesn’t do much, the connections at least lend a sense of mundane physicality and place to the film’s spooky Halloweenisms. They dial up the assumed realism of the world (where-as most anthology horrors would have a guiding narrative to explicitly render the segments “fiction stories”) so that the general lunatic-terror of the film’s atmosphere invading that realism is that much more loopy. It’s the kind of place that mimics reality only to reveal another layer of uncanny, unstated gruesomeness, as if Halloween night is the true identity and the face of the year around it is just for show. Continue reading →
Update in late 2019 with the release of Dark Fate: The glum and more self-consciously morose later sequels track, recode, and needlessly convolute this film’s elegant, inescapable trudge toward oblivion, shading and sharding Cameron’s original vision in various ways, but they all completely miss the original’s brilliance: its sense of soul-death. Nominally an action film but far divorced from the self-amused tone of the Schwarzenegger pictures that were in the can as soon as this one made a fortune, The Terminator is as implacable and monosyllabic as its namesake: a blood-and-guts slasher film in a metallic overcoat, and one with significantly less Pavlovian satisfaction at the death it deals. Brutal simplicity at its finest, The Terminator essays a dystopic future that ultimately, tragically, realizes its far-flung visions of eventual catastrophe already came to pass in the present while it wasn’t looking. How far this franchise has fallen …
Those who’ve only seen the sequels to this truly distressing Reagan-era portrait of social aimlessness and blight, a film that typifies menace itself, may be forgiven for thinking this first film is something it has no interest in being. The later films focused on action, action, and more action (the first sequel being one of the greatest slam-bang thrill rides ever made, and with a touching human-machine relationship to boot), emphasizing escalating narrative stakes rather than deepening emotional texture, and have since run out of steam. While this lean-and-mean low-budget 1984 film starring a mostly unknown who couldn’t speak much English is plenty thrilling, it’s tempered with an overpoweringly grim sensibility, a magisterial sense of mounting dread and desperation that establishes a mood of forlorn malaise more than fist-pumping aplomb. Horror is as appropriate as action. Fortunately, it happens to be one of the grimiest, most caustic horror films to take over the public consciousness in that decade, and one of the best. Continue reading →
Edited Dec 2014 after I watched a second time and noticed how jaw-dropping the sound design is; sometimes the beauty of images, and the fact that film is a primarily visual medium, distract from the wondrous world of noise.
Under the Skin opens with several minutes of film boiled down to its pure essentials: sound and image. Quite literally, the film begins on an impenetrable warble that morphs into a drone, with a mouse of a light at an eternal distance from us and moving ever-forward. It grows blinding as the noise distracts and unnerves us further, before the abstract light becomes an eye – the very means by which we process images, all the more telling considering the way what precedes this eye favors sound at the expense of image.
We then get an archly, inescapably clinical white canvas upon which a person we know nothing of (Scarlett Johansson) walks around another person, observing her with no sound, and taking off her clothes – the scene is not the least bit erotic, nor does it contain any other semblance of emotion whatsoever. It is instead a pure ballet of motion, obsessed with the human form in movement, as well as everyday noises – pants sliding off of legs – which are loudened to unnatural levels, registering a kind of intimacy that is intoxicating but also uncomfortably alienating. It is a wondrous display of pure cinema, and in its supremely naturalistic but deeply abstract detachment, it fails to give us any particularly mimetic information, any reasonable grounding in the world around us. In doing so, the opening paradoxically turns no emotion into perhaps the ultimate emotions: detached fascination curdles into inescapable abjection and truly abyssal dread. Continue reading →
This being the first review for the month of September during the “National Cinemas” project, and thus the first review in a month-long exploration of German cinema. It seemed only appropriate to go with the best film by Germany’s greatest living filmmaker.
Edited early 2016
When someone coined the term “Location, location, location”, I don’t think they had Herzog’s films in mind. Yet it’s an apt description for his filmmaking sensibility. As depicted by Herzog, location is a mindscape of pure emotional resonance. He spoke vividly, and still does, about the “ecstatic truth” of the movies, the idea that reality or logic matter not when a film speaks to the rawest emotions of human-kind. And in the Amazon, a place of wonder and desperation where civilization ends and the essences of humanity and the world play out with little mercy, Herzog found his ultimate test-case. Fascinated by it, he decided to do what any great madman would: make a film about it. Continue reading →
A phantom haunts Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 phantasmagoria Don’t Look Now, but the ghost is not so much situationally incorporeal as intrinsically incomplete, a lingering devastation wrought by the remnants of the past latching onto the psyche of the present. The psyche tellingly belongs not only to main characters John and Laura Baxter, who lose a child to a lagoon in the opening scene and trip to Venice to let off some steam, but to the film itself. This is because theme is sublimated into the higher realm of form in Roeg’s post-Bava sensory saboteur, a work that lithely reorients our conception of cinematic editing as it construes a complete and utter subjectivity out of discordant, hostile cutting mechanics. Horror is found not in the presence of a wraith from beyond the grave, but in the lasting haunt of the past’s icy grip on the canvas of the human mind. Ghouls and zombies do not need to rise from the Earth when they persist in the heart. Ultimately, Don’t Look Now is a master-class in “psychic entropy”, dismantling the very ligatures of cinema and blinkered assumptions of a rational, fully-knowable world order. Its vision of new knowledge is radically self-splintering, suggesting that a path to truth compromises our very foundational assumptions about time, space, and rational order. Don’t Look Now offers a form of sensory and mental awakening that is ultimately emotionally and physically catastrophic.
Don’t Look Now is a truly unnerving, dissociative film, not only taking its time waiting and watching while the horror latches on but disassembling raw notions of cinematic time altogether. It’s a masterpiece, an indelible marriage of content and form: a shattered, disordered formalist work of abject horror matched to an empathetic study of two humans wracked with nervous discomposure. The extraordinary friction of the editing, sound, and visuals radiates a toxic gloom that tethers the throes of the characters’ mental disarray to a filmic style that tears and frays itself into a shambles. In other words, it’s an internally divided film that explores two characters who exist as fragmented parts of an impossible-to-reconstitute whole. Continue reading →
A film of quiet, haunting beauty, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is a ghost story of the most chilling variety. It isn’t about the terror ghosts can cause passingly to you, what they can make you feel, and how they can even cause you bodily harm; it’s about what they can make you do, how they can control you, and how you can be made agency-less by your own desires manifested in the world around you. It’s the story of two brothers: Genjuro, who quests after money, and Tobei, who wants fame and honor. When Genjuro goes to the city to sell the pots he makes, he finds himself awash in the glories of monetary success, and when Tobei tags along, he eventually gets lost in the armor of a samurai he kills. It’s a grand tragedy of two men driven by ambition and obsession, a drama of Shakespearean proportions given quiet, breathing life, above all, by pure visual and aural craftsmanship. We look in and it looks back with quiet rage and somber mournfulness. We look in and it makes us wish we hadn’t. Continue reading →
Preface: Now that I’ve finally decided to go “old” with the blog, I’m doing it in style with not just a regular “old” film, but two, and two that have ripened with age. For this week’s Midnight Screenings, the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s, ’50s, and ’40s wouldn’t do. I’m taking it back to two of the granddaddys of filmmaking from the early ’30s, two of the earliest “talkies” and two supreme influences on Midnight Cinema from a time where films could be more openly playful and subversive as filmmakers were still trying to prod and poke at the medium to expose its limits and possibilities.
After the monstrous (I couldn’t resist) success of James Whale’s extremely influential 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, production on a second film was almost a sure-thing (after all, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the book, had yet to be wholly adapted). As the first film was loved even in its day, one would assume re-creating this formula with slight changes would be sufficient for another success – a sure-thing, in other words. Taking a good, long four years to release it however, Whale and new screenwriter William Hurlbert had something else in mind. Bride of Frankenstein is less a horror movie than a Gothic playground hopped up on psycho-sexual energy, a carnival of camp and winking terror, a delightful parlor-trick of a film spreading its wings and exploring every nook and cranny of the human condition it can find, and doing so with such a sheer sense of joy it can’t but be contagious. It is a film mirrored by nothing before and, quite possibly, nothing since. Continue reading →