Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Month in Movies...October 2012

Total Movies Watched: 10

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] [1920] dir. Robert Wiene
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Ju-On [2002] dir. Takashi Shimizu

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] dir. Tobe Hooper

Thursday, October 18, 2012

After Thoughts...The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] (spoilers)

Anyway you look at it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a brutal, grotesque and horrifying movie.  It is also funny.  Well, sort of.  In a movie filled with psychotic torturers, chainsaws and meat hooks, director Tobe Hopper finds a way to shed some humor onto this densely laughless circumstance.  The humor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes in the form of satire.  It is subtle, neatly positioned under what I would argue to be the most horrific scene in the entire movie.  Given its context, the terror erupting out this scene overwhelms anything “funny” about what is going on.  But it is still there.

The “funny” scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes in the movie after Sally has been captured, tied up to a chair made of human bones and seated at the table.  When she awakes to find herself here, she gives out a blood-curling scream.  There’s clearly nothing funny for her.  But still, in a sick way, this is also the funniest and probably only funny part of the movie.  Let me explain using this picture-

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reel News...Hitchcock Gets A Trailer and Fall Release Date

Fitting perfectly into the month-long celebration of all things horror movies, I present to you (I bit late I  will add) the first trailer for the upcoming Hitchcock film starring Anthony Hopkins.  There's not much more to be said beyond that.  Any regular readers of the blog will know that I have keeping tabs on this movie ever since word first broke out in the summer.  For me, this has been one of my most anticipated movies of the season and the new trailer does nothing more than reassure that fact.

When this trailer surfaced on the web a few days ago, I knew it was just a preview for something still a long ways a way. Hitchcock was originally scheduled for a 2013 release, but with this trailer came news that the movie's release was being pushed up to November 23 of this year.  Rarely do we ever see this happen in Hollywood, as movies typically just get pushed back and delayed.  Exactly what we saw with Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.

With this new November 23rd release, this movie is in prime position for Oscar talks, more specifically, Anthony Hopkin's portrayal of Sir Alfred.  After seeing that first profile of Hopkins dressed as Alfred Hitchcock, I, and everyone else that saw that picture, knew it was a perfect casting decision.  And it seems no less true after watching the trailer as well.  Hopkins has it all locked in, down to the signature Hitchcock drawl under every word he speaks. speaks.

Hopkins steals the show and by right he should, but we can't ignore the rest of the talent funneling through this picture.  Helen Mirren has never given a bad performance in her life and Scarlett Johansson looks spot on as Janet Leigh.  Heck I even see Red Foreman in there.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Killer B's...Dawn of the Dead [1978]

When does an excessively violent zombie flick from the 1970s permit itself to be something more than a low grade horror movie?  I know it seems a bit counter-intuitive to begin this post describing the movie’s retraction from B status, but for as bad as some of the selections of The Killer B’s have been so far, I'd say it’s a far better start than most. 

Admired both as a great cinematic achievement and a terrific midnight fright, George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead received almost a universal appeal on its release backed by both critics and horror junkies alike. Even to this day some 30 years later, the movie still has a marvelous showing, despite the many remakes it has produced and itself being a sequel.  Romero’s classic zombie piece consistently remains towards the top of many lists concerning the greatest horror movies of all time.

Our fascination with the living dead is nothing new, even at this movie’s release.  Dawn of the Dead is in fact a sequel to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead released ten years prior to this one and still we can dig deeper.  White Zombie, considered the first true zombie picture ever made, came out in 1932.  But even before this so-called invention of the cinematic zombie there were precursors of the zombie craze, most notably the stiff, muted somnambulist of The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1921).  Dawn of the Dead provided nothing particularly revolutionary or innovative in its story or zombie depiction compared to previous movies of its kind.  There’s not much you can do actually.  When zombies enter, it always becomes a struggle for survival.  And other than Danny Boyle giving zombies the ability to run in 28 Days Later, the creativity of one such creature is limited.  Despite the rather atypical and unoriginal formula left for these movies, Romero’s second installment of the zombie trilogy was a huge success.  Many consider Dawn of the Dead to be the best zombie movie ever made and I would certainly agree.   So to circle back to the initial question posed, what makes Dawn of the Dead such a spectacular movie?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Useless Clatter...12 Horror Classics Free on YouTube [and Some Thoughts on Existence]

Since in the 1970s, with the advent of the personal computer and the very, very earliest existence of the internet, we have lived in an era known as the Information Age.  Right alongside the Ice Age and the Middle Ages, there will be us— inventors of the personal computer and the internet— for better or for worse.  But that was a long time ago.  Gone are the days of VCRs, flatscreens and dial-up, what was once breakthrough technology was now an antiquated thing of the past.  We still find ourselves entranced by the pleasure of new technology just like we were 20 years ago. Only nowadays everything is just a newer version of what it once was— BluRay, HD, and wireless.  The personal computer can now be taken anywhere and you can have the entire World Wide Web comfortably inside your pocket.

The connection this has to movies is both vastly helpful and slightly critical.  The cinema, once a glamorous night on the town offering visitors an escape into worlds unknown, lost some of its magic.  TVs offer the same escape from the comforts of one’s family room.  No more worries about traffic or a babysitter.  Today it is even easier.  Streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube now offer that entertainment almost anywhere on your laptop or even smart phone.  There is something lost in that transformation from a duplex movie theater to a three-inch cell phone screen.  It simply doesn’t compare. 

But let us not be too critical and consider this the demise of the movie theater.  After all, these handy pieces of technology offer audiences a slew of new movies, or a rather a reintroduction to old ones.  Classics and rare titles, B-movies and foreign wonders can all stay alive on the internet and be introduced to movie lovers anywhere on the globe.  Some sites like Netflix and Hulu have made fortunes meeting the demand of instant streaming, while others the same and slightly less in the form of free, (il)legal content.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

After Thoughts...Psycho [1960] (spoilers)


+ If you have never seen Psycho and don't know what happens turn away now!!!  I would hate to be the cause of spoiling it for anyone.

Norman Bates is nothing I imagine a serial killer would be.  He is a shy and bashful; a young rather good looking guy who spends his days managing the family motel for his ailing mother.  But then again, after revisiting Psycho, Norman might just be everything I imagine a serial killer to be- he is shy and bashful, and awkward, reclusive and very, very creepy.

Revealing the timid and sincere Norman Bates as the psychotic, two-faced transvestite serial killer might be one of the greatest surprises the movie have ever given us.  Remembering all those reprimanding conversations overheard from his mother, the reveal comes as disturbing and the sympathy, out the window.  But for horror junkies watching the movie again, there could be a small sense of delight.  Watching that severely awkward dinner of sandwiches and milk as you wait for Marion Crane to step behind the shower curtain.

Anthony Perkins gives the performance of a life-time, one that many say he was born to play and never quite left behind.  Perkins took part in three more Psycho sequles, even directing the made for TV Psycho IV in 1990, 30 years after the release of Hitchcock's classic.

When the script was in the process of adapting Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, Norman had to be changed drastically to suit Hitchcock’s liking.  The Norman Bates of the book took the form of an overweight 40-something year old man with drinking problems.  Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, also the inspiration for the equally creepy characters of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs, there is nothing subtle about Bloch’s literary Norman Bates.

 But the legacy of the film rests largely on the unexpected reveal at its end, where we find out the boy next door is really a perverse maniac.  Everything we thought was true is now not, exactly how Hitch wanted it.  The film, while typically considered a horror piece or even slasher is one of the great psychological thrillers ever made.  But it is only until after its over do you realize this.  If Hitchcock’s Norman stayed true to the novel, none of that would have been possible.  The reveal would have more obvious and the thrill, much less thrilling.  I doubt Psycho would have been a bad movie if Hitchcock retained the character written by Bloch,  but it certainly would not possess the legacy it has today.  Sure, we would still have the infamous shower scene and Bernard Herrmann's screeching violins, but no Anthony Perkins, and frankly I cannot imagine a Psycho without him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why See This...The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1920]

With a month of horror movies ahead, I decided to start the month off right with a classic, one that is often considered the first horror movie ever made.

Think back to any of the mesmerizing and lucid worlds crafted by David Lynch or a psychological thriller from David Fincher, and it is certain that these two great directors watched, or more likely, scrutinized The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before making any one of their own.  For Lynch, the obvious influence comes from the bizarre setting and backdrop of this early German expressionistic film.  Taking place in the fictional quaint mountain village of Holstenwall Germany, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not set in some far off, distant land or even the future, as it may appear.  Though the director has placed the film into a seemingly normal German town, the subjectivity of its “realness” is certainly called into question.  Tilted walls, slanted rooftops appear as if a strong wind just came through the town and almost, just almost blew everything over.  The townspeople are real people inhabitating a real town, yet there is something just not right with how it all looks.  Holstenwall is surreal in every sense of the word.  With one glance, any avid David Lynch fan can recognize the obvious influence this movie has on the surreal and decrepit world of Eraserhead or even Inland Empire.  These movies deal with real people, yet the existence seems to take place somewhere far off from our thinking of reality. 

Inside the realm of a David Fincher thriller like Se7en or Fight Club, the characters of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are hardly molded caricatures.  This is really something considering the fact that we are dealing with a somnambulist and a mad scientist.  Short in stature, hunched back and always wearing a lab coat, Dr. Caligari looks like nothing else.  His counterpart, the stiff Frankenstein-like looking somnambulist named Cesare has been sleeping in a coffin for twenty three years and can tell the future.  At the arrival of the town fair, Caligari decides to display Ceasre as an exhibit.  Along with herds of people fascinated by the premise of the somnambulist, two friends arrive, Francis and Allen.  Upon learning his powers, Allen quickly shouts out to Ceasre asking how long he has to live.  The response: until dawn tomorrow.  Early the next morning Allen is dead, murdered in his own room.  Francis instantly puts the blame on Caligari and Ceasre.  But after an entire night perched outside their window, Francis finds nothing, expect that his has been abducted, all while the pair were sleeping.