Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween 2010: October 28

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Trevi Collection”
A pretty good episode despite several goofy moments. Kolchak’s office banter is stronger then usual. The mystery is actually pretty involving. It was surprising to see Kolchak get tricked for once. (Naturally, a pretty woman smiling at him was all it took to throw him off.) When a show is as formulaic as this one, it’s nice to see it willing to throw a few twists into the mix. Another interesting element here is Kolchak being pursued by the mob tough buys. The aftermath of them wrecking the INS office is a really funny moment. As for the goofy moments? I remember being kind of creep out by the moving mannequins the first time I saw this, but now that comes off as really silly. Equpally silly is the floating knife, Carl swinging a mojo bag around like it’s a magic shield, and the way the witch is dealt, which is hard to take seriously. Still, after two weak episodes, this one held up nicely. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “Chopper”
It’s not surprising to find Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s name in the opening credits here. The Headless Horseman being remodeled as a headless biker is exactly the kind of darkly whimsical element Zemeckis use when he’s at his best. The episode does drag a bit in the middle (The funeral scene is a pain to get through) and, while you can tell they tried, the central idea of the monster was a little beyond their budget. The motorcycle element does lead to a number of exciting attack scenes. Carl’s confrontation with the monster is actually the least exciting action scene of the episode. The new police chief giving Kolchak a hard time provides some great amusement, as does Carl’s chemistry with the widow. (7/10)

Dead of Night (1945)
An extremely British movie. I guess it wasn’t until the Technicolor Hammer films of the late fifties that British horror stop being so damn drool. The movie is credited with popularizing the horror anthology as well as the killer dummy bit. (As well as Hoyle’s Steady State theory) There’s a reason all anybody talks about in reference to this is the dummy sequence.

The framing story introduces a lot of characters quickly and, even then, doesn’t use all of them. The first story, about a race car driver’s brush with death, is over so quickly it doesn’t really register. The second tale is a traditional ghost story set around Christmas time. It does successfully capture the feel of those ghost stories but fails completely in being scary. The third story, about a cursed mirror, takes a long, long time to get to its pay-off but does okay once it finally gets there. The fourth story is by far the worse. It’s a comical tale about ghost and golf that feels incredibly long, revolves around an annoying pair of characters, and just repeats its central gag over and over until something resembling the punch line comes.

After all of this, we finally get to the ventriloquist dummy. The terror the dummy inflicts is purely psychological and solely upon his master. The final twist of the story comes as quietly and uninterestingly as anything else in the film. The resolution to the framing story is the only moment the movie comes close to being creepy and the twist ending is clever, if expected. Like the Quatermass films before it, this is another highly respected piece of early British genre film that I really couldn’t get into. (5/10)

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)

The Coffin Joe films aren’t exactly like anything else around. This first film, in particular, Brazil’s first horror film, was made in something of a vacuum. It’s so wonderfully weird. It’s both hokey and brutal, sacrilegious and superstitious. Hokey in that the movie is covered with traditional horror clichés and they are all created in the cheapest forms possible. Black cats, foggy nights, toy hooting owls, paper mache skulls, cackling witches.

The movie is brutal in that its violence and gore probably would have been groundbreaking at the time (If anybody in outside of Brazil had seen it, obviously.) Fingers are cut off, people are brutally whipped, eyes are gouged out. There’s also a rape, albeit off-screen. The movie is a lot nastier then what was common at the time. What’s really crazy about all this though is Coffin Joe himself. He’s a sadist, murderer, rapist, general bastard to everybody, and the thing that horrifies the townspeople the most? He’s an atheist. In this small, improvised Brazilian town, religion clearly gives the people hope and here’s Coffin Joe, going around, yelling about how there’s no God, no ghosts, no spirits, no devil, only now, only “the continuity of the blood,” as he calls it.

What’s really dissonant about the film is its beliefs. Coffin Joe is our protagonist and, it’s clear that Jose Mojica Marins sympathizes with him. (I’ve often wondered how many of Joe’s beliefs Marins shares.) However, after spending the entire movie screaming about how ghosts don’t exist, those ghost do appear and Joe does indeed pay for his crimes. It’s a schizophrenic tone and one of reasons while the movie is so delightfully bizarre.

Also contributing to the charm is the micro-budget cleverness on display here. The director didn’t have the funds to create a ghost, so he just painted glitter directly onto the negative around the actor. It’s a bizarre, totally effective moment. After having mostly watched the myriad of Coffin Joe sequels and spin-offs this film spawned, it’s interesting to return to the original. In the sequels, Joe is obsessed with finding the perfect woman to father his perfect son with, to continue his continuity of the blood. In the third, recent, sequel, it’s becomes less about extending his life via child, and more about continuing his dark, Satanic legacy. The seventies era spin-offs are sleazier, more surreal, not as cheap but somehow cheaper looking, and turned Coffin Joe into some sort of netherworld dwelling spectre, a chronicler of strange tales. Here, he holds down a steady job, has friends, and doesn’t mention his Nietzsche-like quest to father a perfect offspring once. (He’s eyes also go bloodshot any time he flies into a murderous rage.) Anyway, “At Midnight, I’ll Take Your Soul” needs to be seen to be believed.

Cornered! (2009)
A really fun addition to the slasher-comedy fold. It’s got a small colorful cast, all closed up in a single location, who are slowly picked off by a vicious killer one by one. It’s a classic slasher set-up. The characters actually get some pretty decent development too and have a nice repour with one another. The movie isn’t a wall-to-wall gore fest, but when blood does show up, it’s used in clever, nastily creative ways. This movie makes the kills it has count. The dialogue is pretty funny throughout and there’s a sense of absurd fun running under the whole thing. The identity of the killer is fairly obvious right from the beginning. (Hint: It’s the biggest name in the cast.) The ending is also a little meaner then I think they should have gone with. This is the fun kind of little slasher fare we don’t really get enough of any more. (7/10)

Candyman (1992)

I really love this movie for a number of reasons. I’ve always had an interest in urban legends and this movie gets deep into that. It’s all about the power of myth and is an incredibly creative modern update on the ghost story idea. The direction and, especially the music, are fantastically atmospheric. Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd both give phenomenal performance. (Considering the range, subtlety, and quiet command of presence Todd shows here, it’s sort of a shame that he’s basically reduced to turning in one-note cameos in the B-horror market.) It’s scary too. The death of the psychologist is a great horror moment. Read this brilliant Kindertrauma article for an even deeper study of the film. Basically, any film that generates that level of intelligent discussion is probably great, and I think “Candyman” certainly qualifies as great, one of the best horror films of the nineties, if not the best. (9/10)

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