Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 29

Return of the Fly (1959)
A pretty routine sequel. Twenty years after the events of the first film, history repeats itself when Philippe, the son of the original fly, decides to continue his father’s research into teleportation technology, despite the warnings of his uncle, played by a very somber Vincent Price. Philippe is a bad judge of character, so his lab assistant turns out to be a real asshole, planning on stealing the teleporter blue prints so he can pay off his gambling debts, I think. (His partner in crime is a neurotic mortician, one of the few interesting parts of the film.) After beating him up, the asshole intentionally sends Philippe through the transporter with a fly, creating another fly-headed monster. This proves to be a bad move and backfires spectacularly for our villains. Fly-Monster Philippe, after awkwardly wandering around the woods for a while, tracks both guys down and murders them. Luckily, his girlfriend and his uncle find the fly with the human head, sends both through the teleporter, leading us to a happy ending.

Despite the short running time, the movie drags a lot. None of the fly stuff happens until well pass the halfway point, so the first half revolves mostly around Philippe worrying about flies (His phobia is one of the film’s few clever bits) and Vincent Price warning him not to mess around with that teleporter shit, man. (“I told you about teleporters, bro. I told you.”) The film starts with a funeral and the overly somber tone continues throughout. There’s none of the humor here of the first film… At least not of the intentional value. The film’s special effects are big step down from the first one. There’s some gigantism thrown in with the teleporting for some reason, so our inevitable fly-monster has a giant head. This is incredibly awkward for the stuntman playing him, who stumbles a lot, and you can tell the prop head almost falls over a few times. The human-head fly is created through cheesy photography tricks, as is the human-handed rat critter that shows up too. If the creations in the first film where absurd in an unsettling way, these are absurd in a strictly hilarious way. In the first film, the teleportations sequences was a series of flashing lights and phasing, while here people in the glass box just vanish abruptly.

There’s also some pretty big logic holes. If a guy went through a teleporter with a fly again, whose to say it would pop out exactly like what happened in the first film? Why doesn’t Philippe just have a giant fly ass or something? And why would sending the two hybrids back through together fix things? Wouldn’t that just lead to more gene-splicing? One of the things they talk about in this movie is teleporting somebody and then leaving their atoms just floating around in the air overnight, which seems dangerous and a wild abuse of science. Fox went to the expense of shooting this flick in Cinemascope, but not in color. Of course, I love black and white, but it’s not use all that well here. The direction is pretty bland. The scenes of a body jumping out of a casket is pretty much the only effective moment in the whole film. “Return of the Fly” is a blatant retrend of the first film with none of the energy, character, humor, or suspense. (5/10)

Community: “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”
I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’m pretty squarely a movie guy. So it’s not often that a TV show really grabs my attention and gets me to tune in every week. But I love “Community.” I really do. After the shaky season two, season three has been excellent so far. Every episode has been a winner.

The last two Halloween episodes have been total classics. The season one Halloween episode is got me into the show in the first place and last year’s “Epidemiolgy” is, not only pretty much the best zombie movie I’ve seen in years and such an improvement over the handful of zombie homages we’ve seen in the past decade, but it’s also probably my favorite episode of the whole series. “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps” isn’t as good as either and, in particular, doesn’t really live up to its horror anthology premise, but it’s still a solid B+ in my book. The show is very character oriented so each variation of the story really tells us more about the character telling them then anything else.

The episode is still full of very funny moments. Britta’s retelling of the Hook story includes the character’s all talking in her mumbled, awkwardly paced style of speaking. Abed’s story features characters that follow the rules of the genre strictly, relying on a hilarious super-logic. Annie’s “Twilight” spin gets especially funny when she has to stop and teach the vampire how to read. (It also features some fantastic Allison Brie cleavage, something this episode is full of.) But my favorite segment is Troy’s story, which is a bro-tastic, silly spin on the mad scientist concept, recasting himself and Abed as super-awesome jet fighters who get super-awesome psychic powers.

Any way, anybody who’s never seen an episode of “Community” probably has no idea what I’m talking about so I’ll finish this up. In short: Good episode. Also, watch this show. (8/10)

Ghost Story (1981)
Funny story behind this one: When I was around, I don’t know, ten maybe, and right in the beginning stages of my horror movie obsession, my mother told me the plot of “Ghost Story,” detailing everything. It sounding like a fantastic film but I didn’t get to see it until many years afterward, once Netflix finally rolled around. I was immensely disappointed. The movie in my head was so much better. But, in the services of fairness, I decided to give this one another shot.

The film is notable mostly for bringing together an ensemble of some of the most respected actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In today’s youth obsessed market, I can’t imaging a horror film being sold starring nothing but elderly men, even if it’s based on a national best seller. In order to compensate, the movie throws in a lot of nudity and sex, including some male full frontal. The story revolves around the Chowder Society, a group of friends who gather to tell frightening stories and have done so since the early 1900s. And now, as these things happen in the movies, a ghost from the past has come to pick the men off one by one. The story telling format lends the film an episodic feeling. Twice, the current flow of the film halts abruptly so a character can drop some back story.

Oddly, the movie works best when it travels back to the early 1900s and replaces its old man cast with a group of younger actors. The movie seems to be of two minds. The direction is very strong during the period settings and the director seems fine with the explicit romantic scenes. But the movie falls apart during the scenes of horror. Many of the deaths involve someone being startled by the gruesome sight of the ghosts and falling to their deaths. However, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with the corpse make-up, it’s never as shocking or disturbing as the movie needs it to be. A bizarre subplot features a homeless man and his little brother as servants of the ghost woman. For reasons that are never explained, the little boy roars and makes animal noises. It’s not a scary effect, for a fact it’s quite comical. (I hear these characters get more development in the novel.) It’s really not until the movie’s very end, when the camera roams the dark, abandoned house, that the movie begins to have any success as a horror film at all. The effects work in general is kind of clumsy, including a scene where a car flipping over sounds like a toy car rolling around in the snow.

When the movie does work, it’s strictly because of its prime cast. Fred Astaire is the only really likable member of the Chowder Society, though John Houseman commands a lot of authority with his deep voice and intimidating figure. I like a moment when Melvyn Douglas breaks down from the stress. But it’s really Alice Krige, future Borg queen, as the vengeful ghost who gives the best performance. While the movie oversells her beauty a bit too much, she still manages to be very sexy when she needs to and appropriately sinister at the same time. “Ghost Story” is mostly a failure though. The film seems to have no idea how to create a successful horror atmosphere. (5/10)

1 comment:

Kernunrex said...

Yeah, I was a bit disappointed with this year's Halloween Community episode. The anthology idea was a good one, but perhaps trying to tell 7 different stories in 22 minutes is stretching things a bit.

Like you, this is one of the few TV shows I actually watch these days.