Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Halloween 2016: September 20
The Mist (2007)
“The Mist” may be a prime example of the horror cult classic. In 2007, it came and went from theaters quickly. It made back its budget at the box office but was hardly a huge hit. The reviews were okay but many considered the film disappointing compared to director Frank Darabont’s previous Stephen King adaptations, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.” Horror fans, on the other hand, loved the movie immediately. It seems that the combination of survival, siege, end of the world, social commentary, and elaborate monsters tickled fans everywhere. I should, by all metrics, love “The Mist.” Yet I was disappointed in the film upon release. Going back and watching it years later, I still don’t quite get the hype.
A bad storm blows into a small town. While the Drayton family hides in the cellar, a tree blows through their front window. The next morning, father David and his young son Billy head to a local store for supplies. The building is packed full of people, looking for the same thing. While there, a mysterious mist blankets the entire area. Bizarre monsters, with a taste for human flesh, hide in the clouds. Locking themselves inside the general store, the townsfolk soon discover that the worst kind of monsters might not await them in the mist.
The fanatical Christian. Within minutes of the mist arriving, Carmody begins to rant about the End Times. She soon claims that God is talking directly to her, that she’s a prophet. By the halfway point, she’s convinced several of the residents of the same and begins demanding human sacrifices. Marcia Gay Harden is incredibly over the top and irritating. But she’s just playing the character as written, a broadly sketched stereotype. If “The Mist” had simply made the main villain somebody else, it would’ve been ninety percent more tolerable.
This is even more of a bummer since “The Mist” features several genuinely likable actors. Thomas Jane usually bores me. He’s still pretty bland here but, considering David Drayton is another one of Stephen King’s everyman protagonist, that quality works for the film. Toby Jones has one of the best parts as Ollie, the store’s assistant manager. Jones is a reasonable man, who manages to keep his cool during the panic. He’s also the local shooting champ, a skill which comes in handy later. Frances Sternhagen, in her second appearance in a Stephen King movie after “Misery,” plays Irene Reppler. An elderly school teacher, Miss Reppler is feisty and happily calls people on their bullshit. William Sadler plays Jim Grondin, who is another thinly sketched character who follows whoever is leading. Sadler, however, always brings something interesting to every part he plays.
the behemoth, briefly glimpsed near the end. All of this stuff is pretty cool and the film utilizes computer generated and practical effects well.
Frank Darabont’s director’s cut of “The Mist” is in black and white, suggesting he envisioned the film as something of a throwback to 1950s creature features. If so, why is so much of the movie shot in a distressingly shaky, handheld style? Perhaps he was attempting to capture a sense of realistic panic. Yet this is another example of Darabont’s perhaps overdone directorial hand. The theme of “The Mist” is evident and often repeated. People do stupid things when they panic. Even the movie’s tagline, “Fear Changes Everything,” emphasizes this. That’s why Mrs. Carmody’s particular breed of crazy catches on. It also explains the movie’s twist ending. Yet even in context, that ending comes off as overly sadistic. A main character takes a very drastic action, after spending the entire movie being the only reasonable person around. The universe goes about punishing him for his rashness far too quickly and in far too unlikely a circumstance. Mostly, the ending makes me feel like Darabont is screwing with us.
upcoming TV show? I have no interest in seeing the movie’s drama stretch out for thirteen episodes. Thanks but no thanks. [5/10]
Southern Comfort (1981)
Walter Hill is one of those filmmakers who have had several big, mainstream successes yet have never become a hugely well known name. “48 Hrs.” was a genre defining hit, while “The Driver,” “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” are all beloved cult classics. Well known for his work in tough guy action pics, Hill has always skirted the horror genre without fully committing to it. Hill produced all of the “Alien” films and directed several “Tales from the Crypt” episodes. Yet the closest thing Hill has ever directed to a proper horror feature is the 1981 underrated backwoods survival flick “Southern Comfort.”
A group of weekend warriors, members of the Louisiana National Guard, gather in the state’s swampy, humid bayou. Among the men are smart-ass Private Spencer, redneck Corporal Reece, mentally unstable Corporal Bowden, and rough around the edges new recruit Corporal Hardin. A standard exercise has the group navigating the swamp. The soldiers steal some unclaimed boats in order to make it across a river. When the Cajun owners of the boats appear, one of the soldiers fire blanks at the hunters. In response, the Cajuns open fire, killing the group’s leader. Now, the men are being hunted, pursued by an enemy that is more familiar with the area then they are.
the Vietnam War to mind. (Hill has vehemently denied this reading.) Despite mostly being an action/thriller, “Southern Comfort” undeniably contains some horrific elements. The Cajun trappers rarely appear on-screen. Instead, they are more like an almost supernatural force of nature. Traps have been left for the men, getting attacked by dogs, bear traps, dropping trees, and spring-loaded spikes. The dead bodies of their victims are artfully displayed, tied to trees or strung up from train tracks. If you squint hard enough, these scenes could be right out of a slasher flick. Mostly, “Southern Comfort” is characterized by a foggy atmosphere of foreboding and dread. The genre elements are marginal but “Southern Comfor” makes them count.
Upon release, “Southern Comfort’s” characters were criticized for being thin or exaggerated. The cast members are undeniably simple. With nine principal characters, reducing the soldiers to archetypes was probably a good decision. So you’ve got the smart ass, the hard ass, the dumb ass, the tight ass, and so forth. Hill fills his cast with tough guy character actors, which goes a long way towards defining them. Front and center are Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe. Carradine has a wry glee in his smile but is surprisingly cool under pressure. Boothe is hard as a flint, constantly scowling. Yet Boothe’s Hardin gives the impression of being a massive bad ass. Peter Coyote is the voice of powerless authority as the unit leader. Fred Ward is well utilized as the needlessly violent good ol’ boy. Even the bit roles are filled by soon-to-be action veterans. Such as Brion James as the one-armed Cajun or Sonny Landham as a briefly glimpsed hunter. The back-and-forth between the cast members is one of the biggest pleasures of “Southern Comfort.”
The film did poor business at the box office during its original theatrical release. When “Southern Comfort” was released to video or shown on cable, it attracted a bigger audience. In-between the excellent cast of likable actors and intense sequences, it’s earned that cult following. Due to a Southern setting that can’t help but recall “Deliverance” and backwoods villains, it also fits fairly snuggly within the redneck horror genre. (Bizarrely, the film would be shown on Iranian television in the nineties, re-edited to become anti-American propaganda. In that version, the U.S. government knowingly sends the boys to their death, the Cajuns working for the military. Now that’s unexpected!) [8/10]
As the Six Weeks begin, the Cryptkeeper is there to happily invite me back into the tomb. For the last three years, I’ve been watching my way through the series. Just hearing that theme song and seeing the opening makes me grin. This year, I’ll wrap up the show, watching the last season of HBO’s horror anthology. For the seventh season, as a cost saving measure, the show was moved from America to the United Kingdom. It’s a move the show acknowledges, with the Cryptkeeper relocating underneath London Bridge. He even mentions his English heritage, which is probably a reference to Amicus’ original “Tales from the Crypt” movie.
But the move in geography doesn’t mean a change in style. “Fatal Caper” continues the “Crypt” tradition of revenge, betrayal, deceit, and twist endings. The episode concerns an ailing millionaire, Mycroft Amberson. His sons are an unworthy lot, with Evelyn being a money grubbing jerk and Justin being a sex-craved moron. Mycroft hires a female lawyer to deliver the conditions of his will. The brothers will only receive his millions if they can locate their missing third brother, who walked out of dad’s life years ago. This being “Tales from the Crypt,” things aren’t exactly as they seem.
Lost Tapes: Chupacabra
“Lost Tapes” was a series that aired for three seasons, from 2008 to 2010, on Animal Planet. That’s probably not the first network you associate with horror television. “Lost Tapes” was, of all things, a found footage anthology series. Each episode would detail an encounter with a cryptozoological creature, always captured by cameras of some sort. In order to justify such a series airing on an ostensibly educational channel, interviews with experts, media critics, and legitimate zoologists would play in-between the fictional segments. During the early years of the Halloween Horror-Fest Blog-a-Thon, I review one or two episodes of the show. In order to appease my OCD, I hope to watch the entire series this year.
The first lost tape concerns the chupacabra, that goat sucking monster from down Mexico way. The Ramierz family, composed of a father, a mother, and a young daughter, hope to sneak across the border into America. Midway through the trip, their coyote abandons them in the middle of the desert. For some reason, the daughter lugs the family camcorder along with her. This allows her to record the frightening encounter they have with el chupacabra.
Yet “Chupacabra” is a weak premiere. The camera work is overly shaky, with far too much of the episode devoted to people running and screaming. The chupacabra, as presented here, does not match up with the awesome, alien-like conception of the creature, as passed around in the nineties. Instead, the brief glimpses we get at the monsters show one of those lame, dog things some people insists are chupacabras. The story basically wraps up midway through, an extended epilogue tagged on at the end. And the “informative” segments are especially inane, focusing on basic facts concerning illegal immigration and what kind of animals live in the Mexican desert. This is pretty standard for the show but, I assure you, a few episodes are better then this. [5/10]