Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Halloween 2017: September 25

The Resurrected (1992)

When people list off the great horror filmmakers, Dan O’Bannon’s name is too often left off. As a screenwriter, O’Bannon helped create stone cold classics like “Alien” and “Total Recall.” He also had his names on cult favorites like “Dead and Buried,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Lifeforce.” And as a director, he gifted the world with “Return of the Living Dead,” one of the eighties’ greatest zombie movies. His second directorial feature would see him adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” This is fitting, as “Alien” contained some of Lovecraft’s DNA. The resulting film would be re-cut, retitled, and shuffled onto video with little fanfare. In the years since, some have reevaluated “The Resurrected” as an underrated and overlooked classic.

John March is a private detective living and working in Providence, Rhode Island. An attractive young woman comes into his office with a very odd case. Her husband, Charles Ward, has disappeared. March soon tracks the man down at a solitary country cabin, where he’s acting very strange. Ward is placed in a mental hospital soon afterwards. As March digs deeper into Ward’s case, he uncovers something unnerving. Ward is the ancestor of Joseph Curwin, a man accused of witchcraft a hundred years prior. After uncovering more evidence, March comes to believe that Curwin is Ward, somehow returned to life. His case only gets stranger from there.

Lovecraft’s original story was already something of a mystery, about a doctor attempting to figure out what caused Charles Ward to start acting so strange. O’Bannon ran with that aspect, making “The Resurrected” into a full blown detective story. There’s even a deliberate film noir vibe. March’s involvement with the plot begins with a strange woman enters his office. March is given a voice over narration, which stops just short of featuring some hard-boiled language. Ultimately, O’Bannon’s desire to turn Lovecraft’s story into a quasi-noir becomes a bit of a problem. “The Resurrected” veer towards convoluted at times, a few too many subplots not adding up. Twice, characters have to stop and explain the plot. Blending Lovecraft and mystery fiction wasn’t a new idea but is still a fun one.

As a horror movie, “The Resurrected” gets increasingly grisly as it goes on. The film begins as more atmospheric. There’s spooky shots of an old houses, surrounded by fog. A memorable shot features some wild dogs, howling amid a desolated landscape. The film makes the New England countryside look as foreboding as possible. A scalpel slashing a hand open, spurting blood, signals a shift in tone. A flashback to Curwin’s days conclude with a startling shot of a writhing, half decomposed, partially undead body. A lengthy portion of the film’s second half is devoted to exploring the catacombs under Ward’s cabin. What the heroes find there are horrifying masses of body horror. The twitching amalgamations of different corpses, fused together, lurch out of the shadows, in several shocking moments. The film’s climax features even stronger horror, as Curwin twists an orderly’s head. The villain’s final fate is a startling display of special effects. There’s even a stop-motion skeleton!

What about the film’s cast? I was a little uncertain of John Terry’s performance as March, at first. Some of his line readings, especially in the voiceover, come across as flat. In other moments, Terry is a really likable lead. He has nice chemistry with the other cast members. Laurie Briscoe appears as March’s secretary while Robert Romanus is Lenny, his investigative partner. Together, the three make a fun team, having a natural, breezy interaction. Jane Sibbett plays Claire, Ward’s horrified wife. Sibbett is vulnerable but resourceful, especially once she crawls down into her husband’s pit of horror. Of course, Chris Sarandon steals the show as Ward/Curwin. Sarandon puts on a convincing antiqued accent. As a villain, he projects a threatening air. He gets to really cut loose in the final scene, hamming it wonderfully as the fully unleashed necromancer.

“The Resurrected” is a decently compelling mystery and a very cool horror movie. Whatever flaws it has may not be O’Bannon’s fault. His original cut, entitled “The Ancestor,” was re-edited by the studio. In some areas, the movie was given the intriguing but nonsensical new title of “Shatterbrain.” Perhaps some of the narrative issues are the result of these differing edits. While O’Bannon’s death makes an official release of his director’s cut unlikely, “The Resurrected” is still pretty good in its present form. Thanks to a shiny recent Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory, the film is being rediscovered and further reevaluated as one of the better Lovecraft adaptations. [7/10]

Frayed (2007)

There's probably about a thousand killer clown movies out there. It's a cheap and easy gimmick to give your horror movie villain and one that will freak out a portion of your audience. A lot of these movies go direct-to-video and most of them, it's fair to say, are terrible. I doubt critical reevaluations of the “S.I.C.K./Mr. Jingles,” “Fear of Clowns,” or “Killjoys” series are forthcoming. So, during my tenure at Blockbuster Video, when “Frayed” crossed our video shelves, I dismissed it as more of the same. However, I would later read a highly positive review from the good folks at Kindertrauma. All these years later, I'm finally getting around to giving the film a watch.

At the birthday party of his eight year old sister, Sara, little Kurt Baker displays some anti-social behavior. First, he goes ballistic on the pinata. Then he ruins his sister's cake. Lastly, he brutally beats his mother to death with a baseball bat. Kurt is placed in a mental hospital and the years go by. His dad, the local sheriff, is haunted by Kurt's murder but attempts to move on. He remarries. Sara, now a young adult, has a best friend and a boyfriend. On the night she decides to stay out with this boy, Kurt escapes from the hospital. Wearing a clown mask, he begins to stalk and kill the family members who have tried to forget him.

When “Frayed” is discussed – which isn't often – usually the movie's opening scene is singled out. And rightfully so. That first sequence is brilliant. Through some shaky camcorder footage, we watch Kurt's bad behavior slowly escalate. When the murder comes, it's shockingly brutal. Using some clever CGI, we see the mother's face get battered, her forehead bruising, her mouth splitting open. “Frayed” never recaptures that moment. However, the movie occasionally features a few other clever gags. One has the killer's face slowly appear in a window, behind a woman's shoulders. Another scene has Kurt suddenly leaping out of a backseat, attacking the car's driver with a screwdriver.

However, these effective scenes only comprise a small part of “Frayed.” The movie, which runs nearly two hours long, is primarily devoted to seemingly endless build-up. We see Kurt escape from the mental hospital. We see the dead bodies of his few victims. We get to know all about Sara and her friends' life. I understand, and even somewhat applaud, what the director was trying to do. In theory, a horror movie is more effectively if we care about the characters. In practice, the effect is somewhat tedious. By the time Sara and her buddy begin to argue, in the middle of a tense situation, I was really getting tired of things. “Frayed” is far too long and not nearly as interesting as the filmmaker seems to think.

For all its flaws, “Frayed” at least functions as a decent slasher in the last act. The movie is clearly indebted to “Halloween” and directly pays homage to it. However, any momentum “Frayed” has collapses at the end. The script displays a twist ending. Killer clown Kurt and a helpful supporting character, we learn, are actually the same person. One twist is not enough for this movie. We then learn that Kurt didn't kill his mother, that she was actually murdered by someone else. In an almost offensive moment, this suddenly appearing killer also sexually molested Kurt. Yet even this isn't the last twist. There's yet another one, revealing that the entire movie isn't what it appears to be. No, “Frayed” doesn't stop there either. A post-credit scene hints at the true identity of Kurt's molester, that he might strike again. Give me a break. I was fed up after the first asinine twist. By the fourth, “Frayed' had used up any good will it had left.

I'm sorry to say that Kindertrauma was wrong about this one. “Frayed” does have a corker of an opening scene. The movie fails to live up to that moment. In fact, it repeatedly tramples on everything effective about its beginning. Throw in some annoying cinematic tricks – like some spasm-inducing peeks into the killer's mad mind – and I really struggle to recommend this one. There's not much killer clown action either, as the greasepaint just provide the murderer with a mask, not a gimmick. Perhaps the directors should have just made a short film instead? [5/10]

Masters of Horror: Pelts

By the time “Masters of Horror” rolled around, Dario Argento had gone from being one of the genre’s greatest voices to the man behind embarrassing flubs like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Dracula 3D.” Unsurprisingly, his two episodes for the series would be divisive and widely disliked. “Pelts” concerns Feldman, an egregiously sleazy fur trader. When not rending animal skin or browbeating his employees, he harasses Shanna, a local stripper. That’s where Feldman is when he gets a tip from an old trapper. The trapper has captured some impressive raccoon pelts. Feldman uses them to make a gorgeous fur coat. However, the pelts are connected to the sacred grounds of an Indian tribe. The vengeful spirits of the dead animals enact their revenge, making sure everyone who interacts with the furs dies a hideous death.

Argento’s first “Masters of Horror” episode, “Jenifer,” was mostly concerned with graphic violence and explicit sex. He doesn’t break this trend with “Pelts.” Despite only being an hour long, “Pelts” squeezes in six elaborate death scenes. Some of the cringers involve a severe baseball bat beating, a man falling face first into a steel trap, a self-disemboweling, and a woman sewing her nostrils and lips shut. In the last act, a man skins himself with a large knife, stalking a victim in only his exposed muscle. An early scene shows the aftermath of a raccoon chewing its paw off to escape a trap. This is mirrored in the final scene, where a woman’s arm is torn off in an elevator door. Argento dismisses with any suspense by beginning the episode with the main characters, dead and bloody, and backtracking from there. He’s not interested in the people, only their gory executions.

This isn’t the only type of flesh Dario is eager to put on display. “Pelts” is somehow sleazier than “Jenifer,” a story about an evil teenage girl seducing men. Feldman isn’t merely romantically obsessed with Shanna. He’s enamored with her ass, desiring anal sex with her. A private dance practically turns into a rape scene. Upon presenting her with the finished fur coat, he gets his wish, in a very graphic moment. Ellen Ewusie – who is, it must be said, totally fucking stacked – spends nearly the entire episode naked. Argento even throws in a lesbian sex scene, which is equally graphic and totally gratuitous. The blatantly sexual tone pairs oddly with the deeply misanthropic atmosphere.

Super sleazy sex and ridiculously graphic gore, however, can be appealing. “Pelts’” content is so extreme that I think it’s supposed to be partially comedic. The performances hold this out. Meat Loaf – yes, that Meat Loaf – is a sweating, lumbering, madman as Feldman. It’s a performance that leaves good taste behind in a very entertaining fashion. John Saxon is similarly over-the-top as the fur trapper, a toothless old redneck and drunkard. Holding it all together is a surprisingly elegant score from Claudio Simonetti. I’m not really sure if “Pelts” is a good hour of horror but it is, in the most base, lizard brain sort of way, an entertaining one. I guess that’s the most we can hope for from Dario Argento these days. [7/10]

Perversions of Science: Planely Possible

The punniful title of “Perversions of Science” doesn’t refer to airplanes, as I assumed, but dimensional planes. Walter Thurman’s wife is murdered by a home invader. He has never recovered from the trauma and is preoccupied with questions of “What if?” That’s when he has a chance meeting with Dr. Rotwang. The doctor is a former NASA engineer who not only believes in alternate dimensions. He also has invented a machine capable of transporting someone to them. Walter immediately signs up to be the test subject. Walter travels to other versions of this world where his wife is alive. Yet this is not the only difference. Walter finds himself arriving in multiple, horrifying, alternate Earths.

With four left to go, “Perversions of Science” finally delivers another half-way decent episode. The shifting narrative is centered around George Newbern’s Walter, who gives a likably nervous performance. The dimension leaping premise presents opportunities for all sorts of wacky situations. In one, Walter’s wife stretches into a mutated spider monster. In another, World War III has happened. In yet another, his wife is a murderer. This is the sort of wacky, quasi-comedic but creatively gruesome premise that “Tales from the Crypt” succeeded with. Russell Mulcahy contributes moody direction, making good use of shadows and camera angles. Vincent Schiavelli is amusingly hammy as Dr. Rotwang, a well-intentioned but still somewhat unstable scientist. Dr. Joyce Brothers, of all people, also has a cameo. Yes, Chrome’s host segments are still devoted to deeply juvenile sexual double entendres. But this is still probably the best episode of “Perversions of Science,” thus far. [7/10]

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

"The Resurrected" is now in my watch list. The PoS "Planely Possible" looks interesting.