Saturday, October 28, 2017
Halloween 2017: October 27
Do you know some people still argue that Hitchcock never directed a horror movie? Okay, my sister's husband once tried to convince me that Hitchcock never directed a horror movie because he's a pretentious ass. I think most people agree that “Psycho” and “The Birds” are obviously horror movies. “Frenzy” also meets the definition of a horror movie, in my opinion. It dives into the mind of a serial killer, focusing to a great degree on the methods of his murder. The director's penultimate movie, some go so far as to consider it his last masterpiece. Whether “Frenzy” is that good or not is a matter of opinion but the film is still certainly well regarded among Hitchcock fans.
A serial killer is prowling the streets of London again. The dead bodies of young women are washing up near Convent Garden. Each of the women were raped before being strangled to death with neckties. The police have no leads. Until the ex-wife of Richard Blaney winds up as the latest victim. Inspector Oxford believes the temperamental and volatile Blaney is their man. However, this isn't the case. The innocuous seeming Bob Rusk is actually the killer. As Richard hides out from the cops, Rusk attempts to cover his latest crimes and reel in a compulsion he has no control over.
If this choice is out of a sick sense of humor, “Frenzy” has other comedic elements. The detective pursuing the killer, Inspector Oxford, has a buffoonish wife. She is certainly undergoing a ridiculous gourmet cooking course, making him meals like boiled pig's feet, quail and grapes, and some stew involving squid and eels. He, meanwhile, craves steak and potatoes and a British breakfast. These comedic moments border expertly executed moments of tension. The most famous of which is Bob sneaking into the potato truck carrying his latest victim, to remove his distinctive broach from a corpse's rigor mortis-ed fingers. The scene clatters on as nervously as possible, making the audience wonder if he'll get away with this one. These moments of farce and thrills somehow balance each other out.
Due to its graphic content, “Frenzy” has been accused of being sexist, then and now. Since more details about Alfred Hitchcock's treatment of women have come forward, one can't help but read into parts of the movie. Especially a bit where Bob talks about how some woman are “asking for it.” This stuff aside, “Frenzy” remains a highly effective moral mind-screw. It's a first rate thriller and a highly effective dark comedy, brilliantly directed and well acted. [8/10]
Demon Seed (1977)
Once again, I find myself asking the question: What of Dean Koontz? Is he just a second-rate Stephen King or does he actually have merits of his own? Since last asking that question, I have actually read a Koontz novel. One of his earliest novels, “Demon Seed,” was adapted into a film in 1977. In 1997, Koontz would completely re-write the book. The setting would be updated, the story would be softened a bit, and the entire novel would be re-told from the perspective of the insane supercomputer. This is the version I read this past summer. It was an alright book. After reading the novel, I became interested in revisiting the adaptation, which I first saw many years ago.
In Dr. Alex Harris' lab, a highly advanced super computer named Proteus IV waits. Harris has recently separated from his wife, Susan. She is left alone in their home, which is entirely outfitted with cameras, voice-controlled services, and even a robotic butler. Proteus' great mind feels trapped inside the laboratory and finds a way into Susan's home. The artificial intelligence traps Susan inside her own home. The machine demands a way to experience the sensation of the flesh. It creates a plot to impregnate Susan with his off-spring, birthing his consciousness into a human body. Susan must survive Proteus' terrifying tactics if she hopes to escapes.
As an eccentric fusion of science fiction and horror, “Demon Seed” veers between disturbing, pretentious, and ridiculous. Proteus IV's voice, provided by an uncredited Robert Vaughn, reverberates through the house, intoning mysterious and strange commands. Proteus' main tool is a small robot named Joshua. It's essentially a robotic arm attached to an electric wheelchair. Though a simple device, the robot is a surprisingly creepy sight, especially when its manhandling Julia. The scenes where she's strapped down and prodded by the machine are fittingly unnerving. However, a sequence involving a laser is utterly laughable, especially when its defeated with a vanity mirror.
What really makes “Demon Seed” worth seeing is Julie Christie. From the early scenes, Christie is believable as both a victim and a more strong-willed person. She decides to leave her husband back in a really laid-back way. This seems to foreshadow her eventual imprisonment by Proteus. This would seem to set-up a character arc of Susan learning to fight for herself. It seems to be going that way, as Susan resists Proteus for a long time. The script sinks this in the last act, when she willingly accepts the computer's impregnation. Despite that, Christie's performance remains captivating. She is convincingly terrified throughout the story, yet still finds time to give the character an inner life and a more complicated personality.
The uncontrollable fever our culture displayed for vampires over the last decade or so finally seems to have cooled. Even the zombie fad has more-or-less died down, though “The Walking Dead” continues to go on. It would seem ghosts are the favored monsters of the moment. Anyway, the soaring popularity of vampires allowed all sorts of project to get made, as long as they involved bloodsuckers. “Vamps” would reunite Amy Heckerling with her “Clueless” star, Alicia Silverstone, who was hardly a bankable star in 2012. Upon release, the movie received predominately negative reviews and did poorly at the box office. However, a few people have suggested that the film is worth a second look.
Goody was turned into a vampire in 1841 by a sire, which are called “stems” in this film, named Ciccerus. Goody is currently rooming with another vampire, Stacy, who became one of the undead in the late eighties. The two refuse to kill humans, only drinking the blood of animals. They live a relatively happy life in New York's vampire underground. Yet Goody has regrets, especially when she runs into a former lover of her's. Stacy, meanwhile, meets a cute guy at her night school... Who ends up being the son of the Van Helsings. Soon, both vamps have to ask each other questions about what their undead lives mean.
Heckerling's film is also about aging. The film sees the director of classic teen flicks like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Clueless” encountering modern youth culture. Goody lies about her age, pretending to be from around the same time as Stacy, instead of a hundred years older. She professes bafflement at modern phenomenons like texting, the internet, social media, and abbreviations. At the same time, she nostalgic for other facets of her youth. Like when she comments on the various guises one building has taken over the years. Or how she re-develops feelings for the ex she encountered during her days as a hippy. The ending ultimately forces both women to come to terms with their ages in different ways. It's a natural progression in a career famous for making movies about youth.
There's a lot of aspects of “Vamps” that are left up in the air. A subplot about Richard Lewis' wife dying of cancer is abruptly wrapped up and never spoken of again. A plotline about the government auditing vampires, trying to force them into the daylight, is seriously underwriten. The emotional ending only works thanks to the strengths of the cast, not the writing. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if “Vamps” was originally planned as a TV show. That would explain some of the underwritten elements. Still, the movie is a lot better than its reviews implies. It's a very campy and goofy, but ultimately still charming, little flick. [7/10]
I Love Sarah Jane (2008)
Once again, I relied on Google's algorithms to provide me with decent horror movie shorts. Once again, I am disappointed. “I Love Sarah Jane” comes from Spencer Susser, right before his mildly acclaimed feature debut “Hesher.” It's set sometimes after a zombie apocalypse has overtaken Australia. A boy named Jimbo rides his bike through the ruined towns. He comes to a friend house, where a zombie is chained up outside. Inside, lives a girl named Sarah Jane. He has a crush on the girl but it's difficult to make a meaningful connection when the world is in the middle of ending.
“I Love Sarah Jane” is what I think you'd get if Harmony Korine directed a zombie movie. The focus on young kids, and the post-apocalyptic setting, reminds me a lot of “Gummo” already. There's a white trash aesthetic to the short, as every one seems sweaty and poorly kept. Most annoyingly, the dialogue is way too heavy on the profanity. I think someone says “fucking” every other line. I get that this is how unsupervised teenagers talk but it quickly grates. The film would be an early role for Mia Wasikowska, as the titular girl, but she can't do much with the thin character. The idea of juvenile delinquents trying to kill time during the zombie apocalypse, primarily by torturing a random ghoul, is a mildly interesting idea. However, that's the only thing “I Love Sarah Jane” has going for it. This premise simply isn't enough to support even a fifteen minute short. [5/10]