Throughout movie history, a number of films have produced immediate, intense reactions in their audiences. Legend has it that "The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station" sent early cinema goers fleeing, for fear an actual train was about to plow through the wall. "L'Age d'Or" so offended some audience members in 1930, that they threw ink at the screen and rioted in the lobby. Naturally, many horror films over the years have supposedly produce anxiety attacks, vomiting, serious psychology effects, and even death in some viewers. This has led to a number of narratives about horror films that are literally cursed, movies that reap minds and destroy souls. Books like "Ancient Images" and "Flicker" touch on the topic, as do films like "Cigarette Burns" and "Fury of the Demon." Last year brought us "Antrum," which was especially committed to its gimmick. Not only is it a story about a cursed movie, it actually shows us the supposedly bewitched motion picture.
"Antrum" begins with a documentary segment, laying out the history of the eponymous film. A horror film from 1979, supposedly every festival director who rejected the movie died suddenly. Audiences who witnessed the film either went mad or burst into flame. After some build-up, we are presented with "Antrum" itself. The film depicts a little boy, Nathan, who is having nightmares about Hell after his dog is euthanized. In hopes of conquering this, his older sister Oralee takes him to a forest - where many people have committed suicide - to dig a hole into Hell, to rescue his canine friend's soul. She draws up a book full of occult symbols and performs made-up rituals. Even though it's all a lie, Nathan really does start to see demons. Soon, the brother and sister are lost in a hellish prison of their own making.
While the stylistic construction of "Antrum" is by far its most notable feature, the movie works for other reasons too. The filmmakers litter their movie with narrative symbols as well, references to Japan's suicide forest, demonology, Dante, and Greek mythology. Centering the story around the death of a dog is a bold touch, as this is usually a child's first experience with death. It's a loss of innocence, in a way, which the movie emphasizes when we find out why Nathan's dog was put down. This also creates a theme of child-like perception. Nathan and Oralee trudge up real demons and wander into Hell because the boy believes it to be so. Children at that age are still learning to differentiate reality from fiction, dreams from the real world, and "Antrum" taps into that. Moreover, the bound between the siblings creates an emotional in for the film. Oralee cares for her brother. That's why she's doing this. The audience learns to care too.
The commitment to verisimilitude certainly helps "Antrum" more effectively achieve its goals. About the only elements that stick out are the snuff-film style inserts - which we've seen done a hundred times before - and a pair of deranged backwoods hicks that wander in and out of the story a few times. While flawed, "Antrum" is definitely a spooky viewing experience, with plenty of sights and sounds designed to unsettle. Amito and Laicini clearly know how to creep you out and obviously have a bead on storytelling too. I'll be intrigued to see what they cook up next. By the way, since "Antrum" threatens to kill anyone who watches it, I guess I should clarify that I'm still alive as of this moment. If I don't update the blog tomorrow, just assume Astaroth came to claim me. [8/10]
After watching Jack Sholder's superior "Wishmaster" sequel the other day, I got a hanker to check out another, earlier effort of his. Sholder began his career with "Alone in the Dark," which wasn't much more than a standard slasher flick but somehow attracted several beloved character actors. It was also one of the first in-house productions at New Line Cinema, which is probably how Sholder got the "Nightmare on Elm Street 2" gig. While widely misunderstood at the time, "Elm Street 2" clearly marked Sholder as a rising talent. Next, he would move on to an even bigger horror/sci-fi/action mash-up from New Line. "The Hidden" opened in 1987 to pretty good box office and better reviews, eventually becoming a well-liked cult classic as the years went on.
A seemingly normal man suddenly goes on a murderous rampage through L.A., robbing banks, stealing cars, and murdering on a whim. Detective Thomas Beck is part of the team who subdues the man in a shoot-out. A mysterious FBI agent known as Agent Gallagher arrives, being paired with Beck and insisting on investigating this case. While the perp is seemingly dying in the hospital, an alien lifeform crawls out of his body and into the next available human, so he can continue his crime spree. Beck and Gallagher track the bizarre killer, Beck quickly learning that something unusual is going on here... And also discovering that his partner not only has a personal connection to the killer but also isn't from Earth either.
the classic cowboy cop type, who is even introduced by a groaning police chief. His actions are sometimes extreme but, damn it, he gets results. Gallagher is more by the book, with a stiff and occasionally awkward personality. Their personal lives also contrast in interesting ways. Beck has a devoted wife and adorable daughter, while Gallagher is lonely with, obviously, some big secrets. By the end, of course, both men learn to respect each other as they track the bad guy together. What elevates the material are two strong lead performances. Michael Nouri has a certain appealing gruffness as Beck, making a likable action hero. Kyle MacLachlan, a few years before playing another eccentric FBI agent, is appropriately alien. MacLachlan manages to find the humanity in a literal alien, bringing a surprising amount of emotion to the role.
If the cast is what makes "The Hidden" a little more interesting, the action sequence are what keeps the viewer watching. The film opens with a massive car chase, that incurs a lot of collateral damage and goes on for a surprisingly long time. The movie never quite tops that opening but features plenty of explosive action afterwards. A shoot-out atop a strip club is pretty cool while another fight in the police station climaxes with a random rocket launcher. Though he mostly handled low budget action flicks, Sholder does an excellent job with the action sequences. He keeps things intimate enough that you never loose sights of the people but knows when to focuses on the explosions or the spinning wheels. Sholder does throw in some tacky slow-mo but that scene involves a flamethrower, so I can excuse it.
a few predictable, but amusing, moments) and even a dog. The shoot-outs feature plenty of big squibs, with the last act really focusing on the killer systematically blowing away people What's especially novel about "The Hidden" is its alien invader has no grander ambitions. He has not come to our world to conquer it or steal our resources or anything like that. He's simply an intergalactic psychopath who thinks murder and destruction are fun.
The action theatrics and special effects are probably what accounted for "The Hidden's" box office take in 1987. The surprisingly sweet friendship at its center, and MacLachlan's growing cult following, is probably where its fan following emerged from. (The movie also has a pretty bitchin' alt-rock soundtrack, which surely didn't hurt any.) The film would eventually spawn a very mediocre direct-to-video sequel, which wrote around the original's ending in the most half-assed of ways. As for Sholder, he would next make a Lou Diamond Philips/Kiefer Sutherland buddy cop flick, which flopped pretty hard. Since then, he's largely done television. Which is a shame, cause I feel like his early pictures show that Sholder clearly had the chops for bigger, better things. As it is, "The Hidden" is a totally solid, highly entertaining genre fusion. [7/10]
Dead Air / Renovations
I’ve crossed paths with “Night Visions” before, a genre anthology that ran for one season on Fox in 2001, before and found it pretty lacking. However, the show has its defenders and I figured now is the time of year to give it a second shot. Henry Rollins introduces two stories each episode. “Dead Air” follows an obnoxious deejay who, on a dark and stormy night, is accepting spooky stories from callers. A frightened sorority girl calls him up and begins to relate the strange things happening to her. Soon, the deejay is experiencing similar events. In “Renovations,” a young married couple move into a fixer-upper. The guy is a recovering alcoholic and the ghosts that live in the home, the victims of a murder that occurred thirty years earlier, are soon influencing him to behave badly again.
"Dead Air" is the highest rated episode of "Night Visions" on IMDb and it's definitely the best episode of the show I've seen so far. Lou Diamond Philips is definitely smarmy and annoying as the deejay. Yet Philips is also a talented and appealing actor, making the guy entertaining to watch, if not likable. Director Jefery Levy makes the most of the radio station setting, especially in a sequence that focuses on Philips' face as his office chair rotates around. Or a mildly tense moment where Philips searches the building, while "I Think We're Alone Now" plays behind him. As with every episode of "Night Visions," the writing is extremely obvious. Both the deejay and the girl on the phone should've removed themselves from danger long before things got that serious. The story ends with a very silly special ability being revealed. Yet at least "Dead Air" is kind of spooky, for a few minutes here and there.
Since I’m watching so many “shocking” shorts this Halloween season, I figured I might as well dive into what might be, aside from “Aftermath” or “Blood of the Beasts,” horror-dom’s most notoriously grisly short film. Douglas Buck’s “Cutting Moments” concerns Sarah and Patrick, a married couple living in the suburbs. Recently, there has been an unnamed — but heavily implied — trauma revolving around their son, Joey. Husband and wife are no longer communicating. Emotionally numb, Sarah attempts to reach out to her husband sexually. When this doesn’t work, she tries another method of connection... A very bloody one.
Narratively, “Cutting Moments” doesn’t touch on anything that hasn’t been discussed before. The ennui of white suburban existence is well documented. Buck’s examination of upper-middle-class disaffection surely shares a common ancestor with the work of Todd Solondz or Alan Ball. Yet something must be said for Buck’s unnervingly still presentation. The first half of “Cutting Moments” is stifling. Sarah, Patrick, and Joey barely talk with each other. Every conversation is cut short. There’s an ever-present tension behind each awkward interaction the characters share. Buck’s sound design is sparse and the use of music is minimal. He lingers on the banal set dressing, like Joey’s Power Rangers dolls, a World’s Best Dad mug, or the mindless chatter of a baseball game. “Cutting Moments” does everything it can to draw us into its depiction of suburban hell.
And then... the violence begins. “Cutting Moments’” gore is not as explicit as I had been led to believe. Buck leaves some acts of self-mutilation off-screen. Which points to the gore not merely being an act of shock value. For Sarah, it’s about feeling something — anything — again. For Patrick, it’s an act of self-flagellation, punishment for his crimes as a father. In the bloody coupling, husband and wife reconnect. They look at each other with feelings of love, compassion, and lust once again. The music swells. It worked on this viewer. The gore effects — supervised by Tom Savini, who called the film the sickest he’d ever seen — make you cringe. Yet there’s catharsis in the self-destruction. Buck’s final images, contrasting happy family photos with crime scene post-mortems, makes his point of suburban destruction most astute. “Cutting Moments” is certainly effective. There’s art in its bloodshed, even if it is a bit self-conscious. It probably says a lot about me that I found the early scenes far more excruciating than the grisly climax. [7/10]