Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Halloween 2012: September 25

The Cat and the Canary (1927)
The opening of “The Cat and the Canary” is amazing. A layer of dust and cobwebs are wiped away to reveal the opening credits. The mansion is first seen as a tall, distorted silhouette, a series of shadowed spires emerging out of the darkness. The towers of the mansion fade away to a series of glass bottles. Mr. Cyrus West, the ill millionaire watched over by his greedy family, the metaphorical canary, appears in the bottles while cats leer hungrily at him. We cut to a POV shot of someone walking through the shadowy halls of manor, the huge white curtains billowing in the wind. As far as classic gothic horror imagery goes, this is a buffet.

This wasn’t the first ‘old dark house’ movie. D.W. Griffin’s “One Exciting Night” predates it and the genre existed on the stage first. If you’re looking for a compilation of clichés, this one provides. We’ve got greedy relatives gathering in a spooky mansion, awaiting the reading of a will. Some are trust-worthy, while others are duplicitous. The mansion has secret doorways, including one in a bookcase. There’s an escaped homicidal maniac. Someone tries to discredit the sole female benefactor with old fashion gas-lighting. A dead body falls out of a secret compartment. The villain even wears a fedora. This is clichés 101 and how you feel about that depends on how you feel about classic horror in general.

Another hallmark of the ‘old dark house’ genre is incorporating laughs with thrills. The leading man, Paul (Creighton Hale), hides under beds, gets vexed by giant bedsprings, runs around hallways, gets spooked by the creepy maid, and bounces around. It’s not hilarious. Another problem is the large cast. The main characters are developed to basic ideas while the supporting cast doesn’t even get that much. Laura La Plante as the main heroine does nothing but get threatened. She’s the dullest of the damsel in distress type. The movie ships these two cousins without question which is a little weird. Aunt Susan (Flora Finch) reminded me of Una O’Conner in “Bride of Frankenstein.” It’s as funny in ‘27 as it was in ‘35. The movie drags in its latter half. Since the supporting cast is so thinly devised, you can’t guess, nor care, who the killer is.

The film isn’t without merit. Beyond the amazing opening, there’s a cool shot of Paul hiding under bed, lights reflecting in his glasses. The shot of a hand appearing out of the wall, over La Plante’s sleeping face, is great. An appearance by a sinister doctor doesn’t add to the story but is a weird, off-putting moment. The Cat, the villain, is actually pretty cool looking. Where’s my action figure of him, Diamond Select? One of the fun things about the movie is how it plays with the silent movie titles. Words like ‘Ghosts!’ and “Help!’ are presented in wiggling or growing text, while a series of swears are presented by comic book exclamation.

“The Cat and the Canary” isn’t a great movie but it was, no doubt, influential. Universal made two sound remakes in 1930, one in English, one in Spanish, both of which are lost now. Paramount remade it as a farce starring Bob Hope in ’39, probably the most famous version. A British version was produced in the 1970s, somehow by a studio other then Hammer. This isn’t discussing all the films that took its clichés and ran with them. Despite all of this, the movie isn’t discussed too much today, probably due to the lack of an iconic presence like a Chaney or a Karloff. Some bits are brilliant, even if the overall film doesn’t really come together. [6/10]

The Living Dead Girl (1982)
“The Living Dead Girl” is generally considered one of Rollins’ more accessible efforts and the prime jumping-in place by no less an authority then Fangoria magazine. Initial reaction? I liked it, kind of. It’s not hard to see why the filmmaker has a cult following. He mixes copious female nudity, bright spurting blood, genuine artistic flare and enough campiness to make it interesting. The set-up is silly. Some random French crooks are burying toxic waste beneath a local castle. The barrel is knocked over through sheer incompetence and, for reasons never further elaborated upon, revives the astonishingly well-preserved corpse of a young girl. She goes about jabbing the guys’ eyes out and feasting upon their bodies.

Catherine, the titular Living Dead Girl, is the childhood BFF of the woman living in the castle, Helene. The two were so devoted to one another that they made a blood-pact to stay together forever. So when Helene sees Catherine revived, she’s overjoyed. And what’s a quasi-lesbian lover to do besides supply living flesh for her zombie girlfriend? The movie quickly devolves into set-pieces of Helene tricking woman (always woman) back to the castle, killing them, and feeding them to her personal living dead girl. There’s a subplot involving an American couple vacationing in the country side. The guy is forcing his girlfriend into photography against her wishes. He generally acts like a dick, doing everything to undermine her interests. After capturing Catherine on camera, the lady gets intrigued by the mystery. This story line ends up being unnecessary. Both characters are (hilariously) dispatched before the proper ending. The focus is definitely on the relationship between the two women which is framed as a tragic love story.

As exploitation sleaze, “The Living Dead Girl” provides. There’s three sets of breasts displayed and almost as much full-frontal. Every bit is easy on the eyes, especially Francoise Blanchard, whom Rollin can’t wait to get naked. You’ve got a naked young girl, with an almost perfect ass, covered with spurting blood. I can appreciate that.

The arty side shows through a number of times. A scene of blood rolling down the stairs, cut with an image of a bat fluttering, is lyrical. Blood dripping on a music box and Helene washing her girlfriend are also pretty images. Rollin’s visual flair goes hand-in-hand with his self-serious pretensions. Catherine starts out as a drooling retard. After teaching her one measly word, the Living Dead Girl is immediately verbose, frequently discussing how she’s evil and unnatural. This is a big jump. The fact that Blanchard is a better body then an actress doesn’t help. A scene of her moaning to the sky in agony, unnecessarily echoed, is hilarious. The extended finale of her feasting on a body, chomping on fingers like potato chips while weeping uncontrollably, is more likely to evoke laughter then the intended pathos. Marina Pierro is a better actress but can’t quite sell it either. The movie seems sincere and some of that transcends the shortcomings, but it’s never as strong as the writer wanted it to be.

“The Living Dead Girl” does drag in its latter half. A mixture of camp, gore, visual flashiness, and blatant T&A is something I should have loved. Yet the film is undermined by a number of limitations, some of them budgetary, some of them creative. [6/10]

High School of the Dead: “Spring of the Dead”
Warning: Anime ahead. Just letting readers know what level of nerdery we’re getting into.

“High School of the Dead” was sold to me as “Japanese schoolgirls with super short skirts and massive tits fighting zombies.” Come on, I’m not made of stone. Indeed, the show is built on fan-service. Within the first minutes of the first episode, I counted two panty shots and three pairs of giant bouncing boobies. It’s puerile, in your face, and I don’t share the Japanese’s obsession with ladies’ underwear. The show definitely focuses too much attention on the female’s bodies and, given they are undoubtedly sexualized even while being devoured by the dead, it comes off as skeezy. How annoying or amusing this is as the series progresses, we shall see.

We focus on a group of Japanese high school students, one stoic boy, his cooler-then-thou best friend, and the girl he’s harbored a crush on for years, caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The show dispenses with a few zombie movie clichés in the first episode, such as people not realizing how severe a bite is, the collapse of order, and dealing with a close friend’s death. Hopefully that attitude of “let’s get this out of the way” continues, instead of drawling things out “Walking Dead”-style. The focus, besides from the asses and tits, is on fast paced action. Lots of swirling, rushing shots of people swinging things at the undead. When zombies bite people, it’s followed by a giant fountain of blood. I also like that the zombies are classic, Romero shamblers and not ADD-addled runners. They even occasionally do something different, like twist their heads around Linda Blair-style.

Once you look pass all the juvenile oogling and carnage, there are two genuinely horrific moments. The first involves a panicked teacher yelling over the intercom while, unseen by the audience, he’s torn apart. The second shows two self-described BFFs rushing down a hallway when one is grabbed by zombie. The other girl quickly turns on her best friend, kicking her down the stairs into the zombie’s jaws. It’s a darkly funny moment. (Granted, one undermined by the obligatory panty shot. If this was a drinking game, I’d all ready be drunk.) The characters appear basic but not-annoying, even the girl who cries and almost gets eaten twice. (But, inexplicitly, is also a kung-fu master.) The English dub, which is what Netflix has and thus what I’m watching, isn’t bad. The tossed-in swearing and some of the delivery is melodramatic but the voices suit the characters and aren’t jarring or too horribly distracting. It’s dumb and pervy, but I’m amused thus far. We’ll see how it goes. [6.5/10]

1 comment:

Kernunrex said...

"Aunt Susan (Flora Finch) reminded me of Una O’Conner in “Bride of Frankenstein.”"

Exactly what I was thinking. She's Una's dour sister.

Regarding the romantic cousins subplot: this is why I love movies. No, no, not for incest. I love that, even if they tell pretend stories, they are little slices of history. From The Cat and the Canary, I can assume that a relationship between first cousins in 1927 wasn't a thing that particularly bothered people. One wonders what we have in our films today that people will find odd?