Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 1

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
“Murders in the Rue Morgue” is perhaps the most atmospheric film in the Universal canon, which is really saying something. More then any other, it is deeply influenced by “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and other silent horrors. Paris, as portrayed in this film, is composed of dank homes squeeze into each other, with huge sloping roofs. Triangular buildings stab upwards the dreary clouds, dark shapes on the skyline. The entire city is obscured in giant walls of fog. The villain’s lair, with its single askew window and slithering staircase is the oddest set in the film. The titular morgue is shown with a huge square at the back, rows of corpses on each side, a sinister black cross hanging overhead. Not to mention the movie’s frequent use of shadows. On a purely visual level, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” makes perfect midnight viewing.

After Lugosi passed on “Frankenstein,” this film was devised as a vehicle for him. It’s easy to see why the verbose, speechifying Dr. Mirakle appealed to the actor. Even more sinister then Dracula, Dr. Mirakle is Lugosi at his cruelest, darkest level of villainy. The character is an archetypical mad scientist, obsessed with his bizarre studies, utterly immoral in his scientific pursuits. When the experiments fail, he shouts. He lightly chats with the murderous gorilla and has a dark-faced assistant. A mad evolutionist, Dr. Mirakle injects a prostitute with gorilla’s blood, dumping the dead bodies in the river through a trap door. Why the film only implies it, there’s definitely a suggestion of bestiality in the doctor’s work. Just a few years later, in the post-Production Code era, these topics would undoubtedly be off-limits. Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t take any particular stance on evolution. The film’s hero, Dupin, is a rational medical student, a believer in crime scene forensics, and intrigued by the mad doctor’s theories.

Dupin, despite his Kentucky accent, makes for a fairly convincing hero. He has a funny back-and-forth with his roommate, turning down dinner in order to study more. His girlfriend takes up a lot of screen time. Their romance is unremarkable but never annoying. She does work fantastically as a damsel in distress, when being threatened by a glaring Lugosi or kidnapped by the ape. Some of the film’s comic relief, such as the no-nonsense morgue attendant, has aged very well while other aspects, like the xenophobic apartment tenants arguing about their different countries of origin, has aged less well. The movie is incredibly well shot, with a POV shot of a moving swing being my favorite. While the gorilla suit isn’t horribly convincing, the film handles it well, only using the suit in long shots and cutting to an actual chimp’s face in close-up.

At only an hour long, the movie zips by. The chase across the rooftops of Paris makes for a fantastically suspenseful climax. The ape attacks are gruesomely tense, while the scene of Dr. Mirakle abducting the prostitute is still creepy. The simple, compact story makes the inevitable conclusion, the mad scientist’s creation rebelling against him, deeply satisfying. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a surprisingly grim gem from horror’s golden age. [8/10]

Rape of the Vampire (1968)
Jean Rollin’s premier feature is, unsurprisingly, highly abstract. It started out as a thirty-minute short before the director added an additional forty minutes. It starts out as straight-forward as he ever is. Four sisters live in an abandoned mansion and believe themselves to be vampires. One is blind, convinced a villager gouged her eyes with a pitchfork. The house is surrounded by crucifixes and the sisters sometimes take orders from a goofy-faced scarecrow who is also an old man? Someone bowls on a beach. A trio of college students appear and try to convince the sisters they are not, in fact, vampires. This goes badly for everyone. There’s roving rioters and a guy with a hunch and a messed-up face.

Part two: All the characters that aren’t dead yet are on a beach. Some of them will be dead soon. The vampire queen appears. She has a trio of minions, a bearded guy, a guy in a white suit, and a girl in go-go boots. All three are annoying. The girlfriend of one of the students is now a vampire and she’s very conflicted about this. The queen is secretly running a mental hospital. The guy who runs the hospital is looking for a cure for vampirism. The queen and her followers gather on a theatre stage to initiate the girl into the vampire lifestyle. There’s a giant paper bat. Chaos breaks out. The vampires revolt against their queen. She drinks the cure and dies. Two people wall themselves up in a basement forever. A guy walks down the street, holding a dead girl in his arms, bemoaning the lack of innocence in the world. The end?

Okay, it doesn’t make much sense. The main reason to stick around is the images. The gothic chateau is atmospheric. I like the idea of the blind girl who, after realizing she isn’t actually blind, looses her eyes anyway. There’s a wonderful sequence of the student trying to psychoanalyze the girl while the camera whirls around them. A scene of one of the vampires standing on top of the mansion, pleading with her invisible lord, sticks out.

The film looses a lot of momentum in the second half. A shot of two straight-jacket bound characters writhing, two giant gum-ball-machine-like receptacles full of blood standing next to them, is goofy. The vampire queen is odd. The film can’t decide if she’s meant to be the villain or not. Why she wants to cure vampirism is never explained.

“Rape of the Vampire” is claptrap, though occasionally interesting. Rollin’s images don’t burn as much in black-and-white as they do in color. His complete abandonment of narrative isn’t as freeing as it should be. Either way, he’s an amazingly consistent filmmaker when it comes to the content of his films. There’s lots of nudity, even a little sadomasochism. Vampires, beaches, old buildings, casual lesbianism, it’s all here. I wish I had enjoyed it more. [5/10]

High School of the Dead: “Streets of the Dead”
Episode five starts with new characters. Two snipers clear an airport runway of zombies. The female sniper is the first female character who wears a responsible outfit. The show compensates by having her fondle her boobs and have an entire conversation about said boobs. Jesus, Japan.

On the bus, Evil Teacher further establishes his villainy by openly hitting on female students, recruiting kids into a cult-like mindset, and demanding Nurse Boobs stays with them because he obviously plans on raping her later. (Close-up on his flicking tongue for emphasis!) Defying all expectations, the group declares him a douche bag and leaves. (This hilarious moment is sidelined by Fat Nerd launching into a tirade about how he was bullied and now there’s nothing stopping him from going on a rampage. Even when the show is good it’s stupid.) There’s a similarly dismissive attitude to the rest of the episode. The military has closed off the bridges connecting the islands. Thugs from a different high school marched up to the blockade, thinking they are badasses and promptly get blasted with fire hoses. I actually like that society hasn’t immediately broken down and there are still more living people then zombies. Nice touch.

Then the show officially gets completely retarded. Boring Hero Guy pops wheelies on a motorcycle while riding through flames, lunging zombies, and shotgun fire. He uses a tow-truck as a ramp, jumping the motorcycle into the air and landing safely on the bridge. He smashes into the dead, throwing them over the bridge instead of, you know, wrecking. Fat Nerd gets a gun and bullet time follows. Sword Girl does a flying spin off the bike, eliminating all the zombies in a move worthy of a Capcom fighting game. It’s very stupid.

And the show is better off for it? “High School of the Dead” has become an unintended parody of what people think anime is. Romantic subplots! Fat Nerd loves Smart Girl! She punches him! All the female characters, including Nurse Boobs, want to fuck Boring Hero Guy! Did I mention she has a fantasy sequence dressed as a maid? Twenty different panty shots! Boobs getting mashed into faces! I can feel myself getting dumber watching this and yet this was easily the most entertaining episode thus far. The only thing that ruins this is the post-credit promises of more zombie bashing being ruined by Boring Hero Guy’s self-serious monologue about how their innocence is now dead in all this senseless violence. Boo! Less angst, more stupidity! [7/10]

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