Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, October 5, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 4

Possession (1981)
A supremely strange film. It’s infamous for two reasons: For being one of the 72 Video Nasties and for being the movie where Isabelle Adjani fucks a squid. The film is rife with visual symbolism. This was written while the director was going through a bad divorce, which is obvious. Sam Neill comes home from an undefined espionage mission to find that his wife is acting extremely erratic and demanding a divorce. Their relationship deteriorates wildly. It’s not too long before what appears to be a drama pitched at a hysterical emotional level evolves into a horror film about madness and slimy monsters from another place.

Neill and Adjani spent the entire film screaming. Chairs are tossed, fridges are emptied on the floor, self-mutilation with electric carving knives ensues, people are beaten, lots of other self-destructive behavior follows. It’s a mess of emotional trauma. Neill, near minutes in, lies on a bed, wearing the same clothes for weeks, seizing, dazed. As the story goes on, he commits arson, theft, and murder. Adjani is in emotional turmoil throughout. In the second most famous scene, she stops in an alleyway, hysterical. She rolls around in filth, cries and wails. Finally, she coughs up milk, while blood and green slime flood out from under her dress, in an inexplicable miscarriage of… Something. Oh yeah, before that, she’s masturbates in a church.

The insanity extends to the rest of the cast. Adjani’s (human) lover is a weirdo named Heinrich, a New Age guru. He hits on everybody, even Neill. He talks in an odd accent and is constantly moving his arms around. He does drugs and knows jujitsu throws. He also lives with his dowdy, suicidal mother. Bob, the son, is always making siren noises. Adjani’s best friend, Margit, wears a cast and romantically hits on everyone too. There’s the world’s most incompetent private eye, who is extremely bad at following people. A character known only as the Man in Pink Socks might know something about what is going on.

The only normal person is Bob’s teacher, Helen… Who is also played by Adjani. Why? Anna babbles about how there’s a Sister of Chance and a Sister of Fate inside of her, warring for control. There’s a bizarre scene of her torturing a girl in a ballet class. There might be something about the Madonna/Whore dynamic, since Anna abandons motherhood in favor of a bizarre, sexual relationship. Neill falls for Helen and she immediately fills the mother role to Bob.

There might be some Lovecraft influence. Carlo Rambaldi’s monster is exactly the kind of creature HP wrote about. It’s greenish, transparent, blood and organs flexing inside. It develops tentacles and feeds off of people’s emotions. Eventually, glassy eyes form. You could throw adjectives around like proboscidian, semi-amorphous, or squamous to describe it. Moreover, SPOILER ALERT, the movie ends with this creature taking human form. As he floats in front of a glass door, visually illustrating forces pushing through one world to another, the lights fade and bombs are heard outside. It’s an apocalyptic image and suggests this madness has a world-wide effect. Assuming I’m not just applying my own meaning to an inscrutable mess.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much insanity in “Possession.” It pretty much defies critical analysis. The performances, as out-of-control and high-pitched as they are, are quite good. If nothing else, Neill and Adjani commit fully to the rigorous material. The movie is well-shot. Zulawski’s camera roams in creative ways. The electric score is softly unnerving. It’s certainly not a movie you’re likely to forget any time soon. You’ll probably think it’s either indecipherable pretentious bullshit or a very deep statement. I think I liked it, as much as it’s possible to like a film like this. [7/10]

The Invisible Man (1933)
Though “Frankenstein” and “The Old Dark House” are undeniable classics, “The Invisible Man” might be James Whale’s most polished films. The direction is smooth, carrying the film along with a slick pace. One of my favorite shots involves a dance party interrupted by an emergency announcement. The camera slowly closes in one the phonograph, fading away to other people listening to the same announcement, before cutting back to the phonograph. The special effects, though obviously aged, hold up fairly well. The wire work is top notch and the film goes out of its way to indicate the Invisible Man’s presence even when he isn’t visibly there. You see the seat on a chair sway under his weight. Considering the production had nothing but simple camera tricks to work with, it’s impressive what they managed to pull off.

I do wonder if, even at the time, audiences were frightened by this film. Whale’s campy sense of humor plays through the entire picture. I can’t imagine even 1930’s viewers being afraid of an empty shirt chasing people around a room, tossing around glasses of alcohol, dancing pairs of pants, cops swung around by their feet, some of these scenes punctuated by Una O’Conner’s cartoonish shrieks. The effect is comical and no doubt intentionally. As the film develops and the villain’s reign of terror continues, the film eventually develops a horrific tone. The sequence, a montage cut very quickly, where frightened people bolt their doors and nail boards over their windows, conveys a sense of panic properly. The movie would be almost solidly science fiction if it wasn’t for the murders and madness.

If nothing else, Claude Rains’ performance is singularly sinister. Carrying the entire film on the strength of his smoky, craggily voice, Rain is deeply menacing. The monologue he gives, in which he talks about “murdering important men, little men, just to show we make no distinction,” conveys the character’s psychosis while also showing his cunning and darkly funny humor. I also like the sequence where he disposes of Kemp. He makes it clear just how disgusts he is with the guy. I mean, the guy also has one of the best crazy laughs in all of cinema. It’s no surprise this film made Claude Rains a star.

The supporting cast is solid as well. Gloria Stuart’s love interest role is much smaller here then it was in “The Old Dark House.” She mostly cries over her lover’s madness. Still, the scene where she pleads with Griffin, trying to connect to him through his mad monologue about invisible armies, is rather sweet though and the actress’s one major scene. Despite his character being a victim, you can’t help but dislike William Harrigan as Kemp. The guy really is a weasel.

So I like “The Invisible Man.” Claude Rains is awesome, the special effects are still good, Whale’s direction is tip-top, and the script is witty and quick paced. While perhaps less effective then some of the other Universal Monster classics, the film still stands among those films. [7/10]

High School of the Dead: 
“The Dead Way Home”
After an intro showing zombies on Air Force One (That’s a movie I’d watch), our main cast head into a housing development with a new supply of weapons and clean clothes. Apparently Jeeps can traverse rivers. This episode gets some mileage out juxtaposing zombie violence with traditional Japanese cherry blossoms. And this is probably just the “Tenchi Muyo” fan in me but I also like the romantic shenanigans. Despite Rei and Boring Hero Guy obviously being a couple, the show ships him and Sword Girl hard. (Bonus points for the filk. No points for the jokes about women drivers or the panties blowing in the wind.)

The good mood dead-ends quite literally halfway through. The Jeep is immobilized in a genuinely thrilling moment and the teens have to fight off a huge crowd of encroaching zombies. Hero Guy discovers the joys of blasting zombies with a shotgun but makes the mistake of dropping his ammo. The show lathers almost as much attention on guns as its does on the girls’ bodies. Fat Nerd gives the cast and the audience instructions on how to operate guns. Saeko, that’s Sword Girl, continues to be a fucking superhero by downing dozens of undead with a wooden sword. The action is super-stylized. The show continues to outdo itself in terms of perverted stupidity. Here we have a slow-motion shot of a bullet passing under a girl’s legs and between her bounding breasts. I don’t know if I should be insulted or impressed. Generally speaking, episode eight doubles down on the jiggle.

I’m starting to really like Maggie Flecknoe’s performance as Saya. She’s brings authority to her dialogue, even when it’s yelling at zombies for ruining her new outfit. The episode’s bleak ending is resolved post-credits, which has a new group saving the day and clarifies existing characters’ relationships. “High School of the Dead” continues to work best when focusing on ridiculous action. [7/10]

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