Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 5

Secret of the Blue Room (1933)
This is, what, the fourth film to start with the same rendition of Swan Lake? “Secret of the Blue Room” revolves around a mansion with a cursed room, were three unsolved murders have occurred. In order to impress the object of their mutual desire (Third time in a row Gloria Stuart has shown up), three suitors decide to each spend a night in the seemingly haunted room. Murder follows, mysteries are investigated, and red herrings abound.

If this movie was a book, we’d call it a great airport read. It’s generally unremarkable and didn’t offer anything particularly new, even in 1933. The film is a straight mystery with only marginal horror elements. There’s some light gothic trappings, such as a silhouette shot of the mansion right out of “The Cat and the Canary” and a great scene of Gloria being attacked by a fedora clad villain, who we naturally only see in shadow. The climax takes place in a spider web covered secret dungeon. The cast is good, truthfully. Lionel Atwill, as the girl’s father, plays up his natural creepiness. William Janney as the youngest suitor and Paul Lukas, with his strong accent, are both more interesting then your typical 30s Hollywood romantic leads. My favorite performance has to be Edward Arnold as the detective. His uncompromising interrogation techniques make the second half of the movie energetic and fun. Mary the cook provides some amusing comic relief, with her anxious insistence not to be incriminated in the case.

I was sort of surprised to find out the movie isn’t based on a stage play, with its small cast and limited locations. It’s not a particularly memorable film but it is a decent way to spend an hour, a good example of the sub-genre. Universal was weirdly fond of the story, remaking it twice, in ‘38 as "The Missing Guest" and in ‘44 as "Murder in the Blue Room," a musical/comedy. Funnily, each was in black and white meaning we just have to take the movie’s word on the titular room’s primary color. [6/10]

V/H/S (2012)
The most buzzed about horror indie of the year is extremely good. I don't know if we need more found-footage films after this. The movie is all about using the technology in versatile, clever ways. I love horror anthologies anyway. The format means the filmmakers have to cut all the fat and, if there's a weak segment, another is just around the corner. You get multiple movies for your dollar. Each of the six segments has a different approach to the genre.

Adam Wingard's wrap-around isn't bad. It makes good use of Hitchcock's "bomb under the table" theory. The characters are annoying but it builds to a satisfying ending. Good use of shadows and lighting. I haven't seen "A Horrible Way to Die" and am now interested.

The first short proper, "Amateur Night" revolves around a group of amateur pornographers. It’s a great starter. The characters aren't great and it should have been immediately obvious to the boys something wasn't right with the girl they picked up. (I suppose they weren’t thinking with their big heads.) Once this one gets going, it really goes. The suspense in the latter half is fantastic and it makes excellent use of the first-person perspective. I liked David Bruckner's last film, "The Signal," a lot so it’s good to see him up to stuff again.

Ti West’s segment is surprisingly the weakest. "Second Honeymoon" has got a twist that makes very little sense and ends abruptly afterwards. Even then, it does have one fantastic moment, even if that moment is just recycled from a famous urban legend. But you’re never sure were its going. The lead actress is good.

My favorite segment is Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday the 17th." It's an extremely clever variation on the slasher concept and uses the video format especially well. The killer isn't quite like anything else I've seen before. The gore is startling and vicious. It’s the tightest paced of the segments. That McQuaid made a film playing with the conventions of the genre probably shouldn't be surprising considering his last film was the extended Hammer homage, "I Sell the Dead."

The verbosely entitled fourth bit, "The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young" is my second favorite, easily the creepiest. The webcam format successfully disorients the audience. The characters are very likable and Helen Rogers gives the best performance in the film. The story keeps you guessing. You don't know if it's a ghost story or a psychological horror tale and winds up being neither.

The much hyped final segment, "10/31/98," is admittedly good. Special effects are managed very well, even if the repeated gravity tricks are overdone. It does take its time building up the scares and there are some effective, subtle moments in the early-going. I also love hands exploding out of walls, which there's lots of. I'm not familiar with Radio Silence's Youtube shorts, which is what got them the job here, so I'll have to check those out.

All the shorts avoid the pitfalls of the genre. Only once did I ever think "Put the friggin' camera down!" I'm very susceptible to shaky-cam and I wasn't bothered by this. It also would have been nice if they could have roped Larry Fessenden, the producer, into doing a short. All those scan lines made me nostalgic for VHS in general. Is it the best horror film of the year? It's a bit early to tell but as of now, I'd say so. It's certainly the scariest film of the year so far. [8/10]

High School of the Dead: 
“The Sword & The Dead”
Act nine starts with Boring Hero Guy and Sword Girl separated from the group, fighting the back-way into Smart Girl’s apparently rich parent’s mansion. The two steal an amphibious vehicle. Takashi swears awkwardly. We learn zombies can’t walk down slopes. In the middle of the action, “High School of the Dead” pauses for a wet t-shirt scene. Apparently a slinky, low-cut tank top is preferable to a wet but at least covering uniform.

They stop at an amusement park and the show launches into its latest ridiculous action sequence. Saeko drops quips before tossing zombies ten feet into the air. A sixteen year old girl destroying opponents like Jimmy Wang Yu is interrupted by the obligatory sequence of the same super-powered killer pausing at the sight of zombie kids. This sets up a glimpse into her personality. Apparently, as a younger girl, she was attacked. (The flashback makes it clear this was an attempted sexual assault. Because of course it was.) She nearly beat the guy to death. At least this provides precedence for her decimating zombie hordes with a fucking piece of wood. She talks about how violence excites her and how the outbreak has afforded her the opportunity to unleash the violent sadist inside. (Also: “Saeko” is pronounced “psycho,” hurr durr) This could have darkly subverted the wish fulfillment aspects of the zombie apocalypse scenario but Sword Girl instead cries about how no one could ever love her. Takashi screams reassurance and then they fuck. I mean, it’s off-screen and implied, but I know what a passionate kiss and a fade-to-black means. The show will continue to push the anime cliché of every female harboring romantic feelings for the unremarkably heroic protagonist, I’m sure.

The next morning, when faced with more zombies, Takashi grabs Saeko’s tits and tells her to unleash her murderous desires. The ridiculous carnage that follows gives her an orgasm. Because treating female characters as anything other then objects of cheap titillation for the predominately male viewers exceeds this stupid show’s stupid reach. [3/10]

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