Monday, July 25, 2016

Short Film:The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow (USA, 2008)

Here's an arty short horror film that overflows with atmosphere. The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow was written by Rodrigo Gudiño, and directed by him and Vincent Marcone. Rodrigo Gudiño "is the publisher of Rue Morgue Magazine, senior coordinator of the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear National Horror Expo, producer of the Rue Morgue Podcast and co-programmer of Rue Morgue's CineMacabre Movie Nights". His first feature film, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (trailer), was released in 2012. 
The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow has won a number of awards since its release, and it's easy to see why: beautifully made, mysterious, and visually alluring, it is a slow burner that tells its tale in an uncommon fashion. The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow is a horror film, without doubt, but it is less a traditional narrative than a visual impression that evolves the closer you look, proffering chilling tidbits and clues that offer the semblance of storyline but no hint of a conclusion. It features a certain level of dream logic and visuals, and like many an unpleasant dream (or full-fledged nightmare), it leaves as many questions unanswered as it makes revelations. Enjoy.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Evil Dead (USA, 1981)

Actually, when we popped this baby in our DVD player last night we did so with some trepidation. Would this movie still hold up? Is it really as great as we remembered it? Way back when we saw it the first time, in Paris a year or so after it was released, The Evil Dead was a total blast of fresh air. After all the generically faceless and disappointing dead-teenager movies that flooded the market in the wake of Halloween (1978 / trailer) and Friday the 13th (1980 / trailer), The Evil Dead was (despite its generic basic plot) truly something different, and it remained such for years to come. But still, we hadn't seen the movie in over a decade — would we still like it? Well, our fears proved unfounded: now as then, The Evil Dead still rocks! It's the Dazed and Confused of horror movies, still heavy after all these years.
The plot in itself in no way promises anything exceptional; after all, the basic setup of a group of young adults in an isolated wreck of a cabin dying one by one was already so old by 1981 that it was almost a joke to use it. But perhaps that is why Rami decided to do so: the film, as gory and ennerving as it is, is also very much a satire, and as such the antiquated generic plot is entirely appropriate. That aside, Rami does a damned good job at proving that even the deadest of plotlines can be given new, exciting life in the hands of the right person. Indeed, he ended up making such an effective horror movie that the satire is easily overlooked — something he corrected in his later overtly comic remake of his own film, The Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987 / trailer), and its follow-up, The Army of Darkness (1992 / trailer).
Rami really doesn't waste much time in getting the viewer's blood pumping: the crosscutting between the iconic 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 on the road and the p.o.v. traveling shot along the forest floor leading up to the near accident, set to Joseph LoDuca simple but nerve-wracking music, might not end in much of a money shot but it is still one of many small but effective tension-building situations that make the viewer nervous long before the demons start possessing people. That the college students keep going even when confronted by the rotted-out bridge reveals the five to be less than bright — see: Hell No: The Sensible Horror Film trailer — but it is the fact that they don't simply turn around when they finally reach the desolate house that reveals one basic truth to the viewer: they gonna die!
That the movie is and looks lower than low budget cannot be argued — love the mashed corn and potatoes used in the final demon-melt scene — but it no way hurts the movie's effectiveness. Indeed, the ragged edges give the movie a rawness that the later remake, for example, totally lacks. OK, the acting is truly a bit questionable at times, but the speed at which the shit hits the fan again and again and again gives you no chance to get critical about such flaws. The infamous tree rape scene is as disconcerting as everyone remembers it to be, and truly moves the film from the realm of horror into the transgressive. One might argue that it is ill-advised or unnecessary, that it is misogynistic, but on the other hand it is also one of the most effectively disturbing and truly horrific scenes ever filmed and, unlike all the contemporary "tentacle horror" coming from Asia, doesn't seem 100% fetishistic. Dumb that it happened to Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss of Satan's Playground [2006 / trailer]), but had Ash (the legendary Bruce Campbell, young and rather good-looking) or Scott (Richard DeManincor, of the forever unjustly under-appreciated Crimewave [1985 / trailer]) been idiotic enough to wander out into the forest — "Hello? Is someone there?" — there is no doubt that someone's ass would've suffered, and not just from hemorrhoids. Indeed, who knows what Scotty later experienced out in the forest prior to returning to the house to die and convert.
The Evil Dead is well-nigh perfectly constructed, even if an occasional scene or motivation leaves you scratching your head. (Why, for example, doesn't Cheryl get more upset about her possessed hand? And why does she even go outside and wander into the forest? And if the evil dead are released by the tape being played, who or what almost causes the car to crash, makes the swing slam against the house, or possesses Cheryl's hand? Why does the force take so long to finally break into the house and posses Shelley [Theresa Tilly of Stomping Ground [2014 / trailer]?) Nevertheless, attention to detail is revealed in how some of the scenes early in the movie are often echoed or referred to again later: the first scene of Scott walking through the house, for example, introduces many of the props important to the narrative (mirror, wall clock, shed), while the extremely wooden romantic scene between Ash and Linda (Betsy Baker of Witches' Night [2007 / trailer] and 2084 [2009 / trailer]) is echoed later when he's burying her corpse.
Much is often made of Rami's moving camera and tracking shots, which often come across a bit like a Baroque Murnau having orgasmic spasms of "unchained camera technique"; indeed, many of the visuals and camera movements, were they in B&W, would fit perfectly in an Expressionistic silent — including the intercut canned scenes of stock lightning. One aspect of the movie that is continually under-appreciated, however, is the nerve-wracking use of sound and Joseph LoDuca cheap-sounding but extremely efficient music: seldom has an 80s synth soundtrack ever been as effective as LoDuca's tonalities and Gothic flourishes, many of which sound like Dr. Phibes on acid. Cheesy, but perfect.
We've mentioned before, in other reviews, that there are horror movies out there that all true fans of horror must watch at least once in their lifetime. Our personal list would include movies such as Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922 / trailer / full film) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925 / trailer / full film), though both are too old now to be very scary, plus James Whale's mid-century masterpieces Frankenstein (1931 / trailer) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935 / trailer) and Tod Browning's uniquely shocking Freaks (1932 / trailer). After Psycho (1960 / trailer), interestingly enough, many of our "must sees" are also low-budget directorial debuts: George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer / full film), Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 / trailer), Wes Craven's flawed Last House on the Left (1972 / trailer), Peter Jackson's hilarious Bad Taste (1987 / trailer), and this movie here, Sam Rami's first feature-length movie, The Evil Dead.
Of the last five films mentioned, Craven's is undoubtedly the weakest and Jackson's the funniest (and, oddly enough, the only one yet to be remade), but the most consummate are Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and this baby here. We have no doubt that one day The Evil Dead will also be deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and will join Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, The Bride of Frankenstein, Freaks, Frankenstein, and Phantom of the Opera and be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Till then, we can only say that if you haven't seen The Evil Dead yet, you should: it really is so much better than its 2013 remake (trailer) directed by Fede Alvarez (the director of our Short Film of the Month of December 2009, Ataque de pánico!). Fede Alvarez's updated version is in itself a perfectly acceptable and effective movie — but it's just not as rocking. (In that sense, Alvarez's Evil Dead is very much the first cousin of Tom Savini's version of Night of the Living Dead [1990 / trailer], which never achieves the power and presence of the original, but functions well enough as a competently made update.)
Posters and lobby cards all found on The Wrong Side of Art.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trailers of Promise: The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)

Aka Mysteries from the Beyond. Original title: Misterios de ultratumba. And no, The Black Pit of Dr. M is not an instalment of the campy and fun German Dr. Mabuse franchise. That franchise, if you exclude the first two Fritz Lang flicks, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922 / clip) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933 / German trailer),* didn't start until the third Fritz Lang flick, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960 / trailer). This flick here is one of the many B&W Mexican horror films from the Golden Age of Tequila Horror (the 50s to early 60s).
* Lang, assisted by the long forgotten French assistant director René Sti (13 April 1897—29 Oct 1951), filmed a French version of this film, entitled Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse (1933), at the same time as the German version but with a mostly different cast. We, however, don't really view that as a third, separate movie.
We stumbled upon the trailer to The Black Pit of Dr. M while putting together our blog entry Misc. Film Fun: Three Dance Scenes last September. Dance scene #3 comes from the Mexican film Cien muchachas (1957), which was written by Fernando Méndez (20 July 1908 — 17 Oct 1966). Méndez went on to direct a number of B&W Mexican horrors, most of which are unknown abroad (actually, we can't even say whether they are known within their country of origin). While we find all the trailers of Méndez' horror films intriguing, this trailer caught our eye the most. And indeed, the promise the trailer exudes could be merited: The Black Pit of Dr. M seems to enjoy strong approval by all those who have actually seen it. Indeed, on the Wikipedia page of the lead actress, Mapita Cortés, they claim: "Cortés became a sensation in the Mexican film industry during the 1950s, when she appeared in 1958's Misterios de ultratumba ("Mysteries of the Afterlife"). This movie became a contemporary Mexican classic." [Italics are ours.]
Original Trailer
(in Spanish):
If we are to believe the imdb, "The English dubbed version of this film is believed lost. Please check your attic."
The dearly departed blogspot International Walnut wrote the following about the available subtitled print of The Black Pit of Dr. M ten years ago: "By day, Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand) runs an insane asylum. By night, he lashes out at the veil between this life and the next, desperate to contact his former partner, Dr. Jacinto Aldama (Antonio Raxel), who was executed for a crime he did not commit. What follows is madness, tragedy, agonizing violence and the unrelenting horror of infinite damnation. The Black Pit of Dr. M is a masterpiece of Gothic filmmaking punctuated by shocking jolts and beautiful imagery that render it years ahead of its time. It is also a major accomplishment in chilling tone, unsettling atmosphere and wildly inventive storytelling."
Trailers from Hell version (in English),
with commentary by
Darren Bousman:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Circle of Eight (USA, 2009)

(Spoilers.) Hey! Remember that really miserable Tara Reid movie entitled Incubus (aka A Total Piece of Shit) from 2006? (It's really OK if you don't; we wish we didn't.) That movie's only true claim to fame, other than that it is truly a lousy flick, is that it is the first film production created specifically for the web and available as a direct-to-download movie by AOL. Three years later, by 2009, not only were on-line movies relatively common, but there were even web serials: films which, much like the cliffhangers of the Early Days of Hollywood, were made to be released in instalments ("webisodes"). This flick here was one such series, a Paramount Digital and Mountain Dew production for MySpace, and was subsequently released as a DVD. (There is a high level of Mountain Dew product placement in the movie, but we're not really sure being presented as a liquid that can be used to paint with is really the best way to gain new drinkers.)
We caught Circle of Eight late one night on TV while channel hopping. Had it not been for the intriguing music during the credit sequence (by Mark Mothersbaugh) we probably would've zapped further, but the music kept us watching till the flick began, and then the flick managed to catch our interest and kept us watching all the way to its confusing mess of an ending. We even stuck around for the second ending — yep, the film ends twice: in itself perhaps logical when considering the underlying premise of the story, but nevertheless oddly ineffective and anti-climactic. It also conveys the feeling that the filmmakers were too chickenshit to go with a downer ending. (Though we would also posit that the double ending is actually the production's way of using two of the possible endings that one could interactively vote for on-line. Wonder what the other possible endings were.)
Circle of Eight opens with a confusing montage of scenes that includes police entering a burning building, indefinite things transpiring underwater, and a female body plummeting from a high building into the camera. From there, it cuts to an interminably long scene of babealicious Jessica (Austin Highsmith of Room 33 [2009 / trailer]), full of happiness and life, singing loudly to the music as she drives in circles through downtown LA. A nice montage which, much like those of Lola running in Lola Rennt (1998 / trailer), intercuts areas that are miles apart as if they are next to each other. Finally, however, she parks her car, grabs her stuff, and enters The Dante, a labyrinthine apartment building managed by Ed (John Bishop of Silent Night, Deadly Night [1984 / trailer] and Seven Psychopaths [2012 / trailer]), whose work desk is in the service elevator because, well, it's a groovy place to have your work desk.
Although Jessica has seemingly never before been in The Dante, she has the lease to a huge, loft-like apartment there — a dream flat if you get down to it, but the other inhabitants of the building are all voluble nightmares that like to burst unannounced into her apartment or blather without pause to her in the dark hallways. Everyone in The Dante seems weird, the least weird one being the artist stud Evan (Ryan Doom of The Open Door [2008 / trailer], Red Velvet [2008 / trailer], Circle [2010 / trailer], The Roommate [2011 / trailer] and Most Likely to Die [2015 / trailer]), who would rather paint her with Mountain Dew or press the flesh with her. The place, as dark and shadowy and mysterious as it is, would probably be a cool place to live were it not for the dead bodies Jessica keeps finding and that also keep disappearing. And what is hidden in the storage room, a room she is expressly forbidden to enter? (It's even a contingency on her rental agreement.)
Oh, yeah: she happens to move in on New Year's Eve, and everyone in the building — all eight that we meet, excluding the model-like lesbians needed for the mandatory naked flesh scene that really does nothing for the narrative but does feature some nice if darkly shot tits — are obsessed about that night's party up on the building's roof.
Circle of Eight is a mental mind-fuck film that tends to confuse more than it does make sense, and all the scares end up being pretty wimpy, but for all that (and some occasionally very dodgy acting) the movie is nicely shot and lit and edited and oddly captivating. If movies had older, more-successful brothers, Circle of Eight's would probably be Jacob's Ladder (1990 / trailer), The Attic Expeditions (2001 / trailer), or maybe even Lost Highway (1997 / trailer). It is basically an off-kilter Twilight Zone-like script that meanders beyond clever and creepy or dread to become somewhat incoherent and, finally, almost annoying. Luckily, it remains interesting even when it devolves into the non-sensical, perhaps in part due to the quality of its direct-to-video cinematography and the overall atmosphere that TV director Stephen Cragg manages to create and sustain.
The key to the narrative lies in two philosophical ideas, neither of which truly jell in the movie. The clue, of course, is the name of the building: Dante, as in the name of the Italian dude who wrote The Divine Comedy. The concept of going through hell and purgatory to reach paradise is reflected in the narrative, as it the Buddhist concept of being reincarnated until achieving atonement for past mistakes. In Circle of Eight, it would seem Jessica's reincarnation always starts at the same point (with her driving across the LA river bopping to loud music) and has obviously been repeated in ad nauseum, much to the annoyance of everyone else involved — right down to passers-by and pedestrians. And while we do learn about what she must atone for, we never learn why the others are there, why they are cognizant and she isn't, why the artist love interest (we assume) joins her when she finally hits the jackpot, and why the rest are still around after the lovebirds achieve atonement. (There are many more unanswered questions than these in the movie, but to list them all would take too long.)
OK, the roots of Circle of Eight were an interactive series in which viewers could affect the storyline and access further information and behind-the-scenes stories of the various characters, so probably the webisode viewers had a bit more information at hand than found in the linear storyline of this movie. As written by Dave Brewman and Brian Horiuchi, the former of whom has disappeared and latter of whom went on to write and direct Parts Per Billion (2014 / trailer), Circle of Eight, despite its Circe-like appeal, plays out as if it were based on a script for cheap, low-budget horror movie farted out by David Lynch after a particularly bean-heavy Bob's Big Boy meal following a Twilight Zone all-nighter on the local TV station.
Circle of Eight is good for a gander, but far from being a good movie. Whether or not you like it will probably depend on how much you like well-shot incoherency. We sort of liked it, though it really could've done with less Mountain Dew and more blood, guts, and skin. Had it had more of the last three, the lack of coherency would perhaps not be so noticeable.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...