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Movie Review Buffet

Posted by Shaun Hammel on December 6, 2010 at 10:34 PM Comments comments (2)

A few thoughts on some recent movies I've watched, and also a couple of old reviews as well....

 

(My rating system, *-- excrement, not worth even reviewing usually; **-- not especially good, has many flaws but perhaps worth a watch; ***-- a good film that works on most levels; ****-- truly admirable inspiring work, involves the viewer in something utterly unique and mesmerizing on multiple levels, a classic... fractions are also implemented to suggest in between grades).

 

MANIAC (1980)-- Tries to balance an almost impossible tight rope act between dark parody and serious horror film, but I think fails. Joe Spinell's acting-- while praised by some-- just really got on my nerves. A couple of fine moments of deadpan delivery were overshadowed completely by his incessant whining, crying, and godawful asthma issue throughout the movie. The mannequins and wigs scenes were creepy, but felt way too campy and ineffective surrounded by too many glib jokes and directorial winks. Compare this to Buffalo Bill's basement devoted to his secret passions in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, how the ambience of nazi symbolism and gender confusion, all the details of his subterranean existence, help to color the killer's brutal weirdness without being too ironic or cheesy, and you can see what is missing from truly affecting an audience with a killer's creep-factor and sense of otherness. Or maybe I just have a prejudice against whiney serial killers, I don't know.

 

A couple of fine send-ups to horror movie cliches (the sudden fog and night in the graveyard near the end of the movie being one example), Tom Savini's special effects and also some rather intense and crafty murder scenes, aren't enough to save this from falling 20 stories to its death. Yes, some 'cult' films are worth forgetting.  * 3/4 (maybe ** if I were in a better mood)

 

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976)-- Another movie that might have been less irritating to me if it weren't for the acting. However, this 70s Spanish horror film is light-years better and more unnerving than MANIAC. My slight problem begins with the Evelyn character, the pregnant woman. She is just written too stupidly. Her reactions come across as hollow and overly foolish. It isn't over the top bad acting, but I think there is a point in the revelation of the children's 'evil intent' that the whole premise of her psyche struggling over self-preservation and protecting an innocent child is rendered ridiculous. This may just be a misogynistic slant inherent in 70s era screenplay-machismo, I don't know. But it comes across as dated and is the film's only downside. Also the ending echoes the ending to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but this may have been accidental-- I haven't read the book the movie was based on. The one difference is the 'murderous children cancer' is not confined to the island, but spreads to mainland Spain, as the movie ends. A subtle, creeping, endnote.

 

What is great about this movie is its ever increasing sense of menace. It all builds in a very subtle and progressive manner, and as the actors sweat on the hot and isolated Mediterranean island, so the audience 'sweats' too. The children are all the more macabre because they are by all appearances just normal children, except for that one fatal change. The movie also forces you to confront a not so lovely side to human nature, the brutal mechanisms of self-preservation: I found myself just wanting the husband, Tom, to start mowing down 'the enemy'. He had the means. But time and time again, he seemed to have to fight some psychological barrier. I thought this aspect was unneeded. Self-preservation takes over. If you have a machine gun and are threatened by an unarmed crowd of murdering children, you don't worry about moral implications. You just  fucking mow 'em down, lol. ***

 

CROPSEY (2009)-- Been too long for a proper review, but I highly reccommend this one. It's a documentary about child dissappearances and murders on Staten Island, mostly during the 1980s. The film is usually billed as some sort of Staten Island version of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but this couldn't be further from the truth. 'Cropsey' is just a convienent term here; the film does not examine too deeply the mythological origins of the word. Nor is it a fake documentary. It's very real. The single scariest thing about this movie isn't the drooling homeless man railroaded into a guilty verdict, or the dark tunnel system connecting abandoned and folkloreish Mental Hospitals (the infamous Willowbrook Mental Institution in this case), or the scary filming in the woods-- but how easily apparently 'normal' citizens of Staten Island can condemn a man of multiple murder based purely on heresay, 20 year old witness accounts, and circumstantial evidence only. Andre Rand may very well have been the killer, it's just he was scapegoated first and convicted with zero forensic evidence, by a general public in the media and ultimately a jury in a court of Law, all too easily swayed by myth and image. So intellectually divorced from the judicially critical concept of 'reasonable doubt', the true horror isn't 'Cropsey' at all, but the hyperreactive reflections of your average Citizen Joe or Jill. *** 1/2

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A couple old reviews, and I'm done.

 

BLOW OUT (1981)-- Watched this again after many, many years, and I have to say, it may be De Palma's best. [wrote this before I watched SISTERS] Stylistically, it definitely owes something to Dario Argento and Hitchcock, plus the story hinges on an incredible coincidence-- Travolta's character being on that bridge making sound recordings at the exact time of the botched frame up of the Governor of Pennsylvannia, who is running for the Presidency. What was meant to be just a way to ruin his reputation, turns out to be an assassination.The gunman (Lithgow) only shoots out the tire of the car as a means for the crooked reporter (Franz) to get some film showing the politician with a phony prostitute (Allen). What starts as a small crime, distasteful certainly, but not utterly diabolical, grows into something much more, thanks to the inate pyschopathic tendencies of Lithgow's character. It all reminds me of the hijinks of Fargo, where one man's greed and foolishness escalates by uncontrollable forces into multiple murder. And the ending is perfect noir or giallo fair, with the B-slasher film soundman Jack Terry finally getting his 'perfect scream', caught on wiretap during Sally's murder near the end of the film. *** 1/2

 

THE WICKER MAN (1973)--  There is just something about this film. There is just something about Sergeant Howie. There's just something seriously weird and addicting about this movie.

 

The music is odd, light, and airy--yet mysterious. My favorite is: "Willow's Song". A lovely, slightly melancholy lilt to it. Made more so by Sergeant Howie's torturous few minutes fighting those deep-dark urges that momentarily consume him, bringing out a full sweat as he is drawn to the wall opposite Willow's room, where she sings her song and dances in the buff.

 

Without the consummate acting of Edward Woodward, this movie might not have worked, at least not as well. When he finally realizes he's been duped the whole time, and sees, and I mean, really fucking sees, The Wicker Man, in all its towering majesty-- he exclaims, "Oh Jesus Christ!". It is a really powerful moment. But he only gets that faceless tower of wood staring blankly down at him, and the uniform gaiety-- a hallmark of all that are blindly and wholly swayed by any religion-- seen on all the dancing faces of the townsfolk during their demented May Day celebration.

 

Best Hammer Film? Quite possibly. [wrote this over a year ago...there must of been some joke I was making here, because it's not a Hammer film, but only stars Christopher Lee] ****

 

BAJO LA SAL (2008 )-- A good Mexican psychological thriller? Is it possible? Help me out, does one exist?

 

Mexican thrillers usually have that Catholic moral undertone to them and this one's no different. But this movie, despite its sluggish plot and fairly predictable killer (although for reasons I didn't predict), turns out to be worth watching because, despite its flaws, it is a suprisingly moving story. The characters are just beautifully drawn and you sink into their tragic lives and something just clicked on a deeper level for me. This isnt Saw. It doesnt attack and entertain in a non-stop thrill ride like that one. In fact it fails as a thriller/horror in that sense, and miserably. This movie is melancholic and dark and weird, especially the 'Doll Sequences" and the little burgeoning love affair between the two young characters that is too quickly snuffed out.

 

Worth a look, if you can find it. ***

 

On Wednesday or Thursday I will try to have another blog post out-- but I don't have a particular subject lined up. Any suggestions or requests?