“Are you a good boy?”
Welcome to Bad City, where people are stuck, desperate for some change they’re unwilling to make for themselves. The parties leave the young people wasted, the old people get lost in their own personal despairs, and the vampire girl rides around on her skateboard looking for fresh blood. Similar to the dark, surreal, industrial town of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Bad City is a place that’s a little sideways, a little crooked.
At the center of it all is the Girl, who passes in and out of everyone’s lives, acting either as a friend, a witness, or Death herself. Though not depicted as incredibly evil, the vampire Girl of the title is nonetheless a menacing figure, and acts simultaneously as Bad City’s monster and its avenger.
Arash, a young man who’s helping his junkie father and trying to appease the local drug dealer, befriends the Girl one night. There’s a moment when she considers biting him but it passes. They’re two lonely souls and maybe they’ve each found something in the other person. In addition to being a horror film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is also a romance… a dark comedy… a magical realism film… and an interesting arthouse directorial debut.
Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour has earned herself a new fan in me. Her film, which reminds one of Lynch and Jim Jarmusch, is so slick and stylish. One scene ranks among the most romantic and beautiful moments in all of modern film. She also shows a great understanding of how to use music in film, an underrated skill. And I like how the film plays with heavy dramatic stuff but makes sure to remind the audience that a pair of fangs are never far away.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a good one. You can watch it now on Netflix.
Tomorrow: Green Room.
In The Canal, Rupert Evans (Hellboy) is a film archivist who’s sorting through century-old police footage when he discovers crime scene film that was shot at his house. Soon he begins seeing things, hearing things. The world begins to unravel as his wife goes missing and a strange man appears around his house. Is there a ghost in his house or is he going crazy?
There’s a reoccurring concept in certain horror movies that interests me: images that, upon viewing, either plant a curse on the viewer or else drive the viewer insane. The Ring is a fine example of this, a film about a videotape that kills the viewer seven says after they watch it. John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness plays with the concept as well, with special interest in how the written word can drive someone mad. John Carpenter’s later Masters of Horror piece Cigarette Burns is another example. Sinister has a demon hiding in the images of film. And so on.
What interests me about it is what it says about us, the filmgoer: we are watching the horror film expecting shocks, disturbing sights, hauntings, madness, etc. Of course we never expect a movie to drive us mad or put a curse on us, but still, we’re signing up for a movie that we know means to disturb or frighten us. To some lesser extent, perhaps we’re hoping for an experience like the characters that discover haunted videotapes. A step removed from the actual horrors, we still nonetheless hope for a scare. I’m not sure what that says about horror fans but it’s got me thinking.
This line of thought also calls to mind Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 8mm and the underrated horror pic Vacancy, all of which involved murders put on film for the entertainment of sickos. The question of ‘Who would watch such filth?’ leads to, ‘And why am I watching this?’ Because, though fictional, it’s still a movie about murders.
The Canal inspires some thought but it also conjures some really good scares. This is a frightening, disturbing film. I’ve heard some complaints that it’s boring but I don’t agree. It has a deliberate pace, sure, but it worked for the film, playing like a slow walk through an insane asylum. Expertly crafted and featuring some imagery I won’t soon forget, The Canal is an underrated horror film that fans of the genre should give a look. Casual horror viewers should be warned, though: it’s a dark, dark movie.
Tomorrow: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. “The first Iranian Vampire Western.” How’s that for a tagline?
“Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!”
So, home video is trying to retitle this as Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. It isn’t the worst idea – the subtitle lets people know it’s not a remake – but it’s too late, ya’ll. We didn’t forgive Edge of Tomorrow for trying to retitle itself as Live Die Repeat on DVD and I don’t see people referring to the 2016 GB film as Answer the Call anytime soon.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are completely disconnected from pop culture this year, you might’ve heard that the new Ghosbusters is a ‘reboot’ with four women as the main cast. That’s fine by me! Apparently, it wasn’t okay with a lot of men who felt butt hurt about the whole deal. Trolls took to attacking the cast online. It wasn’t pretty. Was I the only one surprised to see so many angry Ghostbusters fans existed in the world? I mean, I like the original movie, too, but goddamn.
Listen: no movie is safe from getting remade, rebooted, prequeled, or sequeled. And if your main complaint about such a thing happening to your favorite movie is that women headline the cast then you’ve got issues, man.
Wait. See, something interesting just happened here. Like basically everyone else who talks about the 2016 Ghosbusters, I’ve gone for over 200 words and I’ve not even said whether the film was good, what it was about, who is in it, etc. Some movies – like The Interview with the Sony hack, the new Birth of a Nation with the director’s rape allegations, and basically any religious film, satire or otherwise – some movies inspire discussion about their legacy more than discussion about the film. We don’t talk about the world in the film, we talk about how the film fits into our world. And that’s cool… I guess? But it’s also too bad, especially for a movie like 2016’s Ghostbusters, which didn’t do anything to deserve people’s hate.
So, anyway. . . how about that new Ghosbusters film, eh?
Well, I liked it.
This is not a remake or a sequel. Dr. Venkman does not exist in this dojo. Four ladies with a firm belief in the supernatural (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon) use their scientific know-how to start a paranormal research business. But someone in NYC is enhancing paranormal activity, and soon it’s up to the Ghostbusters to save the day.
I should note that I watched the Extended Edition of the film. I’ve not seen the theatrical cut. The reason I watched the longer version is because so many others noted how the theatrical cut seemed to be too heavily edited. Anyway. I’m unaware if there are any changes in plot between the two versions, or any dramatic difference in quality.
The 2K16 Ghosbusters doesn’t rival the first film. Really, it doesn’t come close. But it stands maybe an inch above Ghosbusters 2, which I think lets scenes run too long, too lose.
Wiig and McCarthy may be the stars of the picture but it’s Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon that get the most laughs. McKinnon especially. She is one of the funniest actresses around and she plays her scientific geek so strange, so bizarre that it’s like you can’t take your eyes off her. We need more Kate McKinnon movies in the world, gang. Also, Chris Hemsworth (Thor!) provides some of the film’s best laughs as the Ghosbusters’ dopey secretary. Someone please give Hemsworth more comedic roles.
Is watching Ghosbusters, a comedy with ghosts but hardly a horror film, considered as cheating for 31 Days of Horror? Too bad. I don’t care. I needed a laugh. And though the film has its dead spots and flat jokes, I discovered that I was wearing a smile for most of the movie. I liked it. Not a new classic but a damn fine piece of entertainment. Chances of a sequel are looking unlikely after a lackluster box office performance, but I’m personally hoping we see more of the gang.
Tomorrow: The Canal. It’s on Netflix if you’d like to watch and join in on the discussion afterwards.
It’s long been my opinion that every great filmmaker should try their hand at horror at least once over the course of their career. Horror directors sometimes repeat some of the same themes, the same scares, the same monsters, and it takes an outsider to bring something fresh to the genre every once in a while. Examples: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, Richard Donner’s The Omen, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, and so on and so forth. Taking a break from his politically charged sagas that addressed some of Japan’s sins, director Masaki Kobayashi decided to adapt a collection of ghost stories for the anthology film Kwaidan, and in the process ended up making one of the most artistic and beautiful films of all time.
Adapted from stories written by Greek expat Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan is four different, totally unconnected ghost stories set in Japan’s past. Though none of them are scary in the typical sense, they’re all spooky stories about the spirit world coming into contact with the world of man. “Kwaidan” means “ghost story,” and not necessarily “horror story.” I think this might make it a difficult film to pin down for some Western viewers who may feel that it is not frightening or violent enough for the horror shelf.
The first story, The Black Hair, stars Rentaro Mikuni (The Burmese Harp) as a samurai who can no longer stand his fall into poverty, and abandons his loving wife (Michiyo Aratama) in favor of a life of status and wealth. Once he secures a life of nobility, the samurai finds himself thinking constantly of the wife he left behind. He is haunted by her. And when he finally works up the nerve to visit her, he finds things forever changed. The Black Hair has various similarities to a subplot in Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece Ugetsu, which was also a supernatural tale about the penalties for the ambitions of heartless men. The Black Hair is not my favorite of the Kwaidan anthology – the best are the two stories in the middle – but it does a good job of setting the tone about what to expect for the rest of the film.
The second story, and the most visually vibrant, is The Woman of the Snow. Tatsuya Nakadai (Ran) is a woodcutter caught in a blizzard. He and his master hole up in a hut for the night, where they are visited by a snow spirit played by Keiko Kishi (The Yakuza). The woman kills the woodcutter’s master with her cold breath, and is about to freeze the young man, too, when she begins to pity him. She makes him a deal: she will let him live as long as he never speaks a word of their encounter. The Woman of the Snow is the emotional heart of the movie (and interestingly the one section totally cut from the film for its showing at Cannes). Though the visuals are bitter cold, the story is sad and human.
The third and longest story, Hoichi the Earless, could’ve easily been a standalone release. Katsuo Nakamura (20th Century Boys) is the blind monk Hoichi, who lives at a temple that was built to appease the long-dead samurai who perished in a naval battle offshore. Being blind, Hoichi is unaware that the man who comes to visit him in the night is a samurai ghost, and that he’s been playing his biwa to an audience of the dead. When the temple’s priest (Takashi Shimura) learns of this, he does what he can to save Hoichi. This is my favorite of the four shorts in the anthology and is (coincidentally?) the most traditional in a cinematic sense. It’s a ghost story through-and-through, but one that’s told in a way completely unlike those you’ll see on American screens.
The final and shortest story is also the lightest. In a Cup of Tea is the story of a samurai who sees a ghost’s reflection in his cup of tea. The more he tries to understand, the more madness beckons to him. It’s a fine coda to the anthology, and also pays tribute to the storytellers who kept ghost stories alive all these years.
Kwaidan makes no attempt at realism. It’s ultra-cinematic, super artsy, with set walls painted as the sky within reach, and sets that never try to hide their artificiality. I thought it an interesting approach to making the film. The sets are beautiful, sometimes frightening, and go a long way to describe why I appreciate the movie so. Colors are vibrant, even in the chilly white Woman of the Snow section of the film, and the movie looks wonderful on the 2016 Criterion Blu-ray.
In addition to the amazing visual aspects of the film, Kwaidan features unorthodox sound design and an experimental score by Toru Takemitsu. Many scenes are almost muted, with no sound to the win, or bustle in the streets, or clash of swords. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there will be cracks of wood or ice. The effect is eerie and wholly original.
Kwaidan may not appeal to horror hounds who demand a fast-pace, gore, or bunches of scares, but as an arthouse anthology it’s tough to beat. Beautiful to look at and with lots to think about, I consider Kwaidan one of the best examples of classic Japanese cinema, and highly recommend it to those in the mood for something stylish and creepy. Though not belonging to Masaki Kobayashi’s typical genre, Kwaidan deserves to be mentioned in conversation with the director’s best, right alongside The Human Condition, Harakiri, and Samurai Rebellion.
(The new Criterion DVD & Blu-ray includes the director’s 183 minute director’s cut for the first time in the US. The previous Criterion DVD featured a cut of the film that ran 20 minutes shorter. Most of the changes are small and are unlikely to be noticed by those who’ve only seen the film once or twice, but considering the improved picture quality and the nice assortment of extras (Stephen Prince commentary is the highlight of the special features) it’s easy for me to recommend the upgrade for fans of the film.)
This review will also be posted whole or in part at www.CityOnFire.com
“You're a part of me now and I cannot let you go.”
I miss David Bowie and Tony Scott. Both men, incredible talents and warm gentlemen by almost all accounts, left this world too soon and we’re all worse off for the loss. 1983’s The Hunger is a special moment in each of their respective careers, as it was Scott’s feature directorial debut and one of Bowie’s earliest and best acting performances.
I’d seen The Hunger many years ago and I don’t think I fully understood the movie then. It’s a peculiar film, completely unlike most vampire tales, with an unusual pace and a somber tone. The Hunger is a horror film in so much that it has vampires, immortality, and more than a few slit throats, but it’s really much more of a romance, and a sad one at that.
Lovers for a hundred years or more, John (Bowie) and Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) are now facing the end of their union as John’s immortal spirit begins to fade and die. Though he looked approximately 30 years old for all his life, he is now aging years with every day. They both go to a scientist who has some peculiar theories on aging, Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), but the doc isn’t quick to believe them. When John becomes increasingly feeble, Miriam begins looking for her next companion, and apparently has her eyes set on Sarah.
It’s a film of two halves, I guess, with Bowie dominating the first half and Sarandon dominating the second, and Deneuve acting as the bridge that holds them together. I like the first half more – partly because of Bowie’s mysterious performance, partly because the themes feel more genuine – but the second half is not without merit. Getting there is a bit awkward, as it transitions from a fantasy romance between vampires to a lesbian romance with all the grace of a softcore erotic film. ‘Oops, I spilled something on my shirt, let me take it off.’ But that’s part of the appeal, I suppose, as The Hunger also fits into that popular sub-genre of the 80’s: the erotic thriller.
The aging makeup that they put on Bowie is fairly remarkable. Sometimes between shots he appears to have aged decades. Only at its most extreme does it ever appear rubbery, but that might simply be because I could no longer see Bowie under the latex. Indeed, even before his death at age 69, Bowie always appeared more youthful than he did in this film.
Huge credit must also be given to Tony Scott. The Hunger is about as cool and as sexy a directorial debut can get. Time and space are liquid, crashing into each other, flowing. An eerie, sensual mood dominates the picture. For much of the film, there are no scenes, just feelings and motivations running parallel to each other. The first 10 minutes are an insane flurry of images and emotions – a nightclub, swingers sex, vampire murder, and a lab monkey going homicidal – it’s such a bold way for a first time director to open his debut. It’s an amazing opening.
I didn’t get The Hunger before. But films change as we do, and now I find that I rather love the film. It’s one of Tony Scott’s best movies and the entire cast puts in great work. If, like me, you didn’t dig it before, I highly recommend you give it another look.
Tomorrow: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan.
“Step rrrrright up!”
I feel like I’ve seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before… or at least parts of it… but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I might’ve pretended I’d seen it before, like the dude in the book club who says that he’s read Moby Dick even though we all know he’s lying. But now I can officially cross it off my list. Caligari, I mean. I still haven’t read Moby Dick yet.
Whether it’s right or wrong, when I think of classic, silent-era horror movies, I instantly think of films made in Germany. I don’t know if the nation truly had a head start on horror cinema, but it certainly feels that way with classics like Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Vampyr, etc. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the strangest of the bunch, with wild, crooked production design that forces buildings, streets, and doorways to tilt at absurd angles. The human characters are appropriately dressed for period and do not appear disturbed by their environments, suggesting that to them this is all absolutely normal. For the viewer, it’s like watching people unknowingly traverse a nightmare.
The film is about mad doctor Caligari who sets up shop at a local fairground to display Cesare, a somnambulist he keeps in a coffin-like cabinet. Though Cesare has slept continually for 23 years, Caligari can raise the sleepwalker to tell fortunes to the crowd. The fortunes are threatening and evil, leading to mysterious deaths throughout town.
The film is a classic and yet it didn’t exactly blow me away. Some plot threads were left hanging and the ending, though ahead of its time, wasn’t exactly to my liking. But you can’t deny its place in film history. Dr. Caligari has influenced innumerable pieces of film, fiction, and likely other types of art as well. You can trace the inspiration to Tim Burton, Orson Welles, and Junji Ito with little difficulty (Caligari himself even closely resembles Danny DeVito’s Penguin from Burton’s Batman Returns).
It’s a good movie. Indeed, it’s a great movie, and I’m happy I finally got a chance to see the film from beginning to end. But I’d be lying if I said I’m in love with the film or that it’s a new favorite of mine. I found The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to be a film that’s easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy.
Tomorrow: Tony Scott’s The Hunger.
Streaming video is great! However, it’ll never be my favorite way to watch a movie because you usually have to rely on a catalog you do not control, the picture quality can sometimes suffer depending on the time you watch it, and internet is unpredictable with a tendency to go out when you’re in the middle of something. On Monday, I was watching Film 11 of my 31 Days of Horror on Netflix when the internet went kerplunk. So, I had to finish it Tuesday night, and now we get a twofer!
I have a thing against movies that spell their titles in a silly way or make up new words. (Screw you, Lucky Number Slevin.) So, when I added JeruZalem to my 31 Days of Horror, I did so with a groan and an eye roll.
This is a ‘found footage’ horror film from Israel that follows a couple of young American women on vacation to Jerusalem. They meet friends from various backgrounds, they get an idea of the many opposing views living in close quarters, and they party whenever they get a chance. Then the apocalypse happens. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?! The American girls and their new friends try to flee the city as apocalyptic monsters rise out of the ground to spread Hell’s wrath.
The best part is the opening. Played like a creepy ‘unsolved mystery’ tape, we watch a ‘leaked’ tape from the Vatican of the time when holy men of various faiths were called to Jerusalem to deal with a demonically possessed woman. Ultimately they must turn to the Holy Handgun of Antioch to finish the job. It’s a creepy, weird, and cool sequence that deals with faith and mythologies about Hell in a different way… then the film becomes just another found footage horror movie.
Now, I generally like found footage stuff. I’ve said before: what it lacks in cinematic grace, it can occasionally make up for with visceral thrills. But it must be done well, ya know? JeruZalem, for a film that deals with Hell unleashed on Earth, plays things so safe. So many moments seem to be lifted directly from Cloverfield and [REC], it’s unreal. There is some fun to be had – particularly in the lead up – but the film shows a distinct lack of imagination.
Dark Was the Night
So, Dark Was the Night… Well, yeah, it usually is. I mean, right? So, umm, nothing new to see here?
Yep. Pretty much.
This is a creature feature with a SyFy budget that tries to bring some respectability to the genre with a serious tone and a capable character actor in his prime. A logging company disturbs the sleep of an ancient predator in the woods, forcing the creature into the small town of Maiden Woods.
Dark Was the Night cannot be accused of being lazy; it really tries to be something. But it lacks a pulse and the film just kind of lies there for too long. Only at the end does the film discover any high stakes, and by then it’s too late. Kevin Durant (the best part of FX’s The Strain) gets the rare chance to carry a film and he does an admirable job with the overly familiar sheriff dealing with a fractured family.
It’s not a bad film overall, but it’s not one I’ll be quick to recommend.
Both of these films are currently streaming on Netflix.
Tomorrow’s movie: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
“. . . nature is indifferent to us.”
The Last Winter is a horror movie about global warming… and with that, I believe at least half the audience has checked out. And that’s too bad. To me, scientific fact should not be something that you must decide to agree/disagree with based on your political affiliation. Global warming is happening – it is not the creation of the Chinese in an attempt to make money. You can disagree about what awaits the future of the planet and what level of crisis we’ve found ourselves in today, but scientific fact is not a matter of opinion, mmkay? And, you know, if nothing else: think of the polar bears.
Back to the movie: The Last Winter is about an oil team exploring the options of bringing a new pipeline to the Arctic. The lead oil man (Ron Perlman) clashes with the scientist (James Le Gros) about whether the ice is too soft to proceed with operations. And while they argue about science and mankind’s requirement for oil, members of the team begin to lose their way. People walk off into the snow naked… others bleed to death in their sleep… and still others lose their mind and turn violent. Is there something supernatural at work or is a hazardous gas leaking from the melting ice? Whatever the cause, they must get out of there before it’s too late.
With cramped interiors and icy exteriors, The Last Winter cannot avoid comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’ve seen quite a few films that clearly took from The Thing (heck, I’ve written a book that owes quite a bit to the film), but The Last Winter’s similarities to the Carpenter classic are only skin-deep. It’s a horror film with a message on its mind, and it manages the story rather well.
The best scenes are played without dialogue, as creepy music and chilly visuals tell the story. Not everything works: I liked The Last Winter more as a vague mystery about humanity’s self-destruction and less as supernatural thriller. I also think that the film’s small budget fell short of its vision. But overall it’s a good film, a different film, and I’d recommend it to horror fans that are open to some scientific discussion.
Tomorrow: JeruZalem. With a Z. It’s on Netflix.
“You better watch what you say about my car.”
Yes, Christine is a movie about an evil car. And yes, I realize that sounds darn silly. But it’s a surprisingly dark and angry film. The car itself – which I think of as a succubus in automobile form – isn’t scary, really. It’s what the car does to its owner that’s rather disturbing. At the start of the picture, Arnie (Keith Gordon) is a submissive dork with only one friend in the world. Then he falls in love with the beat-up car Christine, fixes her up, and gains self-confidence in the process. But, in what feels like a parallel to drug abuse, what first gave Arnie strength ends up changing him and destroying his personal relationships. Arnie changes from the likable nerdy lead to the villain as the film progresses.
This was the first time I’d seen the film since reading Stephen King’s novel. Like the book, I think the film is a little long. It’s a good movie full of interesting character work and some cool vehicular mayhem, but it’s just never been a favorite of mine.
King seems to have a thing for evil cars. Christine, From a Buick 8, Maximum Overdrive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more that I’ve forgotten. Christine is the best of ‘em. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie based on From a Buick 8. If I remember right, that care ate people. So, that’s something the cinema desperately needs to see.
I love John Carpenter and I love Stephen King. I really wish Carpenter had adapted additional King novels to film. This is a pretty good one, though. It strangely feels more like a King film than a Carpenter one, if that makes any sense. Very faithful to the source material, I feel it keeps stuff in that most Carpenter films would’ve thrown out (Arnie’s family issues, for example). This is not meant as a knock against either the director or the author, simply an observation. At least the film’s score is unmistakably John Carpenter.
Tomorrow: The Last Winter
“I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake.”
I’d forgotten just how gross this movie is. And how sad. David Cronenberg’s The Fly is unlike many other horror films in that it’s not about scares, or a relentless pace, or creepy sights/sounds that we may not understand. The Fly doesn’t jump out of corners, it’s a fairly slow burn, and it keeps no secrets from its audience. The film is the tale of a scientist who creates a teleporter, steps into it, and accidentally travels with a fly in his teleportation pod, thus combining their DNA structures. It’s a film about disease, a slow and ugly disease for which there is no cure, as Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) becomes something more (and less) than human. And like a story about some other death sentence disease, Brundle’s fly-evolution has him going through stages, both physically and mentally. At first he’s gifted with great strength, then he becomes ugly and easily agitated, then he becomes horribly deformed and crippled, before finally becoming a powerful beast half-way between insect and man. He alternates from denial to acceptance, but (interestingly) rarely horror at what he is becoming. And all the while, his friend and lover Ronnie (Geena Davis) tries to comfort him and stay by his side. It’s not always easy and sometimes she must reason that it’s the disease talking, not her boyfriend. And by the end, she fears what their interactions might have done to her own body.
The makeup effects work is fantastic, turning Goldblum into a hideous monstrosity. If made today, CGI would undoubtedly be the effects method of choice, and I’m not sure that would improve any of what we got in the 30 year old film.
I also appreciate that the film has no extra fat on the edges. There are some fairly fascinating deleted scenes on the Blu-ray but it was wise to cut them as they didn’t add much. The Fly has three central characters, a couple minor rolls, and the rest are just extras. It’s streamlined, efficient horror storytelling.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a horror masterpiece. It’s also really gross. Like seriously, vomit drop gross. I don’t rewatch it often but whenever I do I am struck by the fact that it’s almost a perfect film.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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