It All Happens In The Dark

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Monthly Archives: January 2011

“My sister and I don’t trust houses of candy.”

BreadCrumbs (2009)

Hansel and Gretel by way of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Well, it probably could have been. You know, if it had been done right.

A group of people venture into the woods and find more than they bargained for. Yes, that one again. This time the group in question consists of a director, his wife, a cameraman, a makeup artist and a cast of “actors.” They’ve all come to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to shoot a porn. Marianne Hagan (virtually unrecognizable here and last seen by me in the abysmal Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) stars as a woman on the way out – an “actress” named Angie appearing in her final “role.” I will admit the major reason that I decided to watch this was because of Marianne. Her performance in the sixth Halloween was one of the few not awful things about that film. Another Halloween alumn, Kristina Klebe (Lynda in the Rob Zombie remake) almost slips under the radar – I didn’t realize it was her until the credits rolled. She appears in the short opening segment and barely has a line of dialogue. The director of BreadCrumbs, Mike Nichols (no, not the one who made Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) also plays a role in the film – the annoying asshole porn director. He is one of the most insufferable characters of recent memory and even surpasses in detestability the moronic jock from Altitude. The characters in this film are quite possibly the stupidest group of any movie, ever. They truly become dumber and dumber with each scene. The acting is all over the map but when the “Hansel and Gretel” killers descend upon them it all bottoms out and everyone ends up shrill and unconvincing.

I like the idea of taking a fairy tale and spinning it out into a horror movie – the majority of the original Grimm fairy tales were horrific parables. BreadCrumbs has more than a little in common with the (far superior) Buffy the Vampire Slayer season three episode entitled “Gingerbread.”

Like the recent Little Erin Merryweather, BreadCrumbs fails to deliver on the promise of its premise – it never captures the fairy tale element and while both films begin with a charming rough hewn style, both also quickly lose their way.

The effects and makeup work herein is especially weak – nothing ever looks or feels authentic. I know this was a low budget affair but BreadCrumbs goes beyond just that – it is lowbrow and ludicrous. Avoid. D


Vanishing Point

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

This movie really pissed me off. I mean REALLY.

We start off with John Leguizamo reading a book about mysterious dark matter and the lost colony of Roanoke so we know where it is all heading pretty quickly. Everyone vanishes one ordinary day (leaving their clothes behind, however) except for a select few who eventually find their way to a bar. They have to stay in the light because the darkness is evil and whispers and wants to devour them. Why? Well, this you will never find out.

It takes these fools how long to figure out that they should unplug stuff they don’t absolutely need to save power on the generator? Um, duh. There is a lot you have to overlook here if you don’t want to hate the characters, the filmmakers and eventually yourself.

It doesn’t matter how good a film like this is, it needs a strong ending it make it all work. Something that brings it all together, isn’t too ridiculous but at the same time is satisfying enough to reward the patience of the audience and their investment in the story. There is no payoff here. This is pretty much a Twilight Zone episode with no twist ending. Why don’t these folks who keep giving us this kind of subpar sci-fi just make a full length film from one of the many decent Twilight Zone scripts already in existence instead of trying to come up with a similar story on their own? It never works.

Brad Anderson once seemed such a promising director. Session 9 is one of the most frightening filmatic experiences I have ever endured. Here he is working with nothing, so really what can we expect?

The ending – if you can call it that – plays up being all hopeful and uplifting. Well, I think not. Are we being informed that the only hope for the world is for everyone on it – but for two preteens – to be wiped out? What about everyone else – all are beyond hope, beyond redemption? How inspiring is that? Rather nihilistic, I’d say.

Nothing will be brought to light (ha) here. The questions you have at the beginning of the film will be the same questions you have at the end. The script is so unoriginal it is shocking. The film takes a concept that has been done oh so many times before and adds absolutely nothing new. There are no attempts to personalize or expand upon the already way recycled “plot.” We’re expected to do all the work. Not worth it. There is no reason for this to exist. There is even less reason for you to watch it. D

The Hunger

Trouble Every Day (2001)

A film fashioned as a Venus Flytrap – it slowly and languorously draws us in, disarms us and then slams shut. The score by Tindersticks adds greatness to the whole affair and the film exudes a stately subdued elegance – even during the intense scenes of violence and bloodshed (there are two you will never forget). At the Cannes film festival where the movie screened out of competition there was some ballyhooing about the gore, complete with walkouts. The narrative is oblique and sparse but never meandering – it knows where it is going – why rush getting there? Trust me, you’ll be glad it didn’t. It all unfolds largely through imagery and sometimes barely even bothers with dialogue, cultivating a dreamlike quality that director Claire Denis enhances by shooting with various different types of film stock. The first explosion of violence threatens to tear the film in half – the second is sad and heartbreaking in its inevitability – these scenes are harsh and unflinching, but never any more graphic than something you’d see in say, a Saw sequel. They are so unsettling because of their marrying of sex and violence so completely and utterly – sex that cannot be distinguished or extracted from its entwinement with violence, desire so strong that it becomes a literal need and hunger for flesh.

Shane and June Brown (Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey) are an American couple on their honeymoon in Paris. Something is not right with their relationship. At one point Shane says to his new wife, “I like you.” Almost as if it is something he’s just become aware of himself or perhaps something he is saying to see if it sounds and feels true. But Shane has not just come to Paris to try his hand at newly wedded bliss – he is looking for someone. He seeks a doctor, named Leo (Alex Descas) who he once worked with on an experiment that delved into the human libido. But no one seems to know where Leo is. Where he is, is caring for his sick wife, Core (Beatrice Dalle). She has become an almost animalistic predator, sexually voracious and breaking out of the home she shares with Leo (where he locks her away like a princess in exile) to hang about on the highways and lure men away with her – and then devour them in a cannibalistic frenzy. The early scenes in which we are introduced to Core are oh so beautiful and subtly filmed – we see her before her an encounter – all smiling, eyes shining – and then we see the aftermath – Core huddled in a field, staring off silently, her face smeared with blood, branches and grass dripping with it. Beatrice Dalle is ferocious and absolutely frightening here and in once instance her mouth looks uncannily like the maw of one of the creatures from Alien.

Shane seeks Leo because he is suffering from the same sickness as Core. But Shane has gone the opposite route, attempting to not abandon himself to his desires and to avoid all possible temptations and physical contact. You can imagine how this might create some problems on a honeymoon. June knows nothing of Shane’s condition but is becoming more and more aware that he is keeping things from her.

I really don’t get the critical drumming Trouble Every Day took when it was released – it seemed that no one liked it. Over the years it has built up a small following and rightfully so. This is a gorgeous work, done with the usual eye for detail and lush compositions that Denis excels at. I am thankful for films like this. B+

Dive in.

The Lake (1998)

Yasmine Bleeth has a little bit of a Heather Langenkamp thing going on. I dig that. Here she plays a nurse named Jackie who lives in Los Angeles but travels back to her small hometown of San Vicente after receiving news that her father is dying. Jackie and her mother left drunk daddy behind twelve years ago and this is the first time she has been home since.

There are some strange things going on in the town. Everyone is in on it, doppelgangers running amuck, let’s feed people to the evil lake strange. You know the sort of lake I mean – there is one is every state. The vortex where two worlds meet, it would be.

Jackie also, of course, left behind a hunky boyfriend when she jumped ship so many years ago and now he’s all grown up and become a hunky doctor who has kept the home fires burning. The two join forces and try to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Robert Prosky and Marion Ross play the kindly next door neighbors. Haley Joel Osment is on hand as well and does his precocious cute chipmunk act. Oh, yes, and listens to Cake.

Jackie’s father undergoes a miraculous overnight recovery and becomes… nice. That is when Jackie knows for sure without a doubt something is majorly wrong. And not only is he now pleasant – he X-rays backwards! Jackie thinks the lab just screwed up and printed the X-rays in reverse, but I have a feeling it is something more sinister. Evil lake! Remember? Then the neighbors become total creepies. One day Marion Ross is all, Oh, Jackie my husband isn’t the same anymore, he seems changed… ever since he took that fishing trip to the lake at night and fell in the water! And the next day she’s – My husband? Oh, there’s nothing the matter with him. Let’s have some tea!

Do you by chance recall the South Park episode with the evil parallel universe in which everyone had a double and the double had the exact opposite personality of their real world counterpart? Same thing here.

There is a very good moment with Marion Ross – she comes across her duplicate in an upstairs room of her home, in a scene that seems a pretty obvious mimicry of a similar bit from the original The Stepford Wives. You know… when Katharine Ross opens that door which reveals… her robot replacement. Marion Ross is GRRRRREAT in this and she seems to be relishing the opportunity to bitch it up a little. I wish they’d done more with her.

“The town with the open door” proclaims the slogan of San Vicente and they ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.

Yasmine is superb even out of her swimsuit and this whole affair made me yearn for the cheesy made for television thrillers of yesteryear. It is all recycled and trivial fluff but it is well done and I’ve watched it several times since it initially premiered on NBC way back in 1998. Even the effects have held up – surprisingly so, thirteen years later. The cherry on top? The ending is a total and shameless ripoff of the studio mandated “happy” conclusion to the classic 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. B-

A Mystery Solved!

The fine folks over at Kindertrauma recently helped put to rest a movie riddle that had been plaguing me for years. I greatly appreciate their assistance and their Designing Women graphics. Check it out, yo!

Magical Mystery Tour

Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009)

I’m not sure how to describe this one. The plot is pretty straight forward but for some reason I’m having a hell of a hard time synopsising it. Here is what IMDB has to say:

“In this genre-defying grind-house throwback, a group of drug-addled, sexually deviant medical students are systematically terrorized by Wilma and John Hopper. The Hoppers, serial murderers and rapists, mysteriously return from the 1970s, and bring horrifying psychedelia with them. With comedy, subversion, satire and true gore, the students must face escalating attacks, shocking circumstances and visceral disgust.”

OK, so that doesn’t really tell us a lot. The movie takes place in present day and focuses on a group of medical students… who I didn’t find to be that sexual deviant-y, but what do I know? One night, hanging out in a basement file room at the hospital, they all take a mysterious drug that Justin (Noah Segan) has found a vial of – well, all except for Meg (Andrea Rueda) who doesn’t use illegal drugs. The possible side effects include an increase in sexual appetite, anxiety, hallucinations, coma and death. After they shoot up, Justin regales them with the story of John and Wilma Hopper (Ezra Buzzington and Elina Madison) who were patients at the hospital back in the 70s. These two I would call sexual deviants. They were totally bonkers and enjoyed raping their victims to death. When Ray (Jordan Lawson) later turns up dead – raped to death by someone possessing a fifteen inch member – it seems that the Hoppers may be back. Think Jacob’s Ladder with a little Session 9, Twin Peaks and Suspiria thrown in.

There are some truly frightening moments – and quite a bit of humor. Someone’s Knocking at the Door shares a kinship with Frank Henenlotter’s films and reminded me a lot of Bad Biology. The performances aren’t anything super spectacular but for the most part are believable, with Noah Segan (who looks like a cross between Michael Chabon and Stephen Malkmus) the real standout. The script is spotty and doesn’t spend a lot of time developing the personalities of the characters – they’re drawn in pretty broad strokes but as the film goes on and we spend more time with them, they really come into their own. This was done on a low budget but the production values are high and the photography is especially impressive – very crisp and professional. The sound design and musical cues are particularly notable – I loved the totally non-horror movie music that plays during the chase scenes. And I really appreciated the scene in which Meg is running down a hallway and continually falls as her attacker closes in. The reason she can’t stay on her feet? The floor has just been mopped. I give the film some major kudos for going a different route than most recent horror and not giving us just another torture porn – but actually attempting to fashion something unique and colorful that tweaks the formula. There are hints here of visionary filmmaking and I’m especially interested to see what the director, Chad Ferrin, will come up with in the future. There have been complaints about the ending, but it worked for me. Sure, it isn’t insanely original but it is pulled off nicely and I think a different attempt to explain the events would have felt false. It is all ridiculously sleazy – in the best possible way.

The opening credit montage gives this an almost after school special feel (albeit one on crack) and to some degree it kind of is. But you’d never see death by deep throat in any of those. B

It’s only the wind…

Poltergeist (1982)

I’ve never been a big Tobe Hooper fan. Which is rather shocking, actually, because I think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is probably the purest, most perfect example of horror ever put to film. But his work following that brilliant debut have always left me cold and disinterested – it seems almost as if the director was declawed. Poltergeist is an especially odd duck. At times it plays like a feel good family friendly horror film – it definitely feels like a Steven Spielberg film. Not that shocking, considering S.S. contributed to the screenplay and worked on the editing – and many have also argued that he actually directed the movie, the “A Tobe Hooper Film” title card of the opening credits notwithstanding.

I find I do like the family this centers on – the Freelings – pot smoking mother and father Diane and Steve (JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson, respectively) clownphobic young son, Robbie (Oliver Robbins) blond moppet Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) and teenage daughter, Dana (Dominique Dunne). For the most part they’re a wholesome Nuclear unit and there are strong performances all around that have a lived in, authentic feel. Even Carol Anne is allowed to be creepy and cute at the same time.

The Freelings reside in a model home tract in Suburban California and Steve works as a real estate agent for for the subdivision. Strange incidents begin to manifest themselves in their household – subtly at first and then with a much stronger force. The development of the ghostly activity is done well, especially in the beginning – later on the film makes some jarring leaps – as soon as Diane has discovered the oddity in the kitchen all hell breaks loose, with a tree trying to eat their son and a tornado touching down. It goes from thirteen to three-sixty in a very short amount of time and as disorienting as this is at first, I also think it was a wise decision. The transition is abrupt but serves the audience and the film well – we don’t have to wade through drawn out cliches and a slow build up until we reach the inevitable big bang finale. This makes the movie seem not only that it is doing something new with a familiar formula but also makes us feel that our intelligence isn’t being insulted and our patience isn’t being tested.

JoBeth Williams is remarkable. Zelda Rubinstein, too, is marvelous – she brings her A-game and knocks it out of the park. I also enjoyed Beatrice Straight as one of the parapsychology investigators who comes to the home after Carol Anne has vanished. That plot point directly references the Richard Matheson short story The Shores of Space which was later turned into the Twilight Zone episode, Little Girl Lost. There are a lot of beneficial small touches and humor woven throughout that helps it all to seem less lightweight than it really is. B