Friday, October 31, 2014

October 30th: Frankenhooker, dir. Frank Henenlotter, 1990. (Canada) 3.5/5 pumpkins

Nothing in this film makes a lick of sense and I wouldn't have it any other way. Why would our "hero" take body parts from numerous hookers to revive his dead fiance? Why would he design deadly crack that causes the smoker to explode if he needed an intact body to steal? If he only needed it for one hooker, why did he make so much of it? Why is nobody in his fiance's family upset by the eyeball-sporting brain he's playing with in the beginning of the film? Has he already killed before? Seeing as how this film is really an exploration of one man's intense mental illness (Street Trash scene-stealer James Lorinz does a casual, deadpan descent into madness hilariously), it would not surprise me. It's hard to craft a film where you are actively rooting against the protagonist every step of the way, but Henenlotter succeeds. It helps that he gives it a very Tales From the Crypt morality play-ish wicked ending. Nobody does seedy New York City better than Henenlotter either (well, maybe Larry Cohen in Q - The Winged Serpent) and this one is especially seedy and sleazy. Worth it for the wildly ecstatic reaction the hookers have to the giant bag of crack and the scene where the muscle-bound pimp is, um, dealt with.
October 29th: American Mary, dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2012. (Canada) 0/5 pumpkins

Congratulations, American Mary - you win worst of the month by far. This isn't a film so much as it is an infomercial for a subculture of which the Soska sisters are fond. The most inept characterization ever - at first I thought this film might just be very arch, but around the halfway point I had to concede that it's just that the Soskas have no idea how to write even broad caricatures. It's a complete narrative mess - it wants to be a revenge thriller but completely drops that thread, which it had been building towards for almost half of the runtime, in favor of a series of vignettes about the titular character's rise in the body modification world. But then it decides to return to the revenge well later for some reason, and throws in a rushed, forced climax that they haven't put in the requisite legwork for. This film is a feminist manifesto? Bullshit - it's every bit as exploitative and trashy (not that that's a bad thing in and of itself) as Last House on the Left. The sisters' direction is as blunt and unsubtle as they come, the acting is across-the-board atrocious, and the grand guignol gore setpieces pull their punches. The American film Excision - released the same year - mines very similar territory to much better effect. A complex protagonist, sharp direction, a full narrative arc filled with building tension, a wicked sense of humor, and an unflinching eye where it counts. I'd say American Mary might have a marginal purpose as background noise in a tattoo/piercing parlor, but any owner of such an establishment would probably be better off just showing this documentary: I've not seen it, yet I feel comfortable making that statement.
October 28th: Rabid, dir. David Cronenberg, 1977. (Canada) 4/5 pumpkins

I almost did a 31-day marathon without a single Cronenberg film. That would have been unconscionable for me. It's a very similar film to Shivers in subject matter and tone, in that it deals with infection (particularly of a sexual nature), but handled much more adeptly. It helps that he got much better at providing a tiny emotional core at the heart of this film, which makes the climax hit all the harder, even though it ostensibly has a happier ending (at least for humanity, if not Marilyn Chambers) than his first film. The psuedoscience is sharper, the acting is miles above Shivers (porn star Chambers acquits herself quite well, especially as she becomes more despondent and helpless as the film rolls to a conclusion), and Cronenberg's eye is more confident and experimental. It's not the masterpiece he would give us next (The Brood), but it's not far off, either. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 27th: Vampyr, dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932. (Germany/France) 5/5 pumpkins

Very, very bummed I didn’t get the chance to catch this at the local repertory theater this week due to conflicting schedules and the fact that it was only screened twice, while Cabin in the Woods gets about 6 screenings (I love Cabin unreservedly, but c’mon, it was just in theaters). I’m not enough of a film scholar to say anything insightful about this. It’s proto David Lynch – a fevered nightmare collage.
October 26th: House of Dark Shadows, dir. Dan Curtis, 1970. (United States) 2.5/5 pumpkins

Two of my friends are die-hard fans of the Dark Shadows TV series; they even own that limited, pricey box set of the entire run which is housed in a coffin box large enough for a small toddler and have been to a convention set at the gothic manse this series condensation was filmed at. I’m grateful I watched this with them, as I’d otherwise have no idea what was going on (and as it was, outside of the main vampire Barnabas Collins and his bumbling henchman, I still didn’t grasp all the characters). Cramming hundreds of episodes worth of plot and characters (the show ran well in excess of 1,000 episodes), this is a mess, albeit a well-intentioned mess. Some great unintentional comedy, nice setting, but turgid acting. It’s a soap opera, though – what more do you expect?
October 25th: The Hunger, dir. Tony Scott, 1983. (United Kingdom) 4/5 pumpkins

Why the hell did I wait so long to watch this? Staged Bauhaus concert to kick things off, David Bowie, lesbian vamps, absolutely dripping with atmosphere…this film is like catnip to me. It’s also nothing more than a long perfume commercial. Christian Die-or? Charnel No. 5? Dolce Gorebbana? That said, is there any other horror creature with looser rules than vampires? This one doesn’t even bother to explain away its transgressions; all that explanation would just get in the way of the billowing silk curtains and illicit trysts.
October 24th: Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetery), dir. Lucio Fulci, 1981. (Italy) 4/5 pumpkins

Wow. There are so many things to love about this movie. The creepy moppet, interminable bat attacks, the rapid-fire eye close-ups, incomprehensible plot with more dangling threads than the titular house sports dangling cobwebs, wonderfully atmospheric music, nutso gore, bleak-as-hell ending…yeah. It doesn’t make a lick of sense and I wouldn’t have it any other way.