Cinematically Kubular

Ramblings about cinema and whatever else I'm thinking at the time!

Tag: horror cinema

Last House on the Left of the Bay of Blood

Growing up I was never a great fan of Horror cinema. With the exception of Scream (Wes Craven, 1996, US) and Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987, US) the Horror films I’d seen had come across as cheap and childish – even those that weren’t really that cheap. Even then, Scream is not a film I’ve ever really felt comfortable with categorising in my idea of the Horror genre and Evil Dead II, while conforming to my preconceptions of Horror, is a comedy.

On attending University all of this changed – I discovered the early Hammer films and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978, US). However, even with the beginnings of an interest in horror beginning to stir, I still wasn’t getting overly excited about the genre. I was much more interested in the melodramas of John Woo (to the extent I focused my dissertation upon them). If there is one thing I can thank Northumbria University for it was a course on the European Thriller during which Peter Hutchings screened Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975, Italy) and gave a seminar giving a brief introduction to Argento’s other films. Roll on a few years and the imagery and curiosity about those films had stuck with me.

2012 arrived and I found myself a fan of the ‘Italian Hitchock’ Dario Argento and delving deeper into the genre that I’d mostly ignored for the longest time. This lead me, naturally, to Bay of Blood (Mario Bava, 1971, Italy) which both shocked and bored me. It revived those early attitudes to Horror – it seemed to focus on the exploitation of violence and sex yet was nihilistic enough in it’s attitude (and particularly it’s conclusion) that I couldn’t bring myself to feel it had been a waste of time. There were aspects of Bay of Blood that clearly signalled a departure from the giallo films I’d fallen in love with but also a connection with the disappointing Halloween. Bay of Blood confused and excited me – confused because I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to think about it, excited me because I felt I’d found something new.

Today I reaffirmed that sensation and realised that there’s a whole side to Horror that I’m yet to explore and a psychology to it I may have to reassess. Today I watched The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972, US). For those readers that may not already know The Last House on the Left is about a teenager called Mari and her friend who are abducted and subsequently raped, leading to the murder of the rapists by Mari’s parents. The story outline, more or less, says it all; it is not only one of the grimmest and most troubling films I’ve seen but it’s also one of the most inspired.

The Last House on the Left and Bay of Blood share some common themes – there’s no clear sense of heroism or good and evil here. Only innocence and it’s corruption. It’s this corruption of innocence that sits at the heart of both films. In Bay of Blood it’s represented by a close-knit community which is threatened, along with nature, by a large commercial development. This commercial development sows the seed of corruption amongst the community and eventually leads to a series of gruesome murders. Innocence is then corrupted succinctly in its closing, and perhaps most disturbing, scene. The Last House on the Left corrupts the almost sickly innocence of Mari and the idyllic setting of Mari’s home through the acts of a group of criminals. Again, it’s the final scene of The Last House on the Left that questions the nature of these ‘idyllic’ characters. Here, the blood spattered parents of Mari are subjected to the shocked and accusatory gaze of the police.

Perhaps, the most troubling statement made by both films is that no one is perfect and even the most idyllic of paradises can be torn apart by the darker, more corrupt side of our own humanity.
There’s darkness in everyone.

Don’t Torture a Duckling

Don't Torture a Duckling

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a stressful few weeks… interview after interview. Finally found myself a breather where I wasn’t having to prepare too much though and got around to watching Don’t Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1972).

In short Don’t Torture a Duckling is a film about the liberal, experienced values of modern culture colliding with the naively superstitious values of rural Italy, with childhood innocence being caught in between. I don’t want to say too much more about it, in fear I may reveal too much. It’s both chilling and quite touching in it’s own way and concludes with one of the most tense fist fights that I’ve ever seen committed to film.

I recommend it to anyone interested in Italian cinema – especially someone who enjoys the films of Dario Argento (such as myself) or the giallo genre in general.

The Card Player

Cover of "The Card Player"

Cover of The Card Player

This’ll be quick.

The Card Player (Dario Argento, Italy, 2004) is widely reported to be an awful film. To be honest, it’s probably deserved. It’s a really strange (but actually very tense) picture with both interesting and predictable moments.

Having said that – the concept itself is genuinely quite interesting. The film discusses fate – or at least our approach to decision making when there are no certainties and chance is the real decider of any outcome. It’s this that generates the tension throughout the film – and the behaviour of the characters is genuinely quite at interesting at times.

If I’d ever seen a film that deserved a remake it would be this. Not because it’s good – but rather the opposite. It has some interesting moments and ideas but would be fascinated to see it further developed into something with a little more punch.

Having said all that, it’s a reasonable thriller – probably more interesting to watch than most made for TV offerings. Just don’t expect too much.

Halloween meets Vertigo in The Stendhal Syndrome

So, The Stendhal Syndrome (Argento, 1996) is, more or less, a film about art an

d rape. More or less. It’s also awesome. It’s the kind of film Argento’s best at – a dark, tense thriller with somewhat intense moments of horror to break up the drama and help propel the narrative. Again, the dubbing can be flat – and there’s a wonderful character who looks like Alec Guinness after putting a bit weight on who’s voice is unfortunately completely mi

scast – ie, not at all like Alec Guinness. Asia Argento had me more or less completely convinced she can actually act too, which is quite impressive after Trauma (1993).

Unfortunately, the end is poor. I can kinda understand why it’s the way it is. But it’s a huge disappointment. The film could have ended about 2 minutes earlier (roughly) and would have been (pretty much) perfect. With some clever voice acting. Oh

, wait…

Anyway, it’s a film that discusses rape and what I want to call gender politics (but is probably more like the politics of sex – are they the same thing?) quite well. It’s genuinely an interesting watch and a really good, solid and involving thriller.

Stendhal Screencap

Halloween to Sleepless

Well, kinda realised the thing about blogs is you actually have to write something and then post it. So here it is, this week’s update!

Over the last week I’ve actually been watching quite a few interesting pictures (each of them interesting enough to write a post about) but none of them had me motivated enough either, though some of them had me very close.

Interestingly the film that had me most motivated was that famous American film Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978). Not because I thought it was good, rather the opposite. It’s one of the most boring horror films I’ve ever watched. Which (some might say) is ironic, because it’s the only one I actually own a copy of.

Halloween actually starts off quite strongly, it’s creepy and generates a genuine sense of suspense as it leads up to the film’s first murder. It’s the first scene that I find the most interesting, not only because it spells out the film’s themes rather succinctly but also because it feels like Carpenter is making a genuine statement. Halloween‘s opening scene actually feels like it contains some genuine emotion… which is something I can’t really say about the rest of the film.

I wonder if Carpenter is making an artistic (and if he’s capable of it) statement too. Admittedly, I’ve been watching an awful lot of Argento lately but Halloween’s intro definitely feels to me like it’s referencing Argento stylistically. The way the point of view is shot combined with the way information is presented to us… the kitchen knife… Michael watching through the windows… the only thing that’s missing is an extreme closeup of Michael’s eye as he watches through the crack between some curtains (or something). Perhaps the release date supports that idea. After all, Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) was released only a year earlier. So Halloween came just at the end of Argento’s Giallo run. It definitely reads to me as if Carpenter was trying to put the Italian Giallos to rest in the opening, and signal to the audience that Halloween was something different, something new.

You could argue that the main section of the film is purposefully dull. Perhaps it’s trying to bore the audience enough so that the ghost train style ending is more shocking and (potentially) disturbing once it arrives. Personally I think that Carpenter didn’t really know how to play on the audience’s fears or sense of suspense. The idea of a mysterious stranger hiding behind bushes and stalking students might have seemed like enough without requiring any special attention. Personally, I feel the film misses a few tricks, and doesn’t do enough to be visually involving. Feel free to disagree.

Anyway, since Halloween I’ve also watched Mask of Satan (Mario Bava, 1960), Trauma (Dario Argento, 1993) and Sleepless (Dario Argento, 2001). Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday) is a beautiful and fantastic film. For those readers that haven’t heard of it, it’s an Italian Vampire film that draws its inspiration from titles such as Hammer’s Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958) starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (another film I adore). Mask of Satan not only uses the same gothic and fantastical eastern European setting as Dracula but turns up the fear factor – and gore – to make a wonderfully suspenseful and tense experience. For those of you out there who also find the way Horror films interact with the viewer and comment on voyeurism, it’s certainly one for the watch (or research) list.

Trauma was probably on a par with Halloween when it comes to pace and excitement. It started off promisingly but quickly sank into a relatively dull (and somewhat unimaginative) narrative about a troubled and anorexic teenager and her relationship with an older artist (and surrogate father figure). The film does bear the distinction of being the only film I’ve seen about a killer armed with a handheld decapitation machine (an ingenious Garrot on a motor) and picks up a lot toward the end. The last act of the film is genuinely interesting and reminiscent of Argento’s earlier work. I don’t want to be overly harsh on the film, it’s probably more entertaining than Halloween, probably.

The blurb called Sleepless “a return to form” for Argento, which I felt promised a lot. Fortunately I wasn’t too disappointed. The film is far better than Trauma and probably would be even better if it wasn’t for some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard since watching VHS Manga releases in high school. The first major set piece in the film is almost ruined by the awful dubbing of the female lead (at this point) but is rescued by the awesome bass grooves looped throughout the film (which make a welcome change to the rather cheesy score in Trauma). Also, after the film gets going it drastically improves. Max von Sydow gives a wonderful performance as the ex Chief of Police Moretti, who suffers from amnesia in his old age. Sleepless is a wonderfully entertaining thriller which is genuinely tense but unfortunately doesn’t manage to recall the kind of skillful music video style set pieces of Argento’s early work. Having said that, if approached with lower expectations than might be held by those of us who are fans of Profondo Rosso (Dario Argento, 1975) and Suspiria I think it would hold its own. Especially if some characters could be redubbed.

Anyway, I’ll leave this, mostly, aimless waffle for now and go find something interesting to watch (or listen to). Please, feel free to comment.

Here’s the trailer to Profondo Rosso, one of my favourite films:

What’s Gothic?

Just a quick one this evening.

Been reading Art of Darkness: The Cinema of Dario Argento (edited by Chris Gallant – FAB Press, Surrey, October 2001) and the second chapter In the Mouth of the Architect: Inferno, alchemy and the postmodern Gothic starting on p21. It starts out by quickly sumarising how problematic defining what is Gothic. Admittedly, this is something that I’ve found myself struggling with often, and the first couple of pages more or less followed my thought process exactly (but better read).

The highlight is when it references the venerable Peter Hutchings from “Sage, Victor/Lloyd Smith, Alan: Modern Gothic (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1996), p89″. That’s Gallant’s reference, fyi. I don’t always agree with Peter but on this he pretty much marks the spot.

Quote from Art of Darkness:

Peter Hutchings has observed that ‘horror’ is frequently identified as “a vulgarised, exploitative version of Gothic” and that ‘Gothic horror’ cinema is often perceived as a genre or sub-genre which draws on the iconography of medievalism and feudalism (Roger Corman’s Poe films, for instance, or the Argento/Soavi collaboration The Church). Hutchings extends his argument to the slasher films of the 70s and 80s, with their emphasis upon the consequences of a repressed, hidden or forgotten past (the hit-and-run accident in I Know What You Did Last Summer, to cite a recent example) and the transformation of the familiar, domestic environment into a dark, alien space concealing imagined terrors, vengeful assailants or the threat of unfamiliar sexuality.

Peeping Tom – A Quick Peek

So, in the previous post I recommended Peeping Tom, a British film directed by Michael Powell and released in 1960. I’m conscious that I didn’t really go any deeper than link to a trailer I found on YouTube. If, after having watched the trailer you’re still unsure/not convinced I feel I should explain the reasons for my recommendation (my good taste obviously not being reason enough).

There are probably two reasons I recommended Peeping Tom. The first of those reasons is that it’s fantastic. The second is it’s historical importance to the development of ‘horror’ cinema. To be honest, I’m surprised it didn’t find it’s way onto BFI’s Greatest Films poll this year. Though it’s reassuring to see Michael Powell appear in the top 250 multiple times. Anyone who has seen Scream 4 (2011) will have heard it referenced along with Suspiria (1977), and Psycho (1960).

Peeping Tom shocked audiences and critics alike on release and received serious negative criticism – some sources claim enough to damage Powell’s British career. Even David Cronenberg’s Videdrome (1983) doesn’t attack/identify the audience in as direct a way as Peeping Tom. Through editing, symbolism and point of view the film not only identifies the audience with the role of the murderer but then proceeds to make the act of voyeurism equal to rape.

In today’s culture TV programs such as Big Brother are popular viewing and Paparazzi make a living by stalking celebrities to sate our constant desire for more knowledge/gossip of their daily lives. It’s my opinion that Peeping Tom is not only wonderfully entertaining, it’s also just as (if not more) relevant now as it was when it was released. And for those with an interest, Peeping Tom helped form the future of the slasher genre and laid the groundwork for films such as Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso (1975) and OPERA (1987).

NB

Profondo Rosso and OPERA are usually released as Deep Red and Terror at the Opera in the UK, respectively.