Cinematically Kubular

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

Tag: Mask of Satan

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.

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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: