November 25th, 2011

smokin'

Nervember Horror

Watched a few horror movies the other night post-Thanksgiving. Here's a blog post about 'em, written quickly and semi-coherently:

CARVED - THE SLIT-MOUTHED WOMAN (2007)

I'm a sucker for the Japanese folklore horror flick, and it's modern cousin, the urban legend spook flick. I love the Yokai demon stuff, and I'm fascinated by the modern stuff which is often obsessed with technology (cell phones, trains, videos, the net) or viral infestations and outbreaks and assorted medical scariness. We have that stuff here, too, but we don't actually still spread Cropsey-style urban legends with any seriousness, at least not that I know of. I know the tampered Bubble Yum (spider eggs!) and the dangers of Pop Rocks and Cola (Cronenberg Head Explosion!) were what spread in my day, but Cropsy and The Purple Man was strictly campfire hoo-ha to keep the campers from wandering at night and drowning in the poor excuse for a lake or getting lost in a cave and incurring pesky lawsuits. But apparently crazy ghost shit still spreads like Pokemon fever in Japan, there's severed ghots who try to chop you in half after a train rode through them in life, ghosts on the cell phone, ghosts on the web, some eerie shite there, mate.

The Slit-Mouthed Woman is, from what I've read, a modern scare story spread from kid to kid about a long-haired female ghost wearing a face mask (the kind worn in Japan to prevent or contain colds) which covers up a very nasty Glasgow smile. The ghost wields a big-ass pair of scissors and asks potential victims, "Am I pretty?". Depending on how they ask, they either get cut up or cut up worse or something like that. There are ways to confuse and escape the ghost, the most charming being to distract her with fruit or other food. If you ask "Am I pretty" she gets wigged-out and you have a chance to haul ass. But if you say she is pretty she removes the mask and asks you again and if I recall correctly no answer then let's you live. She takes you back to her lair and gets the snippers out and some bad shit happens. I think she originally was cut up by her husband, but they don't use a lot of the "facts" in this film, they play with it a bit. You can look the legend up for yourself to see what I may have fudged. I mean, this is for fun, please remember. I am not a critic, just critcal.

Anyway, this flick's based on the Slit-Mouthed thing and it's got some okay things going for it, a cool concept/legend, a good-looking ghost-thingie, a few decent creepy shots and an okay overall mood. Where it doesn't deliver is in some weak direction and acting and staging that detracts from the mood. There's a lot of kids in the film, and some of them aren't exactly acting up a Natalie Wood or Margaret O'Brien storm. A major aspect of the story involves child abuse and it's a strong, interesting angle but the actual scenes of violence are so...how do I put this...wussy? I mean, I didn't want to see horrible violence done upon the kids, but it was so poorly staged it looked like one of those wrestling matches where everyone blows the spots and doesn't touch one another. If the actors and filmmakers were squeamish about portraying this kind of violence, maybe they should have re-staged these sequences. Harm to a child will translate as terrible stuff without showing (pulled) punches and (feeble) kicks. These scenes weren't  necessary, and the various scenes of moms hitting and decking kids was almost Three Stooges laughable, I found these scenes very distracting and sloppy. They should've implied it all, as they did in an effective scene where the ghost murders a child while another child reacts in terror. It's all done in one shot, but you can't see what's happening as far as the violence goes, it's blocked by the other child's body, and it's scary and depressing to watch.

The adult actors are pretty stiff, I dunno if this was a directorial choice, but it was distancing and distracting and I don't think it worked to the film's advantage. Everyone walks around slightly stunned. The staging of some of the violent and more active scenes was often clunky, it felt like characters could've gotten out of danger, but held back for no reason or acted stupidly or slowly  (go figure in a horror movie). There isn't a lot of gore, if that's why you watch these things, just FYI, but there's some decent creeps and they harm kids which films usually try to avoid for obvious reasons and it has some okay stuff in it. It does have an irritating ending, at least I found it irritating --

SPOILERS ALERT AND ALL THE CRAP -- I really dislike when certain rules are laid out in a film and then are broken or ignored to have a surprise ending, or a film seems to end but an unearned "evil wins, let's have a sequel" capper pops up (John Carpenter's The Fog, the first Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). Anyway, I hate an unearned surprise ending, and I didn't think this one was earned. It was also pretty obvious they were going for it. Any movie that continues more than a minute or so after your antagonist buys the farm usually means said antagonist is gonnapop out and bullshit the final shot up. Or flick the dollhouse lights on, or, if you're on a budget, cackle madly as the end credits roll. END SPOILERS

Anyway, this was just okay overall. If you like the J-Horror it might seem mild and nothing special, but you might also be the J-horror type who wants to see everything and there's a lot worse than this. I think there's a sequel, but then again, what doesn't have a sequel these days? Don't tell me, I don't wanna know what's so, so cancerous in today's field no idiot will mount a sequel for it. Human Millipede...Human Centaur...Inhuman Centipede...

TRICK r' TREAT (2007)

An overdone, overly-slick twist on the horror anthology that tries too hard and clutters up it's running time with storytelling gimmickry and overly obvious homages to films like Trilogy of Terror and Creepshow (which aren't as good as their reputations, but that's another internet argument). On paper I should have loved this, and I wanted to like this --  it's very much influenced by 80's movies, I'm a fan of anthology horror films, and they didn't seem to use any overt CGI effects at all, instead going with classic mechanical and makeup effects. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, and the movie really seems to want to be loved. It certainly tries very, very hard to impress. Maybe that's why I found it so irritating at times.  

In a nutshell, it's Halloween in a small town having a big town Halloween-style party, and as kids go trick-or-treating and people have parties a bunch of pranksters, vandals, monsters, ghosts, a serial killer and the evil spirit of Samhain or Halloween or whatever the hell are waltzing around doing their business and sloppily wasting what appears to be a tenth of the town's residents over the course of the evening. There are no cops, detectives, concerned parents, cell phones or logic police, which is okay, I guess, it is stupidsville horror movie time, but at some point you think someone would notice the town's gone to hell in a few short hours in a pretty far-out manner.

I know, I worry too much about these things, I should lighten up. Sometimes I can, but sometimes I can't. Sometimes I like a movie to have some inner logic system and not push things too far past credulity, even in a goofy horror movie. There's Argento logic and Evil Dead logic and Phantasm dream-logic and inept movie logic where you just give up on things making sense, all bets are off, just go with it. Then there's the coherent but iffy film that bounces all over the place and makes you wonder why things are happening the way they're happening, what's supposed to happen an hour after the events of the film when half the town's dead (who cares, it's only a movie), why the spirit of whatever does whatever it is he does (oh, relax), what the rules are for that spirit (oh, shut up, tight-ass), how the heck did the prankster kids manage to pull off such a Hollywood professional-looking Halloween gag (c'mon, even you gotta admit that was a sack of bullshit), why would they do all that to pull a trick on a girl they barely seem to know and weren't even sure they could persuade to leave the house (dude, it's only a movie!), why is everyone doing such a shit job of covering their tracks when bumping people off (oh, forget it), why does the serial killer act scared of his kid finding him out when it doesn't matter (sloppy misdirection, audience manipulation), who buys Halloween costumes on Halloween night and actually finds anything decent (it doesn't matter! Turn your brain off and enjoy the movie!) etc, etc, etc.  

Yeah, I'm being a hardass, I know. I like a lot of WTF junk, some of it nearly defenseless and technically not made as well as this, but every movie of this sort pushes a person's GO or STOP button as it moves along and this one kept pushing STOP all-too often, if that makes a cowlick of sense. I actually didn't hate the movie, but I didn't think it was anything special. I found a lot of it annoying and dopey and surprisingly unscary (I'm an easy touch when it comes to getting scared by movies, I really am), and it just had that overall smug feeling so many modern films seem to give off. The stories aren't very strong or satisfying on their own and the overlapping Pulp Fiction-like shtick does more harm than good. More often than not the movie cuts away from a developing story or sequence to another scene, then cuts away again before any steam builds up there, it just undercuts constantly and leaves you hanging at times. It gives the movie a choppy and disjointed feel, something even the best anthologies suffer from right off the bat. I couldn't really engage with the stories and almost every character is a jerk or a moron, I didn't really care about what was going on. Too often I felt like I was watching the horror movie equivalent of a one-man band: I get what they're trying to do, it's impressive for a little while, but it's a gimmick, and no matter how many instruments are played and maybe  even played well, thrown together like that the end result stinks as an actual song. And the longer it goes on, the more it rankles and sometimes confuses (I honestly didn't catch the identity of the guy in the vampire/stalker costume until I read about the movie afterward). I was looking for him to reappear based on the nature of the film, but didn't recognize him. Could have just been me.

What I did like was the energy, the 80's feel, the lack of CGI as a crutch, a few nice spooky shots, and the design of the little spirit of Halloween monster. I don't think they should have revealed his face, I thought he looked too much like the "Buster" skeleton decoration they used to sell for Halloween, and the mask was more effective. Cute little guy, obviously aimed towards icon status, but unlike most of those too-obvious attempts (Jeepers Creepers guy, Mitch Pileggi in Shocker, post-Hellraiser Cenobites, any Rob Zombie character) it  works. I think it was a more effective design with just the mask, though.

I didn't know anything about this movie before I watched it, apparently it's a bit of a cause celebre because it was withheld from theatrical release and put out straight-to-DVD. And a lot of people seem to love it and think it's a martyred classic that should be seen every Halloween like Halloween and It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Room. Different strokes and all that. It's not an utter piece of garbage, it has it's heart in the right place as far as these things go, but I didn't find it to be anything special. I know that mediocre is the new awesome because so much stuff stinks to high heaven out there (See: Ginger Snaps), but I don't get the enthusiasm some folks have for this. I liked where they were coming from, I just didn't like where it went all that much.

That all being said, I bet I would have loved this back in the 80's.

THE WASP WOMAN (1959)

I'm catching up on a lot of Roger Corman productions via Netflix, they're short and usually offer up some kind of goofy, dumb fun (although I enjoyed Bucket of Blood as less dumb/more knowing fun). Head of cosmetics company fearing her lost youth meets buggy bug doctor working with asp serums that he says will restore youth and beauty. I think you can see where this one's going. It's cheap and all takes place in one building and one character plays an employee of the cosmetics company and a delivery man to the company. Corman has a short cameo as a doctor preoccupied with thoughts of how he can re-use the doctor's office set for new shots to add to a forty minute swamp creature movie he just bought from the tiny Republic of Togoland. I enjoyed this film but it is crap. You expect nothing, you get nothing, then you laugh at the cheap stuff and wobbly sets and the Fly-inspired Wasp Woman getting beaned in the kisser with a jar that actually hurts the actress because that's how low budget rolls. I can't tell anyone to see this thing, I'm sure you already know if a 50's Corman flick about a Wasp Woman in a funny bug mask drooling chocolate syrup all over her victim's necks to simulate blood floats your canoe or not. That last sentence is very likely grammatically terrible, as is this present one. .

More fascinating -- and sadly, more lurid --than Wasp Woman is the life story of lead actress Susan Cabot. She had a rough life (8 foster homes), her engagement to King Hussein of Jordan was broken after he found out she was Jewish, a son was born afflicted with dwarfism and psychological problems, she herself was an emotional and mental wreck, and apparently mistreated her son, who bludgeoned her to death with a weight lifting bar in 1986. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and given a three-yr suspended sentence. I read there's a movie in the works, or was at least being kicked around, about her life.

Yeesh. I prefer my horrors on the screen.