Wednesday, December 12, 2012

MMM: This feature probably should indicate in the name that it's about Horror Movies

at 2:59 PM
Welcome to Mini Movie Mreviews, a feature where I take you through the movies I've watched in the last week or two. These reviews are geared toward those who haven't seen the film and just want to know if they should watch - so don't not read it and then say "oh well I've never seen any of those movies" - that's the point. I give my condensed recommendation in italics at the end of each review.

Hey look, it's Zach Galligan! That old boy was in Gremlins! Unfortunately he's kind of an annoying actor to watch. He has that awkward '80s doofy loser thing down to a science. This one is a string of references to old monster movies, immortalized as wax exhibits that prove to be gateways into their according worlds. The lightly comic tone didn't work for me (no good jokes), but the variety of sets and shifting atmospheres provide a lot to keep you entertained. There's also a preeeettttty seXXXy sequence wherein one of the leading girls finds herself enjoying life with the Marquis de Sade a little more than she expects. An inventive creeper that won't leave you bored.

Man this has some of the most obnoxious Nazi-sploitation I've ever seen. There's a scene where the villain stands in his attic watching an old filmstrip of Nazi marches with incomprehensible Hitler yelling playing on the sound system, and he stands in front of it shouting "HEIL!" This is a kinda bizarre slasher in the Peeping Tom vein in which an old ex-Nazi landlord spies on and eventually murders his tenants. The focal character here is the peeper, not any of his carefully chosen attractive young female victims. This thankfully spares us from the stock innocent young girl Jamie Lee Curtis slasher protagonist, but also provides very little to draw the viewer in personally. The creepy murderer is just really bizarre and his motives are so conflicting and nonsensical that you won't care for him and his daily game of Russian roulette in the least. A particular piano-themed murder makes for a memorable image, but otherwise there's little in the way of entertaining violence. Not much reason to bother.

If you know the word giallo or the name Dario Argento, you've probably already seen this one. For those of you in the dark, giallo is a subgenre of Italian horror film primarily popular in the 1970s, noted for distinctively expressionist visuals, seas of faker-than-fake blood, and mind-bending patchwork plots. Suspiria is very much a poster child for this movement. The sets are striking enough to be paintings, the story is an utter headache, the acting is over-the-top cheesy, and the nail-polish blood splatters enough to make you sick. It's great downfall is that aesthetics are the only thing going for it. The plot is, I struggle to put this nicely, just plain retarded. Something about witches shows up like 3/4 through the runtime without any warning - apparently the whole movie was about a coven of witches who run a German dancing school as a front for... well primarily it's just a dancing school, but I guess every once in a while they feel like murdering someone. It makes me angry to think about how stupid it is. The film opens with the preposterous death of two on the school's students, but only one of them is ever mentioned again. At first it seems like the identify of the second girl is being kept a secret and carries some significance... then you realize the filmmakers clearly forgot about her / wrote it out of the script. Worst of all, the movie is just fucking boring. So many scenes drag on for six to seven times what should be their length, leaving you wondering if you're actually watching Journey to the Center of the Hallway. It's sad what an awful film this is, because the imagery is indeed gorgeous and the polarizing music is fantastic as well. Unless you really need another giallo, skip it. It'll go over the head of or annoy the shit out of any but genre-fans.

House on Haunted Hill
I think it's safe to say I'm developing quite the affection for Vincent Price. The guy is just a joy to watch on screen. His every line of dialogue begs to be savored and his smirk makes me smile just thinking about it. The movie's other redeeming feature is one of the most classic skeleton scenes this side of Army of Darkness (see below). Yes, I say redeeming, because unfortunately this is just kind of a stupid movie with a gimmicky premise that doesn't even begin to hold up.

Presumably the filmmakers want us to believe the House on Haunted Hill is Haunted, as the villain wants the rest of the characters to believe. But the tricks are far too shabby to keep any but the most naive viewer going, and the goal of this Scooby-Doo scheme turns out to be so stupid that, well, it may as well be an episode of Scooby-Doo. I'm going to go ahead and spoil it because you shouldn't watch anyway: the villain goes along with her husband inviting a handful of people to the "haunted" house, goes along with her husband giving them all guns, and then tries to drive one of them crazy enough that they'll accidentally shoot her husband in their hysteria. The problem is that again the filmmakers fail to make sense of their ruse - they want us to believe Vincent Price is the villain, then when the true mastermind is unveiled, the logic of the plot falls apart. Why would he have been the one to set everything up for his wife's murder scheme? Ugh. Just dumb. Don't bother, even for Price's sake. All you need to see is in the gif above.

House on Haunted Hill, again
And then we have the 1999 remake. The '90s were not good to horror cinema, so it's almost shocking to find this so much more effective than the "classic" on which it's based. Critics complained that it wasn't scary enough - I'm sorry, critics, but are any movies really scary at all? You either get atmospheric dread, gruesome imagery, or startling jumps. I don't see how it's fair to ask for something no film delivers. It's just a fucking movie, and sooner or later you grow older than 12. Anyway, allow me to rerail this discussion. The remake is smart enough to devise its own twists and turns while drawing on enough similar sequences to remain grounded in the original. While I just made clear that I don't like that 1959 piece, the connection still serves to heighten this revisitation and makes for good paired viewing, if only to show where one goes right and the other wrong. One welcome '90s trapping is that the female cast is easy on the eyes and the content is now very R-rated, while the original would today be considered pretty safely PG. Overall it's a pretty by-the-books 'good' movie, never great or hugely memorable. Well-paced, functionally scripted, nice to look at,  and occasionally funny. Check it out with friends for a fun B-movie romp.

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