Monday, March 1, 2010

Two by Two --Horror Double Features

Sick as a dog all this week and last...which means plenty of time to not go see Shutter Island (which you would know to be a real privation if you had any idea how much I want to see Shutter Island) and instead trundle up undercover and fabricate my own list of Horror Film two'fers. Two by two, they came, this queue of near perfect mid 70s to mid 80s scare fests. I don't know how horror movies became my comfort movies, but for some reason, being curled up under a mild dosage of Nyquil with a truly scary movie is my idea of a get well plan.

Voila....regardez bien:

1) Shock Waves/Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1977, 1978; Ken Wiederhorn, Philip Kaufman)-- Amphibious Nazi zombies rise from their watery graves to torment Brooke Adams and crew. AMPHIBIOUS. NAZI. ZOMBIES. Pulling this off as scary rather than camp was an exercise in plot control and pacing, which I think Wiederhorn did relatively well. Such great shots of the zombies rising out of the water...reminded me a little of the balletic underwater scene in Fulci's Zombie. Wiederhorn also made Eyes of a Stranger, which had a promising slasher beginning, but kind of runs itself into early 80s horror movie torpor midway through. Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers has pod people tormenting Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland. This is actually my favorite iteration of Jack Finney's cold war classic...yes, I've seen the original. Yes, it still plays like a bad episode of One Step Beyond. What's so smooth about the 1978 remake is how close to reality it John Carpenter's The Thing, this version seems to trump the original in using the bones, the key elements of what made it so scary, and taking away all the unneccessary, stagey bits. Each remake stands on its own, and in my opinion, fares better for its director's superior vision. Carpenter might not be a better director than Hawks, but for that film, I think he was. Ditto for Invasion. Last scene....just too scary. Just...too...scary.

2) Who Could Kill a Child?/ See No Evil (1976, 1971; Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, Richard Fleisher) In the former, a man and his pregnant wife (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow, but is not) arrive on an obscure Spanish island for a rustic holiday, only to find the place bereft of adults. Strangely, the children remain... If you kicked up Village of the Damned by about six notches, you'd get Who Could Kill a Child? I was interested to see something else by this director, who was very articulate on his ideas for the film in one of the dvd extras, but Netflix drew up blank (tsk tsk tsk). In the latter, a blind girl (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow, and is) assumes the absence of moving and talking family members means they've taken off for the weekend and continues about her daily routine, oblivious to their murders, the presence of their dead bodies, and the fact that the murderer is still in the house. For the pure suspense of waiting until she figures out what exactly has happened, the first twenty minutes of this movie are edge-of-the-seat.

3) The Changeling/ The Fury (1980, 1978; Peter Medak, Brian de Palma)-- Two movies in which late middle aged, early 60s A-list stars play down to the horror genre by pretending they're making an action movie. In The Changeling, concert pianist George C. Scott (Patton) walks away from a car accident that claims his wife and child to morosely bang out a new composition in a ridiculously cheap, well appointed, but (surprise) haunted house. As if he didn't have enough to deal with, George C. rolls up his sleeves and tries to bellow out reason with the child ghost who keeps appearing in bathtubs and carrying on in the attic at all hours of the night. The plot has one of those great, story behind the story reveals, but remembering Scott just screaming at the ghost every time the phantom appears, without the mildest regard for the fact that he's dealing with the supernatural, really made this movie for me. It WORKS somehow. I guess I might be more concerned with the nuisance of poltergeist activity in my obscenely-lowly-rented house, too, if I were half the man GCS is. Great backstory on the screenwriter's inspiration here.
In The Fury, Kirk Douglas's (Sparatacus) son is presumed dead in some weird terrorist attack in the opening sequence of the film. When it turns out the CIA or FBI or some government entity has in fact whisked him away to a training compound for highly psychically gifted youth (to be used in some kind of future tactical manoeuvers, very hush hush, etc), Kirk Douglas is really, really....MAD, I think the word is. He's crashing cars, beating up punks, swinging out of apartment windows, getting his girlfriend killed-- it's kind of neat, actually, to see someone his age doing some of the stunts he undertakes and not TOTALLY stretching the limits of suspension of disbelief (see: Clint Eastwood in Blood Work). Amy Irving (here) looks eerily like Gene Tierney (here) throughout this movie.

4) Sisters/Black Christmas (1973, 1974; Brian de Palma, Bob Clark) In Sisters, Margot Kidder plays a pair of Quebecois twins (one good, one psychotically bad) in what I consider de Palma's only really successful Hitchcock homage... where Dressed to Kill and B d P's later films poorly ape Hitchcock's style to the point of ham fisted visual quotation, Sisters plays like an updated Hitch. Margot Kidder, with her cut glass cheekbones and flawless French Canadian accent, is fantastic in this. The next year, she made Black Christmas with Olivia Hussey (who, like Amy Irving, also has a 40's doppelganger, in the form of Merle Oberon...there was a great classical Hollywood biopic somebody could have made on which the boat has now sailed...).
Black Christmas surprised me in its starkness. Clark, whose later credits include Porky's (I and II), Rhinestone, and A Christmas Story somehow managed to make a seriously disturbing slasher with an old school "Omg I didn't even see that coming but at least they'll be some kind of let up? No? Unmitigatingly dark? Ok, fine..." ending. Kidder is the highlight of the movie, in spite of Olivia Hussey's starrish role, with her foul mouth and scotch and soda laugh. It's hard to believe the only time she made headlines after this was for the Superman franchise (good news) and being found, after being missing for several days, hysterically hallucinating in someone's backyard (bad news). You never can tell with these high strung Hollywood types, I guess. PS THE REMAKE WAS SO AWFUL. I know you're required to say that of any late 90s/00s remake of some 70s masterpiece, but whatever is said for other goes thricely for this one (and Texas Chainsaw. Let's not go there). Sledgehammer job. Other than the Driller Killer remake (which my beloved Tobe Hooper, of all people, committed), just the worst horror remake of an obscure-ish horror film.

I might do a part two of this later in the week....for now though, it's back to my screening bed.

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