Sunday, February 26, 2012

One A Week Reviews #8: Libestraum

I've seen Libestraum on offer for 20 years now and always meant to watch it. I had heard it was something of a meditative mystery featuring the last screen appearance of Kim Novak and had the excellent pedigree of being directed by Mike Figgis. Also, it starred Bill Pullman along with two lead actors, Kevin Anderson and Pamela Gidley, who never really "happened," even though they kept getting the opportunities.

Turns out, I wasn't missing much.

It's fitting that a film named after a piece of music should open with a shot of a piano. In flashback, a man and woman are having a tryst only to be interrupted and shot. Thirty years later, we join Nick (Anderson) as he travels to visit his birth mother (Novak), who lives in the Nursing Home of Dramatic Lighting. She is dying, but as she'd given him up for adoption, this is the first time he's met her. He also wants to study the rare cast-iron-frame building that shooting happened in, now about to be torn down by Bill Pullman's character, Paul Kessler. Paul and Nick are old pals, though their relationship is stiff, awkward, and nearly ended by a work-site accident. Was it fate, or somehow caused by the ominous arrival of a mysterious man in a limousine?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One A Week Reviews #7: Final Destination 5

There was a period during my twenties, right after college, where I just couldn't stomach horror movies. There was something about finally getting out of school and entering a not-that-friendly real world, that had me finally grappling with an end to "adolescence."With that came a loss of that youthful viewpoint that nothing could hurt me, an innocence I luckily was able to maintain for a large period of my life.

The Final Destination series aims squarely at that adolescent sense, taunting and amusing it's target audience with stories of attractive teens unable to escape their fate. Unlike the slashers of the eighties, where sexual moralizing ruled the day, these films had a pretty bleak representation of death as something coming unstoppably for you. For all their contrivance, they're a little too realistic. Horror movies let people process fears, but sometimes you don't need to be reminded that no matter what you do, it's coming for you.

Now that I'm at an age where I spent less time inspired to consider my mortality and more calculating the increased insurance rates all the poor innocent venues are going to get stuck with after these poor, doomed soul expire there... these flicks are a lot easier to watch.

From the rather ugly credits, which check manners of death from the last four films, to the impressive CGI disaster, Final Destination 5 wallows in 3D effects porn. One more trip to the well, the film features yet another group of attractive young people, lead by one who predicts it, evading a disaster that goes on to still cost them their lives since death just won't be denied. This time, the members of a corporate retreat narrowly escape a bridge collapse. For the series, this may be the most impressive disaster yet.

(Youngins in peril, after the break...)

Friday, February 10, 2012

One A Week Reviews #6: Cat in the Brain (Nightmare Concert)

Cat in the Brain is a walk down memory lane by Lucio Fulci, mostly built from clips from his other (lesser) films. It's a cheap gorefest masquerading as meditation, some weird, director's walk-about. There's a loose story which is even more loosely draped with clips intended to represent the memories of the director in his Winter. Everywhere he goes, events cause him to flash back to the gore that is his business.

The movie opens with hand-puppet cats, who move like Mr. Rogers' furry friends, digging into a huge pile of "brains." Within five minutes we're also treated to a man cooking and eating a chunk of a corpse's thigh, then cutting the rest up in the world's neatest chain-sawing. Not a drop of blood lands on him. This, like half the footage from this movie, is edited in from an earlier Fulci production. The cats are in Fulci's imagination, while the chainsaw murder is inserted as a movie Fulci is making. The poor man can't get his movie gore to be convincing (while it dazzled, it never really was), and his private life is fearsome. Every mundane event in his day brings with it a gory insert shot, most of which they barely bother to match with the locations, lighting, and look of the story they're integrated them into. He just can't catch a break.

Friday, February 3, 2012

One A Week Reviews #5: The Legend Of Hell House

Of all the well-known horror films I've seen over the years, I somehow continually missed The Legend of Hell House. I haven't even read the Richard Matheson novel, "Hell House," that it's based on. I have however read "The Haunting of Hill House," and seen both versions of The Haunting. I wondered, based on the similarities in plot, where a small group of psychics spend some time in a legendarily haunted house, if they'd be similar. In the end I have to say "Pretty much, but with more sex, violence, and tacky fashion."

Lionel Barrett (Clive Revil) is hired to investigate the truth of life after death, and if the "Mount Everest of Haunted Houses" is a real thing. The Belasco Mansion has a sordid history, and has evidently killed off previous teams who hoped to solve it's mysteries. Barrett has four days, and has psychic Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell), who survived the last go round with the house, mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and Barrett's wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) are along for the ride. They're dropped off at the house, and you do expect their driver to say that no one comes there "in the night... in the dark..." as the maid in The Haunting says.

Immediately upon walking in, everything gets portentous and "act-y," with odd noises, thick darkness, and unflattering close-ups. (McDowell particularly suffers, always looking hang-dog and dejected.) They even find a record left by Emeric Belasco (an uncredited Michael Gough), the wonton devil who caused this whole mess, essentially welcoming them to the house. The movie successfully sets an ominous tone, though the general decaying-mansion quality has not aged well in this day and age of condo-set banality, à la Paranormal Activity. The cobwebs, dust, and draperies scream sound stage. Haunted house movies really are scarier when they could be happening in your little Ranch or Cape Cod.