The Challenge rolls along and we’re reaching the finish line with just over a week before Halloween! How have you been doing, if you’ve been playing along? Are you burning through the requirements like wildfire or taking it slow? Week three was a lot lighter than the previous two, with a weird mishmash of genres and styles, everything but the kitchen sink it seems. Read on!
Opera (1987, dir. Dario Argento; first time view) – It’s terror behind the scenes of an updated version of Verdi’s ‘MacBeth’ when a young understudy is thrust into the leading role and is subsequently forced to watch a series of murders. Who is behind it all, and what does it have to do with this starlet? Opera might be Argento’s most artistic and visually best-conceived film, but it’s too muddled to have any sort of import outside of perhaps some kind of commentary on the complicity of watching horror. There’s some great imagery here, like when the killer tapes needles to the lead’s eyes, forcing her not to blink, and a slow-motion death scene involving a bullet, Daria Nicolodi, and an apartment door peephole. Ultimately though, Opera doesn’t make a lot of sense or have enough weirdo quality to make it truly memorable.
The Tingler (1959, dir. William Castle; first time view) – Vincent Price stars as Dr. Chapin, a pathologist who discovers a kind of psychic parasitic creature that feeds on human fear, wrapping itself around the spine until it shatters — or the host lets loose a scream, which is the only thing that kills the parasite. Suspecting that the creature will manifest itself enough to be removed from someone who has just died of extreme fear, Chapin sets out to find a body and finds one when a long-time friend’s wife suddenly dies. There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding her death, and the film climaxes when the creature — dubbed a “tingler” due to the sensation it gives its victims — lets loose in a crowded theater. Aside from the usual Castle gimmick (this time a series of buzzers attached to theater seats, called “Percepto”), The Tingler is a solid bit of creepshow even with its fairly fantastic premise.
He Knows You’re Alone (1980, dir. Armand Mastroianni; first time view) – A killer stalks brides-to-be in a fit of long-standing jealousy after he was dumped by his fiancée so she could marry someone else, and there’s a cop with a grudge hot on his trail. The next victim is Amy, who is having some serious cold feet about her upcoming wedding; this could be the thing that saves her life. He Knows You’re Alone owes a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, ripping off visuals, subplots, and audio cues left and right. Not a complete waste of film though, as this was the movie debut for both Dana Barron (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and some nobody named Tom Hanks, as well as an early screen role for James Rebhorn (Independence Day). Worth watching if you’re a big fan of one-off slashers, otherwise, pass.
Carrie (2013, dir. Kimberly Peirce; first time view) – A revisiting of Stephen King’s first published novel, in which a high school social outcast discovers she has telekinetic powers — and uses them to exact a terrible kind of revenge. Horror fans are overly familiar with the story of Carrie White, given that there have been two feature adaptations, a made-for-TV version, a years-late sequel, and even a stage musical. The first adaptation, directed by Brian DePalma in 1976, has set a kind of gold standard for better or worse, and comparing this new version against DePalma’s is nearly unavoidable. This new version suffers mostly from an inability to bring anything fresh to the story, save for the addition of modern technology to the film’s early shower-humiliation scene, something that comes back around at the prom scene climax. Julianne Moore, as Carrie’s ultra-religious mother Margaret, plays the character less as a fanatic and more as a person suffering from a deep mental trauma. There’s a lot of upsetting self-harm and abuse here, all played for horror, that makes her seem less of a villain than Piper Laurie’s unforgettable shrieking harpy version of Mrs. White. Is it strange that I just wanted her to get some help? At the end of the day, I couldn’t muster much more emotion for these characters than that. Sissy Spacek’s Carrie never stopped being my hero. Burn it all down!
Grabbers (2012, dir. Jon Wright; repeat view) – Giant alien monsters attack an isolated Irish island village, which is good for the monsters, because they can regenerate in water and where better to crash land than a place surrounded by it? Unfortunately, their biggest weakness (which I won’t spoil here) is also something of a hobby, even a way of life, for the locals. Grabbers boasts one of the best monster designs in recent creature feature history, mostly because it’s just so damn simple — the aliens are basically a ball of tentacles with a mouth. Take a note, monster designers; look to the UK and Ireland, what with this and the pitch-black shadow aliens from Attack The Block. An amiable cast, featuring Russell Tovey from “Being Human,” and a crackerjack story make this an entertaining slice of horror comedy.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974, dir. Theodore Gershuny; first time view) – A creepy old house. An insane asylum. A family affair of the worst order. This proto-slasher, starring Mary Woronov and featuring several Andy Warhol superstars, is heavy on atmosphere but suffers from being a little too dry. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking, even poor old John Carradine, who has no lines (presumably because the filmmakers would have to pay him more?); his character is stuck ringing a bell as his only form of communication. There’s a dreamy quality to the film that almost carries it and an extended flashback scene near the end provides some weird closure, but overall, this one is quite dull. Not even Mary Woronov can save it!
The Sacrament (2013, dir. Ti West; first time view) – Heavily inspired by the final days of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Jonestown, Guyana, West’s first foray into the found footage style of horror is deeply unsettling. Less horror than psychological thriller, this film follows Patrick, a fashion photographer who gets a strange letter from his sister Caroline, who is in recovery for drug abuse. Sensing a story, he brings along Sam and Jake, who are employed at Vice Magazine, to document the trip to an undisclosed location. Upon arrival, they are greeted by armed guards, until Caroline intervenes and the trio is welcomed into what appears to be a kind of communal society led by a kindly old Southern gentleman who goes by “Father.” Folks familiar with the history of Jonestown won’t be particularly surprised at how the rest of the film plays out, but that doesn’t diminish the creeping sense of dread at the final outcome. It’s a neat trick that West has as his cameraman a professional videographer in the film’s context, which allows for a polished style and a feeling of realism that many recent found footage films fail to capture. Perhaps it’s because this film isn’t really so much found footage, since there are survivors; it’s more of a pseudo-documentary. However you call it, The Sacrament disturbed me on a fairly deep level. It’s a hard film to shake.
Poltergeist (1982, dir. Tobe Hooper; repeat view) – A family is torn apart by poltergeist activity in their fancy new suburban development home, and things only get worse when their five-year-old daughter is abducted by a malevolent spirit into the other side. I’ve written about Poltergeist before over at Dreams in the Bitch House for the 2012 October Challenge, and my feelings toward the film have only grown more fond since. Even though this is Tobe Hooper’s film, the Spielberg trope of the absentee father still plays out here, where Craig T. Nelson is pushed ever further away from the action and the heart of the story. He’s all but gone from the final ghostly attack on the Freeling household, leaving Jo Beth Williams to save her children alone. Anyhow, Poltergeist is one of those rare films that can still make me cry every time I watch it. There aren’t many horror films that still have a beating heart that isn’t trapped in a glass jar. This one still connects, decades later.
Fright Night (1985, dir. Tom Holland; repeat view) – Poor Charley Brewster. Can’t get laid. His mother treats him like a child. Oh, and a murderous vampire moved in next door. What else could go wrong? One of the great horror comedies of the 1980s is Fright Night, starring Chris Sarandon as ultra-sensual vampire Jerry Dandridge and featuring Roddy McDowall as washed-up horror host / vampire killer Peter Vincent. Comedy in horror can be so, so awful, because more often than not it relies on cheap gags and bad visual puns and it hardly strikes the right balance. Here, however, is a film that knows when to be scary and when to be silly; also, the bad guy is just so deliciously bad and a real threat instead of a clever buffoon. What more can be said that hasn’t already?
34 total films watched
Challenge requirements met!