Horror Movie Marathon - Day One - 23rd October 2010

This weekend two friends of ours hosted a horror movie weekend of the following 9 films. I thought I would put them into one blog per day as the experience of viewing these films is so intrinsically linked to this occasion. I also have to say, before I start with the individual films, that I don't think I've ever sat down and watched this many films back to back. With plenty of people about, a gap between each one and a pile of munchies in front of me like Cleopatra's breakfast buffet, it was not as grueling as one might imagine and a fantastic time was had by all. Horror films perfectly lend themselves to a marathon viewing like this because they are very diverse for a genre and unlike comedy films, where you get tired of laughing after about an hour, even if you cease to be scared by the 50th jump in the 5th film, the films themselves are endlessly inventive, creative, intriguing and enjoyable.

Saturday 23rd October:
Ok, so the first film up was American Werewolf in London and, whilst I know John Landis claims it's a straight horror movie, there is way too much silliness in this for it not to be considered a horror/comedy and a great one at that. In parts it's almost like Monty Python made a werewolf picture from the silly policeman, doddery doctor, uptight American embassy man, ridiculous northerners to the highly comical clips of John Landis' recurring in-joke, the porn film 'See You Next Wednesday'.
It is often the way with horror films that they need a sense of humour, a thrilling set piece or two or some pretty riveting characters to survive because after the first viewing you know where all the scares are, something else has got to hold your attention when viewing it for the 10th time (or whatever this is for me) and asides from that, you need something to balance out the often horrific images you are being bombarded with. 
It was the jokes, which, in their way, are very English in their sensibilities, for an American screenwriter and director that I enjoyed the most this time round, that and the terrifically violent climax in Piccadilly Circus. Other aspects in the film, while it is still an undisputed classic of the genre, tend to fall flat now on repeat viewings. The love story, for example, between David and Alex is fairly stilted and unbelievable, despite the radiant walking-adolescent-fantasy Miss Agutter, and, as a friend of mine today pointed out, so is the fact that a doctor, with patients, just jaunts off up north to follow some unsubstantiated claptrap about a vicious beast. The kills, too, while vicious and fun, are, by today's standards, predictable and lack the punch or jump of a really scary set piece. The make up is still impressive though, the soundtrack a joy and in places it's still a visceral and disturbing treat. 
Landis doesn't have the polish here as a director that he has in later works but that all adds to the ramshackle charm of the film and it's nice to feel, as a Brit, that Landis has done his homework a bit and doesn't put too much of a foot wrong presenting England fairly authentically. The only exception to this is the scene where three tramps stand around a burning oil drum, surrounded by junked cars, by the side of the Thames. It does look spectacularly out of place and unlike anything I've ever seen in England.
Small quibbles aside, I love this film and will return to it again and again because it is a simply inventive, funny slice of gory horror with classic lines and classic scenes.
8 out of 10
Points from The Wife 8 out of 10

50,000 Paranormal Activity fans can't be wrong... er actually, it turns out they can be and are.
I have to say that before I started Paranormal Activity I was highly skeptical and now having sat through this turgid bilge it gives me great pleasure to say I was right. 
I am sorry but I just don't understand the hype on this one at all. I put it right up there with "why the hell do people watch Celebrity Idol Island Survivor Apprentice?" 
This hand held camera craze, that was sort of forced on the world with the tragically dismal and downright boring Blair Witch Project, has got to stop. I have only seen it done remotely well once and that was Diary of the Dead and that alone does not justify the handful of tedious crap that was Paranormal Activity. The premise, so you don't have to go out and waste your time, money and energy on this laughable tosh, is that a self important, overly confident, arrogant and annoying  man named Mikah (yes, like that's a name) buys a camcorder to video tape him and his irritatingly voiced, whiny and antagonistic girlfriend doing knitting, beading, strumming an unplugged electric guitar badly, swimming, eating lunch, cleaning their teeth and, oh yes, occasionally getting harassed by a demon or whatever... You've honestly ceased caring by night 3.
The demon in question spends most of the film acting like a grumpy room mate or a prankster fraternity member doing a series of underwhelming and not-very-scary-despite-what-the-poster-says things to the "unsuspecting" couple. Like turning a light on and then off, placing car keys on the floor, pulling their sheet off, waggling the door a bit and breaking a picture frame. When the demon does anything remotely bordering on scary it lasts but a second and then for some reason you are sat watching a 10 minute scene of these two wastes of clothes arguing or sitting at a computer reading a website as your brain screams "what? can some set fire to these people soon before I chew my own foot off in sheer agonising boredom".
I will say, in its meagre defense that there are a couple of legitimately impressive effects in the film, the ouija board catching fire and the woman being dragged out of bed by an unseen force and I can accept that in a darkened theatre, first time around, if you made it through the first 60 minutes of the movie without vomiting out of sheer brain-numbing tedium, that some of the later bits may have been frightening but in this setting, with a group of jokey friends about, if the film isn't good right off the bat then we get restless and the film doesn't stand a chance. 
If you want to blame my dislike of the film on the fact that I was disrupted and it wasn't in the right setting then go ahead but consider this, when other films came on over the course of the day, good films, better films and exciting films, this group just shut up and watched, commenting only to say how eerie or good something was. Paranormal Activity stunk to high heaven, please don't bother watching this or its sequel as it only encourages them. 
When a studio suit stumbled over this film for $3.25 in his local movie flea market, he took it home, marketed the hell out of it and then retreated to a big steel room to count his vast wealth. If you want to buy that hideous grey-faced man another jet then go ahead but unlike American Werewolf and like a lot of crap, handheld, throw away reality TV rubbish, in 5 years or less this film will disappear and become completely irrelevant, we can only hope.
1 out of 10
Points from The Wife 1 out of 10

David Cronenberg has serious mummy issues and attacks psychiatry in this 1970s Canadian melodrama about family separation due to psychosis, alcoholism and physical abuse masquerading as a killer baby/body horror that owes a little to Don't Look Now and Village of the Dammed and features Oliver Reed in a series of roll neck sweaters and furry collared coats whispering creepy things a lot.
David Cronenberg's films are mostly weird and The Brood is no exception but it's not surreal with no reasoning, the whole film is simply a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life and how everything parents do can mentally and physically effect a child much deeper than they may think. In fact there are so many things going on in this clever and carefully written film that to market it sheerly as a horror movie unfortunately doesn't do it justice, although at the same time it is horrific and disturbing enough to warrant that tag. 
It comes as no surprise to learn that the film was written after a bitter divorce and custody battle between Cronenberg and his ex-wife and it is the Dad in the film that comes off the best as a sad, frantic, nobel man trying to protect his daughter at all costs. The rest of the characters are either strange psychiatric patients, a selfish, overly determined and deluded psychiatrist (the aforementioned Oli Reed) and the completely rage filled, unhinged, totally bonkers ex wife. The true horror and sadness of the film is that, by the end, it is obvious that despite all of her Dad's efforts his little girl will probably grow up with some problems of her own mother just has she did from her mother before her.
Yes the metaphors and analogies in the film are fairly simple, like anger literally bubbling under the surface to explode externally as a rage baby and yes there are the usual faults of the genre like gaping plot holes and questionable character decisions (for example: if a woman was completely mental and had amniotic sacks of fury children growing on her abdomen that burst forth, grew up and lived in a shed owned by a dubious psychologist and then those same a-sexual deformed brats beat the hell out of your daughters back and you had polaroids of this, I am not sure a court would really side with the mother just because she was female) but, when all is said and done, it beats the hell out of something serious and worthy like Kramer Vs. Kramer, features enough ridiculous 70s clothing to make the owner of a Salvation Army shop rub his hands with unbridled glee, contains some tremendously icky make up work in the closing act and is put together, overall, skillfully.
From what I have seen of earlier, horror Cronenberg, I think there is something very unnerving, graphic, sickening and eerie about his work that is unlike anybody else and if anything could turn my stomach, apart from airline food, it would be a Cronenberg movie but that is, of course, his appeal. The Brood, however, was light on the overtly sick visuals of something like The Fly but maintained that grimy, off putting undertone that accompanies a lot of his work. For people looking to become a fan of his work, this film is a good entry point.
7 out of 10 but not sure I'd watch it again
Points from The Wife 7 out of 10

So, this is the Swedish vampire film that was so good and so grasped the critics attention that the American remake was coughed up, packaged and shipped out before you could say 'eh?' and it is precisely because that happened that they almost spoilt my enjoyment of this artistic, beautiful, realistic and strangely touching, snow drenched Swedish horror film.
I had already decided to wait and see the original before I would even touch the remake but while sitting in the cinema waiting for a completely different film, one evening, the trailer for the remake came on and gave away everything. I can only imagine how amazingly cool this film would've been had I known nothing.
Still I tried to put all that rubbish to the back of my mind and promised myself I would commit to this film. Which is really what you have to do because not only is it subtitled, of course, but this being an artistic European movie set in the white and beige world of a Swedish council estate (or 'the projects' for the Americans), full of grubby old, cardigan sporting, men and snotty, little, tracksuit wearing bullying kids it doesn't exactly zip along and instead, chooses to let the story unfold naturally and slowly. It's the sort of thing that would be done in a really good atmospheric American TV show in 45 minutes.
So, go into the film wanting to immerse yourself fully into its seemingly dull but, under the surface, rich and beautiful world. 
The key to the visuals in this film are the subtle and authentic details. You can feel the cold bite of the snow, the chilly, slippery tile of the swimming pool changing rooms, the grimy peeling walls of the concrete flats and smell the stale smokey air and frying food of the local cafe.
I won't go over the story too much here but I will say that it is one of the only horror films I have ever seen where it's not its sense of chaos or crazy fear that makes it so watchable and frightening but rather it's bleak, bare calm. You are not frightened for the victims in this but rather the survival of the vampire herself and that is a genius twist. Also, in the relationship between the bullied boy and the vampire girl, it is not the soppy, romantic, supposedly doomed but annoyingly easy love of a Buffy and Angel or, christ help us, a Twilight movie but rather some genuine emotion, something slightly perverse, something completely understandable, something dangerous yet freeing and altogether more human than any similar relationship committed to film. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling of a first love and even first lust better than any serious or indeed romantic comedy, coming of age film I have ever seen.
The one thing that was so utterly mind blowing and refreshing about this film was that for someone who, obviously, watches lots and lots of films and always has, it showed me incredible special effects, mostly practical and in-camera, that I had never seen before. Everything about this film from the performances, to the realism of the setting and the effects worked absolutely perfectly. 
I really don't want to pick it apart too much or go on about anything to the point where it might spoil it, as it should be experienced as fresh as possible and so I will keep this short, just please rent or go see this version, I haven't seen the remake and I am not sure if I will but this original deserves to be seen, marveled at and appreciated before they take a finally grilled slice of tender steak and turn it into a tasty but essentially hollow Big Mac burger.
10 out of 10 
Points from The Wife 8 out of 10

To round out the first day of films in which we'd laughed with American Werewolf, laughed AT Paranormal Activity, got serious with the Brood and marveled at Let the Right One In, people coming and going all the time and a truck load of foodstuffs consumed, we decided to go a little left field with the late 70s utterly bonkers, independent and very cult classic Phantasm.
Directed by Don Coscarelli, it is a creepy but confused film which is packed full of ideas, has a killer soundtrack, some tremendous visuals but lacks much of a point beyond hooded dwarfs and tall, baggy and pale faced men with ludicrous hair are weird and scary.
The plot is some mental, fun, nonsense about aliens running a mortuary who are turning corpses into little robe wearing midgets. Some who are shipped back in tubes to another world, via a cosmic tuning fork, to be enslaved and others who roam about growling like banshees and generally causing mischief. Along the way we also find out that Angus Scrimm's delightfully loopy and bizarre looking Tall Man can shape shift into a heavily made up trollop, who lures young men into the graveyard for hanky panky before stabbing them and that his body parts, once severed, ooze mustard and turn into little animatronic flying bugs with glowing red eyes that can't be killed by garbage disposal units. Also in their weapon arsenal the fiendish inter-dimensional, weirdly body-proportioned alien crew have little shiny spheres that whizz about the mortuary at will and occasionally embed themselves into peoples faces and a little drill empties them of their skull blood.
All that stand in their way are a girly haired but fiercely determined teenage boy, his wayward, wannabe rock star, older brother and their friend, Reggie the hipster ice cream man and mean acoustic blues guitar player. Throw in an odd and fairly pointless scene with an old gypsy woman and her daughter (who translates) who the boy goes to sometimes for guidance and you pretty much have one of the most enjoyably nutso films that would pave the way for more crazy 80s neon horror fare like the Nightmare series and Hellraiser.
What was I saying at the beginning of the blog about the horror genre being one of the most inventive? because Phantasm proves that and then some. Yes it's all over the place, yes it doesn't make a lick of sense but all the cast seem to be game and for a low budget production the film looks great and, as I have said before, the soundtrack is brilliant and could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with a John Carpenter or George A Romero score.
All in all this is still one of my favourites, for lots of reasons and it was fun to revisit it this weekend.
8 out of 10
Points from The Misses 6 out of 10

Yes, Phantasm was a perfect way to end our day of horror movies which varied from some old classics, to a new dud and featured one genuine stand out film in Let the Right One In.
We watched four more films on Sunday which I will review in the next blog and then next week, my appetite well and truly whetted, I will no doubt continue in the horror vain all the way up to Halloween next Sunday.

Horror Movie Marathon - Day Two - 24th October 2010

Piranha - 21st October 2010