Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Guest List: Some of Marc Edward Heuck's Favorite Underrated Horror ""

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest List: Some of Marc Edward Heuck's Favorite Underrated Horror

I had a nice conversation with today's lister, Marc Edward Heuck, earlier this year for the GGTMC and I recommend you give that chat a listen. I also recommend you head on over to his blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking if you aren't already a fan.
Anyhow, in alphabetical order:

Easily the standout of the original "8 FILMS TO DIE FOR" festivals mounted by After Dark, so much so it received a full release by itself months later, Nacho Cerda's THE ABANDONED is unique in that it features two people over 40 as its protagonists, in an era where it seems one must be fresh out of college or prep school to experience terror on screen, and amidst its Fulci-esque trappings of dead eyes and rotting walls inside a middle-of-nowhere setting, there's quite an interesting subtext. Both characters have been drawn to a house of horrors in a quest to find closure from a horrifying childhood, and as such are drawn back in to a nighmare they had thought been transcended. Ergo, the story's moral being that sometimes, if you have survived tragedy and are safely far from it, maybe that should be closure enough. Or, as pithily said at the end of John Sayles' LONE STAR, "Forget the Alamo."

Still the greatest film about East Coast Catholic guilt that was *not* directed by Martin Scorsese. Convincingly playing a teenager despite being already in full adulthood, Paula E. Sheppard pulls of the tricky task of being a full-on brat and bully that somehow still earns our sympathy, showing her wounds and pain that with better circumstance she could overcome. Because while her behavior certainly makes her the prime suspect in the murder of her adorable little sister, and soon more people, should that automatically damn her? Well, in '60's-era New Jersey, a nice Catholic girl like Alice's mother is already damned to Hell by many at her church for getting a divorce; the whole of the neighborhood carries the notion that bad behavior is ingrained, it's just a matter of waiting for the branded party to prove their guilt - or for someone to prove it for them. Yet somehow, in a movie that has plenty of indictments of Catholicism to go around, thankfully it does portray the available clergy as honest and caring, and doesn't resort to the tired trope of priestly pedophilia that seems to be obligatory in many other mysteries.

Abel Ferrara dials up the paranoia in his new, if little-seen take, on Jack Finney's classic story. The very notion of individuals losing themselves to a mass consciousness, and of being made to fear your friends and family is always a potent one for me - all the previous installments of thsi story, along with variations like INVADERS FROM MARS or even a dopey third-season "WONDER WOMAN" episode that used the framework, have managed to unsettle me. And in this installment, Ferrara shows that the battle to be yourself is going to be much harder. If, as Veronica Cartwright posited in the 1978 Kaufman edition, the pod people can be fooled, then so can we. And in keeping with the setting of the invasion taking place at a military-based small town, the aliens have figured out how to infiltrate and mimic us to entrap us just as, say, the CIA would want to blend into foreign territory. As such, the only way to keep your identity is to remove all visible trappings of it and mimic the aliens. But sooner or later, one of you is going to crack.

At the end of the day, this movie is really no more smarter than what it presents itself to be, a simple story about a horny older man who makes the mistake of thinking two hot younger girls will be any threat to his life beyond hiding a tryst from his wife, and getting a full on decimation of his life in the process. Years later, Michael Haneke would mine similar territory to make an obvious, hectoring indictment of audiences who enjoy cathartic movie violence in both his Austrian and American editions of FUNNY GAMES. But this film is actually more effective to me because it's not trying to teach me some great humanistic lesson about violent movies, it just wants to show why being a dirty old man is not a good idea. Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp are both sexy and scary as the home invaders who always seem to know how to keep ahead of their quarry and bring him to heel, and even without his actual voice (due to a pay dispute where he abandoned the production), Seymour Cassel manages to demonstrate an ordinary guy with ordinary urges that is in a world of hurt. Grindhouse Releasing has been promising this on DVD for a couple years now, I hope we won't have to wait too much longer.

As I first stated in my reply to the fall movie questionnaire put forth at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Nobuo Nakagawa's a/k/a HELL or SINNERS OF HELL is probably the most unappreciated film of the 20th century. A movie that begins in a somewhat comically amoral and increasingly tragic earth, and spends the second half in easily the most horrifying vision of eternal punishment a mind can conjure, JIGOKU is shocking, groundbreaking, darkly comic, and extremely ahead of its time in its nihilism and graphic surrealism. Seeing as how this movie was made in 1960, and until I saw it in 2001, I never saw it mentioned in any publications, even those that revere horror and Asian films, I think it is safe to say that not nearly enough people know about this film, even after Criterion went on a limb and released it on DVD. Or else, we film lovers would be dropping that title the same way RASHOMON or 2000 MANIACS are casually thrown around.

A spiritual cousin to Jaromil Jires' VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (though director Richard Blackburn claims no knowledge of the work during his filming and I believe him), LEMORA uses every parent's inherent fear of a girl's transition into adolescence and adulthood as the basis for a beautiful and haunting film. In the 1930's South (doubled by rural '70's Southern California), iconic gamine Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith plays a bootlegger's daughter taken in by a kindly reverend, who finds herself drawn to a mysterious older woman Lemora (Lesley Gilb), who seems to have a way to command children and freaks, and may have answers about her absent father. Rainbeaux is clearly the star of the show, convincingly transitioning from naive child to blossoming woman. But Gilb deserves mention too, creating a seductive and not wholly evil temptress who seems to genuinely love even as she intends to consume and devour. The recently deceased Gilb left the film world for a revered life in community service in Downtown L.A. , and those same qualities that likely endeared her to the residents of the city make her such a compelling presence on screen.

A gorgeous, languid nightmare of a film, the collaboration of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz presents a storyline that, like my beloved SUSPIRIA, is not the most airtight, but allows for so many wonderful moments of frisson. An artist's estranged daughter searches for her father, meets a polyamorous trio whose ennui seems to override their sex drive, and all of them get caught up in the sinister fog of an unknown doom. The barren city environs, the aloof charisma of Michael Greer (an actor primarily known for playing "swishes" and female impersonators), the peculiar absence of youth from what is supposed to be a beach city, and those small drops of blood from the eyes...the dark mythologies of Lovecraft mesh with the societal uncertainties of the '70's into an unforgettable work of art that stays in your head long after it's over.

Perhaps now, after seeing the depths of depravity that reality television is willing to prop up and present, this film may not offer many surprises. But I must admit when I first saw Marc Evans' thriller (unjustly abandoned by Universal in the states), I got caught up in its indictment of the phenom of shows like "SURVIVOR," where people's worst impulses are rewarded, and that often the participants do not know how hard they are being manipulated for a hungry audience. Maybe now everyone knows that you can't trust what a producer tells you when he offers you, a nobody, a fortune in exchange for non-stop access to your person. But even presented as a period piece, the tension and the terror are ratcheted rather nicely, so it gets a boost from me.

People may forget that director Brad Anderson started out as a '90's romance director, making films like NEXT STOP WONDERLAND and HAPPY ACCIDENTS, and that making a horror film was a surprise to what few people were following his work. But SESSION 9 opened up a whole new field for him to excel in, and even though it was not initially a box office success (released against the better-promoted THE OTHERS), seeing how he has continued in the suspense realm with work like THE MACHINIST and TRANSSIBERIAN, it was the turning point that saved his career. Playing like a working-class version of THE SHINING, a group of hazmat experts are sent to speed-clean a notorious asylum, and find that the creepy setting is taking a toll on their emotional well-being, though as we will discover, some in their group have already had some problems before taking the job. Much like Guillermo Del Toro's excellent THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, it demonstrates that even when there are palpable ghosts, the real terror originates from man.

I would like to also offer honorable mention to the last 35 minutes of THE HAUNTING OF JULIA, a/k/a FULL CIRCLE. A collector friend screened the final two reels of the movie for me, and they were amazing. Unfortunately, I can't find anyone with the first three, and director Richard Loncraine uses the scope frame so well that to try watching the pan-scanned and cropped editions floating around the torrent realm would only be a comedown. One day, if we're lucky, we'll get the whole thing in proper Panavision.

I would also like to single out a moment in a non-horror film, if I may. The staging and presentation of the "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" sequence in CABARET is one of the most singularly frightening and disturbing things I've ever seen in a film, so potent that to this day, I have never been able to bring myself to watch it agian, nor do I ever want to. Bob Fosse never worked in horror, but he understood the things that truly make nightmares.

(Thanks Marc!)
(Note- BODY SNATCHERS, MY LITTLE EYE & SESSION 9 are all on Netflix Instant right now).


Gregory Joseph said...

There's a widescreen print of Haunting of Julia on Youtube actually.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Thanks! Yeah I noticed that. Wish the rights holders would put out a dvd.

deadlydolls said...

I could not agree more about Tomorrow Belongs to Me! Sooooo haunting, though I'm also a weird fan of anything in-between WWI/II in Germany, as I find it such a fascinating time period. The Broadway revival (directed by Sam Mendes) went a little too obvious in highlighting the Holocaust in relation to the story. It's so much more effective in the film, where it's just surrounded our characters in a more understated way.

Graygrrrl said...

Another great guest post! "Session 9" is on my list of best horror films as well. It is seriously creepy. I love movies that make me freak myself out, instead of showing us a bunch of gore and calling it a day. Not that gore isn't good too, but the mind is certainly more scary!

Aaron said...

Glad someone picked MESSIAH OF EVIL for their list! Very underrated.

Joe Baker said...

I'm highly enjoying reading over these lists. Great stuff guys! And if anyone's curious, I know a site where lots of these titles are available on dvd-r.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Great list of movies from Marc E. Heuck. I agree with every choice passionately.