Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - J.D. Of Radiator Heaven ""

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - J.D. Of Radiator Heaven

J.D. runs the wonderful film blog Radiator Heaven and I highly recommend you add it to your regular reading list!
The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)
The Passion of Darkly Noon is a strange film. One that features Brendan Fraser covered in red paint and barbed wire, Viggo Mortensen as a mute carpenter, and the unforgettable image of large silver boot floating down a river. It is quite unlike any other film and is the brainchild of Philip Ridley, a British performance artist, filmmaker, novelist, painter, and playwright whose three feature films to date deal with the loss of innocence. Our story begins with a disheveled young man (Brendan Fraser) in a suit staggering through a forest. He is eventually picked up and driven to a house where Callie (Ashley Judd) lives with her boyfriend Clay (Viggo Mortensen), a mute carpenter who builds coffins for the local undertaker and is prone to taking long, spontaneous walks, “in the dark,” to think and sort out his problems. As the hot summer days run into each other, Darkly fixates on Callie, his savior, and things go predictably south from there.

Ridley’s attention to the environment and its affect on the characters reminds me of the way Peter Weir conveys the same relationship in his films, specifically Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), which shows the duality of the environment – at once beautiful and ominous, much like what Ridley is doing in Darkly Noon. The forest represents the entire world for these characters. It is initially a haven for them but eventually is transformed into a hell on earth. The Passion of Darkly Noon is a fascinating parable about the extremes of religious devotion – how it corrupts and warps, often with tragic results. Ridley’s film warns of the dangers of ignorance and fanaticism. He has crafted a very unusual horror film that stays with you long after it ends. It is very stylized in nature, from the way it looks to how the characters speak and what they say – hence the dark, fairy tale vibe.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
The 1990s have become known as the age of irony for the horror genre. Self-reflexive humor, as epitomized by the Scream trilogy, replaced formulaic slasher franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street during the 1980s. One of the few films that went against this trend was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. David Lynch’s film is not usually regarded as a horror film per se, but if looked at closely, does contain many conventions of the genre (i.e. the final girl against the malevolent monster). However, the veteran filmmaker pushes these rules as far as they can possibly be stretched. Film critic Kim Newman observed in his review for Sight and Sound magazine that Lynch’s movie “demonstrates just how tidy, conventional and domesticated the generic horror movie of the 1980s and 1990s has become.”

The town of Twin Peaks is a particularly atmospheric setting with indications that something ominous lurks out in the woods. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) not only meets her demise among the trees, but a grove of trees also serves as an entry point into an otherworldly dimension where the killer resides. She is the final girl archetype, but deeply flawed. Laura is arguably one of Lynch’s most complex and fully realized characterizations. She immerses herself in several vices, which distracts from the painful incestuous relationship with her father (Ray Wise) and BOB’s (Frank Silva) desire to possess her. To this day, Fire Walk With Me remains Lynch’s most maligned and underappreciated film and also one of the best and truly terrifying horror films ever to come out of the 1990s.

Larva (2005)
The SyFy Channel original movies are the drive-in B-movies for the New Millennium, proudly flying the exploitation freak flag with a steady diet of the kind of pseudo-solemn disaster movies that were all the rage in the 1990s, cheesy fantasy films and over-the-top monster movies. Admittedly, most SyFy Channel movies are forgettable exercises in cheap special effects, laughably bad dialogue and wooden performances (that is kinda their charm) but every so often the channel cranks out one that is better than you would normally expect. Larva is one of those movies – a fun romp that Vulcan mind melds David Cronenberg-esque body horror with The Blob-style creature feature.

Dr. Eli Rudkus (Vincent Ventresca) is the new veterinarian in the small town of Host, having replaced the old one who mysteriously retired. His first house call is to the farm of Jacob Young (William Forsythe) who has a sick cow and casually meets Eli at the front door with a loaded shotgun. While studying the parasites, Eli discovers that they absorb blood, which causes them to grow in size and transform into lethal bat-like creatures. After efficiently introducing all the major characters, the film picks up narrative steam when Eli and Jacob team up to kill the parasites. Basically, Larva is a wish fulfillment revenge tale as the arrogant corporation gets its well-deserved karmic payback. For a low-budget horror movie it has pretty decent production values, solid direction by Tim Cox, and an enticing premise that is well-executed by a cast refusing to simply phone it in as is sometimes the case with these films.

Sole Survivor (1983)
Anticipating Final Destination (2000) by many years, Sole Survivor chronicles the troubled life of Denise (Anita Skinner), the only person to survive an airplane crash. Shot on a low budget, writer/director Thom Eberhardt (Night of the Comet) gets around showing the actual crash by depicting the aftermath, his camera gliding over strewn wreckage and dead bodies before settling on Denise, still in her seat, gripping the arm rests and staring off into space, establishing the film’s unsettling mood. She narrowly escaped death, but fate seems to have other plans in store for her as the Grim Reaper and its minions come for her.

The low budget and cast of unknown actors only adds to the film’s authenticity by grounding the story in the every day and populating it with people you recognize and identify with – chief among them is Denise portrayed by Anita Skinner who manages to elicit our sympathy right from the get-go and keep it for the entire film. With the is-she-dead-or-isn’t-she vibe and the haunted atmosphere that plagues Denise, Sole Survivor feels somewhat indebted to Carnival of Souls (1962). Where the Final Destination movies resort to cheap scares and increasingly elaborate and gory set pieces, Eberhardt’s film utilizes disturbing images and an unsettling sound design to create an overall feeling of impending doom that keeps you on edge throughout.

Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)
Who Can Kill A Child? is the Citizen Kane (1941) of evil children horror movies with its uncompromising tale of vengeful kids. The opening montage lays it on thick by documenting how children have been abused and killed during war throughout history. It all comes across as heavy-handed and drags on for far too long, but once the story kicks in, the film gradually builds narrative momentum. Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) are on vacation in Spain and decide to visit an island off the southern coast. Initially, the village seems abandoned, but eventually the couple discovers it populated by inexplicably homicidal tykes.

Once Tom and Evelyn arrive on the island, the film establishes a tense, slow burn as they investigate the village. There is an almost unbearable feeling of dread as we sense that something isn’t right with this place and it keeps us on edge until the kids surface. Then, the film shifts gears to a white-knuckled battle for survival as the vacationing couple try to escape. What makes Who Can Kill A Child? such an unsettling film is that no exact reason is given as to why the children are behaving so irrationally – they just are. One thing is for sure, I will never forget the image of all these kids staring with their disconcerting smiles.

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