Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Some Recommended Underrated Horror - Dean Treadway ""

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Some Recommended Underrated Horror - Dean Treadway


Dean Treadway is a co-host and special events correspondent for the popular Movie Geeks United podcast. Dean has been involved in film criticism, film festival programming, and television performance and programming for more than 25 years.  His blog, filmicability (at filmicability.blogspot.com) details his lifelong passion  for the movies. His 20 favorite flicks, in descending order, are 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, FANNY AND ALEXANDER, TOUCH OF EVIL, THE GODFATHER/ THE GODFATHER Pt II, ANNIE HALL, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GOODFELLAS,  A LITTLE ROMANCE, THE 400 BLOWS, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC,  LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, REDS, BREAKING THE WAVES, NAPOLEON, NETWORK, TARGETS, PATHS OF GLORY, ALL THAT JAZZ, SHERMAN'S MARCH,  and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.


DYING BREED (Jody Dwyer, 2008)
DYING BREED bleeds dread as it tells its sullen story. Mirrah Foulkes plays Nina, an Australian twentysomething who's still in shock over the sudden drowning death of her sister. It's holiday time, so Nina plans on a curiosity-killing vacation to the Tazmanian island where her sister died. Along for the holiday/investigation is Nina's sensible boyfriend Matt (Leigh Whannell), his partying best friend Jack (Nathan Phillips) and Jack's newest fuck-buddy, Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo). When they arrive, the film morphs into a free-for-all shockfest that combines two cups of DELIVERANCE, a cup of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, two teaspoons of EVIL DEAD, and two pinches of FRIDAY THE 13TH. There's no point in recounting more of the story, as it'll give away some of the scares, which are plentiful. This is a gory film, but one done with taste (the most shocking death in the movie looks horribly painful, but becomes much more so when we're faced with the life trickling out of the character's body, coupled with the terrified reactions of the people surrounding the scene). Director Jody Dwyer, a former film editor who worked under Stanley Kubrick on FULL METAL JACKET, expertly scores DYING BREED complete with the four benchmarks of a great horror film: (1) A terrifying use of silence (though the film has a fine discordant score from Narida Tyson-Chew), (2) an equally terrifying use of darkness (excellent photography and art direction!), (3) a dizzying sense of disorientation, and (4) most importantly, the fear of a violent, prolonged death.

TESIS (Alajandro Amenabar, 1996)
TESIS was made a few years before Amenabar stunned American audiences with his hallucinatory OPEN YOUR EYES and the ghostly Nicole Kidman vehicle THE OTHERS. But his debut film, which won six Spanish Goyas (their Oscar equivalent) is more impressive than both of those titles. Ana Torrent is superlative as a film student working on a thesis about extreme violence in the media. While conducting her research, she gets wind of a Czech snuff film hidden somewhere on the shelves in her university’s cavernous basement. With her only confidant being Chema (Fele Martinez), a geeky gorehound classmate with his own prurient interest in the video, she investigates further and…well, let’s just say they both get into deep shit and leave it at that. Though TESIS occasionally ventures too deeply into slasher movie mode (for my tastes, that is), it’s still always smart and expertly crafted. It’s also scary as all get-out, particularly in its final half hour, chock full of paranoia, pain and plot twists. Forget about 8MM, the crappy Nicholas Cage vehicle about snuff films--TESIS is everything that film wanted to be, but wasn’t.


THE NANNY (Seth Holt, 1965)
THE NANNY is one of the best Hammer horror movies out there, even if, at first glance, it doesn’t seem as if it’s part of that British company’s classic stable (mainly because it‘s in black-and-white instead of the studio‘s notoriously vibrant Technicolor). Produced and scripted by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster (from Marryam Modell’s novel), it stars Bette Davis--then in the prime of her post-BABY JANE horror career--as the caretaker for the wealthy Fane household, which is still reeling from the bathtub drowning death of five-year-old Suzy. The girl’s death was attributed to the prankster nature of her bratty 10-year-old brother Joey (William Dix), who was sent away for years of therapy thereafter. Now he’s back home, and we see early on he has no trust for Nanny, whom he views as his mortal enemy and the real cause of the girl’s death. But he can’t get anyone to believe him--not his checked-out businessman father (James Villers), his nerve-wracked mother (Wendy Craig), or his sickly Aunt Pen (a terrific Jill Bennett). Only his teenage neighbor Bobbie (Pamela Franklin) lends a sympathetic ear. All throughout, director Holt and screenwriter Sangster expertly build tension, even though we KNOW the “innocent” nanny is up to something (Davis is superb in the role). William Dix is also excellent as the pouty, slightly nutty kid up against it all. Gorgeously shot by Harry Waxman, THE NANNY has some terrifying tricks up its sleeves. 

THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD (Justin Meeks and Duane Graves, 2008)
THE WILD MAN OF NAVIDAD remembers, and adores, the charm of 70s-era low-budget horror filmmaking. I swear, this film could be mistaken for a lost Sunn Classic (they made bad but entertaining documentaries about UFOs and Bigfoot in the 1970s) or a once-buried inspiration for Charles B. Pierce's THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (Pierce acted as advisor to Texas-based writer/directors Justin Meeks and Duane Graves; also, it should be noted that TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE writer Kim Henkel produces and plays a supporting role here). These newcomers have also gotten every detail right in telling the story of Dale Rogers, whose experiences being terrorized by an unspeakable, carnivorous monster in the Texas midlands town of Navidad form the film's basis. If you're a fan of this genre or a confirmed film geek, you'll notice the little things here--how the sound pops as a placard tells us this is based on a true event, or how the grain of the "film" looks; how the credits look imperfectly printed on the image, or how they include a slyly-reworked version of the MPAA ratings logo as discordant music cries in the background. Take a look at the constant rack-focusing or the insistent use of zoom lenses, or too-close close-ups that sometimes even cut off the mouths of their subjects, or the choppily-edited visions of fly-covered gore after the WILD MAN goes on his rampages. And notice the jarring juxtaposition of violence with jaunty country music, or the cheerily amateur quality of most of its acting (which goes a long way, ironically, to making THE WILD MAN OF NAVIDAD feel more authentic). The casting of an wide array of suspicious, hairy old men is a stroke of genius, as is much in this well-crafted film that does fine job of keeping its monster in a box until it simply has to be loosed--a triumph of restraint that most ADD horror directors have forgotten is a choice for which they can opt.


DERANGED (Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby, 1974)
Easily one of the grimmest, grimiest horror tales out there, DERANGED goes no holds barred in retelling the story of Ed Gein, the Wisconsin farmer whose acts of murderous madness inspired countless other horror films (including PSYCHO and CHAINSAW). Though its lead, veteran actor Roberts Blossom (whom you might’ve seen in HOME ALONE, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and about a hundred other films) is playing a man named Ezra Cobb, the film actually cleaves quite closely to Gein’s grisly life, following him as he cares for his sickly mother (Cosette Lee, who has a horrifying, nearly unwatchable death scene), and then, after her demise, goes on to lure a host of females to his run-down lair, where he murders them and uses their body parts to fix up his mother’s exhumed and rapidly decaying body.DERANGED is one of those horror movies I saw as a kid at the drive-in, and I can honestly say, it’s one I probably shouldn’t have seen, since it’s absolutely gut-wrenching in all ways--from its terribly squalid art direction and makeup to the committed lead performance from Blossoms, who carved out a specialty in playing crazy old men, but who never again portrayed one as bat-shit, around-the-bend insane as this.


JIGOKU (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)
Even if you don’t believe in Hell (and why should you), the concept of it is incredibly terrifying, and Nakagawa’s JIGOKU stands as the only movie that gives one a wide-open tour of the place, and the acts committed in it. It does so, however, using drama as its delivery device; in its first half, a man (Shigeru Amachi) finds himself indirectly on the hook for the deaths of a number of people (already horrifying in and of itself). In its second half, though, we get his consecration to Hades, where acts of punitive violence are lovingly photographed in bright colors (by Mamoru Morita) against a backdrop of inky darkness. It’s as ghastly a movie as I can remember--completely unforgettable. JIGOKU has also been given the Criterion stamp of approval, and deservedly so. I don’t think there’s another movie out there like this one. 

THE LORDS OF SALEM (Rob Zombie, 2013)
I understand that there’s a backlash amongst horror fans against Zombie as a filmmaker; I, myself, have never gotten through THE DEVIL'S REJECTS or his remake of HALLOWEEN, because they are just not my bag. But I think this backlash has come a little too soon, because THE LORDS OF SALEM is easily one of the most visually arresting horror films of recent memory. In it, Zombie’s wife and muse Sheri Moon Zombie is exceptional as a Massachusetts rock DJ who receives a demo record that sends her and any woman who listens to it into a witch-driven tizzy of depravity. Surprisingly, THE LORDS OF SALEM may be the most astounding display of cinematic play yet in 2013. The Brandon Trost photography is absolutely beautiful, as is Jennifer Spence’s sumptuous art direction (seriously, almost every shot in this film is amazing). The makeup, led by Wayne Toth, transforms blue-eyed character actor Meg Foster into the most petrifying witch imaginable (and, later in the film, it turns the dazzling Shari Moon Zombie into a chilling, white-faced, long-dreaded specter). The expertly assembled supporting cast includes Bruce Davison as a hapless witch expert, Andrew Prine as a fellow witch scholar, Michael Berryman (from THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and exploitation god Sig Haig as ancient male witches, and British character actresses Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn--along with E.T. mom Dee Wallace--as a coven of New England ladies who definitely have more on their minds than tea and crumpets. Like Zombie’s other films, there’s an intelligent use of rock music (I’ll never hear The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” the same way again), and the film sports an overtly satanic denouement that demands to stand as the devilish equivalent to 2001’s STARGATE sequence. Scoff if you will, but THE LORDS OF SALEM is definitely scary, and definitely immaculately made.


LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (John Hancock, 1971)
Director Hancock was later known for directing under-the-radar dramas like the baseball movie BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, the surfing dramady CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ and the tragic rural love story BUSTER AND BILLIE. So it comes as a surprise that he helmed this effective horror story starring Zohra Lampert as the title character, a woman who’s just emerged from a psychiatric hospital stint when she starts seeing dead bodies all over the place after moving into a rural farmhouse that is rumored to be haunted. Lampert gives a tremendous performance, one that makes us, too, question whether she is crazed or whether she’s really seeing those things frightening her so. And Hancock, through his creepy photography and scoring, and his studied use of sound (those whispery voices) really constructs a nearly perfect, deliberately-paced dive into the confused horror of insanity and ghostly apparitions.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID (William Castle, 1965)
I saw this film very recently as part of ME-TV’s horror-movie series hosted by Svengoolie. I had absolutely no high expectations, but, boy, was I in for a shock! The film has a simple premise: two teenage girls (Sarah Lane and Andi Garrett) are left alone for a sleepover at Garrett’s creepily-lit mansion, and decide to spend their time making prank phone calls to unsuspecting victims. This leads the girls into dark territory, with one phone-call recipient--Joan Crawford as a desperate, aging romantic who’s taken a deadly turn against her slimy lover (John Ireland). Crawford hears the girls uttering the title phrase over the phone, and then suspects them of knowing all about her murderous deed. Joseph Biroc’s marvelously contrasting black-and-white photography does much here in transmitting a horror feel, but this movie is as much a comedy as anything else (especially with the over-the-hill Crawford playing romantic scenes as if she were still the queen of the ball). I SAW WHAT YOU DID is not really a frightening film, but it sure is a whole lotta fun--it gave me a bunch of spooky belly laughs.


AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (Jose Mojica Marins, 1964)
Coffin Joe. What a genius! This is Marin’s debut film for this character that has become part of Brazilian culture (later in his career, in other films, he was billed simply as Coffin Joe, which would be the equivalent of Sean Connery being billed as James Bond in his subsequent movies). Basically, what we have here is Coffin Joe, a devilish apparition, making his way into the real world and, wanting a son to carry on his “good” works, testing a host of women with a stunning Olympiad of horrors, in order to decide which one is hardy enough to bear his progeny (this search goes on in the 1967 sequel THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, and in a series of 13 more movies with Coffin Joe as the lead). Marins, as our bearded, long-fingernailed hero, looks like Stanley Kubrick gone monstrously wrong, and the trials he puts his female charges through are just…just unimaginable. There’s a lot about AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL that clues one into to the depravity possible in this world. That, in itself, is terrifying enough. That he became a well-loved scion of Brazilian cinema tells us something else entirely.

I also want to point readers to a related post on my own blog, FILMICABILITY--it’s called 50 Scary Non-Horror Movies! In the words of that great horror maven Joe Bob Briggs, check it out!

http://www.filmicability.blogspot.com/2012/10/50-scary-non-horror-movies-for-your.html

2 comments:

Dr. Freex said...

What an excellent, excellent list!

Dr. Freex said...

What an excellent, excellent list! Nicely eclectic, and... okay, okay, you've convinced me I should give Lords of Salem a chance.