Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Anya Stanley ""

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Underrated '98 - Anya Stanley

Anya Stanley is a columnist at Dread Central and Daily Grindhouse. She is a contributor to Birth. Movies. Death., Vague Visages, and wherever they’ll let her talk about horror. More of her work can be seen at her website: anyawrites.com.

1998 was a great year for foreign films, animated features, and low-budget indies alike, even if the box office at the time didn’t always agree. Some films are enjoying a fresh look in the age of streaming and VOD, others continue to be lost in the avalanche of a director’s massive body of work or of contemporary Disney fare that received more fanfare at the time. In any case, these films are due for some love.

1. RINGU (dir. Hideo Nakata)
Most of us have seen and enjoyed The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s unsettling adaptation of the Japanese film of the same (translated) name in which a reporter comes across a “cursed tape” that allegedly kills its victims within seven days of watching it. As much as I love The Ring, there are distinct storytelling differences that make the ‘98 o.g. essential viewing for North American audiences in particular. The film’s creeping pace not only works in its favor, but it’s something that American remakes generally eschew. On top of that, it’s always better to see an urban legend brought to life within the context of the culture from which it sprang. Ringu’s success spawned three sequels and a prequel, so moviegoers in Japan have known for a while what American movie buffs have yet to widely appreciate: the original is just as worthy.
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2. A SIMPLE PLAN (dir. Sam Raimi)
A film that’s as good as the novel it adapts? A Simple Plan is a rare treasure, indeed. Sam Raimi’s neo-noir thriller stars a Murderer’s Row of A-list and character actors: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Gary Cole, and Brent Briscoe all get into quite the pickle when a pair of brothers and their friend stumble upon a crashed plane in the snowy woods and discover a massive pile of cash within. The secret doesn’t stay a secret for too long, others come sniffing around, and things get intense. Bill Paxton’s performance is particularly hard-hitting as a good man who succumbs to temptation and does bad things, while being painfully aware of his ethical failures. Due to the taut pacing and airtight plot, there isn’t a single wasted moment in the film’s 2-hour runtime, and the audience gets to reap all of the rewards in this devastating American Gothic potboiler.
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3. BLUES HARP (dir. Takashi Miike)
Over a span of seventeen years, Takashi Miike has made over a hundred film and tv productions in a variety of genres. As such, it’s easy to overlook more than a few gems that aren’t as widely praised as, say, Ichi The Killer. Blues Harp is a solid example. It features the unlikely friendship between two ambitious men who work for warring yakuza gangs. This is a far more muted, patient film than Miike’s more well-known studies in ultraviolence, but it shows a confident grasp of the sort of character-driven tension that would later serve Miike so well in Audition, with the stylized culture-heavy visuals that would become part of his creative signature.

4. WHISPERING CORRIDORS (dir. Park Ki-hyung)
The late nineties/turn of the century was a fascinating time for South Korean cinema, as the country’s recent break from a military dictatorship led to relaxation of its censorship laws. As such, a lot of horror began to spring up, often with a thematic focus on conformity and authoritarianism. One such film of the era is Whispering Corridors, the first entry of a five-film supernatural series (including Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs, Voice, and A Blood Pledge) set in girls’ high schools.
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5. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (dir. Brenda Chapman)
Dreamworks’ first traditional feature animated film is an epic adaptation of the book of Exodus, wherein Moses goes toe-to-toe with the pharoah Ramses in order to become the deliverer of the people of Egypt. Though the film takes the usual creative liberties when adapting any work for family-friendly viewing, it also includes some fairly dark depictions of the plagues, genocide, and slavery. The shining star of film, however, is the grand and breathtaking soundtrack, which has powerful songs combined with elements of the score (composed by Hans Zimmer). The Prince Of Egypt got lost amid the shuffle of 90’s animated fare, but remains a solid family film with the balls to tackle several heavy subjects within its narrative.
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