Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The collection...

Let me tell you how I spent the last five nights (ahh, what bliss…)

A friend procured for me something I have been without for a while. It is something that I partake of less and less as I write more and more, but it’s a must for movie viewing. This occurred at almost the same time a package arrived for me. Said package contained an avante garde horror movie by Russian director Andrey Iskanov entitled ‘Visions of Suffering’. The timing between the two was perfect and Thursday when I got off work I napped (5 AM start times, especially for a night person, do that to you) and then waited for it to get dark. After a brief session I turned on the film, turned off all the lights and sat down to take a high dive into what I am now thinking of, as ‘Avante Garde Horror Movie Weekend’.



Visions of Suffering was good. NOT a masterpiece of film but perhaps momentary masterpieces of imagery and sound. As a whole it fell apart at times (especially near the end), making it seem almost more a strewn together cache of vignettes than a proper film.

Without having seen his other films, I can tell You what Iskanov is amazing at seems to be visually creating nightmare worlds that should not be possible to translate from immemorial archetypal subconscious brain goo into living, breathing film. Iskanov has an eye for location, some talented makeup people and a general 'True Value' know-how in crafting what's around him into a completely terrifying and alien context.

VOS bled into a viewing of Ti West’s The Roost, an independent film Showtime entertainment put out. GREAT FLICK. The Roost is heavily stylized so that it looks as though you're watching a B movie on a UHF station at 2AM in 1987. It's shot entirely at night out in the country and it looks like they bumped the gain on the camera up to the max so as to 'fuzz out' all the images. Adds nice texture to the story, which isn't the greatest but definitely works to move the viewer through the eye-candy from an obvious visual eccentric.

Friday it was Dante Tomaselli's 3rd film, Satan's Playground. I had only watched this once before, after I bought it the week it was released last year. Tomaselli's stuff is definitely 'Avante Garde' aftter a fashion. Like Iskanov this is drug-inspired cinema, to the point with Tomaselli's last (and arueably most popular cult hit 'Horror') includes scenes of characters consuming weed and mushrooms to add to and accelerate the already bizarre world his films take place in. Satan's Playground is great but flawed - maybe not flawed if Tomaselli was purposely critiqueing horror conventions such as how each individual in a stranded car will leave adn walk off into the spooky woods of New Jersey's Pine Barren's, disappearing one after the other, none of hte subsequent adventurers apparently content to just SIT AND FUCKING WAIT before venturing off to be slaughtered, but flawed if one is looking for seamless continuity or any portion of logic to come into play. But then again, this is horror, not theatre, and although I ALWAYS expect more from movies that drift in these directions, I've learned to appreciate other aspects of the genre enough to forgive some oop's and oh's. Of special note in Satan's Playground is actress Irma St. Paule as elderly Mrs. Leeds, mother of the Jersey Devil. Her part could possibly best be described as Frank Booth's grandmother.

Next came Dario Argento's Inferno, sequel to his blood soaked fairytale masterpiece Suspiria. Now, I have LOVED Suspiria since I first encountered some of its imagery in a documentary about Argento that subsequently led me to seek out his movies over a decade ago. Suspiria's anniversay edition was the first DVD I owned. Since then however, I have often grown jaded in my thoughts of Argento's films. I had bought an Anchor Bay special edition double feature of Inferno/Phenomena (known in the States by the unequivacly lame title 'Creeper' and butchered of its goriest scenes) and loved them, but in subsequent exploration of the director's proliferate canon the constant reliance on certain images and plot (used loosely) conventions began to disuade me from further exploration of Argento's works. 'Teenage girls in trouble-black gloved killers-victims standing ludicrously stationary while various sharpened inplements poke, prod and puncture their bodies, etc, etc, etc.' This seems to be the running program, and really, although he definitely has an eye for setting and atmosphere, a few of his films takes you a long way. So now, after several years of nothing but an occasional viewing of Suspiria, I cracked out Inferno one night and Phenomena the next. Here's what I found after some hindsight.

Inferno survives, much as Suspiria does, as a visual masterpiece, so much so, that any plot holes or horror movie posturing can easily be ignored. That scene near the beginning with the girl who UNBELIEVABLY drops herself into a pool of water in the cellar of the old building she's staying in, only to find that its a submerged mansion IS ARCHETYPALLY AMAZING. The sound, the imagery, the lighting, ah, its fucking perfection I tell you. Inferno goes on to match up perfectly with its sister Suspiria as beautifully lit in deep reds, blues and purples, creating a similar, if probably more modern, fairytale image that remains intact no matter where the film goes. Inferno is the 2nd part in Argento's fabled 'Three Mothers' trilogy that has now spanned four decades. The long-awaited and often rumored third and final installment, aptly titled, 'Mother of Tears: the Third Mother' finally came out in late 2007, and hopefully will measure up.

Phenomena, featuring a very young Jennifer Connelly and one of my personal favorite actors, Donald Pleasence, is a strange story that involves a girl that can communicate with insects and, of course, a black gloved killer. Phenomena is good, but sub par when held against Suspiria and Inferno. Taking place in the Swiss countryside, the locations are all gorgously photographed in the film, howver an outdated metal soundtrack often pre-empting the spooky, Victorian-inspired soundtrack one gets used to from Argento and collaborators Goblin, a reliance on faulty-logic posturings, and sans fairytale lighting, well, it just doesn't measure up. The Climax of the film has some great imagery, but its a bit dodgy getting there.

Finally, last night it was Lucio Fulci's House By The Cemetary, for which a more appropriate title might have been 'House Where People Continually Venture into The Dark and Spooky Cellar Where They Have Previously Witnessed Others Being Beheaded and Disembowled', but then I guess a title like that wouldn't leave much to the imagination.

House is a great movie for what it is. To appreciate it you must watch it on its own terms, by its own logic (or lack thereof). If your going to go out and rent a couple horror movies, and the others are conceptual masterpieces like, say, The Exorcist or Day of the Dead, well, House is just not going to measure up after such heady classics. But when House seems strongest is after a cultist's submergence in movies like Demons, Demons 2 or even something like Phenomena. Not alot of what the people in the film do makes sense, and the dialogue replacement is atrocious (yet comical, especially the ADR for the little boy, clearly delivered by an adult trying their best to impersonate a little boy), but as an old school, hacked-to-bits-in-a-haunted-house kind of way, it is of a calibur all its own.

It dawned on me that the movies on my shelf are not all masterpieces; there are those, like Mullholland Drive (or anything Lynch for that matter), Big Lebowski and Donnie Darko, and then there are those such as the ones I've just catalogued. Those niche classics purchased and sometimes awaiting years between viewings. The thing is they are there when I want them, and that's the point of having the collection.


Big In Day-town said...

Wow, you said Jennifer Connally. My friend Amy used to do the best impersonation of her one emotion that has carried her through her entire film oeuvre: it vaguely resembles a deer caught in the headlights. Scarlett Johansson is also from the Jennifer Connally School of Method Acting; her one-act of choice is bored insouciance. No matter what.

You and I must partake together sometime and watch "The Pit." I want to know if it's the galactically underappreciated horro masterpiece I believe or a total piece of crap. I suspect it's both.

Shawn C. Baker said...

I'm down for the Pit, any where, any time.

Scarlett Johansson always seems to look just like her character in Ghost World to me - no matter what. In that one the headlight thing worked, prolly cuz it was the first itme many of us saw her and it was the character. Now she's just that girl gone back in time and trussed up in a corset.