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Archive for the ‘author Kevin Olson’ Category

(John Carpenter, 1978)

(essay by Kevin)

Much like my dilemma with what to write about in regards to Alien here I am again faced with an even more canonized film; a film that has been written about ad nauseam to the point where anything I say in this essay is going to sound cliché. Halloween is considered one of the great horror films of all time, and it is considered the quintessential slasher film. It seems odd that for a countdown whose sole purpose was to bring awareness to little-seen horror films that my list would be topped by such an obvious choice. It’s true that we wanted this countdown to be unorthodox, but I don’t think for an instant that any of us – Robert, Jamie, and Troy – felt that we could omit the obvious choices from our list all in the name of esotericism. So what makes Halloween the greatest horror film of all time? Perhaps you have preconceived notions of what the slasher film can offer, but for me it epitomizes everything – good and bad (and boy was some of it atrociously bad) – about the horror genre post-1970’s.  Every cliché and every trope found in modern horror can be traced back to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Yes, Carpenter cribbed most of his film from sources ranging from the obvious (the most cribbed man when it comes to terror: Hitchcock) to the unheralded (Bob Clark, director of Black Christmas), but never once does his film feel like a mere copycat, an aping of better material. No, Halloween, even today some 30 years later, still feels fresh and still gives me the chills. (more…)

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(David Lynch, 1986)

(essay by Kevin)

[This is a repost of an entry I did on the subgenre of Neo-Noir a while back…I am leaving it untouched here for one purpose: I have not added any addendums to this essay about whether or not Blue Velvet is a ‘horror’ film; so, let’s discuss whether it is or isn’t in the comments.]

If Chinatown uses the style of noir to create an atmosphere of loneliness and despair – revealing the corrupt truths of America the way Gittes reveals the corruption of the Cross case; and if Blade Runner uses noir’s style to look into the future to raise the level of awareness about a kind of hyperreality we live in; then David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is an attack on the ideological nostalgic 1950’s America filtered through Lynch’s twisted, microscopic lens. Lynch’s film peers into the secrecy of our lives in order to see what lies underneath the façade of Everytown, USA. Blue Velvet involves families, strokes, teenagers in love, severed ears, murder, drugs, and yes, sadomasochism. And yet Lynch does in deed bring all of these elements together in noir fashion to create an ethereal experience, something so surreal and so bizarre, it is as if the viewer is taking hits from Frank Booth’s gas tank.

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(Bob Clark, 1974)

(essay by Kevin)

Ever since I was a kid I can remember the coverbox to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. It wasn’t just the simplicity of the title and its juxtaposition of those two words or the fact that it was directed by the man who gave us A Christmas Story and Porky’s, but it was the image on the front: a woman screaming with a plastic bag over her head, and the image of this woman was inside of a wreath. I remember that I needed to see this movie. However it wasn’t until I was much older that I finally got a chance to visit Black Christmas, and I was shocked to not just find a really terrifying and intense stalker film, but to also find one of the earliest examples of what would later be known as the “slasher film”.

With hindsight we can clearly say that the plot – a bunch of girls in a sorority house are being harassed by obscene phone calls that are…COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE! – is as banal as any slasher film’s plot. However, Clark’s film predates Halloween by four years, and Friday the 13th – the film responsible for making the slasher profitable – by six years; however, none of that seems relevant if we’re discussing who came up with the template first because despite the Canadian’s having a four year edge on the American’s they were all behind the Italian’s, where Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood predates Black Christmas by three years. (more…)

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(Ingmar Bergman, 1968)

(essay by Kevin)

“The Hour of the Wolf” is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful.

Imagine if I told you that the tagline above is for a movie called The Cannibals – sounds like an ordinary horror film, doesn’t it? Now, imagine I tell you that the above tagline is for a movie directed by Ingmar Bergman – you would probably think it was an art-house film about the dark night of the soul. Okay, so now I will tell you that Ingmar Bergman – after having a nervous breakdown – decided to make two of his darkest and most personal films in the form of Persona (a wildly popular and revered film art-house film) and Hour of the Wolf (originally entitled The Cannibals).  As odd as it may seem to see an Ingmar Bergman on a list for the best horror films I’ve always felt that it was around this time of the 60’s and 70’s that Bergman was not only making the best movies of his career, but he was also doing it in the form of deeply introspective and contemplative films that came from the darkest depths of the man’s artistry and philosophies. (more…)

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(Ridley Scott, 1979)

(essay by Kevin)

There were a handful of films in this countdown that I dreaded getting assigned, and Ridley Scott’s Alien was one of them. Oh, not because it’s a bad movie (of course it isn’t!), but because what can someone like me say about the classic horror/sci-fi hybrid that hasn’t already been said by people much more adept than I?

I guess one place to start is how upon each subsequent viewing of Alien I’ve found something new to admire. I’ve seen the film at least 20 times, and I never tire of it (I even had the privilege of seeing it in the theater during its revival tour a few years back); mostly because it epitomizes classic filmmaking, and that’s something that never gets old. Like all of the great Hitchcock thrillers, Alien knows how to play the audience like a piano (to borrow Hitch’s line); it utilizes a slow burn mentality that uses the plot device of an alien life form evolving throughout the film to keep things fresh every time we “see” the alien (one of the brilliant things about the film is in the way Scott leaves much of the film in the dark, never tipping his hand as to how the alien may look, employing a kind of Val Lewton approach to the horror).

The pacing of the film is one of the primary factors in getting me to return to the film year after year. The pacing allows for the camera to really sweep through the ship and give us a sense of place. Yes, this is a science-fiction film, and Scott knows that (and its sets and exterior shots of the ship are great sci-fi moments), but at its heart Alien is a horror film; a thing-that-go-bump-in-dark slasher film – Halloween in space, essentially, and it’s one of the most brilliantly executed slasher films I’ve ever seen. (more…)

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(Park Chan-wook, 2009)

(essay by Kevin)

Park Chan-wook’s Thirst may just be the best vampire I’ve seen that isn’t silent or in German. This vampire movie is mopey and dopey with ashen heartthrobs declaring their love for a young girl while they prance around with their shirts off. No, this vampire movie is an odd pastiche of violence, nourish police procedural, Bergman-esque psychological drama, sexuality, and dark comedy; it’s also one of the most beautiful looking of modern horror pictures. Thirst is a film that lingers – with its stark lighting, reds that pop off the screen, hypnotic aesthetic – long after its initial viewing.

The story concerns Sang-hyun, a priest who is tired of the convent life; he’s tired of a life filled with death and suffering, and how this seemingly never ending cycle of despair feels as thought it’s crushing him into oblivion. Fed up with the priesthood, Sang-hyun volunteers at a hospital to be a guinea pig for doctors trying to find a vaccine for a devastating virus. However – and of course this should come as no surprise to fans of horror films – the experiment fails, and Sang-hyun, in need of a blood transfusion, seems to be facing death. But once Sang-hyun receives his blood transfusion something odd happens, and he makes a miraculous recovery. News of his recovery spreads, and people begin to flock to his congregation to see what kind of miracles he can perform. However, Sang-hyun begins to relapse, coughing up blood, and while waking up one morning, realized he needs to rush to shelter to guard his eyes from the light. He has become a vampire.

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(AKA Aquarius; AKA Bloody Bird; AKA Deliria)
(Michele Soavi, 1987)

(essay by Kevin)

Stage Fright is a lot more fun than it has any right to be. By that I mean Michele Soavi’s debut film is nothing original – in fact it was about this time that the entire slasher genre was declared dead on arrival as not even big franchise sequels like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare Elm Street could rake in the cash they once did. Most of that was due to the fact that audiences were no longer interested in the tired old clichés this particular subgenre leaned on. Soavi, however, made Stage Fright’s rather familiar premise more than tolerable by employing a number of eerie images and ratcheting up the tension seldom seen in such a familiar subgenre; in addition to the glossy execution of horror tropes, Soavi’s film is ultimately a sardonic work, riffing (and reworking so they’re better) on tired old slasher motifs. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s why I really wanted to showcase this particular Italian horror film higher than all of the other great entries showcased on this countdown. In fact, my overall hope is that this leads film buffs to the work of Michele Soavi – a man I believe to be the most talented Italian horror filmmaker.  


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(Lucio Fulci, 1981)

(essay by Kevin)

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is one of the best films of the Italian Horror genre. The film is definitely better than most horror movies, and it is doubly better than most Italian horror movies. The problem some people have with the film is that it makes no sense, and has no interest, at all, in following any kind of sensible or linear story path. Post gialli-Fulci was not interested in making stories that made sense, but, to his credit, The Beyond, for all of its craziness and inane moments, probably makes the most sense when held up to his other supernatural films. Fulci and the Italian’s love to stylize things — really ever since Fellini decided to abandon the neo-realist movement in Italy all bets were off — and Fulci’s garish imagery evokes some of the great moments from the giants of Italian cinema: Fellini and Bertolucci. The Italian’s had an eye for imagery (and Fulci had a thing for shooting eyes…) and for how something could just pop on the screen (or out of sockets); whether it be beautiful shadow play (like The Conformist) or an ethereal narrative a la Fellini, Fulci definitely knew how to create an eerie atmosphere on a par with the masters of Italian cinema (and especially his contemporary Argento), and The Beyond is his supernatural masterpiece. (more…)

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(Francesco Barilli, 1974)

(essay by Kevin)

When I was approached by Jamie to participate in this countdown I knew I wanted to make sure Italian horror got its due. And when Jamie told me his intentions for the countdown – a numerical listing of films with the intent to raise awareness rather than rank one better than another – I knew I wanted to shed some light onto some Italian horror movies that weren’t as well known as the staples of the subgenre. These are films like The Short Night of the Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado) or The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati); films that have a cult following within a cult subgenre. One of the real joys about this particular sungenre is the hope that the more you watch the same old gialli over and over that just maybe this time you’ll un-mine some hidden gem. Case in point: Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black, a fantastic addition into the most hallowed halls of Italian horror.

The story – an odd mix of giallo/Hitchcock and some of the baroque qualities of a Bava – concerns Silvia (Mimsy Farmer), an industrial scientist, who becomes increasingly disturbed by a series of eerie visions from her past. These visions, crucial pieces to solving the film’s puzzle, include a seductive woman who appears when she is about to make love with her boyfriend and a little girl who piques Silvia’s interest. What’s fascinating about the picture is the way Barilli approaches the mystery of these visions: are they specters acting as representations of something from Silvia’s past, or are they merely figments of Silvia’s imagination? 

Silvia’s psychosis becomes a point of emphasis, and it sucks the viewer in much in the same way Silvia is taken hold by these visions (it reminded me of the obsessed quest of Scotty from Vertigo). It isn’t long before Silvia’s neighbors, friends and Roberto, her lover, begin to take on sinister significance. Whether or not the significance of these visions is a clue to Silvia’s past, or something more sinister, is what makes the film’s mystery so brilliant. I was blindsided by the ending of this film, perhaps because of its deliberate pace and lush visuals I wasn’t expecting the visceral jolt I received with those final images.

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by Kevin J. Olson

So, why am I writing this?  Well, in light of the recent polling for the best films of the past decade – which concluded about a week ago – and Allan’s comments regarding his disdain for Miami Vice, I felt compelled to defend the film I ranked the second best film of the past decade.  I could simply list the other fine bloggers and film critics who agree with me about Miami Vice (an impressive list that, to name a few, includes the likes of: Keith Uhlirch J.D., Doniphon, and Ed Gonzalez); however, I feel like I need to explicitly lay out the reasons why I find Miami Vice to be one of the best films of the decade.

From the onset I should note that I feel like had this film been titled anything else it would perhaps not have been so loathed. Now, I’m not suggesting that a title alone will get people to make up their mind about a movie (unless it’s followed by “a film by Christopher Nolan”), but I do think that some people perhaps struggled to seriously consider that film entitled Miami Vice - an entity that most people solely associate with bad 80’s kitsch – was not only good, but a breakthrough in the crime genre in the vein of Jean-Pierre Melville.  Yes, at first it’s hard not to smile in a way that borders on embarrassment when I tell people about my love for this movie (their reply is usually “you mean that remake with Collin Farrell?”), but when I re-watch the film with someone who hasn’t seen it before they clearly see that director Michael Mann was not interested in simply rehashing the television show he held executive producing credit on; no, unlike the glut of television revamps released at the time (drek like Starsky & Hutch, Bewitched, and Dukes of Hazard) Miami Vice was more concerned with being taken seriously; an existential crime drama that stands out as Mann’s most audacious (until that point as last year’s Public Enemies was an even more ambitious undertaking) and masterful crime picture. (more…)

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