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Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Horror’ Category

(Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

(essay by Robert)

A good way to describe the Shining is: Intoxicating and Addictive.  Perhaps the most common reaction is to first walk away feeling very unclear.  Watch it again and you are impressed but still scratching your head.  The next viewing is even more intriguing but the ambivalence lingers.  After a while and multiple sittings it becomes easy to come back to and so very satisfying.  No question about it, this is what makes Kubrick’s film so absolutely fascinating and a masterpiece of horror.  Its open-endedness and ambiguity succeed in intriguing again and again. A seemingly simple storyline- A man with higher ambitions moves his young family into an isolated resort (with a history) to become the caretaker during the offseason.  What unfolds onscreen over the next 2+ hours (about a month in the story) however is anything but simple.

Kubrick begins to build and build almost immediately by slipping important pieces of information in his conversations and visual.  The hotel manager (Barry Nelson) explains to Jack that the previous caretaker developed cabin fever and killed his family. Jack nods this off by stating that the isolation is exactly what he is looking for.  We then learn that Jack and Wendy’s son is not exactly normal and that the family itself is hardly picture perfect.  On the tour of the hotel we learn that “All the best people stay here” and get a further insight that it was built on a Native American burial ground and that attacks had to be fended off while the hotel was being built.  Kubrick uses wonderful lighting and décor to build on the “life” of the hotel and Danny (Danny Lloyd) asks: “Is there something bad here?”…of course there is.  All of these pieces, all of this information, is important and add on to Kubrick’s opus.

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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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(Charles Laughton, 1955)

(essay by Troy)

I’ll be back…when it’s dark

Such a line speaks to the deep rooted and irrational fears that all children have of the night, a time when they feel alone, unprotected, and at their most vulnerable.  It’s the time when the mythical boogeyman goes about terrorizing the young.  Building from this archetype is Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, creating an all-too-real boogeyman in the form of Robert Mitchum’s monstrous wolf in sheep’s clothing, Reverend Harry Powell.  As elemental a horror story as one can come up with, it’s core is simplicity, the story of two children constantly on the run from the intimidating Powell, desperately searching for refuge.  It’s themes are universal; the fundamental battle of good versus evil, the duality of man (hammered home with the “love” and “hate” that our evil preacher has tattooed on his hands), and the need for children to be protected from the predators of the world, lest they be eaten up. It’s part Biblical allegory and part Grimm Brother’s fairy tale, viewed through the prism of the Depression era Deep South.
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(Dario Argento, 1977)

(essay by Troy)

Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.

So the narrator intones amidst a credit sequence consisting of a cacophony of pounding tympanis, screeching guitar strings, entrancing prog synths, and eerie background vocalizations.  It would have been just as appropriate for Dario Argento to insert a title card which states “Once Upon A Time…” as it soon becomes apparent that Suspiria is Argento’s stylized and lurid attempt at crafting a supernatural, gothic fairy tale (Argento has admitted to using the story and film of Snow White as an influence).  Even while mixing a few of his earlier giallo tropes into the mix —  the Grand Guignol setpieces and a mystery that hinges on an unresolved memory come immediately to mind — he begins moving even further away from the more literal constructs of those earlier films and into the dreamscapes that he would incorporate for his short run of intriguing films.

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(Tobe Hooper, 1974)

(essay by Robert)
Tobe Hooper’s film changed the genre. Perhaps what is most impressive about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the myth and legend it has become and the impact it has had.  So often imitated and so commonly misunderstood (or perhaps misremembered), the film was amazingly impactful.  Everyone is moved by the film, even people who have not seen it.

A lot is written of Hooper’s motivations for the film, I will not focus these here as I would rather emphasize the on-camera aspects. These are important though (hopefully comments will be posted) and can be read about in multiple articles.   I will say that I loved reading that he seemed to have been inspired  (in part) by standing in a long line in a store and the idea that he could get the people to move if he had a chainsaw.  This is not only humorous but also a perfect precise example of why this genre is so human and should be so much more embraced. (more…)

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(William Friedkin, 1973)

(essay by Robert)

One the most recognizable films of all time, The Exorcist today remains an unmistakable horror foundation.  Adapted from William Peter Blatty’s novel (see also The Exorcist 3) and supposedly loosely based on true events, the film is synonymous with the genre.  William Friedkin, as a follow-up to his Academy Award winning The French Connection, was chosen to direct what now seems to be a film fated from the start for fame and notoriety. (more…)

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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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(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)

(essay by Troy)

Part existential horror, part imaginative science-fiction, and recalling other transplant horror hybrids like Eyes Without A Face and Seconds, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Kôbô Abe’s The Face of Another examines the dread that originates from loss of identity and the fears it evokes stemming from alienation and disconnection from humanity.  The story provides philosophical look at the connection between image and self, face and soul, how they shape our interactions and relationships with others.  Sewn together with surreal visuals, a discordant Toru Takemitsu score, and an intelligent script, it’s an at times unsettling, at times thought-provoking, yet always stunning film.
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(Ken Russell, 1971)

(essay by Troy)

Known primarily for it’s history of censorship*, I was actually first made aware of Ken Russell’s The Devils via Roger Ebert’s zero star review of it(the best line: “We are filled with righteous indignation as we bear witness to the violation of the helpless nuns, which is all the more horrendous because, as Russell fearlessly reveals, all the nuns, without exception were young and stacked.”).

I’m not quite sure what Ebert was thinking there, because Russell, though a bit of a bad-taste provocateur known for flamboyant style, uses his elaborate style to great affect here, crafting a harrowing and tragic look at how the persecutions of religious and political institutions are capable of destroying individuals.  Or, as the lead character says near the end, it’s about those who would attempt to create “a new doctrine…especially invented for this occasion, the work of men who are not concerned with fact, or with law or with theology.  But a political experiment to show how the will of one man can be pushed into destroying not only one man or one city, but one nation.”

I don’t often like to delve into wholesale plot recaps, but here will, as the underlying story is so critical to the greatness of the film.

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