The Last Ten Minutes vol. 9: Shocktober

The Haunting In Connecticut (2009, Peter Cornwell)
Unhappy teen tears his walls apart with an axe, finds plentiful dead bodies and flashback shock cuts. Is formaldehyde flammable? Apparently so, and unhappy teen lights the place aflame, pausing to transform into a green ghoul for a few seconds. I hope Martin Donovan is still alive. Oh nice, here he is along with Elias Koteas. Mom rushes in as the house, which seems to have literally been built out of dead bodies with writing on their skin, burns around them, blowing away ghosts with her mighty prayers. Nothing dumber than a true-story ghost movie, but I liked the poster art for this one. The director made cool stop-motion horror short Ward 13, one writer did The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera and the other created Revenge of the Nerds.

.com For Murder (2002, Nico Mastorakis)
Haven’t seen a thriller with VR glasses since The Lawnmower Man – or maybe these are the Silence of the Lambs night-goggles that this Tarantino-chinned quip-happy stalker is wearing. First she tries the Rear Window flash-photo trick, but he says “I’ve seen Rear Window too,” then gets blinded by lightning and falls down the stairs. Coda: Huey Lewis plays a cop! I don’t get where the dot-com part comes in. Mastorakis did other video nonsense like Ninja Academy and Death Street USA.

The Forgotten (2004, Joseph Ruben)
I really wanted to see this (and the similar-sounding Flightplan) when it came out but the bad, bad reviews finally led it here instead – shame. Julianne Moore just wants her son back, and Gary Sinise won’t help, but some boring guy admits that the son was kidnapped as an experiment to see if parents can forget their missing kids. Oh but the boring guy is an ineffective memory-erasing alien special-effect, and after she defeats him by endlessly repeating that she has a son, he’s sucked into the sky. Julianne gets her son back, and as a bonus, Dominic West. Director Ruben made Return to Paradise, which I liked, and writer Gerald Di Pego did Burt Reynolds flick Sharky’s Machine.

The Crazies Remake (2010, Breck Eisner)
Ah, the ol’ knife-scrape-against-the-wall tactic. Trying to steal a truck, Timothy “Dreamcatcher” Olyphant and Radha “Surrogates” Mitchell are laid low by gun-toting crazies. Movie has a good look to it, and not as schizophrenic as The Haunting In Connecticut. As the couple escapes, the town behind them is nuked (shout out to Return of the Living Dead, the original town-nuking Romero ripoff), but they survive inside the fridge, err truck, and aren’t blinded at all from looking directly into the blast. From the writers of Pulse Remake and Amityville Horror Remake.

Cabin Fever 2 (2009, Ti West)
Two heavy bleeders flee the school dance (I think) – the boy is detained and the girl is picked up by Mark Borchardt. Elsewhere a stripper spreads the Fever in various real gross ways. Now a poor cartoon with too much fake film-weathering effect shows the disease spreading throughout the world. No main characters, then? I continue to not share the internet’s love for Ti West.

Skyline (2010, Bros. Strause)
A sweet grey sparkly alien demon is threatening two tenacious teens (Eric Balfour of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake and Scottie Thompson), but fighter jets intervene. Nice 360 pan of the aliens winning, then the two kiss while being tractor-beam abducted. It’s all Matrix inside the ship, the muddy humans having their brains sucked out one by one. It’s gooey and neat looking, but the alien made from the apparently-pregnant girl’s dismembered boyfriend’s brain saves her. Seems super dark, with the end of humanity and all, despite the final teen-love-conquers-all message. The Strauses are renowned effects artists but unfortunately, so are the writers.

Frankenstein (2004, Marcus Nispel)
Michael Madsen as “Harker” (wrong novel) aims to kill a woman with a melon baller but shotgun-toting detective Parker Posey scares him off. Flashlight chase scene in an abandoned factory, booo-ring. Hulking hooded guy (Frankenstein? Vincent Perez of Time Regained) dispatches Madsen, later turns up at Posey’s house to set up a sequel that never came. From the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake, Friday The 13th Remake and Conan The Barbarian Remake.

The Haunted Castle (1921, FW Murnau)

A silly-ass mystery film with little of the grand style of Murnau’s later films. Also: the castle isn’t haunted, and it’s not a scary movie, and Kino knew that when they gave it that goth-expressionist cover art. All was forgiven when Julius Falkenstein of The Oyster Princess showed up, got scared and had a Nosferatu-prefiguring dream sequence.

D. Cairns already gave a terrific write-up of this movie last month, so there’s little I can add, except that the story revolves partly around a fake beard that I spotted the moment I saw it (then a close-up revealing the character’s “bald” head to be a cap confirmed that even in the film’s reality, this is a fake beard).

Plot concerns a count named Oetsch who comes uninvited to a hunting party at the Vogeloed castle, sits stewing in the corner while everyone gossips about how he murdered his brother the baron a couple years’ back. The brother’s widow, now remarried, is an invited guest, mostly stays in her room avoiding the count. Meanwhile a priest (the count with the fake beard) wanders about then disappears. Somehow this all makes the baroness’s new husband admit his guilt in the ex-husband-slaying, letting the count off the hook.

Buy from Amazon:
The Haunted Castle DVD

Phantom Lady (1944, Robert Siodmak)

Boring city-planner Alan Curtis (of High Sierra) is framed for the strangling murder of his cheating wife. Unfortunately his alibi is The Phantom Lady (Fay Helm with giant black eyes) who has disappeared. A detective with tons of time on his hands (Thomas Gomez, John Garfield’s doomed loser brother in Force of Evil) interviews a bartender and a cabbie, a dancer and a drummer, and they all recall Mr. Curtis and his little mustache, but not his lady friend with her Hellraiser eyes and flamboyant hat. So Curtis is off to the electric chair.

Ella Raines in stalker mode:

But wait! Curtis’s secretary from Kansas (Ella Raines of Hail the Conquering Hero) isn’t gonna let the movie end so quickly, because she has the hots for her boss and an alarming tenacity. Ella gets in touch with her self-destructive dark side and tails first the bartender (bald, skittish Andrew Tombes) then the drummer (hyperactive Elisha Cook Jr., the highlight of the movie, whose drumming is more sexually suggestive than anything in Written on the Wind) to their deaths.

Elisha Jr. at the kit:

The movie has a less complicated view of human nature than most noirs. Ella is the most dynamic character, going from smitten office drone to steely stalker, (just barely) being able to make out with the creepy drummer in exchange for information, but she snaps back into girlish submissiveness at the end. By comparison, Curtis, scheduled to die in a couple weeks, is in a slightly bad mood. The detective re-opens the case because he decides Curtis’s phantom-lady alibi is too stupid not to be true, and offers a worryingly simplistic analysis of the killer: an insane megolomaniac artist. Wouldn’t you know it, Curtis’s best friend Franchot Tone (who played a boring millionaire in Here Comes The Groom), a crazed self-obsessed sculptor with perfect, glowing white hands is back in town.

Franchot Tone examines his perfect hands:

Ella teams up with Tone, his frequent headaches and strong strangler hands failing to tip her off, and tracks down Phantom Lady through a hat manufacturer. P.L. is an extremely delicate rich woman who lost her fiancee, so they have to speak softly and finally leave with her hat (which presumably will be able to testify on its own). Luckily, nobody has to drag P.L. out of her privileged little mourning room because Tone springs into action, giving away the plot and trying to strangle Ella then leaping to his death when the detective bursts in.

Great little movie by Siodmak (just off Son of Dracula) based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window, Papa Benjamin) with some nice shadowy scenes (the prison visits, bartender stalking). I could watch it again tonight. And tomorrow night. And every night. And every night. And every night.

The Phantom Carriage (1921, Victor Sjöström)

Just before midnight of the new year, a salvation army sister named Edith, “stricken with galloping consumption,” sends for David Holm. Meanwhile across town, Holm (played by the director) gets in a fight with his fellow drunks and is killed. Many flashbacks ensue, including one inside another – the second movie I watched this month where that happens.

Firstly, the last person of the year to die must serve Death driving the phantom carriage for the next year – and time moves slowly after death so one night driving the carriage can seem like a year. So said Holm’s drinking buddy George just over a year ago (the movie points out that George knows such things because he went to college), and now George drives the carriage, passing the reins to Holm.

L-R: David Holm, David Holm, George:

Also a year ago, Edith opened her salvation army branch. Holm was her first guest, and she prayed he’d have a good year, asked him to return next new year’s eve. She stayed up all night patching his disease-ridden coat, catching the tuberculosis that would kill her. He stands up the next morning and tears out all the patches in front of her. So it’s the story of the most selfless angelic woman and the worst, drunkest, cruelest motherfucker (Holm also chases his wife with an axe Shining-style – commentary says probably inspired by a domestic violence scene in Broken Blossoms). Edith’s life (and death) and the phantom carriage both exist primarily to reform Holm, get him to drop the bottle and come back to his family – sort of a grimier It’s a Wonderful Life, a prohibition morality tale.

The whooshy ambient music seemed nice at first, but was perhaps too ambient. From the commentary: “Few, if any, previous films had been enveloped in the darkness of the night the way this film is” – and – “Sjostrom tends to avoid compositions that look too balanced, often shooting into the corners of rooms rather than straight at a back wall.” I appreciated this, as well as the great editing and unusual storytelling, making the movie seem decades more modern than the 1910’s tableau style. Also good acting and fun superimposition effects, overall a hundred times better than the contemporary Murnau film I watched this week. Also came out the same year as Lang’s similarly effect-heavy death-poem Destiny, the year before Haxan, and thirty-six before The Seventh Seal. Remade by Julien Duvivier after twenty years, and again back in Sweden after another twenty.

Holm’s wife vs. Sister Edith:

P. Mayersberg:

The film is surprisingly disconnected from Swedish Lutheranism. It is closer to Bergman’s demonic Hour of the Wolf than to the religious crisis of Winter Light. David’s sudden conversion at the end is not altogether convincing. He is given a last chance by coming back from the dead to save his wife from poisoning herself and their children out of hopeless desperation. But it isn’t God the Father who intervenes. It is his dead predecessor, coachman Georges, who is touched by David’s loving wife and the devoted Edit, who have fought so hard and long to save the man.

Buy from Amazon:
The Phantom Carriage (Criterion Blu-ray)

Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn)

A few years ago some critics raved that Paul Greengrass’s super-fractured Bourne movies were the exciting new thing, so hyperactively edited that they defied attempts to make sense of the action sequences. I wasn’t a huge fan, so I’m glad that this year critics are raving about Refn’s pared-down slow-motion action film instead.

J. Rosenbaum, listing things he does not like: “extreme violence as a function of specious and hypocritical morality (or, even worse, ‘sensitivity,’ as in Drive).” I haven’t figured out exactly what that means, but Katy disliked the extreme violence as well. For all the slow, cool aspects of the movie, its retro opening titles and theme songs (which I’ve been playing over and over), its straightforward genre story and simple themes of family love and heroism, there sure is some extreme bloody violence, including a thug’s head getting stomped to bits in an elevator, Christina Hendricks getting blasted with a shotgun, and Albert Brooks, in possibly his first death scene since the opening sequence of Twilight Zone: The Movie, getting a razor to the arm.

Ryan Gosling (unfortunately of Lars and the Real Girl) is perfect as the blank no-name Driver (stunt-man, getaway driver, track racer and mechanic – a vehicular all-star) who falls for his married neighbor. T. Stempel: “most of what she gets to do is smile sweetly. Carey Mulligan does that well, but it’s a criminal under-use of her talent.” When we meet her husband Standard, he’s a nice guy, seemingly reformed from prison, so the driver would have a moral dilemma if Standard was not quickly killed by gangsters (led by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman – great casting). Driver tries to help the girl escape the baddies, but the more baddies you hurt, kill or rip off, the more baddies you attract. So he finally has to kill just about everybody, ends up driving away by himself, mortally wounded, the soundtrack telling us that he has become a real hero. Oh also Bryan Cranston (Julia Roberts’ ex-husband in Larry Crowne) is great as the hard-luck mechanic who gave the driver his day job.

Gothic (1986, Ken Russell)

“Poets are for each other.”

Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne, between The Keep and Miller’s Crossing) has four friends over to his mansion. They stay up late drinking just tons of laudanum, having sex and challenging each other to write scary stories.

Lord Byrne:

Supposedly this one night spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as the first vampire story published in English, so dramatists and horror historians love to revisit it. I haven’t seen the others, but for sheer imagery and inventiveness, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping Russell and this great movie. The actors are into it, throwing themselves histrionically into the fantasy. Fun music, even cartoonish at times, by Thomas Dolby. Things get increasingly traumatic and dreamlike as the night wears on, with apparent murders and accidents and Mary Godwin’s (she hadn’t yet married Shelley) visions of her dead child. Strange ending, as they’re all perfectly fine in the morning, then a present-day tour boat gives a rushed narrative postscript.

Timothy Spall (in his second Frankstein-related film in a row, after appearing in The Bride with Sting and Jennifer Beals) is Dr. Polidori, commissioned to write a biography of Byron. I never quite figured his character out (though I love watching Timothy Spall, so it’s not important), but reading later that he became famous for his vampire story gave new meaning to this scene where he’s harmed from touching the cross on his wall.

Miriam Cyr (only in a few movies, but three are Frankenstein-related) is Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Mary Godwin/Shelley, who had a child with Byron the following year. Miriam may have been cast for her ability to open her eyes unusually wide.

Boyishly energetic Julian Sands (year after A Room With a View) plays Shelley, and Natasha Richardson (Asylum, The Handmaid’s Tale) is Mary. Sands kicks things into high gear early in the night, running naked onto the rooftops trying to catch lightning (definite Frankenstein reference).

Shelley, Mary, Polidori:

They summon a creature during a seance, Sands goes out to the shed and gets spooked, Polidori goes to bed early then appears as a dismembered head on the floor. Goblins, giant snakes and living suits of armor roam the house. There are swords, guns, torches and hangings, and somehow they all end up in the basement covered in filth.

“We’re dead. It’s shown me the torture it has in store for us. Our creature – it will be there waiting in the shadows, in the shape of our fears, until it has seen us to our deaths.”

Ivan Passer filmed a version of this story two years later, with Eric Stoltz in the Sands role, Alex Winter in the Spall role, and Laura Dern as Claire. Also in ’88, the same year he was in Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm, Hugh Grant played Byron in yet another version, with Elizabeth Hurley as Claire.

Buy from Amazon:
Gothic DVD

Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)

Has a lot in common with Zodiac – investigations into a never-solved serial murder case, which gradually wears upon the investigator until he’s acting more like a suspect than a detective.

Our main local detective is played by Kang-ho Song, star of The Host and Thirst. His local partner is Roe-ha Kim (A Bittersweet Life). They’re joined by a city detective from Seoul, Sang-kyung Kim (Hahaha, Tale of Cinema), don’t even hide their witness-bullying and evidence-planting from him, and eventually they pull him down to their level.

It’s a period piece, set in the 1980’s, punctuated by air raid drills (in case of attack from North Korea) and footage of demonstrations throughout the country. Very well-made movie, if super-depressing by the end.

The Times:

Finally and without fanfare, though, it becomes impossible not to see these impotent and crushingly overwhelmed public servants as victims of a kind. The image of these hapless men, who belong to a postwar generation born in the grip of authoritarianism, standing helplessly by as one after another woman brutally dies has a blunt-force power that needs no explanation.

Buy from Amazon:
Memories of Murder DVD

Night of the Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur)

I always like a good satanic cult movie, and the cult’s power in this one seems much stronger than in The Seventh Victim. The movie as a whole isn’t as great as Seventh Victim – much more straightforward, less mysterious and with appalling special effects – but it’s also more audacious and intense.

Doomed professor Harrington (Maurice Denham, appropriately of Shout at the Devil) comes running over to see devil-bearded Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis, appropriately of The Devil’s Agent), asking him to take back some curse, but Karswell declines, and Harrington is chased by a giant demon into power lines. So dreamy Doctor Holden (Dana Andrews, appropriately of Hot Rods to Hell and The Devil’s Brigade) arrives in town to take over Harrington’s work, gets cozy with Harrington’s niece (Peggy Cummings, appropriately of Hell Drivers and Meet Mr. Lucifer) and ignores all this devil/curse nonsense – until it’s too late!

It seems Karswell is part of some demon cult and Harrington planned to publish a conference paper exposing the group, so K. passed H. a slip of paper with runes written on it, and after three days of spooky signs, the giant demon came for Harrington. K. asks Holden if he plans to continue his predecessor’s work, Holden says yes, gets the runes, is doomed – unless Karswell forgives him and breaks the spell, or Holden figures it out and passes them to someone else before they “escape” (are pulled by a clearly visible string) from his grasp.

Karswell’s pet cat morphs into a leopard, shown here mid-transformation.
Not shown: the leopard’s transformation into a stuffed toy, which “wrestles” comically with Holden.

Clearly the best scene is when our heroes show at Karswell’s house to speak with him and his mother (Athene Seyler, appropriately of Satan Never Sleeps) and K. is dressed as a clown, using his dark magic to entertain children. Challenged to prove his powers, he summons a hurricane and destroys his own party. His mom isn’t pleased, and starts helping the do-gooders behind her son’s back.

Clownswell with the grinning do-gooders:

There’s also some business about an ex-cult member, a farmer now in an insitution, who is hypnotized into revealing some plot points about the runes, before jumping to his death under Holden’s supervision – you’d think he’d be blamed for the poor guy’s death but nobody seems to care.

Holden and Ms. Harrington gradually become convinced of the dark powers, go to the police complaining of smoke following them through the woods and pages ripped out of books, and are rightly dismissed. So Holden fights witchcraft with witchcraft, manages to pass the runes back to Harrington who is immediately killed by the demon and/or a train.

A cool, noirish shot:

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Tourneur went from genre cheapies (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) to great studio pictures (Out of the Past and Stars In My Crown) back to genre cheapies, maintaining unusually high quality throughout.

IMDB on Drag Me To Hell: “Raimi intended this to be a remake but could not secure the rights to the film. Instead, they kept many elements and rewrote the story. Elements kept: 3 day hex, the passing of an item to be rid the curse, the train station used for the ending.”

Buy from Amazon:
Night of the Demon DVD

Sweet Home (1989, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

A middling haunted-house movie, with none of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s post-Cure style of evil lurking in the offscreen space. Some inspired moments, and some cinematic plot points (living shadows, a slide melting under a projector bulb, an actor melting in much the same way). Apparently the movie is most famous for having spawned a “survival horror” Nintendo game which inspired the Resident Evil series. Also the last time Juzo Itami (Japanese New Wave actor, more recently in Grass Labyrinth) appeared as an actor, having already turned to directing with Tampopo and a few others. I assumed that he played Old Man Exposition, the local crank who helps out at the end, but no that was Tsutomu Yamazaki, an actor in Tampopo, so I don’t know where Itami showed up.

not Juzo Itami:

A TV production talks their way into the long-abandoned mansion of a dead artist to document the murals he’d painted on his walls. Widower Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro of some Kinji Fukasaku movies) is the show’s producer. He brings along his daughter Emi (pop singer Nokko – in her mid-20’s, but I bought her performance as a middle-schooler) and show director Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto, also of Tampopo) – our family-unit heroes, which leaves the other two (driver/cameraman/comic relief Taguchi and melodramatic on-air personality Asuka) to be murdered by ghosts.

L-R: Asuka, Taguchi, surrogate mom, actual dad, “child”:

And murdered they are, with surprisingly good, goopy gore effects. First Asuka turns into a ghost, yelling “give me back my baby” then digging up an actual baby coffin. Then the shadows come to life, so they all have to hide in patches of light. Taguchi doesn’t make it, gets burned clean in half and Asuka finishes him with a wrench shortly before an axe falls on her head.

Akiko vs. furnace:

Old Man Exposition comes to the house and walks into the furnace to rescue Emi, kidnapped by ghosts. But either he fails or she’s kidnapped again, and her dad gives up, leaving Akiko to rescue the girl, proving herself a worthy wife/mother figure. I did like the evil-mother monster who fights her with lightning there at the end.