Part two of my Wes Craven tribute, because when a horror giant dies just before SHOCKtober, memorial screenings are in order. I used to have this movie’s sequel on VHS (bought at a garage sale), and saw the awesome remake in theaters, but have probably never watched the original until now.

Stupid family taking cross-country trailer trip breaks down in the desert at the foot of cannibal-infested mountains, send a few guys in different directions looking for help. But first we set up the Harbinger hillbilly gas-station attendant (and incidentally the grandfather of the cannibals) who tells them not to go poking around, and mountain thief Ruby, who’s looking for help escaping her murderous family.

Ruby:

Bobby (Robert Houston, later an oscar-winning documentary filmmaker) runs after his escaped dogs, discovers one of them murdered but doesn’t tell anybody. Mustache Doug (Martin Speer of Killer’s Delight) finds nothing and comes back. And Big Bob (Russ Grieve of dog-horror Dogs) returns to the old man in time to see him get slaughtered, then Bob is captured, crucified and set on fire, distracting the family into leaving their trailer unguarded, in what’s probably one of the most intense sequences of the 1970’s. Bald Pluto (Michael Berryman of too many horrors to list, also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and curly Mars invade, shoot Mustache’s wife Dee Wallace (star of The Howling and The Frighteners) and her now-insane mom (Virginia Vincent of The Return of Dracula and Craven’s Invitation to Hell), eat the parakeet, steal the baby and flee.

Family portrait, pre-invasion:

The next morning it’s payback time. Young Carolyn Jones (Eaten Alive) and Bobby plot to use their dead mom as bait and blow up cannibals who return to the trailer. Not sure how head mutant Papa Jupiter escapes that explosion, but they kill him good, with gun and hatchet. Mustache Doug climbs the mountain and attacks head-on to rescue his baby, unexpectedly aided by a rattlesnake-wielding Ruby. I can’t recall if Bald Pluto dies (think Bobby’s other dog gets him), but he’s definitely on the VHS box cover of part two.

Papa Jupiter:

Craven did interesting things to the horror genre with New Nightmare and Scream, and made some great thrillers with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Red Eye. One of the movie sites pointed out he’d been interviewed by Audobon, and had lately been writing short stories for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine about local birds, which include a strong pro-bird environmental message as well as time travel, the ghosts of passenger pigeons, and an osprey using a shotgun.

“It’s hard convincing a bird of anything in words. They’re musicians.”

Rest in peace, Wes. The birds have lost a friend.

I read in the Ruiz book that Wim Wenders movie The State of Things was inspired by witnessing Ruiz’s difficulty making The Territory, having to stop production because they’d run out of film stock, and that Wenders borrowed The Territory’s cast and crew, so I knew I had a perfect double-feature.

Based on a true-ish story, The Territory follows lost campers who resorted to weird religious-fanatic cannibalism. Ruiz doesn’t seem like a based-on-a-true-story kind of director. Ruiz seems to agree: “When we finished, we realised it was an art film.” M. Goddard: “…clearly Ruiz was hoping that the film would also succeed in suspending the distinctions between commercial and artistic cinema, by being at once a Roger Corman exploitation film and a philosophical parable about the origins of human society.”

Some of the behavior and dialogue is what you could call realistic (though the dubbing is not), but the overall atmosphere has a surreal edge. For instance, the way the campers always end up traveling in circles when they insist they’re going straight seems more out of The Blair Witch Project than historical fiction.

Their wild-haired guide Gilbert (Paul Getty Jr.) acts unhinged from the start, cares little for the campers, just for the journey and the strict rules of the forest. He finally leaves them, but they find his dead body while wandering and drag him around for a while before deciding to eat him.

Early bit of Ruiz weirdness, Gilbert slowly rises while speaking:

French girl Francoise (Isabelle Weingarten, star of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer), mother of young Ron, is disgusted by meat eating in general, so doesn’t join in the feast – and becomes the next victim.

Francoise, shot by Henri Alekan (before La Belle Captive):

Later a crazy stick fight, Peter (Geoffrey Carey of Kings & Queen) attacking Jim (Jeffrey Kime, later in Ruiz’s Treasure Island) while screaming “what should I do, Barbara,” presumably about to kill Jim when Peter has a heart attack instead. Randomly at the end, a guy they’d previously passed in the forest and never noticed shows up again, kills Jim with a rock and is rescued along with Barbara and Ron.

from Michael Goddard’s great The Cinema of Raul Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies:

A key moment comes when they encounter a map of the park in which its nature as an impossible labyrinth is made clear; the map inverts, in a series of concentric figures, the park’s situation of being within the province, within the country, and within Europe, so that the park contains first the province, then the country and finally Europe, a clear example of a Ruizian impossible cartography.

Another key example comes when they encounter two men having a picnic of bread and cheese at an abandoned dam. While at first seizing upon this as their salvation, the characters soon discover that it is useless to try to talk to these men as they not only lack a common language but the men seem to be inhabiting a different space; certainly they seem unable to comprehend in any way the ‘plight’ of the trapped tourists and are no more useful when questioned later in the house of their friend by those searching for the missing visitors.

One of the two men on the dam is João Bénard da Costa, also in Past and Present. He’s filmed with a table of food in the foreground, just like he is in City of Pirates.

Survivors:

Adrian Martin:

The human body is the true territory of the film, its borders and functions ambiguously defined in relation to acts of eating, violence and sexuality. It ends in the type of sardonic twist we find frequently in Ruiz’s films: after the horror, one of the characters writes it all down and scores a best seller.

I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.

Clown Atlas:

Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.

Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.

San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).

London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.

Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.

Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.

I’d heard that A.W. had gone horror with this new mid-length film. Not really – it’s a slow-moving movie where a few hotel residents coexist with flesh-eating ghosts, or perhaps everyone in the movie is a ghost since the hotel feels abandoned, even when they are around. I found it overall less exciting/entrancing than his other movies.

Featuring Jen and Tong from Uncle Boonmee, with more talk of borders and immigrants, and discussion of last year’s major flooding in Thailand. I like the music, a long stretch of solo acoustic guitar. We see the musician at the beginning, and again near the middle (an intermission?). A.W. seems to want scenes to last after their meaningful dialogue has ended, because he’ll fade out conversations and let us listen to the guitar for a minute while the actors keep talking, unheard.

When the movie seems to have a story near the beginning, Tong (yes, same character name) is telling a girl called Phon that his dog seems to have been partly devoured by a pob (ghost). Phon and her mom Jen are revealed to be pobs. A guy named Masato sees his friend eaten by Jen, but he might have been dreaming this.

Later, Masato is a ghost himself, talking to Phon as if a lifetime has passed since the previous few scenes – then he’s wearing a machine on his head that allows his spirit to travel outside his body. It ends with an overlong shot of jet-skis on the river. I’m missing something major since this was nominated for a “best documentary” award.

AW with the guitarist, giving credence to the documentary theory:

E. Kohn:

According to the director, Mekong Hotel takes its inspiration from a story Weerasethakul originally wrote for a movie called Ecstasy Garden… [which] involved an alien vampire ghost who also happens to be the mother of a young woman unaware of her supernatural lineage… the mother’s appetite gets the best of her and she devours her kin in the midst of the younger woman’s romancing of a local teen boy. Mekong Hotel sort of follows this trajectory without exactly spelling it out; The movie contains scenes of rehearsals for Ecstasy Garden in the bedrooms and balcony of the titular hotel in northeastern Thailand.

A light, clever Keaton feature – not one of my faves, but well paced and only an hour long. Buster and his not-fiancee Betsy (Kathryn McGuire of Sherlock Jr. end up stranded on an adrift ocean liner with no crew after a complicated series of events stemming from a “funny little foreign war” (ouch, not a term we’d use today). The humor doesn’t come from the spy/war/hostage plot but from the fact that Buster and Betsy are millionaire kids with no idea how to do simple daily tasks, and now they have to survive until rescue – they’ve a well-stocked kitchen but no idea how to open a can or boil an egg.

They also run into cannibals (all island natives back then were assumed to be cannibals), deal with a submarine, and Keaton shoots a hokey underwater scene (swordfighting with swordfish, etc). Appropriately on the same DVD as nautical shorts The Boat and The Love Nest. I loved the end, when after a few weeks of trial and error, the couple has rigged the boat with ropes and pulleys to automate daily tasks a la Keaton short The Scarecrow.

Reminiscent of The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell:

IMDB trivia reveals that four years prior, the boat used in filming had been used by the U.S. government to deport Emma Goldman to Russia.

Vincent Gallo is on a plane to Paris with his lovely new bride June (Tricia Vessey, the girl who witnesses a hit in Ghost Dog), but he has dark dreams of blood.

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Leo (Alex Descas of Irma Vep and plenty of Claire Denis movies) is cleaning up a dead body left by his wife Coré (Béatrice Dalle, Isaach De Bankolé’s blind passenger in Night On Earth).

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Turns out Vincent and his ex-lover Coré are vampire/cannibals, and Vince is in town looking for Leo, a doctor who was working on a cure. It’s not much a honeymoon for June, nor much of a marriage for Leo – the vampires feel strong lustful urges, but always resulting in the death of their sexual partner, so June stays frustrated, Leo works in his labs, Coré sucks dry a kid who breaks into her house and Vincent rapes/eats the maid beneath his hotel.

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That’s already an unusually juicy plot for a vampire flick, but this is also no vampire flick, it’s a Euro-Art-Film with long wordless sections and gorgeous images, my favorite Claire Denis movie so far.

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Surprisingly, the day after I watched this it was notcoming.com’s horror movie of the day. They say:

Claire Denis seems at once unlikely and ideal as the director for a horror film. On the one hand, she seems incapable of making a purely genre film; on the other, no film director in the world more gracefully explores the physical, more pointedly employs cinema to trace the ambiguities of body, persona, and landscape. In this way, a vampire film, with its themes of metamorphosis and the alien nature of appetites is perfectly suited to her abilities as a filmmaker, even if she is unlikely to satisfy our own appetites for genre pleasure. … There are few genre signifiers to reassure us of the presence of that strong moral center so (paradoxically) common to horror films, and the narration of events is characteristically obtuse, reliant on gesture rather than dialogue. …

The metaphor is not finally about a vampire’s exertion of will or power over his victim, but more about the inadvertent draining that happens in a relationship. Shane fears that he will hurt June, that he will tear her apart, that his sexual desire will destroy his wife. It is a metaphor for intimacy and its dangers…

Gallo acts like Frankenstein for his wife’s amusement:
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And a few days later the movie was the subject of a discussion on The House Next Door. It is unbelievably long and I haven’t read the whole thing yet… excerpts:

JB:

If I’m properly connecting the film’s vague dots (and I might not be), Coré and Shane are essentially infected. They are diseased. Without this infection, they wouldn’t have these perverse needs and thus wouldn’t act this way, and without the mysterious drug that caused this whole mess they wouldn’t be infected. As a result, I don’t look at Coré and Shane as portals to our dormant demons. I see nothing that reflects my own soul. What I do see in Trouble Every Day is a chilling portrait of addiction. Coré and Shane aren’t addicted to the drug that made them want blood but to the blood itself. Same difference. Now infected, they want to do nothing but “use.” Coré’s husband looks out for her, tries to protect her from herself, hopes to cure her and over and over again gets stuck cleaning up her messes. Shane, meanwhile, sleepwalks through his daily life, unable to connect with anyone outside of his addiction. If I wanted to pick a film that would exemplify the disease model for addiction, it would be hard to do better than Trouble Every Day, which shows how chemical imbalances in the brain obliterate normal rational thought so that ethics are meaningless.

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EH:

Scenes like this make the film at least partly about the damaging cycle of an unhealthy love affair, about a man who knows he’s no good for the woman he loves but keeps trying to convince himself that he’s going to do better, that he’s not going to hurt her anymore. But we always hurt the ones we love, right? In some ways the film is about an abusive and often absent spouse, perhaps in contrast to the perverse loyalty of the marriage between Coré and Léo (Alex Descas). We feel June’s confusion and pain when she waits out in the rain, desperate for some sign of her missing man, or when she goes to visit one of his old friends, hoping for some explanation for his inconstant behavior but getting only nostalgia and vague comforting words.

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So we can agree that the movie is about lots of things, but not necessarily that it’s a horror film. I, for one, think it’s a definite horror film, and the only reason I can think for anyone to feel otherwise is that it towers above the kinds of movies that “horror” usually brings to mind (see my upcoming writeup on the Puppet Master series for an example). I’m glad that among the direct-to-video Clive Barker junk, I stumbled across two modern horror masterpieces (see also: Pontypool) this SHOCKtober.

“Nothing worse than a horror movie geek.”

My three-year quest to see every Jacques Rivette film is slowly ongoing, my five-or-six-year quest to see every Luis Bunuel film proceeds at one title per year, but I thought it was best to push those cinematic luminaries aside and watch everything by Stuart Gordon, creator of classic 80’s horrors Re-Animator and From Beyond. Why is that? Because during SHOCKtober it’s nice to have someone you can rely on. While I admit there was nothing special about Daughter of Darkness, his Masters of Horror episodes have always been good, and this one, from the quickly-cancelled and rumored-to-be-crappy season 3 (aka Fear Itself) was excellent.

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Starts out promising, setting a creepy horror mood off the bat, with a shadowy, rattle-shaking voodoo prisoner Dwayne (horror regular Stephen Hart) loaded into a police station jail cell for the night, the station lights flickering so badly that I’m thinking the episode’s budget didn’t include lighting and sets.

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Our protagonist, eager rookie Bannerman (Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss) is a horror fan, turned on by proximity to Dwayne, wants to hear more about his crimes. I figured it’d go in a more Silence of the Lambs direction here, but there’s no time for quiet spooky conversations about fava beans – Dwayne “escapes” by possessing the bodies of the other cops, saving her for last. Interesting horror tactic – we don’t see any killings, just find bodies left behind, like the ending of Halloween, hidden all over the place. Bannerman is trapped in the locked station with a cannibal psycho killer and is definitely going to be eaten, so she eats rat poison, so when he catches up and takes a bite out of her neck, it kills them both.

It’s not like Gordon to have such a shocking, depressing ending, but it works. Anyway he didn’t write the episode – the guys behind WTF story The Washingtonians did. Nicely done, extremely tense little flick (maybe a tad underlit) with a great supporting cast. Witness:

Stephen Lee, star of Dolls over 20 years ago and still kinda looking the same
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Russell Hornsby, whom I loved as the boyfriend in Stuck
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Nick Sobotka, star of The Wire season 2.
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