Opens with a shaky walking cam, some zooms and shock edits, brief gore and nudity, but feels like its own thing, distinct from the Argento and Fulci movies I usually end up watching. Since discovering the great Michele Soavi last year, I’ve been optimistic about expanding my Italian horror canon. Ferroni was a familiar name because of his Brigade, and this, his penultimate film, was quite good.

I don’t think this was the intention, but I’m going to think of this as one of those stories where someone shows themself to be a real asshole, then they get severely punished by paranormal forces. Nicola is an entitled city dude, played by Gianni Garko (star of the Sartana series, Fulci’s The Psychic, and Dracula Blows His Cool) who busts up his car then intrudes on a rural family as they’re returning from father’s funeral, claiming he doesn’t want to be a burden, but also insisting everyone listen to his problems and give him immediate assistance.

Until the car can be fixed, Nicola is stuck with the seven remaining family members, who are worriedly whispering about ending a curse, so he gets gradually clued in. It’s not long before the hot daughter Sdenka falls in love with the stranger, and also the dead man’s brother goes out to fight the witch in the woods, returns cursed, and after being stabbed in the heart his face melts nice and slowly, and the movie just chills out and watches it go.

Mouseover to melt Uncle’s face:
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The second half ends up like so many horrors, with family members in the dark outside yelling someone’s name over and over. The curse catches them quickly, since it causes the afflicted to seek to turn the one they love most, a detail reminiscent of It Follows. “The terror of loneliness – they kill others primarily because they want company, and those victims search for their own company… a neverending chain of death, unless one can break a link,” says the organist in town after Nicola gets his damned car fixed. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the youngest wanders off, comes back bloodthirsty and kills her mom, then all hell breaks loose and our dude returns to a total zombietown. He flees his loving Sdenka, arrives crazed and nonverbal at a hospital, where Sdenka tracks him down, he stabs her and… she doesn’t melt, so he’s just a lunatic murderer.

The same Tolstoy story (here adapted by the writer of Kill, Baby… Kill! and at least two others) was also filmed as the Boris Karloff section of Black Sabbath a decade earlier, The Vampire Family in Russia two decades later, and a Fear Itself episode by Larry Fessenden. Damn good music – the composer also did La Notte and Deep Red, and died before having to hear one of his songs in Gaspar NoĆ©’s Love. The DP shot The House That Screamed, which I’d hoped to catch this SHOCKtober but the month wasn’t long enough. Sdenka is Agostina Belli of a Richard Burton Bluebeard and Fulci’s The Eroticist, and her family members include Roberto Maldera (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Cinzia De Carolis (Cannibals in the Streets), and the Deneuve-looking Teresa Gimpera (Spirit of the Beehive).

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are happily married with two kids, Kim and Bob. Colin is a surgeon, whose dead patient’s son Barry Keoghan (also memorably great in Dunkirk this year) has been hanging around, and Colin has been talking with Barry and bringing him gifts out of guilt. Now Barry’s plan accelerates, and when Colin refuses to leave his own family and join Barry and his mom Alicia Silverstone, Barry curses the family, says they will all die unless Colin chooses one to kill. “Do you understand? It’s metaphorical.”

Everyone is going with the flat line-reads and bizarre, unnatural dialogue and behavior of previous Lanthimos movies (“I’d love to know how much painstaking trial-and-error was involved in crafting such magnificently stilted, awkward performances from these accomplished actors,” said Mike D’Angelo on Letterboxd). There’s some slow-motion and soft-focus, and a repeated Danny’s-tricycle-in-Shining tracking shot through corridors, sometimes at normal level, sometimes from Danny POV, and sometimes as if Danny is riding on the ceiling. Tied with the new Lynne Ramsay for screenplay at Cannes.

The adventures of:
Heen, a coughing laryngytic dog
Markl, child with a fake beard
Turnip, a scarecrow

And also:
Sophie, a cursed girl
Howl, a bird-demon

And also:
Witch of the Waste, melty-faced after losing her powers
Calcifer, a fire-demon

Katy says large parts of the source novel were omitted in the movie version, which would explain why the war and dealings with evil queen Suliman seem underdeveloped. But as far as visuals and unique characters go, this movie is unsurpassed.

Final movie we watched in 2014, if we don’t count the disc of Brakhage shorts I put on for New Year’s Eve. Katy was impressed at how weird and non-Disney it seems. There’s a magical nature god with healing powers whom the title character tries and fails to protect, then a fight over its severed head, after which the movie’s main character decides to join the mining town whose leaders have been trying to destroy the forest and its spirits all along. With a more straightforward Avatar approach, the forest-destroying, spirit-killing factions of humanity would be the villains, but here everything is more morally complex.

Most distractingly recognizable voice in the English version: Billy Bob Thornton as a mercenary monk. Minnie Driver led the mining town, Gillian Anderson played the giant wolf that Mononoke hangs with, and Keith David (the guy who fights Roddy Piper for an hour before putting on the glasses in They Live) was the giant blind pig.

Memorable: the cursed boar Ashitaka fights at the beginning, setting him off on a journey to find where it came from and un-curse his arm. And especially the bobble-headed tree spirits.

Christina Ricci is a horribly deformed girl with a pig nose. That’s the premise, anyway… maybe I’m a pervert, but I thought Ricci still looks extremely cute, even with the pig nose. Katy says that might be the point. Movie has got me all confused about myself and my image of women!

That guy who is in everything yet I can’t ever remember him because he looks and acts completely unremarkable (not Shia The Beouf, that other guy) stars as a loser gambler who gets to know Penelope before he sees the nose, and so learns to love her for her true self. But originally he was hired by Peter Dinklage to spy on Penelope, and when she finds out, misunderstandings ensue! As Penelope’s parents, Catherine O’Hara and Richard E. “How To Get Ahead In Advertising” Grant have nothing much to do, but it’s nice to see them. Inexplicably shelved for a couple years before its video release, this is a harmless Reese Witherspoon-produced chick flick with very Pushing Daisies-looking production values and plenty of Peter Dinklage being his adorable self (with an eyepatch!). If there was a Retarded Ratings Scale just for chick flicks and kids movies, this would score pretty high.

Producer Reese lends her star power to the beleaguered flick. Note that is a mask.
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Here’s without the mask:
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ALWAYS nice to see the smiling face of Nick Frost:
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