Posts Tagged ‘Netflix Fix’

Around 3 a.m. last night, I couldn’t break free from my bed. I tried to, multiple times, each effort feeling increasingly impossible. I was beneath mounds of quicksand, essentially; the comforter and sheets smothering me like tar. The only way the whole experience could’ve have been more terrifying would have been if Freddy Krueger showed his face and revealed that the ordeal was of his doing. But, of course, it wasn’t. Instead, I was stuck in authentic nightmare territory, a direct result of a film I watched only three hours prior. The movie was an old Italian giallo from 1976, The House with the Laughing Windows, a minor cult favorite from director and co-writer Pupi Avati. While the film was playing, I was certainly into it, but far from enamored. There are these murky church organs that dominate the soundtrack, and are quite effective. Before this nightmare, those keys were the scariest thing about Avati’s picture; the denouement, a disturbed GOTCHA moment, punctuated by a slight cross-gender twist, for the film’s hero  Stefano (Lino Capilicchio, a James McAvoy lookalike), is more haunting than full-on scary. But as those organs play over the enigmatic final shot, The House with the Laughing Windows settled into my head, something awful. The nightmare was inevitable.

I swear on the names of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci that this bad dream was one of the worst I’ve ever had. It all felt so damn real; I heard the organs, lifted straight out of Avati’s work, and I saw the film’s two endgame antagonists, the Legnani sisters, an embodiment of the two peripheral figures commonly seen in paintings of St. Sebastian’s final moments. My bedroom, lit only in the shadows peeking in through the windows, became a tomb; my attempts to simply rise out of bed turned into a broken record spinning devil music. Up and down, up and down; “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me,” “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me.” 

The House with the Laughing Windows takes the St. Sebastian imagery into its own fictional world, envisioning the traditional picture as an impetus for supernatural hub-bub. Stefano is hired to restore the unfinished work of Legnani, a deceased painter cloaked in mystery; he was dubbed the “painter of agony,” due to his penchant for drawing those near- and in-death. As Stefano gets to work, the townsfolk get more ominous by the second, and bodies start dropping. This all commences with patience. The film’s pacing is slow; it’s one of those creepy-crawly horror stories that zaps you early on, lets the dread marinate and then pulverizes you with third-act devastation. Not all of Avati’s film works; clocking in at 110 minutes, the flick would benefit from a solid 15-minutes-off edit. Yet, the bookends are powerful enough to salvage the entire thing. Consult Netflix immediately for this, if only to check what is easily one of the most Satanic opening credits sequences out there. All-red screen, those organs-from-Hell, a slow-motion reenactment of St. Sebastian’s encounter with razor-sharp knives, sprinkled with blood-curdling screams and yelps, all before an eerie voiceover that’s up there with “Simon” from Brad Anderson’s awesome Session 9. Even if the entirety of The House with the Laughing Windows had sucked, the beginning credits would justify its cult status.

Hell, the opening credits, paired with the film’s final five minutes, did me in more than any other horror movie in recent memory; the closest parallel I can draw is the sleepless effects that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had on me as a little kid watching it for the first time. In no way am I saying that Avati’s film is on par with hat Kubrick masterpiece; there’s merely an inexplicably common force between the two, in terms of their unsettling tones. 

I may have to buy The House with the Laughing Windows on DVD just to come to grips with this nightmare. Dissect the pic until I uncover the direct cause of a truly horrific nighttime experience. Or, just to swoon over Francesca Mariano, the film’s beautiful female lead. Face-wise, she’s remarkable. 

Scenes from the film—- specifically the opening credits, footage of sexy-ass Mariano and the spoiler-heavy final minutes—-after the jump: (more…)

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Distance absolutely makes the heart grow fonder. Having left the once-highly-active Theater of Mine a dust-filled cesspool of lost dreams forfar too long, I’m back in effect, hungrier than ever. The balance of dollar-free passion here and pays-the-bill, necessary passion there is a tight rope stroll, but it’s time I regain some traction. More than before. Work a good amount of literature coverage into the pot; show the world what I’m gassed about in the 2-0-1-0. It’s like that.

And what better to stick a needle in inspiration proverbial ass than a trashy zombie film from the early 1970s. Last night, I finally caught up with the late Bob Clark‘s schlock pseudo-classic Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), an early no-budget gem from the man who’d go on to direct the great Black Christmas (1974), Porky’s (1982), Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and the interminable A Christmas Story (1983)—–yes, the one with Ralphie and those damn Bumpus hounds.

Written and directed by Clark, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is my favorite of his films (that distinction goes to Black Christmas), but it certainly falls above the Red Rider BB gun flick. The characters are awful, a large amount of the dialogue grates like fromage, and the gore effects are a mere step away from using cherry Kool-Aid in the place of authentic life liquid. The first two acts slither along like a finger digging through marshmallow, and the scares are telegraphed. Somehow, though, through all of this ineptitude, Clark emerges as a magical auteur, yanking heaps of entertainment from the lame-brained festivities. That I was never bored throughout the film’s lean 85-minute duration speaks volumes.

The late Bob Clark

Continued after the jump: (more…)

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It’s the quintessential Academy Award job, a brave and vicious turn from a critically-beloved actress known for her vintage class. The kind of work that leads to writers typing, “Who knew she had it in her?” Not unlike Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning descent into ugliness and despair in 2003’s Monster, when the stunning, radiant actress morphed into a schlubby, disgusting prostitute-turned-murderer. If you went into that film blind and there’d been no opening credits, Theron’s name would be most likely remain silent when it came time to play the guessing game of “Who’s that star?”

It’s similarly difficult to accept the fact that it’s Tilda Swinton on screen while watching Julia, a nobody-other-than-critics-knows-it-exists independent thriller from last year, directed by French filmmaker Erick Zonca. In an otherwise strong but flawed film, Swinton is grade-A. Written by Zonca and Aude Py, Julia is a dark look at one desperate, 40-year-old woman’s frantic downward spiral, which she brings upon herself by kidnapping the 8-year-old son of her fellow Alcoholics Anonymous groupmate, a mentally-unstable Mexican woman. She promises to give Julia (Swinton) buckets of cash if she helps steal her estranged son from his grandfather, an electronic tycoon who hates the fact that his grandson’s mother is of Mexican descent. Julia’s life is a series of drunken hookups and flimsy values, made worse after she’s fired from her job. On the edge of hopelessness, she orchestrates her own swipe-the-kid plan that goes completely to hell, though she does end up with the kid, not for lack of scaring the piss out of him (wearing a creepy black mask, she puts a pistol to his head and then tosses him into her trunk). The rest of Julia’s idea devolves into a nightmare of debt, crime, and run-ins with con men in Tijuana.

Throughout all of the film’s realistic intensity, Swinton is dynamite. The role of “Julia Harris” is a sharp left turn from the Scottish actress’s recent work; earning heaps of praise for her co-starring gigs in Michael Clayton, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Burn After Reading, she’s proven to be surgical when embodying uptight sophistication. Which is why she’s such a revelation in Julia; here, Swinton is indistinguishable, talking with a sailor’s mouth one second, telling a sleazy gun-toting delinquent “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with you!” the next. There’s hardly a 10-second stretch in the film without Swinton in sight, and she holds the production down with pure muscle. ‘Julia Harris’ starts off as a wretched low-life, escalates into a menacing degenerate, and then unexpectedly upgrades into a sympathetic misfit—–As conceived by screenwriters Zonca and Py, the character is ticking timebomb beaming with dimensions, and Swinton nails them all. Even when the film itself enters an over-the-top climax, one that demands suspension-of-belief to accept its absurdity (how Julia and the little boy survive a few moments is anybody’s guess), Swinton literally saves face.

Too bad she won’t snag enough nominations over the next two months, let alone win any statues. Julia received a lowball theatrical release last May on its way to a second life on DVD, yet even in that market it hasn’t ignited. No real Oscar push for Swinton is underway, though she totally deserves one. Some critics have pegged this performance as a dignified actress merely slumming it, grappling with a down-and-dirty assignment simply to show that she can, that she’s not above the grime. Some critics, in that same breath, are delusional. Julia would be an intriguing premise undone by too many implausabilities, and not much more, if guided by another star.

Whenever Meryl Streep is on stage accepting trophies for Julie & Julia (it’ll probably happen more than once), know that there’s another Julia better known as Tilda Swinton out there who never got a fair shot. After all, awards season has never been prone to justice.

Julia trailer, after the jump: (more…)

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What’s so interesting, and admirable, about Paramount Vantage’s unfairly-dumped-into-oblivion (limited theatrical release on September 4; forgotten about by the following day), now liberated on DVD, Carriers, is how it deserves so many tired parallels yet manages to subvert them all. Yes, it’s close in tone to The Ruins, and, sure, not unlike the structure of Zombieland. You could even toss some comparisons to The Road in for extended measure and not be overzealous. They’re all earned. But with that degree of “It’s like….” descriptions, it’d be easy for a film to buckle under the pressure and come across as a perfunctory trash-header. Carriers, written and directed by rookie brothers Alex and David Pastor, somehow rises to the occasion, and the end result is mute, personal and, despite its obvious shortcomings, rather satisfying. Continued after the jump: (more…)

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If I ever catch myself downplaying horror sequels in the near future, I’ll be sure to remember The Exorcist III, and to then promptly quit the negativity. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original The Exorcist novel, The Exorcist III (1990) continues the first film’s story, only it’s 15 years later. The focus is on stone-faced, often sarcastic lawman Bill Kinderman (here played by the ever-imposing George C. Scott) and his efforts to pin down a killer that soaks his/her murders in a religuous foundation, and is mysteriously connected to the little McNeil girl’s nightmare.

Blatty, whose directing resume is all too slim, stages a handful of tense, damn chilly sequences; his M.O. for effective horror is a patient one, bent on sudden shock. There’s hardly a telegraphed scare in the entire film. The first lung-hitter is set in a confessional booth, and simply uses an unseen person’s gravely voice-from-Hell to signal the creeps. Near the film’s end, an oversize scissor and an unsuspecting teenager are Blatty’s key ingredients for a similar triumph. (There’s also a bizarre dream sequence complete with cameos from both Fabio and Patrick Ewing…. your guess is as good as mine). The crown jewel within The Exorcist III, though, is tonight’s Scene of Mine, and it’s a whopper. The entire sequence is actually nearly two minutes longer than what Youtube allows for here, so just imagine the quiet anticipation felt here amplified. I won’t say any more, in fear of spoiling anything; it’s such a blink-and-you’ll miss it image, but lord is it a slam dunk.

If you, like a high-school-aged me, were once obsessed with the forgotten horror video game Clock Tower, this scene should hit especially hard. Scene after the jump: (more…)

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If I had the luxury of my own “If You Like This, You’d Also Like This….” feature here, a write-up on the IFC Films-distributed, straight-to-DVD Belgian horror flick  Linkeroever (Left Bank) would preface mention of Ti West’s The House of the Devil. West’s inconspicuous descent into ’80s satanism still holds up as one of the year’s best horror films, perhaps even THE tops, once polls are finalized; what makes that film so damn effective is its patience. The House of the Devil saves the anarchy for its final reel, and everything that comes before the endgame insanity justifies the wait. Quiet creeps, gradual earning of sympathy for the heroine. A constant sense of something-just-ain’t-right; you know it’s going to end badly for the main character, a college-aged babysitter tending to a spooky old house in the woods, but it’s all a matter of getting there.

Left Bank, directed by Pieter Van Hees, succeeds on that same level. Budding track star Marie (gifted actress Eline Kuppens; she’s a pro at the woe-is-me face) gets smitten by suave Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), and, against the wishes of her over-protective mother, moves into her new suitor’s Left Bank-located apartment building. The film’s first 80 minutes are entirely dedicated to establishing a mood; it’s understood that Marie is in for something unpleasant, but just what she’s destined to experience is kept in the dark, until an explosion of cult-sacrifice fun.

Van Hees’s pic isn’t as across-the-board triumphant as West’s picture, mainly due to screenwriters Christophe Dirickx and Dimitri Karakatsanis’s story’s all-too-brief and none-too-revealing payoff; that aforementioned explosion is more like a firecracker job. The film has been met with some of the same “Roman Polanski-esque” claims by critics as The House of the Devil, and such lofty compliments aren’t unfounded. Left Bank, in fact, owes more to Polanski than West’s work; Left Bank—-set in a sinister apartment complex that rests above a mysterious black pit, accessible through a dark, dreary basement walkway—–is close in setting to Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. The climax that Van Hees’s film  inches toward, a strange exercise in Pagan rebirth rituals, is more in line with The House of the Devil, though, so, in that sense, the film’s aesthetic quality is a curious amalgamation of Polanski and Ti West,. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Hees has never even heard of one Ti West, but he should, because they seem to operate in the same genre headspace.

Left Bank does have its share of problems. The underlying theme, for one, isn’t fully realized, leaving interpretation not only open-ended, but littered with holes that a NJ Transit train could zip through untouched. There’s a midway slideshow presentation that informs Marie and her one ally of the apartment building’s shady history, central to which is some mumbo-jumbo about a woman-eating dragon that lives underneath and devours its latest female every seven years. Thankfully, no fire-breathing Reign of Fire rejects co-star in Left Bank, but the big reveal surrounding Marie’s sketchy lover, Bobby, is nonsensical and too vague; is he somehow connected to the dragon? Why does her assailant look like a lady’s private part during that time of the month (sorry about that)? And does that resemblance connect to the film’s several references to Marie’s troubling inability to have necessary periods?

I’ll leave these questions to the decision(s) of whomever gives Left Bank a chance of their own. Oddly, the film has been overlooked by the various horror websites that typically promote foreign movies of this ilk. Which is a shame, because Left Bank—-mostly a winner despite its narrative trappings—-is certainly worth a gander.

Left Bank trailer, after the jump: (more…)

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Discovering a sick piece of cinema previously foreign brings an awesome level of excitement, doesn’t it? Sure does around these parts. Especially when its a late-game scene in an old horror film that, up until said part, has been somewhat dull; strange and incomprehensible, sure, but still proceeding as a bore. For the first hour of The Sentinel (1977), I was scratching my head, wondering, “Am I missing something here?” I’d read all the praise, and even the hate, for writer-director Michael Winner’s bizarre horror flick (an adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz’s 1975 this-Brooklyn-apartment-building-is-the-gateway-to-Hell novel), which was considered to be Universal’s inferior answer to the success of The Exorcist; I was expecting, at the least, a few sick thrills. But, nothing, other than one rather ferocious bit involving a shirtless zombie dad chasing his sexy daughter (wearing lingerie, I should add) as dead-daddy’s two fat, naked zombie sex partners are sprawled on a nearby bed; the now-adult, commercial-model daughter (Christina Raines, who at the time had a face as dynamite as Olivia Munn does today) even gets a few knife slashes in on pops, producing some splendidly cheesy gore—–the kind of fake ’70s blood that’s brighter than tomato-red, that almost neon look.

That scene is less than two minutes long, though; otherwise, the film’s remaining highpoints—-before the grand finale—-are a birthday part for a cat and a young Beverly D’Angelo getting herself off on a couch [see right]. Yup. So when today’s Scene of Mine finally kicked in, the film’s climax, I was sucker-punched from both sides. And I kinda loved it. Tell me how this sounds to you: a hammy Burgess Meredith leading a horde of deformed undead through a spooky apartment building as they chase a beautiful woman. That’s exactly what you get with The Sentinel‘s closing bit, an incoherent mish-mash of Shelley Duvall’s dash within the Overlook during the end of The Shining and the authentic weirdness of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks

It’s after the jump. The fun really begins at the 4:00 mark. Note that this isn’t great horror, by any stretch; just underappreciated insanity that’s a total hoot. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to research this thing to find out if those are actual deformed people, or simply actors covered in top-notch makeup effects: (more…)

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