Sunday, April 18, 2010

Frogs (1972).

This is a film for the genre in the loosest sense. But only someone with a heart of stone can resist 1970s eco-horror! Especially when Frogs has a poster like this:

And a trailer like this:
(NB: the quicksand death was deemed too silly and changed in the final cut)

Frogs! Killer frogs! Not giant, man-eating ones like that poster suggests, but still.

Actually hang on, they're not even technically killer frogs. We never see them attack anyone... hmm. If anything they seem to be overseeing things; the entire film is interspersed with shots of frogs looking.

"Our plan is coming together nicely sir..."

If there was ever any doubt over the question "Can frogs be scary?" I think we have an answer. Even en masse, they are still just a big pile o'frogs. Not exactly nightmare material. Even when clawing at the window, it's funny more than anything.

Lemme in!

So watch this expecting to be charmed, rather than terrified. Unless you have ranidaphobia, I suppose.

Any horror to be found here is probably in the fashions...

Yeah okay, that was a cheap shot.

Seriously though, the beauty of Frogs lies in the fact the concept is pretty much ridiculous (as a nod to this, the title should have had an exclamation mark: Frogs!) but it's all played entirely, fabulously straight.

An eco-system retaliating against humans who've been trying to kill it off sounds like a right-on idea, with a plausible amount of scares. Yet here, despite most of the critters involved having earned many horror airmiles - snakes, spiders, leeches, alligators - there are only a couple of moments where the viewer isn't giggling.

Leeches to the face, urrgh.

Watching a character limply fending off Spanish moss, though? Pardon me if the goosebumps take a while with that one. No really, don't wait around, I'll call you when it happens.

Lead Sam Elliott, as hunky hero Pickett Smith, strides around the Florida swampland in his denim outfit, frowning at the pollution and discovering bodies. Later, he urges the others to give up the fight and leave the area. Do they listen? Do they 'eck.

Those who aren't murdered, flee. Leaving only crotchety grandpa to stubbornly stay, as the animals take over his estate.

"I will not have my fourth of July schedule disrupted...!" he bellows. You may have to share your cake then, pops.

I think I need more nature-revenge films in my life. I think we all do.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

See No Evil (2006).

The first major film to be produced by WWE Studios, it stars professional wrestler Kane as a 7ft mummy's boy murder machine, who dispatches a group of incredibly irritating juvenile delinquents.

Being abused as a child by a religious maniac apparently turns a person into a super-strong brick shithouse. Unsurprisingly, Kane does a decent enough job in this role.

I could pick about ten billion holes in this film (eg: how does one acquire thong tan lines in prison?) but it would be pointless; this is throw-ho-ho-away horror. See See No Evil once.

Starting with a nice jump scare which actually made me jump, the flick soon settles more into grisly creepiness rather than out-and-out scary. Lots of shots of rats and roaches and lots of fingers rummaging around in eye sockets.

Yes, perhaps as a nod to Fulci but more likely just because it's guaranteed to make the audience go "Ick!", there is an awful lot of ocular horror here.

In fact, one of the working titles for the film was Eye Scream Man. Shame they didn't keep that, you can never go wrong with a good strong pun.

It's a stalk and slash by numbers. And for all of its gruesomeness, it could have been improved by being more so - or by more imaginative kills. Though witnessing the most annoying female character forced to eat her mobile phone was something of a treat.

Tell you what else was a treat...

And he didn't get killed off. In fact, he even got the last laugh!

This film was so assured of its audience's ADD, it placed what would normally be a post-credit sequence about 30 seconds into the credits instead. Okay everyone we're done! You can turn the thing off now!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hausu / House (1977).

Before going to the screening of House, I had read that it "defies description". Oh great I thought, what a scintillating review that will make.

And the problem is folks, they weren't wrong! Have a gander at the trailer:

That isn't "crazied-up" for dramatic effect, the film really is that insane.

As the name suggests it's basically a haunted house tale, centred around schoolgirl Oshare and her six friends.

The girls have nicknames relating to their personalities and talents:
  • Oshare/Angel: Angel is according to my DVD subtitles, but she is "Gorgeous" on IMDb
  • Fantasy: the dreamer
  • Sweet: the cute, baby of the group
  • Gari/Prof: the brainy one
  • Mac: the one who is always hungry/eating
  • Melody: the musician
  • Kung-Fu: the tomboy fighter. She was by far the coolest
They take a trip to the country during school holidays to visit Oshare's aunt, Obâsan, a mysterious woman who even breaks the fourth wall at one point.

Sadly they don't realise until it's too late that creepy auntie Obâsan is actually an evil spirit who feasts on the flesh of girls of a "marriageable age". All because she was abandoned by her lover many years ago. Bloody men eh?

And so one by one the girls are dispatched, the cannibal spirit eventually possessing Oshare herself and continuing the legacy of death in the family, by killing her soon-to-be-stepmother just before the end credits roll.

The only way I can describe this film, is that it's a mix of supremely cheesy teen melodrama and horror-fantasy, plucked straight out the head of an Evil Dead fan with a penchant for Japanese girls, who happens to be in the middle of a bad LSD trip.

We get blood spurting, stop-motion, tits and... soft focus lighting and whimsical romantic music. Before you even have chance to finish the sentence: "What in god's name just happened in that scene?", you find yourself having to say it again.

Rarely scary, occasionally creepy and repeatedly funny. Also by far the highest WTF factor I have ever encountered.

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, the idea for the plot (such as it is) came from his young daughter. She happened to mention being scared that her own reflection would come out of the mirror and eat her. Obayashi then asked her what else in the house might attack her; her answers are some of the main sequences.

The piano.

Electric lights.

Being trapped inside the gears of a grandfather clock.

This film was made at a time when Japanese cinema was desperate to rejuvenate itself. Even though prior to this, Obayashi was only to be found working on commercials and independent films, the studio execs liked the cut of his jib and gave him free reign to create this crazy classic, in the hope of bringing the Japanese film industry back from the brink of death. It worked.

He clearly had a lot of fun with it, adhering to no one rulebook of film-making. Time structure (speeding up, slowing down, repeating) and using lots of different media (painted backdrops, blue screen and animation) are just two of the things he toys with in House.

Obayashi's background in advertising is also impossible to ignore, with unexpectedly (and uncommon in Japanese cinema in the 70's) over the top production design. Several times early on in the film, an actress will tilt her head and sigh in a way which appears lifted directly from a cheesy commercial. You fully expect her to produce a can of Pepsi or bottle of shampoo from somewhere, then press it to her cheek.

This stylistic flourish is at its height whenever the stepmother is on screen. Always lit beautifully, accompanied by soothing music, she even has her own wind machine that seems to follow her around, giving her a wistful, ethereal appearance at all times.

The juxtaposition of these images with, say, something like this:

Well it makes for an interesting ride.

There's no mistaking that House is a must-see - and a gift that can keep on giving, if you want it to.

This movie can be viewed purely for its insanity and left at that. It's very entertaining on a surface level, leaving you blinking and dumbstruck.

However, like many films but particularly this one, put a little work in, do a little light background reading and it not only doesn't ruin the magic, it enhances the film by putting it into some really interesting context. I've mentioned some of this here, of course, but for fear of plagiarising all of the wonderfully comprehensive booklet which accompanies the DVD, I've barely touched on the trivia.

So, it's up to you how serious you want your relationship with House to be... an enjoyable one night only thing with someone who's fun and clearly cuckoo; or time invested in trying to figure them out, but ultimately calling it a day - with no hard feelings or anything, but you'd still rather not run into them whilst doing your weekly food shopping.

Er, perhaps that analogy got a little too involved.

Well whatever you decide, just make sure to hook up with it in one way or another.