Friday, February 20, 2015

The Canal (2014)

It might just be me, but it sure seems like there's been an outbreak of horror centered on parents in perilous situations.  The teens who survived the forest slashers of the 80s have grown up.  Now they must survive dinner parties and child behavior problems and adultery.  It may be an indication of the aging target audience (and horror films 20-30 years from now should be fascinating/hilarious), but as long as the films are good, who cares?  The Canal isn't a classic and resides in one of my least-loved horror subgenres, but viewers who like thrillers and slow-burn storytelling should get a kick out of it. 


Rupert Evans excels as David, a film archivist who's insecure about his wife's job and dalliances with the upper crust.  They move into a house with a rich history of murder and bad things start happening.  It's almost impossible to give a synopsis of the film without spoiling it, but think a less intense, Irish/Welsh Babadook and you'll be near the truth.


I loved how much consideration was taken in setting up the visuals.  The film looks fantastic—scenes are framed and shot with exacting care, and portions of The Canal play like nods to vintage Argento or the more comic book-y parts of Creepshow.  Blues and reds and greens swarm the screen.  The editing's often a highlight as well.


Again, hard to avoid spoiling this, but the final resolution plays out in a way that annoys me personally, though it might be acceptable to other folks.  I was able to predict the ending at the 43-minute mark, if that tells you anything.  Maybe these films really are the inheritors of slashers past and require you to turn off the critical part of your brain while watching?  Still, I don't regret watching this and will keep an eye out for the director's future efforts.  


***

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Razorback (1984)

"Katie, bar the door!" Razorback shouts as it opens with a large pig tearing through a small house and carting off its smallest resident.  A film could do worse than borrow from Jaws, especially when it basically transplants the action to the Australian outback and gives a boar instead of a shark the starring role.  This frenetic opening gives the audience a big jolt right at the beginning, but it also serves notice that this film is not going to be a hack job.  We get gorgeous Suspiria-style red and blue lighting, then smartly-photographed effects and on-point editing work.  


No one believes this grandpa about this pig eating the baby.  This must have burned badly to Australian audiences because of the Azaria Chamberlain case.  But, surprisingly, we now divert our attention from this vengeful old man and meet an American journalist who's arrived to expose animal cruelty.  It's also here that Razorback swings from pure black tragedy (baby-eating pigs) to the oddness of Australia.  Sometimes the oddness arrives as scenes of random quirkiness.


And sometimes it's pretty dark in its own right, like when we meet two hoons who work at a meat-processing plant and spend their spare time shooting kangaroos and raping.  Some viewers might get a Texas Chainsaw feel from the attack below, with its truck-lighting and its murderous backwoods mutants.  So what?  As with Jaws, it's not a flaw to borrow from the best and the movie does gives its villains a nasty Australianess, including ugly laughter that sounds like kids imitating machine guns.


Later, the imitation tables are turned, as we go to the boys' underground lair and get a premonition of similar scenes in Texas Chainsaw 2, which would arrive a full two years after Razorback.  We also get more of the twisty turns of the narrative, as the movie eventually seems to settle on one protagonist after its long search.  I'd say this is one of the movie's main flaws.  If I were making it, I would've stretched the second portion of the narrative out a little more.  There's a little too much of the third act and not enough content to fill it.  What had been relentless and driven starts to show some flab.


Having said that, there's more good than bad throughout the film.  Russell Mulcahy had established himself by directing videos for people like Duran Duran and the best parts of the video aesthetic show up here.  It's visible in the surreal dream scenes and the rapid pace and the very impressive transitions between scenes.  


The human villains also add to Razorback's ambiance with their psychedelic cannibal couture.  


Oh yeah, and this movie also has a pig in it.  Again, wisely borrowing from Jaws, we mostly get flashes of the beast and never really see the whole thing.  What's here looks great, though, except at the very, very end, when it's obviously a stationary prop.  But, by that time, you've already been seduced by the charms of Razorback and will probably be able to overlook such minor details.  This isn't a classic, but it's definitely underrated and still a fun viewing some thirty years after its release.


***1/4

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

The homoerotic content of this movie has been discussed to death, I think.  But it's hard to avoid it when you get an opening scene that serves as a synopsis for everything that this film will contain.  A bus trip to school turns into a surreal nightmare as the vehicle plows across the deserts and eventually lands precariously on some phallic rock formations.  Stay on the pole and live, yield to the hole and die.  


This is Jesse's nightmare.  He's new in town and has moved into the house where Freddy nearly slew Nancy last go-round.  The set and wardrobe choices in this movie are something else.  This sequel manages to somehow be more tragically soaked in the eighties than the original Nightmare.  Bad haircuts and shoutingly-loud shirts abound.  But it's an alternate universe version of the eighties, as you can tell by the popularity of Fu Manchu cereal (way to reach for that gag, movie).  Importantly, probably, it's the pre-AIDS eighties and I think we're gonna have to talk about the gay stuff after all.


Jesse is placed in scream queen position for most of NOES2.  He wakes shrieking from nightmares, is pursued by Freddy, and finds himself in scenes with Freudian symbols.  He also has to deal with the usual teen travails, like a coach who likes to "hang at the queer S&M joints downtown".  He begins to make friends with a girl named Lisa, but, you guys, this movie goes pretty far beyond celebrating homosexuality.  It gets downright intolerant of women at times. 


When we meet Lisa, Jesse opens a door and she has her back turned.  It's not the door that has a NO CHICKS sign affixed, though.  Plus the portrayal of wives in this movie is notably ugly.  They don't actually do much of anything, but they generally look extremely haggard and wear dresses that are like Cracker Barrel tablecloths.  The film even retroactively attacks Nancy by making her indirectly recite bad dialogue through her diary.  Go have a vagina somewhere else!


The homosexual subtext is one of the only reasons that this film stands out.  In plenty of ways, this is a typical Elm Street sequel, with retreads of the original's scenes and poorly-conceived screenwriting.  One of the other things that sort of works are the non-Freddy scare scenes.  These walk the line between complete idiocy and godhood, like when a bolt of lightning directly strikes the dishes in the drying rack.  Or when a parakeet knocks over a heavy lamp and terrorizes the family before immolating out of nowhere.  This leads to a golden Clu Gulager line: "I mean, animals don't explode into flames for no reason!"


That's the level of scripting that we have here.  There are poor lines and poorer lines of thought, as when the movie foolishly tries to insert some comedy during the pool party scene.  The dad loves Benny Goodman and forces these kids to listen to it!  "Lol"!  At least the color choices in these scenes are superb, as the eighties were apparently a golden time for stop sign cosplay.


Sometimes the effects work, but they often don't and that's a killer for a bigger-budget horror film like this.  Any effect can look dumb in a screengrab, but the scene below doesn't work any better in real time and is preceded by an awful eye-inside-the-mouth effect.  


Not that we're talking scads of effects in general.  Freddy's pretty flaccid in this one and few of the kills reach for the Looney Tunes level of absurdity that would happen later in the series.  It's all very dry and unfun, and the end comes with Lisa and Freddy arguing like siblings in family therapy.  Lisa kisses Freddy and, soon after, he dies, like the Wicked Witch of the West.  A strange film with so-bad-it's-greatness in spots, but far too often a typically unimaginative cashgrab.


**1/2

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sister Emanuelle (1977)

Black Emanuelle History Month gets a little botched with this one.  Joe D'Amato hands over the directorial reins to spaghetti western & peplum vet Giuseppe Vari and the results are not inspiring.  Emanuelle, repenting of her sluttery, joins a convent that retrains female juvenile delinquents.  Trouble arrives in the form of a brazen and apparently middle-aged teenage girl (Monica Zanchi, who we'll meet again in the next Emanuelle post).


It's a fine story, to be sure.  But taking the plucky Emanuelle and denuding her of her harlot crown doesn't work well.  I'm not Catholic, thank God, but I can't picture anyone getting excited by Emanuelle spending most of the movie dressed like a fancy napkin.  Her acting actions are mostly devoted to scolding and being shocked, too.  Which means that Monica Zanchi has to provide the requisite amounts of scuzz and she's miscast as a teen and the film also seems very restrained in comparison with the sleazy anarchy of previous Em sequels.


This attempts to be a far more conventional film, devoting lots of time to relationship drama and broad farce.  Parts of it work, like the legit funny stuff involving one nun's bladder problems.  But, please, Sister Emanuelle.  We put down our money with certain expectations and you give us teenage crying and arguments?  Most dreadfully, the movie barely cares about sex scenes.  What we get is shot in ugly close-ups of pale skin rubbing gross hirsute man chest (Gabriele Tinti, who played a different character in Emanuelle in America).  Gemser barely contributes, doing a repeated bored solo disrobing, like the world's sleepiest stripteaser.  It was probably fun for her to do something different with this character, but it's no fun for us to watch.


People expecting an Emanuelle movie are going to be unsatisfied and people who like sophisticated real cinema are going to be unimpressed by the amateur work here.  I haven't seen the next sequel, Last Cannibals, yet, but I'm pretty confident that you can skip this one and move on to the next phase of Black Emanuelle.  


**