From Italy we jump on the private Transmissions From Atlantis jet (our champagne is served by Daleks) to the somewhat bi-polar shores of Japan.
I discovered Japanese horror in the early 2000’s and have had a hard time being impressed by anything since. I loved the subtlety of it, the lack of pomp and the fact that the ghosts were genuinely frightening without all the unnecessary drama. It was the ‘slow burn’ I’ve referred to in earlier posts that grabbed me – you never feel outright uncomfortable but by the time it’s over your nerves are completely shot. That’s art to me.
This evening I believe that Kiyoshi Kurosawa will be supplying my nightly dose of mentholated horror. An award winning Japanese director, Kurosawa started in direct to video Yakuza features and something called ‘pink films’. After ten years of professional directing he won a scholarship to the Sundance Film Institute in the States. From there he started producing ‘legitimate’ films and began to achieve notoriety, with some critics even comparing his work to Kubrick.
Rather than just throwing frightening images and the forced shocks at the audience, Kurosawa bases his chills in complex psychological themes that we all experience in our daily lives whether we realize it or not. His pet themes are alienation and loneliness, something we all deal with at one point and arguably one of the worst feelings we can experience as humans. If we aren’t currently experiencing it, we scramble to avoid it through frantic friend requests or conspicuous consumption.
No doubt the inclusion of these complex themes in what is often a vacant genre has a great deal to do with the fact that he is also an accomplished writer. He novelizes his own films and has won multiple awards for screenwriting. Yes, I am jealous. Yup. Green around the edges.
Tonight’s film, like most good Japanese horror was remade for North American audiences a few years ago and predictably, was a flop. Kairo or ‘Circuit’ is based on a novel about ghosts exacting their revenge through the Internet and electronic devices in general. Critics have given it high praise, labeling it an ‘incredibly creepy horror film’ with “some of the most unnerving, frightening sequences to come down the pike in a long time”
With a subtext throughout on isolation due to our dependence on technology and a whole whack of eerie Japanese horror images, I have high hopes for tonight’s screening. I wish you were here with me, sipping some sake and nibbling some ebi…
After watching this film in the dark, I have to say it was the most impressive of the films I’ve reviewed. Although long and very convoluted, it had some of the eeriest scenes I have ever sat through. It was worth putting up with the ‘drag’ of the plot to get to the juicy bits that frankly, left me breathless. It has been confirmed for me yet again…no one does ghosts like the Japanese.
If you’re looking for a good spook in the next few days and don’t mind subtitles, I highly recommend this film. You’ll find yourself starring into shadows for at least two hours after the movie is over. Seriously, my kid’s nerf basketball hoop became a threat. It’s that good.
Tonight we move from the purple mountains and amber waves of America over to Europe – specifically Italy and the much-celebrated works of Dario Argento.
Any horror geek worth her (or his) salt will tell you that Argento has had a massive impact on the horror scene. His famously kaleidoscopic films are more art house than mainstream and are considered to be masterpieces by many film critics and fans. I was personally introduced to Argento through Fangoria magazine. I loved that magazine growing up and used to sneak it out of my brother’s room to read and stare for hours at the pictures. The images from Argento’s movies had always intrigued me as they seemed both horrifying and beautiful – appealing to the psychologically twisted among us who asked for a little bit more from their thrillers.
He’s been called the Italian Hitchcock by some and an ‘astonishing stylist’ by others. Praised for his ‘undeniable originality’, he has been compared to Edgar Allen Poe by critics and with that…boom…the man has a place in my heart.
When I did some research on Argento, I discovered that his obsession with the darker side of life began at an early age, as did his love of film. He was writing film reviews when he was still in high school for heaven’s sake.
In Italy his films began what is now known as the ‘Giallo’ genre. Based on cheap novels with yellow (Giallo is yellow in Italian) covers, these thrillers mixed eroticism with crime fiction and liberal sprinklings of horror. Argento transferred this popular mix to film with great success. Sparking a massive amount of imitators including North American slasher films, he developed a style that incorporated extended, bloody murder scenes laced together with nudity, artistic camera angles and operatic scores. A surreal assault on the senses, Giallo is disturbing but with enough artistic merit to make it worthwhile to watch.
Tonight’s film, Deep Red, is believed by many to be the absolute best Giallo movie ever made. The plot follows an English pianist who becomes involved in a series of murders and decides to investigate on his own accord. As every contact he makes is eventually killed, he starts to wonder how the murderer seems to be able to predict his every move.
Without giving away any more details, I have to say that the plot of this movie is so operatic and hard to follow that it left me wondering what I was missing. I think watching it again may help me to figure out if it was my own thick-headedness or a genuinely convoluted storyline. It was easy to look past the confusion however, as the movie is really, really beautiful to look at. Not as bloody as I had thought, it was full of unique shots, saturated colors and moody lighting instead. It’s obvious from the very beginning that Argento wasn’t just interested in making movies, but making art. As an added bonus it was also incredibly stylish, all the way down to the hair and clothing and being as girly as I am, it made it easier to sit through the terrible dubbing. (Being as alpha male as he is, my husband mumbled something about needing more sex to compensate. How did he put it? “Not enough explosions, aliens and boobs to keep my attention.”) In general, it really was a pleasure to watch and I’m definitely going to be downloading more of his work to check it out.
‘Deep Red’ might not spook you but I can guarantee you’ll feel like you’ve discovered something really cool if you give it a shot.
This week, I am keeping with the Halloween theme of the month and looking at three directors who are considered either the top of the genre or groundbreaking in some way in the horror scene.
I wanted to choose directors that I hadn’t explored in depth previously which is not an easy task for a horror movie nerd. I also wanted to be sure that I looked at other parts of the world besides North America to get a good idea of how different cultures handle terror.
From America, I decided on Wes Craven. From Asia, I have gone with Kyoshi Kurosawa and from Europe, the venerable Dario Argento.
There are many brilliant American directors who have crafted horror that appeals to the intellect and nerves at the same time. God knows, I’ve never considered Craven to be one of them. However, if you look at his incredible resume, his contribution to the genre is undeniable. Nightmare on Elm Street, the Scream series, Serpent and the Rainbow, The Hills Have Eyes…all terrible movies that have touched most of us at one point in our lives.
Last night, I sat my shrinking patootie down to learn a little about Wes Craven and watch some of his so- called filmmaking. What I discovered was interesting and disappointing all the same time.
I was surprised to find that Craven is incredibly well educated. He holds a bachelor degree in English and Psychology and a Masters in Philosophy and Writing. Incredibly, he was a university level professor in Humanities before making one of the most bizarre career shifts I’ve ever heard of. Tiring of the academic life, the man decided to drop it all and get into pornography. Seriously. Upon learning that, my respect for him doubled and I found myself intrigued by him for the first time. What kind of person decides to abandon years of education and the prestige of a university career to write and film porno movies? What part of the man pushed him to make that huge leap in lifestyle?
His career in adult films was apparently very successful, even though he did it all under pseudonyms. There’s even rumour he had a large part in the making of ‘Deep Throat’. Eventually tiring of the porn (yes, it’s possible), he moved into ‘legitimate’ film making with 1975’s The House On The Left.
I was going to watch this one, as it is his first voyage into mainstream filmmaking but after reading reviews on line, decided that I wasn’t going to subject myself to it. Critics and film lovers alike seem to be torn on their opinions – some see it as groundbreaking in terms of the whole torture porn, exploitation film scene while others describe it as sadistic, harrowing and an exercise in both depravity and idiocy.
I’ve got to say I’m very tempted in that it does seem culturally relevant, but I’m also mature enough to realize that you simply can’t ‘unsee’ things. I don’t need graphic rape and sadism scenes catalogued in the back of my head for the rest of my life.
I decided instead on The People Under the Stairs. This was the first Wes Craven movie I’d ever seen – it was a sleepover and I was much younger.
I remember being unimpressed then and this apparently hasn’t changed. I still find his filmmaking cartoonish and entirely populated by characters that I just don’t care about. The violence is graphic and sadistic, the camera work average, the acting over the top to the point of being annoying. I suppose if you’re looking for that style of teen horror where you’re in it for the dumbed down sensationalism of slasher thrills he’s a perfect fit.
I don’t see any evidence of his education in his movies. No philosophical themes, no extraordinary writing, no deep psychological motives…it makes me wonder if he had someone else do his academic work for him. Maybe the porn was his true calling after all? There’s certainly enough misogyny throughout all of his movies to support that theory. His second wife left him to pursue a professional career as a lesbian, maybe that says something about the man as well.
Character assassination aside, he has made a remarkable impact on the American film scene. After all, if you grew up in the eighties, chances are that man’s movies kept you up all night at least once. I have to give him credit for that, at least. I would be delighted to hear from readers who admire Craven - Am I missing something? God knows it wouldn’t be the first time!
Although it’s incredibly difficult to stop myself from watching more of ‘The Fades’, tonight’s journey into the spooky realms of paranormal television shows is glowering on my laptop, arms folded and toe tapping.
Sometime in the nineties, I’m guessing around the X-Files hysteria period, a huge amount of ghost hunting/real life paranormal story television shows were airing. I’m sure you remember those and perhaps was even a fan of some of them.
They seemed to die out fairly quickly when reality television initially took our TV sets hostage. I suppose people were more interested in seeing their neighbors go through rehab or watch morons become famous. Ghosts just weren’t that interesting to the general public any more, not with that kind of sterling entertainment to captivate the hamsters upstairs. Maybe that’s why I chose tonight’s amusement. You just don’t see shows like ‘Paranormal Witness’ any more, unless you do what I did and actually pay for it off ITunes. More fool, me.
Apparently this program is quite successful. It has been renewed for a third series starting this summer and was ranked in the top ten new shows when it premiered. It’s a combination of reality show/documentary with real footage, actual interviews and what I’m sure will be a whole lot of ‘expert’ talking heads. With the amazing longevity of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies, it only makes sense that some wise television executive would see a market for shorter versions of said films aired weekly for the paranormally ravenous. I suppose combining reality television with horror is the logical next step – ‘Running Man’ was there first, that’s all I have to say.
The series tagline is ‘Don’t watch it alone’. Tell you what, I started watching it with my head phones on when everyone was in the room with me and it still freaked me out. By the time my husband had left to go jam with his band, I was jumpy and by the time it was over, man…I was on edge. It worked. It did it. I finally found something that bored its way through my skepticism and frightened me.
It’s a slow burn, this show. The production value is very high and it’s full of the bells and whistles constructed to give the viewer the creeps. Sound effects, music, camera angles and lighting are all well constructed to give it a creditable but still filmic feel. Even though the people involved all got paid and had some sort of interest in the production, it’s still hard not to believe the stories just a little bit.
Honestly, if you want to get the chills, try this. I’ll be impressed if you don’t get even just a little bit goofy.
8 abandoned housewives in an old apartment on a Friday night out of ten.
Tonight’s nervous offering upon my altar is a series called The Fades. I have never heard of it, but the reviews are favorable and when I read the plot summary I felt a twinge of excitement in my hard little heart. A teenage boy with terrifying, apocalyptic nightmares begins seeing ghosts and through what I’m sure will be a series of complicated events must stop the dead from sneaking through to our side and taking over the world. Oh, and it’s British which sadly has become my stamp of quality.
I checked the BBC website for some hints about the show before beginning to watch it. I am so excited. Seriously, can the kids go to bed at four in the afternoon? Is that too much to ask?
The series has BAFTA slapped all over it. It won for best drama of this year and the head writer has prior victories for screen and playwriting. When I did a bit more research I discovered that the writer, Jack Thorne, had to rewrite the first episode an amazing 36 times in order to get it right. I admire that kind of determination and perfectionism. I also admire Thorne’s honesty when asked where the idea for the series came from. He confessed that it was “born out of the worst TV script I – or possibly anyone else – has ever written.” As a struggling hack myself, I am terribly intrigued to see how it eventually turned out. It gives me hope for all the lame ducks I have sleeping in my hard drive.
In any case, I am looking forward to checking this out and will fill you in with my expected bitterness as soon as the credits roll.
If you haven’t seen this and you are a fan of sci-fi/paranormal series, I can’t recommend this enough. The dialogue is excellent, the special effects impressive for television and the acting, particularly on the part of the teens, is very good. Again, I am annoyed I only downloaded one because I’ve got that potato chip craving to keep watching. I had to see if they have an American version in the works, but it looks like the networks haven’t picked up on it yet. Maybe an emotionally unstable 17 year old that wets the bed after end-times nightmares is a little too heavy at this juncture. In all seriousness though…this is a very promising show and I plan on watching the crap out of it in the upcoming days. Join me. If you’re not impressed, feel free to send me strongly worded emails telling me why.
Not frightening at all, but too damn entertaining to complain!