Thursday, January 04, 2007

146. Halloween Roundup (13-20): Done to Death

I have about another week of new-year energy left, and I've decided I simply cannot expend it by writing individual postings for horror films I saw two months ago. (Gee, what a rash decision.) But the Roundup will have its way with me, and so I will round it up all at once, right now:

13. Cronos (1993) Guillermo del Toro has a certain fearlessness to him. This may be due to his Latino verve (cultural stereotype #1) or comic-book-geek sensibility (cultural stereotype #2) or simply his big but nervous heart; in any case, his movies do not hesitate from, as Dr. Johnson might put it (metaphysically speaking), "the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together." Consider the tenderness between the grandfather and granddaughter--while the former becomes a vampire and the latter empties her toy chest for his repose. And the ubiquitous Ron Perlman, forever since Quest for Fire part simian, part comic menace. And at the center of this the Cronos Device itself, as beautiful and horrible a mechanism as Gothicism has ever concocted. A glimpse into the "Pan's labyrinth" of del Toro's authentically outre mind.

14. Brides of Dracula (1960) Terence Fisher in ripe, Freudian form. The lasting image for me is the dark-haired Bride, for many years merely a still in Carlos Clarens' Illustrated History of the Horror Film, a truly delirious Terrible Teeny-Bopper on whom I had a troubling crush. Oh, the damage done by Hammer.

15. Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) I will forever insist that lovers of J-Horror need to look closely at Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1964), particularly its high-contrast colors and deep shadows, as well as its silent approaches and creeping pans, its left-handed framing--what is that in the corner? one wonders--and quick-cuts to the last thing you want, but have to take. Ju-on has learned those lessons, and added aural layers to Kobayashi's love of whispering wind and high-pitched keening.

16. Shaun of the Dead (2004) How does a movie filled with gore manage to make one grin without a grimace? Well, those cute British accents help, but what really works here is the matter-of-fact approach everyone takes: twentysomethings encounter zombies--sorry; not supposed to use "the zed-word"--and take advantage of the flesh-eaters' incredibly slow gait to make leisurely escapes, engage in lengthy conversations, enjoy a pint, all with time to spare for devising half-formed plans for survival, which are swept away by sheer military force. Plenty of bullets to go around, after all. Like Young Frankenstein, Shaun loves its source material enough to understand the proper way to spoof it.

17. The Other (1972) In his "User Comments" on the Internet Movie Database, one Keith Anderson writes, "[this movie] has haunted me for about 28 years now. I was 13 or 14 when I happened to catch it in its original theatrical run in 1972. For me, it's become one of those rare discoveries that truly feels [sic] like something of my own." Very strange; I was about the same age, and admit to similar feelings. Watching it again, it seemed less magical--although it retains its Bradbury-esque qualities--but remains a private screening, a hidden twin deep in the barn. In some ways built simply on a gimmick, The Other still manages to evoke a unique sense of nostalgic dread. Like Carnival of Souls, this is a movie that understands itself, and refuses to speak in other than its own voice.

18. The Changeling (1980) I know I've written about this before--I think--but I'm too tired or whatever to hunt around for it. Suffice to say it is a yearly Roundup entry. Best horrifying bouncing ball EVER! OK, so I checked: I mentioned it in an unpublished newspaper Best-Of list: Scariest Movie Moments or something, in which I wrote, "A small and innocent thing becomes a source of dread." True enough, despite the enormous hulk of George C. Scott puffing and glaring through it all. Still a tough (American) ghost movie to beat.

19. The Black Cat (1934) This is so fraught with amour fou I feel as though I've seen it many times, beginning in childhood. But I know it's only been twice, and in the last three years. Edgar G. Ulmer's '30s masterpiece, a dark fable in which Art Deco never looked so deco-dent.

20. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Our one guest at the Roundup viewing of this movie was a nice young woman from work who seemed a lot less flustered that she was watching it than I was having her watch it. I kept apologizing to her, while Tobe Hooper carved the roughest Jack-o'-Lantern of the Roundup. I had forgotten the last twenty minutes is composed of uninterrupted screaming. People from two rooms away waited with uneasy patience for it to be done with. It still bludgeons; to be honest, I'm not sure I can watch it again.

Well, I'm sure I've left out one or two, but the id-lid must come down, kiddies, and the year must renew itself. My middle daughter wants to watch what one--maybe me--would consider the greatest films of all time, and I hope we can see all 10,000 or so of them. In the meantime a tentative list of what might be our first ten:

A Hard Day's Night
North by Northwest
Jules et Jim
House of Games
It's a Gift
Sweet Smell of Success
8 1/2
Full Metal Jacket
Bonnie and Clyde

As usual, I'm aiming for a foolish inconsistency, the hobgoblin of expansive minds.

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