Friday, October 31, 2008

Trilogy of Terror

(1975) ***

In ToT, we are treated to three short tales of the macabre. Tale one involves Julie, an introverted lit professor who is being blackmailed by one of her students. Tale two shows us the world of Millicent and Therese, two sisters who couldn't be more dissimilar. In tale three Amelia brings home a Zuni warrior fetish... with strict instructions not to take off that little chain around his waist.

The first story is OK, but not scary; the second story telegraphs its twist about a minute in; Amelia delivers the "terror" goods. The Zuni fetish, once freed from its chain, relentlessly and bloodily attacks Amelia with teeth and knife and chattery gibberish. If I'd seen this segment as a child I would have been petrified and traumatized; Horrorthon veteran that I am, and with Octo, 50p, and Catfreeek's reviews to cue me, the diminutive Zuni warrior provoked more giggles than fright.

I'm the fourth to review ToT for the blog and heartily recommend reading former reviews. Since this is my last movie of the thon, I have taken the liberty of factoring my pleasure in re-reading the first three reviews into my overall rating. Given its disproportionate impact on our group I almost feel ToT should be required viewing on the blog... maybe next year? ToTothon!

Happy Halloween from Catfreeek

Sorry JPX, I know it's a non-review post but I just had to post some Halloween pics.


By Day

By Night

Oh, and I was lurking in the mist.

Scooby-dooby-doo!

We kept it simple this year, actually I waited til today to decorate because Horrorthon has been taking up all my time. My poor hubby has been suffering through take out dinners and meals I can cook in 30 minutes or less.
Anyway, simple was good. It was a good night, many children were afraid to approach the house and several more left running and screaming. The best were two teenage girls who waited in a line of kids for their candy. When it was their turn I jumped down off the stocks and they ran off screaming without any candy.

The Exorcist

(1973) *****

Chris MacNeil is a successful and famous actress. While working on a film in Washington DC, she is living in a beautiful home in Georgetown with full staff. She and her husband are separated; husband is in Europe and daughter Regan lives with mom in Georgetown. Regan is a cheerful, typical 12-year old, at least at the beginning of the film. Slowly her behavior starts to change. Regan has odd experiences, and is worked up medically and thoroughly, sparing no expense, but no explanations are found. Meanwhile her behavior becomes more and more erratic, disturbing, and inexplicable.

Everyone’s been talking this ‘thon about how scary this movie is, and I’ve avoided it my whole life for that very reason. The upside: I was in for a hell of a treat today when I got to watch The Exorcist for the first time ever. The downside: I knew about some key plot points and images going in to the movie, which decreased the potential scare and shock value. Decreased, not eliminated.

Like my other favorite horror movies (The Shining, Alien, Silence of the Lambs) The Exorcist is a great movie, not “just” a great horror movie. The casting and acting are brilliant. Linda Blair was amazing as the tween girl transforming into a violent, blasphemous monster before our eyes. None of the horrific scenes are gratuitous; they are essential to the story, and the building tension is not dissipated until the end of the film. The movie is long (always a minus during horrorthon) but the length doesn’t feel excessive. I think the movie is effective, scary, and shocking not because of its excellent special effects, but because it’s a “realistic” and beautifully made movie. To my own extreme surprise, The Exorcist is now on my list of all-time favorite movies. Thank you Horrorthon!

Happy Halloween from dcd, desroc and the munchkins

Two adorable kiddos. One pathetic pumpkin. *sigh*

Happy Halloween from Octopunk, Julie and Zack!

Black Xmas

(2006) *1/2
There really isn't much to the plot here... some sorority girls, alone on Christmas Eve with their house mother start getting mutilated, one by one, because their sorority house is the same home of psychotic killer, Billy, who murdered his mother and step-father years 10 years earlier. Apparently, after the mass murders, the home was turned into a sorority. That psychotic killer, breaks out of the mental hospital, and heads straight for his childhood home - hence the murders.

There really wasn't anything too special about Black Christmas. The back story on the killer is pretty disturbing (anything involving rape & incest kind of transcends horror for me and just enters the realm of tragic lifetime movies). The story moves along slowly and there's no surprise ending or anything. There are only two redeeming qualities here: one - the psychotic killer is afflicted with a condition giving him yellow skin, which makes for one creepy villain(that's worth a half star).

Two - in a slasher film taking place in a sorority house, there is not one nude scene. The closest we get is a nude back. When it gets more lurid on Fox network television, you know you've got something pretty tame. Now, I'm not saying that no nudity is a redeeming quality, it's just that I respect that this slasher film in the typical "sorority/girl's camp" setting, they avoided the temptation to turn it into soft core porn. Disappointing - sort of, but also redeeming.




Thursday, October 30, 2008

Them!

(1954) ****

Two police officers are sent out on a strange call. They find a little girl wandering around the desert with a fixed stare, completely nonresponsive. A few miles away is a trailer and car; the trailer has been torn apart and there are no occupants. One of the police officers find clues suggesting the little girl had lived in the trailer. As the police get the little girl settled into an ambulance, a strange, high pitched, shrieking whistle fills the air. Unnoticed by the police officer and the ambulance orderly, the little girl sits bolt upright, then sinks down again as the noise fades. The ambulance orderly suggests that the whistle is probably just the wind. In reality, the whistling is the communication amongst gigantic, atomic-mutated ants that proceed to terrorize the county and then the Southwest United States.

Hey, another really good 50s horror movie! I thought a movie about gigantic mutated ants would be totally laughable, low budget garbage, but I really enjoyed Them! The movie takes itself seriously and realistically portrays events that would logically follow from the existence of such creatures. They don't skimp on the science of ant behavior, there are plenty of good action scenes, and the ants are sizeable and vicious. Them! is good wholesome black-and-white fun.

Phantasm

(1979) ****

The first time I saw this movie Octo and I were visiting our future Step-mom and step-siblings in Virginia. I'm pretty sure the adults were not watching it with us considering the first shot in the movie is of a couple having sex.

The film centers on the creepy mausoleum/funeral home, "Morningside." After their friend Tommy gets offed in the first scene, we see Jordy and Reggie at his funeral. Jordy goes into the mausoleum to pay respects to his parents who are housed there. The inside of this place has always stuck with me. Really white marble that just goes on forever, broken up here and there by blood red velvet curtains. It's awesome.

Jordy's kid brother Mike sees some weird shit while he's tearing around the cemetary on his motorbike. Mike, in all his late 70's hair glory, decides to take a closer look inside the funeral home and gets attacked by the Creepy Tall Man and a couple of angry Jawas. One of the great things about this movie - as Octo noted in his past review - is that there is little time wasted on people not buying what is going on. Mike manages to cut off and keep a finger from the Creepy Tall Man. He tells the whole story to Jordy and shows him the finger which is still oozing yellow blood. Jordy takes one look and says, "Okay, I believe you." Ha!

Then they proceed to get lots of guns to go and "figure out what is going on." Reggie, who is always in his Ice Cream Man uniform, (pairing it sometimes with a sweater or better yet, a leather vest!) gets in on the action as well. In an incredibly easy fashion they figure out what is going on - Creepy Tall Man is from another planet and they are using the dead bodies as slaves. Once they shrink them down to about 3'2" tall, that is.

I just cannot tell you how much I enjoyed seeing this movie again! I admit to being totally freaked out by the Creepy Tall Man when I first saw this movie. The actor who plays him, Angus Scrimm was born to play this guy. He is still creepy, but there wasn't too much of a scare factor left for me. Not that I cared. This movie is just totally fun, freaky and a little gross too. It's 1979 in all it's cool cars, big guns and bad clothes glory. Yay!

Forget my hair, check out these socks!

Boogeyman 2



(2008) *
Laura and her brother Henry had a nice little life growing up with their parents, until one day the Boogeyman came to kill mom & dad. Flash forward ten years to when Henry is finally getting out of his posh mental institution for pretty white teens when he is finally cured. Unfortunately, Laura just begins to have troubles, and checks in to the same mental hospital.
Each of the pretty white teens has different fears - fear of the outside world, germs, getting fat, and the desire to cur oneself - which isn't really a fear I don't think, but it'll make for a good death scene. The Boogeyman shows up, and begins to off each teen in what they would probably see as their fears coming true - in a fatal way!

Alright, so this movie gets one star for the cool Boogeyman outfit and the inventive ways that the kids die. Otherwise I HATED it, because it hits on one of my pet peeves - scary movies that purport to have a supernatural essence, that in the end just ends up being something else. So many movies have done this! I don't want to mention any, because that would spoil the ending. Usually, these movies pretend to have a "surprise ending" when in reality, there was no ghost/demon/whatever all along - it was just some schmuck in a mask. Bleah. I hate that. I could go off on a number of movies here, but let me channel my rage towards Boogeyman 2:
1. The whole "there was no scary guy after all" thing REALLY doesn't work here, because we already learned from the first movie that yes, the Boogeyman does indeed exist.
2. At the start of the film, the kids parents are killed by the real Boogeyman. So, there's already precedent that they could have gone the supernatural route here instead of psychotic killer. Why did they puss out?
3. The Boogeyman in this one does way too many things to be a real person. There is no suspension of disbelief large enough to cover all of the things that this mortal being does. If the boogeyman was real, the movie would make more sense.
In conclusion, Boogeyman 3 comes out on dvd next year - let's hope they revert to using the actual Boogeyman in a movie called Boogeyman!!!

Shrooms



(2006) ***

Five teens meet up with a friend in Ireland to trip on some special druid magic mushrooms. They drive out to a mystical looking forest and proceed with said trip.

Tara ignores Jake’s warnings about the dreaded black topped druid super shrooms and takes one anyway. She starts having violent and disturbing hallucinations.

In the morning the rest of the gang partake in Jake’s mushroom tea and the bad trip begins for all. Tara sees each person being murdered. Bluto has a conversation with a cow.

Jake and Troy seem to be being pursued by a serial murderer. They are all running in different directions through the mystical druid forest and no one knows what is real or what is hallucination.

Whoa, talk about your bad trips. I think I would have rather opted for the brown acid at Woodstock then to have gone through what these folks experienced. Why Jake would invite them to travel thousands of miles so they could be totally freaked out I’m not sure.

This film is confusing and surreal, just as I expected. I much prefer the happy sixties or seventies trippy type films, though it really wasn’t bad. I gave it an extra ½ point for originality.

Stuck


(2007) ***½

Brandi Boski, doesn’t that sound like a stripper name? Well anyway, Brandi is working hard as a nursing assistant and is up for a promotion. She goes out with some friends to celebrate by getting drunk. While she is driving home she hits a homeless man. He crashes straight through her windshield and isn’t going anywhere.

She panics and drives straight home stashing her car in the garage with the poor guy, still stuck there and still alive. She leaves him there overnight trying to decide what to do about it and wakes, much to her surprise, to find he is still alive. The poor guy goes through agonizing hours of trying to escape while Brandi attempts going to work and pretending that nothing is wrong. This is inspired by a true story that was very similar to this, some of you may remember it from a few years back.

You really feel bad for this guy. First they show us how he loses his apartment and goes down to unemployment seeking help. He has nowhere to go so he tries sleeping on a park bench. Soon he is being shoved off again by a policeman because the park is closed. All this bad luck then wham! Brandi is not the most likeable character I’ve seen Mena Suvari play but then again, I don’t think we’re supposed to really like her. After all, she’s being a really shitty person here leaving this poor guy in hell. The film has a good flow to it and keeps you captivated within the situation.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin


(1971) ****

Carol’s neighbor is a promiscuous tart who is always having loud wild parties. Carol is plagued by sexual dreams involving her neighbor.

One night Carol has a particularly vivid dream of murdering her neighbor. The next day her neighbor is discovered dead, murdered in the exact same circumstance as Carol’s dream. Did Carol really commit murder or was it just an elaborate set up?

Excellent Fulci film full of mystery and intrigue. The trippy dream sequence is something to behold. Again, he keeps you guessing throughout.

At first it seems it couldn’t possibly be anyone but Carol but as the story unfolds the suspects begin to line up. There’s a wonderful suspenseful scene where Carol is being pursued through an old church. This is definitely one of Fulci’s best films.

The Thing From Another World

(1951) ****

An Army pilot and his crew are summoned to the North Pole, where an atmospheric abnormality has attracted attention from scientists and the military. A team ventures out about 50 miles east of the Arctic research station to discover what appears to be an alien spacecraft trapped in the ice. Their attempts to free the craft end in its destruction, but a body is discovered stuck in the ice, so the team digs out the body, encased in ice, and bring it back to the research station. The scientists and the military men squabble over what to do with their find, but the situation changes when it becomes apparent that the body is alive, and gets nourishment by consuming blood.

This movie was a pleasant surprise. I had grabbed a stack of 50s monster movies from the library and was expecting a ** B-movie. Not so in this case. Thing From Another World is a fast-paced, entertaining sci-fi adventure story with a relatively realistic portrayal of different possible responses to the discovery of an alien being.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

M

(1931) *****

Loved, loved, loved this movie. I've used Fritz Lang's noir classic Scarlet Street sometimes to teach undergrads how to analyze and "read" film, but I'd somehow never gone back and watched this one, Lang's first talkie and the second to last movie he made before fleeing the Nazis for Hollywood.

One of the striking things for me is in contrasting this one with Caligari, which I watched and reviewed yesterday. It's amazing to see how far the medium had come in only 12 years. This one feels closer in temperament, pacing, and style to an episode of NYPD Blue than it does to the surreal expressionism of Caligari. Which isn't to say the expressionist influence isn't there--it's just not as overt as I was expecting, and this one just feels way more modern. Indeed, I've seen plenty of movies made later than 1931 that seem much less modern. This is just smart and edgy and gorgeous and completely compelling the whole way through.

The plot centers around a child murderer (Peter Lorre) and the impact his crimes have on a German city. The populace is panicked, the police are overworked and at wits end, and even the criminal syndicates are desperate, given that raids and surveilance are up all over town due to the unsolved crimes. We watch as two distinct groups (the police and the criminals, who enlist beggars) close in on the killer, ultimately bringing him to some sort of of justice.
While watching, I kept making mental notes of cool things I wanted to mention in my review, but they got too numerous to remember, so I'll just catalogue what comes to mind now.

The great opening sequence of kids playing some sort of game while chanting a morbid song about a killer coming for them in black clothes. I love morbid children's rhymes and everything they represent, so this grabbed me right away.

The first glimpse of the killer--just his shadow as leans in to talk to his victim--totally spooky and iconic. You know she's a goner right away, and it's devastating.

The cutting back and forth between the cops and criminals each conferencing in their own ways on how to solve the problem of this child murderer who is causing them so much trouble. Lang has a cop start a sentence in one place, and then cuts to a criminal holding forth and basically finishing the thought in another place. It's great structurally, and plus, I just love the whole idea of "crime syndicates."
The whole sequence in the office building where the criminals have cornered Lorre. This is where Lang begins to toy with our sympathies, as the the child killer hides in fear while the mob searches and searches. You begin to worry for his safety, against your best impulses.

And then my favorite shot in the movie, a great sweeping shot of the basement of the abandoned factory where they bring the murderer after finally grabbing him. It's a dark, wide open space, and the camera focuses on Lorre's shock when he looks up to see the faces of literally hundreds of thugs, pimps, prostitutes, burglars, and beggars staring at him. Lang pans the camera from one side to the other, and you can't help but think, "He's fucked," as the camera keeps going and going.





Don’t Torture a Duckling

(1972) ***½

A child killer is committing heinous murders in a remote Italian village. A reporter digs in and tries to get to the bottom of it. There is a voodoo priest and a female apprentice that are being investigated as well as a priest and a promiscuous wealthy woman who is new to the village.


Lucio Fulci is one of my favorite directors. What I love is how he keeps you guessing through the whole film. I really mean it too, most suspense pictures you pretty much figure out midway through or so. Not so with Fulci, my friend (Yes, Patty again) and I kept running over it as the film progressed and it wasn’t until the end when it hit us. Very cool, he’s the Italian Hitchcock , mystery wise anyway. He lacks the finesse that Hitch had for cinematography and Hitch had access to better actors as well. Good film though and you really have to appreciate his originality with the title.

Food of the Gods

(1976) **½

A football player and some friends go to an island for vacation but what they find is a nightmare. A farmer & his wife have discovered a substance streaming out of the ground on their land. They mix it with the chicken feed and all the baby chicks grow up to be the size of a bus. Just imagine the size of the eggs, not to mention a drumstick! So, they see it as a wonderful gift from God, hence the name. Here’s the trouble, some wasps get into the FOTG and one of the football player’s buddies gets stung by a wasp the size of a pit bull and dies. They go to the farmhouse and get the skinny on the FOTG from the farmer’s wife who happens to notice a rat hole in her kitchen wall while they are there. Cue in the giant rats. You got it, a bunch of people are trapped in a house trying to fend off a swarm of giant rats.

This is a classic H.G. Wells tale although I will admit that I haven’t read it. I think the film is very amusing and would probably write it off as poor 70’s special effects or what not. However, my sister & I saw this one in the theater when it came out and I can clearly remember us laughing through it back then.

Look, those rats are attacking a Barbi camper!

It’s one that I think everyone should watch but I would say more for the amusing aspect of it then for the horror or lack there of.

Island of the Dead

(2001) *1/2



So lame.

I've been scratching my head over this one for about a week now and the further I get from it the more baffled I feel. The setup is terrific. Malcolm McDowell puts forth a stellar performance as a womanizing land developer who rose to greatness from humble origins. He plans to redevelop Hart Island off of New York Harbor, a place where unidentified bodies have been buried for centuries. As one of the laymen whom he looks down upon with disgust comments "He doesn't even know how much money he gots, that's how much money he got." (I wasn't a big fan of this guy either for what it's worth.)

McDowell fights all of the obstacles and red tape preventing this massive project and heads to the island himself to oversee the progress. He is accompanied by an attractive female cop searching for a missing girl (in a meandering subplot that doesn’t satisfy). The setting is perfect. The island looks like an eerie barren wasteland that only a snowless New York winter can provide. I was bracing for the zombie attack and hoped for the slow-moving Romero undead. “These zombies are sure to be particularly angry due to their undignified burials”, I predicted.

And then... Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Credits roll.

Ok that’s not entirely true. There are a bunch of worms and some *contemptuous snicker* attacking flies that but I believe that the makers should be fined for flagrant false advertising! Island of the Dead? Pfft. More like “Island Go to Bed”!

The Sentinel


(1977) ***1/2

I rented this based on Catfreek's review from October 9th. She and JSP both have good reviews that I suggest you read if you want to know more about the plot. Basically, a New York model moves in to a new apartment only to be creeped out by her neighbors that include an intrusive/senile old man and two women in leotards who discuss their "fondness" for each other openly.

Three and a half is a very accurate rating for this. It's a good scary movie with a nice plot development. In terms of scares there are a few good gory make-up and fx shots. Most of the creepiness involves overweight nude women playing with an old naked man - disgusting, but not in the "wow that's so gross!" sense - more in the "ewww, I bet it isn't even that lurid on the internet" style.

Nevertheless, it's definitely worth a viewing. And Catfreek's right - seeing Christopher Walken 30 years ago is awesome.

Cursed

(2005) **

Ellie is a hard-working producer on the late late show with Craig Kilborn. She takes care of her younger brother while they still live in their recently deceased parents' home. She is currently having relationship troubles with Pacey, a young LA hipster who is terribly busy with work, opening a nightclub/wax museum (apparently those exist?). ON the drive home one night, Ellie and her younger brother are in a car accident. When they try to help the victim (American Pie's Shannon Elizabeth - fully clothed), she is killed by a wold, while Ellie and her younger brother are bitten.

Weird things start to happen - pentagrams form on their hands, they start hungering for lots of meat, and they're suddenly considered very attractive by others. There's a great scene where Scott Baio is hitting on Christina Ricci.
This film was directed by Wes Craven and includes his penchant for trying to frame his story within a story while reflecting on pop culture's stories in general. If that sounds too confusing, think of what he did with the Scream movies, or Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Same sort of stuff here. Kevin Williamson (writer of scream) wrote this one as well, but rather than making this a legitimately scary movie, they tried to take the story in a campy angle that nullifies any good creepiness that would have made a more effective film.
Some of the fx are good, and the werewolf's final showdown in the wax museum/night club is pretty good, but, overall, this movie was not nearly as good as Craven & Williamson could do.

American Werewolf in London

(1981) ****

Two young American tourists are hiking through northern England. Cold and tired, they stop in at a village pub, the Slaughtered Lamb. The village folk are circumspect and hostile, and the young men soon leave, having been warned to stay on the road and beware of the moon. The young men get in an animated conversation and wander into the moors, it starts to rain, and out comes the moon. Soon they are attacked by a mysterious creature, and horrific consequences ensue.

American Werewolf in London (another of my “missed classic” efforts) provided a nice blend of humor and horror, with good special effects. Entertaining throughout.

The Final Terror


(1983)*1/2

A group of forest rangers and their annoying girlfriends travel into the backwoods for a weekend of hedonism (why else would you go there?). After one of the rangers becomes belligerent and takes off the group finds themselves battling against a killer disguised to blend in with the forest surroundings. Following a series of unfortunate events including an attack on their bus rendering it incapable of being driven (best scene in the film), a kidnapping/hostage situation, and a very serious injury, the remaining friends must figure out a way to turn the tables on the menace disguised in branches and leaves.

You know it's a bad movie when the only available photos are pictures of the DVD case

Boasting a better than usual cast for the genre including Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano, and Rachel Ward, The final Terror nonetheless is a fairly lame slasher with lackluster murders and long pauses between the action. In fact, you can skip the entire middle third of the film where nothing much interesting happens at all save a campfire urban legend story crowbarred in to give the viewing audience a hint at who the real killer might be. The constant bickering between the characters, an apparent mainstay of 80s slasher films, becomes irritating to the point where you will shout, “Will you all just shut the fuck up!” like I did. The final Terror is low rent Deliverance.

The House on Sorority Row


(1983)***

Seven sorority sisters find themselves in a real pickle when a prank to scare their bitchy housemother goes horribly wrong and ends in the old bitty’s death. After some bickering about how to handle this debacle they reluctantly agree to hide her corpse in the bottom of a murky swimming pool until a large graduation party being held in the house later that evening concludes. As the party commences an unseen menace begins slicing and dicing the seven girls. Is the old bitty still alive or is there another killer out there?

Wait, where did you say I was?

I’ve watched about 10 1980s slashers recently and I’ve become really good at guessing the killer. Halfway through I had the whole shabang figured out and I watched with a smug knowing look on my face as the rest of the film unfolded precisely as I predicted with my new gift of prophecy. Still, House on Sorority Row was one of the better 1980s stalk-n-stabs, which is like saying one velvet Elvis is better than another. The killings were gruesome and one shot of a head in a toilet really grossed me out, especially when the victim’s eyes opened. Imagine being headless and with the millisecond of awareness you have before you die you notice that you’re in a toilet where people poop.

Slaughter High


(1986)*

Slaughter High begins with an extended sequence showcasing a clique of high school jerks up to their usual high jinks. You know the clique I’m talking about, those jerks in every high school movie that torture the nerds for no apparent reason yet somehow end up in the yearbook with all the superlatives. Good thing high school isn’t like that in real life, right? Following a complicated set-up for a prank-gone-wrong, nerdy Marty, who spends the first 20 minutes of the film getting wedgies and swirlys, inadvertently receives a face full of acid. Adding insult to injury he finds himself on fire. Fast-forward 5 years. The clique is anonymously lured back to their soon to be demolished high school under the guise of a reunion party. Who put together this little shingding – “I didn’t send out the invites, I thought you did!” Nonplussed the former students walk into the school where they proceed to do everything wrong and find themselves at the receiving end of some nerd justice.

Check out those lockers! Yep, this one's as low budget as you can get, folks

Slaughter High is an exercise in frustration given the stupidity of the characters. Rather than banding together when the gravity of the situation hits them, they spend time taking baths, crawling under lawn mowers to “fix them up”, have sex, and worst of all, leave each other alone. If they had just gotten together and left the school immediately they would’ve been fine. Instead they are deservedly slaughtered is Darwinism fashion. The absolute worse offense of Slaughter High, and this is a big spoiler folks so you’ve been warned; it is later revealed that the entire movie was a dream of Marty’s while he is recovering in a hospital. Big sigh.

You're all going to pay for what you did to me in high school!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


(1920) *****

This continues my day of working through German expressionism in totally haphazard fashion, from the noir expressionist-inflected 1955 Night of the Hunter back to this original German silent masterpiece. Next I'm going to start M as soon as I finish writing this. Somehow, I'd missed seeing Caligari all these years, so when I saw it on the library shelf last night, I figured it would go well with Hunter and M, which I already had in the basket.


Starting out, I got a little worried in the first 3-4 minutes of this one. The image was soooo crappy and distorted that I thought I was doing damage to my pretty Samsung hdtv. And if, like me, you don't watch a lot of silent film, when you start one for the first time in 20 years (since The Gold Rush and Nosferatu in high school), you immediately begin to feel more like you're doing homework than watching a movie.


But just as that bummer feeling was washing over me, this one shifted gears and sucked me in. The main story is about a freakshow-type attraction at a carnival in some small German Alps town. A crazy looking guy named Dr. Caligari has a big cabinet (more like a coffin) in which he keeps a somnambulist named Cesare. Each "show" consists of Caligari magically "waking" Cesare from his 23 year slumber to answer questions from the crowd about the past or future. I loved that the very first person to step forward went right for the money shot: "When am I going to die?" Nothing like warming up to it, eh? Unfortunately, the answer Cesare gives back is "Before dawn." And sure enough, that night the guy is brutally murdered. He had been the best friend of the narrator of our story, Francis, and they both were in love with the same woman, Jane. So Jane and Francis decide to get to the bottom of the murder, and this becomes the mystery of the rest of the movie.

While I can't see myself watching this multiple times for entertainment value alone, this is definitely a flick worth checking out once in your life, especially for horror/sci-fi fans. Aside from marveling at the stylized and artificial sets typical of expressionism with all their freaky distorted angles and shadows, there's a sense that you could easily trace dozens of movies and scenes straight back to right here. When Cesare creeps along an alley on his way to murder Jane, it's both really spooky AND a deja vu moment wherein you feel like you've seen this imitated a million times. Same thing happens again and again--the first time we see Cesare closeup is another example. His white painted face and expressive darkened eyes and lips bring to mind everyone from Depp's Edward Scissorhands to Ledger's Joker.

It's also interesting to think of this movie as part of the larger artistic/philosophical movement of modernism, of which German expressionism is an early example. That's actually a tough mental trick, to see this old grainy silent b/w film and think "How modern!" Probably for that reason, I've usually ignored film when I think about the intersections amongst say, painting and literature and architecture and music in the modern period, but this one certainly brought to mind Joyce and Woolf and Picasso and Munch.