Monday, November 12, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' Unearthed Remains of Shocktober 2012

THE ASPHYX (1973):  Phew! What an odd film. A wealthy scientist, Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens), working in his country mansion discovers that he can photograph a spirit world creature, dubbed "the asphyx", who is responsible for taking the soul at the moment of death. He does this with an invention that he made that creates "moving pictures" and box that focuses a beam of light via water dropped on blue crystals. One of those inventions is significantly more believable that the other one, isn't it? Pssssh! "Moving pictures", whatever! After filming the accidental death of his son and his fiance, he becomes obsessed with the idea that he, and the rest of his kin, can become immortal if he is able to trap the asphyx via his light beam and lock it away in yet another box. He does love his boxes, this guy. Of course things do not go entirely according to plan.
I remember not liking this at all back in the mid-'80s, even with that big garish video box. Presented uncut and widescreen, it's a much better experience, but it's still such a hit and miss affair and a lot of it is miss. Stephens is poorly cast as a brilliant scientist, coming off more like a lisping, effete nobleman who would be more at home writing whimsical poetry in a "Jeeves and Wooster" episode, than devising deadly contraptions with which to capture death itself. Much of it could be a drawing-room stage play and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it still feels very stiff and the twists really don't get very interesting until the last 15-20 minutes of the movie. Even so, when it does work, it's got some interesting ideas. Watching the film, I couldn't get over how this actually got financed, though it makes sense when you think about how successful Hammer, Amicus and Tigon were at the time. Definitely worth a spin when in a very undemanding mood.

MACABRE (1958): A big thanks go out to Mr. Kitley for sending this my way, one of William Castle's chillers that has eluded me over the years. The wait was worth it, it's an absolute gem right up until the last 5 minutes. A small town doctor (William Prince) is held in deep contempt by the entire town who believes that his careless drinking caused the deaths of two women, one of whom happened to be his wife. One day he returns home to find his young daughter missing, and a phone call stating that she is "in a coffin among the dead". Unlike much of Castle's ovre, MACABRE is surprisingly well played and constructed with lots of little interesting bits of plot dropped into place at regular intervals and some excellent camera set-ups that lend an almost Hitchcockian flair to the movie. Granted the reason the screenplay is so deft (for a Castle picture) is probably because it was adapted from Theo Durrant's novel "The Marble Forest", but Castle also had the keen sense to cast Jim Bakus as the rather nasty, embittered local cop, who slightly underplays the role letting others chew the scenery to shreds. Unfortunately the ending shoots itself in the foot and it casts a bit of a pall over the proceedings, especially after such a surefooted set-up. Even so, there's plenty of stylish fun to be had here.

MIMIC 3: SENTINEL (2003): What a boring, pretentious, clich├ęd, tedious sequel, did I mention boring? There’s one idea, cribbed straight out of REAR WINDOW and then they just slowly unwind that one idea for 54 minutes. A teenage shut in spends his time taking photographs out of his window that overlooks the other apartments and a small courtyard area. One day a person disappears and then another and he thinks he may have seen something odd. People come in and out of the room with various thoughts on whether he really did see anything or not. Long shots of the characters faces in silence: padding or pretentious? Every 15 minutes or so we get a sliver of plot advancement that really doesn't take the audience anywhere in the end. I know what you're thinking. You are thinking, "well, if they have some cool monster effects and some grippy tension-filled horror, it could be cool". Yeah, it would, but there really isn't much to see here, neither in the grippy horror department or the monster department. There is a monster attack at the very end of the movie, but it seems like they couldn’t afford effects, as everything concerning the monsters is done in total darkness. All you will see is a claw, or if you’re lucky a silhouette. But you have to wait an hour for that. They made a 77 minute movie and by the time you make it to the end, you will feel like hours have passed. Fans of Alexis Dziena will appreciate director JT Petty's obsession with getting as many shots as possible, peering down her shirt at her barely-legal cleavage. Non-fans may feel otherwise as she is supposed to be about 15 years old in the movie and after a while it starts feeling a little creepy, as if suddenly the director might invite her to sit on his lap. Oh and it has Amanda Plummer, with an obvious face lift, as the mother, acting strangely for no reason related to the plot. This may positively or negatively affect your enjoyment of the movie depending on your disposition.

AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1983): Cool, little giallo-esque slasher-thriller that pre-dates the stripper/slasher thrillers of the late '80s. A plastic-gloved killer is stalking prostitutes who have been videotaping clients in action at the behest of their pimp Fixer (Michael Copeman). Meanwhile the brother (Lawrence Day) of the first victim is trying to locate her whereabouts, rifling through parts of Toronto so seedy, they look like New York, complete with run-down strip-joints, flop-houses and porno theaters. Canucksploitation veterans Lenore Zann and Michael Ironside (who had both just come off of the classic VISITING HOURS) play a stripper and a cop, respectively. Both play ineffective characters (an interesting change of pace for Ironside), but are great in their roles. All in all, a nice slice of Canadian sleaze in which nobody bothers with an American accent (but nobody says "eh" either, come to think of it) which begs the question, why isn't it called "CANADIAN NIGHTMARE"? I guess that wouldn't have made a cool sounding Misfits song.

HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD (2005): If ever the phrase "a waste of good suffering" had a place, it would be here. This movie is the quintessential self-referencing, over hair-do'ed, hipster horror crap. A bunch of Hellraiser fans are invited to a party ala NIGHT OF THE DEMONS by the Hellraiser on-line game (that looks incredibly lame even for 2005), only to be killed off one by one in incredibly boring ways with Pinhead, not actively involved, but rather taunting them in the background while they meet their SAW-like fates. How irritating is it? Well when da kidz wit da hairz enter the party, a girl whips her top open, flashing the guys and one guy says "gratuitous tit shot!" Not bad enough? How about Lance Henricksen as the host of the party who is killing off the kids while saying the most monotonous tripe like when he suddenly appears next to a screaming coed who is trying to run away from him: "like a bad horror movie, isn't it?" No, Lance, it's like a complete waste of time. Lance proves here, once and for all that he's not picking up the gauntlet that John Carradine threw down, he's just pickin' up a paycheck just like Doug Bradley and everyone else on the Barker gravy train. In addition, the movie has a strange gimmick in which the participants of the party are supposed to put on plain, white, paper-mache masks with a number on the forehead  Each mask has a cell-phone that can call the other masks for some anonymous hook-ups. After spending an hour trying to figure out why the hell this angle is thrown in (I mean, shouldn't they at least be Cenobite masks?), you find out that it is completely unnecessary except to help prop up the big twist at the end, which will probably make you throw something at your TV. Hell they even rip off the classic buried-alive sequence from Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD! That ain't right. Just ain't right.

CASSANDRA (1987): Strangely, and woefully underrated Australian giallo from the equally underrated Colin Eggleston, who can't seem to get a lick of cred past making the original LONG WEEKEND (1978). A girl (Tessa Humphries) entering her 20s has feverish dreams of a a woman killing herself with a shotgun while a little boy goads her on, croaking "do it" and a subsequent blazing conflagration. Her subsequent investigation into the past makes her parents more than a little uneasy, as does the sudden violent murder of Dad's pregnant mistress. A black-clad killer is stalking the family and the dirty secrets are about to come to light. Well paced, with a laconic, dream-like feel, and stylishly directed with great camerawork, the film shares some themes with many Stephen King books, but unlike Mr. King, handles them with seductive subtlety. Never is there any mention of psychic powers or incest, but it's all alluded to here and there, without throwing them in your face. The music, by Trevor Lucas (who also produced) and Ian Mason, does a great job of winding up the suspense, even if you have figured out who the killer is before the characters do. Tim Burns of MAD MAX (1979) fame has a small part as a creepy photographer's assistant. Like a lot of older Aussie films, there's a great movie here if you want to see one.

1 Reactions:

  1. I really need to revisit THE ASPHYX - I think I liked it well enough but I wasn't quite as knocked out as I'd hoped I'd be based on its rep. Huge fan of MACABRE, and one that I don't understand why it's taken so long to find an audience (or a DVD release, for that matter). I think I liked MIMIC 3 more than you did (which wouldn't be much of a stretch, it seems), but I agree it's far from perfect. I've not seen, nor do I have any plans to, any of the HELLRAISER sequels past #4. I've not heard anyone, I mean ANYONE tell me I'm missing out on anything. CASSANDRA and AMERICAN NIGHTMARE both sound pretty nifty.


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