Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):
When reviews dismiss a movie with “better as a Twilight Zone episode”, it doesn’t put me off seeing it. If anything, it might imply that the running time is bloated or that the plot is paper-thin, but for Canadian offering Pontypool (2008), its simplicity is its strength.
A zombie movie of sorts, the entire film takes place in an Ontario-based radio station (and its pacing doesn’t suffer one bit for it). Former shock jock Grant Mazzy (velvet-voiced Stephen McHattie) is on his way to said station when a disoriented naked woman taps on his car window, yells some unintelliigble stuff about Hitler, then fucks off.
Later at work,he’s reeling off mundane school closures, Honey the missing cat, and other small town dullness, with just a report of a mini drunken riot to break up the monotony. Grant’s station manager Sydney (Lisa Houle) is less than impressed; returning Afghanistan vet/technical assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Drummond) is indifferent.
Things get simultaneously clearer and more confusing once not-really-in-a-helicopter helicopter reporter Ken (voice of Rick Roberts) chimes in with a series of increasingly disturbing eyewitness reports – that the mini-riots have become riots, the riots have become mobs, the mobs have become hordes, and the hordes have become violent – murderously, cannibalistically, zombie-ly violent.
This, naturally, sends our trio into a bit of a tizzy. Nobody knows what’s really going on (this is pre-2009 Twitter/Iran elections), and police are just straight-up non-contactable/speaking gibberish early on, which is how it all starts. All they can do is continue to try to gather more reports from anyone they can appeal to. Normally, a radio show would be the perfect method for such a call-to-action, but it soon transpires that the horde-like behaviour is language-based – that the virus travels through words. Soon, the majority of the town is rambling incoherently and proper murdering each other.
The aforementioned simplicity of the movie makes this all work and just keeps all the tension bottled in, like a trapped fart. Nobody can enter or leave the station, details are pretty scant, they’re all alone and this is a pretty unusual situation that none of the characters would ever had seen, had they ever watched a movie. We don’t see any of the outside world – everything that takes place before your eyes takes place in the studio, and we rely on reactions from the principal characters, or telling-not-showing updates from Ken, to churn out the plot developments. Yet it never feels forced or comes off as collateral damage for having a rock-bottom production budget.
It perfectly captured the beginning of a crisis – especially a bizarre one – right in the heart of all of this “unknownness”, with our trio trying to figure out this bizarre situation, making mistakes, trying to be heroes – acting like they hope they’re in a movie, because that’s exactly what you’d imagine you’d do yourself, and what you’d expect to see in a movie like this. My only suggestion was that it might have taken place in real time, just to heighten the tension further, but maybe that would have been gimmicky.
Based on a book and then written for the screen by the author, it’s a wonderfully chilling bit of socio-linguistic commentary, an inventive take on zombie lore. Both lead actors carry their parts quite well (otherwise, t’would have been utter disaster), and the score is effective without being intrusive. There’s even some brilliant sparks of black humour (including the outing of a late town paedophile, an endless string of obituaries and an unexpected blackface moment). Two sequels are rumoured, both of which will supposedly explain the origin of the virus. Hopefully one of them will also explain what happened to Honey the Cat.
It’s giallo time! And I seem to be continuing the tradition of watching movies set and filmed in Eastern European cities I’ve recently visited and dearly missed. Ah, Prague, you weird and wonderful cobblestoned multicoloured-terraced crackpot oversized village stuffed with beatniks and weird museums and repurposed Castle buildings and burly sexy LEGO sculpture and and the Charles Bridge and washed-up alchemy labs.
Day 5 of my horror-a-thon (I wish I’d come up with a better name for this, but in my third year, it’s just stuck) belongs to Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971). Originally named Malastrana after the district in which it was set, then later changed to Short Night of the Butterflies – a direct callback to a conversation in the film – then switched out again to avoid confusion with another butterfly-led title. So don’t even bother trying to read into the damn title.
Our movie begins with a corpse – our main character, journalist Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is whisked to a morgue and examined by doctors. Only he’s actually not dead, as he narrates! He can barely remember what’s happened, other than his unfairly-beautiful girlfriend (Barbara Bach) has vanished. Doctors are treating him as sort-of-dead, although there’s a straggler who can’t quite work out why his body temperature hasn’t gone down yet.
And so follows 90-odd minutes of both of us trying to piece together the events that got him there, on an Eyes Wide Shut-style journey through the seedy sleazebelly of a foreign city’s social elite.
It’s all a bit disappointingly linear, and meekly, repeatedly taps you on the face with its low budget and scant production values. I’m also not sure if I just had a dodgy copy, but the dubbing was distractingly just…off, with badly-timed voices and ill-fitting accents.
I’ve yet to see much giallo, but I’d put this as more of a semi-spooky mystery thriller rather than a straight-up horror. Yes, there’s a sinister, untouchable satanic cult, and there’s elements of body/medical horror, but there’s more shooty-shooty than stabby-stabby, and the film’s oft-repeated theme is a series of lilting but damn-pleasant piano notes and thoughtful murmurs rather than short, sharp crescendoes and nail-biting string-plucking. Though at least we get a weird black-mass-orgy with a floating bell and scores of catatonic, clammy middle-aged bodies.
Still, the payoff is almost worth sticking with it – imagine a movie in which the killer(s) are far smarter in their sadism and track-covering than they have any right to be; horror slashers that prefer to operate in an occult thriller, exploiting the trust and invisibility afforded to them by their places in life. Isn’t that just as terrifying than any pizza-faced paedo or boiler-suit-wearing escaped mental patient with sister issues? (Probably not, but I wanted to end this on a high note, because I never fully dislike a movie.)
So any movie that starts with a man giggling and singing his pubes off in an decrepit cabin and then somehow turning his erect dick into a penile-farting firework is probably going to hold one’s attention.
I’d like to get this out of the way now: this is truly one of the most fucked-up films I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not because of the unsimulated sex close-ups, or the penile pyrotechnics, or the furious wanking, or the cock zooms, or the strongly-implied/outright-said paedophilia, or the 360-degree-shot ofa bunch of competitive eaters throwing up, or the extreme zoom of the bird shitting, or the grossly-obese middle-generation patriarchm, or the utterly fucking horrifying, disturbing close. It’s all of it. ALL OF IT.
Hungarian body-horror black-comedy-drama Taxidermia (2006) follows three generation of men from WW2 through the Cold War to today: we have a bottom-feeding army orderly, a competitive eater, and the titular taxidermist. All three men are deeply flawed, perverse, downtrodden, desperate and oppressed by at least one authority figure.
Now I don’t know the rules of Hungarian cinema; for that I am both thankful and nervous, because I cannot even try to predict what might happen next, or what socio-theatrical conventions it adheres to (e.g., American horror films never dispatch children; Norway’s Dead Snow 2 didn’t give a shit about that). It’s even more of a ghoulish descent into madness once you pick up on just how fucking surreal the tone is (and it never lets up).
It’s visually-striking from the get-go beautifully-shot, with some oddly poetic sequences, one in particular showing the various uses of the army trough: first as a bathtub, then as a open casket; a baby is delivered in it; bread is baked; a slaughtered pig is stored; back to the bathtub use again. All of this is shown as the camera spins slowly on its head.
But back to the perversion. Highlights: Morosgoványi, our mild-mannered, bestial, paedophilic peeping tom, has a scene in which the sight of two women just having a snowball fight is enough to make his own makeshift fleshlight out of a hole in the wall, some thick ointment and a filthy rag. He doesn’t get far, though, because an actual cock wanders up to him and literally pecks him on his pecker. Later, we think he’s screwing the lieutenant’s portly wife because we see him imagining the snowball girls, but it turns out he was imagining both of those and was actually fucking the pig everybody had slaughtered earlier.
His progeny (how?)Kálmán grows up to become a competitive speed-eater, and he’s pretty damn good at it, because he knows just the correct amount of nauseous gas to inhale so that he can puke up more room for subsequent rounds. So impressive is his gorging and shitlog-retention (of which we get a money-shot of a close-up), that he manages to elope with one of his fans, with whom he licks the sweat from her armpits, and then later has a son, because Hungary.
Our final generation,Lajokska, is a meek taxidermist with a sizable studio. Oh, and he keeps his dad, who is now of Pearl-from-Blade-sized proportions, is completely immobile and can barely talk (other than to hurl abuse at him). And he has cats, who are really good IRL at hissing. Props to the animal wrangler on that one.
As I sat there watching this, it was pretty easy to get caught up in how fascinatingly, bizarrely, utterly insane and stunning and grotesque and just “WHAT AM I WATCHING??-ness of it all. It just gets increasingly fouler, bleaker, more fatalistic, and far more obsessed with zooming in on every (sometimes literally) visceral detail.
There are so many pausable, shareable moments (I guess this depends on what kind of person you are), that you might want to block out an extra hour on top of the movie’s 90-odd-minute running time. It also made me want to go back to Budapest. And it has a fucking awesome soundtrack.
Just watch something nice afterwards, like a sitcom or a classic cartoon. Maybe skip anything with a Rube Goldberg machine, though.
Imagine that Gremlins was remade, but instead of a cute furry, misunderstood thing with bug eyes that spawned evil babies, it was an ugly, hairless evil thing with bug eyes. And instead of buying it from a pop-up exotic gift shop, the protagonist literally shits it out of his ass.
Bad Milo! has been on my Netflix list for a while, and I feel a little cheated that it wasn’t as awesome as it could have been. It’s a gross-out horror B-movie with feels, which seems awesome on paper. Mild-mannered accountant Duncan (Ken Marino) is getting stress from all sides: his shitty, high-pressure boss (Patrick ‘The Voice is the Life’ Warburton), his flaky mother (Mary Kay Place), his even flakier dad (Stephen Root), and his gently-nagging-but-still-loving wife (Gillian Jacobs). Owing to said mild-manneredness, he does the fine thing that we Brits do and keeps it all tightly bottled up.
It’s all a bit like holding in a fart, or not quite pooping when you should do, or gluing down the lid on a pressure cooker – it’s a ticking time bomb and Duncan’s stress literally manifests itself, taking the form of a demon resembling the feculent bastard child of Mac from Mac and Me and the baby from Dinosaurs.
One look at its elongated, overlapped sets of teeth and you can guess what’s going to do, and how it’s going to do it, and every night it literally crawls out of Duncan’s tight end to dispatch the very sources of his stress.
There’s not so much gore as there as fantastical, theatrically-spread blood splatter zones (wait; I’m remembering the alley scene – yep, there’s gore. Hee!). Once Duncan realises what’s up, he immediately seeks help. Not to a demon hunter, an exorcist or even just one of those movie dudes who sit in dusty home libraries with a half-dozen tomes about said demon. Instead, he consults a therapist (Peter Stormare), who advises him to make friends with the colonic creature to dissuade it from giving Dexter Morgan any more hard-ons.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t really work. I’d imagine it’s like someone trying to speak softly to their IBS pangs as if they were labour contractions, or giving a powerpoint presentation to your cat about not pissing all over your new live-in girlfriend’s possessions.
But that doesn’t stop us from getting a series of almost-tedious therapist-patient existential ramblings (possibly improvised?). One of these would have got the goofy tone across, but from number two and onwards, they ended up being scene fillers at the expense of even a little bit of character build-up. But we at least get a lovely sock puppet moment.
It all culminates in a bit of villager pitchfork-branding and awkwardly-choreographed crowd scenes, and by the end I was wishing that the past 80 minutes had had a bit more of the poop demon and less of the aimless tete-a-tetes and associated screaming matches. It’s not quite as farcically foul as Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, but at least the demon has cute, Puss-in-Boots eyes, and we’re mostly – mostly – spared the sheen of poop you’d expect something tunnelling out of your anus to have. It’s like a murderous, intestinal ewok. You’ll end up wanting one for Christmas.
It might be a stain on my character that I can’t see why this French-Swiss horror outing rated NC-17. Yes, it’s unrelentingly violent with an barely-there political undertone of ‘no hope, sincerely, neo-right-wingers’, but I didn’t fathom the horribly nasty stuff that pushed it over the ratings edge. I swear I’ve seen worse.
Anyway, there’s shit going down in Paris. A far-right group is in power, sparking a bunch of violent riots. Four friends take advantage of the chaos to rob a bank, but the getaway is botched and our group is separated. Two of then wind up at a dodgy motel, where they’re seduced by the innkeepers and then knocked out. And then it all starts to get a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre-y from there on in.
And I mean proper TCM, right down to the perverted family dinner (complete with drooling, spoon-fed elderly senior relative), the hulking, lumbering, mute of a butcher, the patriarch who loves to hear himself talk, and general icky cannibalism. It’s a bit too closely-aped for my liking, but thankfully I had the film’s mildly bloated 105-minute running time to compare and contrast the leading ladies’ scream from both movies. Actually, in fact, everyone was good at screaming, because the movie was 2 hours of glorified torture porn.
So I guess I’m not sure
why it is we had the news right-wing politics stuff as it seemed like an afterthought and was just a way to make Scary Cannibals Scarier. Maybe we could have had more exterior shots (‘hey, look how far away we are!’), or an indication that maybe Scary Family or the cops in the city are part of some kind of broader, brutal, far-right reich. I don’t know. Meh, it’s 4am.
I do wish we’d seen more of Eve, the family’s meek waif who hovers around Yasmin (one of protagonists, who is pregnant), half-helping her and half sticking to that which she’s told to do. Her little facial ticks and mutinous moments are a joy to watch, but it’s a pity she isn’t given much more to do.
To give her more time, maybe we could have sped up the overly-theatrical line delivery of Scary Cannibal, or tightened up the scene transitions so the pace didn’t drag so much.
I’m probably still recovering from the fact that the poster misleadingly looks like some sort of zombie apocalypse, or from processing the odd plot conundrum (how are the family getting away with this crap while running a seemingly legit hotel business, given that TCM were backwater hicks who were totally cut off from society). This movie just….could have been better.
But whatever, it’s 4:30am. Here’s the goddamned trailer.
“There are no boundaries to dreams.”
Dreams are when we’re at our most vulnerable, when we invite our subsconscious to just have at it, allowing 6-8 hours of literally no rules in your own brain, while expecting to wake up relatively undamaged the next morning. It’s on par with trusting Harold Shipman to make sure your ma gets to the hospital for her flu jab.
So horror that exists in that zone is a fantastically macabre mind-fuck for me, akin to medical horror (“but doctors are supposed to use their surgical accuracy to help people!”). Or the potential intangibleness and thus, seeming invincibility of, your average house ghost.
And so enter tonight’s entry in our horror-a-thon: Paprika (2006), a feature-length foray into the dreamosphere that inspired f
amous female fridger flick Inception. In this, a bunch of psychiatrists happily tinker with a DC Mini, a revolutionary device that permits them to enter their patients’ dreams in order to improve their therapy. Our main character, Dr. Atsuko Chiba, travels through dreams as her adorably-voiced alter-ego ‘Paprika’, the antithesis of her normal, stoic, adult-voiced self.
Shit gets real when the device is stolen and used to vegetable-ise a handful of her coworkers, who start spouting a bunch of nonsensical garbage. And bleeding everywhere. And so even though Chiba’s boss bans use of the drug, the others decide to investigate, because the dream wold and real world have begun to merge. Eeep!
Now would be a good time to mention that this also includes nightmares, and holy crap, they are vivid and bizarre and gravity-defying and dimension-skewing and just overall “fuck u, physics!!!!11”. Because what’s the point of making a movie about dreams – and an animated one at that – if you can’t stuff it full of neon colours, tribally-marching fridges and dead-eyed cannibalistic putty dolls?
Background art is usually far more detailed and flatter than the subjects, and Paprika makes use of the disembodied disparity with such creepy effectiveness. Even when the talking appliances and mildly murderous toys are off-screen, it’s clear when we’re seeing a dream and when we’re not.
At a little over 70 minutes, this one’s short and sweet, so fairly light on the character development. Full of off-kilter dream designs, varied characters and some odd little turns and turns (less the twists, more the turns), I could see what sequences were almost lifted for Inception.
Probably not the tentacle stuff, though.
Here it is, in its entirety:
October 1st. IT BEGINS. Hallowe’en month!!
I’m sad I’m not in Salem this year, especially when we’ll get a rounded month – the Haunted Happenings parade falls today (witches and costumed locals marching as I type), and the big day itself is on a Saturday. But I’ve managed to bring some of that spooky spirit over to London. The pumpkin Febreeze is helping.
I’ve already set up my coworkers for diabetes by introducing them to Russell Stover marshmallow pumpkins, Twix ghosts, candy jelly fingers, and the holy grail of Hallowe’en sugar rush – candy corn. That last one’s kind of dividing people.
And speaking of candy, there’s an buttcanoe-load of that in today’s horror-a-thon month kicker-offer: Hansel & Gretel, a 34-minute short that Tim Burton made for the Disney Channel. It aired once at 10:30pm on Hallowe’en in 1983. Possibly on a related note, legend says he disowned it.
The film is actually pretty faithful to the original tale; our story begins with the titular twins drowning in verbal abuse from their stepmother, a burly man-woman in a bin liner and a top-knot. After hurling insults at their father, she takes the kids on a woodland walk and then dumps them there.
There’s a good 15-minutes of lead-in; awkward panto acting among various minimal sets – and then things start to get really weird, really fast.
The kids stumble across the gingerbread house, only it looks more like the sort of wilting, pastel ice cream topper you would craft with play-doh. And because they’re stupid kids/so trusting (I can’t tell), they start poking, licking, prodding and biting the exterior walls, which ooze several different colours of viscous liquid that I can only assume to be syrup. Gretel pulls on the wrong candy-cane-shaped thing (God, this sounds sinister), which turns out to be the famous witch’s nose.
She seems more than OK with having her candy-shaped snout molested, because she not only invites the kids in, but invites them to stay over and even tucks them into their beds. Which then both grow several candy-cane arms that grope and trap and shove Hansel into some alternate…rooms?
And this is where you can see the predecessors of every bit of stop-motion animation and visual character design of Burton’s later career – a snake clock thing that looks like Geena Davis’s ‘scare face’ from Beetlejuice; random freaky toys that bear resemblances to half the townspeople from The Nightmare Before Christmas; and deep, sunken-in eyes featured in every protagonist from Corpse Bride to Dark Shadows. I mean…look at this shit!
The set design is wonderfully, creepily minimal – these weird-as-fuck creations speak for themselves until they take over the screen (I’ve honestly never seen a candy house vomit itself into a hot puddle of death) and I’m sure I’ll have a string of beautifully horrifying little nightmares once I close this laptop lid.
Here it is in its entirety: