31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 14: Twixt (2011)


source: theartsyfilmblog.com

I have seen far fewer Francis Ford Coppola movies than I should have. I’ve only ever seen the first The Godfather. It’s not that I don’t want to; I just never got around to seeing the other two. So that probably invalidates every movie blog post I’ll ever write, and you can stop reading now. Toodle-oo.

The original movie in mind for today was Troll Hunter, but the article I read either lied about it being on Netflix or it was on US Netflix instead. And after quite a long time browsing every horror movie on Netflix UK (all one-starred in rating), I happened upon a cool poster for a horror movie called Twixt, which claimed to have been written, directed and produced by ol’ FFC. I knew he’s been a cinematic legend since long before I was born. I felt like a heretic for thinking that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was too cheesy), so I was unaware of what a Francis Ford Coppola movie was supposed to look like.

I’m still not entirely sure.


source: toutlecine.challenges.fr

Twixt starts out in a gleefully old-fashioned manner: swirling camera angles, high-contrast colour, dramatic music, and a deep, raspy narration by Tom Waits. It’s like a visual Gothic horror novel. We’re introduced to pretentiously-named, washed-up horror writer/alcoholic Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) who’s in the near-ghost town of Swann Valley to promote his latest book. And it doesn’t sound like it’s doing too well, because the “bookstore” in which he sets up a table is actually the town’s hardware store. Nobody’s buying, except for the town’s bat-house-carving (no, really) sheriff, Bobby LaGrange (the brilliantly madcap-eyed, yelling Bruce Dern) who wants to use a recent murder as the subject of a new book collaboration with Baltimore, though our writer patronisingly feigns interest in LaGrange’s writing aspirations. Possibly because Baltimore’s drunk from all that booze he’s been swilling, he agrees to accompany LaGrange to the morgue, where they find a girl with a giant stake through her heart.

Baltimore potters about town, discovering an inn that trades on the fact that Edgar Allan Poe stayed there one night. In a classless attempt at respect, he sloshes down more red wine and pours a shitload of it both the building’s plaque and the porch (I think you’re just supposed to do it on the ground?), and it’s this point that makes me loathe not just his character, but all writers in general. Poets, playwrights, grocery store listers. Anyone who types. Kids with diaries. Ugh.


source: headinavice.wordpress.com

Ah, but then comes the whiff of a tragic backstory! He opens a book to reveal an old photo used as a bookmark. His daughter, who died in an accident. A Skype call from his ex-wife (played by his real ex-wife Joanne Whalley in some inspired casting) tells us that she’s almost pretty much done with his absentee husbanding. And then, after swigging even more booze, we enter the first of many dream sequences, which marks the shift into proper horror movie.

It’s a bit weird, with an unfinished green-screen feel. Mist, woods, moonlight. A bit like a goth version of What Dreams May Come. We’re then introduced to Virginia (“they call me ‘Vampira’ beacause of these [buck] teeth”), played by Elle Fanning, decked out in a gothic heroine nightdress, clown-white makeup and bright red eyeshadow, like a model in a ’90s Vivienne Westwood runway show. The sequence is a little jarring, but the colour contrasts and lighting are striking. A lot like the ones Sin City.

The acting’s a bit melodramatic (I felt as though we should have been watching a play), but I soon forgot to react to that when we see Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) introduce himself. And then it starts to get a bit silly. I mean, really, how can we take that seriously?


source: guardian.com

After Baltimore wanders out of the dream sequence, he feels inspired to write about this real-life murder mystery. But apparently, not inspired enough, because he’s still hitting the bottle. Frankly, I don’t understand how people can create while drunk. Your mind isn’t sharp enough to create anything coherent. In one scene he’s pouring it awfully close to the edge of his very expensive Macbook. We’re then treated to a “funny” improv montage to show us how drunk he is, in which he repeats his “the fog on the lake” in various ways. Sadly, it’s terribly unfunny, especially his borderline racist/homophobic impression of a “gay basketballer from the ’60s”. Weren’t we just thrown a fridged daughter backstory as a way to make us empathise with this smug, frizzy twatmoustache??

Maybe his struggling writer persona is the only thing I can relate to. If you’re creating something to be put out there in the world, then you should fully believe in it, and the only way you can do that is to write from a personal place. Even a little bit; even if the subject matter is completely alien to you, there’s got to be some piece of you in that piece of art somewhere. Otherwise you’re just an empty hack of a sellout, right?

The problem is, this is all a bit boring. Even when Edgar Allan Poe starts talking, it’s all a lot of fluffy nonsense. The sequences are at this point starting to look a bit cheap, like an ad for a Hidden Object video game. And it’s a bit cheesy to leverage Poe’s image that much just for some atmosphere. Isn’t that a bit like draping a melonball-boobed fake tan addict over a meh-looking car to get it to shift units?


source: filmbalaya.com

From a distance, like paintings, the imagery is gorgeous. But when we zoom in on people and they start spouting some hackneyed nonsense about staying away from the devil kids that like eyeliner, it all gets a bit long in the tooth (sorry). And it seems like the movie suddenly starts to develop sentience about its own cliches, because it decides to try to up the creep factor by shoving pre-teen rape into the mix. What an awkward , unpleasant shift.

And then, at 51 minutes in, I’m finally done when they show an Ouija board scene. Sigh. Maybe all that time living in Salem has made me too wary of schlocky cliches being trotted out for entertainment.

The end result is a movie that’s just…there. It’s not scary, it’s not gory, it’s not creepy. There’s just no atmosphere or tension for much of it. As Twixt progresses, the cliches outnumber plot points of interest. Sultry-eyed goth chicks as devil-worshipping vampires? Really? A dream sequence that shows close-ups of little girls, drugged and unconscious, getting their throats slit, as Baltimore laments, “Death of beauty”. Really??


source: blogs.indiewire.com

By the time we’ve overdosed on dream sequences, the ending and mystery wrap-up is tense enough and surprisingly unpredictable (yes, I know that’s redundant), but it’s too little, too late. I wish it had kept its dark, Southern Gothic humour and style (at times, the music sounds like bones ratting on dungeon bars) instead of straying into some weird, unfocused jumble of imagery better suited to an Annie Lennox music video.

Meh. So I guess I’ve probably still only seen two Francis Ford Coppola films.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 27: Dracula’s Guest


source: hauntedhappenings.org

Today I played the tourist – wandered around town in makeup (an adaptation of this and with this costume), ate gross carnival food, took a decent spooky tour on the Salem Trolley and took a ton of photos of people in costume (it was so busy in the afternoon, but the crowds thinned out quickly as the sun disappeared). Earlier on in the day, I took in a 45-minute play at the Salem Theatre Company. The show was Dracula’s Guest, and for $15, I was expecting good quality (especially as I had just missed on on a free ticket given by another patron by minutes).

The show, in its original literary form, was written by Bram Stoker himself, but is considered to be a rejected draft of Dracula‘s first chapter. This particular play adaption names the protagonist (the “Englishman”) as Jonathan Harker, even though his name is not revealed in the book, but that’s not where the differences end: in fact, once Harker reaches Dracula’s castle, the play seems to veer off to pick up the entire plot of the actual, final, Dracula book (complete with Dracula yelling, “Get back!” to the succubi, and the book’s ending), so I’m not quite sure if we’re all really supposed to be calling this play “Dracula’s Guest”.

source: youtube.com

Regardless of this, for such a teensy tiny theatre (in budget and staff as well as size – its 100-odd capacity stage area is separated from the hallway/lobby/entrance by a curtain), they put on a lively and engaging performance, widely side-stepping the “stilted period acting/dialogue” issues faced by monologue actors in performances in The House of the Seven Gables or Witch House. There are some wavered line deliveries here and there, but performances are crisp; Harker (Conor Burke) is capable enough, able to sympathetically portray Harker’s growing confusion and descent into near-madness. Dann Anthony Murno (Dracula) cuts a menacing yet charismatic figure on stage, and wouldn’t look out of place in a more serious Hammer Horror flick. Greg Mancusi-Ungaro’s resourceful lighting compliments and makes good use of highlighting the actors, and the Fogles (John and Jean) provide some decent set design and costumes to set the mood (particularly in the absence of almost any props).

So while this isn’t technically Dracula’s Guest, it’s well-acted enough that I can excuse that. The monologues are evenly spaced in between actual back-and-forth dialogue; direction/blocking, sound effects and items on a projection screen (e.g. the castle skyline) keeps the show moving quickly, despite its minimalist design. The show runs nightly until October 31.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 2: Stake Land (2010)


The second day of my month-long horror movie challenge brought me to give the very, very, (very, apparently) small indie horror flick Stake Land a go.  The premise seems awesome – it’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but instead of the zombies of the similarly-titled (and similarly-charactered) Zombieland, this film’s mindless series of antagonists are vampires. In this world, the vampires have won – no longer glittering, seductive succubi in the night, they are instead the growling, destructive, messy plague that have actually helped to wipe out mankind.

The vampires themselves are kind of zombie-looking (and with terrible makeup), and it’s heavily implied, due to the value of zombie teeth, that these bloodsucking bastards are hard to kill. There’s a spattering of dialogue throughout the film that refers to different classes/weaknesses of vampires, each of which must be killed in a specified way.

I really thought I was going to hate this one. I’m still kind of “meh” about it, but an enthusiastic sort of “meh”. I appreciate that it’s a fresh take on the vamp genre, and that we’re being presented a world in which the bad guys effectively (and in varying guises) have already won, but the film’s plodding, episodic pace make it feel better suited to a TV pilot than a feature-length film (which, oddly enough, was the intention of Zombieland’s filmmakers).

Also disappointing is the complete lack of character development, which is problematic when every chapter of the film throws a new character at us. More dialogue or more character monologues or just something to explain some of the bafflingly poor decisions that these characters make (why, for example, leave a safe place to go on the road with two strangers if you’re heavily pregnant?). Instead, the film relies on a throaty voiceover from the film’s teen protagonist to stitch things together, only the voiceover is all tell and no show – it recounts clear, simple events as we’re seeing them instead of illustrating something unknown or not obvious to the viewer.

Despite the film’s (apparently) $4 million budget, forgive the moments that could have benefited from better CGI (a car chase, for example). Most of the action is shot in shanty towns and woodland sets; costumes and weapons are simple, as are camera shots (at times it’s almost as if the camera never moves, except to do an extreme close-up of someone’s face). Good acting from the leads (including Kelly McGillis’ tortured nun) keeps from the film from straying into “good-but-solid B-movie” territory.

The movie is unrelentingly grim, but sadly very appropriate, given the post-civilization craphole the characters are wandering. There is almost zero humour in this film, and the first scene features violent imagery the likes of which I’ve never seen in a movie (and, quite frankly, never want to see again). I won’t say too much, but that kind of violence is typically off-limits to even imply in a movie, let alone actually show it. If you can get past that, the rest of the movie is worth sticking around for, even though it may aimlessly meander from place to place without much of a clear purpose (much like its characters),