Horror Fest: To Conclude on this Movie Bloodbath

The last fortnight has been simultaneously depressing, boring and un-adventurous. It is surprising to think that when a director has the power to frighten an audience, how uninterested the majority go about it. I feel this is the case with most films, particularly horror. The majority of horrors which I watched didn’t seem to exploit the fact that I am a human, that I have fears, that I have weaknesses. Some merely came across as an exercise in killing, and others managed to make murder and rape as disturbing as a five year old, pink-dress-wearing-pig-tailed girl holding a placard saying ‘Boo’. Good horror is about style not content. Getting a serial killer to murder someone isn’t necessarily scary, but rather: the context, the atmosphere and the way the scene is constructed.

To contrast this, some of the films I viewed this fortnight were quite memorable. The majority of these were the camp B-movies ones. The horror-comedies, or just the comedies which had a grizzly subtext. I think I might re-watch Teeth and The Terror. I’ve also come to the conclusion that Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is one of the greatest ‘so bad it’s good’ films ever made.

Frontiers is a landmark of extreme-political cinema and I desperately wish I was in the correct mood for watching it during viewing; I also wish there were more films like it.

Now what? Well, now I’ve listed all 18 films from worst to best. Oh, and The Terror is below Detention even though The Terror got 0.5 stars higher in my mini-review of it. I think I was too generous when I wrote it.

ANYWAY. Enough of the rambling. Here goes…

18. Bloodlust

17. Detention

16. The Blood on Satan’s Claw

15. The Blood of Fu Manchu

14. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

13. 99 Women

12. The Final

11. Red Mist (aka. ‘Freakdog’)

10. Scream 2

9. The House on Haunted Hill

8. Night of the Living Dead

7. Ju-on: The Grudge

6. The Beyond

5. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

4. The Terror

3. Bloodbath at the House of Death

2. Teeth

1. Frontiers

Horror Fest: DAY 14

Scream 2 (1997):

http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0120082/

And now, my horror fest comes to a final close with Wes Craven’s sequel to his hit genre-defying modern-classic, Scream.

Plot:

Copy-cat killings of the original Woodsboro murders occur at the university that Sidney Prescott is in, during the release of a horror film based on the same murders, called Stab.

Review:

Scream 2 (1997)

Scream 2 (1997)

The original Scream was intelligent, observant and importantly: self-aware throughout. My problem with Scream 2 is that its self-awareness is at a peak in the opening thirty minutes and then disappears instantaneously afterwards. In the opening 30 minutes there are jokes about how sequels aren’t always as good, jokes about how the sequels differ from the original, and a continuous gag concerning the fact that the fictional film Stab is based on real events…which we saw in the original Scream – this great gag develops itself by the fact that we’re shown clips of Stab which are identical to moments in the original Scream. The opening of Scream 2 is self-aware about being self-aware.

But then it dispenses with the satire completely and morphs into a conventional unscary slasher. Yes, this is the point, but if it mocked itself and the slasher genre continuously, it would’ve been as great as the original. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that this is a conventional slasher. Sure on one level, it works as such, but it’s not particularly scary, meaning that its satire is all it stands up on…just about.

Really great sequels are better than the original, and to are able to do this because they amp up the idea of the original to the next level, by exploring it further. Scream 2 had so much potential: there could have been more self-referential gags, the jocks and the blonde bimbos could’ve been dumber and more attractive, the music could have been more ridiculously conventional as to mock the genre, there should have been so many more gags about how most sequels are terrible, yet the film you are watching now is a sequel.

If the rule of the sequel is that it is not as good as the original, then rather ironically, Scream 2 succeeds and is up there with Halloween 2.

Verdict: 2.5/5

Horror Fest: DAY 13

The House on Haunted Hill (1959):

http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0051744/

The penultimate film of my horror-fest!

Plot:

A man offers several people £10’000 if they can survive the night in his house without being killed or wanting to kill themselves.

Review:

The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

This film lies between three states: so terrible it’s brilliant, genuinely good B-movie entertainment, and just dull. It slides from one to the next with ease, like a ball in a pinball machine. The opening of the film is a black screen and we hear screaming and maniacal laughter – this is just undeniably funny. The black screen doesn’t last for long as we get two faces appear on the screen giving a monologue. The second one being Vincent Price, who in this film doesn’t just chew the scenery, but savagely carves into it in such a manner that he makes all of the other actors look like animatronic robots covered with flesh. Price introduces each character as if they were a character in cluedo, guessing in serious jest what their motives are for coming whilst they ride in funeral cars (“it was my wife’s idea”) to come to the mansion.

Once there, the film unfolds slowly. The guests have the choice to leave until it is midnight. When it is finally midnight, all of the doors will be locked, and the challenge will begin. There is a long twenty-minute sequence where I felt that the film lagged as I wanted the film to progress straight to midnight immediately. This is a film which starts off with camp screaming and then begins a progressive anticlimax.

However it soon picks up its pace: ghosts, things that go bump in the dark, hands which will grab your face around corners, and certain characters are hanged. Then there was the twist at the end – somewhat predictable, but added to the charm of the film nonetheless. In between these camp moments of gothic fun are duller moments where character stay in silence, and have unheard internal monologues in their heads, staring into the distance, or having depressive exchanges with other characters about their impending doom. I wanted less of this and more shots of high-pitched screams when a character mistakes a cape dangling in mid-air for a murderous ghoul.

Verdict: 2.5/5

Horror Fest: DAY 12

Sorry about late posting! The day before yesterday was supposed to be ‘day 12’, but I picked a film from my 50 horror boxset, watched it and it wasn’t even a horror! If you’re curious about it, it was a film called The Fatal Hour and stars eyebrow-wizard, Boris Karloff.

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002):

http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0364385/

Plot:

A curse is inflicted upon a house, and whoever enters it is left terrified or dead.

Review:

Ju on: The Grudge (2002)

Ju on: The Grudge (2002)

This psychological horror has some interesting set-pieces in terms of how effective ‘jump n scream’ horror should be directed. It’s a horror film which is very good at surprising you, or catching you out with the child-monster coming out somewhere you didn’t expect. The child in this is remarkably quite sinister: he’s small, thin, has an innocent round head and adorable large eyes – yet with a painted face, blank expression and completely sterile-of-emotion-black-eyes, all of the ‘adorableness’ is sucked away. He’s called Toshio, and he usually lurks in corners, or behind windows or in the nooks and crannies of the house, and is the creepiest child in a horror film I’ve ever seen. Woop-woop.

The film has a different approach to the conventional horror structure. Rather than following one character’s journey, it follows several, so the film unfolds in a very episodic structure. Each chapter of the film allows us to see how that specific character(s) has been affected by the events, and tells its own story, and provides its own scares. However, jumping from one character to the next, doesn’t give us enough time to develop a relationship with any particular character, so the film feels more like a lot a horror-film-cum-sketch-show. This is at once an insult and a compliment: the film could have been more sinister if it stayed with one character, but the structure is very refreshing.

Perhaps another criticism of the film is its style of being creepy and sinister. It involves a lot of ‘jump’ moments, which are fine after the first half hour, but soon I got tired of them or managed to guess when they would come. Good ‘jump n scare’ horror manages to sustain this style throughout – Halloween for example – this, not so much in my opinion, it feels like its scare-factor weakens towards the end.

I usually despise the comparison of horror and comedy, because they – to me – anyway are complete opposites. However, they work in a similar way in terms of emotional reactions. Comedies – to be really successful – have to employ lots of different styles of jokes, otherwise you become immune to them. Constant one-liner gags get dull after a while, as do constant ‘jump n scream’ moments.

Verdict: 3/5

Horror Fest: DAY 11

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971):

http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0066849/

Plot:

A man discovers an inhuman skull in a field. This then leads to certain people developing skin from the devil, and a secret cult being formed…

Review:

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Well that was a masterpiece in blandness. Here we have a film which isn’t boring but just uninteresting. At least the positive aspects of a boring film is that it stands out. This is perfectly forgettable. I don’t think this mini-review will be long in length due to the uninterestingness of this film, but hoh-hum, I shall plough through.

It is a horror-drama where the characters are so uninteresting that they’re not just cardboard cut-outs, but just bits of skin which say words. The sequences of horror in this film are so terrible. Creepy music plays, but visuals do not match. Any director who understands how cinema works will tell you that visuals and sound have to align so that they both work together. It’s as if they did a Kevin Smith, picked up a camera and pressed record. Actually, not “it’s as if”, they probably did. An example of this would be when the cult group gather round a young girl whilst a teenage boy rapes her. The girl is then stabbed in the back with a pair of shears. You’d think this section would be disturbing, or slightly uncomfortable. Nope. Just bland. It doesn’t even have the power to make you wince.

The film is shot in such a way to suggest that the people behind it have no interest. It’s all medium shots. No close-ups or extreme close-ups, and the camera hardly moves to explore the environment. The drama lacks any sense of intensity even though the subject matter concerns murderous, raping, torturous cult possessed by the devil. All of the characters talk in deadpan monotones – it’s as if the entire thing wants to make you drift off to sleep.

This piece of filmmaking lacks cinema.

Verdict: 1/5

Horror Fest: DAY 10

The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968):

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062741/

Jesus Franco likes to see girls in chains and excuses it again by having a female prison warden so he doesn’t come across as a creepy leering misogynist. Also, Christopher Lee plays the most deadpan villain next to HAL-9000, accept funnier.

Plot:

Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) wants to gain world domination by killing his rival world leaders. He does this by poisoning 10 poison-immune seductresses, and getting them to kiss the world leaders so that they die.

Review:

The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)

The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)

I want Christopher Lee’s moustache. Seriously. It’s just so beautiful and it gives him a demented-wizard quality, a quality so underrated in cinema nowadays. Either way, Christopher Lee’s charming deadpan performance in this film is the only decent thing about it next to the film’s potentially humorously camp concept. It is a film where characters are killed by being kissed, and after being kissed there is a moment where they shudder, wail, scream, cover their eyes and then fall on the floor idiotically in the same style as a seal collapsing after attempting to ice-skate. These moments are pricelessly trashy, and that is what is so effective about them. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t recognise that these moments have a ‘so bad its good’ quality to them, and instead flops around on the floor whilst we watch its numerous plot strands fall apart and crumble before our eyes.

It’s by Jesus Franco, and this is the second film of his I have seen in the horror-fest. Like 99 Women, it is quite creepy in its treatment of women, the seductresses are chained up, some chained to walls, some chained to the ceiling so that they are hanging mid-air. They are whipped and slapped around the face. These scenes are meant to be sexy and tantalising in a subversive kind of way; I’ll leave you to form an opinion.

Either way, the main flaw with the film is its numerous plot strands which do link up but don’t feel as if they’ve been glued properly together. There’s the plot about the ten seductresses killing the world leaders, the plot concerning an archaeologist escaping from the grasp of a powerful man, the plot of the British Prime-minister attempting to find an antidote, the plot of a group of rugged men looking for a lost city. The film has numerous characters and no main characters, there is nothing wrong with this, but because the film has to jump from one character to the next. Due to this, I didn’t develop any attachment for any of the characters to the extent that I became increasingly aware throughout that I was watching a film. Also, if the only humorous and entertaining moment in this film (next to Christopher Lee’s performance and facial hair) is when the girls give the world leaders ‘the kiss of death’, surely more world leaders should be kissed?

Verdict: 1/5

Horror Fest: DAY 9

Sorry for the late posting of this!

Frontiers (2007):

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814685/?ref_=sr_1

Plot:

It is election-time and riots are on the streets due to the fact that a potential fascist government may gain power. A group of protestors are shot down and head for a place to stay, they then come across a motel owned by a family of neo-nazis.

Review:

Frontiers (2007)

Frontiers (2007)

Sometimes there are films I watch which I can objectively say are masterpieces, but sometimes for no apparent reason, I do not emotionally react to them. It may be because I’m not in the right mood, or in this case because I have been watching horror films endlessly non-stop. I can objectively say that if somebody else saw this and if they were in the right frame of mind, they would be left disturbed and utterly horrified. Cinematography adds to the terrifying atmosphere due to its bleak colours. Direction is pitch-perfect. Tension is at the max. Acting is utterly realistic.

Frontiers is a brutal political horror film of such raw extreme power that it forces you to mutter the words: why? Why did the Nazis commit such human atrocities? Was all of the bloody killings in the past, and seen in this film worth it for some ‘pure’ Aryan race? No, it wasn’t and will never be. The film says this ‘no it isn’t’ statement with an incomprehensible confident assurance. What makes Frontiers so excellent is that it is unashamedly brutal and unsubtle – it is part of a current filmic movement called ‘New French Extremity’ – a sub-genre/movement of ‘extreme cinema’. Leaders in this movement include Gaspar Noe and taboo subjects and explicit violence are used to shape an emotional reaction and to challenge the viewer on difficult subjects. Other films in this genre are Martyrs, and this genre is directly influenced by horror and exploitation cinema, and political-horror such as Salo: 120 Days of Sodom.

Frontiers criticises neo-nazis ideologies and basic principles with such excruciating bluntness that by calling the film exploitation would come across as an insult. The violence is extreme, gory and messy. But the violence never feels exploitative, cheap or camp because it is presented in such an honest manner, it feels real – this is partially due to the flawless acting and use of handheld camera techniques. If anything, the realism makes it more intense.

I think I really have to stress how brutal the film is. There are scenes where people are tied up, beaten. A scene where a man is put into a small claustrophobic tank, and hot gas is injected in – a very obvious metaphor for the innocent people gassed to death in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. A scene where a girl has to crawl through mud to get underneath bars to try to escape. A scene where a young girl who has been stolen from her family cuts a brunette woman’s hair, in preparation for her to be a new man’s wife, because he does not like dirty brown hair. Characters are stripped of their humanity, and the final shots are of the survivor character crying and screaming as he/she escape in a car. This final character is as memorable and up there as Sally in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I have only mentioned brief moments of this film to give you an idea of what it is like, I do not want to spoil it for you, so I have described it in as much detail as possible without giving too much away.

This is a movie which perhaps towards the end didn’t emotionally affect me because I have been desensitised over the last days. To say that this has annoyed me would be an  understatement. But it did at least make me think. I consider this to be a sheer masterpiece of horror, and calling it horror almost feels degrading towards it. I think the only term is: art. Gruesome, honest, brutal art. This film isn’t just terrifying, it’s terrifyingly confrontational.

Verdict: 4/5