07 January 2012

Winter Horror Pros and Cons

Winter Horror Hits and Misses
By Kristin Battestella

Are you displeased with all the happiness in the New Year?  Snowed in and afraid you might do something…rash… unless you can have a scary movie marathon? Here are a few freaky flicks to enjoy and one or two open for a chilly debate.

The Changeling- An awesome cast- including Oscar winners George C. Scott (Patton) and Melyvn Douglas (Hud) with John Colicos (Battlestar Galatica) and Trish Van Devere (One is a Lonely Number)- is simply delightful in this old school 1980 haunted house tale purportedly based on an actual experience. The wonderfully creepy mansion scenery and touches of 19th century grandeur gone awry highlight this convincing murder mystery beautifully. Fine music, scares, and tragedy are tossed in, too- along with a few bits of unintentional humor, yes. Perhaps a few styles, fashions, and mannerisms are dated now as well. The mismatched look of real life couple Scott and Van Devere might bother some audiences, too- along with some genuinely heart stopping moments that might have you checking your pacemaker. Nevertheless, the poltergeist aspects, psychic action, and ghostly revenge build excellently for a solid and spooky finale.

The Other – The coming of age style and innocence gone wrong in director Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill A Mockingbird) 1972 horror mystery is slightly obvious, granted.  Twins Chris and Martin Udvarnoky are filmed in such a way that careful viewers will spot a lot of the forthcoming mysterious fun, brewing twists, and freaky psychic action. Fortunately, Uta Hager (Reversal of Fortune) is great as the wise grandma Ada. It is a typical role in a horror movie, but Hager adds warmth, old-fashioned clout, and class to the spooky spins. Brief Star Trek alum Diana Mulder is also lovely as our not quite all there widowed mother, but she isn’t there enough- nor is the very young, very briefly onscreen John Ritter (Three’s Company).  The 1935 scenery is a little more seventies dated, but the nostalgic element adds to the rural fears, farm horrors, and great juvenile morbidity.

The Rite – Anthony Hopkins (must I?) is superb as always in this 2011 exorcism thriller co-starring Colin O’Donoghue (The Tudors) and Alice Braga (Predators). While there are spooky elements here- and very scary and creepy demonic things do occur- I’m not sure this deserves a horror classification or the frightful expectations of boobs and slice and dice that come with the contemporary horror label.  Director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and writer Michael Petroni (Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader) present a more spiritual film dealing with faith, doubt, possession, and the mysteries of god and man with supernatural turnabouts and twists tossed in. The Rite makes the viewer think before it scares. Who actually becomes possessed? When?  Why?  The great use of Italian language and Roma locations adds real world international culture and panache, even if O’Donoghue is a little lightweight against Hopkins.  But really, who isn’t?  Rutger Hauer (really?) is also greatly under utilized, but overall, I’m not sure why people don’t like this one.


The Countess- Actress turned writer and director Julie Deply (Before Sunrise) perhaps wears one too many hats for this 2009 biography. Her make up and hairstyles as the infamous Elizabeth Bathory are too stern, even ugly, and her accent is iffy, with weird pronunciations and strange mixings of languages. Despite strides towards outspoken humor, the titular lady is played a bit too bitchy and unlikeable in what is actually supposed to be an anti Countess Dracula angle. The scripting is slow, disjointed in the first half, and takes too long to get to the reallly nutty bloody everyone’s expecting.  The viewpoint is confusing as well, with the Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) narrating Bathory’s internal monologue on speculation from his future deathbed…huh? Such eerie historical feminism might have been too ambitious a subject for Deply’s full length directing debut- just tell it straight one way or the other. We have style and good-looking costumes, but the drab, authentic color lacks opulence and full on period lush. The battles are decent, but brief, natural and rustic. There’s blood, but not proper horror.  There’s weird man slave action, but the nudity is too tame, with murder montages skimping over all the action.  Oscar man William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God) is also too brief, put aside for a hokey victim of love and weird smear campaign for misunderstood Bathory.  It is quite odd to have a historical drama where there is such a horror opportunity. Normally it is the other way around, with those trying for scares and paranormal at any length. The period music is lovely, but everything here just seems too uneven, first draft, overly sparse, and unable to make up its mind. 

Suspiria – Finally a show without a ‘the’! In addition to a pleasingly threatening atmosphere and discomforting locations, there are some very good scares in this 1977 European witch fest. The performances from Joan Bennett (Dark Shadows), Jessica Harper (Stardust Memories), and Alida Valli (The Paradine Case) are all good, too, carrying the mystery and the suspense and keeping things entertaining. The main theme music from Goblin is also equally juicy.  Unfortunately, the dang music and sound effects are way too much! Everything- but the dialogue, of course- is totally loud and headache inducing.  Some of the odd lighting, weird angles, and color variations from director Dario Argento (Dracula 3D) are great as well. But again, a lot of this subterfuge is much too much, creating a visual excess that overall distracts more than helps the meandering plot and limp ending. All of those soft vocals and poor dubbing doesn’t help the toughness, either.  Naturally, Suspiria is all well and good for out there audiences and innovative foreign horror fans, but this will be quite annoying and odd for more traditional witchy fans. 

Remember, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

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