Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Sean Collins finished up his 13 Days of Halloween list a few days ago, and he definitely lists some good'uns, not only listing them but breaking them down in a very well written, in-depth fashion. Me, I'm not prepared to go into such depth, but I can't help but wanna comment anyway (on the ones I haven't already put my two cents' worth in on) so here goes...

#6 on his list was Silence of the Lambs, an engrossing psycological thriller which was indeed often very horrifying and tense- and also gave the world a thousand "chianti and fava beans" jokes. It featured the usual great turns by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, plus an effectively creepy perf by Ted Levine, who I thought would go on to bigger and better things after I watched this for the first time. 'Twas not so, it seems. One standout scene which stayed with me was the pathetic kidnap victim in the hole begging just to find out why she was there and why. Silence is an excellent film, and I have no quibble with its inclusion.

#5 is Gore Verbinski's The Ring, which I commented on after viewing it on DVD a while back. Go here to read it. Again, I don't really have a problem with it being on the list (it is his list after all!), but it didn't exactly grab me as hard as it did Sean.

#4 was a film that I had to watch twice to get the full effect. The first time I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I was 15 and in a car full of guys my age and a bit older, drinking and smoking and just partying in general, and to say that nobody was taking the film all that seriously would be an understatement. I remember another carfull behind us, as we were leaving the drive-in, and one guy hanging out the window making chainsaw noises. I do remember thinking it was intense stuff, and made it a point when VCR technology came along (which coincided with my infatuation with gore films then) to view it again without my buds. Like Sean, I think it's the unrelenting cruelty and arbitrariness of what happens to the teenagers that helps make this so memorable. That and the girl who gets impaled on a hook. Ouch. It was made on the cheap and it shows, but sometimes those kinds of films have a grittiness about them that makes them more convincing, and helps the big dinner scene at the end which could have been ludicrous in less inspired hands. I've always had a soft spot for the follow up, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, which features Dennis Hopper as a state trooper sporting two small chainsaws, pistol-style, in a holster, and one big chainsaw which he holds in a phallic position (filmed as a long-shot in one of the funniest scenes) and uses on Leatherface's lair, singing "Bringing Down the Sheaves" as he saws away on the timbers. Cracked me up, it did.

#3 is most definitely a classic: The Exorcist. I remember not getting to see this until it was re-released to theatres several years later, and I don't recall why I missed it the first time. Must have been because I was 13 and knew my folks wouldn't let me go see it. It played the drive-in, I'm sure, but I suppose the gang I saw the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with must have had better things to do. Anyway, I do remember all the hoo-hah that surrounded this movie when it was released, and everything I heard about it definitely gave me the creeps. It was the random possibility of being posessed by a demon that sounded just awful to me...I mean, you could go to bed one night, and wake up with something else in your head! Of course, after a while I realized how silly that was, so it troubled me no longer...but when I did get to see the film, I was caught up hard in it. It works on a number of different levels, both as horror movie and psychological thriller, and is still strong today, despite a legion of parodies and lackluster sequels and knockoffs. The most recent viewing of this film was, for me, in a class on supernatural folklore that I took at Western Kentucky a few years ago.

#2 is The Shining, which I've already gone on record as regarding as one of Stanley Kubrick's weakest, and I won't back down except to say that I simply thought it wasn't a very successful adaptation of the novel, by either King's or Kubrick's standards. Being a Kubrick film, of course it was full of arresting, often haunting imagery and Jack Nicholson gives an intense, if somewhat one-note performance (you just know he's destined to go bugfuck sooner rather than later from the opening scenes of the film) as the lead. I guess I fall in with those who cite Nicholson's character's portrayal as a major fault. As I watched the film, it just seemed to meander for a very long stretch until the big bravura finale which lets Nicholson cut loose (in more ways than one). The maze in the snow at the end, and the way it's filmed, was moodily effective. I'm in the minority here, I know- this film has a lot of admirers, and Sean makes some very good points about the psychological sybolism of it all...but after about three full viewings, I remain unmoved. Maybe I'll do four one of these days, who knows. And I do know this- flaws and all, this version kicked the ass of the King-sanctioned TV movie remake a few years ago.

And finally, #1-The Blair Witch Project. Again, my first exposure to this one suffered somewhat because of the venue in which I watched it- this time in a classroom, as one of the films shown in my supernatural folklore class. Even though everyone was caught up in it, the bootleg print had a disclaimer across the bottom and was missing the last scene, so its impact was somewhat diluted. As soon as it became commercially available, I rented it (around Halloween) and got more of its full effect. Part of me was a bit annoyed at the lack of background info (and yes, I'm aware there is a lot of this available from various sources) we're given, but the film's power is undeniable, especially due to the brilliant (budget-necessitated) decison to film on videotape, documentary-style, and you can't help but get caught up in the travails of the filmers and shocked at the utter hopelessness of their position. I resolved that if I ever went hiking like that, I would carry a whole bunch of flares and a flare gun. I don't know whether I would call this the best horror film of all time, but it's a definite contendah.

Great reading, Mr. Collins. Do some more soon, OK?

Update: I'm finding myself wondering what Sean (and everyone else, for that matter) thinks of Last House on the Left and The Devil's Backbone. Sean?

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