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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Spooky Stuff: Five Scary Movies (And One Not So Scary Movie) 

Five Scary Movies
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage: I've already discussed it a little earlier this week, but it bears mentioning again because it's my favorite Argento film. It's full of memorable scenes, from the opening where Tony Musante is trapped between the security doors and unable to help the woman who has been stabbed to the scene where he inadvertently eats something unpleasant, this is one of those movies that stays with you. And, unlike most of Argento's other thrillers, this one really is a "fair-play" mystery. If you pay very careful attention, you should realize what exactly it was that Musante's character has misremembered about the crime he witnessed.

The Ring: I like it because it not only is probably the best of the new wave of horror films that have put style and atmosphere and good acting over needless gore effects and shock value, but also it's one of those few rare horror films that actually has something to say. It's probably the first serious post-structuralist take on horror, heavily emphasizing the breakdowns between image and reality, and calling into question the nature of reality. Is it shared, is it objective, is it consensual? The films breaks downs and challenges all three notions of reality, leaving us alone in an existential void where image is more real than reality.

The Wicker Man: A true classic of the genre. I'm reluctant to go into too much detail because I find it still has the power to shock people who have never seen it. What the film does, ably assisted by it's incredible cast, is return us to our pagan roots and remind us of the terrible power and evil that can be done in the name of pleasing the gods. It's amazing to watch Edward Woodard's by-the-book Christian-with-a-capital-C cop be lead step-by-step to his terrible fate. The ending manages to make you both feel for him despite the fact that he's an absolutely insufferable prick and marvel at the twisted mind of Christopher Lee's Lord Summerisle.

The Other: Not to be confused with the also note-worthy Nicole Kidman film of a similar title, this is another one of those compelling films that seems rarely seen, and it also has the power to shock and surprise an audience who have never seen it before. The story retells the legend of Cain and Abel in small-town America, with one of a pair of identical twins trying to save his family from his murderous brother. Only not all is as it appears, as the film fully takes advantage of the novel's unreliable narrator and translates it into film, no easy task.

The Reflecting Skin: This is an amazing film about loss and isolation. It may be cheating a bit to put it on a list of horror films, but since vampirism is heavily used as a metaphor for losing a companion to someone else and the devil himself plays a prominent role, it qualifies as horror for me. This film is full of beautiful landscape shots and frankly disturbing images (the exploding frog that opens the film comes immediately to mind), but it's emphasis is one the loneliness of one young boy who can't understand why the people he loves keep leaving him and so concocts a fantasy about the beautiful young widow who lives next door being a vampire in order to make sense of his world. That he doesn't seem to understand how this eventually leads to the tragic ending of the film makes it all the more affecting.

Honorable Mention: The Changeling: This George C. Scott haunted-house movie is still one of the best examples of the genre. No gore, no big scares, just an unfolding mystery of quiet menace leading to the inevitable apocalyptic ending.

A Not Scary Movie
The Wendigo: I really can't say enough bad things about this movie. That it wastes a terrible cast on a stupid script is bad enough, but a lot of film critics seem to have been completely buffaloed by this film. Here's a hint, just because the director says he's a genius doesn't make him one. The special effects are laughable, basically consisting of a stick and bone marionette clumsily operated off-camera and a guy in a suit that looks like it was borrowed from a furry convention being filmed at a higher speed than the rest of the film. It's so terrible you wish that they hadn't even bothered to spend any money on creature effects at all and had just let the audience imagine the monster. The "city-folk are good and country-folk are evil" message is one of the most worn-out horror cliches at this point, and the treatment of Native American myth feels tacked on the make the film seem more important. The only way I can imagine that this film got any kind of distribution at all is due to the uncomfortably long and surprisingly graphic sex scene which occurs in the middle of the film for no reason whatsoever other than to film naked people. I guess they couldn't get an "R" rating any other way.

Honorable Mention: The Blair Witch Project: After twenty minutes I was hoping that the witch would show up and kill all these people. God, what a pretentious waste of time this film was.


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