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Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Since I find myself with a lot of free time at night, not having cable, I've been watching a lot of bad horror movies via the Netflix. Oh, sure, every once in awhile a good one sneaks in, but mostly I find that I derive far more pleasure from a film that's bad and doesn't realize it than one that's trying to be both exploitively scary and "good." This means that most of the films I've been watching are a bit older, since most contemporary horror films are far too self-conscious to be anything other than just plain dreadful.
So in an effort to derive added pleasure in the misfortunes of others, I'm going to try to make my reactions to these cinematic grand guignol, or at least petite guignol a semi-regular feature here. I've even gone to the trouble of devising a rating system.
means the film is simply dreadful. means the film is bad, but enjoyable anyway. means that, against all odds, the movie's good.
The title is my attempt to come up with something catchy and pithy in light of the fact that all the good names for horror columns and blogs were already taken. Plus, I just can't let the gay thing go.
Watching this film, I wonder if Rod Serling ever felt any guilt for what he had wrought on the world. More than any other influence, I think The Twilight Zone and it's patented "ironic reversal" endings, are to blame for the strange mania horror film writers and directors have for the "twist ending." Especially since as viewers we've all been trained to expect and anticipate that supposedly shocking and unexpected ending that allegedly subverts everything that has gone before. Which brings us to this film, which not only has a "shocking twist ending" that's badly telegraphed about half-way through the film, an ending that not only subverts the entire preceding film, but one that also renders the entire preceding film utterly incomprehensible even by the wonky eternal logic of the movie.
The opening of the film has such promise, too. A photographer, out exploring the desolate New England coast chances upon a beautiful young woman (by early 80s standards, anyway). A rather blatant seduction via camera takes place, and then just as almost certainly gay photographer, but this was Reagan America and homosexuality didn't exist in pop culture thinks he's about to get lucky, the townspeople show up and torture and burn him while taking his picture. There's so much potential in that scene, so many explanations possible as to what's going on. Is this the eternal conflict between the rural world and the city world? Is this just a savage, inbreed town that sacrifices outsiders to some dark god of the sea? The sheriff is determined to find out what's up, but more strangers die and those few townspeople who seem willing to help him end up dying as well. And against all probability the people who die later show up in town, and everyone acts as if they've been there all along, and no one notices that the gas station attendant was being burned to death just a few scenes ago. It's not cheap casting by having actors double up on roles, it's a plot point!
Or, at least it might have been if anything ever came of it other than broad reminders to the audience that "hey, that guy died just a couple of scenes ago!" Because the resolution to the mystery is that, and I pretty much have to spoil it here because it's just that stupid a development, is that the entire town are zombies, and they kill outsiders so that they can resurrect them and add to their ranks! Every single one of the townspeople is a zombie! Even the sheriff! Who, apparently, is the only person in town to not realize that he's a zombie! So, what, all the other zombies were just fucking with him during the course of the investigation? The hell? Who knew zombies played practical jokes on one another.
Also known as Death Line, this early seventies British film is a decent stab at gore, but it gets bogged down in a strange sort of pretentiousness, as if the director is trying desperately to inject some pathos and artistry into what is, essentially, a film about a cannibal living beneath the London subway system. There are long, meandering pans all around the cannibal's lair, never-ending still shots, and a strange attempt to make the CHUD a pitiful victim of circumstance with a tragic and misunderstood history. He misses his wife, you see. Or mother, sister or daughter. A century of CHUD inbreeding implies a domestic situation the film wisely shys away from addressing directly. But those scenes are interminable. I suspect that if you cut out all the scenes of the director playing with the dolly and the attempts to make the vicious cannibalistic murderer sympathetic you could get the entire film to run under an hour.
Of course, without all those shots of the CHUD crying, there really is no movie. There's an American actor hanging around getting into cute little lovers spats with his girl-friend, mostly because he lives up to most of the stereotypes of the ugly American abroad. Which is pretty much what every American actor cast in a European horror film in the belief that will get the movie sold to an American distributor does. And, from his introduction, you can pretty much map out where the film is headed, with the obligatory rescue of his girl-friend from the neighborhood CHUD. Who, of course, tries to rape the flower of English womanhood right before he's dispatched, so that we won't feel sorry for him anymore I suppose. Frankly, after listening to him shout "Mind the doors" and chase the girl down subway tunnels for a half-hour I was pretty much hoping he'd die anyway.
About the only redeeming aspect of the film is that Donald Pleasence is in it, hamming it up and turning his hippie-hating, American-hating, MI5-hating DCI role into the only bit of comic relief in the picture whatsoever. I could pretty much have watched a full hour and a half of Pleasence berating his subordinates, complaining about the tea, missing at darts, getting drunk in a pub, and getting bitchy with Christopher Lee (also in the film, for about 30 seconds) happily, and considered this one of the greatest films ever. And then they had to go and run it with Generic McBoringAmerican and his passive-aggressive girl-friend and the maudlin CHUD butting into all his scenes.