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I reviewed the book this film is based on some while ago. This was a rewatch for me, as this was one of those films I'd seen as a child and remembered being really scared by. But much like Star Wars and Transformers, revisting the things I enjoyed in child-hood largely resulted in me realizing just how bad my taste was as a kid.
It's not that the film is bad, per se, and Matheson adapts his own novel for the screen here (in the process proving once and for all that he's a better script-writer than novelist), but it's a terribly dull film. Matheson strips his book of all the gore and supernatural menace, and replaces it with fish-eye lenses, extreme close-ups, and people acting scared. Yes, I know they're actors and they're supposed to act, but there's acting scared and then there's acting scared. Matheson also chops out almost every last bit of the sex, though strangely manages to keep the misogyny. Sadly, stripping out the sex renders one of the central metaphors of the novel, men's fear of emasculation, completely empty.
As much as I lament the silly effects-driven ghost movies of today, I'm not entirely sure I'd want to go back to films where someone stand outside of the frame and goes "wooo" to try and scare the viewer. A happy medium must exist somewhere. On the other hand, Roddy McDowall looks completely and utterly miscast in this, unless Matheson really did want to firmly establish that the character of Benjamin Fischer really and truly is gay.
I fully expect that there picture of Asia Argento kissing a fish to be hotlinked to here and back.
I like Argento films. I like giallo films. But this was Argento moving into more traditional thriller territory, and it's not a strong work. Actually, many of Argento's more recent films haven't been very good, and the films where he tries to move away from the traditional black-gloved killer tend not to be very good either. And this is a difficult film to watch. And though many of Argento's trade-marks are here (the importance of a work of art, copious red herrings, bizarre camera angles and trick shots), the enterprise still feels "off" somehow.
The makers of the torture/gore films that seem momentarily popular could learn a few hints from Argento, as the focus of this film is the rape and torture and stalking of several women, notably a young police-woman played by Asia Argento. Even though the rape and torture scenes are relatively mild and non-explicit by the standards of the genre, they still pack more of an emotional punch than the buckets of blood films US directors have been putting out.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what I think of that aspect of the film. I always get the impression that Argento likes his female characters to be strong, but his killers always target women who "deserve it" in their minds. He likes to straddle that "is it or isn't it misogyny" line. And the ultimate conclusion of the film, which is not that Policewoman Anna Manni triumphs, but rather, Anna Manni goes batshit insane and becomes a multiple murderer herself, is so god-damn depressing and defeatist after what she's been put through, you feel just more than a little sick afterwards.