Oct. 1 – Let the Right One In (2008): Sometimes it’s better to be unsettling than scary. Horror movies have an unfortunate tendency to forgo mood in favor jumps scares and graphic violence, and for the most part, these simpler elements have a lessened effect and will wash off of viewers like water from a duck (or blood from a tarp). It’s easy to give a kid nightmares, but it’s a real challenge to crawl under the skin and leave you feeling covered in a thin film.
"Let The Right One Slip In" - Morrissey
The 2008 vampire cult hit Let the Right One In falls in the latter category. The film follows the blossoming friendship between a middle class Swedish boy Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and his new otherworldly neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), who has been 12 for a long, long time. Set in the austere Scandinavian snow, amongst a population where a vampiric pallor is the norm, the film is often punctuated with visceral bursts of violence. But beyond the bloodletting and the shocks, it’s the subtle moments of eeriness that stick with you--the way Eli’s eyes glint in the dark, the weightlessness of her movement and how her fingernails seem permanently caked with dark crimson grit.
It plays with the basic idea of how much it would suck to be permanently stuck at age 12. You could be 400 years old and still need a parent to sign for an apartment or set up a bank account. These vampires aren’t the evil creatures of the night from folklore, but rather damaged people trying to deal with an affliction that turns them into monsters. The sweet relationship between Eli and Oskar (who, incidentally, is about one mutilated animal away from being a sociopath himself) can never remain pure in the face of what Eli is, and as the movie draws to a close, it becomes increasingly clear that we’re witnessing just how Eli recruits her caretakers.
Oct. 2 – Cabin Fever (2003)
Eli Roth has always existed more as a personality and actor than as a horror director for me--the kind of guy who secures DVD releases for obscure grindhouse movies or appears as wet t-shirt contest MCs in other people’s movies. I’ve always liked him and his brand of skeezy, self-aware douchebaggery, so it’s a bit surprising that I had never actually seen any of his movies up until now.
Cabin Fever is Roth’s first full length feature, and the director reverence for the genre is clear even early in the movie. By harking back to the deliberate pacing of 70s supernatural horror and the raw exploitation of 80s schlock, Roth takes a horror staple, the secluded cabin in the woods and the group of college kids that go there to die, and molds it into something fresh and breezily self-aware. As a horror fan himself, it’s clear that Roth knows what people want from a movie like Cabin Fever: in this case some topless ladies and a desire to see Rider Strong melt into a pile of goo. But for a movie about a group of repugnant college kids getting exposed to a nasty flesh-eating bacteria, it certainly takes a while for the skin-melting to kick in. Roth teases viewers for much of the film’s running time, holding off on the heavy gore and filling time with oddball characters and surprisingly well crafted off-color jokes, like this offensive number that bookmarks the movie (link probably NSFW).
Once the time comes and Roth starts ladling on the gore, you can almost see how much the director is enjoying putting these kids through the wringer. It kind of makes you wonder what these kinds of movies do to the Appalachian tourism industry.
Oct. 3 – The Beyond (1981)
One of the things I liked about John Carpenter’s sketchily realized Apocalypse Trilogy (which includes The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness) is the way that Carpenter manages to create a sense of apocalyptic dread without showing too much of the widespread mayhem that’s happening just out of frame (this is especially the case for In the Mouth of Madness). In movies centered on the dawn of the apocalypse, it’s common for characters to become too embroiled in their own horror to even notice the world crumbling around them. Even in the end, while they may have made it out of their personal ordeal safely, the rest of the world wasn’t so lucky, leaving only a wasteland of destroyed buildings and corpses behind.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is an apocalypse piece--many of Fulci’s movies end with the apocalypse--so the implications of a young businesswoman accidentally opening a gate to Hell while renovating a crumbling New Orleans hotel shouldn’t come as a surprise. Prior knowledge of the ending does little if anything to sully Fulci’s dreamlike dread and his patented level of unparalleled graphic violence--to know Lucio Fulci is to witness significant eye injuries.
The Beyond is the second movie in Fulci’s loosely connected Gates of Hell trilogy, and while its gloomy ending and its over-the-top violence is on par with the rest of Fulci’s work (it’s not often you see a spider the size of a softball eat someone’s tongue), the rest of the movie is too loosely cobbled together to make the abstract lore engaging. Many credit the director for designing the movie to reflect the manic intensity of a dream, with monsters appearing from nowhere and without reason; but really, it comes across more like the studio demanding the addition of zombies, and Fulci obliging them by tacking on a contrived zombie shootout in the third act in order to keep funding--and, hey, what do you know? That’s exactly what happened. But like the weaker entries of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, Fulci still manages to successfully build a dreadful scenario despite some glaring filmmaking issues.
Tomorrow: Roger Corman and Vincent Price take on Edgar Allan Poe in Masque of the Red Death.