Tonight marks the end of the first annual Weird-O-Ween here at WeirdFlix. My wife and I each picked one selection per day for our four-day weekend. Some are new selections for one or both of us, others are beloved classics. Here is a quick rundown of the films and pairings:
Saturday, Oct. 31 – Portmanteau Deux
We kicked things off with a pair of portmanteau horror films. While I’m a huge fan of the classic Amicus anthology films (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, etc.), Stephen King’s loving tribute to the horror comics of his childhood and mine will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t quite recall if I saw the film first on HBO or if I convinced my mother to order me the gorgeous Berni Wrightson comic book adaptation from the Doubleday Book Club first, but both made a lasting impression on my young mind. I spent countless hours trying to compose my own horror comics as a kid, with laughable results.
Once I had my own VHS copy of the film, recorded off of HBO, I practically wore the tape out trying to locate the marble ashtray from “Father’s Day” in each of the subsequent segments. This viewing was the first time we noticed it makes an appearance in the framing sequence as well, during the epilogue. Give Creepshow a gander, and see if you can find it yourself.
Trick ‘r Treat (J-Dogg)
Trick ‘r Treat is a more modern take on the horror anthology. Rather than a set of self-contained stories, Trick ‘r Treat presents four overlapping tales that occur concurrently a la Frank Miller’s Sin City. It’s a fun gimmick that has you noticing little background details all the way through and on repeated viewings.
Though still clearly influenced by the stories and visual style of horror comics, Trick ‘r Treat abandons a host character like The Creep or the Crypt Keeper for a signature character in Sam, the spirit of Halloween. Sam appears sporadically throughout the film, but he makes his fullest appearance in the last tale, bedeviling the cantankerous Kreeg (played with grumpy relish by Brian Cox). Trick ‘r Treat boasts some great performances all around, including a rare appearance by Anna Paquin that doesn’t make me cringe.
Sunday, Nov. 1 – Creepy Kids
Here Comes the Devil (RayRay)
This was a blind pick, based largely on a strong showing at Fantastic Fest 2012. Writer-director Adrián García Bogliano’s supernatural thriller gets your attention early with a graphic lesbian sex scene and vicious machete attack that sets a grindhouse tone that unfortunately jars with the rest of the film. Not to say that it isn’t interesting the whole way through.
The film centers on a pair of children who are left unattended to explore a hill. When they do not return on time, their parents begin to panic. At first relieved to have their son and daughter returned by the police, their mother begins to develop doubts that it is her children who have returned and not… something else. As she probes further, the difficult questions and uncomfortable answers make for a disturbing but engaging experience. This is not a date movie and not for the easily offended, with a fair share of nudity, sexual content, and brief but vicious bursts of violence.
The Ring (J-Dogg)
We purposefully selected the remake over the Japanese original Ringu (1998). While the original black-and-white film certainly has a lot to offer, the American version tones back some of the more surreal elements in favor of a child ghost mystery in the vein of the spooky classic The Changeling (1980). Add on a chain letter curse for the digital age, and you have enough material to build an intricate and entertaining plot.
Performances are solid all around, with an often imitated but never duplicated performance by Daveigh Chase as Samara. This marks the second appearance of Brian Cox in our line-up, and he delivers some of his lines with such pathos that they still give me goosebumps. The film’s success helped pave the way for a wave of J-Horror films and imitators, but few manage to capture the bleak resonance of The Ring.
Monday, Nov. 2 – Words and Pictures
Unlike The Ring, we haven’t bothered with the American remake of this Thai horror classic. J-Horror influences from The Ring and The Grudge are readily apparent in Shutter, but it offers a fresh take on the material with a cleverly constructed mystery whose revelations are unflinching. Without giving away spoilers, this is a dark film dealing with deeply disturbing subject matter outside of the routine supernatural aspects.
Spirit photography is the gimmick at the heart of Shutter, and the film does a good job of playing with that concept in its own cinematography. (Drink every time a speaking character is purposefully cropped out of frame). Despite employing tropes that have sadly become cliché, Shutter remains effectively scary even during a mid-morning screening on a rainy day.
Crescent Fresh Musical Interlude
We’ve been on a bit of a Dario Argento kick lately, and since J-Dogg had not yet seen Tenebrae, it felt like an obvious pick for Weird-O-Ween 2015. This is perhaps the most meta of Argento’s films, and it toys with the expectations of viewers already familiar with his earlier works. I could write an article a day for a week on the subtext, symbolism, and nuance of Tenebrae, and perhaps someday I will, but not today.
It would be very difficult to do so without spoiling the twists and surprises in the plot, so instead, I’ll simply give it the highest possible recommendation. This is easily one of Argento’s best, and well worth your time. We’d likely look to pick it up on HD DVD for additional viewings and analysis, but it looks to be sadly out of print. A collector’s edition DVD box set of Argento’s early films is long overdue.
Tuesday, Nov. 3 – No More Room in Hell
Dawn of the Dead (J-Dogg)
Dawn is easily one of my favorite films of all time and set the standard by which all subsequent depictions of the zombie apocalypse (in any medium) will be judged. This is the second film on our list directed by George A. Romero and starring Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, and John Amplas (after Creepshow). It is also the second to involve Dario Argento (script consultant here) and a score by Goblin (after Tenebrae).
Hopefully, you don’t need a plot synopsis, even if you haven’t seen this particular version (I like Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake as well). A mixed group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. There’s more to it than that, obviously, and Romero’s script says more about politics (gender and otherwise) and soulless consumerism than most other zombie movies would ever bother to attempt. Dawn of the Dead is a surprisingly deep film that still holds up even if the garish red blood and cadaverous blue makeup don’t.
Horror Rises from the Tomb (RayRay)
This was the second blind pick of the eight films screened, though it is widely regarded as one of star Paul Naschy’s best. For the uninitiated, Naschy, aka Jacinto Molina, was a prolific Spanish actor, writer, and director. Perhaps his best-known work is the “Hombre Lobo” series. Though not intended as a series in the traditional sense, Naschy played tragic werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in eleven or twelve films, depending upon whether you consider the second lost film to have actually existed in any tangible form other than Naschy’s recollections.
I’m probably going to catch some heat for this, especially from Naschy loyalists, but I was disappointed in Horror Rises. It’s got plenty of gore and nudity, including full frontal Helga Liné, and heck knows I love me some Helga Liné, but the whole film felt flat and lifeless. Some unintentional humor kept our interest, mostly from awkward dubbing, ham-handed plotting, the melodramatic score, and overzealous foley. Still, it doesn’t come close to capturing the style and fun of our first Naschy, The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1971). Ah well, we’ve seen worse.
What did you watch this Halloween season? Seen any of these flix? Tell us about it! We’re already looking forward to doing this again next year. Have any suggestions? Let us know! Hasta la Lobo!