Monday, October 26, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive


             One of the best films of 2014 was a sexy romance about two weary and aloof vampires; further proof that a great story can be made out of anything resembling Twilight. Then again, not even Bram Stoker could predict a sexier vampire couple than ones played by Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive is a post-modern vampire movie that plays around with clich├ęs, yet realizes a purely sensual and melancholic experience that makes vampires such great creatures.
            The film has a fairly simple story. Adam and Eve are two ancient happily married vampires, yet while Eve is in Tangiers, she learns that Adam has become very depressed in his house in Detroit. So she flies to Detroit to help Adam to get out of his funk. However, much of what makes Only Lovers Left Alive so great is how the film patiently moves through the world the created by the characters. As their cheeky biblical names imply, Adam and Eve are very ancient, so old that they have developed hobbies in music and literature and have secretly influenced the culture of the world. This is their mixed blessing because the world is feels decades behind them. The setting of Only Lovers Left Alive is a one that is dark yet rich and it makes audience savor it all.
            It is a fairly comical in that this film’s interpretation of vampires is essentially nocturnal hipsters; as cold as they are though, these are characters that are charming and far from dull. This is in part due to the lead performances of Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton whose chemistry oozes with lust. There is an intimacy to these characters that is sensual, but also dependable. Even when they are separated by thousands of miles they can still rely on each other as partners. Their love creates a sort of synergy that is subtle yet is unmistakably there, like the best couples on and off the screen. Plus their conversations—ranging from past lives, the fall of Detroit, and blood popsicles—are so funny and endearing one may forget they can kill people in an instant just to survive.
            On the whole Only Lovers Left Alive proves to be more than just an art-house alternative to the Twilight thanks to a brilliant cast and a wonderfully dense story. This is a cool and sexy film that is more willing stretch into the funny and strange territory of nocturnal life. Even if vampires are no longer scary, this film proves that they still know how to party or chill out.  It is both a legit date movie and fresh diversion for those grimy dark days of October.  

            (Only Lovers Left Alive is available on DVD/Blu-ray)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

House (or Hausu, 1977)


           What a wonderfully horrifying trip. It always seems like the freakiest films in existence—horror or otherwise—have the most innocuous titles imaginable. Film titles like Blue Velvet, The Thing, and even The Shining are not nearly as punchy as say The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but nevertheless are stamped upon the most bizarre films ever made.  With this mind, House represents the most illogical extreme of this practice. House is a Japanese ghost story that plays like an acid fueled remix of The House on Haunted Hill, Suspiria, and The Monkees TV show starring a bunch of cheerleaders.  This film is a low budget monstrosity of kitschy surreal horror that will bewilder and shock anyone with its pure madness.
            The plot (excuse, really) revolves around a Japanese schoolgirl name Gorgeous and her six girlfriends as they visit the country home of her elderly aunt.  Life is dandy at first, but once the aunt’s cat starts twinkling its eyes things escalate quickly into a bizarre nightmare.  The horrors of House are unique in that the filmmakers—especially the special effects artists and actresses—push themselves into ridiculous and comical extremes. This is a film where a flying decapitated head biting a schoolgirl in the butt is the least crazy moment in the plot.  However, the plot hardly maintains a consistent mood so much as it switches between funny and bleak whenever it pleases, which surprisingly works because it makes House completely unpredictable.
            House has this hyper stylized visual design that is seemingly made to screw with people’s heads. Every other outdoor scene is clearly a studio lot with painted backgrounds, flashbacks within the story look like silent films strips, and the violence is so exaggerated that one would think this was a cartoon. Even the mundane moments of House are visually zany. The first act alone seems to shift from a psychedelic slapstick comedy to a Powell and Pressburger-style melodrama whenever it pleases. There are cheap techniques used in House that are so cheesy and weird, not even Roger Corman would dare to use them, but they lead to such an overwhelming crescendo that they have to be deliberate, and if so, it is very effective.
            House, in its own nutty way, is a fantastic horror film.  This is a film that does not give a damn about logic, realism, or any of those pesky formulas that genre filmmaking has to follow, and it is all the better for it.  House is a mad carnival ride that needs to be experience with a group, if only to hear the plights of “What did I just see?” It is certainly a film that takes pride with its audacity.

            (House is available on DVD and Blu-ray via Criterion Collection and for rent through Amazon.com)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Guest


            Ever since Cabin in The Woods* (2012) flipped the script on mainstream horror there has been an influx of indie horror films that bring a “back to basics” approach to the genre. Take for example Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s You’re Next, a 2011 slasher film that while not completely original, had some good Wes Craven-style twists that made it refreshing.  You’re Next was fine, but it looks like a warm up exercise for the The Guest, which could be a new Halloween classic. Made in 2014, The Guest is a delightful mix of 70’s and 80’s horror distilled into an intensely focused thriller that stars one of the most charming horror villains of the decade.
            The Guest begins on a slightly somber note as the Peterson family grieves for their eldest son Caleb, a soldier who died in Afghanistan. But on the eve of the Halloween festivities, the family gets a sudden visit by David Collins, a tall, witty, chiseled man who was in Caleb’s old squad. Caleb’s brother and sister notice that something is terribly off about David but the parents enjoy his company. Honestly, after watching The Guest, who can blame them? David is an awesome dude. Sure he can cave in a man’s head with his fists but he has the wit and charm of a dapper Southern gentleman but with an actual sense of modernity. This is due to the fantastic performance of Dan Stevens, who looks just unstoppable with a grin or a glare. David is a rare character whose most human traits are more haunting than any boogeyman.
            The Guest evokes the spooky intensity of Halloween and The Terminator, yet the film is sharp as a knife. The film has a morbid sense of humor; even as the bodies begin to drop, it is more than willing to slip in a one-liner or a kitschy shot to hysterical effect. The fact that The Guest is set in a town that worships Halloween gives the film a carnival atmosphere that makes it so fun and cool. Granted, at times the film feels too much like a lost film by John Carpenter—especially with the film’s aggressive electro-pop score, which emulates Carpenter’s musical style. Then again with a film this enamored with Halloween, who would not find inspiration by a filmmaker so ingrained to that holiday? The Guest may feel like an old car rebuilt from scratch but it least Wingard and Barrett made sure it was built to last. Guaranteed to make the seasonal watch list of any horror fan and neophyte.

(Available on Netflix, Amazon and DVD/Blu-ray)

* It just occurred to me that I muddled the timeline. Cabin in The Woods began production in 2009 and premiered in 2012; meanwhile, You're Next was filmed in 2011 and got a wide-release in 2013. I point this out because my review implies that You're Next was inspired by Cabin in The Woods when really they are kindred spirits of the same new wave of horror. Sorry for the confusion.