Sunday, May 23, 2010


When a priest commits suicide in a cemetery in Dunwich, the resulting bad vibes are picked up during a seance in New York City. It becomes clear that the good father's death has opened a portal to hell, and a disparate group of folks have only three days to get to Dunwich and close the portal before a flood of demons come through it and destroy the world.

Your proprietor saw this at the house of good friend and frequent commentator Mark Nigara. Coincidentally, this film (and a few of the other notables in the oeuvre of director Lucio Fulci, including HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and THE BEYOND) were released contemporaneously with the studio albums cut by Ronnie James Dio with Black Sabbath. Mark had been paying hommage to the late RJD all week, and some of the Dio-era Sabbath proved a perfect prelude to the Fulci double feature ahead of us (the second film seen, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, was reviewed here previously).

THE GATES OF HELL, as the title suggests, boasts enough gruesome imagery and atmosphere to fuel several heavy metal albums. Fulci sacrifices realism, production value, all but the most bare vestiges of a plot, and any sense of logic to craft a dreamlike, genuinely suspenseful descent into hellacious fantasy. Some scenes - the suicide that kicks it all off; a harrowing rescue from a premature burial; the attack on a tavern by some angry spirits - are textbook examples of suspense filmmaking.

But other scenes, man, I don't know: a makeout session ends with bloody tears and vomited entrails; Bob, the town pervert, is dispatched for scant reason with a table drill through the head; the truly baffling coda that may signal the resurgence of the damned. By all accounts Fulci embraced all manner of experimentation on his films - indeed, the aforementioned coda has been said to be the result of a free-wheeling mashup by Fulci of random footage culled in the editing room. There is an artfulness to Fulci's insanity, and every so often a gruesome scene comes from so far out of nowhere that it does feel like some 3 AM dispatch from the cinematic subconscious. Bob's toolshed lobotomy is completely unconnected to the supernatural forces gathering in Dunwich, but the sheer excess of it (I'm astonished the drill didn't bore into his eye, frankly) suggests a deeper connection to the film around it.

As unforgettable as many of the setpieces in THE GATES OF HELL are, the full-tilt approach Fulci takes to the material keeps the film from remaining unsettlingly in the mind. If figures prominently in the run-up to THE BEYOND, Fulci's masterpiece, which perfects the fantastic scope of the previous film while amping up the apocalyptic fantasy. But that's a review for another time.

THE GATES OF HELL is reviewed here under the aegis of the Final Girl Film Club, run as always by the sharp and sparkly Stacie Ponder.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


After a furtive sex date in the basement of a New England house, a beautiful young woman is stabbed in the head by an unseen assailant. This house (which, spoiler alert, is located next to a cemetery) is soon to welcome some new residents: Norman Boyle, a New York academic conducting a study on old houses, his wife Lucy and his son Bob. The assignment is already shrouded in mystery (a former colleague of Norman's committed suicide after living in the house), yet Bob's parents ignore his assertions that a young girl has offered him dire warnings to avoid the house at all costs.

A mid-career opus from Italian horrormeister Lucio Fulci, House by the Cemetery is less epic and apocalyptic in scope than Fulci's best-known masterpieces (ZOMBIE, THE GATES OF HELL, THE BEYOND). It's as dreamlike as those films (in other words, it makes little sense), but the more intimate setting of the film gives it a healthy dose of comparative realism. Clearly influenced by films like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE SHINING, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY taps more human fears. The zombie-populated hellscapes of his other works are gorey fantasias that return us safely to our lives, but here Fulci plays with still -palpable childhood fears. Though this film was certified a video nasty during a censorious period in British cultural history, it's no more vicious than a fairy tale. The fear of the bogeyman in the basement (and of parents who ignore our warnings) is something we all share, and Fulci knows it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

in conversation: Dark Shadows

house: D!!!!!!!!
4f: Hiya
4f: Still in bed
4f: Yay
4f: Still watchin DS
house: like fritos, isn't it? can't stop with one episode
4f: Yup
4f: Amd dsoesnt matter if I doze
house: indeed
house: it's ambient gothic TV
4f: Yes!
4f: I love the lines
4f: Sometimes I feel like replying
house: it's drinking game fodder to be sure
4f: everyone draws a name from a hat - when your character goes up on a line, you drink
4f: "Ok. It's because I'm a fucking vampire ok? Now get off my back!"
house: and when roger draws from the decanter in the living room, everyone drinks
4f: Ha
house: i don't completely understand my fondness for roger
house: maybe because on a fundamental level we both just want it quiet
4f: Heh
4f: Ha ha
4f: He's the resident malcontent
4f: Mrs stoddard doesn't help improve morale
house: she classes up the place, though
4f: Yeah. Classy dame.
house: one of the finest moments in the series' first year is when carolyn (the free-wheeling blonde) sluts it up one too many times, and mrs. stoddard just lets her have it
4f: Hahahhahha
4f: LOVE the lines!
4f: Haha
house: you can see why depp and burton are queer on making the film
4f: Yyyesssssssssss
4f: I was tickled pink to hear about it
house: there's no way it'll be allowed, but i'd love it if burton executed each shot/scene in one take like the original show
4f: Yes!
4f: Whatever it'll be good
house: here's hoping
house: still watching DS or are you doing stuff?
4f: both
house: good good
4f: i'm enjoying the most delicious miso an dnoodles for lunch
house: excellent
4f: why did they want willie gone to begin with?
4f: he put the moves on the slutty chick?
4f: they are so mean to him
house: yeah - plus he was jason's more unhinged lil' buddy - jason would threaten shit, but willie looked just THIS far from actually doing it
house: there are quite a few episodes of bad willie before barnabas basically (i'm convinced) raped him
4f: vampires do that
4f: this series is rich and superficial all at the same time
house: it really is!
4f: "rich" and campy too
house: it plays a long game - you have like 20 episodes of almost non-existent plot development, and then something really insane, otherworldly, or just plain fucking GAH happens
4f: the residents are SO stupid
4f: kinda love it
house: a frustrating drawback about the show is that you're almost never behind the characters - you know a secret, and wait for weeks for the characters to figure it out
4f: ha
house: the series nearly lost me the first year when victoria was locked in a basement for ten straight episodes
4f: was this created in part for tweens back then?
4f: or stupid housewives?
house: not deliberately, i don't think - it was made for the daytime TV audience, but the kids quickly caught on and became the show's main demographic
4f: i LOVE the "next episode" option
house: on DVD i just let the thing run
4f: one press of a button and then a fix...
4f: ah
house: and i like how the camera fixates on an empty space as the closing credits roll
4f: yes
house: how many episodes have you watched?
4f: 14
house: cool - you've seen both episodes 214 and 222 - don't recall what happened in them, but they were both shown at MOMA during the jeremy blake WINCHESTER show
4f: we're at the spot where willie has moved into the place and barnabas has comissioned a painting of himself
house: right
4f: young child's name is david
4f: heh
house: i've come close to putting some david-related dialogue on my voicemail greeting, since he's always missing/fucking around at the old house

Friday, May 14, 2010

on Film on Film

Dismayed as your proprietor is to see IRON MAN 2 dominating the Castro Theatre for the foreseeable future, I'm delighted to have a nice alternative going up tomorrow night at Oddball Films. Our friends at the Film on Film Foundation has a spiffy event happening tomorrow night. Bricks in the Wall: Humans and Their Built Environment looks to be a well-chosen batch of films detailing our relationships to the worlds we create, and I hope to see you there.

The presence of 70s Godzilla movies at Viz Cinema did much to help the SFIFF post partum depression, and the week of anime beginning today promises more of the same. I'm particularly keen on seeing, for the first time, Royal Space Force early next week.

More substantive posts to come. Promise.

Friday, May 7, 2010


-Your proprietor is faced with a quiet evening devoid of plans, which given the busy schedule surrounding the just-wrapped San Francisco Film Festival is a blessing. Probably some slices from the pizzeria down the block from the house, brownies from the fridge, and some quality fantasia on the DVD player.

--The House of Sparrows looks absolutely lovely on an iPad, I have discovered.

--I am honored to call San Francisco resident/comics reviewer and budding scribe Jeff Lester a friend for many reasons, not the least of which is that he writes things like this.

--Your proprietor is celebrating a birthday this week, the celebration of which culminates in an afternoon coffee with many friends, and the 7pm screening of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA at the gorgeous Viz Cinema. Hope your weekend is as pleasant and lively.


One of the happiest, most affirmative experiences at the just-wrapped San Francisco International Film Festival was this gloriously assured horror film from Australia. First-time (?!) writer-director Sean Byrne crafts a vivid and terrifying story of Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel), a young man in crisis. Sean is reeling from the death of his father in a car accident, balancing suicidal, self-harming impulses with teen pursuits and a relationship with a girl trying hard to connect with him. No surprise that Brent would wind up on the radar of taciturn wallflower Lola (Robin McLeavy), who tentatively asks Brent to an upcoming school dance. Brent's already got a date for the night, which is slated to be the most memorable and harrowing night of his life.

In addition to being a terrifyingly suspenseful film (there's so much more to Lola than her almost subliminal first scene would suggest; and the answer to those wondering if Brent's predicament can get worse is always a sprightly, "Yes, it can!"), THE LOVED ONES offers powerfully-realized and totally believable characters. Byrne takes a startlingly mature approach to his characters' back stories, offering tiny vignettes that tell us all we need to know about them. Plenty of clues are offered to piece together the characters' rich histories, and the film assumes (and rewards) intelligence on the part of its audience by letting us connect the dots ourselves. A lively subplot involving a friend of Brent's and his surprisingly-willing date connects to the main story in a quiet but surprising way.

Your proprietor's being careful not to reveal too much - much of the joy of the film is in the details, which are more than capably laid out by Byrne and his uniformly solid cast. Teenage issues and escalating violence are common tropes in today's horror films, but THE LOVED ONES handles both more capably and effectively than many of its contemporaries. It's completely engrossing in the moment, and many of the film's fleeting details - pictures in a scrapbook, the steely look in a vengeful father's eyes, the quiet grief settling like a permanent guest in a broken home - linger in the mind and heart for hours after. And it's as visceral and fun as it is smart and moving. Though I'm braced for what must be an inevitable Hollywood remake, I'm hoping this - the genuine article in myriad ways - gets the audience it deserves.