Friday, November 26, 2010


Pleased was your proprietor to see, hot on the heels of last month's Onibaba review, that Janus Films was touring a print of another period horror piece by Kaneto Shindo.

KURONEKO's story is as lean a folk tale as ONIBABA's, with a wife and mother of a samurai returning as vengeful spirits after being brutally raped and murdered by a gang of 17 soldiers. Waylaying samurai outside the Rajomon Gate, the two angry ghosts drink the blood of their victims to sate the vengeful demon that returned them to human form. Things become complicated when their long-missing son and husband, a successful samurai, is charged to investigate and eliminate them.

Shindo's tale is captured in a setting as powerful and evocative as ONIBABA's susuki fields, but the world is expanded to include artificial settings that frame its ghostplay perfectly - the gorgeous bamboo forest doesn't suffocate its characters as ONIBABA's susuki, but seem to push them into these gorgeous, metatheatrical worlds. Shindo unleashes an arsenal of cinematic and theatrical effects to capture the movements of his spectral characters, and briefly gives way to a thrillingly lush romanticism when two of his characters reconcile on a more earthly plane.

From the two films mentioned here I suspect that Shindo's a bit more restrained than his contemporary Seijun Suzuki, but he's no less visionary. I'd be keen to see a retrospective taking in more of his work (like the one on the work of Masahiro Shinoda that seems to be making the rounds). The Janus tour of KURONEKO suggests strongly that a Criterion Collection release is forthcoming - more economical than a full-tilt retrospective tour, to be sure, but after experiencing these two films in such close succession one does long for a more running cup.

Monday, November 22, 2010

now Whedon-free

The 'net's abuzz today with news of the forthcoming reboot of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The word that creator Joss Whedon is officially, and angrily, not involved has many of his fanbase up in arms.

Your proprietor is a lot less invested in the Whedonverse these days. The plot mechanics of the last episodes of DOLLHOUSE felt like twists-for-the-sake-of-twists, and had the weird effect of completely disengaging me from everything the man's ever had a hand in (the evangelical fervor of the WWJWD? crowd sealed it as well). And yet the proposed reboot does hold my interest, as it is a remake of the original feature film from which the series was loosely spun, rather than the series itself. There were aspects of the film that I wish had carried over to the series (during a recent rewatch of the film, I particularly found Luke Perry's Pike a much more effective and vastly less cutesy foil for Buffy than Nicholas Brendon's Xander), but each iteration has its strengths and weaknesses.

So I'll be interested to see how it all develops. And I'll call it right now: if the new BTVS makes it to the screen, it'll get a higher box office gross than SERENITY.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The futuristic theme park Delos, for $1000/day, caters to the traveler's wildest fantasies. Three different realms, capturing life in ancient Rome, medieval times, and the American West, are peopled with androids whom guests can kill or have sex with. A pair of vacationing businessmen take a trip to Westworld, where they encounter comely barmaids, brawlin' desperadoes, and a taciturn gunslinger (Yul Brynner) that won't stay dead.

One assumes that first time feature writer-director Michael Crichton was paying serious attention to the films made of his earlier work, because Westworld is an assured fucking filmmaking debut. Crichton is as adept at showing as he is at telling - Westworld's descent from tightly-controlled paradise to hellish technological riot is expertly paced, reflected in the increasingly frantic performances of the actors playing humans (which itself is terrifyingly offset by the steady stillness of the actors playing androids). Crichton lets his scientists tell us the mechanics of what's going wrong, but the larger reasons why they're going wrong (and the implications for our lives outside the theatre) are left for us to ponder. And the film balances its philosophizing with a profoundly visceral feel, making us feel every death and escalating the stakes as the lone survivor makes a desperate run for survival, dogged by Brynner at every step. The sound design is particularly fine, with beautifully canned cowboy music gradually being overwhelmed by sinister electronic drones that hum with the same kind of semi-organic malevolence that animates Brynner.

Westworld is not widely heralded as a classic, but its influence can be felt on may classics that followed it, from the work of John Carpenter (who modeled unstoppable killing machine Michael Myers on Brynner's gunslinger) to James Cameron to, hell, to Crichton himself (Jurassic Park really is Westworld with dinosaurs). There's really not much attention paid to Crichton's work as a filmmaker, and Westworld suggests that a retrospective would not be remiss. Among other things, it'd please your proprietor to see Looker projected.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Four teenagers - the virginal Amy, her first-date Buzz, her friend Liz, and Liz's schmucky boyfriend Richie - take in the attractions at a sleazy traveling carnival. On a dare from Richie the gang decide to spend the night after hours in the carnival's funhouse, but after witnessing a murder find themselves running for their lives through a very dark ride.

Your proprietor wishes more movies were made like this, with a competent but largely unknown cast (peppered with a couple of veterans) doing solid work in a film whose creativity and atmosphere trumps its low budget. There's a good script at the heart of this: the story observes the tropes of the slasher genre that was in full swing when the film was made, but the scope of the film includes a healthy dose of carny life (the family) to flesh out its antagonists, and locates its horror not in a single rampaging killer but more diffusely, throughout a carnival and into the very film itself.

That many of the characters are believable help immeasurably, starting with Amy, a final girl played with complexity, innocence, and just he right amount of knowning sexiness by Elizabeth Berridge. Cooper Huckabee brings a nice curiosity to Buzz (look at his reactions during the freaks-of-nature scene). For all his lower-class manliness (" in a filling station," Amy's parents observe), there's a soulfulness and sensitivity to Buzz; you can see why Amy likes him, and there's a nice willingness-but-awkwardness to the start of their date. A number of veterans fill out the carnival's staff, from Kevin Conway's chameleonic performances as three different barkers to the always-game Sylvia Miles' wild turn as a raunchy fortune teller. All of the actors bring their characters' shared histories and little pieces of business to bear, and I suspect that director Tobe Hooper presided over a fair number of solid improvisations.

Unsurprising that Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Salem's Lot before, is as adept at maintaining pace and atmosphere. The carnival is brought to vivid, grimy life, offering any number of experiences both joyful and creepy. The film itself is directed like a darkride, a winding trek through dissociated shocks and weirdness before building to a frenetic finale. From the childish antics of young Joey to the animated dummies that populate the funhouse (vivid, otherworldly characters in their own right) to the final laugh from the funhouse's Laughing Sal-style figurehead, the film leaves us dazed and entertained, and reeling from the touch of something weird and sleazy.

Written for the Final Girl Film Club, presided over by the lively and lovely Stacie Ponder.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

happy birthday, G.

August Ragone reminds me that today's a holiday, of sorts.

Not coincidentally, perhaps, Crackle has over a dozen Godzilla and related films available for free streaming. GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is a thing of joy and wonder, and GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH has your proprietor's favorite special effects shot ever.

Happy Birthday, Gojira-san.