Sunday, November 06, 2022

CozZilla! - 10 Reasons Luigi Cozzi's 1977 GODZILLA Remix

In honor of Godzilla's 68th birthday (Nov 3) here's my praise and love of my favorite version of that original classic, a truly one-of-a-kind--colorized, bastardized, lionized and ionized--remix from 1977 by Italian cult luminary Luigi Cozzi. Impossible to find anywhere these days but on a stream culled from a VHS dupe, its sound and image warped by the ravages of time, you'd think it something to be ignored and forgotten except as a strange footnote in the Godzilla Wiki. But no! Even mangled and re-duped, dubbed, and dumped for dead, it still flows like a psychedelic special report from your coziest nightmare. 

Just to give you the meta-meta origin: know that there is the original Japanese version, very cool yet somber and kind of a bummer. Then there is the Americanized version, with the critiques of Hiroshima edited out and pervasive footage of Raymond Burr reacting and interpreting shuffled in. Cozzi too that version, put the Hiroshima / Anti-American subtexts back with a vengeance, remixed it with a new score, drenched it in strange psychedelic color, and shuffled in artsy Hiroshima footage, especially in the opening, which begins with stylized high-contrast, color-drenched, slow-mo images of everyday Japanese life (maybe culled from old documentary), A-bomb tests, wreckage, and--cleverly--footage of a bomb-blasted Berlin (if I know my WW2 documentaries, and I do) all set to a wild ominous, irresistible elctro-score. Its new colors are not 'colorizing' as you and I understand it today, but colorizing branches far and wide, adding extra strange patina to the strange images, merging perfectly with the tracking problems and other image issues. Add a new soundtrack all of it wobbling and wavering and accompanied often by the sound of a whirring projector and you have a kind of found object accidental Brechtian re-paradise for late-night dozers and dosers. 

Dig the provenance of this unique art object: it begins as a 1953 black-and-white Japanese monster movie, it's then imported to America and "Americanized" with the social commentary about Hiroshima, and the  soapier histrionics removed (i.e. all the male crying), and copious footage of Raymond Burr reacting to things added (his near-constant narration helping to undo the need for either subtitles or dubbing). Let it simmer for a couple of decades and then that version is colorized, dubbed into Italian, has actual Hiroshima footage added (amongst other changes) given an Italian theatrical release with a kind of 1977 Italian version of "Sensurround," then later recorded onto VHS, which is then apparently thrown off a train into a river, then left out in the sun for 20 years before finally being subtitled and uploaded onto YouTube, where it lives--and thrives!--to this very day.

That's four layers of meta and three different directors! It begins in Japanese with Ishiro Honda, then 'Burred' American by Terry O. Morse, then made Italian vivid, colorful and profound by Luigi Cozzi. The combination results in the best, the ultimate, the only version that feels truly 'complete.' Not only profound, but moving, elegaic without being soapy or pedestrian.

Just to preface: I'm a huge Luigi Cozzi fan (see my gushing appreciation of his other films here). His imagination and love of the genre is so all-consuming it brings his work way past the boring and familiar things that hold up other directors, i.e. pacing, classical-style narrative, character arcs, romantic arcs, and heartfelt dialogue. Instead, Cozzi gives us everything great about Italian versions of America sci-fi movies, with an endearing primitivism that captures the essence of why we want to see a movie in the first place, especially one we want to watch over and over and never get bored, the way children never get bored of their favorite bedtime story - because myths never age, and are never fully known, never fully consumed.  

All of which is to preface this: my adoration of his 1977 Godzilla redux hinges on a developed love for his unique and endlessly rewarding sensibility, combined with not being a huge fan of the Japanese version of the film or the Raymond Burr-insert Americanized version. The whole endless fight to get that one-eyed scientist to use his oxygen destroyer is the kind of hyper-emotional Japanese romantic triangle soapiness that frightens a lot of Americans away with its tearful, prolonged, over-the-top histrionics. But the Burr footage drags too --inserting way too many shots of him watching events (if an American didn't see it, did it really happen?) and way too much narration. Cozzi goes for broke in the opposite direction, removing more footage from both version than they ever would, none of it, as it turns out, worth keeping, then padding the remix with footage of radiation burns, slow-mo PTSD, and-- realizing it's the most important element of the picture--expands the climactic monster scene outward, splicing in a full naval bombardment adding overkill to overkill, and letting everything else--the parts that make getting there a bore--go dissolving into the sea--keeping only the skeleton, which no mere convention can e'er burn away.  

I would have loved to hear this in a theater wired for Sensurrround or whatever it was called in Italy (you can read up on its history here) , with Godzilla's thundering stomps (some of which appear only in the Cozzi version) making the floor shake. I know that will never happen, but the meta refractions of its current only surviving 'print' give Cozzi's flawless nutcase instincts just the sort of contexutalizing they needed, the final post-modern boost to make Godzilla finally not only resonant, but a work of found art.

For best results watch at 4 AM in a Remeron and CBD trance after you've tossed and turned in bed for a couple hours before finally giving up, getting up, moving to my big easy chair in the living room.... And.... bombs away.


10 REASONS COZZILLA

1. MUSIC

For some reason Cozzi can get the very best composers and scores that rival the classics: John Barry does the score for his Starcrash and gets Nino Rota for Hercules. And here, he's got the amazig Fabio Frizzi and Franco Bixo (aka 'Magnetic System) to kick things off for the grand and disturbingly lovely Hiroshima opening, immediately launching viewers into a hypnotic trance.

Then Vince Tempera adds synths in there and under it all is a wise and perfect remix of the best parts of Akira Ifukbe's origial score (that incredible 'Elegy' that only plays over the TV shots of the carnage towards the end, here comes at the beginning too and at the end of the carnage).  This haunting music adds just the right mix of comfort, tension and grandeur as we find Burr under the rubble. And when our man is on the stretcher, asking for water, trying to be heard over the din of suffering along the rows of other survivors, the music and color makes it strangely comforting. After being buried in rubble even a stretcher on the floor can be paradise, thirst or no. Ifukube gets that with his elegy, Tempera gets it, and most of all Cozzi gets it. If only Hollywood got it. 


2. THE HIROSHIMA PROLOGUE

You would think expanding the running time by throwing a reel of hand-colorized Hiroshima stock footage up front wouldn't work. It does. We get the before (daily life of the civilians), the explosion (pretty, from a distance), and the after (radiation burns, long tracking shots over the endless grid of rubble). And it's all drenched in weird colors and rendered occult and bizarre by the deliciously ominous Bixio and Frizzi synth music. Even the sky is given a poetic resonance, bleaching out when the sun or bomb get too bright. The result seems like the bomber has flown past the color swaths. When the bomb drops, it looks like a splash of white amidst a Rothko color field. As if draining the warmth and life from the city. When the new credits come up they are over a beautiful, hypnotic sped-up motion of gathering and roiling and dissipating cloud formations which, with the music and the sound of roaring wind, creates an undeniably hypnotic and almost pre-infantile state of rapture. 

The combined effect is totally unique. It may be purely the result of necessity (stock footage = the cheapest way to pad), but whether intentional or not it winds up being so much more. Rather than just a document of the global tragedy, the music and colors add intriguing depth. Even today the name Hiroshima still has archetypal power wherever you are so it's not like it's 'stale' or fully 'absorbed' or maybe will ever be.

 It helps perhaps Cozzi is not American, so bears no national guilt over its use, Italy being the one country to 'switch sides' and, perhaps to its credit, quickly surrender rather than stand and die for a cause they didn't believe in. Thus we see facets of it through his Italian eyes that we usually cannot when seeing through either Japan's or America's (they're too close to the problem)--that America is the father of Godzilla in more ways than one - we're the Nick Nolte to Godzilla's Eric Bana in Ang Lee's Hulk so to speak.' That's why having an American in the mix is so essential and why it works better that..

3. Raymond Burr Speaks Italian

The insertion of Burr into Godzilla prior to its American release can seem racist, but once he's dubbed into Italian and we're reading what he's saying via subtitles (i.e. translated back again), all that bad taste goes away and the whole thing becomes post-modern sublime. With the warping wobble of the VHS source giving the voices a strange echo quality that takes him (and the Japanese around him) out of the 'present,' his narration (welcomely truncated for Cozzi's version) echoes through the action like a dream. Welcome everywhere, always up front, he merges into the post-modern warp in a way that's definitely cool. The associations of the Italian dubbing actor makes us automatically re-interpret what we hear as, not just monster movie junk, but an art film ala Antonioni.

4. The use of Ifukube's "Elegy" in the opening sequence of Raymond Burr under the rubble and later after the main attack, and the last part

In the original American version, the first act has Raymond Burr is unearthed from the rubble, features just a mournful, plodding minor key oboe (or bassoon?). Dull, then it stops for endless exposition and seldom returns. In Cozzi's, the best parts of Ikfube's score, such as the 'elegy' heard only towards the end via TV in the original version, add a grandeur and marvelousness that situates the film right off the bat as something that's emotional, even strangely operatic, especially after the Hiroshima prologue. When I see and hear this first section of the Cozzi film, I think instantly of where I was the evening after 9/11 (watching from across the river in Brooklyn Heights, eating ice cream on the boardwalk--finding it hard to pick an emotion other than a kind of surrealist shock). "Elegy" fits that so perfectly I don't even have to remember it to feel it. Rather than just play for the broadcast, it plays from the rubble slow pans and flows right up into the ocean with the O2 destroyer. Rather masterfully, too. Watch for example the Burr version of the attack - there's no music - no real noise almost - aside from Burr it's quiet for huge stretches until he starts stomping on train tracks and finally omitting a loud growl.

5.  Psychedelic Colors

Supposedly every frame was hand tinted but as it survives on the streaky VHS the effect seems like the tinter/colorizer was hittin' the pipe, so to speak. Sometimes the color is effective (the red skies during the fires) sometimes it seems to wash around but it never quite fades out altogether. The key scenes of Godzilla trashing Tokyo are the most conscientiously colored, and that's what's important, making the surreal presence of the big reptile and its destruction into something so transformational and shocking/strange/all-consuming it changes our perceptions of color. 

6. RE-RE-EDITING

Cozzi wipes out whole dull exposition, and connecting and establishing shots of the Americanized and original version, especially with the phone calls, customs, standing around while narration explains things, and door entrances and romantic triangle sudsiness, and instead stretches out the attacks, the devastation, and the retaliation. He 'Cozzifies' it. Whittling it down to the basics, he then had to add footage to get it to feature length but he Cozzified there too, instinctively knowing just the right passages to expand, such as the climactic Tokyo trashing (adding to the aftermath by a section of post-Hiroshima footage intercut with short inserts of Godzilla breathing his radioactive fire breath and the "Elegy" music again. and the final O2 Destroyer ending, which becomes a slow-mo death dance of bubbles and a prolonged surfacing wherein Cozzi tries to goose up the wow factor by intercutting stock footage of naval ships firing all their guns on Godzilla as he surfaces. In the original it's just a quick pop up, followed by a sad sinking, Cozzi replays and slows down the surface death rattle so that he seems to take forever to die, the O2 destroyer below, the naval destroyer above.Instead of all the preparation, the bubbles and the destroyer and all that seem to take forever - it's like the whole movie blends into a blur or white blobs, pink and turquoise sky wipes, slow-motion bubbles cascading past a doomed Godzilla. He knows what makes an emotional, strong image and how to give such images time to resonate, to envelop us in ways too deep to analyze. 

7. SOUND RE-MIXING

Cozzi and Co. creates a nonstop melange of every kind of sound that lulls me to sleep;-- there's rushing wind, all bubbling and whooshing, the Italian dub sounding like it's being heard outside a shrill Roman theater before the main feature. The din of conversation and busy Tokyo streets becomes a comforting white noise, alongside what sounds like the whirr of a projector, or brisk wind. When the roar of Godzilla comes along it occupies the low end, but is drowned on on the top. Meanwhile the sound of a dance band playing the night Godzilla first attacks Tokyo has a kind of ghostliness reminiscent of hauntologic music of 'the Caretaker', The (post-dubbed) loud pounding of his footsteps (even when still in the water) sounds like Marley's ghost hammering at my chamber door; the blur of crowd noises, Ifukube's music (sometimes it seems like two different passages are playing at the same time), the ocean roar, morse code-style telegraph beeping (to convey urgent news), the explosions and also.... almost of it almost inextricably tied up with...

8. META-SOUND ARTIFACTING

At times you can hear what sounds like grinding sprockets, and the sound wall kind of wobbles as if going through a flanger. Is it the projector screening the film for the video camera, or the sound of the fire of Serizawa's burning o2 destroyer notes and the whooshing of his lab equipment? Are these intentional or the result of age, transfers, the sound recorded for the VHS in a sloppy duping.  When Dr. Serizawa  is down underwater delivering the O2 Destroyer for example, the wobbling of the reels seems like the film in the sprockets is shifting as the tracking issues persist at the same time, as if the water and bubbles were leaking into the camera and microphone. Some spots are slowed down to stretch out scenes, which gives the sound and extra warping weirdness. The line between accidental and deliberate effects is wiped away. For the climax, for the underwater climax, for example, the warping and waving of a comforting wall of soothing sounds, with layers of that unforgettable Ikufube 'Elegy,' under bubbling, ocean sound effects, muffled roars, dialogue up on deck and through the oxygen tube, static from the recording transfers, including the whirr of a projector, all laid in front of each other in layers to form a comforting wall of white atmosphere that then warps and wavers from the video tracking issues 

Compare it to the original or the Burr version and the soundscape is much more austere. The early scenes of Burr under the rubble and working his way to the Tokyo press room are generally silent, with maybe an oboe or a distant crowd noise. In Cozzi's version a weird radio plays constantly in the background, along with ringing phones, telegraph beeping, the rush of conversations, traffic, and the projector itself; elsewhere morse code bleeps echo in successive layers - the  frenzied gull like voices of concerned family members for the crew of the missing vessel. It's a roar in itself, in a good way

9.  META VIDEO DISINTEGRATION

At one point we see the reel run out and an End of Part One sign flashes; we see the film running out. Elsewhere the images buckle and jump, and echo! Interestingly, the print waits until about 50 minutes in to really fall apart with tracking problems that happens to be during the big centerpiece of the film, Godzilla's rampage in Tokyo. It's as it the sheer size of the monster and the vehemence of the military response is breaking apart film as we know it. It's one thing to have the image jump around when say, showing a couple on the couch, but with rapid edits of explosions and raging fires as a monster the size of a ten story office building beats the shit out of some electrical wires, before snacking down on a train? That makes perfect sense. Even when the screen goes completely dark, before wobbling back, making the monster scenes harder to see, it fits--as if we're watching it live on TV and the camera signal is breaking up. Sure, eventually it gets pretty annoying but then, the problem dies away... for awhile when the attack is over. 

Did the high contrast and rapid editing have anything to do with the problems of this transfer?  I don't know but I do know watching the HD version on Criterion, the monster is very unconvincing - we can see the scenery better, admire the details of the cityscape he tramples through, savor the detailed craftsmanship that went into each building, but it's clearly a man in a suit in the long shots and --in some others-- clearly a hand puppet. The apocalyptic images of the crumbling press building, as it slowly collapses floor-by-floor is truly impressive in the original. And, of course, one should watch that version often. But it lacks the strange post-modern poetry we get from tbe Cozzi version - the way the melt-down of film and of tape seems to suit the gravity of the scene better.

Here's an example - the attack in the Burr film starts at 50 mins in, ends around  101; in Cozzi's, it starts at 50 mins but then ends - ends 101:12 - so like double the length.  Then the end underwater climax in the Burr verison last 6 minutes but the Cozzi version expands to 12, but then goes back to slow motion the explosion and the anguished roar go godzilla - his pathetic rise from the deep only to be mercilessly shelled by the boats, howling and then sinking back down. Cozzi spatters into a full on military assault at the head as if target practice, before it sinks down to the slow motion depths, the sound warped and flangered with the music carrying through a sea of bubbles, almost Wagnerian and triumphant. The beast takes forever to fall back down to the depths. He finally sinks and the sea dissolves again into a sea of bubbles.... We only see a few cutaways to people on the boat but Cozzi doesn't care about them and knows we don't either - we don't even care about Serizawa's brave suicide (cutting his air hose). We're glad to be rid of him and all his crying and tantrum-throwing. 

 I don't know but when you add the washes of pink, yellow, orange, and green blurring into each other, somehow it all comes together as... 

10. HIGH EXPERIMENTAL FILM ART!

The original Japanese version of Godzilla was a metaphor for America's radioactive warping and altering of the Japanese psyche ala the firebombing of Tokyo and nuking of Hiroshima. That version that was then warped and altered by America to suit itself, editing out the Hiroshima references to suit itself, That version then warped and altered, with loads Hiroshima footage added in,

Did Italy's mid-war conversion from Japan's side to America's have any subtextual effect on Cozzi's artistic choices? Either way, he created most astute yet warped meditation on Hiroshima that you're likely to see, especially when the media you see it on has been warped and altered many times over itself. And hopefully so have you!

Thats 10 -- BLAST OFF!

But the cumulative effect of these 10 reasons isn't a downer, it's a great narcotizing embrace, like sinking down to an eternal sleep. The bubbling noises of the surf, the bellowing of the ships. the scratchy vibe, the haunting Ikufube music, the weird washes of cool colors, it all flows and swirls into some wild light-sound extravaganza that satisfies the soul, keeps the spirit engaged and brings frazzled nerves into a pre-natal warm, pulsing tide. Godzilla's oxygen gets sucked out of himself at the end but it flows into us like the cool breeze from a projector's whirring fan when the bulb is off. Protected against the onslaught of man's blind folly for another night, we drift off secure in the arms of Cozzi and his crew, Burr and his crew, Honda and his crew, the Italian dubbers and the English subtitlers, and the signature of time itself (always something that can be stopped or otherwise manipulated in Cozzi films), slowly warping and ravaging its way through a Russian doll-style chain of decomposing media upgrades. It delivers exactly what I want out of a film I'm watching at some godforsaken hour of the night, technically trying to fallsleep, but kind of enjoying that I'm half-awake, nodding in and out, until I'm never quite sure if I'm watching the film or not... did I black out for certain sections or are they just not there? Seen while fully conscious during the day I can find myself frustrated by the lengthy parts of over-the-top tracking issues during God's all-night stomping and torching of Tokyo. But late at night, eyes lidded over, it's truly sublime. 

We shouldn't be surprised, it may be Ishiro Honda's baby but Cozzi raises it as his own and teaches it who it really is. Before it only knew it was Vishnu, the destroyer of worlds, now it knows it's Robert Oppenheimer, and it's here to send us to sweet oblivion. . here

Monday, October 31, 2022

"Absolute" October: 10 Seasonal, Classic Picks: Atmospheric, Uncanny & Re-watchable.

October - the time when the old classics should come out, and old horror fans like me dust off the gems that do it for us every year, the grand perennials, some since we were knee-high to Zuni Fetish doll. I've already written about mine in past Halloween lists, But there's always others. Always new ones. Some are great but don't have 'repeatability' - the layered gems you can watch over and over. For me it's important they have atmosphere! Gothic vapors! Scary synth music! Ghosts! Action! lots of wind and swirling mists. So if you're wondering what else is there besides AMC's same-old Halloween marathons and the same-old TCM classics (Kwaidan, Eyes Without a Face, etc.) If you got Prime, Shudder, Tubi, Arrow, whatever, let these be yours. (All the films listed are streaming on Prime and/or Tubi unless otherwise noted)

 1. BLACK SUNDAY
(1959) Dir. Mario Bava
streaming on Prime

The king of Italian horror, maybe even of horror, period, maybe even king of cinematographers his painterly warmth and lighting complexity making him kind of Italy's answer to Josef Von Sternberg) Mario Bava's films are almost all amazing but as far as spook show Gothic chills perfect for October, nothing can beat his directorial debut Black Sunday (except his later Black Sabbath, and Kill Baby Kill of course). Sunday not only introduced Bava (the film was an influential smash hit around the world, released by Roger Corman and AIP in the US) it introduced Barbara Steele to the world as the first bonafide female horror star, fit to join the ranks of Lugosi, Karloff, Lorre, and Price. She plays an evil witch, accidentally revived when a curious doctor's fight with a bat causes blood to fall into her eye-socket; and she plays that witch's 'good' descendant, destined to be possessed or whatnot --it's all lining up (shades of Jewel of the 7 Stars transplanted to the 1800s.. ) Lots of creepy castle tracking shots, with Lewton-like walks to the barn in the dead of night, undead rising from graves as wind blows ominous. In terms of sheer rewatchability it is so without peer one has to look all the way back to the 30s pre-code Universal horror films to find a worthy comparison and--truth be told--it's better than most of them. It basically ushered in a whole wave of European supernatural Gothic horror films, most starring Steele, a few of which were good, that reverberated well into the 70s. Get over the dubbing and occasionally schmaltzy score, just imagery, the pacing, the lurid touches, the thick delicious atmosphere, and the unique formula of sexy and terrifying that are the wide eyes and heaving chest of Barbara Steele; the nods to Val Lewton and James Whale. And Steele, and Steele again. Afterwards, forever transformed, you should immediately seek out Black Sabbath andKill Baby Kill.

2. NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF
(1981) Dir. Paul Naschy
streaming on Tubi

Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy recounts seeing Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man in a matinee as a small child and finding his life's purpose. And you can see he wasn't kidding with Night of the Werewolf, Not only does it pit classic monster against monster, he redressing many of the wrongs committed by Universal in that film (the title monster fight lasts barely 30 seconds before a flood ends the movie, hgere it goes on long enough you don't feel cheated, and it's with a woman!. This redresses the sexist wrongs of other Universal horrors, like Dracula (whatever happened to those three hot wives? They get only two brief scenes and no dialogue and are never seen again, ditto the Bride of Frankenstein).  Not so with the women in Naschy's Night of the Werewolf! Women vampires are all over the place and they're sexy, powerful, smart and strong, with great hair and skin. And instead of fighting with Lugosi's tired Frankenstein, he's fighting with a super-powerful undead Elizabeth Bathory and her assorted vamp and zombie underlings. 

In short, Paul Naschy, over the course of his countless "Valdemar" movies, became the werewolf we never really got from Lon Chaney Jr., who spent all of the sequels trying to die, chasing the scientists who bring 'the Monster' back, movie after movie, making us all wonder why he doesn't just jump into the nearest threshing machine instead of moping after Univerzal monster's equivalent to Dr. Kevorkian. Chaney's love interests tended towards hunchback servants and mopey gypsy girls who mooned after him; all of whom did nothing for him but provide victims for his full moon bloodbaths. Burly body-builder Naschy's squat, ruggedly handsome physique and even-keeled manner imbues Valdemar with a romantic nature that's inherently aristocratic and proletariat at the same time. He's the werewolf we always wanted, even if his make-up is nowhere near as elaborate. (though I've never been a fan of Chaney's wolf face - too pouffy and poodle-like; I much prefer the less extreme but scarier version in the underrated Werewolf of London.  

The focus isn't on Naschy here though, but on three super gorgeous tourists coming to a remote tomb on a holiday, wanting, for some reason, to revive,Elisabeth Bathory (we see her and her minions put to death in the Middle Ages opening, as was the style of the time. The one gurk us totally evil while the other two girls seem rather naive but one admires their brazen self-assurance, plunging fearlessly into a vast cave network to find the tomb and revive Bathory, becoming her vampire handmaidens. The 'good' one amongst them falls for Vlademamir but will she be able to kill him when the time comes. It's another interesting echo of FVTWM that Valdemar has a deformed servant in love with him, though in her case she's quite hot even with half her face burned into monstrousness. Her hair is great. In fact all their hair is great, the same color, long brown and more or less straight. Clearly Naschy has a type. It's OK though as all these women are strong and self-reliant (there are way more in the cast than men, making itreminiscent of the films of Luigi Cozzi! And Jack Hill!)

In other words, Night of the Werewolf is revisionist classic Euro-horror heaven and the cinematography--thanks to a wondrous recent restoration, glows with lots of candle and torchlight golds, deep inviting shadows and swirling luminous fog. It's lovely to look at, and aside from the sex and gore is good for the whole family

Note - Tubi just got a whole swath of HD-spiffed Naschy numbers that look gorgeous. If you want to compare them, just look at Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women (a much more accurate title for this) also on Tubi. OMG it looks bad. Stick with Night, and you'll never want to watch anything else. 

3. THE CHILD 
(1977) Dir. Robert Voskanian

A once nearly-forgotten cracked emerald in the American rough, recently given a fancy upgrade by the folks at Arrow, The Child may be set in some remote 30s-40s corner of woodsy mountainous American folk nowhere, but its real location is the dream nebula where childhood nightmares rattle bedroom shutters in the still of the October night in the land of super quiet, super black nights only cloudy country nights provide (that kind of darkness and dead silence are why I live in the city and sleep with a white noise machine) and unearthly squawking moans seem to come from the air itself. Shoehorning themes and moods from Night of the Living Dead and The Omen in amidst its folk horror ominousness, The Child tells the story of a strange but sweet young woman, with period length long straight black hair and strange silver eyes, who arrives to nanny a bratty 11-year old sociopath named Rosalie (Rosalie Norton) after the apparent death of her (bi-polar necromancer) mom. Rosalie's dad is only a shades less demented than the dad in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Luckily, the adult son is tall, chill, and sane, thank God, and there's not much to do there in the dark at night, so they just may hook up, or he might turn into a scarecrow while she dances through the misty front lawn dream on Halloween night after freaking out at the sight of a jack-o-lantern seemingly moving on its own.

There's a masterful use of real darkness here that's rare in horror films (that jack-o-lantern seems to come out of nowhere). Yessir, The Child radiates a real country dark, the kind that seem to swallow the world around you, so that someone could be standing mere feet away from you and you'd never see them, so you strain to hear any sound of breathing in the silence, the kind of dark of where only candles and oil lamps make little bubble sancturaries of warmth and light in the surrounding inky opaque emptiness,. (1)

Then there's that score! Splitting the difference between avant-garde dissonance and soap opera style angst, Robe Wallace's score pushes the sound effects and echo-canned dialogue out in front of what sounds like a grand piano being pushed down a hill. Do the characters hear those strange echo-drenched honks ever in the distance/foreground). The post-dubbed voices of the actors seem as if they could be part of the score too--unheard of by each other, pushing the foggy-wind leaf blow folk horror imagery into the uncanny world between waking and sleeping, that zone when half-heard sounds are freed from signification and even innocuous objects create deep uncanny chills. 

And like all the best uncanny folk horror-style films (the film it probably resembles the closest is Lemora; A Child's Tale of the Supernatural) it's both warmly familiar, genuinely disturbing, relentlessly surprising and super strange. No matter where you think The Child is headed, it's never goes there, not until the last act, in which it suddenly drops everything and bolts out the door in one long careening climax of zombie horror, It's as if the truck that rescued creaming Marilyn Burns at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre crashed into a Night of the Living Dead construction site run by a Rhoda Penmark/Murder Legendre hybrid. In short, God--or something far more ancient--bless The Child! 

.. 4. THE BEYOND
(1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
streaming Prime, Tubi

It took me a long time to warm up to this weird gem, being too cool for what I believed was misogynist gore as a teenager, but after catching the other films in Fulci's undead trilogy, City of the Living Dead (1980) and House by the Cemetery (1981) on TCM, I knew I was wrong. There was so much more here than that. And so much less. Now, thanks to the miracle of streaming, a beautiful HD remastering is ours for the clicking. Sure, it defies narrative cohesiveness and seems to exult in gore for gore's sake, but it's so atmospheric! It's what Fulci meant by an 'absolute' film. A pumpin' Fabio Frizzi synth and pianocore, a script that's just cohesive enough to make the weirdness continually 'dream logical,' ambiguous expressions that seem to imply pages of strange suspicion never written. It's so 'in the moment' it forgets all about the future, leaving us constantly on our guard. Everything is just off. There is 'normal' moment we expect having seen hundreds of horror movies, the foreshadowing is its own uncanny effect with no pay-off, and vice versa. The result is that even minor details seem that's not imbued with the uncanny. From the start with a period prologue of Shrike the warlock painter's torture crucifixion (nailed to a wall, doused in lye, flogged with chains (we never learn why) and walled up in the basement of the "7 Doors Hotel" thus opening one of the seven doors to Hell), all the way to contemporary times, as Liza (the perfectly-cast, instantly iconic Catriona MacColl) inherits the crumbling edifice and sends Joe the plumber down to the vast, flooded basement to stop the leak. The painting the warlock was working on when he died is gathering dust on the ground floor, a strange hellscape that looks like the surface of some macabre moon, dotted with corpses covered in dust. Workmen fall off the roof, Joe busts through a crumbling wall allowing the warlock's decaying hand reaches from the crumbling wall to crush his face. Joe has a funeral minutes later. There is never a police investigation nor a single cop in the whole movie; we never see anyone even find Joe's eyeless body - it just shows up in the morgue. Shrike's eerie painting is hung in the foyer where its strange power seems to take over those who look at it. At one point it bleeds. For some reason the intern in the space age morgue puts an EKG meter on Shrike's long dead corpse which is now laid out next to Joe's; again no explanation - none needed. Shrike waits til he's alone to activate the EKG. Oh, he's in there, all right. To have some tired rationale would lessen its majesty. Hell-that's all you need to know, a hell where the undead shamble through hospitals with their heads down, shambling slow, like the workers in Metropolis after a long shift. 

Liza scoffs at the idea of the hotel leading to Hell, even though the service buzzer mysteriously sounds for the warlock's old room at odd times and she almost literally runs into a willowy blind blonde psychic Emily (Cinzia Monreale) with greyed over eyes and a seeing eye dog standing in the middle of straight bridge the goes on for miles over the swamps. Emily plays the ominous theme song on the piano, while regaling Liza with the story of the seven doors (which we never really hear or need to) we move onto other things and then come back. We never quite do find our way back anywhere, except this one time. When Liza arrives back at the hotel dimwitted handyman and his mom get the hotel almost ready to open. The painting is still there leaning against the wall. There is no 'normal' to ground us, yet nothing seems weird for weird's sake like so many 80s horror and sci-fi films. Instead 'the frame of things disjoint' (to quote Shakespeare. The doctor (David Warbeck) alone is the sole voice of patriarchal head-shaking; he worries Liza is losing her mind, or a witch, but not for long. The book shows up in a bookstore then disappears. Tarantulas take about a real time hour to eat a guy's face. The lady housekeeper has her head forced onto one of those Shrike nails by the handyman who arises from the muddy water in the bathtub. Space collapses. Nothing is the same or ever really was. 

Don't ask. Don't tell. Just dig the unforgettable shots: Emily standing with her dog and white eyes; the blasted surface of the Sea of Darkness; that strange all-white morgue; the masterfully creepy zombies shattering a opaque glass wall; the strange glances, the gore, the guts, the gusts and the gusto; the crisp atmospheric photography of Sergio Salvati (perfectly brought out by the HD remastering), and Fabio Frizzi's eerie synth music and strange piano refrains. Let it swirl together like a film that's spun off its reel and is wrapping itself around your neck, dragging your eye closer... closer to the hot light inside the proector. Allow it to sync up with your unconscious rather than your conscious expectations and it will all make perfect non-nonsense. You'll either want to vomit and gouge your eyes out or immediately cue up Fulci's other films. There is no middle ground. All hail the... whatever. 

5. PHANTASM
(1978) Dir. Don Coscarelli
streaming Prime, Tubi


When hack directors rushed to imitate Halloween, ushering in the slasher boom at the end of the 70s, only one or two filmmakers looked carefully at the structure of the shots Carpenter used, paid attention to the tick-tockality of the time frame, really listened to find what was so effective about the score, instead of just thinking "guys in masks stabbing teenagers, got it."  and going off to make bland copies of content rather than form. Coscarelli didn't need the content, as he got the music right, the vibe, the use of cloaking darkness and the power of twisting old trees and drive-ways. Then Coscarelli went on did his own, highly original film. His previous works had all been children's films (another seldom-written about genre for 70s independents) and it pays off here as he treats the kids with respect and compassion (more Over the Edge than E.T.) Centered around a young lad terrified his brother will leave him behind when he takes off after their parent's funeral, Phantasm ushers in what I call 'older brother' films, all but forgotten these days, but in the 70s cool kids like Jackie Earle Haley played kids with older brother figures who let them sip their beer, smoke a cigarette, shoot guns, ("No warning shots. Warning shots are bullshit."), carry knives, drive before they were legal, and generally do their own thing. The kid here gets to do most of that and at one point throws the kid the keys to his gorgeous Plymouth Barracuda at one point. Gotta love a kid who has his own dirt bike and knife, knows how to shoot real guns, and isn't afraid to go out to investigate a funeral parlor in the dead of night with nothing but a knife taped to his leg. No wonder this movie has become a classic. When your older brother tells you, we "We gotta snag that tall, dude and we got to kick the shit out of him," It's like paradise for any red-blooded 70s American boy of the era. Every time Mark leans out of the speeding Barracuda to fire a shotgun at the tall man's hearse while Mike drives, I'm enthralled like a ten year-old hanging out with my best friend's cool older brother all over again. It goes deep into the archetypal masculine oomph. Oh there's also a girl, whose blind grandmother is a psychic and who runs an antique shop with her older sister, a scene I wish went on forever. 

What a movie - a genuinely original dark fairy tale plot hinging on a totally original metaphysical / ancient alien theory, a boy's fantastical perception of the strangeness of graveyards and mausoleums, the line between dreams and reality, and the way living in central-Portland is like living inside an abandoned tomb gone ruined with old growth and sinister shadows, enhanced by that familiar (1) but super creepy synth music, Plus the plot tweaks Plan Nine, to be about our worst fear -our dead parents coming back as crushed dwarfs trying to kills us and that we die will be crushed stuffed into big beer kegs and launched through a tuning fork gateway to another dimension. It could still happen!

6. NEXT OF KIN 
(1982) Dir. Tony Williams 
Streaming on Prime, Tubi

This 1982 Aussie thriller has been seldom seen or mentioned until recently  Perhaps its bland poster and generic title is to blame? It's got a unique plot, friendly characters, vivid deep dusky cinematography, very cool wallpaper, and a sublime Klaus "Tangerine Dream" Schulze score adding the perfect mix of otherworldly eeriness to the homey surroundings. The sliding camera and dark furnishings keep us always on guard, even when things are all in order and sweet. 

Jacki Karin stars and brings a mix of steely energy and frazzled nerves to the role of Linda, a woman who inherits her recently deceased mom's old folk's home somewhere in Australia's vast outback, so drives in to both take over and figure out what's going on with all the deaths. Reading mum's journals she can't decide if the mom is insane or covering up or trying to solve a decade's long murder spree. At night the camera prowls the dark moody hallways, as Linda has pull-focus slow motion POV memories of being a traumatized child. What horrifying thing did she see in the steamy bathroom? 

With Schulze percolating his eerie but synth drum-inundated score as the wallpaper and lighting making it all feel like some splendid hybrid between Kubrick's Shining and Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives. The strange goings on get stranger. Good thing her old friend and ex-lover Barney (John 'Wolf Creek' Jarrat!) is around to keep her grounded! To say much more about it would be doing you a disservice but suffice it to say this film evokes a kind of warm-blooded Shining if it was an active old folks home about to collides nto a kind of four alarm Chainsaw-ish whirlwind of strange and ingenious moments, captured with beautiful dusky cinematography. See it with the lights off, dead sober, alone, your nerves dilated and screaming with alcoholic withdrawal. You will be changed. 



11. THE IRON ROSE
"La Rose de Fer" 
(1972) Dir Jean Rollin
Streaming on Arrow

The French love their poets the way Americans love TV actors. Poetry for the French is normal and respectable, not something for your girlfriend's parents to passively sneer at when you tell them your post-graduate plans. They French love Romantic proto-punk French poets like Baudelaire, and that luminous centerpiece the Symbolist 'dead before 30' dozen, Brittany's own Tristan Corbière. To say this, is to say too that they love those who can locate the beauty buried deep in in the ruins of death, and, too, the macabre ruins of death at the core of youthful beauty. They don't need Halloween there, as far as I know, for they have Corbiere, and they have Jean Rollin.  

I'm not sure which part of Françoise Pascal's final monologue/ voiceover during her climactic nude cross-bearing is from him, but I do value that it's hard to tell since all Rollin's best death-poetry-drenched classics reek of his spirit. This is maybe the most reeky of all, rank yet sweet with the fragrance of autumnal wet graveyard bouquets and freshly upturned earth. I also value the ominously mist-wreathed black train parked in the weeds in some overgrown train depot (when the couple stand atop the engine, with its painted black former iron flag trimming it evokes the angel of death looming behind them like some doting father). I value also the dilapidated look of the small town; the opening working class wedding feast (at which both characters seem to clearly not belong --as if already ghosts). Mostly I value that the film takes place over one late afternoon-into-dawn. Slowly, in real time, their Rohmer-esque idyll turns darker, moving from unease after hooking up too long in an open crypt, coming up to find the gates locked not knowing the way out, running through the graveyard in a slowly mounting surreal escape nightmare. Suddenly the distracting noises and peering eyes they were escaping down there are gone. It's as if they climb out into a whole different dimension. Dark falls fast in autumn.And the cinematography doesn't rely on noticeable artificial light, allowing this fascinating, huge, old, creepy, sad and beautiful graveyard to become a character in itself. Thanks to the beautiful Redemption label restoration, you can see their figures, (the red and yellow sweaters were a good idea, providing haunting contrast against the dark olive greens and withering old marble stones) even as darkness chokes the corners of the frame like its slowly blacking out from asphyxiation; the graveyard seem to be closing in around them, choked in vines and meandering fences, twisted vines and crumbling crypts. There's no glaring spotlights or day-for-night nonsense, making Jean-Jacques Renon's photography all the richer for being so dark without going completely murky or artificial. 

Then, when the sun finally comes up and the the conqueror worm's snacktime looms you can feel your pupils contracting yet this does nothing to dispel the Corbière-sy darkness, even as it illuminates the dank far corners and cobwebbed shadows of eternity like a thousand watt bulb in your grandparent's attic.  

Finally, a few seconds before you're even starting to get irritated, it becomes a surreal mournful cry for death; it becomes a love song, a longing for the loving embrace of la mortalité, finalité et l'éternité.  One of them survives, and returns to that old familiar Rollin rocky beach his fans know and love like their own backyardMore poetry?! Please, monsieur. Then it's over - barely 70 minutes long, yet feels like forever. 

Q -is there any image more quietly under-the-skin creepy than this? A- Non.



8. THE UNDEAD
(1957) Dir. Roger Corman
streaming Prime, Tubi

My favorite Corman movie, this loopy black and white tale of reincarnation, hypnotism, knights, witches both good and bad, devils and Satanic graveyard dancers zips by in an hour and leaves my jaw agape every year or more, since it finally showed up on streaming (it was MIA for an eternity). I love everything about it. Charles B. Griffith's and Marc Hana's droll script, and Corman's speedball econo direction, the array of sexy, over-the-top, or otherwise awesome performances, the feeling of flowing poetic weirdness that it can only come from being shot in sequence over one long night in an empty supermarket full of black toxic mist to disguise the lack of backgrounds and of course the perfect pair of 'dueling witches' the shazam-smokin' Alison Hayes in the sexiest dress of her career, and Dorothy Neumann as the bent and hook-nosed good witch (don't be fooled by appearances! In this Middle Ages Oz only bad witches are lovely).

I love the casual way the good witch Meg Maud (Neumann) asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon. Or her explanation of how she got her powers from the same evil place Livia did, but managed to keep her soul at the expense of her looks, and how Livia and Meg Maud size each other up and admiringly realize "you will make a good opponent" in a wager for the life of Helene and love of Pendragon (Richard Garland), Helene's super-boring handsome idiot knight.

I saw UNDEAD when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, it's archetypal in the best of ways, for I fell instantly in love with the whole shebang, a monster movie fan from then on. ) and dimwitted lover).Meant to tie in to the then-craze for reincarnation (set in motion by the popularity of the Bridey Murphy story) the story quickly throws logic and even metaphysics to the wind, and ends up derailing the 'Grand Scheme of Things' when Lorna Love is able to whisper survival tips to her about-to-be-beheaded for witchcraft Middle Ages incarnation, Helene. Whoa! That's not how hypnosis works, but hey -- go for it! It's very clear throughout that Corman had his mind blown by Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. The idea that archetypes like Death, the Devil, the inght and the Witch could be directly represented as if straight out of a woodcut, this redefined 'so old it's new' and it fit Corman's loose ballsy style like a glove. Besides, what else is intuition and spirt guidance if not hypnotized selves of the future shooting us tips and cautions from their future psychiatrist's space couch? And what else are the voices one hears in one's head that-- if you answer --either means your schizophrenic or a witch depending on the century? 


9. INFERNO
(1980) Dir. Dario Argento
Streaming on Tubi, Prime


 Submitted for your aghast confusion, Dario Argento's Inferno, i.e. Suspiria's imperfect but still essential sequel. It is, as Lucio Fulci would say, "an absolute film," i.e. a piece of textural 4D art that defies the parameters of conventional narrative to move into a world of image, sound, and sensation, wherein dream logic, surreal color-drenched atmosphere and nerve-piercing intensity need serve only themselves and our own semiotic grasp of cinematic codes is used against us--there is no need for dream sequences because reality and nightmare have bled inextricable ; where wherein close scrutiny yields no insight, but where you come in halfway through, aren't sure what film it is you'r watching, or finally get back from the snack bar, you don't need to know what you missed. Start anywhere, it's all going the same direction. The end credits scroll have to bring you back from the abyss and tell you "you have been watching INFERNO" since by then it's impossible to tell.



The story is straight out of a dark fairy tale, wherein a curious resident of a Satanic old building in NYC finds a book about her building and learns of 'the three mothers' (mysterious old witches whose power and malice know no bounds). One supposedly lives there "under the soles (souls?) of your shoes" The building is full of secrete entrances and crawlspace, holes in attic roofs where the rain gets in and floods ballrooms seemingly under the basement. When the exploring sister drops her keys down into the flooded hole and--in prime dream/fairy tale fearlessness--jumps in to retrieve them, you know you're not awake. Later she sends her brother a letter about the mothers and her suspicions and, for some weird reason, the mothers are determined to stop him from reading it or learning about them.

But whither Goblin? Dove sono i Goblin?

Rather than the mean old "Goblins", the score is instead a distracting, very un-scary melange of Switched-off Humperdinck tuning his baby grand, "Switched-on Verdi" at Chipmunk speed, cliche'd orchestral suspense cues, all of it scary only in their ability to make us lose our faith in Argento's artistic judgment. Was he blinded (or deafened) by his love for ELP?




Luckily, even when making strange ill-advised steps, the overall mise-en-scene plunges so far into occult symbolism and strange fascinations it makes up for it with brilliantly and somewhat intentionally abstract 30s pulp cover compositions, as if a tripping Edward Hopper was painting Raymond Chandler book covers in early two-strip Technicolor. Inside the frames lurks un unpredictable web of archaic symbology and (possibly kinky) obsession: broken glass door-knobs, elemental magic (fire, water, and air especially), arcane tarot and elemental symbolism, bibliophilia ("our lives are governed by the words of... dead people" intones the Satanically eyebrowed archaic bookseller) grisly killing (of course), and secret rooms and floors that seem to be like black box gallery spaces for contemporary art impressions of broken support beams and attic storage; a surreal visit to an old Roman library late in the rainy dark (the cab interior at night, cocooned in color-drenched pouring rain) and its secret basement re-binding room, demonic hands stirring the glue pot; an enigmatic young witch (Ana Peroni) showing up in a music lecture to stare at Mark (Leigh McCloskey) chanting under her breath words he can't hear because he's got headphones on; Mark meeting neighbor Dario Nicolodi whose whispers he can hear inside the walls; a creepy butler shooting her up with he pre-bath opiates, using a special thermometer to get the water just right inside her undeniably strange blue/red-lit apartment (I can't tell if living there would be a dream or nightmare come true); inevitable hands covered in hair with a knife to cut the suffering short when the animals fail the coup de grace. On and on....

As Mark says on the phone to his wet sister, "a lot's happened."

Watch it again, it's a different movie. I actually reviewed this already (as well as the following film) and forgot I did! That's how enigmatic and ever-shifting a perennial can be. Never the same film twice, never any better, never any worse. As haunting to superstitious minds... as a ghost.

10THE NIGHTMARE
(2015) Dir. Rodney Ascher 
Streaming on Prime

The director of Room 237 tackles another deep weirdness, this time it's sleep-paralysis. During interviews with a series of troubled but erudite sufferers, Asher gives us suuuuper creepy re-enactments of their sleep paralysis experiences. With the infamous shadow people (one of the strange common threads) rendered in inky with spooky HD blacks against blue/red color scheme evoking Argento, each sleep paralysis moment is so vividly recreated the film transcends mere 'documentary' to become something truly new, twisted, meta, and deeply illuminating. For me the creepy highlights are the alien figures composed of TV static, a subject's recollection of a night when his weird hippie girlfriend at the time conjured a blue lightbeing while on a hike (the actress playing the girl is truly uncanny), and a meta moment where we see  bedrooms of the interviewees all connected by a common interdimensional soundstage/sleep study, where the beings move between rooms, conjuring Monsters Inc., that "Girl in the Fireplace" Dr. Who episode and other things that cause a sudden jolt of uncanny epiphany. Have we seen this in-between place ourselves.... in dreams, or like secret passages in Argento movies? Either way, it's short, illuminating, creepy in the best and most Halloween of ways. 

(For more on sleep paralysis on Acidemic's sister site Divinorum Psychonauticus, see: Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories)


Bonus. ZOMBI 4: AFTER DEATH
(1989) Dir. Claude Fragasso

Fairly terrible opening narration (mispronounces 'humanitarian') a but then there's a great 80s Italian faux-Journey song "The Wild Life" and I'm in. Sure, some snob zombie circles turn their noses at Zombi 4: After Death, but it's got everything I want in an Italian 80s faux-Fulci Zombi sequel: dark, moody cinematography (lots of deep greens and dusky reds and inky blacks); endless backlit fog through the old growth forest and expressionistic boards over holes and broken out windows, dusk-til-dawn timeline, vivd photography capturing the fine flicker of light in the darkness, cool characters who don't waste time with histrionics and sexist or class-conscious bickering and an apocalyptic ending. Fragasso made some turkeys in his day but this one starts strong, bouncing along on its feet, and it never slows down except to try and get some sleep in the wrecked makeshift missionary-run field hospital (i.e. shades of Fulci's indelible Zombi 2) while an armed and reliable mercenary stands watch. One weakness though, his undead buddies are out there, and they can talk, and still shoot their M-16s.

This time the outbreak is confined to a single remote jungle island--the result of a witch doctor's levied curse (left)-- Whatever, man, who needs a reason when there's a beautifully-lit cave with a doorway to hell and a woman with sandy blonde hair trying to stop the zombies by putting the medallion given to her by her missionary parents--in the center of a bunch of candles? 

Lastly, don't confuse Zombi 4: After Death with Hell of the Living Dead, AKA Virus AKA Zombie 4, though that movie is pretty good in its own right (see link below). Zombi 4: After Death--with its misty, chilling jungle atmosphere, steady propulsion, good dubbing and the typically dynamite 80s synth score by Goblin (lifted from earlier movies, but so what?)--is the one to see when you want to keep the vibe going after watching one of the established zombie classics but have just run through all the others in a zombie binge. Scripted by Rosella Drudi (Fragasso's wife and writer of the inoperable Troll 2), it's got some sensitivity in its female characters' dialogue and--as usual for Druidi's scripts--it's laden with deadpan absurdity that may or may not be intentional. May we never find out! (Tubi)

Friday, October 28, 2022

Calling All Macabre Bakers: Netflix's Callously Canceled CURIOUS CREATIONS OF CHRISTINE MCCONNELL

 
Netflix only gave us one short season of this very curious mix of deranged muppets, how-to naking, macabre decor, and the elegant McConnell, showing us step-by-step how to make perfectly realistic tarantulas out of cookies. Fans of her Youtube (?) channel and those like mem who just tumbled onto it during a 4 AM search for some chill baking show to fall asleep to, were amazed, enthralled, confused. But not enough people came, so it got canceled after six episodes. 

It's understandable - Curious Creations of Christine McConnell doesn't fit any easy category. There is no row for what it is, neither this nor that, a macabre kids show aimed at the Addams children. It would have perfect home on local TV, at 5 AM on Friday night/Saturday mornings in the 70s,  before the golden hour between late-late show broadcasts of class horror movies and early morning cartoons. The only way I can describe it might be, if Tim Burton produced a puppet show from hell, starring a steady-handed, elegantly dressed, staggeringly talented fusion of Morticia Addams, Martha Stewart, and Bob Ross if he hung out with muppets. Christine has a mummified cat full of Waldo Lydecker-ish put-downs, a stray raccoon she rescue - wearing a pink bow (a real bane of the cat's existence) a big wolfman kind of a thing and monster in the basement who actually does eat one of the more obnoxious guests, and even a human male love interest who might be a serial killer. And he's not annoying! Clearly this isn't for kids, unless they're cool with monsters and easy-bake ovens. 


That's why it was canceled perhaps - just too brazenly itself. People might go on the baking row or horror row or wherever and look for something random and see that thumbnail image with its fancy font (at right), and it might frighten the gentle folk in search of family values fun, yet makes its ideal audience (the weird ones) dismiss it as ye another PG-rated show of the "Sabrina/Hermione sleuth and her quirky friends at a Disney-style haunted school" variety, its hackneyed score coked with Elfman whimsy, its cast bursting with hot young guys and old character actors with mysterious pasts). BUT in this one the Sabrina/Hermione bake cakes between adventures, or maybe runs a small bakery--OMG, 2 Broke Girls (-1) crossed with Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In short, it practically begs you to scroll past. 

Christine is nothing like any of that, so how to advertise it escapes Netflix's PR people. The executives should have had patience enough to let its weirdness slowly accrue a cult. Rather than let it accrue it was cut off after one season. Ironically all those aforementioned teenage witch shows are about staying true to yourself, even if you don't fit the available molds.

Truth be told, it's a weird show. I almost gave up on it myself. I watched two episodes still in a WTF kind of mood. Was this too twee and faux-quirky? Maybe, but when the serial killer guy arrived, and the monster in the basement, I kind of came around.  

What's unique is the the vibe is in total rapport with the super mellow Christine, whose steady surgeon hands making this big elaborate cakes and cookies in the shapes of tarantulas, skeleton fingers, huge haunted mansion cakes, and are a sight to see. I also like her kind of sand mandala Zen approach to it all. These baked creations take hours but usually within minutes after finishing it, she just digs in and passes pieces around -- all without a second thought. For a girl who has amazing. clothes, furniture, and stuff (she has a popular Youtube how-to channel showing off her elaborate place settings and gorgeous Victorian mansion) she is remarkably free of the kind of materialist furor that can possess artists afraid to let go of their work. 

Sometimes it can be tough to read if her type are just doing the macabre thing as a way to stand out and hook a certain demographic, i.e. Elvira or Lana Del Rey, or are legit oddballs, like Dame D'arcy or Melora Cregar. The cartoon-Victorian art direction or period gowns can seem marketed by male producers to draw in lonesome horror fans, or it can seem like a legit artist with strange tastes honed it just right to her weird liking. The Curious Creations of Chritine McConnell (the whimsy of the name is also a red flag) seems the latter.

So don't let the Burton-esque decor fool you into thinking she's all goth-posturing, this McConnell's weird Martha Stewart meets Morticia Addams vibe can throw you off at first, until you realize it's not going to go to all the hack places you expect it to. There is no single predecessor, no other such animal. It's like those orange frosted cookies with jack-o-lantern faces put out by the local baker on Halloween enhanced and perfected to the point of art, to the point they are indistinguishable from real pumpkins. There is no need for Halloween to justify this - the occult is every day. Thus a weird Scarfolk air of genuine weird  hangs over the familiar elements, and it can feel dangerous, even threatening.

Too many original shows have died this way, but petitions by a slowly growing cult fan base brought 'em back. Maybe if you sign the one for Christine,, on change.org, you'll wreak a magic miracle. Me, I would love to get invited over for more baked tarantulas and severed human fingers, but I'm the demo. I watch the Great British Baking Show, to fall asleep or de-stress and I was in love with Morticia Addams as a kid, aspired to be Gomez, watched Dr. Shock (a Philadelphia TV horror movie host, ala Ghoulardi) every weekend. I hated The Muensters as as much as I loved The Addams Family. I always dreamed Wednesday and Pugsley would kill that little Eddie Muenster, and maybe Danny Partridge while they were at it, And also I grew up watching Sesame Street like every other 70s kid. In short I get the vibe of Christine McConnell. 


Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hauntology for Red October: SPOTIFY PLAYLIST for Walking through the Windy Parks at Twilight

Hey man, Halloween is a week away so I wanted to share my weird mixes.  Acidemic is so much more than just weird and accidentally or intentionally artsy/psychedelic movies.

Check out these groovy and mystical analog synth-pumping hauntological and wondrous scores and sounds, perfect if you want that chill October vibe and grew up on 60s-80s TV horror films, classroom filmstrips, and the weird vibe of a post-trick-or-treating movie double feature rental. If you like them, press like so I can crack two digits! 

 

Next up - Old radio shows. These stand the test of time and are great for Halloween chills if you still have a functioning mind's eye and need something to listen to while you sit in the dark staring at your lit up jack-o-lantern or flickering fire. 


 
  And then some Demonic Soundtracks and Scores for Non-Existent 70s-80s horror films

And don't forget my Youtube List if you want to tune in deep to the late-night weird, guarnteed to get you in the crispy mood.


 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

HALLOWEEN (1978) - A 10-Step Deconstruction of Carpenter's Secret Recipe


(updated from orig. 2012 version) Every time I've seen HALLOWEEN it's been in a different visual format. I was only 12 when it hit theaters and transformed my grade school cafeteria into a never-ending whisper orchestra of giddy ever-mounting dread. That tagline ("the night he came home") and that image of the butcher knife pumpkin were slowly sandpapering our coccyx down to a sense of bottom chakra vertigo. We too terrified by the credits and of course that theme song, even the font, to watch the actual movie when came on late-70s/early-80s network TV. But we kept hustling through the living room while our parent's watched it, catching just enough of a glimpse to overload our dread before retreating to the empowering solace of DC war comics. It was, of course, pan and scanned, and edited, and different material inserted to pad the time and change the meaning of the whole film. And even then, I could never stay in the same room with it for more than the space between two commercial breaks. 

It wasn't until college that I saw the whole thing through to the end, the original version on VHS, panned and scanned, and me immune to slasher fear through the even stronger empowerment of whiskey. Once afraid only of murderers I was growing up to be afraid only of cops. 

First, we must note Carpenter has never made a film remotely like it since. There's no other non-supernatural horror movie in his catalogue. And despite Dr. Loomis's rantings about Michael being the boogeyman, death itself, darkness" etc., in this first and best-by-far film, he is still just a maniac. There are no 'slasher film rules' yet, the virgin can't be certain she'll even be the final girl or what that even means. These future archetypes are all being created with this film. Carpenter is writing directly on the primordial subconscious. The only imitator to really pay attention to the actual style and substance of Carpenter's film is Sean S. Cunningham in the original Friday the 13th. Everyone else kept the subject 'killer stalking teenagers' but missed the trees for the forest - not examining the variations on cinematic language that made the original HALLOWEEN so scary. 

Carpenter is a stubborn iconoclast who does his own thing so never chased the cheap bucks of the slasher film he and wife/producer Deborah Hill invented. Thus, HALLOWEEN stands alone as a modern film classic that might be sidestepped by some film deconstructionist/analyst writers due to its unseemly progeny and Rob Zombie remakes. But here, at last, I'm old enough, and have gone so very long without ever being stalked by a killer that I can watch this movie and have only pleasant goosebump fear and not the queasy proto-feminist anxiety and Satanic Panic headline dread of auld. And I've noticed some ingenious aspects of Carpenter's framing and story I wish to share. Attention all future horror filmmakers! Don't just have a killer with a knife and wonder why your film sucks and Carpenter made it look so easy. Pay attention to blocking, lighting, and above all, realness and in-the-moment termite art observance.

1.  Tick-Tockality: (AKA tick-tock momentum) 

a. Cross-cut Time Melt: Carpenter subverts cross-cutting in order to slow down 'real-time,' doubling or even tripling the length of scary suspenseful moments so they seem to melt and suspense becomes almost unnaturally intense. Tick-tockality (I coined the phrase in cinema criticism before the advent of the app, so I get to keep it) means a small narrative/diegetic time drawn out via cross-cuts that don't imply simultaneous movement. In this way the climax of the film takes up like 20 minutes but it's really all occurring over 5-10 minute period of actual narrative/diegetic time. So if you're watching Michael come slowly after Laurie as she pounds on the front door trying, to wake up the kids to let her in, the scene seems to go on forever. How can anyone walk that slowly? When we cut between them, we pick up where we left off. If Michael was walking past the neighbor's mailbox right before we cut to Laurie pounding on the door, screaming for Bobby to let her in, when we cut back to Michael he's still right next to the mailbox. The other 'side' freezes when not seen. It's an effect we're not used to as viewers, except in our nightmares wherein scary moments seem to stretch out and melt time. It's very effective, and rarely used. Mostly cross-cuts are used to avoid jump-cuts, allowing for easy trimming of undesirable moments in a shot. 

b. Concentrated Time Frame - single night: magic hour-to-darkness. There's a palpable fear of the oncoming night suffusing the first 1/3 of Halloween, from walking to school to driving towards babysitting jobs, smoking weed in the car and talking about Mitch Cramer. There's a long scene of Laurie and Annie driving, shot from the backseat, as if we're one of the babysitters or children, watching the sun go down through the front windshield. It being autumn, the darkness falls fast, so we go from late afternoon to early night in a shocking but beguiling jump cut. Any kid squriming with delight waiting for the night to fall so we could go trick-or-treating, or the drive-in movie, or fireworks, to begin, now finds that goosey delightful feeling coupled to insurmountable, roller-coaster climb dread. 

c.  In-the-moment observed (the mundane-rendered uncanny) detail - The sequels to Halloween go the wrong way, making Michael an unstoppable killer, turning all the victims into the audience, imagining progressively more destructive deaths for the killer, trying to ensure he'll never come back, the cast of victims grows obsessively large, the death scenes, black comic relief characters and other cliches abound, and their gore takes over from suspense. The bigger they get the less scary they are. The sense of the unstoppable killer begins with Michael, but never ends across the spectrum. No one keeps bleeding when their stabbed or sliced. Everyone's blood has great clotting ability., not just Michael's.  Instead of, say, drawing out the scene of say, finding yourself locked inside the back yard-separated laundry room in your underwear while trying to wash the spaghetti sauce off your pants, or being on the phone and hearing the dog die outside, thinking only of it's 'getting lucky' - the banality of the conversations rendered uncanny via the external threat, of drawing out every moment of entering a house, yelling the names of your presumed friends inside, wondering with mounting dread why all the lights are off, finally coming in a side door, walking through the rooms, finally walking slowly up the stairs, the tension ramping with every step, we rush heedlessly to sudden death. Take the sequel for example, with the focus on naughty nurses and their asshole EMT lovers in the hospital jacuzzi in the hydrotherapy room, then suddenly bam - a syringe crammed into the dude's neck. No slow drawn-out deaths, no suspense, nothing but creative deaths, i.e. what people remember from the movie rather than the slow functioning engine that gave the deaths palpable fright.  

The combined effect of a, b, and c, is a sense of inescapable existential dread of what's coming and/or unseen, imbuing even innocuous details with uncanny unease. 

Part of the success of this strategy may stem from our familiarity with historical epics, like Gone with the Wind, for example, wherein whole decades fly by between busy but static real-time tableaux of eventful key moments in both the life of the heroine and the South as a whole: In the narrative structure: coming-out parties wherein the news of war first breaks out, and Scarlett and Rhett first dance. We become familiarized to the idea that we wouldn't see something, some closely observed detail, if it wasn't foreshadowing and advancing to the story. With this 'training' of our ability to 'read' a film, slower movement within a single 'ordinary' scene --where nothing special seems to be happening (such as Rhett's daughter's riding her pony around on the track while her parents watch)-- fill us with mounting dread. 

In this way, 'tick-tock momentum' subverts our familiarity with this epic tack. Just keep showing foreshadowing details, each slow step building the suspense with a progression of possible foreshadowing so that even innocuous minor details, keys, pumpkins, beers, TV, become imbued with uncanniness and anxiety about the coming of the night. You can do this forever, dragging the night forward until we begin to relax our mood; but when we keep feeling the lurking menace, this focus on mundane detail helps us appreciate what may be our last moments. We suddenly cling to our moms and dads, aware of all the dangers they've saved us from; thanks to them, we considered ourselves immortal; thanks to Carpenter, we realize this is not so.




2. Bleeding Darkness - The edges of Carpenter's wide screen are always either black or tending towards darkness or some offscreen vanishing point, bleeding through and erasing the difference between the screen and the dark of the theater, or the room where you're watching the film (which for Halloween should definitely be in the dark). The darkness of the screen makes for many places to hide, and the innocent kids seem always about to be swallowed up. The early scene of the nurse and Dr. Loomis and the nurse driving to the asylum is so dark it seems like any minute they'll crash into a wall or be swallowed up by the black. Eventually you can begin to think the screen extends all around you, and the immersion into a state of delirious paranoia springs to life; on the old fashioned pan and scan TV the slasher was effectively boxed in, trapped. But on the true masterly Panavision rectangle, there are no edges to stop him from flowing out like a nightmare baby with the bathwater darkness.


3. Forbidden Sound- The viewer's relation to the image onscreen when watching any movie is generally associative dream-like narrative immersion. Unless there's a distraction in the theater, or we suddenly have to go to the bathroom, chances are we're completely absorbed. This absorption is something Carpenter deliberately disrupts by leaving us way behind or far from the action. The muffled voices of the people talking far away from our POV killer perspective is very unusual in any other film: we can hear them just enough to understand what they're saying, but not be sure we're meant to. If you've ever heard Blue Note jazz records on a really good pair of headphones you know you can sometimes hear people whispering or talking very low in the studio - whispers - maybe the producers talking over lunch orders - you can't tell if you're hallucinating or not. It's the same way with Halloween. The break with golden rule sound mixing throws us off balance. Are we supposed to hear their words amongst the breathing and ambience? Maybe, probably, but the result is a feeling of privileged, eavesdrop information unusual in cinema, especially horror cinema which exploits the voyeur impulse but not the eavesdrop impulse. 



4) Vanishing Point-of-View (VPOV)
 Carpenter gives master-worthy class on how to generate maximum dread from just a series of long shots down tree-lined suburban streets. Carpenter popularized the killer POV at least in the suburban setting, but did more than just that - he made every shot seem threatening. Note the use of big dark trees in the post-opener daytime tracking shots around the neighborhood.. At the right of the image above we see the road disappearing into the distance, to the left and middle is a big dark spot of bushes. The shadows are rich and deep (at least on my Anchor Bay DVD) on both sides, with the car and house fronts in the center like a lonely outpost flanked by Edward Hopper-style darkness. The darkness almost seems to be sucking the light parts towards it like a black hole, thus we get the feeling of movement without really moving (unless we're watching this in a car). 



5. Reverse Angle Denial: As Sheldon Hall notes in his essay "Carpenter Widescreen Style," we never see Michael see.
"(W)e are often positioned along or beside Michael but we are denied the reverse angle cut which would show us his reaction if he were not wearing his mask: the necessary pre-condition for empathy as both Hitchcock and Carpenter have noted."
"We are however given just such a reaction shot when positioned with Laurie at the several points where she becomes aware of being followed. At these moments --such as when Laurie watches as the car Michael is driving passes her and Annie (Nancy Loomis) and comes to a momentary halt, or when she looks out from her bedroom window at Michael standing below--suspense derives in part from the fixed distance between Laurie/the camera/us and Michael: she is not close enough to identify him clearly, to recognize or dispel the threat, and the camera does not close the gap. A variation of the device is Carpenter's manipulation of the distance of the camera from Laurie and her friends. It does not always stay with them as they traverse the sidewalks of Haddonfield, but will sometimes hold a fixed position as they walk into the shot's depth. In refusing to be prompted into movement, to be motivated by the action happening before it (as is customary in classical cinema), the camera's objective autonomy suggest Michael's subjectivity even in his absence, and again increases our anxiety for Laurie. (2)
. 6. Hawksian Seige Dynamics

Carpenter is a huge Hawks fan, and Hawks' films are all about the dynamics of group action, with the camera situated to represent one of the people in the group as people argue and layer their dialogue, so that no matter how grim the action we feel involved and comforted by a sense of belonging to the group. This overlapping dialogue draws us in. It comes too fast for us to think, just like real life, we can only follow the thread. We never see what they don't see. We're with them all the way. We feel connected and competent and brave in their presence. Even the "Winchester Pictures" logo in the beginning of The Thing, with the crossed rifles denotes a kind of rock solid safety - strength and solidarity in firepower, frontier-style. 

But soon enough that image burns away as "The Thing (from Another World)" begins. It's surely no accident that even when I was too scared to watch HALLOWEEN I had already seen the THE THING around 100 times, it was like a security blanket, it always 'worked' its magic, but in HALLOWEEN the film is metatextually swallowed by the darkness, as if a screen barrier suddenly slammed down between me and this beloved 1951 classic. Cutting back and forth to the kids watching, the overlapping dialogue momentum in the background, between babysitter phone calls, becomes trapped in the slower-than-time amber dream drip of Haddonfield, IL. It's a reminder of normal life's warmth, exiled,  reaching towards us through a fence. 

In Halloween that warm Hawksian feeling exists, but it's only a by-product of ignorance; the babysitters are too wrapped up in their boyfriend issues to even notice the ample warnings. Hawksian framing (middle range, waist-up) occurs but Carpenter inverts the sense of security, as in the shot below where Nancy and Laurie flank the kids watching TV inside the room. Though we would hope they'd be aware of the onrushing menace, protecting the kids and able to handle danger, the dialogue is all focused on Annie teasing Laurie about Ben Tramer, continually interrupted by ringing phones, requests from the kids, and noise from the TV; instead of overlapping dialogue ala Hawks it's overlapping cacophony. It could almost be like a Hawksian comedy--Bringing up Baby or Monkey Business- certainly in her way Nancy fashions herself a vivacious wild child like Ginger Rogers or Katherine Hepburn, except that there is a devouring 'shape' coming to eat them, a devouring giant leopard of a figure (to use the iconography of BABY -- see more on that here).

The fundamental difference between Hawk's comedies and dramas lies in a similar lack of perspective: comedies occur when the the hero thinks he's in danger (but he's not); in the dramas the hero knows he's in danger so he can pretend he's in a comedy. In Halloween the heroine thinks she's in a drama, which should mean she's actually in a comedy, however it's we who know she's in danger, not her. It's like the end of the climax at the jail in Bringing up Baby, wherein Susan brings in the killer leopard thinking she has the tame one, if that two minutes was stretched to a full hour. 




7. Emptiness: 
What makes the film terrifying is the emptiness - the lack of reliable adults. There's a single cop (Charles Cyphers), a shaky Ahab of a criminal psychologist (Donald Pleasance, in a career-defining role), a nurse in the rainy darkness of a car, the rainy darkness of the front lawn of the asylum; then just the encroaching darkness of the suburbs. Except for one or two shots in Laurie's English class, we seldom see more than one or two people in any given shot. Always the emptiness remains. Imagine being part of the team in THE THING and taking a nap in the coffee room and waking up and everyone is gone!

Note the deep ornate shadows falling all over the street as the sun sets in the shot below. You can barely make out the three figures walking down the sidewalk at right. This is hardly a conventional shot. It's something Martin Scorsese might do, and maybe Robert Altman, but Altman would keep their dialogue at a higher level. They'd be far away but sound up close. It's no wonder both Altman and Scorsese love rich sound mixes and overlapping dialogue.


8. The Eternally 'On' Television

Movies that try to depict a threatened middle class existence tend to omit one key element, probably because a) licensing issues and b) the difficulty of avoiding 'streaks' from the diegetic recording of a recording. People live and work in place where the TV just isn't. But if you look at the truly scary films of threatened middle class teenagers, you see a through line from Halloween (where they watch a double feature Forbidden Planet and the Thing, the bulk of the movie seeing to occur over the length of both those films) to Scream (watching Halloween) to The Ring (cursed video) to It Follows (watching Killers from Space and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet) and so forth. Having a TV on in the background hits really close to home. Do producers not know that? Are Hollywood filmmakers not aware of what the rest of the world does all night? Either way, this is a godsend to smart filmmakers as the presence of a TV, obliquely commenting on the action like a Greek chorus, is an element that hasn't been done to death. So use it, future horror filmmakers! 



8) The Teenage Hormonal Spike
I know of a lot of people who resent having to grow up and face the wearying demands and pressures of adulthood. All actions have consequences, and for someone as emotionally arrested as Michael the consequences add up only to bodies for disposal and use in creepy tableaux. He seems to have a point, as sexual excitement over boys so overwhelms these three friends that it shuts out all the warning signs coming their way. Watching them from the illusory security of our living rooms, we all have a tendency to try and get ourselves off the squirming hook by thinking 'ah they get what they deserve for not locking the door or closing their car door or letting the dog come in, the way narrow-minded parents will look for some reason their kids are lying when they say they've been abused by an uncle or a priest. It's a vain attempt to avoid the crushing sense of powerless anger. Annie especially is guilty of ignoring danger signs -- first by the barking dog--which in her self-absorption she thinks is growling at her even though it's clearly growling at something else. She sees it only as an inconvenience as--what else?--she's on the phone. Later she hears a potted plant crash on the porch, and the yelp of the dog being strangled; all she can presume is the dog is getting laid. She's blind to anything and everything unless it's related to sex and boys. 

Whether we remember it or not we've all been babysat and we've all had to deal with the sudden arrivals of horny boyfriends, anxious to take advantage of a temporarily parent-free space. Maybe we've also, once in high school ourselves, taken advantage the same way. As kids our budding crushes on this older but not yet adult girl are dashed by this coarse brute's arrival. Is this not also a fine metaphor for our own sense of powerlessness? We can't stop the boyfriend and we can't stop getting old and having to one day get a job. And we can't stop the night from falling. Michael terrifies us because he represents an alternative too dark to consider consciously. We can just disappear down the rabbit hole into an eternal 'Other.' 


8.b - Tele-Cocooning - Even Laurie is guilty of this, while on the phone with Annie she ignores Tommy's excited ranting after seeing the Boogeyman across the street because she's appalled after learning Annie told some Ben Tramer that Laurie liked ho, Look at the way Jamie Lee twists the phone cord and twirls her hair in overwhelming anxiety at Annie's matchmaking gambit. This fear causes her to miss the sight of the boogey man across the street and dismiss Tommy's anxiety the way her friends have dismissed hers earlier when she spied Michael peering behind bushes. Much has been written since the dawn of cell phones about this bubble of security and separation a phone call brings, leading us into traffic or down deserted muggy streets, etc. This effect is as pervasive as TV in real life but again, most slashers and horror movies fail to pick up on it. 


8c.) Focus up! - Imagine if Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) was so wrapped up in the issues with Nikki (Margaret Sheridan, above) that he ignored the danger in The Thing? If he just told everyone they were hallucinating after the ice melts and not to bother him as he and Nikki canoodled upstairs? Maybe that's maybe why Carpenter's remake is all men. It's not the women's fault, men just aren't as strong multi-taskers as Hendry anymore, at least not in the movies. Women confuse them. They can't navigate a woman and a monster at the same time. One will always get away.


9) Music
The music of Carpenter is so essential to the film's success you would think his imitators would try for something similar, hiring Carpenter to score their works, for example, or reaching out across the sea to Goblin, or Ennio Morricone. Instead, they lean back on the same-old / same-old orchestral cliches we've heard so much of we either roll our eyes or never even notice it. Even Manfredini's Friday the 13th score only has the "keee-kee-kee ya-ya" cue to differentiate it from the usual Hermann-string aping banality of a thousand other films just like it. (The real scary music in that film is the sound of rain beating down on canvas). The only American-made post-Halloween (early-80s) movies made in the US (other than those made by Italians) I can think of offhand to use eerie synths and odd time signatures are Phantasm and The Bogey Man. Let me know if I've forgotten any others. Today they are much more common, as in It Follows.

10)  Escape
I knew quickly that when left alone at home during my circa 80-81 slasher squirrelly phase how to fight the monsters. Turn the lights on, check the doors and windows, and then turn the TV on loud so you don't hear the scratching of the branches against the shingles outside. I'd always turn on something nonthreatening but playfully spooky from the desert island video collection - FORBIDDEN PLANET? THE THING? If you've read this far I'm pretty sure you know I own both on DVD, and had them on tape before them, and I know they can protect you from fear like only a competent group of quick-thinking, heavily armed officers on your side can, the guys in THE THING will even make sure you get a cup of coffee no matter how busy they are. If you're on Altair IV, maybe the captain will let you sneak out and hit Robby up for some genuine Rocket bourbon.  

Of course when both films are on the TVs in HALLOWEEN that sense of security is just a fleeting memory -- faded color, washed out images-- the kids only marginally paying attention, as right behind them, gathering in the darkness of our gaze --they're about to be devoured. And now the killer is leaking out of the screen and into the surrounding darkness of the theater or your living room. All you can do now is make sure your back is against a sturdy wall, far from any window where a hand can crash through and grab you by the throat. Stay alert, with porch light on and guard dog, knife and baseball bat by your side, and keep watching... keep watching THE THING.


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