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A Fight for Horror Supremacy: Week 2

It is the second week of the contest, and this is traditionally when we first start feeling a little horror burnout. This year was no exception, but I managed to trudge through it and watch 13 films, and some were even good.

The week started on a high note with Lucio Fulci’s City of The Living Dead. It’s a hilariously campy gore fest, with a few good scares mixed in. The next film was a bit of a disappointment. I had never heard much fanfare for George Romero’s The Crazies but I had always assumed it was at the very least entertaining. However, it is a very dull, lifeless Vietnam metaphor. Luckily my spirits were lifted when I rewatched one of my all time favorite Horror comedies The Burbs. And yes, it is still a fun, absurd look at American suburbia.

I guess you can say Dario Argento has been the ‘featured film maker’ in our contest this year. I think collectively we’ve watched more films by him than any other director. Opera was the film of his I watched this week. Visually it is fantastic, and the sound is incredible. It has a very loose plot, but it isn’t particularly important, instead, Argento focuses on building individual moments of terror rather than tell a story.

I found a film that replaces Girly as my favorite of the year so far. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Herzog pays great homage to the original silent film, while stitching an incredible tapestry of mood, humor and visuals, not to mention the score is among the best I’ve heard of late.

This was the point where I began to feel the grind of the contest, and it started with 1969’s Venus in Furs. Though it has some sexy, well filmed scenes, it suffers from a terrible script, and uncharismatic leading man. Next was Mario Bava’s final theatrical release Shock. Some may enjoy this film, but I didn’t. I found it slow, and completely unremarkable.

I was given a bit of a surprise on a rewatch of a film I wasn’t fond of from last year. I overlooked it last year, but Michele Soavi’s The Church is visually incredible, and touches on some interesting ideas. However, it gets a little silly and messy in the final third.

I heard a lot of great things about Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, however I was somewhat disappointed with the film. It just didn’t seem to click with me as an individual. Perhaps I will put it on the list for rewatch next year. That same night, I watched a film that deals with similar themes in Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of The Wolf. Much of the film is unremarkable, but the final 20 minutes are surreal and horrifying.

I found what you might consider a hidden gem in Vampyres, a sexy, bloody film, with some problems with its script, but a provocative watch nonetheless. That was followed up with the abysmal Graveyard Shift. There is nothing worth mentioning in this film.

Lastly we have a film starring one of my favorites, Barbara Steele, in The Faceless Monster. It’s a slow burn of a film dealing with the obsession of flesh, and as usual Steele is the center of attention and lifts the film to heights it wouldn’t have reached without her.

–          James

Roy Ward Baker died this week, and I coincidentally watched Asylum. It is ridiculous, and seems to strive too hard to be unique but is ultimately a worthwhile experience. The Charlotte Rampling vignette especially is strangely poignant, mostly due to the strength of her performance. I am not altogether familiar with Baker’s work, though he directed some of the best episodes of the Avengers, as well as Marilyn Monroe’s best performance in the criminally underseen Don’t Bother to Knock. He will be missed and is worth investigating further.

Phantasm is really really strange, but I like it. I think it’s laughs are a bit more worthwhile than it’s scares, but it’s nonetheless remarkable. Equally interesting, Re-Animator doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation, but is one of the most delightfully dark horror comedies out there. The “romance” between the doctor and the Dean’s daughter was awesome.

Doing a show on Wes Craven, so I feel as though I can go through all the films I’ve seen in a neat little paragraph. I think The Serpent and the Rainbow may be his worst, a lot of good ideas completely ruined by an overloaded and silly script. Swamp Thing is equally ridiculous, but endless fun. My Soul to Take is surprisingly good, mostly due to an interesting cast and fun social dynamics. The People Under the Stairs rivals Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street as Wes Craven’s best.

Caught some European horror: neither particularly good. The Living Dead Girl is poetically melancholic, but too cold and the acting too bad to overlook. It Does make me somewhat eager to explore more Rollin, but my anticipations are somewhat guarded. I saw some Argento as well, this time Inferno, a supposed sequel to Suspiria. Though it contains some of his most visually engaging images, the storyline is also among his very worst. Especially as we move further away from his female protagonists (who are not THAT good to begin with) the film loses its spark. Still, those underwater scenes near the beginning are awe-inspiring.

My relationship with Hammer films remains tepid, though Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is probably my favourite to emerge from the iconic horror production house. This is due in part to the eclectic cast, but largely due to the strange visual flourishes added by cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis. The scenes with Dracula are remarkable for their strange use of coloured lights and filters.

Hellraiser was among the most notable horrors I’ve somehow managed to avoid up until this point, and I am kicking myself for not seeing it. Though it didn’t have quite the effect I was hoping, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, and am eager to watch it again. One of the most disgusting and sexually charged horrors I’ve seen, the writing turns a beauty and the beast narrative into something truly spectacular. The film also has some incredible practical effects:  not only visually impressive, but integrated fantastically as to match the grotesque and gothic tone of the film. There really is no film quite like Hellraiser.

Worst film of the week easily goes to the recent found footage film, The Fourth Kind. By far the fakest fake film I’ve seen to date, using “real” footage only serves to distance the audience, leaving all the scares flat. The film should have either stuck with recreating the events in a traditional narrative, or else completely embracing the “real” footage angle. Integrating fails, though the filmmaking for both segments is also so cheap and silly that it isn’t a change that would have been enough to save this lackluster effort. This is also coming from someone with an irrational fear of alien abductions.

Finally, I also watched Surviving Crooked Lake, which isn’t really a horror. There is a rule in our contest though, that states watching a film that you were lead to believe was horror is allowed even if it doesn’t end up fitting the criteria. Hopefully this is the only such instance we will encounter this year.

–          Justine

Tally at the end of Week 2

James 24

Justine 23