Monday, May 9, 2011

Sanity is Just a State of Mind (House, 1986)

When I was in high school, a buddy of mine and I actually watched this movie way too many times. Not only is it really weird, but the film has odd flashbacks that keep popping up throughout and are not fully explained until later on in the movie. All I know is that a Vietnam vet who writes freaky novels decides to move into his aunt's house after she decides to hang herself. How nice of him to take over the place despite the fact that it drove his last remaining relative utterly insane. This is usually how horror movies, especially ones about haunted/possessed houses, often start, so I let that aspect slide.

However, the movie itself doesn't sustain enough tension, and even though there are really creepy moments, they are often negatively impacted by the movie's way too campy/cheesy tone. This hurts the movie, along with the fact that some aspects are obviously borrowed from other movies. Funny enough though when the main character, Roger, is attacked by inanimate objects, that bit reminds me of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, even though that movie came out a year later.

The difference between the two is that Evil Dead II actually succeeds in giving off a creepy/hilarious vibe with such a technique, where as in House its too random and isn't anything other than eye rolling. I guess its all how you film certain material, and if the director is smart enough to properly set up his more outlandish and frightening scenes.

Oh there are some really hilarious moments, such as when Roger kills and cuts up a monster, and then the soundtrack decides to play oldies tracks that only make the scenes more disturbing, which I suppose means that bit works. George Wendt from Cheers at some point helps out Roger by making sure he doesn't go to jail, and only exists for clear comedic relief. So the movie veers from comedy to horror, not smart enough to do either incredibly well, although at times it does succeed at being creepy.

My favorite scene has to be some demonic winged monster grabbing Roger's shotgun, turning it on him, and shooting the rope holding him up, causing him to fall into a pit below. Such a moment is too random to mean anything, but it made me laugh a lot, which perhaps was really its intended goal. Or the director actually thought something like that would scare audiences.

Unlike some of the rather stupid 80s slasher movies, though, this film does have a certain degree of campy charm that stamps its status as a B-movie cult film. What's really disappointing is that the movie should have stuck with Roger just going completely insane. In the hands of a better director, the film would have been something like Legend of Hell House, or The Haunting, far better films that are not only creepy, but are really more effective. Too bad, because I wish I could actively champion this movie as being an gem from my birth year, instead of merely enjoying it for being a limited, weak, but entertaining little movie. 68

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cannibalistic Underground British Tunnel Dwellers

Considering that both are considered cult classics, its really no surprise that a couple weeks back TCM showed Strange Behavior and Raw Meat back to back. Thanks to Rowland I heard of both, and I think both get the same rating. Now Raw Meat has some rather obvious allegorical references, and the movie could have gone a bit further with some of its political/social commentary. At the same time, that would detract from the fact that its a fairly solid, creepy film that smartly utilizes violence and gore that results in the audience getting moments that are rather shocking, and thus have an effect on the viewer.

Elements of the main cannibal's behavior almost reminded me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and thus I wonder if Tobe Hooper wasn't a bit influenced by this movie. Only one jump scare is even used, which is a good thing, especially since that moment actually freaked me out quite a bit. I loved how many scenes were not underscored by music, as the tunnels are rather creepy. The drip drip sounds and the echoing footsteps would be enough to drive anyone down there crazy, and I'm glad there isn't anything to ruin such moments.

Having also recently seen Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, with its keystone cops, I have to wonder if it was in fact 70s horror that established the eventual cliche of "The police are powerless to deal or handle some incredible evil they've never seen before." Donald Pleasance, who sadly later became type casted, gives his character a funny and grumpy persona that has a rather oddly calm manner, considering that he's dealing with a murderous underground dweller running amok. I'm not even sure why Christopher Lee is in this movie, as he only has one scene and doesn't even do much. Perhaps he was on contract for the studio, which was common in those days with many famous horror movie actors.

Despite some of its notable faults (I think the film could have been a bit scarier, and they could have pushed the envelope more), this is one is a hidden gem. I'm glad that Netflix had it on Instant Viewing, as the transfer looked good (although on full screen it was a bit blurry), and this movie is another reason to love 70s horror. Its a unique gem, original and worthy of note, and another reason why 70s horror is the best: the 80s would have turned this into a dumb slasher movie, and the 60s wouldn't have gone far enough. 82