Archive for the ‘Bloody Movies’ Category

Noroi: The Curse (2005)

Thanks to Shudder, I’ve had the opportunity to watch some really excellent horror films that I’d probably never have even heard of, and many that I’d have never had the stomach to rent. And while I admit that my J-horror education has been sorely lacking, at least I have experienced the power of both Ju-on and Ringu, as well as their American counterparts. But Noroi: The Curse is an animal all its own, and in some ways a better film than either Ju-on or Ringu – a sharply made, very frightening found footage feature.

The Curse opens with several titles explaining that the film was put together from footage shot by documentary filmmaker Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki), who vanished after his home burned to the ground with his wife Keiko inside.  Kobayashi investigated paranormal activity around Japan, this time focusing on the story of Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga) and her son, whom Kobayashi meets after a neighbor claims to hear strange noises coming from their house. The film builds slowly as Kobayashi investigates Ishii, who suddenly vanishes, and intercuts this footage with the experience of actress Marika Matsumoto (playing herself), who comes into contact with a malevolent spirit while appearing on a “ghost hunters” TV show. Meanwhile, a young girl named Kana Yano (Rio Kanno) appears on a psychic program and then disappears after being visited by a man in a tinfoil hat, whom Kobayashi eventually tracks down. As the narratives intersect in Kobayashi’s film, the horrible story of the curse begins to come to light.

Noroi: The Curse is a slow-burner of a horror film, far less dependent on visual scares than similar J-horror films. The effect is more psychological, allowing glimpses out of the corner of the eye, shadows across walls, and weird occurrences in the middle of the night. It plays like a documentary, a very precisely constructed narrative meant to elucidate the investigation of the paranormal, rather than a horror movie. As the narrative begins to take shape, with repetition of events and the slow reveal of what the curse even is, the film increases the tension. It blurs the line between documentary reality and fiction in casting an actress playing herself, and showcasing Japanese tabloid shows as part of the revelation of old evil. In that, it significantly predates films like Paranormal Activity, which rely on the same blurring of lines and slow-burn myth-making, rather than grotesque images, to strike fear into the heart.

The slow pacing of The Curse and the complex storyline that has to bring together several apparently disparate strands of narrative might turn off some horror viewers, who prefer their terror more straightforward. But I must admit that this is exactly the kind of horror movie that I love. The tension is there, but it builds slowly, the frames packed with meaning and little clues to the interconnectedness of the stories. Japanese horror films in general take a very different view of ghosts from many Western films, emphasizing the carrying over of demons and ghosts across generations and among people apparently unrelated. There’s a sense of inevitability, of a horror that cannot be put down or escaped but that must simply be accepted, because it’s going to get you eventually. What’s more, it will keep going, through the generations, a testament to the hubris of human beings.

The Curse surprised me in how thoughtful it was, and how dedicated to really creating the illusion of a documentary film put together after the death of its filmmaker. As the pieces of The Curse begin to fit together, the horror comes fully home, but it’s the build-up that’s really delightful, the slow and measured construction of real terror.

Noroi: The Curse is available to watch on Shudder. 

A Tricky Treat (2015) and Shortcut (2016)

Playing in Final Girls’s Dying of Laughter shorts program is the comic A Tricky Treat, from director Patricia Chica, about one family’s worrying Halloween tradition. Less predictable than one might expect, this film takes a twist that I recall coming up in the anthology film Trick R’ Treat and gives it another little turn, resulting in a horror short that’s essentially a visual joke. It does remind the viewer that horror and comedy are closely aligned, and that we both laugh and cringe in equal measure at some of the more horrific things we come up with. While not exactly groundbreaking, this is a fun little film.

Prano Bailey-Bond’s Shortcut strikes a similar comedic note, this time as a horrific pun. While his girlfriend sleeps, a man drives home, finally opting to turn off the GPS and take a short cut. While it’s not clear what the film is leading up to, when the joke finally comes, it’s both hilarious and, yes, a little cringe-worthy. There’s a slight edge of revenge beneath the final shots, which the camera has set up for us without entirely telegraphing its intent. The lad-ish lead does increasingly unpleasant things as his girlfriend naps, making one feel that he sort of deserves his comeuppance. Sort of.

Both shorts highlight the close relationship between horror and comedy, and even find humor in suffering (as long as we know it’s not real). A Tricky Treat subverts expectations, while Shortcut plays on a verbal and visual pun. Both films take recognizable tropes and bend them, just slightly, altering perspective just enough to make us question our eyes and the assumptions we make. Both are clever and actually quite straightforward, if you pay close enough attention, but it’s to the directors’ credits that you might not know what’s going on until it actually pays off.

A Tricky Treat and Shortcut are currently playing at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. 

The Betrayal (2015) and Earworm (2016)

The Betrayal and Earworm, included in the Phantasmagoria program of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival this year, are among the shortest and most effective horror shorts I’ve come across yet.

Susan Young’s The Betrayal comes in at only five minutes, telling a rapid-fire story of medical violence and control through quick, almost single frame flashes of court case files and doctor’s notes. A woman comes to her doctor after being assaulted by her husband, only to come under the doctor’s control as he prescribes a series of drugs that she becomes increasingly dependent on. The flashing images and eerie, overlapping voiceover ramps up a sense of dread while creating character with minimal interference. It’s a sharp and nasty story, told brilliantly.

Earworm, meanwhile, is a tight and humorous little thriller, also coming at just about five minutes, and directed by Tara Price. A man awakens suddenly in the middle of the night with music blaring in his ear. He becomes increasingly distressed as he’s unable to sleep when the music suddenly blasts on at random intervals. What happens next is both disgusting and, in the end, quite funny.

Both films push the viewer into close proximity with the lead characters, focalizing through their experiences to create horrific experiences of the strange and even the mundane. The Betrayal doesn’t even feature on-screen actors, relying instead on pure cinematic renderings of images and sounds that shove the viewer into the position of the beleagured, assaulted woman. Earworm is the more linear of the two, but the sudden blasts of music and the man’s anguished screams lends terror to the narrative, focalizing through the lead. This is what horror cinema is all about – torturing your audience.

Both The Betrayal and Earworm are showing at Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. 

Rites of Vengeance (2017)

Izzy Lee’s other film at the Final Girl Berlin Film Festival is Rites of Vengeancea sharp and sad short about three nuns who seek revenge on a priest after he commits a terrible sin.

As with Lee’s Innsmouth, this film focuses on the combination of monstrosity and the terrible beauty in female relationships, in this case with a far clearer moral universe. There’s no dialogue, just image and sound, resulting in a lyrical ballet that is shocking, satisfying, and just a little bit sad. The determination of the nuns (one of them is named “Sister Mercy”) to punish their priest’s sins is shocking at first, but the film adds a small twist at the end that cements the viewer’s sympathies. While the subject might be a bit pat nowadays, it’s nonetheless powerful.

As I’ve gone through these screeners from the Final Girls festival, I’ve grown increasingly convinced that female writers and directors are among the most interesting voices in horror, expanding an always unique genre’s viewpoint and developing new ways of telling stories (and new stories to tell). Horror has gone through many different permutations, but it has too often been male-dominated, with masculine perspectives and prerogatives prized while relegating women to the role either of monster or victim (or both). Here, women are the heroes, the victims, the manipulators, the psychos, the monsters, and the misunderstood villains. Simply putting a woman behind the camera alters the perspective, and certainly these directors all have something to say. Final girls no more – they’re the Final Women.

Rites of Vengeance (2017) is playing at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. 

Innsmouth (2015)

The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, celebrating women in horror, began yesterday, launching a program that includes some past and present horror shorts by female directors. Today, its Body Horror slate premieres, which includes the Lovecraft riff Innsmouth, from director Izzy Lee.

Innsmouth takes “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” one of H.P. Lovecraft’s more notorious stories, and boils it down to a murder mystery, as Detective Olmstead (Diana Porter) heads to the town of Innsmouth after discovering a woman’s body, murdered and apparently the host to fish eggs. The only clue is a photograph of the dead woman with the name “Innsmouth” written across the back. Not long after Olmstead’s arrival in the sleepy little community, she’s accosted and brought to see Alice Marsh (Tristan Risk), the daughter of Captain Marsh, the founder of Innsmouth.

The film breezily riffs on Lovecraft’s story-and happily avoids the story’s more problematic issues-and seeks to express a new horror all its own. It draws out some of the psycho-sexual undertones of much of Lovecraft while simultaneously manipulating those concepts, placing women and female characters central to the plot and allowing them full scope to possess, and subvert, their own monstrosity. The lead actors are excellent – especially the delightfully bizarre Tristan Risk as Alice Marsh, who fully taps into the gleeful malevolence and sexual threat of her villain.

Coming in at a scant ten minutes, it’s hard not to want the film to be longer and more developed, engaging more profoundly with the weird mythos it plays with and seeks to alter. Innsmouth feels almost unfinished, as though it wanted to do more with the creepy concepts, but didn’t have the time or space. Frankly, I enjoyed what I saw, but I really wanted more.

Innsmouth is showing June 10 at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival as part of their Body Horror shorts program. 

Goblin Baby (2015)

The terrors of motherhood are ripe for horror films, but female directors have only just recently taken possession of them. While films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Brood seek to cast the experience of pregnant women and mothers as sources of the abject and terrifying, it’s only recently that those experiences have been truly focalized through female characters, from a female perspective. We can add Shoshana Rosenbaum’s short Goblin Baby to the list of freaky motherhood movies that finally – FINALLY – take things from a female perspective.

Goblin Baby tells the story of Claire (Oriana Oppice), a new mother pushed to her limits when her husband Jamie (Joe Brack) leaves for a few days and their son Charlie will not stop crying. After leaving Charlie alone for a few minutes, she returns to find the baby curiously calm. She soon becomes convinced that Charlie isn’t Charlie at all, but a goblin changeling exchanged for her real baby.

Goblin Baby is a tense, sharply edited film, packed tight with meaning in its fifteen minute run time. Claire runs the gamut of emotions–exhausted by her crying baby, angry at her detached husband and mother-in-law, and despairing and paranoid at the apparent shift in her son’s demeanor. The film walks the line between the supernatural and the psychological – are Claire’s fears to be taken seriously, or is her exhaustion and possible postpartum depression to blame as she begins to see shadowy figures running through the woods? Just how the film will resolve the conflicts is uncertain, and so the tension rises with each passing frame as we delve deeper into Claire’s psyche.

There’s so much to be enjoyed with Goblin Baby that I was quite sad when the film ended – I wanted more of what Rosenbaum has to offer. Would it be too much to hope that she might someday expand Goblin Baby to a full length feature? Man, I really hope so.

Goblin Baby showed June 9 at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, as part of their Mommy Issues shorts program. 

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

Hatchet for the Honeymoon is an odd entry into Mario Bava’s parade of insanity, not least because it suddenly shifts about halfway through to something far weirder and more supernatural than it initially appears. But that in itself lifts it above the better but messier movies of the giallo canon, giving it a humor and gleeful malevolence all its own.

The film begins with John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth), a devilishly handsome young man who inherited his mother’s upscale bridal boutique. He divides his time between fashion shoots, fittings with brides, arguing with his wife Mildred (Laura Betti), and violently murdering young women on their honeymoons. Rather than concealing Harrington’s psychosis, the film puts it front and center, starting off with a vicious murder and then Harrington’s voiceover, in which he frankly admits that he’s a psychopath. The reason for his need to kill? With every murder, he experiences a flashback to his childhood and the death of his mother, and it is only through killing that the memories get clearer. As time goes on, we begin to understand that Harrington is impotent, and the murders of the brides take on even more psychosexual overtones (as if they needed any).

Bava injects this giallo plot with a hefty dose of humor (in my limited experience with giallo, Bava seems to be the director most aware of the inherent campiness of his work). That humor cuts through some of the more graphic depictions of murder, not to mention Harrington’s underlying misogyny and fear of sexuality. While the camera gleefully captures every lurid detail of the killer’s hatchet work, it also throws in some lovely ironic twists and tricks, focalizing through Harrington’s eyes as he handles his victims and his less victimized wife. Mildred, in fact, begins the film as a vicious harpie and ends it as the same, but her presence is also the saving grace–she despises her husband and plans to torture him for all of eternity, no matter what he does to escape her.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon is far more style than substance, of course, but somehow that doesn’t condemn it. The lurid photography, constant voiceover, and somewhat predictable twists are all part of what makes giallo so very entertaining. Then, without apparent warning, it turns into a ghost story and seems to delight even more in the torture it wreaks on its protagonist than it did on his murder. Where 0ther giallos have a tendency to dwell for so long on the poetry of violence that the humor and sympathy ebb away, Bava instead pays greater attention to the actual psychosis going on beneath the surface. Harrington is searching for an answer to his madness by indulging it, and so is something of a victim himself, but he’s never figured into the hero–he’s the villain, and he’s going to be made to pay the price, in a most delightful and satisfying way.

Bava’s work here closely resembles Roger Corman’s, or the Hammer horror films being made in England around the same time – he even references his own films, when Harrington uses Black Sabbath for an alibi. If Hatchet for the Honeymoon becomes repetitious after a while, it’s worth sticking it out for that shift in the second half of the film, which twists ghosts and ghost stories into a simple but impressive shape. A brilliant film? Hardly. But man is it fun.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon is available to stream on Shudder.