Sunday, June 21, 2015

Recent horror fare, plus See No Evil 2: The Soska Sisters do a slasher

Been squeezing in a fair bit of horror consumption of late. Last week it was Late Phases, aptly described on the box as "Gran Torino meets Silver Bullet," in which a blind and embittered Vietnam vet is forced to go vigilante to track down a werewolf terrorizing a seniors' community. As with Starry Eyes, another indy horror hit of the last couple of years, it seems to be a bit over-praised; horror fans these days are so hungry for good genre films that they get a bit excitable for anything halfway original, overlooking sometimes glaring flaws in logic and craft so they can champion a film. I understand that tendency quite well, actually, but I don't always fall victim myself, and Late Phases is one such example; I didn't like the characters enough, didn't have enough of an emotional investment in them, to really get excited about the story... plus as seems to happen too frequently with Glass Eye Pix, everything was a bit tainted by slightly cheesy practical-FX monsters (not quite as bad as Hypothermia or Beneath, but some pretty silly-lookin' werewolves, ultimately). All the same, there was lots to like about Late Phases, and I'll watch anything that Tom Noonan is in, of course. Seized the opportunity to play my girl Wendigo shortly thereafter, too, exploiting the connection with Larry Fessenden. I think Habit is probably Fessenden's best film but Wendigo I have now watched three times, and all the others only once, so that says something.... (I haven't actually seen Beneath yet, only looked in horror at still images of the killer fish, which do not look very menacing to say the least).
Also watched the Blacula films this weekend, which I'd been meaning to get around to for a long time; Scream Blacula Scream is probably the stronger of the two, thanks to its voodoo themes and the ever-watchable work of Pam Grier - though its ending is a bit less than satisfying; one wonders if they had a third film in the franchise in mind? Lot of fun though - probably the funniest bit is when a pimped-out narcissist has to deal with the fact that, now that he's a vampire, he can no longer see himself in the mirror. Funny as that moment is, they play both films admirably straight, given the immense potential for campiness; you actually care about the character of Blacula, become invested in his story. Wish there HAD been a Blacula 3, actually...
Also did Taste the Blood of Dracula, which is my favourite of the Christopher Lee/ Hammer Dracula films that I've seen (there are still a couple I haven't!). It plays very much like a folk tale, involving three hypocritical Victorians who preach conservative values at home but flirt with decadence and corruption in their free time - which ends up leading to dire consequences, especially for their daughters. The blood of Dracula does indeed play a major role! Though I'm more of a Peter Cushing man, really, I greatly admire Sir Christopher Lee and mourn his passing. It's great that everyone will remember him kicking ass and taking names in that last Hobbit film; one wonders if they CGI'd some of his movements, so limber does he seem. What a great long life and career he had...
Then there's See No Evil 2. The Soska Sisters are praised throughout the current Video Watchdog, which I might just deserve a smidgen of credit for: I was pitching the idea of a feature on them to Tim Lucas before American Mary hit, having seen a pre-release screening of it, so he may have heard about'em first from me (or he may not have, who knows; it's not like Dead Hooker in a Trunk was a secret or anything, I mean, Eli Roth gave it a blurb fergodsake...). He really praises See No Evil 2, in particular, and their savvy self-promotions and branding, calling them "the Beatles of Blood," and I admit to feeling a bit of glowing hometown pride at such things. I really, really like the Soskas, their energy, their ambition; but I also am aware that I *want* to like them, that I really like the idea of the Twisted Twins and their associations with Vancouver, which bias might tempt me - see above re: the hungers of horror fans - to be a little more forgiving than I should be. Because, you know, there are areas where the Soskas (sorry!) need to work on the basic craft of storytelling in film still. They have terrific ideas, terrific wit, but sometimes -
- well, I'll give you an example. See No Evil 2 starts with a female mortician attempting to leave work early to go to a birthday party in her honour. She changes her mind, however and decides to stay when she and her coworkers learn that nine dead people, plus the corpse of the man who killed them, are on the way to the morgue. She calls her friends, begs off the party, and then goes to work: there's simply too much to do for her to leave now, the film makes clear. BUT: the Soskas neglect to show the nine corpses being brought in, only focus on the body of the killer, Jacob Goodnight (wrestler Kane, repeating his role from the first film). After a single scene where our heroine and a co-worker very briefly investigate the body, some five minutes later, the coworker tells her she's done enough and it's time to go home. There's very little sense of time or great labour having passed, so this immediately jars against his having told her to go home some five minutes previous onscreen. If you're like me, anyhow, you immediately think - wait a minute, if there was too much work to do for her to go home five minutes ago, why is he telling her to leave now? What happened to all that work? 

There is, in fact, a reason her colleague is telling her to go - her friends have schemed to move her birthday party to the morgue, and its all part of a plot, though where and how that got set up in the blink of an eye that these things take on-screen is somewhat confusing. There's a level where, at least for a minute or two, the basic storytelling feels rushed and incomplete, where you get confused and briefly feel a flicker of mistrust for your guides. Maybe material was shot that they elected not to use - there's maybe a reason why things are as they are - but still, you're very briefly taken out of the film by the flaw, and in order to enjoy yourself, you have to sort of resolve to overlook it, to rise above. Suspension of disbelief is one thing; suspension of ones critical faculties is another. I felt that there were a couple of moments like that in American Mary, too, as I recall. Sorry, sorry. I like these films, really I do. I had no problem rising above said flaws. But I did notice them, and I ain't gonna lie about it.
But as I say, I like the Soskas, and I like the IDEA of the Soskas, so here, I will recommend See No Evil 2 nonetheless, based on a few things: first, it boasts a delightfully perverse, giddily macabre supporting performance from Katherine Isabelle, who steals the film. Fans of Ginger Snaps and American Mary and such simply MUST see what she does with her character, it's a lot of fun. Secondly, there's what appears to be a continuity with American Mary, which fans of that film will want to follow up on. I'm not exactly sure what it means, but the Soskas have further developed the idea of a girl who drops out of medical school to do something less reputable, less respectable, and somewhat tainted by taboo (if not, this time, actually criminal). There are clear resonances between the films that make you wonder if they're actually nursing a private obsession here, that may run through their films in the future: a theme emergeth. Finally, there's an interesting twist as we near the end of the film, a deliberate departure from horror movie conventions, which I won't spell out, but it caught me off guard. Not sure exactly what it amounts to in the end - it doesn't feel like a departure that changes the MEANING of the film in any way, seems like a departure for its own sake, really - but it still makes the film a little fresher than it might otherwise have been.

Because really, folks, See No Evil 2 is a fairly old-fashioned slasher film, with young people being chased around at length by a maniac. While it could be gorier, it doesn't wink, it doesn't smirk, it doesn't laugh at itself, and it doesn't make ironic mention of the genre conventions of horror movies every two minutes; it is a fairly faithful entry in a genre that I'd thought somewhat tapped out. It's worth seeing, for the reasons listed above - especially for Ms. Isabelle - but it's also a surprisingly sincere example of the form, which in the days of Scream and The Cabin in the Woods and such in itself deserves some praise. (Not sure its ideas about mortality are really that profound - they feel a bit tacked on, actually, like the Soskas maybe added them to a screenplay that had already been written and just tried to bring a bit of meat to it - but it's interesting, too, that it at least HAS some ideas up its sleeve). It's not an essential horror movie by any means (unlike, say, American Mary - that film, I grant you, is a must-see) - but I rather enjoyed it. (Even my 85 year old Mom got a few laughs; yes, I played it for my Mom!).

Also, note that seeing the first See No Evil is in no way necessary to appreciate the second, which comes as a bit of a relief.

One other horror film to mention. Zombeavers. Which I also played for Ma, right down to the scene where the beaver-girl chews the genitals off her boyfriend with her giant beaver teeth. You can appreciate everything that's delightful about Zombeavers - including that scene! - by watching the video made to accompany the theme song. You'll be humming it for a couple of days, I guarantee. While Mom and I had good, dumb fun with Zombeavers - which is smartassed and self-aware everywhere that See No Evil 2 is fairly sincere and straight-up -  you might just want to save yourself the time and stick with the video, it's the more economical means of delivery (the whole film is basically condensed into its three minutes!).

Not much else to report at present - I'm working a lot and a bit swamped, as usual - but I really enjoyed Jurassic World, and am not ashamed to admit it. So there!

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