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night thirteen: a tale of two sisters. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Do know what’s really scary? You want to forget something. Totally wipe it off your mind. But you never can. It can’t go away, you see. And… and it follows you around like a ghost.

With the exception of the inexplicable detour where he did an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in America, director Kim Jee-Woon has an impeccable track record. If you’re ever looking for an insane, enjoyable way to spend an evening, you should watch his frenetic take on the Western, The Good, the Bad, the Weird (bonus, Song Kang-ho is in it).

With A Tale of Two Sisters, Kim’s weird sensibilities and inventive visual style are put to great use in the K-Horror genre. It’s strange, disorienting, and enjoyably creepy throughout. It’s weird and disturbing, but actually pretty tame by K-Horror standards.

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There were plenty of things I wasn’t into. For one, the Japanese and Korean horror trope of eerily contorted ghost girls with long black hair covering their faces is certainly subject to diminishing returns. Kim does it really well, but it’s still a bit tired at this point, and would have already been a bit tired all the way back in 2003 when this movie came out. Also, when a filmmaker is working really hard to keep the audience off-balance and unaware of what’s happening, there is always a fine line between tricking the audience and lying to the audience, or merely pulling twists out of thin air, which is something A Tale of Two Sisters doesn’t always get right. Also, some of the reveals were a bit cliche in the milieu of the late 90’s and early 00’s.

Still, even with the weaknesses this was still a great way to get your ghost film or K-Horror fix.

 

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’d say it’s 50/50.

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night twelve: kill list. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Difficult for a man to know where he stands these days.

It doesn’t really get more genre-defying than Kill List. Part hitman film, part family drama, part… well, you should see it for yourself, because I don’t want to give anything else away.

Kill List is great. It’s so ambitious and unexpected, so even when it fails, which it certainly does at times, it’s easy to forgive because it’s just trying something so different and weird and interesting.

Ben Wheatley also has a really competent and interesting visual style, so even when story elements aren’t working, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to look at. 

I can’t really say more than that without spoiling this story and world.

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Will I Ever Watch It Again? Yes. It’ll be fun to go back to see what I might notice with repeat viewings.

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night eleven: pontypool. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Oh, God. You’re gonna eat me soon, aren’t you?

Goodbye vampires, hello to the rest of HMF. It’s been fun bloodsuckers, but it’s time to move on to all the other tricks and treats Halloween has to offer.

First, one of my very favorite HMF films of all time: Pontypool. I wasn’t sure I would watch it this year, but Emily had never seen it and was finally willing to give it a go, and there was no chance I was going to let that opportunity pass by.

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I’m not entirely sure what else to say about this one that I haven’t said the other times it was included in previous Halloween Movie Fests. Like here, and here.

With genre and sub-genre, it’s so exciting to see someone do a good job of taking old tropes and conventions and shift them in unexpected ways. Pontypool is the epitome of that for me. In every respect, this film works better than you’d expect it to if I just laid out the concept for you.

If I made a HMF canon, this would be an automatic entry. Also, that’s a great idea. I need to canonize my favorite HMF films of all time.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Again, and again, and again.

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night ten: nosferatu the vampyre. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights. Centuries come and go.
To be unable to grow old is terrible. Death is not the worst…
Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities?”

All these years as a film lover, and this is the first Werner Herzog film I’ve ever seen.

Herzog believes, along with many others, that the greatest film to come out of Germany was Nosferatu, which is basically an expressionist rendering of Dracula, but with the names and a few story elements changed in an attempt to avoid issues getting the rights from Bram Stoker’s widow. It didn’t work, because it was obviously Dracula, and they attempted to destroy all copies of Nosferatu at one point. Fortunately, they failed, and once the story came to be public domain, the surviving copies were released on a larger scale. Anyway, Herzog’s love for the film is why he decided to pay homage with an update.

The thing that grabbed me right away about Herzog’s directing is that the man certainly knows how to find places to shoot, then shoots the hell out of them. From the opening credits over the real life mummified remains at El Museo de las Momias to the haunting natural landscapes traversed by Jonathan Harker on his way to visit Dracula, every shot added to the haunting scope of the film. This is a beautiful movie. The places were big and timeless, the city life eerie and lonely, filmed to capture the essence of how small we are in the face of eternity, which is obviously perfect for a vampire film.

Even during a fantastical story of immortal monsters, Herzog’s naturalistic way of shooting characters and dialogue makes it easy to see that this is a filmmaker who is also a celebrated documentarian. At least, it’s naturalistic in early scenes. Eventually the film takes on different visual tone.

There are some slow, awkward moments in the film’s early-going, but they fall away as the film’s hypnotic pace takes hold.

Fun fact: To avoid dubbing for American audiences, they actually shot this film in two languages at the same time. They would shoot the scenes in German and then in English, so two versions of the film exist. I watched the first third in English and then switched to German with subtitles, which I enjoyed much more.

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My biggest takeaway from this one is that Klaus Kinski is my absolute favorite Dracula of all time. Such a sad and lonely monster, but a monster all the same. “I no longer attach any importance to sunshine or the glittering fountains that youth is so fond of. I love the darkness and the shadows.”

Just a supercut of all Kinski’s scenes would be worth the price of admission, but Nosferatu the Vampyre has much more to offer than that. This is a beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing film.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Yes, this one deserves revisiting.

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night nine: trouble every day. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“You were in love with her?”
“It’s not the right word for it.”

This one is disturbing, even by HMF standards.

It’s a slow burn. A very quiet film with long spans shot with no dialogue, and characters who aren’t particularly verbose even when they do speak.

The muted quality makes the scenes of violence that much more jarring. The bloody scenes are themselves still somewhat muted, the camera forces us to watch when we’d rather get a cut or a new angle, anything to give us some distance from the ordinariness of the horror.

Even the film’s quietest scenes are full of menace and danger. The is a movie colored with tones of insanity, desire, isolation, compulsion, power, and violence.

Rape is usually a subtext in vampire stories. However a given mythology works in a particular vampire world, there is almost always the inclusion of the forcible and violent penetration of another against their will. Clare Denis captured that violence to horrifying effect in this film.

These are stories about killing someone for their blood. It’s not that Trouble Every Day is the only film where this inherent violence is dealt with head on, but it definitely got under my skin more than most others.

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When the film came out it received a fair amount of hate. But while Trouble Every Day isn’t perfect, the reaction against it was undeserved. As with a film like Peeping Tom, the negative response might just underscore how intentionally troubling the film is. As years have passed, the film has found its audience and appreciators, making the recent Fandor list of 20 greatest films directed by women, based on responses from 50 critics and cinephiles.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Give me some time to think about that. I’m not sure I can go back into this world again.

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night eight: dracula (a.k.a. the horror of dracula). [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“If you look over there you can see the sun coming up.”

Hammer Films was a London-based film studio that dominated the international horror landscape for decades. They had big hits that weren’t vampire related, but it was their series of gothic, increasingly sexualized vampire movies that had the biggest impact on pop culture. Their films didn’t just influence future vampire movies, but future films in general, especially horror (unsurprisingly).

One large influence was that Hammer continually pushed the envelope in terms of what sorts of things were shown on the big screen. They found ways to show you what was happening, instead of merely implying it through reaction shots to the more violent moments.

For example, my favorite moment in Dracula… **I’m going to say spoiler alert, just in case, but this particular part of Dracula probably shouldn’t be a surprise.**

Still with me? Okay, my favorite moment was Dracula’s death by exposure to sunlight. It was impressively explicit for its time.

Dracula was the first of their vampire seriesretitled The Horror of Dracula in the US because of the fear that Americans are kind of dumb and would confuse the new film with the Bela Lugosi version released 27 years earlier.

This movie certainly has its silly bits, oh so many silly bits. Many of the bad bits were a product of the time the movie was made, but they were nonetheless distracting for me. To name a few: awkward or ham-fisted acting by many of the supporting cast, wooden blocking, and way too many moments where the story was moved forward by having a character sit and write thoughtfully while narrating their own thoughts through voiceover… we get it, the book was epistolary, that doesn’t mean I need to see your actors writing or reading letters or journals for 3 minutes at a time in the film version.

Overall, the winning moments outweigh the considerable weaknesses, especially in terms of legacy. There are so many iconic images and moments that still reverberate through horror films today, especially vampire films. If you’re making a vampire movie in general, or a Dracula movie in particular, you have to decide how you are going to interact with the legacy of these films. They’re that significant.

The most important aspect of that legacy is Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, roles they would go on revisit again and again. When Hammer Films decided to reinvent the franchise by moving it forward to present day, they even had Cushing play a descendent of Van Helsing to keep him around (which should be noted by current moviegoers who act like silly plot devices like that were created in the 80’s just in time to bring about the death of cinema).

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Will I Ever Watch It Again? If there comes a time for a larger vampire movie festival, I would watch a string of Hammer vampire movies, starting with a rewatch of this one.

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night two: ‘cronos’. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

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“I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I think it’s better if we stay together.”

The second night of HMF and I’m revisiting a favorite from nights of Halloween past.

Guillermo del Toro’s debut feature has all of the themes he comes back to again and again. Del Toro himself said:

“To me, Cronos contains the essence of what I want to do … a sincere declaration of how I view the world.”

Both literally and figuratively, this is vintage del Toro.

His best work uses and subverts genre trappings and fantastical horror to showcase the beauty and monstrosity of humanity. The horror of the monsters in the del Toro canon always pale in comparison to what humans are willing to do to one another in a quest for power, money, or youth.

Del Toro said of Cronos, “I do what I’ve done in Devil’s Backbone, what I’ve done in Pan’s Labyrinth, etc. Which is, I take the central monster figure and I make it the saddest figure in the tale.”

This is a story of the inherent tragedy of vampire lore. One of the central themes in many vampire stories is the loss of humanity in the pursuit of immortality. The inability to accept the reality of death results in a half life. Vampires are immortal, they reject death, but only by becoming death. They live forever, but only in darkness, only by consuming life itself. #fucktwilight

These stories are often about the destructive potential of the human quest for immortality. Thus, Guillermo del Toro is the perfect storyteller for the genre, and it in turn is a perfect playground for his first feature.

Cronos is arrestingly grotesque and beautiful, often at the same time. A monster story about what it means to be human. A horror film about love, family, redemption, mortality, and sacrifice. Or to put it more simply, Cronos is Guillermo del Toro at his best.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Most definitely. As is easily seen above, Cronos is included amongst my very favorite Halloween Movie Fest films from the seven years I’ve done it.

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night one: ‘near dark’. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

 Boy, you people sure stay up late.”

“We keep odd hours.”

And we’re off! Night one kicks off with Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic about a guy who tries to convince a young lady to engage in some casual sex, and as these things often go, she turns out to be a vampire. Our young cowboy finds himself thrown in with a gang of asshole vampires who terrorize bar-flys, truck drivers, and hitchhikers along remote portions of Texas and Oklahoma highway.

The film is pretty to look at, and it’s easy to see the DNA of a directing style that would eventually win Bigelow a ton of awards for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. 

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Critics liked Near Dark, and as I already mentioned, it became a cult classic. In some ways, I can see why. The idea itself was an interesting take on both vampire movies and neo-westerns, and at times it delighted in its own violent mayhem. It also featured a synth soundtrack by Tangerine Dream that had some great moments.

However, overall, this one was just too nonsensical in all the wrong ways for me. The writing and story just didn’t hold together at all. It was erratic and silly, but to me it didn’t seem to be so intentionally. Everyone has the sorts of holes and weaknesses that prohibit enjoyment, and Near Dark had too many for me.

If anyone wants to have a specific conversation about what didn’t work for me in Near Dark, I’m game. I just didn’t want to go on and on bitching about it in this post. That’s just not what I want RtM to be. I’m also totally down if someone who loves this movie wants to enlighten me concerning its virtues. I would genuinely enjoy learning to see it through a fan’s eyes.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No. There’s definitely something I’m missing. It’s got a big following of folks who love it and rewatch it, so I’ll leave them to it.

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primer for vampire movie fest [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

Here we go. Halloween Movie Fest 2016.

First, a primer in part one of this year’s HMF.

As promised, the first half is all vampires. A movie fest within a movie fest. Like the cream in one of those Halloween themed orange and black Oreos, but where the cream filling is actually a monster who will grant you a grotesque immortality if it likes you, or merely exsanguinate you if it doesn’t.

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The mini movie festival within a festival is rooted in last year’s HMF. When I was doing some reading on The Wicker Man after I watched it, I learned that it was a big deal for Christopher Lee to be the understated villain in this (mostly) subdued horror film. Until then he was mostly famous for his role in the Hammer Films Dracula series as the titular vampire.

I’ve never seen any Hammer Films, but they were clearly notable in the history of horror, so I read up on them a bit. The Hammer Films rabbit hole led me to a few other vampire films I’d never heard of, one thing led to another, and I realized that at the very least I was going to need to make half of HMF16 vampire movies.

This is fun for me, because it gives me a style of ‘Another Day, Another Movie’ I haven’t done in quite a while. I love Halloween Movie Fest, but it’s much more varied and diverse than other versions of ‘AD,AM’ I’ve done.

It’s different doing ‘AD,AM’ with a more specific genre, like Westerns or Noir films. It changes the way I watch because I’m focused in on the nuances and boundaries of that genre, whether those boundaries they are heeded or ignored. I start to inhabit the language, style, and palette of that genre. It becomes the story ecosystem I live in for a bit. This pointlessly fun activity gives me this big frame of reference for each film, which is obviously always there, but is easier to see and discern in the context of the geeky rhythm of this sort of endeavor.

The closest I’ve come to this within HMF is zombie films, because the genre is so young and the rules are so clear. Every departure from the tropes is really obvious, every stylistic choice stands out, meaning you need fewer films to really sense what a particular storyteller is trying to do.

Anyway, this year I get to fully add that element back into HMF by watching ten vampire films in ten days.

Next up, night one: Near Dark.

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halloween movie fest 2016!!

 

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Sing it with me!

/ It’s the most wonderful tiiiime of the year. When the zombies are lurching and vampires and slurping so we live in feeeeaaar. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. / It’s the hap-happiest season of all. With the slashers all stalking and spirits all walking down your bedroom haaaaallll! /

Absolutely terrible adaptations of Christmas songs aside, October is back and the Halloween season is upon us. For my money, it’s right on time. I mean, it’s always right on time, but this year it’s even righter on time. Yup, it’s so perfectly timed I’m not even using well constructed phraseology anymore.

It’s been such a crazy year for me since Halloween Movie Fest 2015. We live in Brooklyn now, a very recent development, and I miss Seattle terribly. I’m surrounded by strange new things, thousands of miles from my friends and the home I grew to love over the course of nearly a decade.

What better way to feel something familiar than to slip into the tradition of Halloween Movie Fest? I hope it will be the movie-watching equivalent of putting on a perfectly aged sweatshirt on a chilly, rainy afternoon.

This year, there will be an ‘Another Day, Another Movie’ (ad,am) festival within HMF16. Some Inception-level shit. The first 10 of the 20 nights of HMF16 will be a vampire themed version of ad,am. More on that in the post for the first portion of the (mostly) one man movie festival. For now, the important thing is that bloodsuckers will make up half of this year’s list.

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Here are the movies:

Movement 1 – The Vampires

  1. Near Dark
  2. The Lost Boys
  3. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
  4. What We Do In the Shadows
  5. Nosferatu the Vampyre
  6. Martin
  7. The Horror of Dracula
  8. Cronos
  9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  10. Trouble Every Day

Movement 2 – Everything Else

  1. The Witch
  2. A Tale of Two Sisters
  3. They Look Like People
  4. We Are Still Here
  5. Attack the Block
  6. Kill List
  7. The Hallow
  8. The Invitation
  9. Berberian Sound Studio
  10. Pontypool

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