halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 1-5.

Night One: Freaks

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble gobble! Gooble gobble!”

freaks 1932

Set in a circus, Freaks is a tragedy where greed and cruelty are the true deformities, but also, where people with physical deformities have some kind of weird code and they will fuck your shit up if you mess with one of them. So, you know, a laudable message wrapped in an antiquated way of dealing with different sorts of people.

In the execution of its drama, this film is as dated as one would expect. In the execution of its horror, albeit brief, this film is about as far ahead of its time as a movie can be. Unfortunately, it was so ahead of its time that people lost their shit and when the various censors were done with it a third of the movie had been chopped off. That thirty minutes of cut footage is now lost forever. The remaining film is a bit nonsensical in parts as a result, but is still impressively edgy.

I so wish I could see the original cut, especially the footage from the film’s climax that included more disturbing visuals, including implied castration… in 1932! Sadly, director Tod Browning’s career was derailed by the film’s controversy and resulting failure.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not, unless someone unearths the lost footage.


Night Two: Uzumaki 

“Come into the spiral.”


Visually, it’s creepy and interesting. Uzumaki is imaginative and fresh. The film is also downright weird, both in ways that I enjoyed and in ways that were completely lost on me, but that could be a cultural thing.

To a certain degree it is like a David Lynch film, but it makes less sense. Yes, you read that right, it makes less sense than a David Lynch film. I think much of what made the film incoherent in most narrative aspects is a translation thing. Something got lost in the translation from the manga [by most accounts brilliant] to the screen, and something got lost in translation from Japanese to English.

So, while everything is tied together visually by the malevolent spirals, we are never sure why they are malevolent… aside from something about the words for mirror and serpent being pronounced the same way, and ancient mirrors being dredged up from the bottom of a lake. All of my confusion could be purely the result of a bad subtitle transcriber.

Will I ever watch it again? No, although I’d change my mind if it turns out there is a superior subtitle track a la Let the Right One In. 


Night Three: Sightseers

“The police announced today that they’re pursuing a ginger-faced man and an angry woman in connection with inquiries.”


A twisted comedy that succeeds because it delivers its insanity so subtly. The violence and comedy mix so well because each are played so straight. Lowe and Oram are brilliant (especially Lowe).

By today’s standards, the gore is fairly tame and the body count fairly low. The film is droll, but not over the top slapstick. So the tone of the violence needed to match the tone of the humor. One way they accomplished this was by making most of the murders take place in slow motion with no native audio, but a song playing over the scene, which somehow helped keep the tone even.

Will I ever watch it again? Not soon, but ask me again in a year or two


Night Four: The Blob (1958)

“Doctor, nothing will stop it!”


Oh, The Blob. Everything you expect from a B-Movie is here. Inept cinematography, strange pacing within scenes, confused acting from a silly script. Fantastic. This one also happened to launch a young Steve McQueen. So, on behalf of The Blob, you’re welcome, America.

My very favorite B-Movie trope on display here was the unintentionally hilarious dialogue. I’d share some of the lines with you, but they wouldn’t really land without the delivery by the actors in a given moment.

This one was a late addition to the list for HMF.

Will I ever watch it again? Maybe under some sort of influence and in the right company.


Night Five: Carnival of Souls

“It’s funny… the world is so different in the daylight. In the dark, your fantasies get so out of hand. But in the daylight everything falls back into place again.”

carnival-of-souls-originalIf Uzumaki is a film I found harmed by its lack of narrative cohesion, Carnival of Souls is a film that is actually enhanced by it. It’s another film that is very Lynchian, although this one being a film that influenced Lynch instead of the other way around. In Carnival of Souls the loose narrative contributed to the nightmare feel of the film, constantly keeping the viewer off balance.

An independent film from 1962, some limitations are clear, especially in terms of the acting, and awkward editing and direction much of the time. I think there is a solid chance we see here the DNA that would later result in David Lynch fetishizing bad acting so often, especially as a way to add to a particular sort of creepy atmosphere.

The creepiness they were able to create with such limited resources is impressive. Along with the fun little winks and metaphors that are never oversold, but are left subtle. Too often storytellers are worried you’ll miss a symbol so they beat you over the head with it, Carnival of Souls just leaves it there for those with eyes to see.

The strengths and weaknesses both make it obvious why this is a cult favorite. It’s tailor-made.