Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.
Month of Horror: World Edition
10/24/2015 – Hong Kong: The Eye (Gin gwai) (2002)
Directed by the Pang Brothers
While technically a part of China now and at the time of The Eye’s release, Hong Kong has such a distinct filmmaking history, I felt it was only appropriate to consider it separate. For a considerable amount of time, Hong Kongdominated the film industry of the region most notable with their action and martial arts films in addition to the films by Wong Kar-Wai. While most of the other regions in the world have been emerging, growing, or at the very least holding steady in the 90’s and 00’s, Hong Kong has seen their industry on the downslope owing in part to the Chinese takeover in 1997 which has led to greater censorship, but also the growing dominance of Mainland China and American films in the region. They have produced a number of horror movies before (Men Behind the Sun) and since (Dumplings and Dream Home), a genre which they still hold dominance over the even more tightly controlled Mainland.
The story is a form of The Sixth Sense-like films where the ability to see ghosts and the need to resolve their issues as something that haunts the lead combined with an ability to foretell deaths (but not in a temporarily preventable Final Destination way). It also shares a big component with that film in it isn’t the ghosts themselves that are threatening, but what they represent that is played for horror and as someone who isn’t a big ghost movie fan, this is the kind of usage I like best. The basic idea of the film though is the best part with “what is it like to finally see after having only experienced being blind?” to be rife with possibilities. SPOILERS Ultimately the film becomes more about where the corneas came from as opposed to the process which probably would have been better if I hadn’t just watched the rubbish Hands of Orlac adaptation Hands of a Stranger 3 days ago and I wish it hadn’t abandoned the elements of the film detailing how difficult that change would actually be END OF SPOILERS. I would love to see these elements get expanded upon in a remake but by all by most accounts the American remake by Ils directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud is pretty terrible.
There are exaggerated sound effects that would normally associate themselves with jump scares also annoyingly make an appearance here, but they instead accompany scenes of “ooh, look how creepy this is”. While it fails to help the scenes, they are much more inoffensive in this case and other some ill fitting, over-dramatic music in a flashback scene, the music is generally pretty decent so it is more of a shame they persist than anything else. There is also the occasional use of slow motion that always looks terrible when they use it. The special effects aren’t called on for much besides the ghost like figures and the film wisely keeps them in the shadows enough so they still look pretty good.
The plot may not feel all that original but it moves at a healthy clip while simultaneously feeling like it is taking its time with scenes moving at a leisurely pace. SPOILERS The movie ends, a bit neat, tidy and predictable but fine enough with no twists here, but nope, I look at the timer and there’s still about 10-15 minutes left. We get the first signs that something isn’t right when a seemingly unnecessary scene starts up and we start seeing a bunch of future ghosts walking by. The scene starts to get really suspenseful and then all of a sudden it starts turning into a Fast and Furious sequel back when they used poorly aging CGI to show what is going on in the car and we are treated to plenty of more bad CGI and EXPLOSIONS. In what I’m not sure is an awful end or an intriguing one we get treated to surprisingly gruesome scenes of still burning dead bodies and people shrieking in pain while very gentle piano music playing throughout. Apparently, the having another person experience witnessing the awful pain she did is the only thing that will satiate a ghost (which the narration seems to imply) with a helpful side effect of re-blinding the lead (the “logical” reason for the powers disappearing) and leaving her finally happy END OF SPOILERS.
Why do these twists keep haunting me? I keep thinking that I found a movie content to not pull a last minute twist out of nowhere but nope. At least this one didn’t change the meaning of the film too much, just the tone. It still ends on a fairly predictable note with everything neat and tidy though this ending now overshadows what was until then a well done psychological horror movie.
Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #15 – Japan: Attack of the Mushroom People (Matango)(1963)
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Ishirō Honda, at least post 1954 release of the fantastic Gojira/Godzilla, will always be known for the dozens of daikaiju films including Godzilla sequels, Mothra, and Rodan. In the midst of all that though, he made this curiosity. I had to watch the dubbed version since that was all that was available, but for the most part it was surprisingly tolerably done.
Those expecting anything resembling Honda’s typical film will be disappointed as the film is much more in line with many of the low budget American films of the period. The monsters don’t even make vague appearances until midway through. There is some genuine suspense in the middle bits but these are broken up by lame, halfhearted false jump scares. Instead the film has more of a human horror element as the conflict arises first from being stranded on a badly damaged ship and then an island with dwindling resources. The people, some quicker than others, descend into bickering and hatred. There are even some barely veiled threats of rape towards the women by an unattached male. The mushrooms serve of an ever present temptation after it is revealed they can’t eat them, and even after the side effects are discovered, the looming hunger still drives them to it.
SPOILERS To describe the film as an “attack” of anything would be highly misleading since most of the movie all they do is gently induce you to eat the mushrooms (which is more based on desperation for food than anything else) and maybe vaguely menace otherwise. The attack is restricted largely to the last 10 minutes and it does absolutely nothing. There are brief, strange hallucinatory moments which I enjoyed though based on what I knew about the film going in, I expected more of that. But damn is this movie is bleak. The transformation is slow but inevitable after they eat the mushrooms briefly and quickly creating a body snatcher like version of the person before the physical changes begin. Only one person survives (which we know at the beginning) and even he choose to eat the mushrooms by the end so even if his days aren’t numbered he will spend the rest of his life badly scarred and tormented by what happened wishing he never escaped END OF SPOILERS. There is no ecological or political message here, just pure unadulterated humans are bastards and hunger will drive even the best people crazy. The acting is poor (even accounting for dubbing), the motivations to evil don’t seem the most natural, and the horror is lousily done, but there is just something about the movie that just works and sticks with you the way those comparable American sci-fi movies of the era don’t.
Up Next: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre representing Mexico