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
10/30/2015 – Norway: Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt) (2006)
Directed by Roar Uthaug
While Norway’s cinematic history has dated back decades perhaps most notably with the documentary version of Kon-Tiki and the original Insomnia, it was only in the 00’s that it really took off spanning a wide variety of genres including drama (the narrative version of Kon-Tiki and Oslo, August 31st), thriller (Headhunters), fantasy (Trollhunter), and of course horror (the Dead Snow films). While I could have just watched the Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead since I had enjoyed the original, I instead decided I could really use another slasher (and maintain a no sequels in the main event policy) even though I was surprisingly not flooded with zombies and instead went with the first of the three Cold Prey films.
Cold Prey is a pretty damn standard slasher brought to you by the commands ctrl-c and ctrl-v. You get the basic five horror movie types of 20 somethings who never do anything to make me care about them. The killer is of the “silent and mysterious with a hulking figure” type that is basically the default setting for a slasher. Even though it is set on a snow covered mountain expanse, the film is basically a cabin in the woods movie with the new setting only allowing for a slightly interesting new variation. The film is well made for the subgenre, but I could never get over how little I cared who lives and who dies to feel too much in the way of suspense.
Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #21 – North Korea: Pulgasari (1985)
Directed by Shin Sang-ok
This is the big blow out edition so all the films in this post will be representing the bonus films from 10/30 and the ones in the next for 10/31 because good lord will this shit be long. I’m so very sorry.
Trying to discern the history of North Korean cinema is difficult at best considering how closed off the nation is and it is fair to say they have never made a release of note. Even Pulgasari is mostly notable because it was made only by North Korea kidnapping the director, a prominent South Korean director, and his wife, who was then forced to work on this and six other films before finally escaping. Giant monster movies have always walked a thin line between horror and other genres but it’s not like I have many choices to work with here.
The film takes a while to get going (though hardly the slowest I’ve seen in a kaiju film) but once we get to the tiny metal eating Pulgasari, things start to really get amusing. I will give the film credit for crossing over the giant monster film with the historical film (yes, I know Daimajin did it first). I’m not sure I’ve seen an earlier set (sometime between 918–1392) film in the genre unless you count the Kraken or related who showed up in Ancient Greek set fantasy movies. The Pulgasari is much closer in spirit to the later versions of Godzilla where he is a heroic character apparently learning quickly that the people with all the weapons are evil and a seemingly basic understanding of Korean.
I certainly can’t say it is any dumber than some of the stuff in the Godzillafranchise considering Minilla is still something that exists and whose design seems really similar to the young Pulgasari. Honestly, the monster’s design wouldn’t feel out of place as a Godzilla villain even if you can clearly see the folds in the costume at the chest when it moves. I’ll even say it looks awesome in the brief moment a fire turns its body red and makes it particularly angry. The film feels a bit out of time being something that probably would have shown up in the 60’s or 70’s instead of 1985 but now so far removed from the time period, it hardly makes a difference.
The film features plenty of hilariously bad foley work that would make 70’s martial arts films look good with the sound effect they went for when the Pulgasari spits out a cannonball particularly fantastic. The monster gets in plenty of destruction seemingly destroying every major structure it comes across and consuming Korea’s metal supply before it SPOILERS turns to stone and inexplicably explodes turning itself into a mini version of itself which then becomes a ball of light which merges with a dead woman which I sure hope there is just some cultural context I’m missing and I didn’t have a stroke END OF SPOILERS. I really wanted to snark on this movie more because who doesn’t like mocking North Korea, but I can’t. I’m not going to pretend the film is any good, but it is largely fun for what it is.
Bonus Episode #22 – Italy: Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino)(1964)
Directed by Mario Bava
Take two of my attempts to actually watch an Italian film for this marathon and this time Netflix actually sent the disc with the right language and subtitles. The Italian film industry has long been one of the pillars of international film and one of the top producers of horror films between the 60’s and early 80’s centering. While not the only subgenre within Italian horror, they will always be known for their giallo films primarily those directed by Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. The genre, at least in popular understanding, comes in the form of a murder mystery with a very distinctive style. And while I admit my knowledge of specific films in the genre is verylimited consisting of Argento’s Suspiria and now Bava’s Blood and Black Lace(though I have also seen Bava’s less than stellar Planet of the Vampires), those films are nothing if not distinctive.
Blood and Black Lace is one of the first of the giallos (the first being Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and an early slasher though hardly Bava’s first horror movie having already made the hugely influential Black Sunday and Black Sabbath. Like many oft-copied first of its kind films, much of Blood and Black Lace feels pretty standard now from an acting and plot perspective but it is certainly functional to hang the various kill scenes on (what could be more slasher than that?) and let the film’s real strength show. That strength lies in its cinematography combining the now characteristic bright and vibrant colors with the kind of use of shadows that is far less common in the post black and white cinema era and specifically of the era. It’s a tricky balance to pull but the film nails it. The kills and the cinematography alone make the movie worth watching (not to mention its historical importance) even if it lacks that little extra to take it to the next level.
Bonus Episode #23 – Austria: Angst (1983)
Directed by Gerald Kargl
I really intended for Goodnight Mommy to “air” in this slot, but alas my local theater felt ill-inclined to ever show it so instead we get this far less well known film. I also considered The Hands of Orlac but I just can’t watch that story again for a while. Aside from that film, early Austrian film history never really became as prominent as many of its neighbors with many of its filmmakers including Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger achieving success elsewhere. They have achieved more success recently though with the films of Michael Haneke (wasn’t sure I wanted to sit through a Funny Games again or if it is even horror), Revanche, and The Counterfeiters. Though I’m not sure how much it matters quality wise, I watched the director’s cut of Angst, which removed a late added extraneous prologue. The German language plus the narration of the killer gave me some real Baxter vibes though this time it is all human. Like At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, there is a pretty despicable lead speaking in such a calm voice throughout but here he does so regardless of how he acts on screen while narrating both the past and present over his current reign of terror creates quite the contrast. He’s not appealing in anyway, he’s not a brilliant mastermind and he struggles even in his task SPOILERS of killing an old woman, a mentally challenged man confined to a wheelchair, and a younger woman END OF SPOILERS. He has a grand epic plan in his head for some Hannibal style killings but he fails massively and the result is so much sloppier.
This is a frequently brutal film to watch (though there really is only one gory scene) and the film never sits in judgement of his character remaining an almost neutral observer and letting his actions say everything they need to. It’s one thing to watch someone be killed, but to see that person SPOILERSgraphically stabbed to death and then raped at least is part from the killer perspective (and otherwise in close ups of the upper body) and without anything in the way of background music END OF SPOILERS really drives in the horror and was admittedly hard to watch. The music throughout is frequently minimal which helps convey an unnerving realism with the synth music that is used only further building the suspense. Angst is quite probably the most inventively shot with plenty of SnorriCam and other similar close tracking shots of the killer. The film loves its tracking shots in general, but never overuses them mixing them with some wonderful overhead shots and static shots. It’s a quick 75 minutes, but it’s still easily one of the best films of the month and one that maintains its quality from beginning to end. Impressive for a film I backed into.
Bonus Episode #24 – United States: Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)
Directed by Kevin Greutert
The Saw franchise is an easy punching bag with being at the forefront of the “torture porn” movement and the diminishing return of the sequels, but that label didn’t start to become appropriate until the second film. The first, which launched the career of James Wan, is a genuinely good movie, with the second and third having its moments though by no means is the third “good” in the traditional sense. The series really went off the rails after they had SPOILERS FOR THE THIRD FILM killed off Jigsaw and clearly wrapped up the story END OF SPOILERS, and went head on into the dull torture scenes and even if it had become a Halloween tradition, the declining quality and earnings, the death of the “torture porn”, and the rise of Paranormal Activitymeant it was time to end.
Now I admit the later sequels have basically been blanked from my head so it may be hard to compare or remember the finer intricacies of the plot (even if it has only been maybe a year since I saw them) but if you made it this far, you know what you are in for. At the outset it is at least hilariously bad with “I think we’re breaking up with you, Dina!” in line to be my generation’s “Consider that a divorce”. As the film goes on though, it just becomes increasingly dull especially when we start following Powder around. Even having forgotten like half of the series, it still starts to feel repetitive even with in the movie itself. There is clearly stuff there for the 3D effect which was lost on me but it’s just simple throw shit at the screen garbage. I’d say this is the worst in the series but I can’t even work up any hate at something that is so insubstantial as the plot (which had long since been running on fumes) just gives up trying to be vaguely coherent and can barely be considered a string for the increasingly lazy traps. I can only say this may be the worst thing Chester Bennington has ever been a part of and certainly the least funny.
Up Next: Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s Shutter representing Thailand