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
10/31/2015 – Thailand: Shutter (2004)
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
It’s time for the grand finale, well sort of. Like so many of the countries here, Thailand has an extensive cinema history that only rose to any sort of international prominence in the new millennium (no I have not gotten tired of saying this same basic thing repeatedly, what would make you think that?). Filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall Past Lives, the Pang brothers (Bangkok Dangerous and this month’s The Eye) and Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak, The Protector and Chocolate) with the latter known largely for bringing us Tony Jaa.
Today’s film, from directors who also did the Thai horror film Alone, is fine. No more and no less, just fine. The film is a slow moving, generic ghost centric Asian horror movie. The acting, cinematography, all the components of the film are done well enough, but there is nothing to make it stand out or memorable in the slightest. Even when the film goes for something spooky with it’s photographs it just comes out kind of for lack of a better word, lame. A large part of that may be that despite driving a few people to “suicide”, the ghost never feels all that intimidating. In the big confrontation with the SPOILERS protagonist, she just kind of sits on his shoulders covering his eyes which inexplicably makes him start staggering about and flinging himself far out the window END OF SPOILERS.
Plot wise, the film just kind of chugs along in figuring out its central mystery, but since SPOILERS the lead already knows why everything is happening and doesn’t tell us, it feels artificially drawn out. It’s hard to care about figuring things out when the person you are following the most doesn’t seem to give a shit. Hell the plot doesn’t even end since the ghost and lead still live so I guess there is more halfhearted murder attempts in their future END OF SPOILERS. I wish I could have gone out of this marathon with a bit more of a bang (well at least of the main films), but instead, like the film’s plot, things ended on more of a shrug and a feeling of to be continued hanging over it.
Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #25 – United Kingdom: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed(1969)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Here starts 10/31 if I haven’t lost you yet, which honestly I can’t blame you if I have.
I hate watching series out of order but oh well, here’s the 5th of Hammer’s Frankenstein films and the third I’ve seen (I’ve also seen The Curse of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Created Woman). I’m not a huge Hammer fan, but of their films, The Curse of Frankenstein may be my favorite. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed definitely feels like the series in a different direction. Most of the film moves along as a fairly decent if typical hammer film before the Creature comes alive and SPOILERS reveals himself to be a perfectly well, speaking and intelligent individual. Freddie Jones as the Creature makes the most of his limited time quickly instill such sympathy to him, even if it looks like he is always yawning as he stumbles about, and quickly steals the movie from the ever reliable Peter Cushing. It’s still not a great film, but it is a solid entry and a marked improvement on the previous film.
Bonus Episode #NA-4 – United States: Ash vs. Evil Dead – “El Jefe” (2015)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Sometimes you just get the perfect gift and this Halloween, after years of promises with nothing but a good remake with quick cameo to suffice, there is finally a proper sequel to Army of Darkness. The Evil Dead Trilogy is without question the greatest horror trilogy ever made and probably my favorite trilogy period. The series ran from horror to horror-comedy and finally to comedy-fantasy with a bit of horror thrown in with each film being at or near the top of their respective subgenre. At the center of it all is Bruce Campbell’s career defining performance as Ash and Sam Raimi’s visual style and humor all of which have returned even though Raimi won’t be directing future episodes. Ash may be older and larger but he’s the still the same old guy. In many way it feels like the film is taking the most famous version Ash of Army of Darkness(which is regrettably being ignored for rights reasons) and throwing him into the world of the Evil Deads. Everything I could have wanted is here, the humor, the horror, the slapstick, the gore, the evil P.O.V. camera, the boomstick, the chainsaw. I could not be happier than I am right now.
Bonus Episode #NA-5 – United States: Excision (2008)
Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
The full length version of Excision is a really underrated and stylish horror film and I finally took a look at the short that preceded it. Everything in the short appears in the movie with the short just being a compressed version of the movie. I still prefer the movie more if only because it gave me more of the great visuals, but the short is much more efficient and does not have to drag out the non-fantasy sequences as much to its ultimate benefit.
Bonus Episode #26 – Pakistan: Hell’s Ground (Zibahkhana) (2007)
Directed by Omar Ali Khan
For much of its history, Pakistan’s cinema has been virtually nonexistent owning to censorship and government crackdowns. Even with a recent relative rebirth in film production, there has yet to be a film break out in the international market and only in 2013 did they start even submitting a film again to the Oscars. Even coming across this film was a bit of a fluke.
Instead of just picking one subgenre of horror to go with, decided to combine a bunch with zombies, a generic clasher villain (specifically a cross between Leatherface and Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2) in a burqa wielding a spiked ball on chain, randomly inserted comic panels, and some fairly obvious Texas Chainsaw Massacre riffs. These elements aren’t blended together so much as awkwardly sandwiched up together. There’s a surprising amount of gore and it’s generally well done.
Aside from the obvious at time fact it is shot on HD cameras, the film feels like it was something straight out of the 70’s or 80’s both from its appearance and considering all its source material. While I’m not sure if it was just the print I watched, but it sure looked like someone recorded it off a VHS which despite my feelings about the format (It stinks!) is perfect for the movie. It may not be the most original or well-made film, but I enjoyed it for the low budget genre mashup it was. There is also a character name OJ, a fact which never stops being funny.
Bonus Episode #27 – Spain: The Baby’s Room (2006)
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia
These next two films are a part of Spanish TV’s 6 Films Keep You Awake. Aside from Tobe Hooper, Álex de la Iglesia is the only repeat director this month previously being Spain’s official entry for Witching & Bitching. The “is the protagonist losing his mind or not” plot has a very mixed effect on me as it can get tedious real fast. As a result, the story frequently on the lead to keep the film compelling, and for the most part Javier Gutiérrez does a great job with that lending both sympathy and real color to the part. I still felt like the film got a bit repetitive and could’ve benefited from a shorter runtime even at its already quick 77 minutes or spent more of the time on the family pre things going to hell. Despite that, it’s still a solid and suspenseful film.
Bonus Episode #28 – Spain: To Let (2006)
Directed by Jaume Balagueró
On to the second and superior of these two entries. Jaume Balagueró would later go on to co-direct [REC] and [REC] 2 (and sole director of the 4th film) along with the director of another film in this series (Paco Plaza) with the original as probably the best example of found footage and one of the best zombie films of the 00’s. The film stars Macarena Gómez, though not to the extent the last entry starred anyone, who was also in the aforementioned Witching & Bitching but is given much more to do here. The old decaying apartment complex only adds to the creepiness serving almost as an extension of the villain To Let is very viscerally thrilling and with plenty of gore to go around as there have been few films this month that have kept me as much in suspense as this one has. It’s short length comes in real handy as the film never drags and ends right when it needs to SPOILERS in quite the bleak fashion END OF SPOILERS. My only real complaint comes in the form of the frequently shaky camerawork (not surprising considering the director) which is more a distraction than anything else.
Bonus Episode #29 – Poland: Lokis. A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (Lokis. Rękopis profesora Wittembacha) (1970)
Directed by Janusz Majewski
Here we are at the 38th and final nation represented, Poland. From the mid 50’s on, Poland has turned out a number of great directors including Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds, Kanal, etc.), Krzysztof Kieślowski (The Decalogue and the Three Colors trilogy), and yes Roman Polanski (even though the latter two turned out many of their most acclaimed films elsewhere) while also turning out such recently acclaimed films as In Darkness, Aftermath and Ida. Horror though has not been so successful amongst all the dramas they turn out.
Lokis has all the technical details working for it or at least not against it, but it has one fatal flaw that drags the movie down; it is just incredibly dull. It is a stretch to call the film horror outside of its basic premise which never even occurs on screen. Instead most of the movie is a bunch of people puttering about an estate talking while occasionally dropping a very heavy hint as what is to come. Even without being familiar with the original it was pretty easy to guess it was going in the direction of SPOILERS werebear since the film would practically stop in its tracks (not that it means much here) so they could drop another line about “bears, amirite?” or abruptly have the lead do something “wild” so he can be compared to a bear. I know a film is dull when all I can think of is when they will get to werebear factory because of how little I care about the characters and what they are doing END OF SPOILERS. The subtlety is in all the wrong places and there’s nothing to recommend here.
Bonus Episode #30 – United Kingdom: The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (Dance of the Vampires) (1967)
Directed by Roman Polanski
It may be almost impossible to separate this film’s director (and in this case also actor) from reality when discussing his work (especially with this week’s news), but I have long supported a separation of church and state when it comes to such matters and will do so here. While the man was born in the nation of the last film, this film is the final of three films he made in England before coming to America. The film is a horror comedy, very heavily weighted to the latter which is of a very mixed success. Much of this rests on the antics of Jack MacGowran which are rather hit and miss and reliant on farce, a genre of comedy which is hardly my favorite and hasn’t in my opinion aged well.SPOILERS The one thing I can say in the movie’s favor is the out of nowhere depressing ending which I have to admire for its boldness END OF SPOILERS. The film is ultimately pretty harmless but I had much higher expectations based on director and reputation.
Now this really is the end.
Up Next: There is no up next; this is the end (well aside from the downright excessive number of bonuses below). The final tally (including headers and such) according to Word is 64 pages and 31,399 words which is a bit depressing. Thank you to everyone who has read and/or commented on these. 61 (well 62 especially since counting the one gets me to 2/day) films, 3 shorts, and 1 TV episode from 38 countries were represented (if your country wasn’t picked it was certainly something personal and not because I couldn’t find a good representative to watch) and here are my picks for best and worst of the bunch.
Top 5 Films of the Month
1) Hour of the Wolf (Sweden)
2) The Cremator (Czech Republic)
3) Angst (Austria)
4) Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (Germany)
5) A Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea)
Bottom 5 Films of the Month
1) Silent House (US) It wasn’t even close
2) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (US)
3) 13B (India)
4) Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (US)
5) The Maid (Singapore)