10/11/2018 – Claire Denis: Trouble Every Day (2001)
Directed by Claire Denis
The jump from 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre to 2001 may seem severe, but the situation is not as dire as it looks. In fact, it almost reflects positively on female directed horror in the period since the jump is partly caused by my having seen eligible films from this era. The films up until now have been minor cult items at best, a trend that would continue in the few years after ’82 with titles like A Night to Dismember (from Doris Wishman), Rocktober Blood (by Beverly Sebastian), The Oracle, the X-rated for violence Tenement (both by Roberta Findlay), Sorority House Massacre (by Carol Frank), and the patched together Spookies (which had Eugenie Joseph come in and shoot a bunch of extra footage to make a new film from another called Twisted Souls).
In 1987, however, we had our first major horror release from a woman in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. A vampire–western starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton, it failed at the box office on release, it has major cult film while Bigelow herself would become the first woman to with the Oscar for Best Director. Among the other films released that year were the sequel to The Slumber Party Massacre and Jackie Kong’s second horror film (after The Being), Blood Diner, her spiritual sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s genre defining splatter film Blood Feast. Films like Katt Shea’s Dance of the Damned and Janet Greek’s Spellbinder (another film I’ve seen, though not a very good one), but the biggest success to date by far would come in the form of a 1989 Stephen King adaptation. Not only was Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary a major financial success and by far the highest grossing by a female horror director to that point (and 10th overall that decade), it’s also an entertaining and quotable flick. She would also direct the much lesser sequel three years later.
After the release of Mirror, Mirror in 1990, the following year saw the release of yet another major film as the Nightmare on Elm Street series had its last regular entry with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare directed by Rachel Talalay (of Tank Girl directing fame). The series was practically a comedy by this point, but there was still enjoyment to be had in it. While Boxing Helena (the feature debut by Jennifer Lynch) and Embrace of the Vampire (from Anne Goursaud) have achieved a degree of notoriety for reasons other than quality, two films from outside the US, Canada’s Blood & Donuts from 1995 (a horror-comedy directed by Holly Dale and featuring a David Cronenberg cameo) and Japan’s Organ (a gory crime film by Kei Fujiwara) have achieved cult success. The less said about Katt Shea’s belated sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 the better, but the horror-western Ravenous (which would sadly be the last film from Antonia Bird who took over midway through filming) is the best film we’ve come across in this section of the feature. That leaves only one last film, Mary Harron’s 2000 adaptation of American Psycho. Pinning it to one genre is difficult, let alone horror, but it’s influence and popularity is undeniable in turning Patrick Bateman into one of cinema’s great villains.
Claire Denis was born in Paris, but she spent much of her childhood in West Africa. She returned to France as a teen and attended film school at IDHEC. In 1988, she made her debut with the semi-autobiographical Chocolat (not that one) and achieved acclaim for her work. That film would be followed up by U.S. Go Home in 1994 and Nénette et Boni in 1996 before achieving her greatest critical success with Beau Travail. That film (which sits at 79 and 95 on the Sight and Sound Critics and Directors polls) loosely adapted Melville’s Billy Budd and set it in Djibouti and earned her universal acclaim. Her next film was today’s and it achieved a far lesser reputation as well as a bit of controversy.
She’d rebound however with Friday Night and especially her following three films The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum, and White Material which would continue to build her reputation and frequently land on critics’ year end best picture lists. 2013’s Bastards would prove to be a bit of a critical comedown, but the last two years have the comedy-drama Let the Sunshine In and the sci-fi film High Life as she continues to bounce around genres and pick up plaudits.
Trouble Every Day is another film after Fish & Cat that sure takes it time. The plot reveals itself slowly and the dialogue is minimal, letting minor things like who the hell these people are or what they are doing affect proceedings. Coré is locked up in her house everyday by her doctor husband and the two of them have basically disappeared off the face of the Earth as far as his former life is concerned. She is frequently covered in blood which her husband has to clean off when he comes home, but the film slow plays exactly why. Meanwhile, an American couple travels to Paris on their honeymoon, but the man, another doctor played by Vincent Gallo is also secretly looking for the other couple as he had become obsessed with Coré.
The film is full of long, lingering shots especially noticeable of actress Béatrice Dalle’s body. Dalle is practically animalistic, barely speaking if at all while Gallo is as intentionally off-kilter a presence as always. Time to get into big spoilers territory since it’s hard to talk about the rest of the movie without it. SPOILERS1
It’s hard for me to parse out my feelings about the film. I quite liked what they did with Coré and Denis’s innovations to the SPOILERS2genre. It also manages to make an erotic horror movie that doesn’t feel exploitative while turning that into something unsettling, a rare trait for me in movies. Yet, I found its obliqueness often frustrating, the increased focus on Gallo’s less interesting character always feeling like a letdown whenever we’d cut to him. While the brief bits of gore look convincingly brutal, there are some really bad fire effects at one point and the simulation of bodily fluids was laughable. I still find the switching up of camera styles as pointless here as they are in every other art movie that pulls the trick, though at least Denis thankfully keeps it to a minimum.
Trouble Every Day is an engaging film and one that aside from a bit of flab in the ending SPOILERS3, a movie that’s well paced. It’s worth seeing for those horror fans interested in something different, but the movie falls short of a full recommendation even though it will stick with me.
Bonus Episode #17 – A – 1980s: Amityville 3-D (1983)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
A lot can be written about Ed and Lorraine Warren and just how awful of people they are/were and about what their continued use in horror means from a moral standpoint. Frankly, I’m not going to bother here. In part, because I’ve still got plenty of time with Annabelle: Creation (The Nun is unlikely to happen this year) still on the docket for this year, largely because plenty has already been said about them, but even more so because this film (despite using a couple legally changed references to the previous films, is largely unrelated in plot). I’ve already talked about the remake of the original The Amityville Horror, but that original film (based on an admitted fabrication and starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder) from 1979 was rubbish that’s one strength was having a house which looked both menacing and like any other at the same time. Then Amityville II: The Possession came out of nowhere three years later and turned out to be surprisingly alright.
I won’t pretend that is why I watched Amityville 3-D. I fully expected it to be garbage, but with my propensity towards series and silly titles (released the same year as Jaws 3-D), it had to be watched. As the title indicates, the movie is in 3-D and was part of a brief revival in the form (see also Friday the 13th Part III). I didn’t watch it in 3-D so when the opening titles and credits, a bunch of swarming insects, a metal pole, or a microphone flew at the screen, I only had to imagine how little of a difference it would have made.
During a seance conducted at the Amityville house, where a “spirit” appears as a floating, glowing orb of cotton, it is revealed to be a sting conducted by Reveal Magazine to expose the frauds. Not doing a great job of making me forget that your franchise is built on the work of frauds Dino De Laurentiis. One of the journalists is persuaded to purchase the house, needing somewhere cheap to move after his divorce. Since he’s someone who’s made his career debunking this sort of thing, it’s a natural fit. Since this is an Amityville movie, it’s also a recipe for disaster.
The people around him start getting killed or attacked by the house including a coworker who is scared into hysterics by the house blowing some fuses, opening a window and then shooting a bunch of wind. Insects are the big theme this movie, behind (or at least nearby) most of the events and it is even more silly than it sounds. SPOILERS4
The film is directed by Richard Fleischer of The Narrow Margin, Compulsion, Fantastic Voyage, and Soylent Green, but who more recently had been directing things like Mandingo, Ashanti, and The Jazz Singer) and there is no indication of his earlier talent. Tony Roberts (a Woody Allen regular) gives a dull performance as the lead, but oh shit, it’s Lori Loughlin as the journalist’s daughter, Meg Ryan (in her second film) as her friend who is obsessed with the history of the place, and Tess Harper (future Oscar nominee for Crimes of the Heart) as his soon to be ex-wife in her second role.
Amityville 3-D to be bad and while it delivered on that, it wasn’t able to deliver on any of the cheesy fun that should be expected with a bad 3-D horror movie. It’s trading in “scares” straight out of a movie from the ’50s, the last time 3-D had hit big and that’s when it’s not trotting out Ouija boards and whatever other boring stock tropes it can think of. The one positive I can think of is that at least it is shorter than the original film.
Next up: We head to Nepal for the 2008 film Kagbeni.