Saturday, 29 October 2011

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3011 Halftime Report

When it's Halloween, I can't think of a better way to fill your quota of treats and tricks than watching five days' worth of horror and cult films at the Night Visions festival. This year, the festival has grown enournmously large, and with me having 20 tickets to films, I have a lot of films to blog about. So hopefully I'm ready with this weekday report before I'll be taken up by the main night's Plan 9. It's going to be a longer movie binge that I've ever attempted before, so if I don't make it, take these words as a warning.

Opening Film:
The Thing (USA, 2011)
Director: Matthijs van Hejiningen

For all the bad words spurred at it by horror fans, this prequel/remake of John Carpenter's 1982 re-imagining of a 50's B-film/classic survival horror film isn't that bad. It's just ultimately futile, as there isn't any need to upgrade anything. Everything in the original film, from Ennio Morricone's score to Rob Bottin's amazing special effects to Carpenter's confident direction still work. But the end result is still one of the better re-imaginings of horror films of late. The makers of the remake respect Carpenter's vision so much that rather than going out their way to replicate every character and scene, they rather choose to do their own narrative. I wish more remakers would be as considerate.

Taking place before the events of Carpenter's film, The New Thing takes place in 1982 at a Norwegian outpost in the Antarctica. They discover an ancient spaceship on ice, and call a handful of American researchers to study it, including grad student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The creature they discover turns up to be very much alive, and capable of both killing off the entire crew, as well as inhabiting their bodies, creating perfect replicas.

Director Matthijs van Hejiningen, Jr. uses considerable time to build up tension and characters before they start to fight for their lives. Again, it really isn't that necessary as everyone who's seen the original knows how this will end for them, but it is nevertheless a nice gesture. There are too many characters to keep track of, but some that do grow a little close, so when they die, one isn't totally indifferent. Kate herself is a nice strong female character, if one doesn't actually expect that to mean her to be a multidimensional character as well. Winstead still does her best in the role.

As for the creature itself, it is now made primarily with (of course) CGI effects. And they aren't as scary, either, but still rather impressive-looking at least. Also his behavior isn't very logical, but that may be because he's just been thawed. The sense of paranoia is back, but of course this works the best in scenes that are almost carbon-copies of Carpenter's scenes.

I wouldn't go as far as to recommend this, but it does have several scenes that work and it really makes me want to see The Thing again. So as an appetizer or a companion piece, this gets a pass.

★★ 1/2

Revenge – A Love Story (Fuk sau che chi sei, Hong Kong 2010)
Director: Ching-Po Wong

While I saw The Thing beforehand, the real opening film of the festival for me was this return of the violent Hongkong CAT III-rated thrillers. The complicated plot of the film begins as pregnant women are murdered by a serial killer, and the police force close in on their main suspect. We then jump back to see the killer Kit (Juno Mak) start out as a mistreated grocery salesman. He falls madly in love with his client Wing (Sola Aoi), but the evil of the world as well as the corruption of the police force ruins their planned life together. Kit is actually performing an elaborate revenge scheme to get back at the police.

Indeed, while the film moves so fast that all of its plot-twists are hard to keep track of, it certainly succeeds in blurring the line between its heroes and villains. The police in this are some of the most rotten apples on the force I've witnessed on the big screen. But for all its name as a love story, it is a very masculine picture, where women are treated as MacGuffins. In fact, the lead lady Wing can't even talk, yet represents an otherworldly goodness. The central revenge plot would be more fascinating if she were fleshed out a little as a character. The film is also extremely violent, but also quite inventive in all its gore. There are a few really memorable kills, some of which Christopher Nolan probably wishes he would've come up with for The Dark Knight.


The Finlandia gala film: 
Merkitty (Finland, 1984)
Director: Ismo Sajakorpi

Finland has tended to be an unbelievably repressive country in regard of genre films. Previously I thought that all of out country's horror films could be counted with the fingers of one hand, but as some real gems have been found from the past, I'm now confident to say you'd need your other hand's fingers as well. Back in the early 1980's, when Western Europe's toughest cencorship still reigned in Finland, and there was no horror culture in the country to speak of, one man has an idea. He would do a six-part series for television, each of which would be an independent horror story, in the vein of Tales From The Crypt or The Twilight Zone. The man was Ismo Sajakorpi, but he was only allowed to shoot the first part of his Yöjuttu series before the TV channel pulled the plug on the project. That episode is the 50-minute Merkitty (which means Marked).

Ex-prostiture Irma Auer (Satu Silvo) attempts to escape her past and is engaged to marriage. She and her new fiancée are both interested in the occult, taking part of spiritist sessions. One night, Irma's pimp appears and wants her back on the force. He wrecks Irma's new life so beyond repair that the young woman commits suicide. But to the amazemant of her doctor (Eero Melasniemi) and her mortician (Matti Pellonpää), Irma soon walks out of the cooler, alive again. The lady soon escapes to Porvoo to live with her relative. But her life is haunted by the Grim Reaper and some twisted otherworldly visions he brings with him.

This being a TV production from the 80's, there's bound to be some campy acting and scenes in the film. That being said, I felt guilty for chuckling and for the audience for not appreciating the power of this piece. Sajakorpi knows how to create a creepy athmosphere and has the visual knack to pull off some truly horrifying visions. It's a real pity that he couldn't finish his proposed series, or never attempted to direct a real feature-length film. The film's plot moves brisk and has perhaps a few too many characters. Some famous finnish actors have tiny cameos and Silvo turned out to be a major star after that. But the central story is the tragedy of a woman between life and death and that is dealt with the necessary gravita. All props to Silvo, who is great as a scream-queen, and manages to run pretty fast in high heels at the pebbly pavements of Porvoo.


Another Earth (USA, 2011)
Director: Mike Cahill

Ponderous sci-fi films belong among the more outrageous horrors at Night Visions festival, but I'm still glad that this year their time slot has been earlier. Still, the dreamlike quality and the slow approach of this new indie lulled me to sleep for a while. So forgive me if I've missed something of big importance.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a soon-to-be MIT student, reckless and loving life. One night, while driving in her car she hears a radio broadcast that a planet much like Earth has been found and is coming nearer and nearer to us. The distracted Rhoda crashes the car to the Family Sedan of the composer John Burroughs (William Mapother). John loses his wife and daughter in the accident, while Rhoda gets a prison sentence. Years after, she hasn't still gotten rid of the guilt. Nervous and anxious, she isn't qualified for anything other than cleaning a school. An expedition is to be made on Earth II, and Rhoda decides to apply, wanting to leave her dead-end life. She also decides to apologize to John, but can't do it at his door, instead lying about being from a cleaning service. The pair start to develop a friendship, and perhaps something more, but Rhoda still carries the guilt in her heart.

As you would guess, the sci-fi elements are in a pretty small role in this film. And they work in an allegory fashion, the film being about forgiveness and about getting another chance. Brit Marling is wonderfully low-key in her role, and it's hard not to feel sympathy for a troubled twenty-something that wrecked her life just because of one accident. Yet the film moves slow and doesn't really have that many surprises at its sleeve, story-wise or cinematically. Still, it is directed with confidence and one should always welcome another ponderous sci-fi film to the world with open arms. Cahill may yet amount to something big.


Loputon Gehennan liekki (Finland, 2011)
Director: Sami Kettunen

Black Metal is truly one of the most controversial genres of music, because many artists have strong connections to neo nazism, satanic rituals and, especially in Norway, arsony. Being a very metal country, Finland of couse also has a very "healthy" scene of bands, many of them popular around BM circles around the world. For the world premiere of the documentary film dealing with the subject, the whole movie theatre Maxim was packed to the rafters with anxious fans, shouting out to the director and eagerly wanting to see the film. Based on a trailer, Sami Kettunen's documentary seemed to be both a giant warehouse filled with one-liners, and a fascinating look at a subculture, where many of the members border on insane criminals.

But to this punk rocker's view of the 50-minute documentary, it only delivers on one of the aspects. Kettunen has truly found an impressive arsenal of metalheads to interview, and they do share some pretty interesting stories with him openly. But as an introduction to the subculture, the film is seriously lacking. For one thing, the film has very little actual music. The budget has been minimal, so to avoid paying for the rights, most of the screentime is given to the interviews. Kettunen also has problems with pacing, halting the film for excruciatingly long to shoot a boring satanic ritual where some weirdos only chant gibberish from Necronomicon. He also fails to question any of the questionable choices of black metallists, be it from their Extreme Rightist ideology, misogynism or hatred for all institutions in the society. There isn't much pondering of what makes young men turn into the dark side.

It does deliver some good laughs from the outrageous black metallist comments, but in the end one is left wanting more out of the subject. Maybe Kettunen is too engulfed into the subculture himself, and someone a little outside the circles would treat the idea with more criticism and approach it from a more interesting angle.


Trick or Treat (USA, 1986)
Director: Charles Martin Smith

It seems silly now, but hard rock was really music for the outcasts back in the early-to-mid 80's. Moralists who had nothing better to do were preaching against the devil music on TV, and in school you might be bullied for just being a headbanger. During my childhood, the tougher you were on the playground, the heavier music you listened to, and moralists had already found video games to pick on. But Trick or Treat is a fun time travel to the days where nerdy metal heads were wishing they could kick the asses of everyone who wronged them.

So is also Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), an outcast who gets picked on for being weird at school (!) and who worships the Alice Cooper-like shock rocker Sammi Curr (Tony Fields). Near Halloween, it is reported that Curr has died in a hotel fire. The grieving Weinbauer gets Curr's last LP's Demo from a local DJ, and finds that it contains backward messages. Curr communicates with Weinbauer through the record, and allows for him to get revenge on his bullies. But then Curr gets thirsty for blood and demands for Weinbauer to kill.

The film has the right attitude, and boasts with cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne (as a right-wing televangelist!). So, it's a little disappointing that the film is a little basful in its violence. A lot of people get electrocuted to death, but instead of smoking skeletons, they only vanish into air by smoke. An odd rape monster appears in one scene but is never seen again. The film does have a pair of boobies or two, and the hilariously awful hair metal soundtrack is provided by the band Fastway. The film has funny enough high school hijinks, and some inventive physical comedy. It also rips good fun at the scare caused by heavy metal and its influence on kids. However, it does run out of steam near the end, and the final showdown is a bit underwhelming. Still, this is one to recommend if you have heavy opinions about rock 'n roll. Just be sure to see it with like-minded friends.

The film's title is stupid and doesn't fit the film at all, but even more hilariously un-descriptive is the film's finnish title Henki vaarassa (Life in danger).

★★★ 1/2

Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, Italy 1975)
Director: Dario Argento

The band Goblin, known for the soundtracks of numerous classic Italian horror films (most of them directed by Dario Argento), played a rare gig at Helsinki about a month ago. Since that unforgettable night, all of the attendees have been anxious to see their favorite giallos again and again. Luckily Night Visions recognized this urge and screened my very favorite giallo, Profondo Rosso to the big screen of Maxim. Goblin provided a video greeting to be screened in front of the film. Suffice to say, I was thrilled.

And time hasn't eaten away any of the appeal of Argento's greatest masterpiece. The film copy was from the superior and shorter American cut of the film that leaves much of the film's jarring humour, but still doesn't make the film overly serious. The film's plot has an American pianist and my haircut-sharing lookalike Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnessing a brutal murder of a clairvoyant in Rome. He gets entangled in a mystery, that goes back to one murder at Christmastime 20 years before. The sadistic killer always plays a creepy children's song before attacking. With Daly trying to crack the case are an Italian journalist and generally tough chick Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), Carlo, a drunkard (Gabriele Lavia) and the Roman Inspector Calcabrini (Eros Pagni).

Argento perfecteted his cinematic style with this film. His camera swoops, follows and focuses on close-ups. The film has been a real pioneer in horror cinema, which were never the same after this. For example, Halloween gets the credit for using the killer's point-of-view, but this was used to some extent already in here. Argento pays close attention to faucets, dolls, mirrors, children's drawings etc., giving them an almost mythological totem power. The kill scenes are made with faster cuts, but they still hold immense power with their icky violence and the extensive use of blood. The drowning in boiling water is one of the most horrifying kills ever to me as a horror film aficianado. The film's plot isn't really that important, and it has a number of holes and flaws, but who cares about that when everything else is so perfected? The hallucinatory colors of this film on a big screen are among the most perfect cinematic experiences I've had this year.


The Whisperer in Darkness (USA, 2011)
Director: Sean Branney

Sean Branney and Andrew Leman are massive H.P. Lovecraft fans, having made the cool silent fan film The Call of Cthulhu (2005) before. Now, they have co-written, while Branney has directed and Leman has produced, another Lovecraft tale, The Whisperer in Darkness to make their first feature-length film. As the original story has been written in 1931, Branney has decided to make the film as if it were from the 30's as well.

Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) is a folklorist, interested in finding the facts behind the legends. When he hears about sightings of strange creatures in Vermont, he would like to arrange an expedition. But he is still having trouble getting other scientists to believe there might be otherworldly aliens lurking in the woods. He starts to exchange letters with the local Vermont man, Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), who insists that the sightings and the monsters are real. But someone doesn't want Akeley to reveal all his information, and he and his son soon get into trouble. Wilmarth decides to travel to Vermont to solve the case once and for all.

I am not a big Lovecraft fan, altough I admit that some of his scenarios and ideas are pretty creepy. A straight adaptation into cinema would rarely work, as Branney, present at the screening imself admitted. The orginal Whisperer story would have been about two guys reading their mail if adapted straight from the pages. Yet the ending they tacked on doesn't feel as sophisticated and ever-growing horrors as Lovecraft imagined. It feels like the climax of a bad Will Smith movie. Otherwise, the story is slow and long-wided, padding up the twenty-page story as much as possible. It is easy to get bored. In Call of Cthulhu, the film was saved by the cute stop-motion Cthulhu, which makes it sad that the monsters here are crappy CGI creatures who couldn't scare Scooby-Doo. There are some really good scenes, such as the discussions with brains in a jar, but mostly the film was just dire.


1990: Bronx Warriors (Italy, 1982)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari

The legendary Italian exploitation director Enzo G. Castellari was this year's biggest guest of honor, so naturally the festival had to show one of his post-apocalyptic biker films. Taking it's cue from The Warriors, Escape From New York and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Castellari managed to blend his subjects into a film that was also highly original and massively popular. The film was in fact the sixth most popular film in the US on the year it was made.

A beautiful young girl, Ann (Stefania Girolami Goodwin) escapes from Manhattan into the Bronx, which has by 1990 been restricted from other New York and is a violent playground for various biker gangs. Ann is chased by the gang The Zombies by Trash (Mark Gregory), the leader of a gang called The Riders. It is revealed that she is the daughter of a powerful industrialist and due to become the CEO of the company, a fate which Ann seeks to avoid. But the Manhattan fat cats won't let her escape so easily. They send out the ruthless Hammer (Vic Morrow) after her. Hammer is an expert of war, knowing how to play the weak spots of various bikers and how to get the gangs and gang members to fight each other. Hammer is also a big sadist, taking maniacal pleasure on bloodshed.

Impressively, Castellari has actually filmed the outdoor shots in real Bronx, and the underground shots in real catacombs in Italy. Thus the film already seems like a lot more plausible than some of his other postapocalyptic films which have been shot on a gravel mount. The acting ranges from ludicrouslu wooden-faced (Gregory), to über-coolness (Fred Williams), to the kind of manic just-having-fun craziness, the kind that Raul Julia sported on Street Fighter (Vic Morrow). Like any good exploitation film, the film is violent, inventive, more than a little childish, and more fun than a barrell of monkeys. Castellari claimed after the screening that he meant the film to be serious, but he is the sort of tongue-in-cheek type that I wouldn't be sure of that. As of now, it is pure campy, trashy fun.


So here's the first set, hopefully I'll be back for more soon. If I don't make it tonight carry on rocking!

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