We decided after the big October Horror Marathon we needed to rewatch a few films and one was Cabin In The Woods. I also wanted to make sure I watched the early Cronenberg films I managed to get hold of. Cabin In The Woods is still great, but I'm afraid Cronenberg's earliest films are kinda terrible. It's more based around Cronenberg's obsession with psychoanalysis and has some of the intensity, but it's not engaging, enthralling or even coherent like Cronenberg's less early works like "Rabid" and "Scanners".
We also watch another Universal horror film (the follow-up to "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man") and I'm hoping to check out more of those very soon.
#8 Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Best thing: As much as I'd love to pick a favourite monster, I feel it's really the amazing range of threats in this crazy film. I feel that the giant bat has a particularly big star turn.
Worst thing: While I know it's supposed to be weird and uncomfortable, the erotic dance just feels a little too close to the kind of film this is supposed to be critiquing. Then again, as a film critiquing horror clichés, the almost identical 'gratuitous erotic dance by the fire' scene in the Friday the 13th remake (a film entirely comprised of horror clichés) does rather vindicate this.
(Above) These two scenes were created entirely independently. One of those films is making fun of clichés, while the other is just one big cliché.
Cabin In The Woods is still such a wonderful exploration of the horror genre, if a bit harsh in its thesis that all horror is following a single formula. If anything the third act craziness shows what a vibrant array of villains the horror genre involves.
In many ways, mind you, Cabin In The Woods is actually a love letter to the horror genre. There are references to all sorts of ideas and tropes from the horror genre. To parody (or in this case, subvert) something well there really needs to be some affection for the subject matter and Cabin In The Woods has that. The outcome of the other horror film taking place in Japan is a particularly wonderful statement on the differences within the genre.
Cabin In The Woods is just generally a great time. Love it.
#9 House of Frankenstein (1944)
Best thing: Boris Karloff as an evil scientist is awesome. Oddly he seemed to remind me of Jeremy Irons. Anyway his character is deliciously evil and I loved it. I only wish we could have seen his plans come to fruition.
Worst thing: Did they have bigger plans for the climax and no money for them. Our evil scientist is constantly promising to do some weird brain swap operations and instead the story just stops dead. It's a real pity because otherwise this could have been one of the very best Universal horror movies.
Can I just point out that Dracula gets into a chase scene on horseback? This film is crazy.
Sadly, after a really great first half, the second half really doesn't pay off. But Dr. Niemann is a fantastic new character played deliciously by Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney is an absolute delight whenever he returns to play the wolf man. The side-plot surrounding Dr. Nieman's Igor-esque sidekick also works very well. But for all that is good about this film, the ambitions of Dr. Niemann serve as a complete tease.
While it's nice to be able to say "this film leaves you wanting more", but I'd rather we actually had the payoff we waited for.
#10 Stereo (1969)
David Cronenberg early work #1: Stereo
Some dull black and white footage of someone wandering around what is blatantly a university campus while a narrator lectures us.
I briefly thought it might be about to get interesting when the narrator mentioned a psychic drilling through their own head for release. This is a clear reference to Michael Ironside's role in Scanners. I thought we might be about to see someone drill into their own head...
But it was just an aside. We see someone rub their forehead and then we are back to the same endless dirge.
And when I gave up on this there was so much left to go. My goodness, this was unbearable
#11 Transfer (1966)
Best thing: It was almost funny and the quick cuts to different locations helped add to the surrealism.
Worst thing: It's all about a patient and his psychoanalyst and frankly it's not very interesting but, worse than that, the acting is terrible.
When I put on a disc of early Cronenberg I didn’t realise it would be some short student films where the characters discuss psychoanalysis. I guess I should have known better.
#12 From The Drain (1967)
Best thing: There is actually a decent twist this time and the surrealism of having the whole thing take place in a bathtub is interesting.
Worst thing: If the acting was better perhaps this would be enjoyable. But while the amateur actor is clearly acting his heart out, I found he came across as annoying rather than funny. And the quieter actor was quite terrible.
A weird little short film set in a bathtub. The script is adequate but the performances are horrendous.
#13 Crimes Of The Future (1970)
Best thing: There are a few little touches that work to subvert expectations. Such as a person licking their glasses clean or where it is revealed that the male physician just happens to be wearing bright red nail varnish.
Worst thing: It was just so incredibly boring and nothing really seemed to be all that important.
These short films by David Cronenberg are all just terrible and Crimes Of The Future is no different. It just feels so long and it's all blatantly just people wandering around a university campus. I give David Cronenberg credit for trying, but overall this was rubbish.
#14 A Cat In The Brain (1990)
Best thing: The rotting head in the microwave? The victim in the wheelchair falling down the stairs? I actually think the best thing actually may be Lucio Fulci with a wild look in his eyes as he marches forward lunging with a knife.
Worst thing: While there are so many wonderful visuals, there are some points where the flow of the story is a bit awkward.
Apparently the horror elements here are all clips to promote other horror films. It doesn't make any difference to my enjoyment though. Combining Lucio Fulci's nightmarish surreal style with the excuse that the gory scenes are hallucinations makes for a pretty sensible plot when compared to Fulci's "The Beyond".
The wonderful opening scene portraying a literal cat clawing into a brain is a wonderful way to start this film about Lucio Fulci going crazy and being plagued by gory horror visions.
Thank you to everyone on Letterboxd who recommended this wonderful film. This is up there with “The Beyond” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters” as one of my favourite Lucio Fulci movies. This time it’s actually a “horror comedy” (my favourite genre!) and I adored it.
#15 Green Room (2015)
Best thing: It's a pretty fantastic performance from Anton Yelchin and I'm all the more horrified by what happens to his character considering the horrifying real life suffering that would have lead to his recent death.
Worst thing: I was trying to work out why Patrick Stewart's claim that "this will not end well" doesn't seem so creepy as it did in the trailer. I think it's because there is very little use of a creepy soundtrack here. And while the situation is certainly pretty sinister without extra dramatisation, the decision not to use sound to heighten the audience's anxiety feels like a mistake.
Murder Party was incredibly fun. The 'failed McGuyver' scene is absolutely brilliant. Before I knew about Murder Party, I'd already seen Blue Ruin. Blue Ruin was a film that was often quite slow but had some great moments and it was a very novel approach to a revenge story.
Green Room is probably my least favourite of Jeremy Saulier’s films. It's fine, but it gets pretty talky without really building up tension. There is some pretty great gore but there aren't that many moments where we are really forced to feel it (one moment involving Anton Yelchin's character being a notable exception).
I must admit that as much as I enjoyed Green Room I felt oddly distant from it. I can't even quite identify why (is it the lack of background music, is that it?) but something here seemed to fall flat and the movie is diminished as a result. But yeah, it's a good film.
#16 Burial Ground (1981)
Best thing: Admittedly the gore is great. This should be wonderful. Zombies surround our protagonists, some with maggots crawling over their faces, some set on fire, some biting off a woman's breasts. It's pretty crazy.
Worst thing: While the thing that frustrated me at the time was that the zombies are so slow (a character even overtly points this out), I think the real problem is that the shots linger long enough for us to clearly see how easy it is to get away from the zombies. Characters are able to burn zombies by going right up to them to cover them in (conveniently placed) flammable materials before returning to them with a carefully handled lit match. At other times characters seem to be pretty much offering their necks to be strangled. Quicker cuts might made the action seem more frantic. Also cutting away earlier might make it less obvious that the zombies aren't eating organs out of a dead body but are actually pulling red blocks out of a bag. The effects are fine but we linger too long.
I seem to be in a minority on this one. Pretty much all my friends seem to love Burial Ground. Yet while I can see similar elements to those I would enjoy enormously in a Lucio Fulci film, it just falls flat for me here. I think perhaps the big difference here might be the music. While Fulci amd Argento would have a rocking soundtrack with creepy chanting there's no such sense of urgency in Burial Ground.
I wanted to love Burial Ground but instead I was bored. Is there a different cut with better music somewhere? Did I watch the wrong version?