Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kill, Baby... Kill (1966; Mario Bava)

I shall once again delve into the classics of cinema with one of Italy's finest, Mario Bava. While never achieving the same fan base in the United States as his son, Lamberto, later would, many would argue Mario Bava is well deserving of the same, if not more, attention that his son would later recieve.

In a small, nearly abandoned town a curse looms over all who still live there. When one of the younger women in the town mysteriously dies, a "big town" inspector and doctor are called in to find out what really happened. They remain troubled, however, as no one in the town is willing to give them any sort of answer. It quickly becomes apparent to them that the people living within the small town are incredibly superstitious, and if they want to try and figure out what happened to the woman they must try and find out the past of the cursed town.

While Kill, Baby... Kill treads a very familiar ground in ghost tales, it is driven so wonderfully by Bava's eye with the camera, the unsettling score, and the entire cast's performances that no new ground needs be broken to make it a perfectly competent piece of art. Through watching Bava's work, you can very clearly see where another, more modern master got his inspiration. The colors, score, and general atmosphere of the film show a clear relation to the finer works of Dario Argento.

Some of the imagery is absolutely wonderful. Certain sequences, such as a collage of images in a nightmare sequence, can be truly frightening at times. We have all seen the parade of long haired Japanese preteens popping out at us recently (with mixed results) but the ghost Melissa in this movie easily tops the list as one of the most genuinely terrifying.

Bava's use of the camera is inspiring to say the least. While certain scenes show off true potential, he carefully skirts around coming off as too over confident in his skills. When you put on top of that his truely awe inspiring use of colors you create a visually stunning piece. The only real problem was that the script could not keep up with the excellence of everything else that was treating our senses.

It's like having to eat the greatest bowl of ice cream you've ever had but running out of sprinkles half way through.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Cobwebs, Spiderwebs, and a Scary Little Boy

*IMDb the last note if you can't figure it out yourself*

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Midnight Meat Train (2008; Ryuhei Kitamura)

Ryuhei Kitamura is a director many people have been keeping their eyes on. His eye with the camera is quite remarkable and most people would have trouble denying that (his action cutting is another story). When his popularity had grown so much that he was asked to direct an American horror film, I will admit I was very intrigued. It also brought to mind the time when he was asked to direct another film outside of his expertise, Godzilla. While never witnessing this film, the word on the street is that even his most dedicated fans had to turn away in disgust.

A small time photographer finally gets his shot at a larger scale show. The only problem is that the head of the show says his work is a little too shallow and he needs to dig just a little deeper into the city's underbelly to achieve real masterpieces. He tumbles upon a mysterious man who only boards the trains at night and he decides to try and figure out the reason why.

It turns out that Kitamura actually does have more than just one (action) trick up his sleeve. While his style is still very much present in the film via slow motion and heavily stylized kill scenes, the film definately has the feel of something very new to him.

First off, while his characters are not poorly constructed or poorly acted, they still feel a bit... bland. They just come off as any other American couple in any other American film (The Grudge's character come to mind as another example of this). While stereotypes can be helpful in films, this is not one of them.

I want to touch back for a minute upon the idea of Kitamura's camera. Word on the street is that some people feel that this film is a bit over directed. Meaning, he went way too far out of his way to try and make this film look so good it just looks like shit. I disagree. If you understand Kitamura's background, his touches feel very much normal for him and are not that far of a stretch with the material used in this specific film.

Now to speed up the rest of this so I have time to rest and try and get healthy. The colors used fit wonderfully with the rest of the film. The blue tones used in the subway car fit perfectly (and are also quite natural). The soundtrack isn't very memorable, but is at least competent. What is the point I am trying to get at? This film is a combination of the expertise of a very competent director and the average-ness of someone who obviously doesn't work in this genre mixture very often.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Ted Raimi, Conspiricies, and Mushroom? Chest

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rope (1948; Alfred Hitchcock)

Most of my movies that I review tend to be relatively new. Can you blame me? These movies are from my generation, are easier to research, and are easier to obtain. However, as a self proclaimed "film addict" I must always take some time to go back and obtain the classics. While most of them have been put on Criterion, and are therefore ludicrously expensive, some maintain normal (cheap) releases. Those are the ones for me.

Two intellectual socialites have embraced an idea that certain individuals at such a sophisticated level such as themselves have the right and responsibility to kill lesser individuals. To prove to themselves just how cunning they are, they decide to not only kill one of these lesser humans, they decide to hide the body in a chest in the middle of their living room. It also just so happens they are hosting a party for the man they murdered in that very room.

I have always maintained that Rope is Hitchcock's strongest film (followed closely by other well knowns such as Rear Window and Vertigo). The actors in this film pull off their respective roles perfectly, my favorite performance being Brandon (John Dall) who is a charismatic and manipulative som' bitch (and who is also a murderer).

I will be honest, some of my enjoyment of this film comes from the knowledge of how it was made. Hitchcock wanted to try and shoot a film in as few shots as possible. He was, however, limited to the length of the modern film reels, which led to the film ending at around ten rolls, with some of the cuts hidden by zooming into objects and zooming out at the start of the next roll.

That being said, this led to the camera being mostly restrained to sweeps and zooms, but it worked almost perfectly within the small confines of the film (a single room and a hall).

Which brings me to another thing I have noticed. There is something about confined films that makes me feel that it can show so much more about the director's skills when they can craft an interesting and gripping film only utilizing one or two set pieces (see 12 Angry Men). I also enjoy when directors can successfully juggle a large cast of major characters, but that is for later reviews (see my top two favorite films).

Where does this film go wrong? I felt the continual use of dialogue that was suppose to be cleverly playing around with the murder (stories of strangling chickens, the use of the word dead) was a bit over used and became so obvious at points it distracted you from the atmosphere of the film and pulled you back into reality for just a split second. While small, it still has an impact on the final vision of the film that prevents it from achieving the coveted perfect score.

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: James Stewart is a Sexy Man