The first of two low-budget films that John Carpenter wrote pseudonymously and directed in and around downtown Los Angeles in the late-1980s, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of the creepiest movies ever made. Underrated at the time by critics who called it “cheesy” (Vincent Canby) and said “[it] stinks” (Richard Harrington), Prince of Darkness was clearly made fast and on the cheap, and it’s roughly crafted by Carpenter standards. Still, it’s a triumph of mood. Filling out a mystery-of-the-ancient-artifact yarn with a cosmic-horror mythology, Prince of Darkness lives in a sweet spot between religious thriller and Satanic potboiler where science is the way, the truth, and the life, for better or worse.
At a certain point about a third of the way into the home invasion thriller You’re Next, in which a wry indie comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering is interrupted by a wry indie slasher picture, a meathead sitting in the row in front of me started applauding. It was a slow clap. On screen, a man wearing a lamb mask had just punched a woman, hard, the force of his blow pushing her through a window. The meathead chuckled appreciatively before putting his hands together for the psycho. The woman crawled on the broken glass until the man in the mask pushed the sole of his boot into the top of her head, his axe following the arc of a golf swing before finding its mark. The meathead tittered delightedly about this and muttered something that I chose to ignore.
Didn’t want to miss this after hearing the stories from Sundance, but as it turns out I didn’t like this any better than McKee’s other films. Tarted up as a feminist parable, the film is a little too gleefully judgmental of a certain category of women that it believes are complicit in their own exploitation. At any rate, the patronizing gender studies mesh poorly with McKee’s slapdash directorial technique, and the slow-moving film is saddled with a jarring rock-and-roll song score and an ersatz 1970s editorial style that verges on self-parody. The best thing about McKee is the women he surrounds himself with, and the line-up of Angela Bettis, Carlee Baker, teenage Lauren Ashley Carter, and smoldering savage Pollyanna McIntosh, in a purely physical role, makes this easy enough to watch without quite dispelling the puerile didacticism of the whole affair. Sean Bridgers, too, playing a candidate for World’s Worst Dad, has some moments. The performances tug at the story’s more interesting undercurrents, trying to pull something up to the surface, and I kept imagining the myriad ways another director might have made something better and more urgent than McKee’s awkwardly sunlit mix of deadpan humor and grim endurance test. I’ll bet Rob Zombie’s The Woman would be something to see.
For the purposes of my devotion to Alien as perhaps the greatest horror film ever made, I pretend the sequels never existed — especially James Cameron’s take, a sop to the gun lobby that brought Ripley’s character in line with pop-culture convention by forcing her into surrogate maternity, as if her main character flaw was the absence of a child sucking at her tit. David Fincher’s Alien3 wasn’t exactly a great movie, but it was at least a welcome return to tough, uncompromising form. It pleased me that the story was set up with a middle finger raised in Cameron’s direction, so that you could essentially pretend that Alien3 picked up where the first movie left off.
There are very practical reasons why the edit is a fundamental unit of film grammar. For one thing, good storytelling generally favors it — few tales demand to be told in real time, without cuts and dissolves to compress the narrative. Conventional filmmaking practice makes good use of the edit by incorporating coverage, the various angles on a scene that allow the film editor some latitude to assemble and disassemble the action. And Eisensteinian montage techniques use the edit to express an idea purely through the juxtaposition of two images.
It’s feeding time for the monsters again in director Aldo Lado’s 1974 quasi-giallo Night Train Murders, which sees the young and lovely Margaret and Lisa (Irene Miracle and Laura D’Angelo, respectively, making their film debuts) cross paths with violent criminals while travelling overnight by rail from Germany through Austria to Italy. The stage is set as Pacino-esque stickup man Blackie and his harmonica-blowing sidekick Curly (Flavio Bucci and
Gianfranco De Grassi) mug an alcoholic sidewalk Santa Claus in Munich’s Marienplatz. Menace! With that kind of element loose in the cities, why would two girls choose to ride some skeevy midnight train into Italy instead of opting for a sensible air flight? From one mother to another, via telephone: “Planes are never on time these days.”
The third feature film by the brothers Howard and Jon Ford is an unabashed throwback — fan service for horror buffs who long for the glory days of George Romero zombies. The dilapidated shamblers of The Dead dominate a post-apocalyptic African landscape ravaged first by war and again by a walking dead (of unspecified origin, natch) whose population is slowly overwhelming its still-living counterparts. Avoiding their bite is a full-time job for an American engineer (Ron Freeman) who was the sole survivor of a failed evacuation attempt that left him stranded on the barren West African countryside. Having liberated an old pickup truck, he connects with an African sergeant (Ghanaian actor Prince David Osei) who’s trudging toward a fortified military base where he believes his young son is living as a refugee from the dead. The two men forge an alliance and press northward together, conserving food, water and ammo as they head toward an uncertain salvation.
Wait a minute. You mean “Cho Cha” isn’t just a cute story about a boy’s love for his cat? Next you’ll be telling me “Pink Cadillac” ain’t about driving around, neither. Anyway, this is not just a video for a terrific pop song, but also a surprisingly effective, self-contained little horror movie. It’s directed by Ryan Gosling’s buddy Zach Shields (together, they’re a band called Dead Man’s Bones) and, unsettlingly, stars noted Tiffany superfan Jeff Turner, who was a target of a restraining order on behalf of the 1980s pop star when she was 16 years old. Heh.