I think of Day Night Day Night in some ways as a companion film to United 93. One is about a real event, one is imagined. One uses handheld camera and fast edits to convey a sense of urgency and naturalism, one gets much the same effect through long takes and subjective camerawork. Both are utterly gripping studies of how people react in high-stress situations — one is about the victims of terrorism, the other about the perpetrators. The protagonist of Day Night Day Night is an unnamed young woman (Luisa Williams) who has chosen to leave her life and her family behind to carry a bomb into Times Square in a backpack and detonate it.
Writer/director Julia Loktev keeps all this material non-specific — the masked men who prep her for the job seem American; the guy who drives her into the city looks Korean; the folks who make the bomb look … Jewish, maybe? It doesn’t matter. Loktev forces audience identification with her as a frightened woman looking for redemption, not as a symbol of any specific political beef, by keeping the camera close to her face and body, and in certain moments showing us exactly what she sees. (Cinematographer Benoît Debie, who also shot Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, knows a thing or two about the subjective camera.) It’s a slow-paced, methodical film, and also a very smart and instructive one that’s sympathetic to its sad bomber without forgiving her her intentions.
If you ever felt, as I did, there was some missing backstory associated with the smartly amusing Shaun of the Dead and its somewhat-less-brilliant follow-up, Hot Fuzz, you may be excited to make the acquaintance of Spaced, the consistently ingenious British TV show where director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost cut their comic teeth. Storywise, it’s no relation to Shaun of the Dead, even though it feels somewhat like a prequel — and it’s a bit thrilling to think of Tim Bisley, the videogame-addicted comic-book artist Pegg plays in Spaced finally given a chance to face the zombies who populate his dreams in a real-world post-apocalyptic showdown.
Here’s the bad news: it’s not as good as Dead & Buried. But it’s still pretty good. Director Gary Sherman’s 1972 feature, known in the U.S. as Raw Meat, is a spooky subway movie that takes place in the London Underground but features images of tunnelled emptiness that should send at least a mild shiver of recognition down the spine of any big-city dweller without the coin to take taxicabs every damn place under the sun. Like Dead & Buried, it involves a cop in over his head, but this time the cop — played in typically amiable style by Donald Pleasence — isn’t in any real danger. Instead, the protagonists are a hip young couple (their shared pad displays poster tributes to Hendrix and Che Guevara) who trip over an unconscious man on their way up the subway stairs after the last train departs the station. She wants to find help; he doesn’t want to get involved. And before a constable can be summoned, the body disappears.
Blue Underground released this notorious and oft-censored installment in the Black Emanuelle series, directed by the well-known schlockmeister Joe D’Amato and starring the knockout Laura Gemser as a labored metaphor for the free love movement. Emanuelle in America boasts the softcore action you’d expect, including some nude underwater frolicking and copious amounts of disinterested fondling and caressing. It also delivers the action you don’t expect — like a woman masturbating a horse (yes, this actually happens on screen) and some hardcore, ahem, inserts shot from the kinds of camera angles that might have been commonplace in the 1970s but now seem rather unusual.
Now here’s a real horror movie. So downbeat and unforgettably fatalistic that it almost qualifies as film noir, director Gary Sherman’s Dead & Buried was greeted on its original release without much fanfare outside of the genre community, though it was written and directed by smart people and was championed by horror specialists. Now, the scrappy young DVD label Blue Underground has given it the kind of release it deserves.
No thank you, online horror buffs, for starting the buzz that convinced me to take a chance on May, a quirky horror film from writer/director Lucky McKee. The presence of a front-of-DVD-case rave from Aint-It-Cool-News and a back-cover blurb from Film Threat was a clue that this indie horror film’s support is mostly limited to the Internet crowd. (Roger Ebert, the avuncular honorary leader of the online geek contingent, did give it a rave.) Early on, McKee displays a knack for genuinely discomfiting material involving contact lenses and animal hospitals, but such sharply focused moments are increasingly rare as he stretches his material to fill 93 minutes.
I wasn’t a fan of this, despite its enjoyable, blackly comic enthusiasm for scenes of elaborate death. The arrival of New Line’s special edition DVD enticed me to take a second look, and I’m still not a fan — but I appreciate the visual effects work even more than I did the first time through, thanks to the documentary features that underscore the extensive use of practical effects (that’s as opposed to computer-generated effects), such as carefully constructed dummies filled with disturbingly convincing blood and organs, that went into creating the wantonly bloody punctuation for the demise of each in a string of doomed lead characters.
In spite of my own tendencies, I’ve come to regard films with a cult following with some suspicion. As personal and extraordinary as many of them are, others seem to have gathered fans up in a single-throated horde like the unthinking masses heading to a fundamentalist rally or a Bon Jovi concert. The European horror genre, for instance, which is regarded with great fervor by a significant population of cinephiles, is home to a number of wonderful films, but also some of the grandest, most misogynist and misanthropic howlers ever committed to celluloid. Japanese anime is another one, a niche market of films that are regarded very highly by some very smart people but has largely failed to excite my interest, despite good-faith efforts to see highly lauded examples of the form in the movie theaters where they belong.