Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inferno (1980) Don't Touch That Book

Watching a good Dario Argento horror movie is like a big colorful funhouse. Some of the images thrown at you are ridiculous and scary at the same time in a way that is entirely unique and never boring. A lot of people hold Argento in high regard, and it's no surprise he's one of the fathers of modern suspense and horror - well, the good parts of it, anyway.

Starting with 1977's Suspiria, Argento set out to tell the story of The Three Mothers, three immensely powerful witches hidden throughout the world, manipulating reality. He would begin with the aforementioned Suspiria and finish it with 2007's Mother of Tears. Bridging the gap would be 1980's Inferno. Where Suspiria introduced the Mother of Sighs, Inferno brought us the Mother of Darkness and despite all the darkness in the film - nearly the entire film takes place at night - there are rich palettes of color throughout, something I always find to be a treat in Argento's films.


The story finds an old book, The Three Mothers, falling into the hands of Rose, who thinks she may be living in one of the witches' houses as described in the book by an architect named Varelli. Rose sends a letter about it to her brother, Mark, then descends into the basement to investigate. She finds a hidden underwater room containing a portrait titled "Mater Tenebrarum" (Mother of Darkness) and is startled by the surprise howdy-do by a rotting corpse. She escapes, but already, the eyes of evil are upon her - somebody's watching the girl. In Rome, Mark reads the letter from his sister, then is distracted by a smokin' fellow student holding a cat and practicing a silent charm like Snape in the first Harry Potter movie:

Hubba-hubba. Wait...did you just curse me?

The woman - who is quite possibly the third Mother, the Mother of Tears - disappears and Mark wanders off to search for her, leaving the letter behind. Inquisitive friend Sara reads the letter and stops off at a local library to further her research of The Three Mothers. She gets lost in the bizarre basement of the library before escaping back to her apartment, where she asks a fellow tenant to stick around and keep her company. He's thinking, "Sweet. Score!" until right about the time he gets a knife through his neck. Sara doesn't get too far before she's murdered as well.

Mark starts putting pieces together and attempts to get a hold of his sister, but neither he nor Rose can hear each other on the phone. Rose is then pursued by some mysterious figures and gets repeated shots of a glass panel against the throat for her troubles. Seriously, that book...just steer clear of it.

Mark arrives and finds that Rose has disappeared. In the meantime, he meets several of Rose's neighbors, including elderly Professor Arnold and his nurse, the Countess Elise, and the book store owner who sold Rose the book in the first place, the detestable Kazanian (the guy likes to drown cats, so yeah, detestable). Mark gets all fainty when he finds some blood spots and is set upon by a shrouded figure, which turns its attention to Elise, who is watching from a window. Elise runs, but is attacked by SUDDEN CATS* before she's stabbed.

The nurse and the building's caretaker take care of Mark until he decides he's with-it enough to ask Kazanian some questions. The book proprietor remains tight-lipped about Rose and Mark gets nothing. Later that night, during one of his gleeful cat-drowning sessions, Kazanian is attacked by rats and a possessed hot dog vendor in the park. At this point, I began to wonder if the evil was truly evil for offing the sadistic Kazanian.

People continue to drop like flies as a butler is terminated, and the caretaker inadvertently causes a fire and falls to her death. Mark, much like Suzy in Suspiria, explores deep into the bowels of the building where he uncovers some shocking truths about the building and about the tenants he meets. I won't spoil it here, but it's safe to say he meets Mater Tenebrarum.

Like many of Argento's movies, Inferno is beautifully shot and framed with meticulous care. Angles and colors play important parts; the way the blues and the reds stand out, as well as how a hallway or a sidewalk scene is shot. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way, but I'm going to take a stab - no pun intended - in the dark here. Inferno has a "claustrophobia in open spaces" feeling to me. I don't really mean "agoraphobic," I mean it manages to create a weight even in scenes shot in large rooms or outside. This bizarre world crushes down on Mark, and in turn, us. There's no escape for anyone who's even remotely associated with The Three Mothers. I don't know...I just got that sense of every angle of every area as unforgiving or heavy. I liked it. Just goes hand-in-hand with how Argento conducts a movie.

So that's two of the three "Three Mothers" movies down, one to go in Mother of Tears. We'll get to that crazy bridge when we get to it. Until then, survivors, if you see that accursed book in your local antique book store, run like the wind, I tell you. Run. Wind.


*It's actually a sudden swarm of angry cats, but SUDDEN CATS is more fun to say.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) Rorschach Gets Stabby

Ah, yes. Remakes.

It seems to be all the craze right now. Like the hula hoops and the Steve Urkel lunchboxes the kids are into these days, remakes of horror films - just about any film, really - seem to be all the rage. And sometimes, rage is the emotion they evoke. Once in a while, you get a remake that's done right, say, like the remake of Dawn Of The Dead. Respects the original without ripping it off or mocking it. Others, like the upcoming remake of the slug-in-the-gut, purely visceral Martyrs, bring about question marks. Does every foreign horror film have to be remade? And does every horror film have to be remade into a vehicle for pretty, savvy teens to audition for the CW Network? Oh, well. We'll always have Paris. And by Paris, I mean the originals.

I remember 1984. I was 17, just back from a year in Sweden as an exchange student. Still feeling my wild teenage oats. You know, hula hoops and Urkel lunchboxes and all. I went to see this new movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, after hearing about it from my friends. I wasn't sure what to expect, but thanks to one Wes Craven, I practically peed myself from fright. I'd never seen anything like it, which is a common theme with Craven's films. Freddy Krueger was unlike any horror killer before him: he fed on fear and belief, and murdered in the dreamscapes of others (or brought them into his own reality to kill, either way...). The role cemented Robert Englund as a legend in horror films, spawning several sequels and a TV show along the way.

Along comes 2010, and as I mentioned before, remakes and reboots are "en vogue" right about now. There was a collective groan from the horror community when just on the heels of the divisive Halloween remakes, a remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street was in full swing. My fears were softened a bit with the casting of Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off of his so-much-like-the-book portrayal of the superhero Rorschach in Watchmen. I grew up on Haley's work in The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, and was overjoyed to see him make a comeback - albeit in a creepy role in Little Children - so knowing he was Freddy Krueger made some of it easier to take. Unfortunately - and not unexpectedly - the movie employed the same formula as most "savvy modern teens in horror" remakes and it didn't stand out. It just became another movie.

As viewers, we don't have to wait long for the action to start in the movie. Dean, looking worse for wear, talks to Kris about his nightmares seeming too real and that he hasn't slept in three days. He nods off and meets Freddy Krueger, struggling with him in a dream world before dying there and in the real world, in front of Kris and Nancy, a waitress at the diner where this all happens. At Dean's funeral, Kris sees a picture of herself with Dean as kids, but doesn't recall ever knowing him until high school. Pretty soon, Kris is dreaming of Freddy and allows ex-boyfriend Jesse to keep her company while her mom is away. In a death very much like Amanda Wyss' Tina in the original, Kris is tossed around by an unseen force before being slashed open in front of Jesse. Jesse runs to Nancy's house to plead his case before being captured by the police. It isn't long before Jesse falls victim to Freddy while in his jail cell. It comes down to Nancy and Jesse's friend Quentin - who has a crush on Nancy - to uncover the mystery of this burned man and why there seems to be a connection between them and other strange deaths of kids their age.

I don't always want to come across like I instantly don't like remakes. Like I've said, some remakes work. The Seven Samurai remade as The Magnificent Seven works. The Thing From Another World redone as The Thing, and the aforementioned Dawn Of The Dead retelling are really quite good. This remake, honestly, did nothing for me.

That's not to say that it was all bad. It wasn't. I liked Haley as Freddy, and I did like the little touch of enhancing his voice whenever he spoke. Gave him an "omniscient" tone, much like Tony Todd in Candyman. In this movie, there is no doubt as to what he was before he was attacked by an angry mob of parents, and that lends some disturbing atmosphere to the character. The "body bag" moment, much like the original, lent some creepiness to the scene. I also liked Rooney Mara's performance as Nancy. She was portrayed with more social awkwardness and less "girl on the edge of being popular" than Heather Langenkamp's original role. She came off smart and haunted, which was a nice touch.

Otherwise, the movie didn't stand out. It wasn't - pardon the pun - a cut above anything else Hollywood wants to churn out. It didn't have a fresh energy or a unique fingerprint. It was an imitation. Some plot holes really, really stood out, though. Memory repression? Every single kid had it? Not a single one could even suspect something had happened in their youth? No explanation, just...repressed memories. I had trouble with that one. And the story didn't pop. This happens...then this happens...then this happens. Despite some neat moments, it just didn't resonate.

As I said before, we'll always have Paris in the original 1984 Wes Craven classic. And we'll always have Memphis wrestling, which made Freddy Krueger into an in-ring character:

Until next time, fellow survivors, watch your back when you fall asleep.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ink (2009) Creativity Isn't Dead

Several months ago, my friend and fellow horror blogger Andre from The Horror Digest recommended a slew of movies to me. From the visceral Martyrs to the emotional suspense of I'm Not Scared, she batted 1.000 with them. 2009's Ink was among those recommended, but it got shuffled around on my Netflix queue to the point where I was surprised to see it turn up in my mailbox. I've got to manage that list a little more closely.

Because I should've watched this sooner.

Ink, written and directed by Jamin Winans, is a study in how to weave a powerful tale - a fable in this case - without the benefit of an enormous budget. It wrote its own rules. It was not afraid of its own imagination. And yes, although there are jump cuts, rapid-fire visual tricks, and echoes of The Matrix (among some other distant relatives), it's what was at the heart of the film that moved me. That's it. This film had serious heart.

I can't really provide a detailed synopsis for Ink. To do so would be to spoil certain story elements that you really need to experience for yourself. I can tell you this much: after a tender prelude that actually begins with a jarring car accident, we meet little Emma who is watched over - like everyone - by The Storytellers, people who live on an astral plane and who provide the good dreams people have. Their opposites, the creepy Incubi, cast shadows that bring the nightmares. A misshapen, monstrous man covered in chains and cloaks - who we find later is the titular character, Ink - arrives and kidnaps Emma's astral form from her bedroom. Despite the warrior efforts of Allel, Gabe, and Sarah - the Storytellers assigned to Emma - Ink makes off with the girl in an attempt to bring her to the leader of the Incubi. Ink wants to become one of them, and must help sacrifice the girl, but a small drum he uses to open "doors" to other places is broken, and he must take the long road with Emma and soon another Storyteller, the legendary Liev. Meanwhile, Allel, Gabe, Sarah, and the somewhat-insane blind Pathfinder named Jacob must formulate a plan to reunite Emma with her emotionally distant (and for what he believes is a good reason), somewhat douche-y father, John, the man from the short prologue.

With all of these strings in motion, the film heads toward a conclusion full of action and revelations, punctuated by a lesson. The journey is beautiful. Music swells and weaves during the thoughtful and the action-packed scenes. Visually, shots are set up to frame not just the disorientation of the adventure, but the characters and their outward emotions. Settings and even the effects just look different. Plus, what you find out at the end of the journey is worth every second it took to get there. I like stories that step outside of linear narrative to push and pull reality like taffy. More subtle than most, Ink brings it all home with a climax that's emotional and exciting, packing two punches instead of one. There's that lesson, and it rings true for all of us: what is important in your life and is your anger or guilt sending you on a downward spiral? What can you do to - as Jacob says - "stop the flow"?

Ink is not really horror, although the Incubi are creepy beyond creepy, but I honestly wanted to include this on my blog and spread the word of a low-budget independent film that was a labor of love and I'm sure not easy to distribute. But once it was out there, peer-to-peer sharing (normally illegal, but encouraged by the filmmakers) and word-of-mouth hurtled this little film that could to cult status. I've seen it classified as science fiction, but that genre doesn't fit it either. Fantasy works, and I like the description of "dark fable."

And, oh, the details. Little things I noticed here and there. Among other things, when you see this movie, look for these:

* How the Storytellers appear in our world, like flashes of fireflies or cameras. Sweet little detail.

* How the real world "repairs" itself during a fight scene between Ink and The Storytellers. I love how there's NO evidence that there are forces battling for Emma because the physical world "rights" itself when the astral world makes an impact.

* The straight creepy visual of the Incubi: screens in front of their faces that magnify and distort their expressions, coupled with visual "interference." They rarely speak, but do in hushed tones like a team of conceptual Iagos (woo! Othello reference!).

* Jacob's demonstration of how he listens to the rhythm of the world, and how he can influence it to set in motion something that is designed - no matter how brutal - to help reunite John with his comatose daughter. The music and the cause-and-effect "dance" make for a beautiful scene.

* A single tear running down a certain character's face towards the end, along with the revelation of what has been happening. It's sudden, and it makes sense.

Ink moved me, pure and simple. Many movies claim to be "feel-good" movies, but this one really earned that stripe. It may not be scary, and it may not be disturbing, and it may not be shocking, but once in a while, it's nice to come away from a movie feeling like you really want to smile. And then dream some more.

Watch it. Enjoy. I hope you get the same out of it as I did. Take a peek at the well-done trailer for a glimpse:

Oh! And a quick, unrelated note: I was graciously invited by Nate Yapp of and my good buddy B-sol of The Vault of Horror to contribute to the movie blog, Cinema Geek. I was honored and quickly accepted, so head over there to see articles by yours truly, as well as some of the other great writers from the horror blog community, about movies other than horror.

Until next time, my fellow survivors, sweet dreams...don't let the Incubi give you nightmares.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Walking Dead Premiere - Some Things Are Worth The Wait

"'s makin' me wait!" - Old Heinz ketchup commercial

I've been disappointed by hype before, or at best, just a little let down. Way in the back of my mind, I feared the same would happen with AMC's new original series, The Walking Dead. It finally - after months of waiting - premiered appropriately on October 31 to the well-oiled hype machine that is AMC. That station, I tell you, is riding a serious wave of successful original series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. They, like HBO, seem to set the bar very high in terms of quality, so I knew the series was in good hands. But that nagging fear remained in the back of my head: "What if it's just so-so...or worse, what if it sucks?"

I'm happy to say that not only did the premiere live up to my expectations, it exceeded them.

Now, I may or may not review each episode. I haven't decided yet. More likely, I'll bookend the season with reviews starting with this one. Needless to say, if was borrowing a page from Roger Ebert's book, I'd be giving this a huge thumbs-up.

I love infection horror, and that's evident in my blog. Hell, I prefaced watching this premiere with my annual Halloween viewing of 1978's Dawn of the Dead. More than that, I'm a huge fan of the comic book from Image Comics, created and written by Robert Kirkman, who also co-produced the series (Kirkman also writes a superhero series called Invincible that I hope makes it to the screen as well). Knowing he had a huge say in what went down, and knowing director/screenwriter extraordinaire Frank Darabont was in charge, put me more and more at ease.

Many of you have already seen it, and I'm not going to spoil things for the rest of you. Basically, the plot follows the book for the most part: Deputy Rick Grimes wakes up after a gunshot puts him in a coma to find that the world has really changed. There aren't any living people that he sees right away, but there are plenty of dead bodies...and some of them move. Rick leaves the hospital and returns home to find his wife and son gone. He meets Morgan and Duane, a father and son living in a house once occupied by Rick's neighbors, and they get him up to speed about the disease that has reanimated the dead. In a brilliant but tragic addition to the mythos, Morgan and Duane agonize over the sight of Morgan's wife, Duane's mother, returning day after day as a zombie. Rick intends to move on to Atlanta to find his family, hoping Morgan and Duane will join him later. He finds a horse and rides into the city, but finds nothing but hungry ex-people. Trapped in a tank, Rick hears someone calling him "dumbass" on the radio (if you read the book, you know who it is) as the episode comes to a close.

I skimmed over quite a bit of it, but really, if you're able to watch it, you need to see and hear the experience. The flies buzzing? Nice touch. There are scenes that are perfectly silent, and the confusion and disorientation is enough to drive you crazy because you have no music cues to warn you, or tell you how to feel. The disease spares no one. Yes, a little girl zombie falls in the first few minutes. I know the "politically correct" will be up in arms: "what kind of image is that to show our precious children?" Please. It's horror. What would you do, give it Twizzlers and positively reinforce it not to bite you? Same with the horse. That's in the comic as well. It's hard to see, but it portrays how a zombified world would be. The living dead don't care about cuteness. They're just hungry forces of nature. Another gory, but great, touch was the completely masticated woman lying in the hospital hallway. Darabont told so much story in Rick's post-awakening scene with hardly a word. The half-woman bicycle zombie is straight from the book, but Darabont adds so much pathos and emotion to each scene, it's like an enhanced version of an already-great work. I really hope the rest of the season holds up to this fantastic premiere.

I can't enough good things about it. I've seen overwhelmingly positive reviews, and mine stands as my own. I'm sure there are some who didn't like it, but that's life. Or undead life. So many puns, so little time.

Until later, my friends, try to be awake when the zombie apocalypse comes. And be sure to catch The Walking Dead on AMC, Sundays at 10 p.m.