Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Movie Review: The Ruins

I liked The Ruins. A little. Even if the premise was somewhat silly. (Killer weeds? Really?)

And then it became an exercise in futility truncated by illogical hope.

To explain: I take issue with much of modern American cinema. Namely, we (Americans) can't seem to be okay with total tragedy...someone always needs to escape. Hope is always an option.

Enter, The Ruins. Six twenty-somethings set out for a hidden Mayan temple. One makes it out alive. The primary villain/monster? Weeds that only grow on the temple. I can't believe in a weed that must feed on flesh--not one that moves as quickly or with as much intelligence as the killer plants in The Ruins. It just isn't biologically possible. One character even remarks that the plants must be really old because insects and birds don't land on the temple. How did the plant survive then, without the flesh it seemed to need? I can stomach something this implausible if it is presented as supernatural, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The first 45 minutes set up the tension and suspense well, culminating with the moment (in my opinion at least) that one character falls down a shaft into the heart of the ruined temple and breaks his back. After that point, the audience knows they are going to die. All of them.

But they don't. the worst tradition of "hope wins out" cinema, one character--one of the least likeable characters--escapes in the end. I like my tragedies Shakespearean. Kill 'em all.

Read the book (I haven't, but I heard the ending is much more...logical).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Race and Night of the Living Dead

I first watched Night of the Living Dead when I was eighteen. I grew up in a small town in Kansas. Sheltered, I guess you could say. The eighteen-year-old me didn't grasp the heavy race-relations overtones in the film.

I just watched it again at thirty-three. The thirty-three year old me wants to beat the eighteen year old for not understanding the depth and complexity of that movie.

Boy, have I changed. The whole movie can be read as a treatise on race in the 1960s. Notice the whole mob is white? Did you watch the credits and see those pictures of the "ghoul" lynch mob posing next to Ben's body? I'm not the first to point any of this out, and I won't be the last. How shocking was it for a crowd in the late 1960s to see a black man slap a white woman? Were those crowds paying attention?

Are we paying attention now? Horror is often considered the bastard cousin of the more legitimate speculative fiction. Horror is just for thrills, they say.

Watch Night of the Living Dead if you haven't already. Watch it again if you have seen it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Music for Monsters: Bauhaus

I picked up Crackle by Bauhaus last week.

Then I had a few nightmares.

I'll admit, the first I heard of the band was an accidental download of their "Ziggy Stardust" cover. Their prime time was a little before mine, and if I had listened to them in junior high, I probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I do now.

One song--if you can even call it a song--stands out as a dark musical masterpiece. "Bella Lugosi's Dead" (known by some from the snooze-fest movie, The Hunger) is an amazing piece of noise. The lyrics are perfect for monster lovers: "The virginal brides file past his tomb..."

Other tunes stand out as deliciously dark and creepy..."Silent Hedges", "Hollow Hills"--the titles alone would make nice horror films/stories/novels.

At times the music is too new wave/post disco for this monster fan, but I'll suffer through the pulsing high hat just to have a taste of lead singer Peter Murphy's haunting voice, the scratchy guitars and menacing bass.

Good stuff, monster lovers--and they give a nod to Lugosi.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Film Recommendation: Eyes Without a Face (1962)

George Franju's Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage in the original French) is a horror film built on a solid foundation of melancholy and despair rather than shock-fest fright. At its heart, Eyes is the story of a father who becomes a monster to atone for an accident that left his daughter literally without a face. The tale is plenty dark, and its combination of imagery, pacing, and subtly building music creates a poetic, somber tone that haunts after the final, surreal scene.

Known among some circles for a key scene--a bit of film history where a woman's face is surgically removed with a scalpel, and yes the camera allows no escape during that seminal moment--the film as a whole delivers an unflinching sense of sorrow and regret.

(He later transplants the skin on his own daughter...ewww.)

I give it 8.5/10 surgical scalpels.

Eyes Without a Face at and

Monday, October 20, 2008

Analysis: The Day the Earth Stood Still & Forbidden Planet

We are the scariest monsters.

Two science fiction movies from the 1950s act as a poignant reminder that people (and the technology we create) are the scariest monsters. The Cold War provided the backdrop for painting the portrait of the human monster. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) carried a disarmament message that I'm not sure the world's nuclear powers have taken heed even in 2008. People may "watch the skies" but the weapons mankind has constructed are far more frightening than a flying saucer. This film is a reminder that their is a gulf between being able to do something (e.g., create atomic bombs) and the wisdom recquired to use that ability.

MGM's Forbidden Planet (1956) made some very serious statements about the danger that lurks in humankind's subconscious mind. Produced at a time when the Soviets and Americans were developing technology at an alarming rate (especially weapons)--the parallels between Altair-4's history and Earth's present were quite vivid. The society on Altair-4 destroyed in a single day? I remember playground discussions about how nuclear weapons could, almost instantly, destroy all life on earth.

These two movies tried to show us that the real beast was lurking right here, on this planet, across the globe, across the street, and in our own minds. Have we, since the Cold War, become less monstrous and more human--less able to destroy each other and more likely to cooporate?