Friday, October 14, 2011

B-Grade Bouillabaisse #1 - Burnt Offerings

I wasn't kidding when I said that I'd be updating awfully frequently, now was I?

I'm sure I'm not the first person to note how difficult it seems to write anything of note, especially when compared to those whose writing I anticipate and enjoy.  Couple that with my lifelong affair with torpor and this is what you get.  However, I have in fact watched a whole lot of movies since January.  I wish I could say that most of them were great.  I suppose I'll settle for each of them having their moments.

I remember watching Burnt Offerings on television as a boy.  There was a languid, hazy quality that I found nightmarish.  Now I'm more inclined to be annoyed by the Cybill-Shepherd-on-Moonlighting levels of vaseline on the lens.  Seriously, it's practically blurry much of the time. I also felt guilty for exhorting my wife to watch the whole thing with me because it overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes.  I am able at some times to be patient through a more slowly paced or subtly nuanced film.  However, other times I get bored and annoyed with the fact that people in the movie don't seem to catch on to shit and it's taking forever for anything to happen.

This is a movie about an old house that a family rents for a suspiciously low rate as a summer vacation home.  Its decrepit condition can only be remedied by an infusion of fresh blood, provided by each seasons' crop of new tenants.  Running the show is an old woman in the attic, who is not quite as she is first described by the owners of the home when meeting with the prospective renters. It's a really cool premise, and for a while the enormous house and gross conditions and that dreamlike creepy aspect keep it interesting.

Burnt Offerings features the talents of some people who are/were seemingly creepy in real life as well as in front of the camera.  Burgess Meredith gives off a kind of goofy yet sinister vibe, which is fun.  Oliver Reed is greasy and overly dramatic, pompous in his false joviality. Karen Black is so unattractive she's almost good-looking.  I always figured she'd never have become even marginally famous in any decade other than the 70's.  Bette Davis is pretty decent in this, but not for a while as she's given a lame sort of spunky old lady personality for most of the movie. It's when things go south for her that she really shines - and I don't just mean the sheen of perspiration magnified by the fuzzy lens.
"If you hate this movie so fucking much, why bother writing about it at all, especially considering you write about one entry every 9 months anyway?" you may be wondering.  This scene is why I'm bothering to write about it.  And besides, I don't hate this movie.  I was just more freaked out by it when I was a kid.  This scene doesn't mark the first appearance of the scariest thing in this movie, but it's the most effective appearance to me.  Bette Davis could act, dammit, and she gives her character's death some punch, which is no mean feat considering how incredibly old she was at the time.  And when the chauffeur pounds on the door and then the door opens to show THIS-
Even fat, old, boring me still got a touch of the willies.  And that scene gave me nightmares when I was a kid. So, to recap - cool premise.  Weird cast.  Forgettable kid.  Shameless overacting by Reed and Black. Bette Davis has an awesome scene. Crazy ending with a couple of other nice scenes - but the chauffeur?  That's the keeper.
I'm sure this movie has its fans.  It's weird and of its time through and through. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to its potential. I can't say I recommend this movie wholeheartedly, but if you have a fever and it comes on tv while you're under the covers and on the mend, check it out. I think sickness would complement this movie nicely.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Si, Se Puede

Ever since I was a wee sprat I thought movies about evil little kids looked really scary. I remember seeing photos from The Brood, probably in Fangoria, and getting the cold chills...maybe some clips from the original Village of the Damned...and of course Damien's wry little smile was creepy.

Strangely enough, however, I haven't managed to actually get creeped out watching any of those movies.  At least not by the kids themselves.  Don't get me wrong - The Brood is a great movie, and of course the Omen ain't half bad - but Village of the Damned?  Ehh.  The Good Son?  Good lord, no. Devil Times Five? Boring. Children of the Corn?  Maybe the first 5 minutes, and then only because I saw it in the theater when I was 13 and far more easily frightened than I am now...and while Malachi was certainly one ugly ginger dude it failed to maintain any sense of menace as the film progressed.  2 recent films I found to be mildly creepy that involved wacko kiddos were The Children (2008) and Home Movie. and Orphan was pretty cool, too...but I've still been taking advice from other horror fans and looking for the gnarliest and scariest killer kid flick. The most common and sincere recommendation?  1976's Quien Puede Matar a un Nino aka Who Can Kill a Child aka Island of the Damned aka The Killers Playground (whew).

One of the weirdest things about this movie is that it starts with several minutes of real footage of atrocities happening to children and larger humans - stuff like starving kids covered in flies, or burning with napalm, or trying to eat with no hands, or being thrown onto a giant pile of rotting corpses.  Now, when Sly Stallone did that at the beginning of the latest and greatest Rambo movie, he was showing how incredibly fucked up Myanmar really is, so that when it got ridiculously violent later on it would almost appear reasonable.  In this movie?  Not sure that I understand what it's doing there.  Kind of like an aperitif of Traces of Death before things jumped off, and pretty disgusting.  But anyway, the plot: Married couple with kids (who, I guess, are at home with a sitter or family or something) goes on vacation to coastal Spain.  They spend an evening in a town that features fireworks and parades with seriously fucking disturbing giant puppets dancing around:
dude, whatever...those aren't that bad


 Now most people might be perfectly happy to get a room in someone's house in a crowded-ass party town in Spain and take a vacation.  But nooo. The husband, in typical dude fashion, has to go to some little quasi-deserted island to really kick back and relax.  Never mind that it can only be reached by boat and that it takes like 4 hours to get there.  Never mind that his wife is noticeably pregnant and that there surely isn't any sort of readily available medical care on Super Rad Secret-ish Island.  Dude's just got to get there and show his lady what awesome is all about.  So they get a boat and go there.  Clearly the ozone layer was in better shape back then because they manage not to get sunburned even after sitting in a boat with no hats on for hours on end.  Anyway.  Once they get to the island, there are some weird kids who won't talk to them when they tie up their boat at the dock.  The couple shrug this off and head into the town, which is pretty much deserted.  The wife sits down in a cafe and interacts with a weird girl who touches the wife's belly and laughs to herself, while the husband roams around houses looking for people.

Even after the only people they come across prove to either be creepy-ass kids or dead adults, they don't leave the island.  The couple run across some dude whose daughter comes up to him and leads him off by the take him to a bunch of kids and kill him.  We also see a group of little kids hitting a local geezer like a pinata:
 but what we don't see is any way they could have hoisted his weighty old ass up like that.  This movie just shorted out my suspension of disbelief meter or something.  I mean, I was ready to believe that there could be an island full of evil little shits who would just as soon kill you as look at you...I just wasn't ready to believe that they could lift up some dude who probably weighs as much as the lot of them put together. I also understood the plight of the guy who walks away with his daughter to an ignoble was his own kid and so he wasn't seeing her as an evil child, but as his lovable daughter...but if that's the case, tie her up and schlep her off that damn island to a hospital on the mainland or something.  Jeez.

So anyway, the couple go from place to place on the island trying to get away, after what I respectfully submit is too fucking long jerking around doing stuff other than trying to get away.  Turns out that the baby inside the woman's womb has been infected by whatever got the rest of the island's kids all screwed up, and it kills her from the inside.  The husband tries to get away and ultimately fails.  What's most notable about this film, particularly for the time in which it was made, is that kids are indeed killed as the action unfolds...but I couldn't really see why they wouldn't have been.   Other than the poor bastard who had to deal with his own kid, anyway (the same dynamic used to good effect in 2008's The Children), I saw no reason why the protagonists should be so loath to kill these little shits.  They don't act like human beings.  They're trying, actively, to kill you or at least to stop you from getting away from them so they can gang up and kill you.  They suck.  I would kill as many of them as it would take to get myself back home to my own kids.  Naturally, I would probably make a mess of it and end up in the same spot as the stars of this film, but quandary?  Hell no.

I guess it's really the concept of killer kids in movies that I find unsettling rather than the execution of the idea.  If there's no emotional attachment to the little darlings, then it's hard to see why it supposed to be so taboo to get rid of them if your life depends on it.