Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Category: Movie a Week 2019 (page 2 of 3)

High Tension

Marie goes to her friend Alexia’s isolated family farmhouse for the weekend. During the night, a psychopath attacks, murdering the family and kidnapping Alexia. Marie pursues the psychopath and tries to save Alexia.

This is a brutal movie, with terrific tension and horrific gore. The twist at the end doesn’t feel earned–it was certainly never set up in a way that could have tipped off even the most astute viewer–but I’m willing to forgive it for the unrelenting violence and psychic trauma that leads up to it. It’s on par with The Strangers for home invasion horror, and Raw for blood spatter and Francophone psychosexual terror.

The Reflecting Skin

A boy living in a farming community comes to suspect his neighbor, an English widow, is actually a vampire, who he suspects is responsible for the mysterious disappearance of two of his friends. After his father’s brutal suicide, the boy’s brother comes home and starts an affair with the neighbor, which the boy tries to disrupt when signs of the vampire’s effects on him become apparent.

This movie is strong on concept, but weak on execution. The ideas in it are really interesting–I like the way it slowly unfolds that the boy’s brother has been away in the Pacific during nuclear weapons testing, and the way he and his friends misinterpret the neighbor’s grief and isolation as signs of vampirism. But the acting is melodramatic, and some important plot points–in particular the friends’ abductions, and the father’s history of homosexuality and possible pedophilia–are left dangling.

Deadgirl

Two high school boys skip school to drink, smoke, and goof off in an abandoned mental hospital. In the basement they find a woman chained naked to a table, apparently in a strange undead state. One boy wants to keep her as a sex slave, and one boy wants to liberate; both plans lead to gruesome consequences.

This movie has a similar vibe to The Corpse of Anna Fritz: toxic masculinity, the perils of peer pressure, borderline necrophilia. “Anna Fritz” is the better movie, with a much more satisfying conclusion, but “Deadgirl” has some moments of real tension and stays on-message without becoming preachy.

Don’t Leave Home

An American artist who has made a series of dioramas of the scenes of mysterious disappearances is invited to the Irish home of a former priest involved in one of the vanishings, and is commissioned to create a model of a grotto near his house. The priest’s assistant has strange ulterior motives in the invitation, and the priest is unable to warn the artist of the danger she’s in.

Woodsy grottoes, statues of Mary, lush bogs, a creepy old house, and constant rain provide the mood for this movie. It’s really much more mood than plot that moves this story along, with its constant movement between dreaming and waking and the dreary atmosphere. Overall a good movie, with a few creepy moments and an interesting premise, but it wraps up a little too neatly and never really provides any scares.

A Field in England

A band of deserters from the English Civil War are compelled by an alchemist (with the assistance of some psychedelic mushrooms) to dig a hole in search of buried treasure. Things get weird.

This is a strange and disorienting movie, cycling through almost Monty Python-like slapstick, psychological torture, mysticism, and historical re-enactment. There’s bawdy humor, grim death by musket, stinging nettles, and some frightening screams.

The Alchemist Cookbook

Sean lives in a trailer in the woods with his cat Kaspar, working on alchemical experiments with plans to raise a demon and gain worldly wealth. His sanity and health deteriorate, and worldly wealth certainly does not follow from his efforts.

I enjoyed this quiet, sad little movie. Sean is strange but likeable, and his dreams of wealth–a mansion in the woods filled with Doritos, Gatoraide, and Little Debbie snacks–are charming in their pathetic lack of imagination. His past is never explained, but there are hints that suggest he’s not running away from much happiness. His decline, probably sped by the fact that he can’t find the psychiatric meds that his friend Cortez delivered along with some groceries, is sad to watch.

Whether or not he was successful in raising a demon is unclear; he sees things, but those may be his psychosis at work. There were certainly metaphorical demons at play in his mind. It’s an interesting contrast to A Dark Song, another movie about raising demons and being surprised at what responds.

The People Under the Stairs

When 13-year-old “Fool”‘s family is threatened with eviction, he joins a pair of robbers who are planning an ill-conceived heist of the landlord’s house. The home, however, is an insane fortress with mutilated cannibals imprisoned in the basement by a pair of deranged siblings.

This movie is over the top in so many ways: a wild mix of horror, comedy, and satire, with an angry political vein just under the surface. There are some tense moments, particularly when Fool and Alice are chased through the walls by the shotgun-wielding landlord, and some comic slapstick routines. Tonally uneven, but a fun and wild ride.

Velvet Buzzsaw

An assistant at an LA art gallery discovers a cache of strange and disturbing paintings when her reclusive neighbor dies. The paintings become the focus of much interest among art collectors and dealers, but they may be much more unconventional than most outsider art.

The characters in “Velvet Buzzsaw” are all delightfully unlikeable (except Coco, I liked Coco), driven by ambition and greed. And the ends that they meet are delightfully grim, and entirely deserved, giving the movie the feel of a kind of revenge fantasy. But the artist behind the deadly artwork seems to be as horrific as his output, so rooting for the mayhem feels a bit awkward. All in all, I enjoyed this movie for its wit, stylish design (it has moments that feel like the most hallucinatory moments in Argento’s “Three Mothers” films), and not-so-subtle satire. Also for John Malkovich, who basically plays John Malkovich.

The Case of the Bloody Iris (Why Are There Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?)

Jennifer is a fashion model on the run from her estranged husband and a sex cult. She moves into an apartment building with a friend where two women were recently murdered, one in the same apartment. Murders continue as a killer stalks Jennifer.

This is probably about as pure a giallo as could possibly exist: beautiful victims, stylish settings, many red herrings and misdirections (at least three potential suspects crop up besides the actual killer, two of whom meet their own demise), and a good deal of blood. Giallo fans will recognize many of the actors, and will not be terribly surprised at the outcome. Credulity is stretched to the breaking point (right after we see Mizar [Carla Brait] beat the crap out of a big guy without breaking a sweat, we see her go down to the stalker’s single karate chop to the neck?), but if you suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride, this is a fun movie. (Well, except for the raging misogyny and not-too-subtle racism that crops up throughout; it is definitely a product of its time and place.)

All the Colors of the Dark

Jane is tormented by her mother’s murder when she was a child, by a recent car crash that claimed her unborn child, and by terrifying nightmares of a blue-eyed knife-wielding killer. Her husband recommends vitamins, her sister recommends psychotherapy, and her neighbor recommends participation in a Black Mass.

The first half of the movie, in which Jane is stalked by a silent blue-eyed man who may or may not be a figment of her imagination, is better than the second half, after she starts to participate in a Satanic cult’s ritual orgies and plunges deeper into insanity. But it’s still a solidly tense and unsettling movie that shifts between dream and reality, keeping the viewer off balance and delightfully confused. Though the director and most of the actors worked in the giallo genre, this is far more gothic than giallo in tone, with its dreams, mysterious castle, and dark occult activities. The movie wraps up like a giallo, though, a little too neatly, with the dastardly plot exposed; it would have been a more satisfying film if things had been left a bit more mysterious and unexplained.

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