Wednesday, September 20, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

A few thoughts: I'm not an Italian horror historian by any means, but that doesn't mean I don't know that this is one of the most important of its variety. Often credited as the first giallo film, or in the very least the movie that helped establish the sub genre, 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' (re-edited and released as 'The Evil Eye' in the United States) may not be one of my very favorite Bava films, but is an entertaining and clever thriller nonetheless. Built around a series of murders a tourist becomes entangled in, the Hitchcock influence can definitely be felt here, but with Bava's visual style it takes on an identity of its own. Though it's shot in black and white, the heavy use of shadows and great lighting often featured in his movies is still on display here, though I still do prefer his color films. The acting is a bit stilted but it's honestly what I've come to expect in this sort of movies. I don't think it matters much which version you watch, but the music in the US version is very American, if that matters to you at all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

A few thoughts: It's always funny to me that Wes Craven started out making movies like this and Last House On The Left - violent, rough, and trashy - and would later reinvent the slasher franchise as slick, humorous, and slyly self-aware. An incredibly violent and exploitative horror movie that sort of plays like a home invasion slasher revenge story, this is one of those difficult to rate cult movies that's not even remotely pleasant or professional, nor does it ever pretend to be. It's not a fun movie to watch, the production quality is weak, the editing is choppy, and the acting is almost exclusively over-the-top, but it's still weirdly hard to look away from. There are definitely some disturbing moments, but the characters are so poorly developed, it's difficult to ever become totally invested in them. I wanted to root for the good guys, but I had trouble doing it because the villainous inbred hillbilly mutants were so much more interesting. It's not bad, but as pure exploitation, I think I actually prefer the 2006 remake.

Monday, September 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Vampires (1998)

A few thoughts: A lesser effort from John Carpenter, this is a sort of horror-western hybrid that's fallen through the cracks, and I can sort of see why. Apart from some cool visuals and an incredibly driven performance by James Woods, there isn't much to this movie that feels particularly fresh or original. In the '80s and '90s, there was a big push to reinvent the classic vampire, but between The Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn, Near Dark, and Buffy, this didn't leave much room for John Carpenter's vision. Following a group of vampire hunters, the story feels very comfortable with itself, which works well for James Woods whose committed performance steals every scene. He's an incredibly natural actor, and this movie let's him really cut loose. I love the way vampires burst into flames in the sun as if they were packed with flares and gun powder, and I enjoy the grubby contemporary western setting, even if it's familiar territory. All-in-all, this movie didn't break any ground, but it's fun enough and is worth watching if even just for Woods.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Spaceballs (1987)

A few thoughts: Cornball barely begins to describe how goofy and childish this movie is, but it's they brand of overly silly cheesy humor that's hard not to enjoy, particularly if you have seen or are a fan of Star Wars. Mel Brooks has always been great at poking fun and making ridiculous parody movies, and while this doesn't stand up on the level of Young Frankenstein (which is practically perfect), this is definitely better than his Dracula parody. Meta before meta was cool, Spaceballs often picks the low-hanging fruit, but is a sharp and concise satire that lets a good joke simmer and does a solid job at establishing punchlines. Not every joke lands, and some are almost exceptionally stupid, but there is a charm and occasional depth to the jokes that makes it all the better. Mostly just targeting Star Wars, there are a few Trek and other sci/fi shows and movie jokes that slip in there, and for the most part they're used well. This isn't a perfect comedy, but it hits its marks and holds up pretty well within Brooks' filmography.

Friday, September 15, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Horror Of Dracula (1958)

A few thoughts: One of the first Hammer horror movies shot in technicolor with a heavy gothic aesthetic (the first being The Curse Of Frankenstein), this was the movie that started me in on really appreciating Peter Cushing -- who I now consider my favorite actor. He is the perfect Van Helsing, combining wisdom with physicality in an unexpected way. Christopher Lee plays Dracula, a much more frightening performance than Bela Lugosi, with a lot more emphasis put on his look than on his words. He barely speaks in this movie, which was a good choice helping separate itself from the 1931 version. The set design, lighting, and costumes are all excellent, using a lot of muted colors to help the bright paint-like blood stand out even more. No, the gore isn't realistic, but is catches your eye, which is the entire point. A major departure from the versions of this story that we all know, which I enjoy and appreciate. This isn't a remake, it's a reimagining, and one of the most important horror movies of its time.