Sunday, 17 October 2010

Video Nasty #38 : House by the Cemetery

Synopsis: After Dr Peterson kills himself and his lover, it is left to Norman Boyle to continue the Dr's ground breaking research into, of all things, suicide. To pick up where his college left off Norman moves his family to the Dr's residence, a dilapidated house by an equally dilapidated cemetery. Norman soon discovers that a creepy graveyard is the least of your worries when there’s a crypt in your living room and an un-dead in the cellar...

House by the Cemetery sees Fulci returning to the Nasty List, after the impressive and gut-wrenchingly gory The Beyond. This isn’t the only connection between these two films, as they form two parts of Fulci’s ‘Seven Gates of Hell Trilogy’. Where as The Beyond is a dreamy ethereal and ultimately unremittingly bleak film, House by the Cemetery is, despite the director’s meagre efforts to suggest otherwise, a relatively straight forward monster-in-the-basement roller-coaster ride. Not that i’m complaining, of course.

The most interesting aspect of House by the Cemetery is how little Fulci relies on gore for scares. Sympathetic to the PG-13 connotations of the plot ('monster in the basement' would be the perfect title for a kid-friendly horror movie), Fulci uses flowing and lush cinematography to wring all possible tension out of some frankly hackneyed scenarios. These scene's are all horror movie staples - eyes glowing in the dark, bumps in the night, little kids being creepy and creaking door’s slamming shut to entrap a victim in the monster’s clutches. The later is particularly tense, even after its third copy-paste reprisal in the script.

Of course things don't stay PG-13 for long; in Little Monsters Fred Savage never had a knife jammed through the back of his skull or his throat ripped out (although i'm still hopeful for a director's cut). The most bloody scene of the film is unintentionally hilarious as Norman is attacked by a bat that looks like a Goonies prop reject. The bat latches itself to Norman's hand and the scene plays like a Bruce Campbell body acting masterclass, Norman running around the house desperately trying to dislodge the flying whilst decorating the house with an inhuman (or inbat) amount of blood . Purposefully hilarious or not, seeing the shell-shocked family sprayed with blood was my favourite moment of the film.

Whilst the bat is the unintentional star of the film, the monster is for the most part an un-seen entity, only revealed (as in all good monster movies) in the last ten minuts of the film. Unlike most monster movies, the undead professor is in the full flesh still as creepy as the glimpses of limbs and glowing eyes we've had through-out the film, looking like a prune with eyes (definitely not a raisin, he wasn't poncing around in shades singing 'Heard It Through The Grapevine').

If I had to criticise the film it would be that Fulci can't help but put some inexplicable mysteries into the film, as if he's worried about betraying his Giallo origins. Most are unexplained, and add nothing to the film other than confusion - why did the babysitter clean up after the monster, why did people say Norman had visited the house before?, and what was the ending all about, complete with incorrectly attributed quote? None of this stuff really matters, it's just a shallow attempt at depth that is so ineffectual it doesn't really detract from the main show. Like a plot in a porn film.

House by the Cemetery is great. If you like your monsters grim, and your gore even grimmer, you'll love it.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Video Nasty #37 : Pranks AKA The Dorm that Dripped Blood

Synopsis: Joanne and three friends are clearing a university dormitory in preparation for its demolition. Unbeknownst to them they are being stalked by a shakey-handed camera man with a full concert orchestra in tow. Can they stop their assailant before he permanently stops them? (i'm so sorry, writing a snappy synopsis is difficult).

As slasher films go, Pranks is at best mediocre. The direction is uninspiring, the script lame and acting sub-standard. It does however have a few redeeming features - an absolutely epic score, Princess Vespa from Spaceballs head popping like a balloon, and a surprisingly vicious ending.

In stark contrast to the home-movie cinematography the film's score is the work of an accomplished composer. As the camera lumbers after a chosen victim it's accompanied by plinky plonky staccatto piano, portameto timpanis, crashing cymbals, a full string section and a xylophone. Unfortunately as great as the score is (by Christopher Young, composer on Hellraiser, Drag Me To Hell & Spider Man 3), it's a little too bombastic for this small slasher flick, sapping the film of any tension the dreadful direction hasn't already wrung out of the script (Imagine John Williams scoring The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Despite the clunky visuals, the directors at least deliver on the absolute basic slasher requirement - inventive, original and above all else, horrible kills. Despite increasing their chance of being captured ten-fold any self-respecting slasher wouldn't be caught dead with something as dull & efficient as a gun or an, urm, atomic bomb. The best of these prolonged kills has to be Daphne Zuniga's character being knocked unconscious, dragged onto the road and a van reversing over her head (this is after the killer has murdered both of her parents, ever the completist). Although we don't see the cranium collapse, the comedy pop noise is satisfying enough. Other unfortunates are boiled alive, drilled and, in the sombre finale, incinerated.

And on that point; the ending. Through-out the film we're led to believe the killer is the local hermit; who may as well be dressed in red fish costume wearing a sign saying 'i'm a herring'. The killer is in fact Craig, one the characterless flesh-bags that has somehow managed to appear throughout the film without me ever really noticing. This makes it particular infuriating when he says to Joanne, and by extension the audience, 'Don't you understand, it was me the whole time', as if we're stupid for not spotting all the clues liberally sprinkled through out the film (of which there are none). He then goes onto explain how he executed the killings which isn't impressive or relevant, because a) it wasn't exactly difficult and b) as most of the film is unintelligible I couldn't care less. The reasons for his killing are stereotypical but nonsensical in the context of the film. The murderer was secretly in love with the Joanne, the final girl, and he killed everyone else to keep her to himself (this doesn't explain why he killed the janitor and the family who were leaving the university).

Despite this the film ends on a surprisingly sombre and unnerving note. The police arrive but are tricked into believing Craig is a victim. As they celebrate catching the wrong guy Craig carries the unconscious Joanne in his arms and bungs her in the incinerator. This is a surprisingly bold turn, and despite Craig's transformation from forgettable normo to forgettable psycho, the shot of him carrying Joanne to the incinerator is pretty creepy.

So, Pranks is a bit of a mess. Despite its inventive kills and big-budget score it's mostly a badly shot emotionless bore. The biggest problem is that for a film where characters are stalked around a building there's no real sense of geography to the place they inhabit, making it difficult to understand what peril the characters are in (surely a building of this size would have multiple exits?). Along with the poor camera work, direction, acting and cinematography the non-existant tension is completely smothered by the over the bombastic score. Sometimes silence can be scary.