SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 25: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

If you like movies with resolutions, Picnic at Hanging Rock is not for you.

Students from a girls’ school, along with some chaperons, head to a local geological formation for a picnic. Three of the girls go missing, as does one of the teachers. An investigation happens. One of the girls is found. She doesn’t remember anything. A school administrator dies. The end.

This film is what you get when there isn’t a murderer with an ax stomping around killing the girls. Instead, you have the mysterious nature of an untamed land that no one fully understands simply whisking the ladies away. To what end? We’ll never know.

Director Peter Weir perfectly captured the landscape of Hanging Rock, giving it a character, making it feel at times light and airy and other times like it is almost closing in around the people. Slowly closing in. The pace of the film is languid at best. And it never really delivers a moment of release where the mystery is solved or fates are learning. It hangs open at the end, telling you that no answer is ever going to come. And of course, the pan pipe music adds to the unsettling feel the film drips with.

At the heart of Picnic at Hanging Rock is Australia itself. The image in most people’s minds, and not really too far from the truth, is an island with coastal cities surrounding an ancient Outback where things happen that cannot be explained.

As I said at the top, if you require solutions to your films, don’t go near this one. But if you are okay with not knowing what happened, then Picnic at Hanging Rock is a delightful, eerie film to experience.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 24: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Man, oh man. Tombs of the Blind Dead delivers. It begins innocent enough with a girl in a shower… it’s a beach shower next to a pool, get your mind out of the gutter! Betty is showering and another woman, Virginia, calls out to her. They are old friends. Quickly they catch up and V tells B that she and a friend are going camping and that B should come. At the sound of his name, Roger climbs up out of the pool and immediately begins to flirt with B. But doesn’t she see that V is totally upset by this?!

The next morning at the train, because you always take a train to go camping, R and V are waiting for B and her guest, but B’s guest doesn’t show up. B tries to back out of the trip, but R convinces her to go. V is so angry!!

Once on the train, R and B are all flirting again, and V stomps off to get some air. B goes out to see what is the matter and we get a dream sequence where we learn that V isn’t upset that B is flirting with R, she’s upset that R is flirting with B! Total lesbo! Then R shows up and ruins everything!  V gets super angry, goes back to her seat and even asks the guy checking tickets if they can stop the train. But he says the train never stops here. V really wants off though, and the train is pretty slow, so she gets her bag and jumps off the train. B and R call out to her but they stay on the train. R does pull the emergency cord, but the guy driving the train won’t stop because the area is cursed.

V walks until she finds an abandoned town in ruins. She makes a camp and goes to sleep. Zombies – very cool looking Zs, Zs on zombie horses – rise up from their graves and totally chase her around. She climbs on a zombie horse and tries to escape, but they run her down and drink her blood.

The next day, B and R rent horses and go looking for V. They find her shoe in the ruins after their horses run off, and they also run into cops who inform them that V has been murdered!! B and R identify the body and head off to find out more about the ruins. Then V gets up, totally one of the undead, and kills the coroner! V then tracks down B’s work, but B isn’t there, and the girl who is there sets V on fire which destroys her undead life!

B and R find out that the Zs might be Templars who returned from the crusades with Egyptian artifacts and Satanic rites. They killed people and drank blood until the townspeople captured the Ts and hung them from trees until birds plucked out their eyes. Now the Ts rise as TZs each night to continue drinking blood! But that’s not enough to scare off B and R. They get a couple new friends and head out to spend the night at the ruins. Well, the TZs rise and attack them. B manages to run away and she sees the train. This time the train stops…

Okay, this tween/valley girl shorthand is going to stop for a moment, because something happens here that makes me very very angry when it comes to horror films. Betty is running for the train, she trips and rolls down a small (very small) hill. The conductor jumps from the train to help her. As he does, the zombies ride up on their zombie horses, get off their horses, and slowly walks toward the train. This takes, almost literally, 2 minutes. During that time, the girl is acting like she is paralyzed form the waist down. The guy is dragging her and she is just dead weight. Even if I had a broken ankle or broken leg, with zombies that close, I think I could quite easily ignore the pain for the 8 seconds it would take to hobble over to the train and get the heck out of Dodge. Instead, the conductor has to struggle with her, wasting time, finally getting her into the train but now surrounded by slow blind zombies. He dies. The engineer dies. Everyone else on the train dies. But now, her legs totally working fine, Betty climbs atop the pile of wood for the engine. The train begins moving again because the brake is released and it heads to its usual destination. When it stops, Betty climbs off the train. Everyone else is dead. Everyone died because this woman couldn’t get up and move before. The conductor should have dropped her ass on the ground, gotten back in the train and drove off. That’s my one and only complaint about this movie.

… so, anyway, B, whose hair looks totally icky, looks back at the train and screams!

The main thing for me about this movie is the zombies. 100% practical effects, and they look way more convincing than some of the CGI garbage we see in newer movies. They totally work, and despite the horse riding, they are nice slow zombies of the inevitable doom sort. Now I was to watch the rest of the series, of which there are three more. But here, take a gander at a few stills of the zombies of Tombs of the Blind Dead.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 23: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

I am the Mothman. Goo goo g’joob.

A reporter and his wife go out house hunting. While driving home, she swerves the car to avoid the giant flying moth thing with red eyes that her husband doesn’t see and wrecks the car. She is only hurt a little, but when doing the head CT the doctors discover that she has brain cancer and is going to die.

After she’s dead, the reporter finds all these drawings she made of the Mothman. Two years later, he’s driving, gets lost and winds up on the doorstep of a house intending to ask to use the phone. The man who lives there pulls a gun, angry that this is the third night in a row this reporter has come asking to use the phone. When a local police officer show up to handle things, the reporter learns that other strange things have been happening and the two of them start investigating.

The rest of The Mothman Prophecies revolves around the Mothman, or Indrid Cold, or someone, making vague yet accurate predictions of disaster as well as phone calls to phones not even plugged in anymore. More conspiracy theory with supernatural or alien overtones than real horror film, the movie mostly just has a bad script which doesn’t deserve the beautiful work of director Mark Pellington.

The only way this film will terrify you is if you are prone to hearing voices, because maybe those voices are actually alien moth ghosts predicting future disasters. For me though, I can’t believe I bothered sitting through it again. Yeah, that’s right – I’d seen this before but I’d apparently wiped the majority of it out of my head. Hopefully I can manage that trick again.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 22: Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

Who Can Kill a Child? Our gut tells us that we should protect children. But then, most children aren’t actually trying to murder you.

Tom and Evelyn go on one last holiday before the birth of their child, and arrive on an island populated almost entirely by children. The kids they encounter don’t speak to them. And soon it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right.

Then it become REALLY apparent when the kids start to attack them.

Children as killers is actually a fairly well tread ground at this point, but I suspect back in 1976 is was much more rare. I mean, at this point we’ve had 9 Children of the Corn movies. But even before this particular movie we had things like Village of the Damned. And still, children as murderers is really creepy. I find this stuff more disturbing than monsters or zombies or regular plain old psychopaths.

There was a lot to like in this movie as a horror film. Especially that nothing really stood out as a giant glaring plot driven idiotic decision. “Hey, let’s split up and enter these dark tunnels without weapons but waving flashlights around and yelling the name of our missing friend… that won’t be dangerous at all!” Didn’t happen here.

By far the most disturbing part of this movie is the opening, which uses documentary footage to show the atrocities committed against children all around the world beginning with the concentration camps in World War II. I like horror films, mostly because they don’t happen. I’m a huge fan of zombie films because the likelihood of a real zombie apocalypse is so near zero as to be zero. In fact, it probably is zero. But when I see real footage of real stuff that really happened… I almost turned the movie off a couple of times. If you can muscle through it, though, or skip past it, then Who Can Kill a Child? is a good horror movie to watch.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants - Blog @ Rotten CottonLife Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 21: Battle Royale (2000)

Before there were the Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale.

Imagine if the “kids today” were so ungrateful and disrespectful that the government decided it needed to sort them and quell rebellion through pitting the children against one another in a fight to the death… This is Battle Royale. Forty-two students, half boys and half girls, are gassed and transported to an island where they are given equipment, exploding tracking collars and three days to reduce their own number to just one winner.

Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it does make for a fun, bloody thrill ride of a movie.

You’ll see kids killing kids, and kids killing themselves. You’ll see kids get shot and stabbed and blown up. It’s just wall to wall dead kids right up until the end.

Watching BR, I can’t help but think, “If I’d seen this 10 years ago when it came out, I might have been shocked.” Instead, thanks to the torture-porn style horror films, this is merely an action film with a slightly twisted premise. And of course, I can’t help but compare it to the Hunger Games. The book, in its way, is fairly ruthless, but when HG was translated to the screen it was sanitized for mass consumption and so many of the fights and deaths of the film lack the gravity they held in the book.

Anyway… I enjoyed it. I think I’ll track down a copy of the book…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 20: And Soon the Darkness (1970)

And Soon the Darkness. That is such a damn cool name for a movie. It is foreboding.

It’s just a shame this movie doesn’t live up to its title. Two English girls are touring the French countryside on bicycles. One of them is getting tired of seeing the countryside and wants to stay at a town, meet some boys and do stuff. The two girls fight and the one who planned the trip and doesn’t want to stop rides on. In the next little village she waits at a cafe for her friend to catch up. When she doesn’t show up, the girl heads back to look for her friend, but she’s gone missing.

She meets a man the two of them met earlier, and he claims to be a policeman looking into the disappearance of another girl whose description matches the friend who has gone missing now. But there is something not quite right about this guy…

At that point the rest of the movie is about the girl running from this guy who is either trying to kill her or is trying to protect her from the real killer. Only at the very end do we discover the fate of her friend and who the killer is.

While the film is ultimately fairly boring, as are many of the older “horror” films that are really more thriller than horror, and the ending wasn’t much of a surprise, they did do one thing extremely well: language. When pulling up this film on Netflix, the description mentioned France and the details said it had English subtitles, so I went in thinking I was watching another foreign language film that I would need to read. Instead, there were no subtitles at all. The two girls are British, and don’t speak much French. Meanwhile, most of the people in the villages speak French and not much English. The French isn’t translated or subtitled, which leaves the viewer, assuming you don’t speak French, in the same position as our lead character. She tries to explain things and then tries to comprehend their answers. It adds quite a lot to the mood and tone of the film, heightening the tension for our heroine.

Overall, And Soon the Darkness is a decent film, but not great. I don’t know if I want to watch the 2010 remake that seems to change quite a bit of it, but it has a pretty decent cast…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants - Blog @ Rotten CottonLife Between Frames, nijomu

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 19: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

What we call horror movies today might actually frighten the people of the 1940s to death, or at least disgust them and send them running from the theater. What they called horror movies are often what we might call light dramas with a touch of the supernatural. I Walked with a Zombie is such a film. Don’t go into this expecting to be chilled down to your bones from the terror of the zombies. First off, this isn’t the flesh-eating sort of George Romero. This is closer to the Weekend at Bernie’s sort of voodoo zombie, only with 100% less wacky hi-jinks. Is it wrong to love those two movies as much as I do? … Probably.

Betsy is a nurse in Canada who takes a job to care for the wife of a sugar plantation owner on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. It’s a tiny island with a small population of whites and the rest the descendants of slaves brought to the island to work the cane fields. The plantation owner’s wife is in a semi-catatonic state. She is awake and responds to simple commands, but appears to have no will of her own. With the island full of voodoo believers, rumor spreads that she might be a zombie.

I Walked with a Zombie is not a great film, but it’s a pretty decent one. It sells the island, the plantation and its community very well. Plus, the soundtrack is catchy. Check out this scene that includes a couple of songs.

The second song appears again shortly in the movie, but here is a version of it done with a band, uninterrupted. Before you listen, however, it should be noted that the lyrics are spoilers, sort of. Later versions of the song by other bands changed the words so that they weren’t so movie specific.

Anyhow, if you get your hands on a copy, it’s just under 70 minutes long, so even if you don’t enjoy it you won’t have wasted much time.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 18: Santa Sangre (1989)

Oh boy… I mean… wow. So, I watched Santa Sangre. You should watch this, and since I’m about to spoil it to hell and back, you should stop, go watch it, and then come back.

Spoilers will commence in 3… 2… 1…

We begin with a naked man sitting in a tree that appears to be inside an insane asylum. The nurses come to coax him out of his tree with food, a fish does the trick. As they dress him, we see a phoenix tattoo on his chest. Then we flash back to his youth…

This man, Fenix, grew up in the circus. He was a child magician, his father a knife thrower and his mother an aerialist. There is also a tattooed woman, a young deaf mime, a midget, clowns and an elephant. Fenix’s mom is also the leader of a religious cult that worships an armless girl – she was raped and had her arms cut off. Her church is bulldozed as blasphemous. When she returns to the circus and finds her husband cheating on her, he hypnotizes her into forgetting.

The elephant dies, they have a funeral, and then people carve it up to eat. To console his son, Fenix’s father forces him to get the tattoo we saw earlier. Later, Fenix’s mom catches dad cheating again, pours acid on his junk, he cuts her arms off and then wanders into the street where he slits his own throat.

In the craziness, the tattooed lady runs off with the deaf mime.

Back in the present, Fenix goes on a field trip with some other people from the asylum to the movies. A pimp convinces them to come do some cocaine and have sex with prostitutes. There Fenix sees the tattooed lady, who is pimping out the deaf mime girl (now also grown up), Alma. After returning to the asylum, Fenix’s mom calls to him from the street. He escapes. Then the tattooed lady is murdered, and we only see hands with painted fingernails.

Fenix and his armless mother put together a new act now that he’s out. She sings and plays piano and other tricks, all while Fenix stand behind her with his arms through her sleeves, giving her the appearance of arms. Very quickly he learns that his mother can actually control his arms with the power of her mind. Using his arms, she forces him to kill the women she deems unfit for him.

Alma finds Fenix and the two of them fall in love and plan to run away from Fenix’s armless mom. But mom catches them and tried to make Fenix kill Alma. He fights back, however, and stabs his own mother in the stomach. At that moment, mom reveals that she doesn’t exist at all, that she died back when her arms were cut off and that Fenix has a mannequin that looks like his mom, arms missing and everything, that he’s been pretending was her. He smashes it and destroys the temple he apparently build – very much like the cult his mother used to run – with the help of his circus friends, who are also imaginary.

Alma is real though, and the two of them again plan to leave together. Then step out of the house into the street where the police are waiting. They are told to put their hands up and they do. Fenix is amazed to have complete control of his own arms again.

I thought I would hate this movie when I read about it. It seemed like it would be a bizarre surrealist trip… and in some ways it was, but it was also a horror film, where our hero is the killer. As I watched, I found myself enraptured by the tale as it unfolded. Despite its low budget, the film is put together very well and it makes me feel even worse for some of the terribly made low budget horror I’ve seen.

Anyway, I liked it and would recommend seeing it even though if you’ve read this far I’ve spoiled the whole thing. That is, unless you took my earlier advice and watched it first. Now I want to find other people who’ve seen this and discuss it with them.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 17: The Tenant (1976)

The Tenant bills itself as a psychological suspense thriller. If you held a gun to my head, I might give it the psychological part, seeing as at the end the guy may or may not be crazy. I could even be generous and give it the suspense part, as there are many parts of the film where I had no idea where it was going. But thriller? No even close.

I’m pretty certain the 90% fresh rating the movie holds on Rotten Tomatoes has to be either from former or current film students who admired the technical construction of the movie, or from people who simply saw Roman Polanski’s name and gave it a pass, because it seriously cannot be for the plot, which is sullen, plodding and dull. It is full of subtleties so subtle that they barely differentiate themselves from the plot, and subtleties so subtle that they feel like being hit by a truck. No more than fifteen minutes in I thought I had this movie figured out, I knew where it was going, and then I settled in to wait for this psychological suspense thriller to take me for a ride… I was extremely disappointed that the movie never deviated course for one minute. It plowed onward directly toward the ending it had framed from the start, it plowed toward it and through it.

Despite the predictable plot, the movie is filmed beautifully. The use of mirrors and camera movements alone makes it worth sitting through once. And the performances of many of the actors, even Polanski himself in the main role, are quite good.

Ah well, at least now I can say that I’ve seen it. Though I suppose I could have always said that, now I just won’t be lying.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 16: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Somewhere, a film student is about to drop dead. I didn’t like Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bergman’s work over the years, and not one bit of it has clicked with me.

There really isn’t much more to say about it than that.

On the other hand, I always enjoy watching Max von Sydow work. The man who would be Jesus, the Devil and Ming the Merciless.

I’ll probably never watch Hour of the Wolf again, and it’s another black mark for me against Ingmar Bergman – though I still hold out hope for both The Magician and The Seventh Seal, I like the sound of them both, but I’ve avoided them because I don’t want to be disappointed.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

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