creature feature saturday double bill

The Ghost Galleon (Amando de Ossorio, 1974). AKA Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Zombies, Ship of Zombies, Zombie Flesh Eater, and The Blind Dead 3 (yes, it's a sequel, sort of). It's amazing to think there is more than one of these. As best as I can figure out, the "blind dead" are Templar knights whose eyes were torn out for their dabblings in the dark arts. They are zombies, the slowest-moving zombies in movie history, with no eyes. The plot doesn't matter, but if you're interested, here is the Amazon description of the film: "A boatload of stranded swimsuit models discover a mysterious ghost ship that carries the coffins of the satanic Templar, eyeless zombies who hunt humans by sound." Nothing is delivered ... the swimsuit models never get out of their clothes, the "boatload" consists of two women, and I'm not sure how we're supposed to figure out the thing about sound. Austrian lead Maria Perschy made movies with Huston and Hawks in the early-60s. Male lead, American Jack Taylor, was in more than a hundred movies, many of them Mexican and Spanish horror films. Bárbara Rey was Miss Madrid 1970. Rey actually has the best scene, when she is taken by the zombies. They are mostly doing their slow-moving arm waving, but Rey exhibits real fear for a couple of minutes before they cut off her head and eat her. The low budget is particularly noteworthy whenever we see the titular ship in long shot ... it looks like something Ernie would play with alongside his rubber ducky. The zombies look scary in a unique way, which lasts until they "move". The inside of the galleon is shot in spooky ways ... this would be the best part of the movie, except the film moves slower than a Templar zombie, so even the good parts are boring. 4/10.

The Corpse Vanishes (Wallace Fox, 1942). With a lot of these crappy B-movies, it's easier to just talk trivia ... there's little to say about the movie itself. Well, there is some classic dialogue, like when Bela Lugosi (who cares what the character's name is) is asked if he makes a habit of collecting coffins. "Why yes," he replies, "in a manner of speaking. I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed.  Many people do so, my dear." Lugosi, who was 60, made so many bad movies that it's easy to forget they didn't all suck. The same year as this one, he made The Ghost of Frankenstein, which wasn't terrible, and only three years earlier, he had been in Ninotchka. But The Corpse Vanishes was bad. It came from the Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, and one of the producers was the legendary "Jungle Sam" Katzman. It was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The characters included another legend, Angelo Rossitto, as a dwarf (Rossitto's long career stretched from Freaks to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). The plot involves Lugosi stealing dead brides-to-be (he is the one who kills them ... they die at the altar ... oh yeah, they don't really die, they just exist in some type of coma) so he can extract something from them to inject into his ancient wife, resulting in that wife becoming young again. Oh, why do I bother? The only good thing about The Corpse Vanishes is that it is over in 64 minutes. 3/10.

 

 


train to busan (yeon sang-ho, 2016)

Genre fare often offers implicit commentary on the state of social affairs (sometimes it's explicit). This can be illuminating when you are familiar with the social context, but I feel I am missing something when I watch films from other countries. So I know that Train to Busan is seen by some as an allegory for Korean politics, but I don't know enough about the topic to be able to identify the allegory. It's not that the allegory is missing, it's that I am missing the allegory.

Which thus leaves me to react to Train to Busan on its genre elements. And on that level, this is a terrific movie. Wikipedia calls it a "zombie apocalypse action thriller", and that pretty much gets it. The zombies are of the fast-moving variety. One article by Ezra Klein suggests that such zombies  are "too fast to be truly scary", and a case can be made that the slower version of zombies have a better chance of taking over the world. But the fast ones are indeed scary in the immediate sense, especially when there are lots of them. This was the case in World War Z, but the huge budget for that movie seemed to make it more a special-effects extravaganza than a character-driven thriller.

Train to Busan is constructed like a classic thriller. Right from the start, there are intimations of the horrors to come, but they are only intimations. Still, the suspense is serious (after all, we know the zombies are coming). And once the zombies arrive (fairly quickly), the suspense is replaced with open-jawed thrills.

Two things in particular make Train to Busan impressive. First, there is a dedication to the characters, who are painted in quick scenes but who always feel slightly more than stock from the genre's closet. We care about the characters, which isn't a necessary component to a zombie thriller, but it does lift this movie a bit above the rest. Second, the zombies really are impressive. It's not just that they are fast, it's that they feel real. I don't know how much, if any, CGI Yeon used, but it's very old-school in its presentation, as if instead of going straight to the computer, they actually hired a bunch of extras. Yeon's previous work was in animation, and the zombies have the kind of physics-defying qualities you'll see in cartoons.

The tension is mostly non-stop, with little time to take a breath. I don't suppose Train to Busan will appeal to people who don't like zombie movies, but it certainly ranks high within the genre. 8/10.

 


by request: world war z (mark forster, 2013)

This was recommended by a new member of the request club, our new housemate Jen. As is often the case, it was less a request than a recommendation ... I think we were talking about zombie movies, and she mentioned that the zombies in World War Z didn’t move slow. I said I was thinking of watching it, and the next thing you know, I put it on my request list.

Should World War Z be compared to other big special effects extravaganzas (it was an enormous box office success)? Should it be compared to other zombie movies, or even to The Walking Dead, the current work that most impacts popular thinking about zombies? I’d say the latter. It brings a big budget to a small-budget genre, a bit like Terminator 2 after the cheapie Terminator. That budget brings potential added scope to the movie, but as with T2, the added budget doesn’t necessarily guarantee an improvement over the cheap originals like George A. Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Director Mark Forster had shown the ability to work with small budgets (Monster’s Ball, $4 million) and large budgets (Quantum of Solace, $200 million). World War Z is definitely in the large budget range (another $200 million).

There are some things that the money makes possible. Brad Pitt, for one ... he’s fine in the heroic lead role. On the other hand, he isn’t notably better than the stars of the cheaper films, like, say, Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead ($6 million). (The movie also wastes Mireille Enos, burying her with the Wife Who Waits Back Home role.) The thing that Jen mentioned (the speed that the zombies move) is v.cool, but not innovative (see 28 Days Later, one of the first movies to have fast zombies). I want to say that a bigger budget allows for scenes like this film’s finest, when the zombie hordes build a mountain of bodies as they try (and eventually succeed) to scale an enormous wall. It’s quite impressive, perhaps the one jaw-dropping moment in the entire movie. But it’s also clearly CGI-driven, which is a technology available to film makers with lesser budgets.

World War Z has the feel and structure of an epic. But, as some critics have pointed out, the most suspenseful moments in the film come at the end, when the setting is confined, the number of zombies is limited, and we’re left with a simple scene that is far from epic, and all the better for it.

Speaking of the actual end of the film, it's a huge letdown.

You could point to the box office returns for World War Z ($540 million) and argue it is a very successful zombie movie. The truth is, though, that there are many zombie movies I’d show before World War Z, if I was having a zombie film festival. Depending on your definition of a zombie movie, that festival would include Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the Evil Dead series, Re-Animator, 28 Days/Weeks Later, and more. 6/10.


halloween horror friday

It’s going to take a couple of days to get back to speed, after a month of watching the Giants play October baseball. So there’s no Music Friday this week. I’m behind on TV … I haven’t watched a movie in a couple of weeks … I’ve got nothing. But it is Halloween, and so, taking my cue from MovieLens, I’ll offer a list o’ links. These are movies that MovieLens says fall into the “Horror” category, that I have rated at least 9 out of 10, and have written about on this blog. It’s a cheap way of cannibalizing myself. I’ll list them in chronological order.

Ones that I didn’t write about but which fit the other requirements:

  • Frankenstein (1931) 10/10
  • The Thing (From Another World) (1951) 9/10
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) 9/10
  • The Innocents (1961) 9/10
  • Jaws (1975) 10/10
  • Aliens (1986) 9/10
  • A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) 9/10
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 9/10

what i watched last week

Voices (Ki-hwan Oh, 2007). I decided I should pass some time by watching a Korean horror movie, and ended up here. The plot was pretty goofy, but it snuck up on me, which is to say, it didn’t seem so goofy at first, and by the time I realized it was silly, it was too late. I was already hooked. It’s the kind of horror movie that tosses in something scary and/or gory every dozen minutes to keep your attention, and it worked, since I spent most of the movie oohing and aahing. It’s possible there was supposed to be some larger message here, but if so, I missed it. Voices demonstrates a pretty depressing vision of humankind, but this, too, sneaks up on you; for most of the movie, you think you have someone to root for. By the end, such people were long gone. Not as good as Oldboy or Mother, but still an easy 7/10.

Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010). This sci-fi movie couldn’t be more different from Voices. Made for $800k, or $500k, or a lot less than $500k, depending on who you asked, Monsters features two professional actors along with amateurs who may have thought they were in a documentary. It’s about aliens who land in Mexico and turn into giant octopus-looking creatures. It’s the first feature for director Gareth Edwards, who did the special effects in his bedroom using off-the-shelf computer software. And the male lead’s name is Scoot. I assumed it would be akin to a made-for-SyFy Channel movie, only without a big star like Eric Roberts. Boy, was I wrong. Roger Ebert gave it 3 1/2 stars out of 4. Andrew O’Hehir in Salon called it “a dynamite little film, loaded with atmosphere, intelligence, beauty and courage.” It won three British Independent Film Awards. And Edwards was handed the reins for the Godzilla reboot to be released in 2014, which will likely have a slightly larger budget than Monsters. Monsters isn’t quite as good as the above suggests, but it’s certainly better than a SyFy Channel movie. And the final scene with two aliens is unexpectedly moving. I’m giving it the same rating I gave to Voices, but it sure comes at its 7/10 in a different manner from the Korean film.


what i watched last week

These actually cover more than a week … for some reason last week’s got posted too soon, leaving me with a couple of leftovers.

Slacker. It’s interesting to watch this movie after seeing 20 years of Linklater’s work. All of these voices jabbering away about whatever is on their minds … we get similar people doing similar things in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Something that seemed new and unique in 1991 now seems like What Richard Linklater Does. I’ve liked every one of his movies I’ve seen (with the exception of Tape, which I hated), and if Slacker isn’t the best of them (I’m partial to Dazed and Confused), it’s innovative and worth a return visit every couple of decades. 7/10.

Green Zone. This movie works, but I’m not sure why. Matt Damon makes a good soldier with a brain, the feeling of dread would seem to match life in Iraq at the time the film takes place, and Paul Greengrass doesn’t overdo his usual frenetic camera work until the final action sequence, which is exciting but confusing. And the movie calls the U.S. on the lies we told ourselves to get the war started. Good movie, but far from great. 7/10.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. Remarkably, it doesn’t suck. It’s not Evil Dead II good, but it’s good enough to watch if you were a fan of the first one. Still, the first one is a classic, while the second doesn’t suck. 6/10.

Chungking Express. Watching this the same week I watched Slacker made for interesting comparisons … not that they are similar films, but because both directors offer unique, uncompromising visions. Wong Kar-Wai may be his generation’s Godard, but as is appropriate, that is both a positive and a negative. When I first saw this movie, I wasn’t impressed, but once In the Mood for Love made me a Wong fan forever, I’ve been willing to reassess his movies, and I’ve enjoyed Chungking Express every time I’ve seen it since. This time, I realized how much I prefer the second part. I also notice how young Tony Leung is (I guess I need to watch Hard-Boiled again, since he’s even younger in that one, or Bullet in the Head, which is before all of them). Faye Wong makes you wish she made more movies … Brigitte Lin is one of the most beautiful actresses ever, and there are hints of this if you look closely past the blonde wig and large sunglasses. #320 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

City Hunter. A very stupid movie, redeemed a bit by a great fight at the finale between Jackie Chan and Richard Norton. There are a lot of very weird things here, which, if you are fan of the original anime, might seem appropriate. I don’t know the original, and most of what’s on the screen flops. A fight scene where the two combatants become characters from Street Fighter II is better than the fight scene in a movie theatre playing Game of Death, with Jackie fighting two tall black guys while Bruce Lee takes on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the screen. There are a lot of beautiful babes running around … the unstoppable Chingmy Yau comes off the best, but really, they’re as much eye candy as anything else … this ain’t exactly The Heroic Trio. 5/10.

Mother. A genre film, I suppose, although it encompasses multiple genres and defies our expectations along the way. It isn’t a slapdash approach by any means … it isn’t there just to show us how many movies director Joon-Ho Bong has seen. Bong is quite precise. The Host took the monster movie to a different place, and was more loony than Mother. Mother may be the better film, though. It probably says more about me than about the relative merits of the two films that I gave The Host 7/10, while I’ll give Mother 8/10.