The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Top Twenty Scariest Movies---Part 2

11.The Haunting---1963
Robert Wise's second entry on this list was based on Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House...I saw the movie when it first came out, and it made a huge impression on me. My father had heard about it, and tried to talk me out of seeing it; when I made it clear that I needed to go matter what, he took me anyway, and he was a really good dad, but...I rather wished I'd listened to him. While I was watching it, some of the scenes made me want to be absolutely elsewhere, and I remember being just plain depressed for the next couple of days. The movie scares me somewhat less now, but that's because so many of its tricks have been ripped off over and over again...fact is, you saw that twisting, turning doorknob in The Haunting first. And the only stuff in that stupid CGI-laced remake that was any good were the couple of bits where they pretty much followed the original. Fact is, CG can't hold a candle to plaster ceiling-molding with little faces in it that you can only see when the lightning's right.

Julie Harris plays Nell, a completely neurotic lady who's spent most of her life taking care of her sick, sick mother...soon after mom dies, Nell's contacted by Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), a psychic investigator. Julie, it turns out, is someone who attracts psychic weirdness, and he wants her to join the team he's assembling to look into strange goings-on at a New England mansion called Hill House. Nell has nothing better to do now that her mom's gone, and wants to get out of the house with its stinky vacated sickroom, so she signs the mansion (which is a fantastic Victorian monstrosity that Wise found in England), she meets the caretakers, who don't stick around at night, and Nell and Luke (Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn), the other members of the team. As Markway and his guinea-pigs explore their terrible new surroundings, Wise exaggerates the house's freaky gingerbread architecture with the dankest black and white photography ever. We get cold spots and a stenchy sickroom-nursery and a cavernous library with a spiral staircase that isn't too well night, faint mumbly voices come out of the ceiling, you think your room-mate's holding your hand even though she's yards away, the doorknobs turn, and the doors bulge and creak. We learn that the house was built by a crazed fundamentalist pushing very bad religion, everyone who resided there lived unhappily and died miserably, and then wound up with the house as their shitty afterlife.

Nell's pretty scared, needless to say, but it begins to dawn on her that, for the first time in her lousy existence, she's actually wanted...yeah, okay, it's by this demonic house, but she's not thinking straight because the rest of her life was that bad. Also, she's developed an attachment to Dr. Markway, and when his wife shows up and disrupts Nell's relationship with him, Nell begins to retreat more and more into the halls and walls...

It's a grim, depressing, merciless movie, and all the principals are fabulous at making you feel bad...Julie Harris was never nuttier. Film was the granddaddy of all those "Akk, the house is alive!" films like Burnt Offerings, but none of them is a patch on it. So what if you never really see much of anything. Sometimes sizzle's scarier than steak, and this movie's the proof.

This is the best Dario Argento movie.

I saw it one afternoon with my friend Frank Clough in a big old movie palace in decrepit downtown South Bend...just the place. The flick doesn't make lick one of sense, but it sank its teeth in right at the beginning and never loosened his jaws. It has this incredibly loud and grating soundtrack (by Argento's group Goblin) that was plainly inspired by Tubular Bells, and it really gets into your head. Normally I don't like having my ears blasted out, but for some reason I went with the music...don't know why.

As for the visuals, they're something.There's a shot very early on where Suzy Bannion (adorable Jessica Harper, from Phantom of the Paradise) has arrived in Germany for ballet lessons, and goes out of the airport through these sliding doors...a blast of wind hits her, her clothes fly up, and she seems to be completely transformed for a moment...this had me coming out of my seat. I guess you could say it was a fake scare, but it was a really superb one. Much of the movie is like that. Even when there really isn't anything going on, you're still frightened.

Just as Suzy gets to the school, a girl comes dashing out...we switch to the girl's POV, and she rushes off crazed to her friend's house...upstairs, she gets stabbed by something with glowing eyes, is hung by a cord around her neck, and crashes through a skylight...pieces of glass drop down and kill her friend. You say, huh, yikes, what the hell is going on here? But the emphasis is firmly on hell.

Meanwhile, Suzy has been locked out of the ballet school, and returns the next day, although God knows why, seeing as how people come running out screaming. She seems to forget about the incident...after all, the head mistress, Mrs. Blanc (Alida Valli, from The Third Man) treats her nicely enough at first. But the situation gets funky pretty quick...Mrs. Blanc gets nastier to her...a deformed cook-lady reflects light onto poor Suzy from a shiny knife, and that causes Suzy to get ill and bleed from the nose at dance practice...maggots fall out of the ceiling at dinnertime...someone with a weird thunderous snore climbs into bed with Suzy and her room-mate Sara. Sara tells Suzy about the girl who ran screaming out of the house...shortly afterwards, Sara is stalked by an unseen killer and falls into a bin filled with razor-wire, which slices her right the hell up.

If all this sounds incoherent, it is...we find out that the place is run by witches, and that explains just about anything, apparently. Why they maintain this strange establishment, and conduct their affairs so that maggots rain out of the ceilings, I never really figured out. But Suzy does get chased around inside the house during a very unnerving climax, and finds herself in a room with the snoring, wheezing head witch, whom she wakes up...the sorceress has resurrected Sara (who's got pins through her wide-open eyes), and dispatches her to knife Suzy, all the while wheezing about "the dead, the living dead..." A knitting-needle goes in one side of a wattled witchy neck and out the other in close-up...the house burns, Suzy escapes...happy ending.

Pin-eyed Sara is one of the very most horrible apparitions ever committed to film; if I had to pick the most frightening living-dead thing I ever saw, she'd be a prime contender. A lot of the makeup jobs are way too thick and over the top, but that just lends them this filthy aspect that makes them quite effective. There is a lot of in-your-face gore that's as nasty as an Italian film-maker from the period could've made it.

But even though the violence is most squirm-inducing, I give much of the credit for the film's overall success to the photographer and the production designer. The movie's lensed in really garish clashing colors, and the sets are all completely wacked-out Art Nouveaux. None of Dario Argento's other movies display such an astounding pictorial sense; his next two witch movies are nowhere near as good; I suspect the real auteur on this thing was someone else. I don't know. But it all came together here. I didn't relax once.

13.The Changeling---1980
This is another great haunted-house movie in the tradition of The Uninvited and The Haunting. It was directed by Peter Medak, who's done a whole lot of TV, but some good feature work too, most notably, The Ruling Class, The Krays, and Romeo is Bleeding. Don't know what he's up to at the moment, but he sure should give us some more creepy ghost fests...can't get enough of those. Ghosts done right are the very scariest things.

has George C. Scott as John Russell, a composer who loses his family in an auto accident; deciding to bury his sorrows in work, he moves into gigantic mansion that has a wonderful music room. But he soon discovers the place is haunted. The ghost is all kinds of noisy, shocks the living daylights out of John (and the audience) by appearing underwater in a bathtub, and bounces the world's scariest little red ball down some steps. John calls in a medium. and we get a particularly effective seance with some automatic writing...the ghost is a little boy who was murdered seventy years before, and he exploits John's grief and paternal instincts to get him to keep on digging and reveal who did what, and why. The trail leads to an old senator, (Paul Douglas), who benefitted quite a bit...but ultimately John's got to confront the vengeful ghost, who tools about the upper floors in a spiderweb-covered wheelchair.

The final scenes with the creaky kiddy conveyance are rather too special-effectsy for my taste...not that I dislike special effects, but the movie had been fairly free of them, and the climactic doings clash with the tone that's been established. Up till then though, theflick is textbook scary film-making, very well directed, written, and acted. Some might be a bit surprised to find George C. Scott in a film like this, but he turns in a characteristically excellent performance, lending a whole lot of gravitas to the proceedings. Haven't seen this one in years, but I'm in the process of looking up a copy...hope it's on DVD.

14.The Thing---1982
1982 was quite an amazing year for fantastic movies. You had E.T., Tron, Wrath of Khan, Conan The Barbarian, Bladerunner, and The Thing. I wasn't all that keen on The Thing at first, since I was so used to the original Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby version, which I'd watched over and over again on Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9 in New York when I was a kid. To tell you the truth, I still think that version's at least as good as Carpenter's...the dialogue and the direction are better, and it's got that super Dimitri Tiomkin score. But the movie sure did jettison a lot of John Campbell's Who Goes There, and in the process became a radically different story.

Carpenter hewed much closer to the source material, which involved a shape-shifting alien, and injected a gigantic dose of gore; on my first viewing, I actually thought he leaned too much on the yuck factor. Later I saw the movie again, on a black and white TV, and I was better able to appreciate Rob Bottin's prosthetic designs. I'm a huge fan of Bottin's work, and The Thing serves up an amazing smorgasbord of hallucinatory hideousness...I humbly apologize for not going with the program that first time.

Story has Kurt Russell as Macready, a helicopter pilot at an American Antarctic base full of cranky guys who seem to dislike each on principle, their reasons getting a whole lot better after they stumble onto some seriously horrible shit at a neighboring Norwegian outpost. The Norwegians, it seems, uncovered something in the ice, lugged it back to their camp, and were all exterminated, or committed suicide. Amidst the wreckage, the Yanks find a semi-burned corpse that seems to be all sorts of things at once,  melding into each other. In the grand tradition of horror movie dimwittery, they bring it back to their own base for study....also one of the Norwegians' surviving dogs.

Of course, the remains aren't really dead, and the dog isn't a the film's first big horror scene, the pooch, put in with the other poochies, reveals its very peculiar nature and tries to absorb them. Our boys fry it to a crisp with a flamethrower---don't ask why they have a flamethrower at an antarctic base---and things (pun intended) seem to settle down. But they discover that they're up against an alien that's very hard to kill, and which can assume the appearance of anything it devours, slurps on, french kisses, whatever. Since anyone might be the thing, everyone gets pretty paranoid. At one point a guy keels over from a heart attack, but it turns out that he's really a duplicate who copied him so completely that it got his heart disease too...when a doctor tries to defibrilate him, the copy's chest bursts open, grows fangs, and bites the doc's arms off. While Macready and crew are trying to torch the thing, its neck lengthens, and its head slides of the side of the operating-table, grows spidery legs when it reaches the floor, and tries to scuttle away. Summing this all up, one hippie-shit doper dude (who later turns out to be a thing himself), says, "You gotta be fucking kidding."

The film's third signature sequence is right out of Campbell's original story; Macready concludes that you could do a blood-test to determine who's a thing and who isn't, by dragging a hot wire through a petrie dish full of red red krovvy...the theory is that any part of the thing must be an organism that'll try to save itself. One by one, Russell goes through samples from the various suspects, until the blood in one dish comes leaping out, and the guy it came from turns into this monstrosity whose skull splits, forming a yawning mouth that one of the non-thing suspects gets stuffed into head first. Napalm is liberally applied to the problem, but we're still pretty sure that there are more things waiting to pounce...

Unfortunately, the movie gets way too stupid after that. You have a critter whose every part, even a drop of blood, can infect someone and become a new thing, so what do our heroes resort to? Dynamite, naturally, something that will blow little thing-bits everywhere. The climax is nowhere near as gripping as the preceding set-pieces.'ve gotten your money's worth. The Thing is John Carpenter's scariest horror movie, a genuine classic, and mea culpa again for that initial failure of judgement on my part. Let's face it, I'm the monkey. But you're reading my list, and I'm not reading yours, so on to...

15. A Nightmare on Elm Street---1984
Saw this when it first came out, with my friend Sam Tomaino...wasn't expecting much from it. When one of the opening credits said that Robert Englund (who?) was playing a character named Fred Krueger, I turned to Sam and said Fred Krueger didn't sound very scary, or something to that effect. Little did I know that the movie was going to feature the first appearance of a classic movie monster.

Freddie was the brainchild of Wes Craven, who'd been carving a reputation for himself ever since Last House on the Left...Nightmare was his biggest hit to date, and it really made him, and for that matter New Line pictures, who released it.

Story has a bunch of teens (including young Johnny Depp) getting wiped out as result of weird dreams...if they die in the dream, they meet some ghastly fate in the waking world. Kids get sliced up by unseen blades or sucked down into their beds, which then erupt in huge geysers of blood....things like that. In their nightmares, they all encounter a badly-scarred dude, the aforesaid Freddy, who wears a fedora and a cartoony red-and-black striped sweater, and is armed with a leather glove with knives on the fingers. His haunt is a steamy basement boiler room, from which he sallies forth to invade the sleep of horny teens. As the film progresses we learn that he was a child murderer who was killed by a vigilante squad composed of the adolescents' parents...they got him down in the boiler room and soaked him in gas and lit him up, hence those horrible burns. Now he's going after a new gaggle of kids, and the parents, whose lives have all collapsed since Krueger's death, are no help at all. The teens share info about the situation, and try to keep each other awake, but it does no good...sooner or later, despite all the coffee or pep pills, they fall asleep, and Freddy does them in...

The movie is consistently entertaining, and well worth watching right till the end, but it's on this list primarily for two sequences. In one, young Tina Grey (Amanda Wyss) finds herself in a goat-infested alley, and sees Freddy coming, stretching his arms way, way, way out on either side, dragging his knife-tips along a sheet metal fence and striking sparks...after he slices some of his fingers off, Tina flees into her yard, but he catches her...she wakes up in her bed, but gushing parallel slash-marks start appearing all over her...screaming and struggling, she's dragged up the walls and over the ceiling before she finally falls back down dead on the mattress.

In the second sequence, Tina's grieving friend Nancy conks out in a high school class, and Tina comes to her in a body bag, says a few words from inside, then gets dragged out. Nancy follows, and finds a huge swipe of blood on the the film's most chilling scene, she follows the trail until she sees the body bag laying on the floor some distance ahead...suddenly the end with the legs rises up, lifted by whatever invisible fiend is doing the dragging, and the bag slides from view around a corner. Nancy keeps following the blood, finds herself in the boiler room...Freddy comes at her, but she burns her arms on a hot pipe, and wakes up screaming back in class...

Things get much less frightening after that. There's plenty of gore, and the proceedings move right along, but the imagery just isn't as cool. Ultimately we get to a whole lot of physical conflict with Freddy, with him bouncing onto beds and swiping at Nancy and missing, and he just gets progressively less intimidating. The very last shot, with someone getting jerked violently through a window, is pretty neat, but the film's been going downhill for some time before that.

Of course, the first half is so scary that's hard to see how Craven could've kept it up.

There were a bunch of sequels...the second one was worthless possession thing, largely devoid of the nightmare elements, but the third movie, Dream Warriors, had a lot going for it. Post III, the series just stumbled on, and continued to be a big cash cow for New Line, but I'd had enough. Freddy remains a horror icon though, right up there with Pinhead, and the classic Universal monsters...wouldn't be a bit surprised if someone put him to really good use at some point in the future. Didn't see that attempt to reboot the series, with Jacky Earle Haley, although I imagine he's good...loved him as Rorshach...

16.The Resurrected---1992
Even though H.P.Lovecraft is such a big deal---deservedly so---in horror fiction, he hasn't fared too well on film. A lot of times you get things like Hellboy or Ghostbusters, which are heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, but aren't actually part of it; then there the movies that are supposedly based on Lovecraft stories, but chuck virtually everything about them---Die Monster Die was a adaptation of Colour Out of Space and featured a blasted heath and a meteorite, but otherwise bore no resemblance to its source material...Reanimator is rather a hoot, and Jeffrey Combs is a great Herbert West, but Lovecraft's stories have been replaced by a very nasty carno-fest, complete with severed-head cunnilingus, that would've had old H.P. spinning in his grave. True, Dagon bore more than a passing resemblence to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but you had to put up with the setting shifted to Spain. The Dunwich Horror did indeed put the Mythos front and center, but tried to replace Lovecraft's structure with something like a typical Hollywood storyline, and it just wouldn't gel. Interestingly, the two best Lovecraft adaptations, for my money, are both versions of Charles Dexter Ward, although the first, Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace, was billed as a Poe movie...the second, which I prefer, largely because it sticks more closely to Lovecraft, is called The Resurrected, and was directed by Dan O'Bannon. There are some klutzy performances, and parts of the film look pretty threadbare, but there's a very powerful sequence that that I think Lovecraft would've absolutely deserves to be much better known than it is.

Film's set in Lovecraft's beloved Providence and thereabouts...I think it was filmed in Canada or the Pacific Northwest, but it does a pretty good job on the locations, particularly a nasty colonial-era farmhouse. John Terry plays providence P.I. John Marsh, who's hired by Claire Ward (Jane Sibbet) to find out what's happening to her husband, Charles Dexter (Chris Sarandon in his scary guy phase). Having developed an interest in alchemy and other arcane matters, Charles has moved into a remote farmhouse, abetted by a weird bearded fellow who looks rather like him...people and animals are turning up mostly eaten...when Marsh visits the farmhouse, a one-eyed Chinese dude answers the door, and Ward is weird and rude. Bit by bit we learn that Charles has been messing about with the "essential saltes" of long-dead sorcerers, and that his ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was killed by a mob back in Colonial times, had a lot of the same unpleasant habits.

All this leads to the niftiest segment in the film...after Ward is consigned to a padded cell, Marsh, Claire and Marsh's assistant Lonnie find a hatchway that leads into Curwen's ancient underground domain, where Ward, like his ancestor, has been raising things up, mostly unsuccessfully. Characterized by "ye liveliest awefullness" the rejects have been tossed into pits, where they're still twitching and squirming about. The production design here is excellent, and most of the money seems to have been poured into it...the monsters are half-glimpsed but very well rendered, and the mood is top-notch. O'Bannon makes excellent use of malfunctioning flashlights. Lonnie gets killed by something very lively and awefull...Marsh and Claire escape, and Marsh heads off to the looney bin, where the inhabitant of that padded cell may or may not be Ward....

Not sure if this thing even got a theatrical release, but I recommend it highly. O'Bannon, who died recently, directed another of my favorite horror movies, Return of the Living Dead: Alien, which I'm not too fond of (although everyone else thinks very highly of it), was based on a story of his....he isn't too famous, even among horror fans, but he deserved to be a much bigger deal than he ever became.

17.The Ring--- 1998
This is the movie that inaugurated that whole cycle of first-rate Japanese horror films, and it's one of the primary contenders for scariest movie ever. First time I became aware of it, I was watching a Stephen Chow/Wong Jing "Tricky" movie where they had a brief parody (in the background) of the scene where Sadako comes crawling out of the TV...just that little throwaway bit was enough to worry me. I said, "Gee, what was that?" and my daughter Soph said, "Oh, that's from that movie Ringu," and I knew right then I had to get hold of a copy and poison some evening in the near future.

Even though a lot of things about the story were new to American audiences, it used a slew of fairly standard Asian ghost-story conventions, largely based on Taoist notions. You have Yin and Yang, fire and water, and Yin---water---is the female, ghostly principle. Wetness and women operate in horrible, close conjunction, and ghostliness results. If you have a woman anywhere near a lake, ocean, river, puddle, the bathroom, watch out---especially if she's combing her hair. You're headed straight for the morgue.

In Ring, you're dealing with a haunted videotape, but the dead girl that created the situation is the daughter of a sea-demon, and she died down a simply follows that all of Japan will be threatened with extinction. Japan, you see, is a highly monochromatic place filled with unhappy marriages and alienated people. Teenagers have nothing better to do than have slumber parties and investigate urban legends that turn out to be true and kill them. Also, the fucking place is surrounded by water! And full of women and hair!

Reiko Asakawa (Nanko Matsushima) is a divorcee who learns that her neice Tomoko has died, and that Tomoko was part of a group of kids who all went the same way, croaking from fright, seven days after watching a certain video, copies of which are circulating all over Nippon. At a resort cabin, Reiko finds one of the accursed tapes and watches it---it shows a series of apparently unconnected but very upsetting images involving a well out in the woods and other stuff. Thoroughly rattled, she gets in touch with her ex-husband Ryuji, an expert on video matters. He watches too...which means that both of them will die after seven days. To make matters worse, Reiko's little son gets a hold of the thing and eyeballs it as well, making it a very high priority for Reiko and Ryugi to get to the bottom of all this.

Their enquiries bring them to an island where a family has been keeping a nasty secret...a while back, the father, who spent too much time down at the cold wet rocky beach, went and impregnated a woman who was apparently a sea-demon. The result was a little girl named Sadako, who had very scary ways...daddy eventually tossed her down a well, which is why the tape shows that well in the woods, and shots that seem to be looking up from the bottom of the shaft. Armed with this knowledge, our sleuths locate the well---it's been buried under the cabin where those kids first found the tape, and Ryugi makes the highly inspired decision to go down into it...I know I would. With Reiko having kittens up above, he roils things up, and Sadako's skeletal corpse rises to the surface...she gets a decent burial. Having done their duty by her, our protagonists conclude that all will now be will.

But the little dead bitch is having none of that, and in an extremely powerful climax (which was ruined in the American remake by some very ill-advised intercutting), Sadako flips Ryugi's TV on from somewhere in the great beyond, and we see that well out in the woods once more...only this time she's crawling up over the edge. As Ryugi sits paralyzed with fright, the ghost gets closer and closer to the "camera," then comes slithering out through the screen. Things don't end well for Ryugi, but you must've guessed that already. I mean, this is Japan, and it's surrounded by water, and the women comb their hair, and...

Boy does this thing pack a punch. It's only serious competitor is The Haunting. If the director, Hideo Nakata, had never made another movie, he'd still be one of the all-time champs of cinematic fright. As it is, he helmed one of the other movies on this list, and we'll be visiting that shortly, but first we have to hit a different J-horror masterpiece, which is coming right up.


Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Akira's nephew, directed this movie, which was adapted from his so many of these Asian horror films, it spawned an American remake, Pulse, but you really don't have to bother with that. Kairo serves up a vision of modern Japan that makes Ring seem sweet in comparison; everyone's even more alienated, the film is even more monochromatic, there are zillions of ghosts, and the place gets totalled at the end. Once more, I'm not giving anything away...we're in Dai Nippon, and everything is bad,bad, bad. I don't recall there being any watery imagery, but you don't need it...a lousy economy and the internet are quite sufficient to destroy everything.

It won't be too easy writing this entry...the story is even less coherent than Suspiria's, and it's pretty non-linear. Characters come and go---mostly go---and narratives are picked up only to come to a sudden end as someone gets so frightened and/or depressed that they wind up as a black smudge on the wall. I suppose the underlying unities are basically thematic; all this horrible imagery is primarily in the service of a diatribe against Japaneseness and technology. But the pictures are so extremely unnerving that the film completely surmounts the lack of a conventional framework.

The basic premise is this: the afterlife is full up, and the ghosts are leaking back into this world, via the internet. When you're hooking up your computer, you get a little box that says..."Would you like to talk to a ghost?" If you're stupid enough to click on that, you see some picture of a dingy place with an extremely depressed person in get totally obsessed with this shitty new relationship of yours, and finally you kill yourself, or become one of those black smudges, and your spirit gets on the web, and so it spreads. Ghosts also come out of the internet, and you can keep them at bay for a while by sealing your doors and windows with red tape, but something still gets you. When other poor Japanese come looking for you, and break into your basement apartment to find you gone but for your smudge, there'll be a woman walking around in slow motion, swinging her arms, and even though your friends hide behind the couch, she comes and looks over the top...

The situation is simply devoid of hope. Your local videogame parlor gets emptied, and you have to listen to idiotic videogame music as the ghosts close in. Some of them are black and out of focus, except for their glowing eyes. As burning military transport planes rain from the skies, you get onto a boat and go far out to sea, but everybody on board winds up black and powdery on a wall, and you realize that the whole world is ending, having become at least as bad as Japan...

Kurosawa made another couple of horror movies, Cure and Bright Future, the latter being the more memorable of the two, as it involved a plague of glowing jellyfish in Tokyo's canal system. But Kairo remains his best so far...doesn't make me want to visit Japan though, or use the damn internet.

Would you like to talk to a blogger?

19.Dark Water---2002
Well, even though, if Kairo was to be believed, Japan was completely demolished in 2001, it was back in 2002, and water, not the internet, was wreaking the havoc. This time we find ourselves in an awful moldy concrete apartment building with profoundly lousy plumbing and another damn dead little girl who just won't stop making a nuisance of herself. There's hair in abundance, fact, the titles are over a bunch of hair (and other less recognizeable stuff) floating in nasty brownish fluid. Yep, Hideo Nakata is back to his old Yin-yang tricks, although the story is very different from Ringu.

We start off with more divorce biz...Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) has custody of little Ikuko, moves to the aforesaid apartment block, and gets her daughter into kindergarten. Their apartment sucks big time...there's a huge water-stain on the ceiling, vaguely suggestive of something, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and starts to drip. Hair comes out of the faucet... a kid's red bag shows up repeatedly and refuses to be thrown away, and Yoshimi keeps seeing a tyke who looks like her daughter. As that leaky ceiling gets leakier, Yoshimi finds Ikuko in the apartment above, which is absolutely flooded. Inquiring about the previous tenants, she learns that a little girl, Mitsuko, lived up there, went to Yoshimi's daughter's school, and vanished after being neglected by her mother...up on the roof, Yoshimi finds a great big watertank and begins to suspect that Mitsuko fell in there and died and rotted, which would go a long way to explain the problems with the pipes.

Just wanting to have a nice loving mom of her own, Mitsuko takes steps to get rid of Ikuko, appearing to her in the kindergarten, and trying to drown her back in the apartment...Yoshimi arrives to save her daughter and runs off, only to discover that she's got the wrong girl in her arms...

Like all the movies on this list, Dark Water is long on atmosphere....certainly it's the squishiest, moldiest movie of the bunch. I don't think it's as scary as Ring, but it comes close, and has other virtues...the story is more focussed and intimate, and you care more about the characters. Basically, you have an increasingly frantic mom, a live little girl, and a dead one. The very end, which I won't reveal, is most chilling, although, oddly, not altogether should judge for yourself. And if the stain on your ceiling keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the water from your tap goes all brown and hairy and soupy, draw the appropriate conclusion...

Namely that, for some reason...

You're in Japan!

20.The Eye---2002
Not to be outdone by those moist depressed Nipponese, folks all over Asia, in China, Korea, and Thailand began generating their own exposes of the supernatural situation in the Far East. Hearing about a girl who got a corneal transplant and killed herself soon after, Danny and Oxide Pang, who'd just made Bangkok Dangerous, came up with a yarn about the unexpected consequences of eye'd be better off blind.

The Eye
features lovely Angelica Lee (from Princess D!) as Mun, a blind twenty-year old violinist in Hong Kong. After receiving a new cornea, she starts seeing freaky things in the hospital, including black blurry figures who visit terminal patients who then die. The visions continue once she gets a barbecue place, she sees a ghost vainly licking at a bunch of hanging spare-ribs, and finds herself in an elevator with a guy who has half his face missing (they seem to have used a fellow who was really in this shape), and floats several inches above the floor.

Very distressed, she turns to a a psychologist, who doesn't believe her right off, but is won over by her sincerity and extreme cuteness. They learn that the cornea that's causing all the trouble came from a woman in Thailand, called Ling, and book a Ling's village, a doctor explains that Ling had a whole mess of psychic ability, tried to warn everybody about some bad shit on the way, and, after the village was wiped out, blamed herself and committed suicide. Ling's mother has never forgiven her for that, and when Ling's spirit takes Mun over and tries to force her to kill herself, Ling's mom saves the day, rather inexplicably forgiving her daughter for everything...Ling's spirit goes somewhere better.

But Mun's not done with supernatural crap...she and the psychologist find themselves trapped in a bus in a traffic jam on their way back to Bangkok. Seeing dozens of black blurry figures fanning out along the line of cars, obviously waiting to harvest a whole heap of souls, Mun realizes that something awful is about to happen...

The first half of The Eye is extremely frightening and well-realized...third quarter bogs down as the mystery behind the haunted cornea is solved. This happens a lot in spooky movies...fact is, while it might be advisable to let the audience know exactly what's going on, mere revelation isn't necessarily interesting...scariness is better. But the movie recovers right at the end...a huge dose of suspense precedes a spectacular, harrowing catastrophe.

The rights to a remake were snapped up almost immediately by Tom Cruise, who produced an American version with Jessica Alba in it...after the fashion of these things, it wasn't too hot. They just should've copied the scare scenes as closely as possible, but the American director didn't have a clue. It's sorta embarrassing...Hollywood used to be the horror movie capital of the world. But I'm not looking for the situation to improve any time soon....there are way too many suits for much good work to get done, and until they get disabused of this notion that they know anything, we're going to get a lot of lousy remakes and other worthless crap...

Hell, I'm sounding the way I did at the end of the vampire list.

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1 comment:

  1. It wasnt till The Thing did you hit a movie i have ever seen. That movie is very high in my all time favorite movies. When i was a kid i watched that (and Escape from New york) with my dad one late night after my mom went to bed and both of them have held fond places in my heart ever since.

    Have you seen Event Horizon? I saw it several years ago (and not sure how it would hold up now) but i remember it givin me the willies pretty bad, not Ring bad but pretty bad.