From the Files of the Horror Channel 2

Some more films from Freeview 70 that I’ve watched recently.

Out of the Dark (2014)

Sara and Paul (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) move to Colombia, where she is to take over management of a paper mill owned by her father. The couple like the house in the jungle allocated as their home, but daughter Hannah isn’t quite so happy. She’s made uneasy by the dumb waiter in her bedroom, and the child’s nanny thinks the house is haunted. Hannah contracts an inexplicable illness, and then is abducted by a group of children whose faces are cloaked in bandages, leaving her parents to discover the terrible truth. This is your basic revenge from the grave shtick, with the plot resting on a tragedy that occurred over twenty years ago and was hidden up at the time, but with the chickens now truly coming home to roost. There are a couple of jump moments, some solid plotting, and good performances from the cast, especially Stephen Rea as Sara’s father, whose actions provide the one surprising moment. The children aren’t as creepy as they could be though, and the way in which Sara uncovers the past seems a bit contrived. Overall it’s a by the numbers production, with few frights or thrills, enjoyable in a pass the time sort of way, but not something you’re going to remember long after the credits have rolled.

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, an unscrupulous book dealer, in this Roman Polanski directed film of a novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The Ninth Gate of the title is a rare book that is rumoured to reveal a means to raise the Devil. There are only three copies in existence, one of them owned by wealthy collector Balkan, who hires Corso to check out the authenticity of the other two copies. Except as he travels round the world in completing his task, Corso begins to realise that something terrible is going on and his employer has far more in mind than simply checking out literary provenance. The plot is twisty and convoluted, with the viewer kept off guard just as easily as Corso, not knowing quite what to expect other than that, of course, as we are watching a horror movie the existence of the Devil doesn’t seem as unthinkable as it does to sceptic Corso. Depp excels in the lead role, managing to be likable for all that his business practices make the man a despicable shit (this is established early on when he bilks a seller out of valuable books). The way in which he carries himself, his obvious enthusiasm for books, and his quietly spoken manner are all winning characteristics, despite his dubious methods for achieving his ends, and we can’t help but get drawn into his voyage of discovery, a journey that capsizes the man’s agnostic world view, with echoes of Angel Heart in the nature of his quest. The rest of the cast are equally excellent, especially Frank Langella as the driven Balkan and Lena Olin as a rival for possession of The Ninth Gate, with a special shout out to Emmanuelle Seigner as an enigmatic action woman who intervenes whenever Corso is in extremis, with her identity and motivation one of the film’s most compelling riddles. Making it all that bit more special is the beautifully shot photography, something you would expect from Polanski, with each scene exquisitely composed, whether it takes place in a Parisian apartment or at an ancient ruin. In conclusion it is an intriguing fusion of detective story and the supernatural, with credible characters played with conviction, and sumptuously filmed.

Society (1989)

The rich are not like us, would seem to be the theme of Brian Yuzna’s film, with the horror rooted in how different they truly are. Billy Warlock as Bill Whitney appears to have the perfect life; the privileged son of a wealthy family, with a cheerleader girlfriend and expensive wheels, he wants for nothing. But Bill doesn’t feel that he fits in with his family and their high society friends, and this teenage angst is magnified by a series of incidents that suggest something truly awry is going on. From a plot point of view this is the usual story of somebody who learns that the world isn’t quite how he thinks it is, the storyline flirting with mental health issues on the part of the protagonist until the final revelation that, yes, reality really is this fucked up. What makes it stand head and shoulders above similar outings is the subtext, that the wealthy prey on the rest of us, are bloated parasites who are not even human, and more significantly, the wonderful sfx, with several scenes that hint at something big to come. And the nature of that big scene, a party at which the true state of affairs is revealed, culminating in an orgiastic event called simply ‘the shunt’ is truly memorable, with foreshadowing of both Alien and The Thing, but also an underlying decadence that is all its own, seen in the attitudes of the characters and the ways in which flesh is contorted. It’s a finale that elevates an almost humdrum story into the ranks of near classic, and guarantees you will remember this film long after productions that possibly have more to commend them are forgotten. In conclusion: good film, great shunt.

Haunter (2013)

I could make a case for this being Groundhog Day replayed as a ghost story. The Johnson family, unaware that they are dead, live in an old house, repeating the same day over and over again. Teenage daughter Lisa (Abigail Breslin) realises what is happening and, through contacting other people who have lived or will live in the house, seeks to break the cycle of repetition and defeat the evil entity that holds them all prisoner. Kudos to this film for trying to do something different with a genre standard, a worthy ambition, but it falls at the last hurdle. The story is one that requires patience on the part of the viewer, as we have to stay with it for a while to get what is going on, and the almost impressionistic way in which events are filmed doesn’t help, though again with hindsight we can see why such choices were made. Contrarily though, I think the impressionistic feel was part of the reason I stayed with it, the sense/hope that something very different and out of the ordinary was happening. It is an interesting film, and certainly worth watching the once, and maybe more than once, but on the back of my one viewing I felt that it tried to do too much within its short runtime, a combination of YA film, haunted house film, family drama (Lisa’s attempts to change things bring her into conflict with her family), and spectral serial killer (the appearance of the film’s monster is one of the high moments) and ultimately wasn’t quite as original as it wanted to be. You can meld together a wealth of clichés, but they remain clichés.

They Live (1988)

In my mind this is the blue collar version of Society, directed by John Carpenter and released a year before that film. Wrestler Roddy Piper takes the lead role as drifter John Nada, who discovers special sunglasses that let him see the world as it really is, with subliminal advertising in every media broadcast and the ruling elite revealed as aliens who have come to exploit our planet’s resources. Nada gets involved with the resistance, eventually overthrowing alien rule by pulling back the curtain behind which they hide. This is a film that some see as a lot more relevant in the current political climate, and I can’t really fault that reasoning – those in power seem to have so little in common with the electorate that they might as well be aliens, and it’s hard to believe they have our best interests at heart. That aside, while the backdrop to the film seems timeless, otherwise I feel it is rather dated. The time when we can believe in a single, blue collar hero overthrowing tyranny has well and truly passed, and so while I’m pulled in by what John Nada learns of his world and how he reacts, the eventual outcome simply doesn’t ring true. Society in which an individual achieves something to improve his own position, while the world as a whole continues along its merry way to hell in a handcart seems a lot more credible. Like everyone I want an upbeat ending, but it needed to be a bit more convincing than the one we have here. In conclusion: great film, just a shame how it finishes. Which begs the question of whether we can believe in non-dystopian endings any more, if they can be made to feel authentic when the world is this messed up.

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