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Lake Mungo (2008)
The Dark Journey Of A Family
How would you classify a movie that is about grief and ghost? Also filmed in a mock documentary style that rival some of today's Oscar winning documentary films. This movie belongs in a sub-genre of its own, and it's a very good thing that Lionsgate has step up to the plate and picked this film for its After Dark "horror" film series. Otherwise no one outside of Australia would have heard of it, especially in America where the horror genre has devolved into the realms of torture and killing. What now days constitutes as "scary" in the American horror is truly discouraging for those of us who were weaned on horror films that have a story to tell and is scary and creepy.
What makes Lake Mungo good is also its achilles heel. For those who are not a regular watcher of documentary films, which happens to consist the main audience of After Dark horror series, this movie will be as foreign to them as an Ingmar Bergman film. I would have wished Lionsgate to market this movie as a stand alone film and not be packaged into a group of horror films which it's not a part of.
Lake Mungo draws you in to its ghostly world slowly but surly like poison from a blow dart. This film let its editing, music, and atmosphere be the narrator how one family in Ararat, Australia deals with a loss of a love one and that loss somehow morphed into strange sound in the night and haunting images on the photographs and videos.
The documentary style in this film is by far better executed by the film makers than the recent other mock documentary films such as "Paranormal Activity" and "The Fourth Kind". The acting is subdue and the film draws heavily on family's "home videos" which adds a sense of realism. There are few times where the imperfection of the film does surface and disrupted the mood, for example, shortly after the Palmer's daughter died, the family was asked to identify the body and afterward on the way home their car's gearshift broke down and can only goes in reverse, which is how they drove home. That scene makes me scratching my head. The story line of Lake Mungo inter-twanged like a maze, and ends with a touch of supernatural, which makes one wonders if there is ghost or not?
As others have already pointed out, Lake Mungo is not a horror movie by today's American teenagers definition, and they are right. This film is not a horror film. It's a creepy, moody, and stylishly film about dark journey of grief and a ghost, if you should be inclined.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
It Is Always Better with Live Orchestra And Concert Organ
I just attended a special showing of "The Phantom of the Opera" at Orange County Performing Arts Center's Segerstrom Concert Hall with Pacific Symphony. The symphony performed the restored 1925's film score with Dennis James at the helm of the concert hall's concert Organ. I knew something great was going to happen when the opening scene of the movie on the big screen was accompanied with a wall of sound from the concert organ playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. In my many years of movie going, I have never experienced watching a movie along with full symphony orchestra playing its score, it just brings watching a classic silent film up to a whole new level.
Even-though, the film was shown as film-to-video transfer, the images came out loud and clear, but not without some blotches, the film is after all some 84 years old. I have never watched any of the Phantom movies before nor the musical version, so last night's showing was my first exposure to the franchise. The story of the film was the timeless story of unacquired love and human hideousness. Much in the same vein as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "King Kong", and "Frankenstein". The plot of the the film was limited to what the title card of the silent film can express, but the words flashed before the screen speaks volume to the actors emotions and further more bring it up couple of notches by the organ and orchestra's film score. I was in awe by the movie's venture into Technicolor at the second half of the film. With color one could really tells the difference if the showgirls in the film were wearing white leg stockings or just barelegged. The acting style of the actors to those not accustomed to silent film did caused some snickers from the peanuts gallery, but mostly those of us at the concert hall were captured by the powerful imageries and music of this 84 years old film. In the end, I must remind myself that I'm watching a silent film.
The Burrowers (2008)
A Good Subtle Western Horror Movie
This movie begins quietly on the prairie like other great western films with a man profess his love to a woman. A causal viewer would mistaken this as a western love story. Boy, would he or she be surprised. This movie is a cross between "The Searcher", "Days of Heaven", and "Feast". For me, I like the quiet opening of the movie without any loud and overbearing music, and its subtle overtone might strike others as being slow, but for me the subtleness sets up the creepy atmosphere of the film. I love Doug Hutchison's performance as cavalry officer, he gave this film a realistic feel to it, although, I doubt all cavalry officers behaved like him back in the old west days. The monsters which I am sorry to say are the weak point of the movie. Even though, they are scary but not well put together consider this film has some budget that are higher than other horror films. Also, I found the settings of the movie a bit disruptive at the end of the film as the characters went from a prairie setting to a forested mountain setting and back all too quick. It's too bad that this movie didn't see its theatrical release. Perhasp a better title would help.
Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1970)
I would imagine anyone who gone though the trouble of obtaining this film already knows about premise of Chariots of the Gods so I will save you the trouble. I am a fan of Leonard Nimoy's In Search of TV series and its pilot shows. In the shows the name Von Daniken and the book Chariots of the Gods were mentioned, and I remembered there is a documentary film from the book. So, I looked it up and watched it. While Chariots of the Gods is not as dramatic as the In search of: Ancient Astronauts narrated by the great Rod Serling, but it has that snazzy 70's Euro pop jazz going for it. The kind of music that reminds you that you are watching a low budget 1970 film from West Germany. Also, if you had watched Rod Serling's Ancient Astronauts or Outerspace Connection, you will noticed most of the footages from those films are from the Chariots of the Gods. The images of the film is quite good on the VCI Entertainment release DVD. Like other reviewers have said, if you turn the volume down this movie could make a good travelogue.
Also, like so many other reviewer have wrote, the narrator is no Rod Serling. As a matter of fact, I think he is about as dry as a glass of martini, with no olive. This film consists of him reading from the book with no sound bites of people who were interviewed. If you want answers of strange going on with those little green aliens then this film is not for you, because this movie offers questions, a lot of questions, but no answers. With rhetorical questions like: "Could the ancient Egyptian mummifies body to copy alien's hyper-sleep during space travel?" or "Could the stone drawing in the middle of Sahara desert thousand of years ago be that of UFOs?" or "Could that 5,000 years old Japanese figurine be that of an alien in a space suit?" make me want to put my finger to my cheek and go "Hmmmmmm....Is that so?" Even though most of the questions posed doesn't pass go on my mumbo jumbo filter, it is still good a fun watch on a boring summer afternoon. What can I say, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.
The Car (1977)
Rider on the Storm
Watching this film reminds me of the Doors' song, "Riders on the storm". Indeed, the villain rides on a storm of a car and straight from hell. If this movie is a commentary of American's car culture, then it held even more true today as a manifestation of what we now called "road rage", and there's no better embodiment of road rage then this car. A bulky low top car that's a cross between a hearse and a cardiac. Its horns are the trumpet of doom, calling for the end of the world. Its windows are tainted red, as if to contain the fiery fury of road rages from bursting out onto the world. The car itself vomited from hell, now rides in the badland of Utah, killing whoever is in its way or not in its way.
Unlike its contemporaries, this film is fast pace, dead bodies starts to pile up within 30 minutes. The Car is also unlike its contemporaries in its body count, I start to lose count after nine. With the newly remaster DVD the local of the film is breath taking made even more beautiful by the cinematographic. The music and the cast are straight out of memorable 70's disaster movies, in a good way. I love Kathleen Lloyd's performance as a spunky school teacher, and James Brolin as good humor but serious under sheriff and also the Richards sister as under sheriff's kids.
The film itself held up pretty well in its 31 years, sure, the bell bottom jean and the fluffy hair style are kind of out-dated, but everything else could come right out of today's Hollywood studio. If they ever decided to make a decent movie for a change.
Journey of a Cursed Man
How many curses can a man suffer? Cursed by the sin of his father, and the sin done to his wife, the main character of this film does not have a lot going for him; except, his manly charm that have women falling themselves over for him. That's what this film is about, cursed by love and cursed to be loved.
This movie opens like a Japanese fairy tale not unlike the 1964 version of "Kaidan". A tale of greed and murder told in theatrical like black and white film, where a businessman was killed by a samurai over a debt, but before he drawn his last breath, he cursed the samurai's family. Later, when the orphaned samurai's son met the daughter of his father's victim, as if by magic, they fell in love and soon after, fall out of love. The daughter fell ill and before she died, out of jealousy she cursed her lover to suffer the lost of women he loves. The cursed man fled for his life, to another city, another town where once again women fall in love with him and the curses continue.
I was surprised that this film is own by Liongate films and didn't saw its U.S. DVD distribution, whereas Takashi Shimizu's "Rinne" or "Reincarnation" did. Perhaps "Kaidan" is too much of an eastern horror film for a western audience. I doubt target audience for horror films in America would be interested in watching a horror movie base in 19th century Japan with samurai and geisha.
Kaidan is more of a telling of a love story that involves supernatural elements than just a normal western type of horror story. I found myself drawn into the story of this movie and watched as the cursed man's journey ran its faithful course. Since this movie doesn't have a U.S. release, I have to settle for a blurry VCD version although the English subtitle in the movie is much better than other Japanese VCD movies.
Ame no machi (2006)
Scary Children Spoiled A Scary Movie
I will tell ya, nothing spoils a good Japanese horror film than a bunch of scary children running around. Take them out and what you got is a atmospheric spooky movie that bring back to the ice cream days of Ringu, Ju-on, and One missed call. The movie is about a group of people who disappeared all at once at a mountain side village in rural Japan 30 years ago. They were never found. Now, during the raining season, those people who went missing are coming back to the dying village and aged not a day older. The thing is the people who came back are just a facsimile of what they suppose to be. Something is very wrong with them. The remaining villagers lock their doors at sundown, fearing the people who walks in the night, and in all this mix is a burned out tabloid reporter from Tokyo trying to figure out who are these mushroom people.
Doesen't sound too bad I might say, but why the missing people have to be children? Thus, setting up the movie up as another average J-horror flick. This movie has the style, direction, and story of a good creepy movie, but somebody has to say, "bring in the scary children! And make those scary faces!", and this film somehow becomes unintentional funny at times. Please! No more scary children.
The Outer Space Connection (1975)
Take It or Leave It.
This film marks the birth of ideas such as, alien adduction, alien experimentation, and alien conspiracy. It also give rise to such films and TV show as, Close Encounter of The Third Kind, Fire in the Sky, and most important, The X-Files. It took me a while to track this film down. A not too bad transfer of film-to-VHS-to-DVD is given me all sorts of flash backs from my "younger" years in the mid to late seventies.
The Outer Space Connection is the hallmarks of the 1970's, with its heavy pseudo-science overtone to its otherworldly soundtrack which I find very soothing. One has to be a "true believer" to take stock of anything this documentary has to say, but it won't hurt to put up one's mumbo-jumbo filter in your mind as you watch this film. I love the narration of Rod Serling, his authoritative voice lend some credence to the documentary. Also, the creepy atmosphere the film presented is not too bad either. The subject of movie wandered from outer space alien to alien outer space travel to alien human experimentation, to communication with other specie of animals towards the end of the movie.
If you're a X-Files fan then you must have it in your library, agent Mulder sure has.
Is it Ghost, or is it Your Imagination?
The Booth puts a whole new twist on your typical J-horror movie. This movie puts you in the shoes of the protagonist of the story. The director wants you to see what the protagonist sees and thinks.
The story is about perception of the people who works, lives, and loves of our protagonist, and how he perceives the people who surrounds him in an antiquated radio station DJ booth. The story peels back the layers of the main character like an onion in flash-backs as the movie runs its course, and from it we learned that things are not always the way it seems. The movie mostly took place in a small, out-dated radio station's studio with a very bad history, where the main character was forced to broadcast his talk show due to the radio station was in the process of re-locating. It is from this confined space that this movie thrives and makes you feel very claustrophobic and very paranoid. At time our protagonist can not determined the strange happenings in the old studio were caused by ghost or some conspiracy by his co-workers or it was all in his mind. What I like about this film is that the film-makers makes you see through the eyes of the main character and makes you just as paranoid as protagonist did. This movie is a very smart, abide rather short 76 minutes film.
A Serial Killer's Wet Dream
The story of Perfume played out like a dark Brothers Grimm fable. The story unfolds as our killer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's early existence consisting of endless cruelties inflicted to him by others, which in his later years changed him into some sorts of super-killer in the same light as Hannibal Lecter. Grenouille shares the same traits as other serial killers, the lack of sympathy/empathy with the victims, killing and experimenting with victims' dead bodies, and collecting of items from the victims to re-live the experience, in this case, Grenouille collecting the scents from his victims. The character of Grenouille is tall, dark, smart, and handsome. What makes Grenouille really stood out is the fact that he is some sort of serial killer's version of idiot savant. His keen sense of smell was able to lead him to create great perfumes but also lead him to his victims. Grenouille is able to move freely amongst people without fear of being capture to carry out his twisted goal of making a perfect perfume.
Although, this movie is photographed beautifully and the production value is better than the other films that came out of Europe in recent years, and the story itself has a moral point of a goal that is archived by ill means is a goal not worth to have, this film also has a big problem of getting the audience to root for the protagonist of this movie, thus a feeling of disconnect from the movie itself. The movie's finality seems to be out of some bad 1960's psychedelic, orgy movie.
In the end, Grenouille as a serial killer, get to have all a serial killer ever wanted, power, fame, desire, and most of all, the control to which he can choose his ending, now that's wet dream for a serial killer or what.
P.S. If you dig this kind of movie, I would also suggest the following film: "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)"