Saturday, February 23, 2013
Up from the Past
There are nice gory and goopy bits scattered throughout, but an awful lot of this is just rote zombie action set at a wedding. The interesting religious reveal at the end of the first Rec has become here a shovel hitting us in the face over and over again. Lightly recommended for people who have seen the first two and will see the fourth (and ostensibly final) installment.
Screenwriters Leigh Brackett (who would thirty years later work on the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back) and Jules Furthman and Chandler's original novel supply most of the verbal fireworks, William Faulkner having wandered back to Oxford, Mississippi in the middle of screen-writing to drink, hang out with his wheelbarrow, and inspire Barton Fink. Virtually all the dialogue crackles with wit and substance; the plot is twisty but ultimately perfectly logical (though depending on which version you see, the mystery of the chaffeur's murder may or may not be fully explained).
The performances are stellar throughout, with lengthy reshoots a year after the original completion of filming to beef up the badinage between Bogart and Bacall. Hawks directs with his trademark rapid-fire dialogue, and the black-and-white cinematography is beautifully deployed by Syd Hickox. If for no other reason, one needs to see The Big Sleep to fully appreciate the Coen Brothers' gonzo homage/parody, The Big Lebowski, with its warped parallel characters and situations (and use of the word 'shamus'). Highest recommendation.
Much of the early material with the family soon to be beset by vengeful spirits works pretty well; we're in Spielberg suburbia, where the Dad is distant (figuratively here; literally in other Spielberg films) and the Mother is the spiritual head of the family. The supernatural starts with what seems to be a furniture-moving poltergeist ("Noisy ghost") but soon moves into high-tech pyrotechnics, rubbery models, stop-motion trees, and large accumulations of skeletons rocketing up from the muddy ground.
I can't say the Spielberg kitchen-sink approach works all that well in horror -- indeed, many of the later effects here would be spoofed to a certain extent by Evil Dead 2. There are brief moments of wonder, but the Spielbergian need to underline every effect and every emotional sequence with music, flashing lights, and endless close-ups of people looking awestruck quickly dissipates that wonder.
One of the elements of the main plot -- the disappearance of the little girl from her own house into an alternate dimension, with only her voice being able to be heard in our dimension -- is lifted pretty much wholesale from the Richard Matheson short story and, later, 1962 Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost." Besides being afraid of old Twilight Zone episodes, original story-writer Spielberg was also apparently scared of trees, his face melting, clowns, and really large faces. And getting trapped in a crowd of skeletons. It's amazing how many of the horror tropes here previously showed up in Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lightly recommended.