Monday, January 30, 2017

The Hidden (1987)

The Hidden (1987): written by Jim Kouf; directed by Jack Sholder; starring Kyle MacLachlan (Lloyd Gallagher), Michael Nouri (Sgt. Tom Beck), Claudia Christian (Brenda Lee), Clu Gulager (Lt. Flynn), Ed O'Ross (Detective Willis), Richard Brooks (Detective Sanchez), Clarence Felder (Lt. Masterson), and Chris Mulkey (DeVries): A great cult movie of the 1980's that should be as fondly remembered as The Terminator, but isn't. Plot revelations are part of the fun, so I'll only say that mismatched cop and FBI partners Michael Nouri and Kyle MacLachlan are terrific as they pursue a puzzling series of normal citizens who suddenly turn into crazy killers. 

A great cast of character actors helps elevate the movie, as do Claudia Christian's killer stripper, some extremely good creature effects, and a narrative that's lean and compact. Science-fiction historians can note the movie's extreme similarity to both Hal Clement's classic sf novel Needle and Michael Shea's 1980 novella "The Autopsy." Twin Peaks fans may note that MacLachlan's performance here seems like a practice run for FBI Agent Dale Cooper. Highly recommended.

Man Vs. (2015)

Man Vs. (2015): written by Adam Massey and Thomas Michael; directed by Adam Massey; starring Chris Diamantopoulos: Filmed north of Guelph, Ontario, Man Vs. pits Doug Woods, a minor reality show star, against Something. Woods is filming an episode of his show in the Northern Ontario woods. It's a wilderness survival show in the tradition of so many shows on television. But then something happens, and someone or something starts stalking him. 

Man Vs. is a fairly enjoyable, straight-to-cable movie with an affable protagonist in Chris Diamantopoulos (a recurring bit on Silicon Valley as a the guy who 'invented' Internet Radio definitely shows that he has acting range). The revelation of the menace is a bit of a letdown, as these things go, though the climax manages to throw in a gratifying extra twist. But the movie does do a nice job of slow-burning the tension in its first 70 minutes or so. Recommended.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Teatro Grottesco (2006/ This edition 2008) by Thomas Ligotti

Teatro Grottesco (2006/ This edition 2008) by Thomas Ligotti, containing the following stories:

Purity (2003)
The Town Manager (2003)
Sideshow and Other Stories (2003)
The Clown Puppet (1996)
The Red Tower (1996)
My Case for Retributive Action (2001) 
Our Temporary Supervisor (2001)
His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House (1997)
The Bells Will Sound Forever (1997)
A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing (1997) 
When You Hear the Singing, You Will Know It Is Time (1997)
Teatro Grottesco (1996) 
Gas Station Carnivals (1996)
The Bungalow House (1995)
Severini (1996)
The Shadow, The Darkness (1999)

Still the relatively slow-writing Thomas Ligotti's most recent collection, Teatro Grottesco is a droll, horrifying tour of strange places and the strange minds trapped within them. At this stage in his writing career, Ligotti has made the Lovecraftian elements in his fiction into a sinister underlier. No chants, no tentacled bogies: just the terrible hum of a universe so hostile to humanity that humanity may not even exist, or ever have existed, as humanity qua humanity. 

We may all just be puppets of a darkness that plays with us for its amusement. There is no free will, perhaps, because human beings only imagine that they possess imagination and individuality. Nothing real exists. 1999's "The Shadow, The Darkness" is Ligotti's definitive statement on this inhuman condition; fittingly, it closes the collection.

But for all the dismal absurdity of Ligotti's universe, it's also a bleakly comic one at times. "The Clown Puppet" showcases this best. The strange happenings -- happenings that would probably drive a 'normal' narrator insane -- are instead interpreted by our narrator as "outrageous nonsense." Our narrator riffs on various iterations of this phrase throughout the story. He exists in a world so strange that he essentially reacts to (and interprets) irruptions of insanity with a bemused 'Meh.'

Among other modern horrors, Ligotti deals with office life (in "My Case for Retributive Action" and "Our Temporary Supervisor") in ways that make both versions of The Office look like utopias by comparison. The horrors remain murky and partially unexplained, but horrors they are, whether of drudgery or sudden and mysterious death.

It's tempting to read some of these murky yet precise stories as allegory, especially "The Red Tower," which can seem at points like an examination of all human belief and faith. "The Town Manager" seems like it's about something other than its surface story, in which a decaying town is run by a succession of never-glimpsed Town Managers. 

The stories can support a lot of interpretations. They can also be enjoyed simply for their oddness, their existential dread, their linguistic elegance, their commitment to outrageous nonsense. They're destabilizing of one's sense of reality in the way all truly great horror is. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Haunted Legends (2010) edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Haunted Legends (2010) edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas, containing the following stories:

Knickerbocker Holiday by Richard Bowes
That Girl by Kaaron Warren
Akbar by Kit Reed 
The Spring Heel by Steven Pirie
As Red as Red by Caitlín R. Kiernan 
Tin Cans by Ekaterina Sedia
Shoebox Train Wreck by John Mantooth
Fifteen Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai by Catherynne M. Valente
La Llorona by Carolyn Turgeon
Face Like a Monkey by Carrie Laben 
Down Atsion Road by Jeffrey Ford
Return to Mariabronn by Gary A. Braunbeck
Following Double-Face Woman by Erzebet YellowBoy
Oaks Park by M. K. Hobson
For Those in Peril on the Sea by Stephen Dedman
The Foxes by Lily Hoang
The Redfield Girls by Laird Barron
Between Heaven and Hull by Pat Cadigan
Chucky Comes to Liverpool by Ramsey Campbell
The Folding Man by Joe R. Lansdale 

An interesting idea for an anthology -- writers riff on personal, local, urban or even culture-wide legends -- yields mixed results. Many of the stories float away on New Weird tropes that include lack of closure, excessive cuteness, and excessive (indeed, obsessively so) obscurity. The best stories here offer up their legends, no matter how odd or obscure, straightforwardly. Some of the less successful stories remind one of Henry James' old dictum -- "Write a dream, lose a reader."

I inadvertently applied a 'Test to Destruction' protocol on this anthology as I set it aside for three months. Coming back to it, I soon discovered that I'd already read more stories than I believed: many of them had simply vanished from memory until I encountered them again. That's not an endorsement.

As to the good...

  • "The Folding Man" by Joe R. Lansdale is brilliant, weird, gory, and absolutely of a piece with Lansdale's often brilliant, weird, and gory writing career. 

  • "Chucky Comes to Liverpool" by Ramsey Campbell takes on censorship in a riff on real-world events in his native Liverpool. 

  • "The Redfield Girls" by Laird Barron is a subtle and disturbing tale of a real lake in Washington State, with real events mixed in with the fictional ones. Caitlin Kiernan, Gary Braunbeck, and Jeffrey Ford also do commendable work here. 

  • "For Those in Peril on the Sea" by Stephen Dedman misses by that much -- that much being a developed ending rather than a sudden shift into a coy truncation of the story. 

For two bucks, Haunted Legends was a good buy. At full price, though, the book should be avoided -- the best stories are all available in other, better collections and anthologies now. Lightly recommended.

Where Furnaces Burn (2012) by Joel Lane

Where Furnaces Burn (2012) by Joel Lane, containing the following stories:

A Cup of Blood (2004), A Mouth to Feed by (2008), Beth's Law (2009),  Black Country (2010),  Blind Circles (2004),  Blue Smoke (2012),  Dreams of Children (2012),  Even the Pawn (2012),  Facing the Wall (2004), Incry (2011), Morning's Echo (2010), My Stone Desire (2007),  Point of Departure (2012), Quarantine (2012), Slow Burn (2012), Stiff as Toys (1998), Still Water (2007),The Hostess (2010), The Last Witness (2010), The Receivers (2002), The Sunken City (2012), The Victim Card (2004), Waiting for the Thaw (2012), Wake Up in Moloch (2012), Winter Journey (2008), and Without a Mind (2012).  

Winner of the 2013 World Fantasy Award for best collection, Where Furnaces Burn is a story cycle from the late and much lamented Joel Lane, England's horror-poet of the industrial, rusting North where much of this book is set. Where Furnaces Burn follows the police career of its first-person narrator in and around the Manchester area.

Lane tended to avoid long short stories, preferring to write short, dense works that nonetheless generally worked as stories and not as fragments of vignettes. That's true here -- though the stories form a larger pattern, they also for the most part stand on their own.

Here we deal again and again with horrors rising out of industrial decay, poverty, and modern alienation (and the protagonist may be the most alienated of them all). Lane's prose is superbly suited to his interests -- poetic at points, grim, and pragmatically matter-of-fact even in the most poetic moments.

These are supernatural stories, mind you, not simply hardboiled excursions into Northern English crime. Ancient horrors adapt to the modern world; new horrors are born. Lane's spiritual forebears include American Fritz Leiber, whose 1940 short story "Smoke Ghost" invented a new way of evoking the horrors of the industrialized world. They also include Ramsey Campbell and his groundbreaking 'kitchen-sink' horror that began in the late 1960's. 

It's all disturbing, sad, and often strangely moving. But Lane also conjures up some fearsome horrors, whether newly minted or ancient and adapting to the Brave New Decaying World. It's brilliant stuff, and a fitting coda to a great writing career. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon (2016): written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham; directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; starring Elle Fanning (Jesse), Karl Glusman (Dean), Jena Malone (Ruby), Bella Heathcote (Gigi), Abbey Lee (Sarah), and Keanu Reeves (Hank): Writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn works in the lurid pulp mode of Only God Forgives here, and not in the cooler style of his break-out film, Drive

The subject matter combined with the carefully composed, static shots and cool synth score suggest late-career Stanley Kubrick directing a very special episode of Melrose Place. The plot manages to surprise. The characters are barely characters, but as this is a horror movie centered on the cosmic terror of the modelling industry, one expects a keen devotion to surface. And a horror movie it is, not so much slowly building as suddenly exploding in the last half hour. 

The men are peripheral to the action, while the women take center stage. Elle Fanning performs beautifully as the enigmatic new model at the heart of the story, while Jena Malone and Abbey Lee embody different, dark aspects of the modelling industry. Not for the squeamish. Recommended.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996): written by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino; directed by Robert Rodriguez; starring George Clooney (Seth Gecko), Quentin Tarantino (Richard Gecko), Harvey Keitel (Jacob Fuller), Juliette Lewis (Kate Fuller), Ernest Liu (Scott Fuller), and Cheech Marin (Three characters): From Dusk Till Dawn still seems like two movies bolted together in the middle. The first movie is a gritty, amoral Tarantino crime drama about the bank-robbing Gecko brothers (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as Superego and Id, respectively). The second movie is a gore-soaked horror-comedy in the vein of Evil Dead 2

They're both good movies, but I'll be damned if I know how they got stuck together like this. Robert Rodriguez directs with a lot of gusto, and Tarantino's script is solid, pulpy fun in the second half. There's some poorly modulated sexual violence towards women in the first half, a problem magnified by the jokey, one-note performance by Tarantino as the sexually predatious Gecko brother whom Clooney's more upright criminal is stuck with. Jesus, Tarantino was (and is) a terrible actor. 

The second half goes on about ten minutes too long and bafflingly loses its antagonist about five minutes in. I enjoyed the movie, but I also felt a bit dirty afterwards. Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, and Juliette Lewis seem to be acting in (and reacting to) a completely different movie than anyone else. Their naturalistic performances accentuate the artificial grue and spew of the second half. Recommended.

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986): adapted by Stephen King from his short story "Trucks"; directed by Stephen King; starring Emilio Estevez (Bill), Pat Hingle (Hendershot), Laura Harrington (Brett), and Yeardley Smith (Connie): Revisiting the infamous Maximum Overdrive after 30 years, I was struck by how generally not-awful it was. This may just be a product of 30 more years of bad horror movies. I don't know. 

Stephen King's one-and-done directorial effort is intermittently clumsy, poorly shot, and uneven in tone. But there are moments of startling gore and grue. And Emilio Estevez sells the shit out of his character: this might actually be his best performance. The movie's premise suffers a bit from King's expansion of the, ahem, possession of things from Just Trucks in his short story to Pretty Much Whatever the Plot Demands in the movie. Watch for a young Giancarlo Esposito's brief turn. And yes, that's the voice of Bart Simpson as the world's most annoying newlywed. Lightly recommended.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Angel Heart (1987)

Angel Heart (1987): adapted by Alan Parker from the William Hjortsberg novel Falling Angel; directed by Alan Parker; starring Mickey Rourke (Harry Angel), Robert De Niro (Louis Cyphre), Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot), Charlotte Rampling (Margaret Krusemark), and Dann Florek (Herman Winesap): A once-popular singer named Johnny Favorite (born John Liebling) disappeared from a rest home some time between 1944 and 1955, the latter being when Angel Heart is set. A mysterious fellow named Louis Cyphre hires New York private eye Harry Angel to track Favorite down. Cyphre says that Favorite owes him for helping jump-start his career back in the day, before a war injury left Favorite a catatonic, badly burned mess.

Angel Heart may be better if one hasn't read the novel on which it is based. Or maybe not. Even the internal evidence of the film suggests that Mickey Rourke is really about ten years (or more) too young to play Harry Angel, and way too handsome. Johnny Handsome, one might say.

Adapter-director Alan Parker moves the second half of the story from New York to Louisiana because Voodoo! There's voodoo in New York in the novel. But we all know voodoo only works in and around New Orleans. And shooting in Louisiana allows Parker to indulge his fetish for the American South. It also makes the second half a compendium of locational movie cliches as related to voodoo (or voduon), Southern rednecks, and African-Americans in the South dancing and writhing around voodoo campfires in the bayous. The movie may not intend to conflate Satanism and voodoo, but it pretty much does. Oh, well. Who's keeping score?

The move to Louisiana also discards one of the book's thematic points (that evil goes on anywhere, in any level of society) and its homage to hardboiled detective films and movies set in New York. So it goes. Alan Parker is not a subtle film-maker. A guy gets murdered by being drowned in a giant, boiling vat of gumbo, for God's sake. And as soon as you first see that giant vat of gumbo, you know that Alan Parker is going to drown someone in it. It's that simple. It's Chekhov's gumbo.

The plot works better -- or at least more mysteriously -- than that of the book because Angel Heart eliminates the book's first-person narration by Harry Angel. This allows for certain things to remain hidden until the climax. That it also makes a major plot revelation seem practically ridiculous may not be noticed until one thinks about the film afterwards.

Make no mistake, though -- Rourke is terrific as Harry Angel. He may be too pretty, but he's still capable of conveying toughness, horror, and compassion in a convincing fashion. People forgot for about 20 years what a fine actor he was, and that was Rourke's own doing. Then The Wrestler brought him back. Then Iron Man 2 sent him away again. All I'll add is that he'd be a more faithful-to-the-book Harry Angel now rather than in 1987.

Robert De Niro is solid (though wildly overpraised at the time) playing the manipulative, sinister Mr. Cyphre. Really, the entire cast is fine with the exception of Lisa Bonet. Bonet, in her flat monotone, doesn't exactly embody New Orleans. Or acting. But it's her lengthy sex scene that caused controversy at the time.

Towards the end of the film, Parker goes with an image (twice!) that he shouldn't have gone with. Two different characters manifest yellowy cat's eyes for a moment, seemingly only seen by Harry Angel. Alas, the video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (and Weird Al's "Eat It") made this visual bit unusable in a serious horror movie in 1983. It inspires a laugh the first time, a groan the second time -- and really kills the mood of horror.

While you're watching Angel Heart, you may eventually ask yourself, 'What is the deal with all these portentous, menacing shots of electric fans? Are the fans the real killers perhaps?'. There is a double pay-off to Parker's visual motif, though it's a bit of a damp squib when it comes. SPOILER ALERT! There was a window fan in a window during a key moment in Johnny Favorite's past! And that pulley-wheel on the top of an old-timey elevator looks sort of like a spinning fan when the elevator is moving! Chekhov's gumbo, indeed. Lightly recommended.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002) by Thomas Ligotti

My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002) by Thomas Ligotti, containing the short novel My Work Is Not Yet Done and the short stories "I Have A Special Plan For This World" and "The Nightmare Network.": Frank Dominio hates his job as a mid-level project manager in a nameless city. And he's going to get screwed over by his immediate superior and his fellow managers. And then he's going to get revenge.

Supernatural revenge. Crazy, weird supernatural revenge in which the punishment fits the crime, sort of. Because nothing here works all that well in the realm of wish-fulfillment fantasy -- it's not Falling Down or 9 to 5 or The Office. It's existentially bleak horror comedy from Thomas Ligotti, the king of existentially bleak horror comedy.

As almost always, Ligotti can be droll and blackly humourous without detracting from the abysmal horror of the work. My Work Is Not Yet Done and the two short stories in this volume all imagine a workplace environment of utter, soul-crushing horror. Which is to say, the workplace a lot of people spend a lot of their lives within. 

My Work Is Not Yet Done's protagonist, narrating in first-person, isn't necessarily a sympathetic figure. But sympathy isn't necessary because he's fascinating, flawed, fractured, and more than a little self-loathing. And his adventures in revenge take him further and further into a world of absolute Night. 

Ligotti's stories don't take place in a meaningless universe, in general -- they take place in a universe in which human beings are meaningless except insofar as they entertain the vast bleak powers of that universe. There's a reason Ligotti's stories return again and again to sinister puppets and marionettes (and there's one here too).

Ligotti's style -- droll, incantatory, spotted with repeated phrases that become almost meaningless placeholders at times (to bleak effect) -- is in full bloom here, full bloom at night. He's not a popular writer, but those who like him, like him a lot. And the writers he cites as his main influences -- H.P. Lovecraft, Franz Kafka, and Nabokov -- can be seen in his own work, transmuted by his own peculiar sensibilities. He's one of a handful of the greatest horror writers of the last 50 years. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Searching Dead: The Three Births of Daoloth Book One (2016) by Ramsey Campbell

The Searching Dead: The Three Births of Daoloth Book One (2016) by Ramsey Campbell: The great Ramsey Campbell looks both forward and backward in his newest novel: forward in the sense that he's writing something new for him (a bildungsroman and a trilogy of which The Searching Dead is Book One), backward in the sense that he's returned to the Lovecraftian themes and creatures of his earliest published work back when he was a teen-ager (!) in the early 1960's with a collection released by the Lovecraft-centric Arkham House.

The Searching Dead is also a retrospective narrative. And it may turn out to be a Künstlerroman -- when the first book ends, it remains unclear as to whether or not our narrator will become a writer. He's still in his early teens.

Our first-person, teen narrator, Dominic Sheldrake, lives in 1950's Liverpool. A recently widowed neighbour starts acting strangely several months after the death of her husband. So too her dog. The neighbour initially praises the new Church she's joined, as it's allowed her to contact her dead husband. Soon this doesn't seem like much of a bargain: the woman starts behaving erratically. And Dominic starts to be convinced that something follows her around, something insubstantial that nonetheless has the power to attach itself to things living or dead and reshape them to embody its form.

Dominic has also just begun his year at a new school, a private Catholic boys' school, along with his best friend Jim. The third member of their childhood trio, Roberta/Bobbie, is still around as well. But puberty has started changing things for the three. And age has its other effects -- the imaginary trio of child heroes Dominic writes the adventures of in his notebooks, heroes who are even named after Dominic, Bobbie, and Jim, no longer have much allure for Jim and Bobbie. They're becoming kid's stuff.

As Dominic finds himself pulled into the increasingly strange events surrounding his neighbour, he discovers a connection between her and the oddest of his school-teachers. And the oddness of that school-teacher becomes more and more pronouncedly odd the longer and closer Dominic looks. Jim and Bobbie come along for the ride, for awhile. But everyone grows up, and the exploits of pre-pubescent detectives are invariably fictional. Which is too bad, as Dominic has stumbled across events that would probably require the combined efforts of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Harry Potter gang to combat.

Dominic is a poignant, self-critical narrator, letting slip hints of what's coming (something dire) from his retrospective position. Campbell does a fine job situating his narrator in that liminal zone between child and teenager, with the attendant confusion amplified by the awful events into which Dominic finds himself being pulled. Dominic wants to believe in a world in which teen detectives save the day. But that belief stands revealed as a fictional conceit as the events of The Searching Dead unfold.

The evocation of a specific place and time helps make The Searching Dead one of Campbell's strongest novels. Post-war shortages, the continued existence of entire unoccupied neighbourhoods of Blitzed houses, the arrival of the first neighbourhood televisions just in time for Elizabeth II's coronation, the street parties that accompany that coronation, the day-to-day school activities of Dominic and Jim -- all these are beautifully and complexly depicted. And there's a sad and tragic scene in which the Liverpool police return a woman to the husband she's fled because clearly the husband knows best and the woman has no right to run away with her child from an upstanding male citizen.

We end with a scene that suggests mounting horrors to come while satisfyingly bringing to a close the first part of the story. The sinister, cult-like 'religion' of The Searching Dead seems entirely plausible. Its rituals make almost more sense than those of 'real' religions. Something is coming, something even the trees fear. Something else has already arrived. Its work is not yet done. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Superman vs. Aliens (1996)

Superman Vs. Aliens (1996): written and pencilled by Dan Jurgens; inked by Kevin Nowlan: 20 years ago, DC and Dark Horse put out this fairly nifty battle between Superman (still in his mullet phase) and the Alien film franchise. It was a time when the Kryptonian Supergirl was still gone from DC continuity. That fact explains much of the storyline, in which Superman responds to a distress signal from a domed city in space that appears to have once been part of Krypton. It comes complete with a spunky blonde girl named Kara who's pretty much the image, in appearance and name, of the pre-1987 Supergirl.

The story is a bit heavy on the then-continuity of the Superman comics, from the mullet to the absence of Lex Luthor from the storyline. Superman can't travel unaided through space for long at this point in his career, necessitating some technology help from LexCorp. Or LuthorCorp. Whatever. 

It's solid, unspectacular, and relatively unbloody fun. There's a bit too much harping on Superman's decision not to kill anything, including hordes of acid-blooded aliens. Is this a workable moral stance for the Man of Steel under the circumstances? Well, yes, but as written it relies an awful lot on other people killing aliens, which makes the moral stance seem awfully dubious, if not completely daft. A sin of omission rather than commission is still a sin.

Inker Kevin Nowlan makes the normally straightforward pencils of writer-penciller Dan Jurgens broody, moody, and intermittently menacing. It's a great job of inking in terms of establishing a tone a penciller isn't known for -- Nowlan did something similar with his inks on the sunny Jose Luis Garcia Lopez during the Marvel/DC crossover around the same time. Lightly recommended.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire (2000): written by Steven Katz; directed by E. Elias Merhige; starring Willem Dafoe ('Max Schreck'), John Malcovich (F.W. Murnau), Cary Elwes (Fritz Wagner), Udo Kier (Albin Grau), and Catherine McCormack (Greta): What if that guy who played the spooky vampire in the classic German silent movie Nosferatu (1922) were actually a vampire? That's the premise of Shadow of the Vampire.

The movie works beautifully for long stretches. Its main problem (aside from some wonky historical moments) is its unevenness of tone. Certain deaths (well, murders) of innocents are treated lightly and even comically, as is the character of 'Max Schreck,' the actor who is really an ancient Eastern European vampire. But the climax of the film is pure horror that's undercut by the movie's earlier, lighter tone. 

Still, Shadow of the Vampire is a delight in many ways, parts greater than the sum. Willem DaFoe and his make-up job command the screen whenever he's on it as 'Max Schreck.' And Dafoe plays the mix of low comedy and bleak horror better than anyone else in the cast. One doesn't feel sorry for him, but one does feel sorry for the state he's in. A brilliant monologue by 'Schreck' about the saddest scene in Bram Stoker's Dracula fixes the character in our minds as a character (a sad and awful one) and not a caricature.

The rest of the cast is also solid, especially John Malcovich as obsessed director F.W. Murnau and Udo Kier as Murnau's mournful assistant. Catherine McCormack's Greta is the most problematic of characters, treated as a vain, morphine-addicted punchline until suddenly... she's supposed to be a sympathetic subject of horror? Tonally, it doesn't work at all.

Writer Stephen Katz and director E. Elias Merhige have worked sporadically since this film, which is a shame. The movie looks great. And the writing, while tonally uneven, is interesting throughout. And Dafoe... what a performance! Recommended.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Shining, Again

The Shining (1980) : adapted from the Stephen King novel by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson; directed by Stanley Kubrick; starring Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance), Scatman Crothers (Halloran), Barry Nelson (Ullman), Philip Stone (Grady), and Joe Turkel (Lloyd): Three times have we watched The Shining in the last seven years, as reviewed here and here. And that's not even mentioning Stephen King's novel. Or Doctor Sleep, King's sequel to The Shining.

One of the noteworthy things about The Shining is how many nutty interpretations (and even conspiracy theories) it has inspired. Many of these come from very literal-minded people who seem to be extraordinarily unfamiliar with the idea of sub-text, much less interpretations that don't rely on suppositions about what the director intentionally put there.

The best one -- that The Shining is Kubrick's subtle confession to the idea that he faked the Apollo 11 moon landing -- is all sorts of crazy. And that's leaving aside the fact that if Kubrick had been hired in 1968 to fake the 1969 moon landing, the 1969 moon landing wouldn't have occurred until at least 1973. Do you know how many retakes those shots would have needed? And do you really think Kubrick would have used the bit in which Neil Armstrong blows his first line on the Moon?

The Shining is, of course, both great and a complete departure from the Stephen King novel it's based on, which is also great (contra Kubrick, who thought the novel was weak). One view that works pretty well is that the whole thing is a satire of horror movies that also works as a horror movie. Well, whatever. The Sublime is conjured up, and even the looming, menacing Overlook Hotel finds itself dwarfed by that Sublime landscape. 

Some view the surprising death of a major character who doesn't die in the novel as one of Kubrick's 'Screw you!' moments addressed to Stephen King and fans of the novel. Is it? Because it looks an awful lot like Kubrick riffing on Hitchcock's use of Janet Leigh and her character in Psycho. To me, at least.

Lots of room for interpretation here. So it goes. Highly recommended.