The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: High Tension (dir by Alexandre Aja)


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Oh God.

As I watched the end of High Tension, my immediate reaction was to storm out of my office, walk down the hallway, kick open the door to Arleigh’s mancave and yell at him for recommending this film to me.  But then, I realized that Arleigh never recommended that I watch High Tension.  He recommended La Horde and I got my French horror movies mixed up.

So, Arleigh is off the hook.  I have no one to blame but myself and the filmmakers.

Anyway, High Tension is one of those films that starts out well but then totally falls apart due to a big twist that doesn’t make any sense.  It’s also a pretty obvious rip-off of a Dean Koontz novel called Intensity.  Intensity is a really good book, by the way.  Perhaps not coincidentally, that awful twist that ruins High Tension is not present in Intensity.  That twist was the one original thing that was contributed to High Tension and it pretty much ruined the whole movie.

Anyway, in High Tension, Marie (Cecile de France) and Alex (Maiwenn) are law students and best friends.  Marie is spending the weekend with Alex’s family.  She meets Alex’s mom.  She meets Alex’s dad.  She walks around at night and smokes a cigarette and sits on a swing and briefly spies on Alex as she showers.  And then, during the night, a killer (Philippe Nahon) suddenly shows up, kills mom and dad, and kidnaps Alex!  Determined to save her friend’s life, Marie chases the killer across the French countryside.  For a while, she’s locked in the killer’s truck with Marie.  And then, later on, she’s in a car and she’s chasing the truck.  Because of the twist, it’s important to pay attention to the scenes where Marie is in a car and chasing the killer’s truck.  Because, honestly, I’m not sure how any of that was supposed to have actually happened…

See, I love a good twist.  I love a clever twist.  I love an implausible twist.  I love twists that are totally and completely over the top.  What I do not like is a totally and completely unfair twist, one that cheats by basically defying the laws of the physics.

What’s truly unfortunate is that the film works perfectly without the twist.  The twist is not necessary.  (For proof, just read Intensity.)  Up until the twist, the film is well-directed and suspenseful.  Cecile de France, Maiween, and Nahon all give excellent performances.  The film’s graphic violence may be excessive but it’s still undeniably effective.  The nightmare-inducing gore effects were provided by Giannetto De Rossi, who created some of the most effective zombie makeup of all time for Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

I mean, there’s so much that works and then just hit that twist and you shout, “Dammit!”

It could have been so good.

 

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.10 “Came The Dawn” (dir by Uli Edel)


Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 10th episode of the 5th season of Tales From The Crypt!  

Came The Dawn tells the twisted story of what happens when a mysterious hitchhiker (Brooke Shields) is picked up by a rich man (Perry King).  This one is full of twists and turns as director Uli Edel pays homage to Hitchcock.

It originally aired on November 17th, 1993!

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: Dracula (dir by John Badham)


I have to admit that, when I first sat down to watch the 1979 version of Dracula, I wasn’t expecting much.  I hadn’t even heard of the film until I came across it on Encore and, when I considered that it was made in 1979, I immediately assumed it would be a disco Dracula film.

And, let’s be honest — a disco Dracula film sounds kinda fun.  But still, it’s Halloween.  Dracula is an icon of horror.  And somehow, the idea of watching disco Dracula just was not appealing.  It would be appealing in November or September.  BUT THIS IS OCTOBER!

Well, despite my misgivings, I watched the film and I quickly discovered that it wasn’t a disco Dracula at all.  This Dracula takes place in 1913 and there’s actually very little about it that would lead you to suspect that it had been made in the 1970s.  Instead, it feels more like a tribute to the colorful and lushly erotic Dracula films that Hammer produced in the 60s.  Except, oddly, the Hammer films were far more bloody than the 1979 version.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  There’s a few gory scenes in 1979’s Dracula.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a rather bloody impaling.  Dracula graphically breaks another character’s neck as we watch.  But, even with those scenes in mind, the 1979 Dracula feels oddly restrained at times.

In this version of Dracula, the title character is played by a youngish Frank Langella.  I have to admit that it was a bit odd to see Langella playing someone other than a corrupt authority figure.  Dare I say it, Langella is almost sexy in this film and his somewhat feral features are perfect for a character who considers wolves to be “the children of the night.”  Langella’s performance falls between the haughty charm of Bela Lugosi and the animalistic fury of Christopher Lee.  And while Langella’s performance never quite reaches the heights of those two actors, he’s still effectively cast.

As for the film itself, it starts with a shipwreck near a local asylum.  One of the passengers on that ship is the charming but mysterious Count Dracula.  Dracula introduces himself to the head of the asylum, Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasence, stealing almost every scene in which he appears).  There’s an immediate attraction between Dracula and Seward’s daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan).  That does not amuse Lucy’s fiancee, Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve, who is perhaps the whiniest Harker in film history).

Meanwhile, Lucy’s best friend, Mina (Jan Francis), has been taken ill and it might have something to do with the two puncture marks on her neck.  After Mina dies, her father (played by Laurence Olivier) comes to investigate.  Her father’s name?  Abraham Van Helsing.

As I said, I was not expecting much from this version of Dracula so I was actually pleasantly surprised during the first hour of the film.  This version gets off to a nice start, with director John Badham giving us a mix of lush romanticism and gothic moodiness.  I’ve already talked about Langella’s performance but  Donald Pleasence and Laurence Olivier also distinguish themselves.  It’s obvious that these veteran performers enjoyed playing opposite each other and there’s a lot of pleasure to be found from watching Pleasence and Olivier compete to see who can steal the most scenes.

Unfortunately, after that strong first hour, Dracula slows down.  Once Seward and Van Helsing know that Dracula is a vampire, the whole movie becomes about finding excuses for them to not do anything about it.  The final 40 minutes feel almost like filler and, at one point, you’re required to believe that an elderly man, who has been seriously wounded, could still find the strength to swing a hook into a much stronger person’s back.

In the end, the 1979 Dracula is more of an intriguing oddity than a definitive version.

Halloween Havoc!: GHOST SHIP (RKO 1943)


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Val Lewton produced some of the most memorable horror films of the 1940’s, moody, atmospheric set pieces noted for their intelligent scripts, chiaroscuro lighting, and eerie use of sound. CAT PEOPLE, THE BODY SNATCHER,  and THE SEVENTH VICTIM  are just three that spring to mind when I think of Lewton movies. GHOST SHIP is one of his lesser known films, a psychological thriller about a sea captain obsessed with authority who goes off the deep end, and while it’s not supernatural as the title implies, it’s a good film worth rediscovering.

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A blind street singer on a fog-shrouded corner gives an ominous warning to 3rd Officer Tom Merriam, about to embark on his first voyage aboard the S.S. Altair, captained by veteran sailor Will Stone. Stone is stern but friendly, eager to teach Tom the ways of the sea, and implement his view’s of the captain’s authority. A crewman dies just…

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4 Shots From Horror History: Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Zombi 2


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we close out the 70s!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)

Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)

Zombi 2 (1979, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Zombi 2 (1979, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Horror on the Lens: Deadly Messages (dir by Jack Bender)


Today’s horror on the lens is a made-for-TV movie from 1985!

In Deadly Messages, Kathleen Beller plays a woman named Laura who witnesses a murder and then becomes convinced that the murderer is after her.  She also finds a Ouija board that continually sends her the same message: “I am going to kill you.”  The police are skeptical of Laura.  Even worse, her boyfriend (Michael Brandon) is skeptical!  And, needless to say, Laura may have some secrets of her own…

Deadly Messages is a lot of fun.  Thank you to frequent TSL commenter Trevor Wells for suggesting this movie!

Enjoy!