The First Month of Halloween

October 16, 2010

Goodness, I love this season. I already explained why in my previous post, so let’s get to the season highlights.

First, the reading. I plowed through my big Lafcadio Hearn collection, with lots of emotional peaks and valleys. This is a book to be read in portions. The Japanese ghost stories were excellent. What Hearn did, to give you a free history lesson, was collect the tales and translate them for an American audience. He did this with some Chinese ghost stories, also included in this book. Hearn wrote in the late 19th century for a variety of American newspapers before moving to Japan to lecture, and much of his work was flowery at best, purple prose at worst; the editors of this collection chose his best pieces, which still get grandiloquent at moments. But he wrote for his times, so I let it pass. The other stories include features on life in New Orleans and the Caribbean, and have nothing to do with Halloween. I enjoyed the stories nonetheless, both for the subject matter and Hearn’s narrative voice.

Now I’m reading a classic of Gothic fiction, The Monk by Matthew Lewis. Like Hear, Lewis wrote for his time, and at a red-hot pace. The Monk, unlike other Gothic tales, is rooted firmly in the supernatural. There’s vengeful ghosts, the Wandering Jew, and even Satan himself shows up. But, being a writer in the Romantic period, Lewis had to throw in a lot of poems. These are sprinkled throughout the text, showing up as songs or carved into rocks for characters to read. I’m only about a third of the way in, and haven’t gotten to the notorious scenes of rape, incest, torture and murder (funny how this stuff gets a free pass because the work is considered a classic). I’ll give a detailed recap in a later post.

So. Onto the films. First, a big shout-out to Netflix. If you use Netflix, you understand my enthusiasm. I’ve been watching three or four, sometimes five, movies a week, both rented DVDs or viewed online. Here’s the rundown on the rentals:

Survival of the Dead: the latest in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series. I enjoy these films for the mood and atmosphere, and Romero’s social commentary. This one was about blood feuds, I guess, which take priority over the zombie apocalypse. Features a few clever zombie kills, another Romero touch.

Captivity: paint-by-numbers torture porn.  I read the reviews and rented it anyway. Curiosity and the cat, etc, etc, etc.

The Brood: an early David Cronenberg film. Dense, chilly, with some ham served up by David Reed. Also an infamous scene of an external womb and a tongue bath. You will never look at children in snow suits the same way again. I give it a B+.

Kwaidan: a 1960s Japanese horror film. Actually four short works, which show up in the Hearn book (which is why I rented this). A great example of impressive low-budget special effects, huge sets, surrealist images, and a creeping sense of dread. Highly recommended.

Interview with the Vampire: An interesting look at how to make vampires not scary. I liked it for the conflicts and characters. The only true vampire film, featuring the purest interpretation of the vampire myth, is Nosferatu.

The Fog: A John Carpenter movie before he got famous. A good setup for a ghost story, but this one falls flat. Left me feeling empty and wanting, like there should be more coming but nothing does.

Carrie: The original. Veers from the original book, but stands as a solid, separate work of art. Glad I finally got around to seeing it.

The Crazies: The remake. The original, an early George Romero piece, was all about the condemning social commentary. This one goes for a twist on the modern zombie story. Passable.

Sleepaway Camp:  a drop of water in the tidal wave of 1980s slasher flix. Lots of big 80s hair, a cook who likes children a little too much, an episodic plot, and a weak attempt to set up red herrings. Features an infamous twist at the end, which is the best reason to watch this. I knew it was coming, but it  freaked me out anyway.

Re-Animator: this is one of those trashy movies that fits into “So Bad It’s Awesome” for me. Lots of T&A, lots of blood and guts, and of course, Jeffrey Combs. See it if you haven’t, but be prepared to squirm in your seat.

The Hills Have Eyes: The remake. A disappointing experience. Feels like it was written by a computer, like the smooth jazz you hear in elevators. No characters, just ciphers. Victims #1-4 do their thing, Killers #1-4 do theirs. Ninety minutes passes, the necessary deaths occur, and we get an “Or Is it?” ending. Fail.

The Fog: The remake. You know where this is going. The Plot-o-Matic really went into overdrive with this. Selma Blair is in her underwear for a scene, but that can’t make up for this trite, CGI-laced wheel of cheese. I was actually angry at this movie, and a movie really has to be bad for me to feel insulted by the time the credits roll.

I have another 16 titles at the top of my queue. I think I’ll have to continue observing Halloween well into November. Unlike, say, Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is one holiday that never goes stale.

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