Showing posts with label spanish horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spanish horror. Show all posts

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double Feature (on a disc!): A Real Friend & X-Mas Tale (a.k.a. Christmas Tale) (2006)

Repost from 2011.

A Real Friend 
Dir. Enrique Urbizu || 2006 || Spain

A Real Friend focuses on a lonely little latchkey girl named Estrella who loves horror stories and films; and whose imaginary friends consist of Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a vampire. But as it turns out, the vampire may be real and dangerous. Estrella's mother is a nurse and soon men who either want to have sex with her or do have sex with her end up dead. While somewhat slow, the movie stays interesting until the final 10-15 minutes of its 75 minute run when the twist is further revealed. Then of course, it twists again, and it leaves more questions than answers. The twist and overall film is a bit more artfully done than say, Slumber Party Massacre II, but it's a bit messy leaving the questions of whether it was all in Estrella's overactive imagination, if any of the characters actually exist, or is this just a way for Estrella to deal with the fact that maybe her mom is still a prostitute? You know, things of that nature.

But points for having Leatherface be someone's imaginary friend. I know I would normally balk at the idea of Leatherface being anyone's friend, but it was kind of cute and well done.

X-Mas Tale
Dir. Paco Plaza || 2006 || Spain

X-Mas Tale is a film about a group of kids in the 1980s who watch way too many movies. It's a bizarre and dark take on films from the 80s where a ragtag group of kids takes on a bad guy like E.T. and The Goonies. A group of kids encounter a female bank robber in a Santa suit who has fallen into a hole in the woods where they play. They first try to go to the police, where they are ignored, only to discover that she is a currently wanted bank robber. A couple of the kids decide that they want to hold her hostage in the hole until she tells them where the money is, and the others reluctantly go along with it. It escalates badly from there, including attempting to deny the woman food and other care. The sole female member of the group tries to bring her food, but it is often taken by the meaner boys. The meaner boys after watching the film-within-the-film Zombie Invasion, perform a voodoo ritual over the hole one night. So after the woman does get out of the hole and starts stalking them with an axe, they decide that she is a zombie. And still, it escalates, and has a twist ending, but one not nearly as semi-hopeful as A Real Friend, although how you perceive the ending probably depends on how you look at things such as disturbed children.

Plaza is best known as the co-director of the [REC] films, and this film is a bit more visually dazzling than A Real Friend. He does capture the 80s retro style better than say, House of the Devil, which was primarily hyped as being an 80s throwback film based on the appearances of puffy vests, an early Sony Walkman, and squeeze bottle cozies. Plaza also captures the sheer loneliness of being the only girl in a group of boys. But this is an unpleasant film just because of how terrible most of the children are. Plaza does throw shades to the audience to acknowledge that these children are not old enough to have a definite moral compass, that their overwatching of films and TV is what is teaching them their moral compass since they seem to see little of their parents for some reason (the police are either shown from behind or from the waist down, but Plaza doesn't go as far as having the adults speak like the adults in Peanuts cartoons) and that perhaps police overhype how dangerous some people actually are; but he doesn't excuse the children's actions either. The fact that this movie takes place around Christmas holds little bearing. It is mentioned a few times, but there are no scenes of the children opening presents with their families or learning the meaning of Christmas. It is shown that most of the children, if anything, already own too many toys and things.

So neither of these films, while prominently featuring children, are actually meant for children to watch. A Real Friend does have brief sex scenes in it, and X-Mas Tale has a lot of cursing in Spanish. Both of these films were apparently made for Spanish television.

(And yes, because of X-Mas Tale, this had been in my Netflix queue since December, and due to a combination of my laziness with watching Netflix DVD's now and queue factors was this sent to me in February!)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)

Dir. Paul Morrissey || 1974 || US-Italy-France & Italy-France  

It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau. 

While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course.  And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula  finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.

What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter. 

And this is just creepy. 
(I am not commenting much on the hand that Andy Warhol had in making these movies, because it seems as if it was in name only; besides the presence of Joe Dallesandro, who was one of his people. If one was expecting a set of films with pop-art sensibilities, they would be somewhat surprised that both films were shot in neutral tones. I guess better to see the eventual blood, gore, and Udo Kier's blue eyes with.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec and Quarantine

In the Spring of 2012, I did an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror. So for the next week or so I will be posting my short response papers, then my final paper.

My response paper on [REC] and Quarantine is below the cut. This is where I began to find formalist holes in the [REC] series (my third viewing of the first film), and found that I kind of preferred Quarantine.

Rec and its American re-make Quarantine are the first films I have encountered in this study that have no framing device. They are also ongoing series of films, with Rec 3 currently screening in Europe. The American sequel to Quarantine has apparently dropped the “found footage” structure, while it is rumored that Rec 3 has also dropped the “found footage” structure for a straight narrative (despite apparently taking place at a wedding, an event rife with video cameras). The mythology for the Rec series is either being made up as it goes along, or Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero just like to tamper or even combine genre conventions (as also seen in their film X-Mas Tale, a disturbing take on the children’s films that Steven Spielberg produced in the 1980s). Their penchant for tampering with genre conventions becomes more apparent in Rec 2, which provides the only clue for how the footage from the first and second films was found.  Although I have not seen the sequel to Quarantine that takes place on an airplane or at an airplane hangar, presumably it has little connection to the first film past taking place in Los Angeles.

Both of the films follow the same storyline: a reporter and cameraman for a television show about what working a night shift is like follows two firefighters on a call to an apartment building where the neighbors have called about an elderly woman screaming. They meet most of the neighbors and two police officers in the lobby. The building is soon quarantined after the firefighters, police officer and TV crew check in on the elderly woman in her apartment and she attacks and bites one of the police officers. Quarantine is often remarked upon or criticized for being a shot-for-shot remake of Rec. This is not exactly true. While Quarantine features many of the same key scenes that were in Rec, some of these recreated scenes are extended. There are original scenes. Quarantine also has features typical of American horror or American horror remakes: there are more people living in the apartment building, which means that there are more victims-turned-attackers; there is also a clearer explanation for the outbreak, although the ending, which is highly similar to the ending to Rec, muddles this explanation (although not nearly as much as it is muddled in Rec). The main differences lie in how the characters are adapted and portrayed. Angela, the reporter, and Pablo, her cameraman are more professional and ambitious in Rec, compared to their American counterparts Angela and Scott. Angela and Pablo panic very little until the final scene of the film, whereas Angela and Scott have several emotional and prolonged outbursts throughout the film, as do the police officers. Quarantine is also a slicker-looking film than Rec, and this is displayed by the camera used by Scott, and how Angela directs him to use it. Angela frequently tells Pablo to cut off the camera to save tape if an interview segment becomes boring, and Pablo is forced to shut the camera off frequently by authorities within the film, although it is indiscernible until the end of the film whether the camera is just shorting out or if Pablo is actually cutting the camera off and on. This often leads to two or four images being on the screen horizontally. In Quarantine, presumably because of the use of a higher-end camera, Angela does not ask Scott to cut the camera off except for one time, when they use a fire extinguisher either kill the rabid dog or the man the rabid dog has just killed by opening the elevator door that the man and dog are stuck in. Scott is a more prominent figure in the film than his Spanish counterpart, and we do see him in front of the camera more often, and he and Angela have a better camaraderie. Scott uses the camera twice to kill an infected person, signifying that a camera is a weapon in a more subtle way than Diary of the Dead.

An article by Catherine Zimmer on post-9/11 surveillance horror, while primarily discussing the Saw series and Cache by Michael Haneke, lists Rec and Quarantine (as well as Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and Paranormal Activity) as being surveillance horror. With the exception of Paranormal Activity, which frequently uses a stationary camera, I am not sure where the other four films fit in. The cameras in Rec and Quarantine are frequently moving because they are attached to a cameraman who is often running. The inhabitants of the apartment building implore the television crew to film what is going on “so the world will know their story” and how they are being kept without information by the authorities. The desire to film the events is not entirely based in Angela’s ambition. Surveillance, other than in the Paranormal Activity films, does typically imply that the person being watched is ignorant to their surveillance or does not desire surveillance.

An article by Brigitte Nacos about 9/11 news media coverage discusses how religious terrorists require media coverage, that it is “like oxygen” for them and their messages. The ending of Rec, although perhaps simultaneously debunked and confirmed to an extent in its sequel, does imply a level of religious terrorism at play. The mysterious, half-abandoned attic apartment in the building is full of newspaper clippings and files about an exorcism, perhaps one that failed. The two people or creatures found in the apartment are a small boy-like being and an adult being that appears to suffer from Marfan Syndrome more than anything else, although the adult being is violent. The terrorism angle, albeit perhaps secular terrorism, is a bit more obvious in Quarantine, because the newspaper clippings that Angela and Scott find on the wall concern a terrorist group that wants to bring about the Apocalypse through bioterrorism, including a hyper strain of rabies. They find the same beings as their Spanish counterparts. However, it does seem highly unlikely that the Vatican official who rented the attic apartment in Rec and his doctor counterpart in Quarantine knew that a television crew for what seemed to be at-best a syndicated program or at-worst a late night local news show would be in their apartment buildings. It is never known who Patient Zero was, if it was a human or one of the pets in the building (or a rat in the building from Quarantine), and if the infection was unleashed on purpose.

Postscript 08/01/12: There is actually little-to-no hint as to how the footage from Rec and Rec 2 got out in Rec 2, unless someone came across the SWAT team van that may or may not have had screens showing the footage from the team members's helmets. Angela does not take the camera with her at the end of Rec 2. Also, I did end up watching Quarantine 2 a month or so after I wrote this originally, and the infection was unleashed on purpose and rats were the carriers. Rec 3 is apparently being released in the US on VOD and ITunes next week, I think. Maybe I'll watch it, or I'll wait for DVD or Netflix Streaming. I have read that the "found footage" format is dropped about 1/3 into the film for a straight narrative. Because Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero are just subtly trolling everyone anyway.

Postscript 2014: Perhaps it is because I have been reading/proofing through a friend's thesis on modern surveillance films that I can confirm or say that Cache and the Paranormal Activity series are surveillance horror films. I guess the Saw series might be as well, although I have only ever watched the first one, which did involve a variety of surveillance of the characters. I still maintain that for the most part, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and the Rec/Quarantine films are not surveillance horror. Diary just dabbles in it or the issues surrounding it occasionally.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec 2, Troll Hunter, Apollo 18

In the Spring of 2012, I completed an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror.

My response paper on Rec 2, Troll Hunter, and Apollo 18 is below This was written during the time of the quarter where I was becoming more pressed for time and burnt out and frustrated not just with school, but with this actual project. Rec 2 caused me to run through a gamut of emotions from laughter to sadness to anger, because I think this could be a good series if the makers actually gave a shit. Apollo 18 in particular was pretty awful and I fast-forwarded through at least half of it. This was one of the impetus' (impetii?) for my professor to direct me towards the earlier Found Footage Horror films for my final paper.

Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero appear to spend a lot of time devoted to making sure the actual temporal continuity of the Rec series is correct, but at the sacrifice of everything else*. They appear to want the entire series to take place in the space of one night. The first two films take place at the same apartment building in Barcelona, and it is not until the third film that the location is changed. Rec 2 is a largely silly film that answers no questions posed in the first, and messes with or changes many of the ideas put forth in the first film. This seems to be a mockery. At the end of the film it is still unknown as to who found all of this footage and why it was released. Rec 2 is almost two films in one. The first half focuses on a SWAT team with helmet cameras plus one cameraman who go into the quarantined apartment building with a Ministry of Health member thinking that they are there to try to find survivors. The Ministry of Health member is actually a priest looking for a vial of the blood of the possessed girl in the attic at the end of the first film. Her blood can create an antidote, although the virus is not rabies, it is actually demonic possession. This part of the film seems to become one homage on top of another – Aliens, The Thing, any given demonic possession or zombie film. There is very little obvious editing throughout the first half of the film, perhaps because there are so many cameras involved. The second half of the film follows a group of obnoxious pre-adolescents with a video camera (running on half battery power when they are introduced) as they follow the father of the sick little girl and a firefighter who drove the truck belonging to the two firefighters, all from the first film. The father and firefighter manage to sneak into the building from the sewer, and the kids follow, but they are soon sealed into the building as the police are welding the entrances and exits from the building to the sewer shut. As a result, the SWAT team and the second group soon meet in the building. The most amusing thing about Plaza and Belaguero is that they have no qualms of portraying children terribly and in an unsentimental manner, although this is nothing new in Spanish horror**. The second half of the film features more editing via the kids’ video camera frequently having to be turned off to conserve battery power, and it eventually dying altogether.

Troll Hunter, on the other hand, appears to be pretty open about their mockery of found footage horror. It is likely the first film I have watched in this study that is clear in every aspect. The footage was anonymously sent to the studio that produced Troll Hunter, all 283 minutes of it, which was then edited by the studio. The cuts are noticeable. Troll Hunter seems to double as a parody of found footage horror films and as a film promoting tourism in Norway. Its premise is that three student filmmakers have disappeared after following around a troll hunter. There is frequent running through the woods, night vision, and fallen cameras. The footage appears to have been released to reveal that there are trolls in Norway and to aid in finding the three filmmakers – the two women appear to have been grabbed by the government, and the director may have been hit by an 18-wheeler while running away from government agents. The only mystery to the film is whether or not Hans the troll hunter was the one who betrayed them.

Apollo 18 confused its chronology within the first five minutes of the film. The footage processed in post-production to look as if it came from the early 1970s. While The Blair Witch Project was genuinely shot on older cameras, Apollo 18 genuinely looks like something filtered through a video version of the Instagram app. Apollo 18 features frequent voiceovers. It is a good example of asynchronous sound, but beyond that, it is a hard movie to watch. It is not very interesting, and seems made to appeal to people who are into moon landing conspiracies. I fast-forwarded through much of it and have no desire to look at or study it further.

Postscripts 2014:
* I have come to the conclusion that Plaza and Belaguero are trolling everyone with the Rec series. After my disappointment in re-watching Rec and Rec 2 for this project, I watched Rec 3 in the Fall of 2012 and rather enjoyed it. Rec 3 drops the "found footage" premise 20 minutes into the film and moves into a straight and rather fun narrative. Rec 3 manages to connect to the first two films rather loosely, but cleverly manages not to dwell on it, although taking place the same night as the first two films.
**See also Plaza and Belaguero's X-Mas Tale (an older review of this film will be posted soon enough), Who Can Kill a Child?