Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stray Octoberish thoughts. 

1) We have a grim, grim set of movies out right now. I wanted to see something with my mom tonight, and the choices, in no particular order, came down to: The Assassination of Jesse James etc, Gone Baby Gone, Rendition, Reservation Road, Into the Wild, and Things We Lost in the Fire. Not a chuckle in the bunch. Would you believe I'm actually looking forward to Dan in Real Life and Fred Claus just for a bit of levity?

2) We picked Gone Baby Gone. I wasn't all that impressed until I was dragged in quite literally with a bang. From there I was hooked. I'm quite impressed with the Afflecks, so much so that I think Ben should ditch the acting thing and stick to a chair behind the camera. The man knows what he's doing, and can ratchet up the tension with amazing skill and deftness. That's all you're getting out of me on that count; I've already written 1,600 words of movie criticism today, and I'm not about to write another damn review.

3) Having said that, I need to recount an experience I had last Friday night. A local theatre (that's stage, not screen) hosted a double-bill featuring Creepshow (1982) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). $5 got you both movies and free popcorn, freshly popped, which I think we'll all agree is pretty much impossible to beat. I went with three friends.

is no mystery to me; I own the DVD and have probably watched it two dozen times. It's deeply imperfect and hasn't aged particularly well, but its many flaws can't shake me of my love for that big, goofy horror anthology. Its number one flaw is its use of lurid EC Comics-style colors, panel borders, and multi-panel layouts to show action, convey tension, and just generally make you feel like it was those hoary old comics come to life. Director George Romero and writer Stephen King don't seem to really understand why comics use those devices, which is namely that their format denies them access to all the lovely things movies get: mood music, tone of voice, and body language, just to name a few things. Comics, like stage theatre, often have to oversell a point just to make sure it gets across. Translating these techniques in a literal way into a movie drives it all into overdrive, and not always in a good way.

It's a better film when it trusts the material and the actors. I very much enjoyed watching my friends be wowed by how evil Leslie Nielsen is in "Something to Tide You Over," and of course "They're Creeping Up On You," a mostly one-man show about the poetic death (is there any other kind, in this kind of thing?) of a Howard Hughesian OCD bug freak. I got some mileage out of telling my friends to be sure and check their bags of popcorn before they pop the next handful in their mouth, after that one.

Whereas the other three were new to Creepshow, they were all quite familiar with Twilight Zone. I hadn't seen it in 15 years or more. Seeing it again was a test of will for me; the Joe Dante segment, featuring a child with the ability to do anything he wanted to anything and everyone just by wanting it and the household of terrified "family" hostages caught with him, completely freaked my shit out as a kid. I had to see it again. I had to know: did it hold up? Is it as scary as I thought?

But first I reacquainted myself with the other stories. There's the bookend segments -- "you wanna see something really scary?" -- and then the first vignette about the racist schlub who learns some empathy the hard way. It was this segment that saw me regaling my fellows with tales of main actor Vic Morrow's death by helicopter, along with two child actors, during the Vietnam War sequences. I'd seen the original footage in my impressionable years, courtesy of my brother and the Faces of Death video series. God, remember when that was a thing?

The Spielberg segment, about old people in an old folk's home given a chance to feel young again for one night, is composed of pure schmaltz all the way down to the atomic level. Here's something: I didn't care. It worked. It's not exactly a great achievement for Film Art, but it does its job.

Then came the Dante segment. It kind of dissolves into a mess at the end, but before that... oh yeah, it rocked my shit. Dante seems to have his thing about suburban life and the lies therein, and here the menace embodied by one willful kid is palpable. I found myself sinking into my chair. There are few things more terrifying than the idea of a perfectly normal child with the ability to make anything real just by thinking about it.

Then there was that airplane thing with John Lithgow. Good stuff. Modern horror filmmakers would do well to study this segment, if only to see how a skilled director judiciously uses music to set the tone or indicate state of mind. I have a feeling this is the segment everyone thinks of when they think of Twilight Zone: The Movie, but for me, it is and always will be the Dante segment.

If you're looking for a point to this post, I'm sorry. Let's try...

Joe Dante: Good. Creepy children: Bad. Creepshow: Flawed but fun. Helicopters: To be avoided.

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