Archive for October, 2018

Blood from the Dummy’s Tomb

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2018 by dcairns

DEAD SILENCE (2007) is the film that helped steer director James Wan away from the softcore torture porn of SAW and into the supernatural realms he’s mainly been exploring since. But at this early stage, he hasn’t mastered the genre. His later ghost stories have both effective suspense and shock sequences, even if they’re light on brains. They take their time, the better to scare you. DS goes all out, and after the first, moderately effective sequence where most of the sound cuts out, so we have a very visible but eerily inaudible thunderstorm and the victim-in-waiting’s breath is the loudest sound, it degenerates into fast-cut noisiness, not helped by a seriously overcooked score that seems to be trying to play THE EXORCIST’s Tubular Bells, THE OMEN, Danny Elfman and a half-dozen other undigested musical clichés all at the same time.

But we do get the eerie Judith Roberts from ERASERHEAD (“beautiful woman next door”), two (two!) icky human puppets, and an effective set-piece in a sort of ventriloquism museum with assorted dummies behind glass, and a couple other OK bits. But as with SAW, Leigh Whannell’s script offers almost no believable human interaction, and you strongly sense that you’re in the hands of filmmakers with extremely limited life experience. It’s rare to see a professional movie with a certain slickness but a vision of characterisation so close to that of a fifties drive-in movie.

And the WORST attempt at a scary rhyme I ever heard. “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams; be sure to never ever scream.” Doesn’t scan! Anyone reciting that junk deserves to be possessed by the spirit of an undead puppeteer.

Lots of Mario Bava references, I’ll give them that. More BLACK SABBATH than KILL, BABY, KILL! And we appreciated the retro Universal logo at the start.


One Ferpect Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by dcairns

I was describing the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH to students, don’t ask me why, and then decided to look online to see if we could watch it, and discovered I’d remembered it all wrong.

The key thing is that Erin (Julia Roberts) goes for a job and doesn’t get it. I got that bit right. But I’d described it as being all one shot, in which we never see the prospective employer she’s auditioning to. In fact, look —

These are the basic shots, and the cleverest things are that

  1. They begin on a big closeup of JR without context, right in the middle of the conversation.
  2. The first shot of the boss is wider, but this works fine: I didn’t perceive it as a clunky mismatch
  3. When we go wider on JR, we go tighter on the boss, which also works fine.

The boss looks a bit like Soderbergh.

BUT — I do feel like my memory of the scene is better than the scene. Holding on Roberts in a single, unbroken close-up would get the film off to a bolder start and really boost the idea that this is a star vehicle built around the Roberts Charisma, which it is.

It would also fit nicely with the upcoming bit, which is really cool and more closely resembles my memory of it. Roberts finishes a cigarette outside, having failed to land the job  — the movie’s most cinematic ideas all involve ellipsis, and the ending will call-back to this transition by jumping over the actual trial scene that’s nominally the story’s climax.

Then she goes to her car and finds she’s got a parking ticket, then she breaks a nail opening the door, and the trailer VO man clears his throat preparatory to growling “Erin Brockovich is having a REALLY bad day,” — and we start to feel this movie is going to be really by-the-numbers, which in some ways it is. Then she gets in, drives off into the distance —


A black car side-swipes Roberts’ car, sending it spinning.

The clever bit is that this DOES look like a single shot, but obviously Soderbergh wasn’t likely to have another car crash into Roberts’ vehicle while she’s in it. We have to go back and look at the moment where her car passes the camera quite close — very simple to stitch two shots together as the car is wiping frame, with a stunt driver in a big wig behind the wheel in the second shot. So that’s quite clever, isn’t it?

Appointment with Samara

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 18, 2018 by dcairns

Gearing up for Halloween. Finally watched Gore Verbinski’s THE RING, having decided long ago that it was unnecessary to do so, and that the film itself was highly unnecessary. Turns out I was right!

What made me finally want to see it was catching a glimpse on TV and being impressed by what Verbinski does with the scary video bit. The whole film is stylish and atmospheric but the video is GREAT. It’s a real surprise when a lot of the weirdest, most unsettling images turn out to be plot clues.


BUT the movie is only scary twice. Once at the start — the opening of Hideo Nakata’s RINGU is the film’s one lame bit, with the freeze framed scream and all that. And the urban myth thing was already old then. But by inventive staging (lots of shots that look like they’re going to pull a corny startle effect — who’s behind the refrigerator door? — but then just leave you hanging — what a big tease!), Verbinski improves on it. Maybe the rest of the film is less scary because it hews so close to the original, only with more horses, which is weird.

The other moment of real anxiety is at the end when it’s not quite clear where things are going after they think they’ve lifted the curse then find out they’re wrong. Which is pretty much what happens in the original, but anyhow it definitely works.

There is some nostalgia value here. A spooky VHS tape. A chunky TV set. Next day photo processing. A heroine who works for a newspaper. A death-spirit who calls you on your land line, not your cell.

What I remember liking about Nakata’s film was the way nearly every edit within a scene, and certainly every scene change, was surprising and disconcerting. Verbinski tries for some of that but maybe he’s handicapped by Hollywood blandness and convention. Samara < Sadako. And the high spot of the original, the spectre crawling from the TV, is kind of spoiled here by intercutting it with a damn CAR CHASE.

I still haven’t seen his CURE FOR ROAD TO WELLVILLE thing or whatever it’s called. Tempted.

Peter Gabriel album cover.