Archive for Clive Barker

Don’t grab that scabby hand…

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2021 by dcairns

…it belongs to Mister Sniff-‘n’-Tell, it belongs to the Candyman. So sang David Bowie in his least cool phase, as frontman of Tin Machine, in an anti-drugs song called Crack City, which recycles the ahem, hook, from Wild Thing and is quite catchy, but still un-cool.

I mention it because it mentions the Candyman (as does Sweet Transvestite from ROCKY HORROR) and because in the new CANDYMAN reboot or rehook, protag Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a scabby hand. I kept expecting him to sprout a hook, which might have been cool, but he doesn’t. If this guy is getting a hook, he’ll have to do it the traditional way.

The scabby hand gives us some of the most visceral and wince-making stuff in Nia DaCosta’s revision of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden — one moment is borrowed from Cronenberg’s THE FLY and got the strongest reaction from us of anything in there. Because CANDYMAN is quite a good film, but we were never actually scared. It’s made with great skill, the performances are good, it has ideas, and the use of colour and architecture (the title sequence!) is beautiful — a touch of Argento, who will also be all over A RAINY NIGHT IN SOHO, coming to your screens soon. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s score is lovely, though close enough to Philip Glass’s original in essence that it feels like Glass should get a credit somewhere. (Rose’s unconventional choice of Glass was one of his smartest choices.)

I’m not sure why we didn’t feel fear. Candyman mainly kills white people and we fit that demographic. He mainly kills unsympathetic white people, or people we barely know, but that needn’t be an overwhelming problem… I thought at first the film was going to be too hurried, that it would fail to spend the anxious time anticipating its kills, something Argento used to be so good at. In fact, the movie has a pretty good command of pace, but it doesn’t protract things to that ridiculous level where even though you may feel (a) this is silly (b) I don’t believe it (c) I don’t care if this person dies (d) I’ve seen gory deaths before, you still curl up a bit and want to cover your eyes. Argento could do all that, and part of it was having the courage to linger on things beyond the point where sane judgement would tell you to quicken it up just a little.

I always found Candyman a bit of a messy guy. His origin story just piles everything on — dismemberment, the meat hook added by his persecutors (WHY?), bees, and burning. It gets les disturbing the more effed-up details are thrown in. And then his M.O. is just to show up, when summoned, and kill everybody. The attempts to give him some more complex motivation got the first film into a fankle, and it kind of does the same here. There are a lot of threads in this, which is better than having too few but not as good as having the right number. Why do we get a flashback to Teyonnah Parris’s father’s suicide? Does this connect to something in the first film I’ve forgotten? Because it connects to nothing at all in this one.

One more thing that still kinda bothers me, like Columbo. DaCosta and co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld introduce a couple of likeable gay characters right off the bat, and I found myself wondering about what their fates would be. It seemed obvious that you couldn’t bring in sympathetic gay characters and then graphically butcher them — everyone would hate that, and rightly so. You couldn’t even kill just one of them. Unless you had other gay characters who would survive as an intact couple. We’re not at the point yet where gay characters can enjoy an equal right of becoming splatter fodder.

The solution to this that occurred to me is that you could ENDANGER these characters — that would get the audience really tense. Not only because we like them (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Kyle Kaminsky are the film’s most appealing characters) but because we would know that murdering them would be a critical error. The film could actually play with our fear of the story going wrong (as it does in the original for various reasons I can’t quite recall — I just remember feeling it went off the rails somewheres). It’s mostly so assured we don’t feel that, and when it does go wrong (a nice character turns out to be a bad crazy person, but also a kind of narrative cul-de-sac who robs the protag of the chance to go to Hell on his own choices) it does so without warning.

The trouble with Candyman is there’s no endangering while he’s around — he always gets his man, or woman, until the end of the movie, when it seems to break its own rules. Maybe that’s my fundamental problem: when you KNOW the monster is going to kill everyone he meets, suspense is lessoned. Hard to get fond too of corpses-in-waiting, even though that’s what we all are, if you think about it.

Moreso the Torso

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2010 by dcairns

KOBELKOFF, a curio from 1900, poised on the knife-edge between celebrating the triumph over adversity and pressing its nose against the glass to drool at the sight of malformity and difference. Asides from questions like “But is it art?” and the more urgent “Who would win in a fight between Kobelkoff and Prince Randian from FREAKS?” I’ll give the (nameless) filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here.

Not an experienced actor, Prince Randian (Prince of where?) is a little quick with his single line of dialogue, which is consequently hard to decipher. The DVD subtitles give it as “Say, can you do anything with your eyebrow?” which is a GREAT line, possibly the greatest and most obscure sentence since the last words of Dutch Schultz. (If you watch FREAKS with the subs on you get a lot of fringe benefits, heavily-accented line readings suddenly explicated, lines you didn’t even realise you hadn’t understood…)

While enumerating the limbless, we should pause to resembled the character of the war hero in SATYRICON — Fellini apparently instructed his assistant to find him “the most crippled cripple he could get.” (All this via John Baxter’s chatty, somewhat middlebrow biography). When Federico saw the living torso who’d been sourced for the role, he congratulated his underling: “I didn’t think you’d go that far.”

“I will go a long way to see something I haven’t seen before,” says Clive Barker, and I agree with him, but that does make the world of the cinema a short step from that of the tent show. I guess it always was. So I don’t require total scrupulousness from filmmakers who deal with or exploit disability, I’ll settle for some measure of complexity, conflicted response, or even the childlike wonder of a Fellini or a Jodorowsky at times.

Always On Sunday

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by dcairns

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY — the title was almost literally true in those days, since the factory smoke seeded the clouds during the week, and on the one day when the factories didn’t belch their fumes skywards, the clouds would take the opportunity to drop their watery payload.

Rain predominates in Robert Hamer’s post-war British noir, a genuinely oppressive and glum film, typifying the Ealing fondness for “network narratives” (David Bordwell’s useful phrase) branching out from families or neighbourhoods or institutions. Here, a group of honest and dishonest citizens in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London, go about their business, breaking hearts and by-laws, while housewife Googie Withers shelters her ex-lover, John McCallum who’s just escaped from Dartmoor Prison.

When we learn that McCallum’s been given “the cat” — his back is a lattice of scares from the prison whipping — I believed it, having learned that this appalling punishment was still being practiced in postwar Britain after raising doubts about Burt Lancaster’s flogging in KISS THE BLOOD OF MY HANDS. But I think I would have believed it anyway — Hamer’s movie reeks with authenticity, unlike Norman Foster’s slick comic-book thriller. Despite a reliance on studio work, the movie convincingly evokes East End life, with a surprising emphasis on Jewishness and a reasonable authenticity of dialect all round. Of course, the cockney’s have all had V-chips installed so they can’t swear, but I always get a kick out of characters saying “Sweet Fanny Adams” in Ealing movies. The expression may need some explaining for non-Brits. The etymology of the phrase is pretty convoluted, but my favourite reading of it sees it as word substitution code for “sweet fuck-all.” So its frequent use represents a triumph over the British Board of Film Censors.

Here’s Hamer’s fellow Ealing director Alexander Mackendrick, quoted from On Film-Making ~

“Though common in television, group stories seem to have died as a form of cinema these days.” (Well, they’re back now.) “They used to be much more common, and if I have a prejudice against them, it is probably because the English studio at which I got some early training was addicted to the kind of stories that had multiple protagonists (the Ealing comedies PASSPORT TO PIMLICO and WHISKY GALORE! for example).

“I have never been sure why writers and directors of that era were so happy with this formula. I think they believed it provided the opportunity for not only more variety of characters but also a lively pacing that could be achieved by intercutting the progression of the subplots. After one film of this kind I began to dislike the structure because I felt it weakened the drive of the narrative rather than strengthened it. All of the characters essentially became cameo roles that couldn’t be developed in any depth, and the multiplicity of minor tensions was apt to reduce the tension of the main theme.”

Now, it seems to me, we have enough successful, artistically interesting examples of the network narrative to see Mackendrick’s objection as signposting a potential pitfall rather than a necessary weakness of the form. And IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY stands as perhaps Ealing’s finest achievement with this manner of storytelling, centered upon the Withers storyline but spreading out to take in the adventures of her different family members, various east End characters, and the detective trailing McCallum (Jack Warner, Ealing’s favourite copper).

Flashback to a blonde Googie, echoing her early screen appearances (see THE LADY VANISHES).

When I looked at the movie years ago, I found its persistent gloom oppressive, stifling and itchy, which it is, but that’s the brilliance of the filmmaking. Hamer manages to make his widespread narratives all as claustrophobic as the adventure of the escaped convict in the tiny two-up-two-down house. I was also struck by the mysterious resemblance the film bears to Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER: in both films, the mother secretes her fugitive lover within the marital home, betraying her husband and clashing with her (step)daughter. The main difference is the substitution of Doug Bradley’s Pinhead for Jack Warner’s detective, and the fact that the lover in HELLRAISER has no skin. I wonder if Hamer’s film was an influence on Barker. It’s a powerful storyline, which seems capable of shifting through yet more genres: it has one foot in bedroom farce (“Quick, in here!”) already.

Hamer, who two years later would triumph with that greatest of black comedies, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, largely shuns humour here, defying Ealing’s usual chirpy manner and sinking us in meanness and corruption. There is a persistent strain of pessimism in British film of this period, perhaps stemming from our disappointment with the “land fit for heroes” we’d been promised in the war. This acerbic strain was gradually extirpated by the bureaucrats running the film business in the fifties, but would make a savage return with greater realism in the sixties.

The movie’s climax, a chase at the railway yard, magnificently lit by Douglas Slocombe, is marred by a couple of rather inexplicable model shots, but is nevertheless tense and expressionistic and dynamic — the crime story really does seem like the best way to make realism palatable to a wide audience as entertainment.

IAROS is based on a novel by Arthur LaBern, whose Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square was filmed much later, by Alfred Hitchcock, as FRENZY. In that movie, realism is no longer the keynote…

Ealing Studios DVD Collection – Champagne Charlie/The Maggie/It Always Rains On Sunday/Whisky Galore