Archive for Shock

The Dada Book

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2014 by dcairns

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Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK is getting lots of favorable attention, and the low-budget Australian horror deserves it, though we weren’t wholly captivated. But the minus side — too much generic running around, recycling of tropes from Mario Bava’s SHOCK and THE SHINING*, neglecting the unique possibilities of its original ideas, like the scary pop-up book — is pretty well balanced by some strong pluses.

I’m going to play the game of not spoiling the storyline, but you might pick up hints from the following, and if you want to see the film with a virginal mind, see it first before reading the rest.

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The title is really delightful — Fiona was convinced she’d heard this word before, which is testament to the word-sound’s grip on the collective unconscious. It’s like onomatopoeia for something that doesn’t exist.

The performances, particularly the two leads, are just extraordinary. Little Daniel Henshall Noah Wiseman has one of those wildly expressive, photogenic faces, eyes like fishbowls, porcelain skin, and disconcerting FANGS (like he hasn’t quite grown into his teeth, or like they just grew into him) — he transfixes the camera. Essie Davis as his mum is just perfect too, maintaining sympathy as long as possible as things start to get really, really bad.

The movie is playing an elaborate game with the genres of psychological and supernatural horror, so expect some slide between believing the Babadook is a real monster and thinking it’s all in the mind. Some of this journey is rocky, with promising avenues closed off too soon, and the part of the film where it comes down strongly on one side gets kind of dull and uninvolving — we feel we’ve lost sympathy, and for all the running around, this can only end really badly, which is depressing. But then the movie pulls off an eleventh-hour recovery and goes somewhere quite unexpected and possibly unique in the genre.

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Fiona: “Magicians are scary. Child magicians are very scary.”

Basically, the Babadook — a crow-like caped man with dagger-like fangs, somewhat Tim Burton-like — also a mysterious hand-crafted children’s book with some highly inappropriate content — comes to have a very clear metaphorical significance. He’s the embodiment of a repressed emotion, and ultimately the way of dealing with him seems quite apt and may even have helpful real-world applications for the viewer. Grief isn’t dealt with by violence, and it can’t be effectually shut away and forgotten, and it is a dark, all-consuming monster… I can say no more.

The movie has a jittery, juddery, propulsive editing style which keeps you nervous most of the time. Mom walks towards the front door — the sound of the door opening breaks in before she gets there — we cut to her midway through opening the door, now shot from outside — which smooths over the jumps just enough to feel like smooth continuity, but has an undercurrent of nervous anticipation. This is kept up, which means the film doesn’t get to creep us out much with slow, building suspense, but it’s also a world away from the traditional, conventional 1-2-3-BOO! approach of teen horror. It has its limitations but it’s at least a fresh approach.

*Anyone who has seen LET US PREY, co-written by Fiona & I, will be able to point triumphantly to a lot of SHINING-influenced business in that one, but we already have our answer worked out, which is to deny all responsibility for anything you don’t like, okay? As long as we can take credit for anything you DO like. The ultimate powerlessness of the screenwriter has to confer SOME advantages…

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The Tell-tale Tit

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by dcairns

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

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Tell-Tale-Tit!

Yer mammy cannae knit!

Yer dad’s in the dustbin,

Eating dirty chips!

Such was the playground taunt of my childhood, directed against anyone who “clyped”, or ratted on a friend to a teacher or other adult. No reason to mention it here, except that I’ve been watching THE TELL-TALE HEART, a rare British adaptation of Poe, from 1960. Director Ernest Morris was from TV, but does a pretty good job on an obviously tight budget. Also with TV credentials are co-writer Brian Clemens, the mastermind behind The Avengers (and later screenwriter of DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER) and producers the Danzigers, specialists in B-films and quota quickies, who were quick to scoop up American talent like Joseph Losey and Richard Lester to direct TV thrillers like Mark Saber.

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Adrienne Corri has shed her DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS puppy fat and is now very skinny indeed, but Laurence Payne doesn’t seem to mind.

The cast reunites two stars from the Danziger’s hilarious DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, Edinburgh-born Adrienne Corri (whose future would feature several films for Hammer, one for Kubrick, and who had already made THE RIVER with Renoir) and Dermot Walsh. In the lead role of this romantic triangle is Laurence Payne, fervently neurasthenic as Edgar Marsh, or is it Edgar Poe? Weirdly, different characters in different scenes refer to him by different names. The confusion is rather surprising — filmmakers weren’t really doing Lynchian identity-blurs in Britain in 1960, and yet it’s a very odd thing to do by accident. Maybe the two credited writers wrote alternate scenes and never compared notes? I like the idea of the film being composed like a surrealist game of “exquisite corpse”, with each author unaware of the other’s pages.

I also liked the patina of weird scratches and smears covering the print, which made me think of the “underfilm” referred to in Theodor Roszak’s great novel Flicker — it was exciting to think that this shimmering mass of unreadable, subliminal runes and hieroglyphs might be branding my subconscious with arcane information that would ultimately sterilise me with fear.

The new plot spun from fragments of Poe’s short story has Poe/Marsh, resident of a big old house on the Rue Morgue (despite the real Poe being American, and this street being French, we seem to be, however vaguely, in England) smitten with Corri, the florist across the street, into whose bedroom he can spy. Like so many horror movie heroines, she has a blithe tendency to undress by the window — it’s one of the many ways in which real women disappoint when compared to their celluloid sisters. Since we’ve already seen Marshpoe perusing his collection of classy porn (staring hard at the pages until his arm falls limply to his side, a peculiarly hands-0ff approach to onanism), we can guess what effect this is likely to have upon him.

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A shy and fumbling suitor, Poemarsh turns to his man-of-the-world best pal, Carl Loomis (1960 was a good year for Loomises), played by Walsh, and suddenly the film seems like a premake of  Richard Lester’s THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT, with a successful loverboy guiding an incompetent novice, until both find themselves competing over a girl. The difference being that Michael Crawford never bludgeoned Ray Brooks to death with a poker and hid him under the living room floor.

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Now comes the Mario Bava stuff. The incessant beating of the dead man’s heart (?) is picked up by a ticking metronome and a dripping tap, leading me to wonder if Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, three years later, was consciously influenced by this obscure movie. When a claw-like sea-shell ornament and a piece of porcelain start rocking back and forth in time to the beat, I was strongly reminded of the sliding china hand from Bava’s last feature, SHOCK.

Then, my favourite bit, the carpet bulging rhythmically to the beat of the heart, as if the living room floor were a cartoon character’s bosom.

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Finally, we get the Poe pay-off, “It’s the beating of that infernal heart!” (Payne is great at anguish and hysteria and Ernest Morris has a smart sense of when to let rip with an ECU) , and then an it-was-all-a-dream-or-was-it? ending no doubt inspired by DEAD OF NIGHT, which almost-but-not-quite accounts for the hero’s double name. (He’s Poe in reality, Marsh in his dream — although this schism contributes nothing except a floating caul of confusion.)

Close-up of a chess board where Marsh left it in Poe’s dream: “Checkmate!”

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…