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27Oct/141

31 Days of Horror, Part 7: I Can Hear You Breathing

I'm almost at 31. I didn't think I'd actually do that.

I also published a blog post every day last week. I honestly think it's been probably a decade since I did that. Sheesh.

I guess I love horror movies that goddamn much.

Let's get into it.

27. Phase IV (1974)

This is the only movie that Saul Bass directed. If you don't know Saul Bass, you should-- he designed some of the greatest title sequences in the history of film, stuff like North By Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho, The Man With the Golden Arm, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Anatomy of a Murder, and many more. He was also a preeminent influence on design in the latter half of the twentieth century altogether, designing some of the most brilliant, simple, and memorable movie posters ever created. Stuff like Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Shining, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and more too numerous to list here.

The guy is a legend. And the opening sequence of this movie goes a long way towards illustrating that. It starts off with a beautiful minimalist scene of the earth circling a sun, along with a voiceover describing something going strangely with "magnetic fields" and radiation. Then there are another few minutes of close-up photography of ants, scurrying around, chatting with their googly antennae, et cetera, while the voiceover explains that they've been inexplicably changed by the magnetic field / radiation thing.

The whole thing is really pretty.

Unfortunately, it's a bit downhill from there. The brilliant ants advance their plans to take over. Scientists try to stop them. It is all incredibly boring.

That said, there are some fantastic sequences wordlessly showing the ants in close-up figuring things out. These bits are punctuated by swooping, doom-drone synths and are gorgeous and fascinating to watch.

Also, the set pieces and art direction are straight-up beautiful and on point. He does the sort of minimalist, cold sci-fi set stuff that Kubrick did, and which went on to influence basically everything in the 70s.

I mean seriously, this stuff is gorgeous.

That said, all of the shots with people exchanging dialogue are stultifyingly dull. The plot advances, but it does so with no real sense of urgency or peril. In that, it approximates what I imagine it would be like if we were watching actual scientists doing actual science in the face of impending doom, but it certainly doesn't make for good cinema.

Thankfully, there are all those gorgeous people-less art sets, and all those eerie, creepy close-ups of the insects fucking with their shit. This movie is worth watching for the flashes of visual beauty, but I can't heartily recommend it overall, because it's so uneven.


28. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

So last month I had the good luck and enjoyment of attending MondoCon, a convention based around pop-culture ephemera, specifically screenprinted movie posters, limited-edition vinyl versions of horror movie soundtracks, and various and sundry other things. It was absolutely fantastic-- I met so many incredible artists, many of whom I'd been a huge fan of for years. I also picked up a ridiculous amount of vinyl.

One of the truly awesome things MondoCon did was set up movie showings. I saw Ghost in the Shell on the big screen, and picked up a gorgeous poster for it. They also showed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a live score performed in the theater by the musicians, Anton Maoif and Umberto, who played as "The Hook and Pull Gang."

Now, I love TCM. A lot. I've seen it many many times, and for my money, it's one of the best horror movies of all time. It's not without its problems, but by and large it does an incredible job juggling tone, and provides a sense of eerie dread and discomfort the whole way through. With the new score, it was absolutely incredible-- just these deep synth tones, low notes hammering endlessly and never letting up. It raised my arm hairs for nearly the whole time and I forgot I was in the theater for a little while. It was incredible. After the show, attendees were given copies of the score on vinyl, I got those fellows to sign it, and it holds a place of honor in my collection.

Last weekend I was out of town, and in the hotel, we happened upon TCM being shown on television. I had no choice but to watch it.

The new score is amazing and outstanding, but even without it, this movie was incredible to watch. Just as fresh and terrifying as when I first watched it in Junior High with my friends, clutching the sides of the armchair and gritting my teeth.

Anyway. Yeah. So good.


29. Housebound (2013)

This came as a recommendation from a dude who was making fun of my earlier choices. Man, that dude is a fool about my choices thus far (except Grave Encounters. Man, what a horrible piece of shit). Therefore, I really wanted to watch this movie and have it be terrible so that I could then shove that back in his face.

But this movie was great. I've always been a fan of New Zealand comedic horror flicks-- Dead Alive, Black Sheep, um, other early Peter Jackson movies-- and this flick stays right in that wheelhouse. It is hilarious. It is also creepy as shit.

There are even some moments where it is both at the same time.

Oh yeah. Mike said I needed to learn how to make animated gifs. So I'm trying that now.

Anyway, the plot is thus: a young lady, who is also a meth addict, gets busted robbing an ATM and is sentenced to house arrest. Eight months trapped in her house with her doting mother, her stepfather, and what may or may not be a ghost, or maybe a serial killer, or maybe just a straight-up insane person, or maybe it's all in her head. There are a few twists and turns, which actually work really well throughout.

What really sells it, though, is the acting. The lead, Morgana O'Reilly, really plays this part to the hilt. She plays the furious meth-addict recovering (and just seething with rage) in her mother's house, being unable to go anywhere, and feeling persecuted and victimized. She does this with subtlety, grace, and fucking impeccable comic timing.

Rima Te Wiata plays her mother, and is pitch-perfect as the weird, well-meaning but slightly out-of-touch (and a little racist) mother, a perfect foil for O'Reilly's eye-rolling and silent lip-whitening. The supporting cast is made up of various misfits, weirdos, well-meaning but silly psychiatrists, and doubting cops, all shining through in their character-actor glory.

Eight out of eight kiwis. Belongs on any shelf next to Dead Alive and Black Sheep.