Monthly Archives: September 2012

Shock (1977)

Synopsis:

A young widow moves into her old family home with her son and new partner. She soon starts to believe that the spirit of her former husband is haunting the house and wants to possess her son….

Review:

“Shock” (1977) is a mediocre Bava movie which is held back by mis-casting and slow pacing. The film is exclusively built around the relationships of three people, neither of whom are entirely convincing.

On occasion, the film erupts with the visual zealousness Bava won fame for. We have a razor blade placed precariously between the keys of a piano and a groaning spectre seen through the light of a child’s flashlight in what is quite a magical shot. But for the most part this is a dull and dreary film which just goes through the “haunted-house” motions, one by one. There are creaking doors, moving objects, peculiar noises and a child’s swing pushed by a phantom. Throw in a pair of zombie-hands searching for Daria Nicolodi’s flesh and you basically have the first 70 or so minutes of the movie.

The score has always been one of Italian horror’s centrepieces but the musical accompaniment to “Shock” (1977) is minimalist and disinterested. The film takes a welcome change of direction in the final third, with some out-of-the-blue plot devices, genuinely surprising revelations and a charitable amount of gore. But, the audience shouldn’t need to wait this long – such treasures should have been the essence of the movie rather than its belated goodbye.

On balance, Bava’s final film isn’t terrible but there are cries of desperate movie-making in some of the reels. As a result it’s one for completists alone.

NB: This movie is also known as “Beyond the Door 2” despite bearing no relation to “Beyond the Door” (1974).

hotdog rating:  5.5/10

Hansel and Gretel (2007)

Synopsis:

A young man, Eun-Soo, is involved in an accident and seeks refuge at an isolated house in the middle of the woods. The house is populated by a seemingly idyllic family; except the children seem to be in total control of the parents, who themselves are petrified of angering their ‘little angels’. When Eun-Soo tries to leave, he finds he cannot escape the woods no matter how hard he tries…….

Review:

A little girl with a lantern leads a dazed car-crash victim through some eerie woods to the ‘House of Happy Children’…… That’s how Pil-Sung Yim’s “Hansel and Gretel” begins. Less of a horror film and more of a nebulous fairytale, this South Korean movie cajoled me for much of the first hour.  The movie is well-worth a watch for the handsome cinematography alone, but if you’re looking for an easily accessible and cogent narrative, you won’t find it here.

The colourful set-design, arrogant camerawork and the unsettling performances of the ‘children’ are the big positives, but unfortunately the ambiguous plot details end up being irritating rather than interesting. That said, the final reveal is well-paced, invoking sympathy for our ‘evil’ protagonists and adding a layer of depth to the film’s plot that I simply wasn’t expecting. This revelatory conclusion takes us back in time to the haunting past of the house and its occupants.

Notwithstanding the directorial skill shown in the finale, there’s still a really out-of-place sub-plot, involving a religious cultist who appears at the house, which is not only needless but acutely distracting from a narrative the viewer is already struggling with.

Partly because it isn’t a ‘direct’ horror film, “Hansel and Gretel” is not a scary movie. Nevertheless, and despite the film’s preoccupation with the genre mainstay of demonic children, it’s refreshingly different to other entries in the J- and Asian-horror scene. Certainly, the movie’s technical abilities overpower its shortcomings.

hotdog rating: 7/10

hotdogcinema ‘theme’

One of hotdog’s friends did this for us….a big thank you to Mr Jack Chubb.

Dead Again (1991)

Synopsis:

In 1948, a gifted and wealthy composer is executed for the brutal murder of his beautiful wife. In the present day, an amnesiac woman (Emma Thompson) turns up at an orphanage, claiming to suffer from nightmarish flashbacks to the 1948 murder. A young private investigator (Kenneth Branagh) begins to delve deeper and finds that both he and the amnesiac bear a striking physical resemblences to the deceased composer and  his spouse. An antique-dealing hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) sets out to help them unravel the mystery…..

Review:

Right from a titles sequence which showcases a 1940s  newspaper headline of MURDER, Kenneth Branagh’s Hitchcockian thriller is a sight for sore cinematic eyes. Branagh’s fondness for flush visuals and theatrical exuberance gives us a well-staged exercise in suspense, psychological terror and ill-fated romance.  Admittedly there’s quite a lot of pomp for an edgy thriller and to enjoy this film fully, you’ll need to look beyond it.

The supporting cast gushes with talent; but it’s worth highlighting 3 roles specifically; those of Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia and Robin Williams. Jacobi is the mischevious hypnotist with a strange desire to solve Grace’s amnesia; Garcia plays the sleazy 1940s reporter who, now barely alive, may just well hold the secret to the original murder and William’s gives a soured performance as a struck-off and devilishly embittered psychiatrist.

When running parallel narratives – moreover in different decades –  it’s always important for the editing to be spot-on. Not only is the editing here extremely competent, it gives the film a real dynamism as we switch between a cold 1940s  gothic mansion and the dusty backroom of a run-down antiques shop.

We can sometimes forget what made the thriller genre so popular. It was the magnetic pull of three things: excitement, anticipation and mystery. Branagh as a director clearly understands that, and he pulls together a film which is both pictorially sound for critics and deliciously enticing to the audience. The real key to Branagh’s success here is that he doesn’t let the cat-out-of-the-bag until the film’s final 15 minutes but once he does, the film reaches a voltaic apex.

Every much as racy a melodrama as you might expect from someone with Branagh’s bard-ish background,  “Dead Again” (1991)  is one of the richest thrillers of the 90s. Less blatant a homage to the master of suspense than De Palma’s efforts, this movie sits comfortably as a stylish substitute and  companion piece to the likes of   “Rebecca” (1940) and “Vertigo” (1958).

Hotdog rating: 8.5/10