Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MARTIN (George Romero, 1977, USA)


A troubled young man is confounded by the anachronism of memory, juxtaposing sexual desire for bloodletting, his existence devoid of magic but ripe with superstition. George Romero propels the vampire myth into the 20th century as a tale of adolescent angst corrupted by archaic family values, where sex becomes violent penetration (a hypodermic as substitute for his manhood), a thirst slaked not only by blood...but the power to control.

The film opens with a brutal rape on a train, where an ordinary young man sneaks into a locked compartment and subdues a woman with a hypo full of sodium pentothal, has sex with her unconscious and unresponsive body, then cuts her wrists with a razor blade to drink the blood. He then arranges the room to make it seem like a suicide. As the camera follows the perpetrator from the train we soon realize that he is our subject, the story’s protagonist that has only earned our outrage. It is to Romero’s credit that Martin eventually becomes a sympathetic character, a victim of a family shame who treads precariously in the thorns of his uncle’s Old World. His vociferous uncle Cuda taunts Martin believing him to be “Nosferatu” and vows to destroy him but will save his soul first...unless Martin kills again. Cuda hangs garlic on the doors, crucifixes on the walls, and even has an Catholic priest perform a meek exorcism. Martin is profoundly disturbed and acts out these vampire tropes by mundane means: without the use of “magic”, he utilizes drugs to control his victims and a razor the cut their veins. Romero uses black and white scenes to portray either Martin’s distant past (he believes himself to be over 80 years old) or his fantasy world tainted by classic horror films: Martin has fulfilled his uncle’s prophecy.

The killings decline when Martin finally discovers a willing companion to satisfy his sexual urges, a depressed and drunken married woman, but her suicide is ironically pinned on him; or more precisely, pinned through him.

Final Grade: (B+)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

IT COMES AT NIGHT ((Trey Edward Shults, 2017, USA)





A family of three despairs of what waits beyond the red door, fearing plague and those driven to their most base impulses who will murder for a drink of fresh water. But when gazing into the doorway…the doorway also gazes back. Director/Writer Trey Edward Shults tells a minimalist survival tale mostly set within a boarded-up rural house; a chamber piece of nightmares and secrets.
*HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
The plot is fairly straightforward but Shults doesn’t give us much exposition; we have to piece together the images and fragments of nightmares to come to any satisfactory conclusion.
The film begins with a gruesome sight: a zombie-like man gasping for breath surrounded by people in gas masks. This man is obviously sick and dying. He is lifted into a wheelbarrow and taken out into the woods and shot through the head. His body is burned. We soon learn he was the Patriarch of a small family that now includes 17 year old son Travis and his mother and father. This is a bi-racial family yet the story makes no mention of this fact, it is not a plot device to make some bold statement: refreshingly, it just is. We then settle into the daily routine of survival and grieving without much explanation. However, this triptych is much like the Renaissance lithograph that hangs in the house (Hieronymus Bosch?)  that alludes to a world and society decimated by plague. If the painting seems contrived as a way to offer information elliptically then it makes a bit more sense later in the film when Travis’ father explains his pre-apocalypse vocation: History Teacher. The next day a stranger is caught breaking into the house and after a brutal struggle he is knocked unconscious and tied to a tree outside (in case he’s infected).  This stranger soon brings his family of three (wife and six year old son) into the fold as the six of them try to survive in their wilderness abode. But this stranger is later caught in a seemingly prosaic half-truth.
Shults’ taught direction is mostly relegated to indoors: both metaphorically and physically. He films in 2:35 with mostly tight middle-shots but I thought this film would have benefitted from the Academy ratio to be more claustrophobic. The tension seems more imagined or paranoid between the families than forthright: this lends a very realistic quality to their dilemma. When your very survival is at stake can you truly trust anyone…even family? But Shults isn’t just interested in the mundane activities of survival; he’s more interested in the psychological toll upon Travis. Shults takes us on a few dream-journeys that belong to Travis’ point-of-view and we soon discover that imagination and reality have some crossover point.  Using POV fade-outs from Travis’ perspective, we experience some nightmarish images and possible recollections that haunt his traumatized mind. This would make an excellent double-feature with Michael Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF.
The focal point of the story is the red door: it is the only way into or out of the house as all other doors/windows have been boarded over. This door is always locked at night and they never go at after dark. The climax of the film and its violent third act concerns the mystery of the unlocked door after dark and the return of the Travis’ dog. This causes panic in the household as the dog carries the plague. Travis discovered the unlocked door but swears he didn’t open it. Could the six year old have opened it? Is the disease (dis-ease) already in the house? Shults shows this from Travis’ POV but alludes to the explanation a few minutes later. We have already seen into Travis’ nightmares and his nighttime wanderings and his decisions to disobey his father (like leaving the room when they’re supposed to be locked down). It’s peripherally explained that Travis, in a nightmare fugue, left the house at night and went looking for his lost dog. He brought the dog back to the house because there is no other explanation for how it entered the initial threshold. So what does come at night? I believe it’s fairly evident from the depiction of Travis’ traumatized consciousness that it’s the nightmares and sleepwalking that comes at night. And this is the fatal revelation that leads to the final Act.
The third and final Act has the two families split and locked down in their separate bedrooms. It’s already been explained that the plague appears within 24 hours so the tension is cranked up to 11. Travis sneaks out of the room (not following directions) and hears the little boy crying. This leads to a final and brutal confrontation where the other family tries to leave the house but won’t reveal if their child has symptoms of the plague. A shootout ensues and the other family is killed. We suddenly cut to black and see Travis in bed with the plague, death mere hours away. The film ends with his mother and father covered in blood, emptied of all humanity and severely traumatized, starring at one another across the kitchen table.
Travis will die of the plague. But did his parents contract it? If they survive, is life still worth living? They shot and killed an entire family of three (like their own) to survive. Where they morally justified? And was it indeed Travis who brought all of this on unwittingly? None of these questions is answered by the film’s conclusion. We are left like our protagonists in limbo and doubt.
Final Grade: (B+)



Thursday, September 14, 2017

IT: CHAPTER ONE (Andy Muschietti, 2017, USA)



Seven children take the first tentative steps towards adulthood as they must not only face the idea of a world of random unjust violence but conquer it as well. Stephen King’s IT is once again adapted for the screen (this time the silver one) and Director Andy Muschietti gets more right than he does wrong…though there are a plethora of missed opportunities and missteps.
First of all, the structure of the film has been streamlined from the source material and previous mini-series. Gone are the cross-cutting and flashbacks that introduce each character and tie the children and adult actors together into a whole character. The mini-series did a wonderful job of introducing the adult or child and giving them a unique quirk such as an unconscious impulse to pull one’s ear when stressed, or put a hand over one’s mouth in revulsion, Bev’s hair of January embers or Bill’s recurring stutter. These visual cues work perfectly so there is no doubt which child actor grows into the adult playing the same character’s role. In this film version of IT, Muschietti eschews this structure for telling the childhood story (now set in 1989 instead of 1957) which allows this world of corrupted innocence more room to breathe and thrive. We are able to spend more time in direct contact with the children’s world and experience it almost exclusively from their perspective. Like the Peanuts cartoon, there are very few adults and the ones allowed any significant screen time are tainted (though it’s never overtly stated) by the alien presence that will soon taunt our pubescent protagonists. The film is already two hours long and trying to shoehorn in any flash forwards for seven characters would have stretched the film too thin. Bottom line, this structure works well for this film. Time will tell if the second Chapter is as coherent and cohesive as the first.
Next I’ll discuss the film’s overall style to include editing, framing, score and soundtrack, set design, and special effects/CGI. Editing is where the film stumbles and becomes rather prosaic. Let me give you an example (with Spoilers, of course. So read on at your own risk). The opening credit sequence introduces us to Bill Denbrough and his soon to be dismembered little brother Georgie as they make a paper boat coated with paraffin wax. When the boat races into the storm drain we get our first look at Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But Muschietti fails to give this BIG REVEAL any narrative weight. Though the killer clown and his Cheshire grin are creepy, the shot sequence fails to build any suspense; that is, it doesn’t really put us into Georgie’s shoes. Frustratingly, he cuts away to an old woman and a placid cat in the middle of this sequence thus allaying any inherent fear he’s built thus far. Cut back to Georgie talking into the drain with the glib Pennywise. As he reaches into the storm drain to get his paper boat from his new friend the suspense builds once again but is already compromised. The clown changes and bites Georgie’s arm off then drags him into the sewer. Cut back to the old lady and her cat that sees only a dark stain like muddy water near the curb. The missed opportunity is relevant: Muschietti cuts away at a dramatic moment for no narrative reason at all. If the old lady/cat was a reaction shot that added something to the scene then it’s desirable….especially a deliberate non-reaction shot. If the cat hissed or became violently freaked-out while the lady sees Georgie get pulled into the drain then this is a powerful statement for the adults turning a blind-eye to the murders and disappearances. The revelation later that Pennywise may have an influence over the entire population becomes foreshadowed.  But here, it just impedes the suspense of the scene and gives us a confusing series of shots away from the main action. Not the way to introduce one of the most important monsters in recent film history! And the CGI looks rather rushed and unfinished. Why not have the actor actually dragged into the drain (safely, of course) or use prosthetics for the close-ups. As it stands (Stephen King pun intended) the first five-plus minutes looks a bit forced and visually awkward. Fortunately, the film mostly recovers.
Continuing to discuss the style, the whiff of nostalgia works well enough for those of us who grew up (or continued to) in the late 80s as the film’s set designs are beautifully rendered and well-conceived. This was my favorite part of the film! A Replacements poster on Bev’s bedroom wall! Kudos. The soundtrack blasts The Cult’s Love Removal Machine to introduce Beverley (nice touch) and XTC’s atheistic anthem Dear God in the third act (another nice touch). The use of period music isn’t overblown and hackneyed but the film’s score is, like the framing and editing, rather mundane. I couldn’t discern any style or Vision (with a capital “V”) that Muschietti imprinted upon the work. Like any recent Marvel film IT is workman-like and banal but gets the job done. Part of this problem was most likely the liberal use of CGI so framing/shot selection gets a bit limited. At least there were no Zach Snyder god-awful slow-motion battles and reaction shots! This is a shame because the DP is Chung Chung-hoon who lensed a few of the most beautiful thriller/horror films in recent memory for the (nearly) legendary (and one of my favorite contemporary Directors) Park Chan-wook. Chung-hoon was DP on STOKER, OLDBOY and the visually stunning THE HANDMAIDEN. Muschietti just doesn’t allow him to utilize his abilities to their potential! Frustrating! Establishing shots also seemed a bit confusing because the film was cut from a longer run time in post-production. Two scenes stand out. The first is the scene when Ed’s mother shows up at the dilapidated house after the group’s first battle with IT. There is no explanation on how she arrived (the kids never told anyone) at the exact moment they come running out. Another occurs later in the film when Bev is practically sexually assaulted by her father: Bill is first seen riding his bike by the Standpipe (which features prominently in the book but is never mentioned in this film) then is suddenly in her apartment calling her name. Maybe a Director’s Cut will help explain these bizarre transitions?
The Monster: Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But it’s (or IT’S) not really a clown …is it? This is a shape-shifting creature of nearly unlimited potential that lures children into its lair to feed upon their fear and flesh. So IT is something that pretends to be a clown, like a fishing lure, but can’t help to reveal its true intentions. Bill Skarsgard imbues the creature with this otherworldly intenseness while still retaining a bit of its assumed inhumanity: that is, he makes this one creepy fucking antagonist! Though I liked Tim Curry’s predatory interpretation here Skarsgard makes us believe that this is indeed a monster from some other realm or reality. Curry’s Pennywise could have been the creepy uncle who is never invited to family reunions! This makes his performance terrifyingly humane in the original mini-series. Which do I prefer? I think Curry’s is genuinely frightening because of its rationality but Skarsgard’s doppelganger works well within the confines of this story. I’ll give the nod to Curry because he’s not slathered in CGI. But the fault with this reincarnation is that Pennywise seems to be anywhere at any given time: he seems powerfully ubiquitous. Since the Barrens as an important reservoir of his power is removed from the plot he seems like a Deus Ex Machina plot development. Story slows down, just throw in the clown! The rules for his preternatural powers are not delineated enough to wholly build credible suspense. On the other hand (or claw), I like the fact that the film doesn’t spend much time on exposition. Even as Pennywise is attacked and subsequently vanquished (for another 27 years, at least) we are shown the reason as opposed to being told over and over: the love and bond between true friends! As they act together and stick up for one another this group of Losers becomes more powerful than this demented pariah. This isn’t THE GOONIES awful melodrama, thankfully!
The children are particularly wonderful and propel the story towards its inevitable climax. We get to know Bill and Beverly more than any other character but they’re all perfectly cast. Some criticism has been directed at the child who plays Stan Uris (or “Urine” as he’s called in the book) as being to stand-offish and stone-faced but I believe this is intentional: Stan in the book is the uber-rational one who eventually can’t withstand the penetration of the irrational into his rigid worldview. This will probably be better explained in Chapter 2. I think his acting was perfectly in-line with Stan’s characterization from the novel. One scene in particular captures the essence of the children’s (especially Bill’s) trauma:  the condemned house when they decide to confront Pennywise. As the group seems about to fracture Bill walks towards the front door and speaks about a different kind of ghost, that of his little brother, which haunts his parent’s home: the ghost of PTSD. He’s alluding to a reality that awaits him every day when he goes home, and we can see in our mind’s eye his parents shuffling about empty rooms struggling with memories that are more real that the tangible world. Bill looks towards this house that squats like a Lovecraftian horror and says, “I’d rather go in there than go home”. His friends immediately understand and rally around him: the bond cannot now be broken by pain or fear or suffering…because they have already faced the worst that a random universe can throw at them. It’s called Life.
I hesitate to mention subtext because I believe it’s hidden in plain sight: Beverly’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Her dominating father “You’re still MY girl, aren’t you Bevy? I worry about you a lot” and his perverse ownership of his daughter is one of the most troubling and frightening aspects of the entire film. When Pennywise wears the face of her father to instill debilitating fear she grabs a phallic symbol (spear) and shoves it down IT’s throat. Again, the metaphor is worn on her sleeve: she violently forces something down his throat, for once.
IT is a coming of age film that thankfully is quite unlike Spielberg’s or Zemeckis’ childish sentimentality. Instead of caricatures coming together to play-fight, we experience children suffering adult trauma discovering that in friendship and companionship this burden becomes a bit easier to bear. Muschietti elevates this to a child-like wonder and awe and doesn’t get mired in the morass of faux melodrama. He has made an adult horror film with children.
Final Grade: (B)

Monday, June 26, 2017

AUDITION (Takashi Miike, 2000, Japan)



A widower begins to surreptitiously audition attractive young women for a new role: potential spouse. But who is interviewing whom? Director Takashi Miike turns the horror convention upside down by delivering a deliberately paced psychological drama that walks the razor wire’s edge.
Shigeharu is a successful businessman and a lonely single dad who loves his teenage son; both are well-adjusted and bright individuals. Miike begins his masterpiece of sadistic horror by developing our protagonist as an empathetic and complex person; he refuses to allow clich├ęd melodrama to intrude upon the narrative. Though Shigeharu’s methods are morally questionable, his intentions are quite sincere. His mistake is in wanting to be a savior instead of seeking an equal partner, falling victim to his own male egocentrism which becomes a violent condemnation of Patriarchal mores.  He is intrigued by one specific applicant because of her honesty about her traumatic past, her triumph over adversity, and he focuses his attention upon the beautiful and seemingly delicate Asami. But he is being manipulated from the very first word, being reeled in like a prize-catch by a tormented young lady who is victim…and victimizer.
Miike holds our suspense hostage in a burlap sack while revealing subtle clues that question our heroine’s virtue. He utilizes flashbacks and flash-forwards to startling effect, not as a slick gimmick but to engulf us in existential dread, to feel the dark chill of the abyss nipping at our nose…and under our eyes…and tongue…fingers, ears, and feet. Asami plays her role perfectly as Shigeharu becomes the final act and the bloody stage her world. Yet, through the sadism, this cruel confusion of love and pain, we sense her victimization and can connect on some primal level to her suffering, a deep spiritual malaise that has habilitated her into a gruesome torturer. This should not alleviate Asami’s guilt but Miike isn’t concerned with questioning her motives; he wants us to experience her pain vicariously through Shigeharu, to confuse our emotional loyalties and discard easy personal judgments.
AUDITION is about power and control, the absolute authority that one human being can wield over another. Asami’s final breath exhales the delicate and fermenting vapor of the tomb, a genial acquittal, an unburdening of all responsibility, and we wonder if Shigeharu can ever bring himself to hate her. 
FINAL GRADE: (A)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

THIRST (Park Chan-wook, 2009, South Korea)


Sang-hyun has fled the flaming light of religiosity and discarded his anemic beliefs, victim of a desire that burns deep in his veins. He is a priest who tires of the vapid ritual of death, a man who wishes to help others who suffer needlessly: he trades the invisible Sacraments for physical sacrifice. He offers his body as a tool to cure the dreaded Emmanuel Virus: a tongue-in-cheek name evoking the lascivious soft-core film, as the pleasures of the body will lead to his downfall. 

Sang-hyun suffers the torment of the damned and dies with righteous intentions but is mysteriously resurrected. He is the only survivor out of 500 patients and is anointed savior, as true believers flock to his side awaiting his healing touch. Director Park Chan-wook finally does to Catholic, Inc. what the Church has repeatedly done to its own congregation. Park purposely plays with the standard vampire conventions by showing Sang-hyun reflected in mirrors and not averse to the cross, but then shows him hanging like a bat, peeping into the human world of lust, searching for his own garden of Eden. The film is darkly humorous, depicting a man without faith and a woman who never acquired it, and their mutual decline into an egocentric world of violence and ever-thirsting passion. 

THIRST is a morality tale, as the seductive Tae-ju pretends to be abused by her husband and convinces Sang-hyun to murder him: the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions. When he learns of the deceit, he again murders but this time reanimates their affair, as she imbibes his bloody Communion. Tae-ju sees a world full of sheep to quench her appetite but a final vestige of morality still infuses Sang-hyun and he fights these urges, promising never to kill for sustenance…but he’s already a killer. The ex-Priest must extinguish this mortal craving for a flesh and blood redeemer so he molests a young girl, destroying the misplaced hope of his followers: it is both a grim and perverted scene. Tae-ju’s nihilism versus his lapsed Catholicism leads them to a lonely cliff, the ocean beating its own life affirming rhythm against the rocks, and all becomes ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

Final Grade: (B+)

Monday, February 22, 2016

DYING ROOM ONLY (Philip Leacock, 1973, USA)

A married couple separated from the world (and each other) by a lost highway and endless dark sands, stalked by strangers in a strange land. Director Philip Leacock projects Richard Matheson’s domestic trauma upon the fragile tapestry of nightmare, weaving an infernal mystery that soon descends like a funeral shroud.
Jean and Bob Mitchell bicker and argue their way across the burning sands of Arizona towards their home in Los Angeles, their vacation now firmly in the cracked rearview mirror. Hostility broils between them like the desert heat but underneath is still the love and affection that hints at a happy marriage, buried by the shifting sands of time only to resurface like an artifact of some ancient ritual. As the sun bleeds upon the horizon and the road to home stretches like a long shadow, they stop at a tiny Diner and Motel that sits alone amid the wastelands of sage brush and cactus. This dilapidated haunt sticks out from the earth like a jagged bone, a compound fracture breaking dead skin. Within, two sweaty men ignore their requests for food and drink, good old boys up to a bad old time.
And here Matheson begins to create this dreaded frisson between our fears and our sense of a just world, turning reality upside down within a momentary lapse of unreason. Jean uses the restroom and in those few moments when she returns, her husband is gone. Her impatience soon turns to a surreal anxiety as the two men ignore her pleas for help or information, their smirks and winks an infuriating pretense that conceals the truth. These two men belittle Jean and make her feel like a stupid woman, their machismo a miasma that attempts to suffocate her femininity. In these neck of the woods (or desert, I should say) men rule with an iron fist and gut.  
Matheson’s tight script focuses upon Jean and her reactions to this taunting ridicule, as she tries to convince someone to help her find her husband. This complete desperation subtracts her humanity almost to the point of animal cunning, and it’s painfully slow to watch. Cloris Leachman as Jean delivers a powerhouse performance that is totally believable as she devolves from wife to victim….to survivor. Ned Beatty as the wretched antagonist is chilling in the desert heat, and this time he’s making someone else squeal and squirm. His eyes seem evilly playful like a child torturing a kitten only to deny this very fact when caught blood-red handed. Magnificent.
The final act races towards a gruesome climax as the secret is revealed in the heat of the night, as Jean and Bob fight not to become permanent residents of this motel Arizona. They stab it with their steely knives and hope to kill the beast. 
Final Grade: (A)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (Freddie Francis, 1972, UK)


“Heh, heh. Welcome, boils and ghouls! This is the Crypt Keeper, your host of horrors, and your gruesome guide through the Crypt Of Terror. Our film involves five foul fiends and their cadaverous cavortings. Sit back on your bed of nails and prepare for my nauseating novelettes!”

Freddie Francis, the cinematographer on THE INNOCENTS (1961), which is perhaps one of the most beautifully photographed ghost stories ever, directs this hodgepodge of EC Comics tales, only two of which actually come from the bloody fabric of the Crypt Keepers rag. EC Comics are considered the apex of horror genre with their O’Henry flavored twist endings, pugnacious puns, and outstanding artwork by legends such as Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, and Ghastly Graham Ingels! These stories are bound together as the characters wander a labyrinthine tomb with little memory or specific knowledge of their arrival. They stumble upon a dark chamber haunted by a omniscient monk (That putrid puss filled persona is not me!!-CK) who delves deep into their despicable past and divulges their deadly deeds. 

The best adaptation is the Christmas jingle AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE: On Christmas eve, Joanne Clayton murders her husband then hears an emergency broadcast concerning an escaped lunatic (an EC tradition) dressed as Santa. The story is layered with sappy holiday music and bright over-saturated visuals while the moribund suspense is deliberately unwrapped. REFLECTIONS OF DEATH concerns Carl Maitland, a husband who abandons his family for his paramour. Fate intervenes and a fiery crash leaves him wandering the darkness searching for home. POETIC JUSTICE is a neighborly valentine card written in blood; it really makes your heart skip a beat. Forever. WISH YOU WERE HERE is a slightly askew take on the Monkey’s Paw story that leaves us burning for more. And BLIND ALLEYS just wouldn't be complete without the razor wit in this dog-eat-dog tale.
 
The monk finally reveals that he is not warning them; they are condemned to an eternity of Hellfire. I still think that’s a bit harsh for Carl Maitland; after all, he was only an adulterer. By modern standards, TALES is not viscerally shocking but an amusingly ingenious and jugularly jocund cryptic collection. 

Final Grade: (B-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

WILLOW CREEK (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2014, USA)


A couple follow in the large footsteps of Gimli and Patterson and hike their way towards Bluff Creek, the location of the most famous Bigfoot footage ever captured on film in 1967. Writer and Director Bobcat Goldthwait’s “found footage” narrative may not be groundbreakingly original but it is effective in terrorizing it protagonists (and audience). Goldthwait also winks subtly at the true believers with a bestial sense of humor.
The plot is simple: Jim and Kelly travel to the Bigfoot capital of the world at Willow Creek to trace the steps of Roger Patterson and Robert Gimli in hopes of capturing evidence of the enigmatic and mythical creature. Jim is a true believer and Kelly the critical thinker and this causes some friction in their relationship which adds to their credibility as “real” and not “reel” people. Goldthwait smartly sets the parameters of this narratively constrictive point-of-view and doesn’t deviate from these rules. The film is shot with their single camera and depicts only what they decide to film and narrate; the audience is not shown anything outside of this context. Goldthwait also uses natural sound and eschews any score or musical soundtrack. Though the footage is obviously edited for the final presentation we are watching, there are no transitions that we expect in narrative film.
The characters are making their own documentary so a few stops by famous landmarks like the Bluff Creek sign or the Bigfoot statue in Willow Creek are filmed with Jim narrating. They often wisecrack on camera so this leads one to believe (from their perspective) that this was meant to be a personal film and not an assignment or job. And even though they may make jokes or have fun while on camera this is not at the expense of any of the locals they interview. In short, our protagonists don’t come across as assholes but with the foibles and sense of humor of people like us: it’s easy to forget they are actors but I couldn’t help but notice that Kelly was practically skin and bones, almost to the point of being unhealthy. To add to the verite of the spectacle, they interview locals who range from the non-believing skeptic to the local who gets a bit angry when Jim pokes fun at the Bigfoot statue. It gets downright nasty in the final act when they drive down the pothole damaged dirt road towards Bluff Creek and are met by a local who warns them to go home. He doesn’t need to say “or else” for Jim and Kelly to get the message.
We soon get the sense of how far out in the wild they truly are as the huge ancient trees blot out the sun and the thick underbrush is a living mass of thorns and briars blocking their path. They have driven for hours and hike all day until they set up their little tent. We get a nice surprise as Jim turns on the camera and proposes to Kelly and she responds with a very honest answer. Townsfolk have warned them to be prepared because they are in the middle of nowhere and they seem well set. But deep into the night they are awakened by strange knocks. In one ten minute unbroken sequence, with the camera on (and light briefly turned off) we are terrorized along with them. Grunts, howls, knocking, and a women’s crying haunt the dark. It’s unsettling and their responses are realistic. Kelly begins by believing it’s most likely the angry guy at the statue or a group from town, but soon the sounds become inhuman. And they are getting closer. Huddled together, footsteps crunch through the underbrush until someone(thing) shakes the tent and growls as if squatting a few inches away. The sequence is brilliantly acted and becomes practically unbearable if the viewer has fallen into the story thus far. When morning comes Jim still wants to find evidence and Kelly is hiking quickly back to the car. Even in daylight the people or creatures hoot and knock out of sight and throw rocks. In their fear they become lost and the film’s finale seems to happen in seconds. Night comes and they have no protection. Crouched together with a stick for a weapon, the unknown creatures close in. As they run for their lives the camera catches giant footprints in the mud and suddenly a naked woman, crying and dirty, looms from the darkness. The camera drops and we hear the gurgling last breath of Jim as he’s being murdered. Then Kelly’s scream pierce the dark. Jim must have the camera in his death grip because he’s dragged backward quickly and the camera is broken or turns off. Now the audience is left in their own blackness.
Bobcat Goldthwait has a wicked sense of humor. The film works on a superficial level and leaves one scared and perplexed as a good horror film. No needless explanations or epilogue required to detail how the film was discovered or edited together. We get just the story like a punch in the gut. But when we piece together some fragments it begins to make sense. RE: The poster of the missing girl in the Bigfoot diner in Willow Creek; The sexual jokes Kelly makes about Bigfoot’s dick; The joke about them copulating in the tent with the camera on; The fact that Jim is obviously murdered but Kelly left alive (as far as we know); And the fact that in two scenes the growling heard could not have been made by a person. Yes, one can believe it was entirely locals fucking with them but they went through an awful lot of trouble especially being naked in thorny underbrush. Here’s the joke: Bigfoot kills the males but keeps the women for sexual partners!
WILLOW CREEK plays straight by its own rules and is a successful horror film in that it delivers the scares if not the answers. The ending can be defined by the individual viewer which is often the case with cryptozoological evidence. For now, Bigfoot still remains a mystery for us. But Jim and Kelly know the naked truth.
Final Grade: (B)