Sunday, March 13, 2016
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
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
“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-)