Tag Archives: psychedelic

House – Review

15 May

This may be one of the hardest reviews I’m ever going to have to write. House is a Japanese movie from 1977 that was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started as an experimental film maker and advertiser, but was asked by Toho to make a film that would resemble the American hit, Jaws. When Toho got House in return they were completely shocked and eventually pulled it from the theaters after it started doing well in the box office out of fear that people would think that this is the direction Toho would be going in. Is it as strange as this introduction has made it sound? Absolutely right it is, but that is just fine with me.

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Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is a Japanese school girl who invites her friends to come with her to visit her aunt’s (Yōko Minamida) house in the country. Her friends are appropriately named Prof (Ai Matsubara), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba). Each girl’s name represents their different personalities. When they arrive at the house, they all get the grand tour and are very happy with what they see, all of them looking forward to their stay. Unfortunately for them, on the first night strange things begin happening and one by one they all start to go missing. The house turns out to haunted by the strangest apparition you may ever see on film.

I really can’t give a a summary of this movie and make it sound interesting. It’s a very cut and dry narrative to look at written out. On the surface, it would seem like a stereotypical haunted house movie. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a head trip, psychedelic experience, horror film, and dark comedy all mashed together in one film. There’s a piano that eats people, a cat portrait that shoots gallons of blood across a living room, a pair of disembodies legs causing all sorts of mayhem, and of course, my personal a favorite: a giant head that comes out of nowhere with a warning to the terrified girls.

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The real draw to this movie is the in camera and analog effects that Obayashi exploits. He really does not hold back when it comes to showing off what he can do. What one needs to remember when they are watching House is that it is from 1977. A lot of the shots outside used matte paintings to make the world that these girls inhabit very surreal and other worldly. The images seem almost too beautiful and artificial to be real, and that’s because they absolutely are. A lot of the effects are also done with a blue screen which are very obvious to notice. Normally, this would be a detraction, having special effects that look unreal. For this movie, however, it works just fine. Nothing about this movie is supposed to look ordinary, so the effects look very cartoonish and silly. This adds to the whole dream like vision that Obayashi wanted, even though he even said he wasn’t too thrilled with some of the effects. I personally loved them.

For the times where there wasn’t a crazy special effects happening, there was at least one or two boring scenes of the girls just sort of hanging out. This makes the movie feel a lot slower than it should feel, especially with the subject matter of the movie. This could be on account of sloppy writing, since some of the jokes seem to stretch on too long or there are plain and simply scenes where nothing really happens. Another contributing factor to the pacing may be that there are scenes that are so ridiculous that when it slows down, the change almost seems jarring. One second, possessed mattresses are attacking someone, and the next the characters are sitting around talking and laughing. It feels weird to me.

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House truly is a one of a kind movie for better or for worse. Some people will call this a masterpiece when it comes to cult classics. Others will say that it shouldn’t even exist and that it’s a blemish on the history of film making. Personally, I don’t see how you could possibly ignore this. It isn’t perfect, but then again it isn’t really anything that can be classified or labeled. It simply exists, and it is up to the viewer to decide what they make of it. Trying to say that it’s good or bad wouldn’t be doing the film justice. House is just House, nothing more and nothing less.

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Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” Trilogy (Suspiria, Inferno, and Mother of Tears) – Review

27 Nov

Anyone who loves the ins and outs of horror knows and respects the name Dario Argento. As a director, he helped redefine the horror genre and made great contributions to the Italian style of giallo with famous movies filled with infamous scenes. His films are gory, gothic, and absurdly colorful, giving his style a visual trademark that isn’t soon forgotten. He may be best known for his 1977 film Suspiria, which I was going to review, but I got to thinking that I should review the whole Three Mothers trilogy, all of which are tied together through themes of black magic and covens.

Let’s start with Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria.

Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) has arrived in Germany to study ballet at a prestigious academy in Freiburg. Almost immediately, Suzy encounters several strange, almost surreal, occurrences that makes her begin questioning what is really going on with this school. With the help of her friend Sarah (Stefania Casini), she starts to explore the maze and unravel the mysteries of the academy which sends her face to face with the occult, a dangerous coven of witches, and their malevolent master, Mater Suspiriorum.

Suspiria is a psychedelic trip down a horrific rabbit hole that exists to disorient and confuse. The first thing anyone will notice is the brilliant cinematography which utilizes colors like I’ve never seen before. Hallways are splashed red and blue which mesh wonderfully into purple. This is just one example. Every color is brightly used and covers every corner of the darkened academy. It’s beautiful, yet in context, bizarrely unsettling.

The insane beauty doesn’t stop with the cinematography. The soundtrack provided by the band Goblin is unlike anything I’ve heard before and the camera movement is what makes everything so disorienting with strange low/high angles, the use of negative space, and camera tracking through the labyrinthine corridors. Mixing the soundtrack and the camerawork together is a perfect mixture for memorable art house horror.

The only detraction I can think of for this movie is the acting. It’s piss poor. One reason I could think of is that a lot of the film is dubbed because of the Italian actors. If not that, then the only reason I can think of is bad acting combined with not too great acting direction on Argento’s part. I could see how he would be so into the framing and cinematography that the acting would be a second thought.

Suspiria is easily one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s artistic approach in both sound and visuals, combined with the shameless gore makes this a horror movie for the ages. Plus, the opening scene is famous as being one of the scariest scenes in film. I recommend Suspiria for anyone and everyone. It’s unbelievable.

In 1980, Dario Argento released a thematic sequel, Inferno.

A mysterious book instigates Rose (Irene Miracle) to begin investigating her building for evidence of a witch. She enlists the help of her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), in Rome. At first, Mark is skeptical of the entire situation, but once he arrives in New York City, he begins to see this evidence of the witch Mater Tenebrarum, and also witnesses terrible murders and supernatural occurrences that pushes him to defeat this evil.

Suspiria is a tough act to follow, and to compare it with this film, Inferno feels pretty weak. While the story in Suspiria isn’t extremely solid, the plot of Inferno feels almost nonexistent. The working title could have been called People Run Through Colorful Halls A Lot. That sums up a great amount of time spent in this movie. I didn’t feel like the characters had too much of a goal up until the very end of the story. Having a plot that exists to confuse is good for certain genres, and this isn’t one of them. Leave the disorientation to the cinematography and camera angles, not the plot. It left me confused and a little aggravated.

Still, I can’t complain about this movie too much since it kept the same psychedelic atmosphere as the first film, and it does have memorable moments. One excellent example is showing a killer in the reflection of a broken door knob. It conceals the identity and distorts the image and is the most clever shot in the entire film. The colors once again mesh fantastically although it may have lost some of its effect after seeing it all before in Suspiria. It was still a very nice touch.

And of course, how could I forget about the horror and the typical Argento gore. While the scares may be a little underwhelming, they are still prevalent. Two things come to mind which I don’t really want to ruin: a makeshift guillotine and an awesome “transformation” scene that can be credited to Italian horror master Mario Bava.

So, while Inferno may not achieve the thrills put forth by Suspiria, it is still an above average horror movie that seems to sneak its way onto “Best Horror Movie” lists, and as it should. Compared with the drivel that passes for horror now, this is a masterful work of sight and sound (the soundtrack may even top Goblin’s work).

Finally, in 2007, Dario Argento released the last film of the Three Mothers trilogy, The Mother of Tears.

After a mysterious coffin is unearthed with a box-shaped urn chained to it, the find is immediately sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome. Once the urn is tampered with, a legion of demons led by Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias) are released upon the world. These evil creatures begin possessing the citizens of Rome, driving them to commit horrible crimes or go insane. After soon realizing a power that has been hidden for her whole life, art student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) discovers that she is the one the world needs to stop the final and most evil Mother, and save the world from its demonic apocalypse.

The first thing the viewer may notice is its lack of visual flair. Yes, it’s true. The colors that heightened the atmosphere of Suspiria and Inferno are nowhere to be seen. Instead, and what is a big improvement over Inferno, we get a coherent story! Yay! Also, the gothic architecture is still there and looks as menacing as ever, especially the Mother’s lair. It’s beautiful set design, and one of the best parts of the entire movie.

Look at the picture above. Ew right? Needless to say, the gore/violence is amped up to an obscene degree that even made me cringe. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the R-rated version, but I’ve read about the NC-17 version, and holy shit, it sounds crazy. Granted, it’s only about a minute of footage, but it sounds like its pretty hardcore. While the gratuitous gore was a dark joy to behold, the gratuitous nudity got to be a bit much. I’m not a stuck up guy who is against nudity in film. I don’t give a shit, but when there’s more than need be it gets to be kind of annoying. Kind of like Argento was like “LOOK BOOBS!” There was even a shower scene with Dario’s daughter, Asia. Hopefully a second unit crew dealt with that scene.

Finally, I’d like to touch on a few minor complaints. For one, the effects were a little lackluster. I’ve said before, small budget movies aren’t a bad thing, but you have to understand your limits. Some scenes with the goal to visually impress fell on their faces at times. Another problem, as with the entire trilogy, is the acting. Save for one small character, the acting is never really bad. Asia Argento is pretty stale, but shines at some moments. Unfortunately, she’s on screen for most of the movie and about 55% she’s a cardboard box. Pretty though. Very pretty.

Mother of Tears may not have the same artistic quality as Suspiria and Inferno, but it does push the story a lot better. In some ways it is superior than the previous two, but it’s mostly the weakest film in the trilogy. If you’re a fan of Argento and gore, then you should still check out this movie. It gets an undeservedly bad wrap. It’s pretty good.

There you have it, Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s weird, psychedelic, brutal, and most importantly, different. They aren’t like any horror movies you’ve ever seen before. It’s guaranteed entertainment and if you can get past some bad acting, then you’re in for a great time.

Beyond the Black Rainbow – Review

20 Sep

There are special movies out there that are so imaginative, so expertly made, so unbelievably complex that I feel paralyzed after watching it. I guess that makes me weird, but I don’t care. Proudly, I can say Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of these movies and was more than worth the wait.

 

The Arboria Institute promises happiness through a wide range of psychotherapy and pharmacology. A young girl Elena (Eva Allan) has yet to see any of this happiness. Her whole life has been spent in Arboria with the sadistic Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) toying with her psychological well being and crafting her into something mysterious. One night, Elena’s cell door opens and she begins an odyssey through the depths of the Institute for her only chance of freedom.

This is a very deliberately paced film. There is a lot of time spent taking in the atmosphere of Arboria, e.g the sounds, lighting, and what secrets other areas hold. Woven with in this is a story that is present even when it doesn’t seem like anything is going on. Paying attention to the details of someone’s facial expressions can add a layer of the story that wouldn’t be present if you momentarily drifted or stopped watching.

 

The soundtrack in this is incredible.  Jeremy Schmidt has created a fantastic mono score using only a synthesizer. It’s ambient and haunting, when need be, and perfectly compliments the scenes. Anything music that’s more cinematic or sweeping would have been too much. It’s the minimal score that really gets the mood across. Sometimes the only music for a very long time is this wave like noise that sounds like it could be one of the machines in the institute.

The look of this film is also one of a kind. Set in 1983, and hearkening back to the time of midnight movies, there is a great blend of actual early eighties style and the exaggerated science fiction look. Some of the set design looks like it could come right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clearly, Beyond the Black Rainbow got a lot of inspiration from that film. The incredible lighting effects and other special effects really stand out. When Elena first begins her escape, we see her ghosting behind her actual person creating this strong illusion of disorientation for the viewer.

 

It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine Arboria Institute. The entire mood of this film is very off putting and disorienting forcing the viewer to get caught up in its psychedelic web of mania, paranoia, and despair. After my first viewing of this, and I’ve watched it two days in a row, I thought, “Why?” What is Panos Cosmatos saying with Beyond the Black Rainbow? At this point, I’m still not 100% sure. There is a lot to wrap your head around, and a lot of questions that will pop up like weeds.

This is really a fantastic and unique film that demands a lot of patience and your full attention. It’s very slow, but very beautiful and the pacing is used to immerse you totally in what’s happening on screen. For me, this is a perfect movie. I’m sure other people can find faults with it, but I can not. It exceeded my expectations and gave me a ride that I will never forget. Tune in, tune out, drop in, drop out, and enjoy Beyond the Black Rainbow.