Sunday, May 22, 2022

Shudder Folk Horror Movies Thumbnail Reviews Batch Two

I’m not sure how much longer the Folk Horror collection on Shudder will be available, since Shudder rotates its titles fairly frequently. In any case I’ve enjoyed watching all these movies, even the ones I didn’t like much. It was a fun project. The term “folk horror” feels pretty broad at times as a descriptor for all these films, but nothing I watched seem to fall outside the concept, which ultimately makes it pretty effective as a term for thinking about the subject matter and themes of these films.

The Wicker Man, British, 1973 (5 stars): Still often called the best British horror movie ever made, and I’ve not seen anything that makes me disagree. I have a DVD box set of this movie. Nearly every moment is beautiful; nearly every moment is eerie and disquieting, and the pervasive discomfort just keeps building. As a viewer, you always know something’s wrong, but the film is so surprising and original that you never know what it is. By the way, the hugely popular 2019 film Midsommar borrows tons from this movie and I haven’t seen anybody else note that. And I can say this and viewers still won’t know what to expect from this movie.

Il Demonio, Italian, 1963 (4 ½ stars): Surprisingly and effectively, this movie splits the difference between an Italian neorealist film and a horror movie. Set in a convincingly disturbing rural environment, the movie depends on Daliah Lavi’s outrageous and compelling portrayal of a out-of-control character who often turns out to be less disturbing than the more ordinary people around her. The movie’s not scary really, but it sure is disconcerting. Also, there’s a scene in it that’s the basis of an infamous scene in the director’s cut of The Exorcist. The scene was probably cut from The Exorcist for good reason, but the original in Il Demonio is riveting.

Kill List, British, 2011 (4 stars): This movie is even more brutal than its brutal trailer would lead you to believe. But it’s also a much better movie than the brutality might lead anyone to suspect. The situation is off-kilter and disturbing, the characterizations are effective, and even if one has a general sense of what way the mysterious elements of this film are going, I myself didn’t really see the ultimate turns coming. There’s more than a little Tarantino influence here, but this movie is really doing its own thing. I’m not kidding about the brutality though, so consider yourself warned.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw, British, 1971 (3 ½ stars): The term “folk horror” was originally used by reviewer Rod Cooper in describing this movie. It’s quite enjoyable although much of the story is ridiculous and the psychology of it paper thin. Good atmospherics and tone carry the day so that the action doesn’t become too ludicrous to bear. The atmospherics of this movie are quite foundational in terms of many horror movies that follow it, including The Wicker Man, so it’s an essential folk horror watch despite moments that might make you laugh derisively.

La Llorona, Guatemalan, 2020 (3 stars): There are some things to like about this movie and a lot not to like so much. Director Jayro Bustamante borrows heavily from Guillermo Del Toro, but as much as I like the idea of setting a horror movie in a rich historical and political context, the movie takes the worst part of Del Toro (and the reason I’m not a fan of Pan’s Labyrinth): a heavy-handed political moralizing that precludes much surprise. At every moment, this movie tells us exactly who is bad and for what reason and in what degree and then proceeds to sledgehammer its agenda into place. There’s a good sense of mood, good acting, and some memorable and at times chilling visuals, and those things help lift it above its dull and obvious moral lecture.

Dark in August, American, 1976 (3 stars): The first hour of this movie is quite good, a four star effort that establishes intriguing characters and a striking rural setting. J.J. Barry is an original presence as the main character. But then there’s the rest of the movie.

Clear Cut, Canadian, 1971 (2 ½ stars): Graham Greene is such a compellingly watchable actor that he almost pulls off the two-dimensional character he plays He also overwhelms the mediocre performances by the other actors. The plot, about a land struggle between white Canadians and indigenous people, has all of the expected features but not much more. I like it when horror gets political, but that like anything else needs to be done well. The film is supposedly controversial because of the stand it takes that sometimes violence might just be the best response to oppression, but I didn’t care enough about the white characters to be concerned at how badly they were beating treated. Don’t more conventional slashers also suggest that it’s tremendous fun to see stupid arrogant assholes get sliced and diced and that the world is a better place when they’re gone?

Tilbury, Icelandic, 1987 (2 ½ stars): The flat acting and lack of convincing action were on some level an important part of this odd little film, which tries to combine the presence of an ancient horror with a historical drama of World War II Iceland during a period of occupation by supposedly friendly British and American troops. The disjointedness made the action difficult to care about, so this movie survives on its weirdness mostly, and it was often weirder than I was expecting, with some scenes that are surrealist not in a loose sense but truly.

Roh, Malaysian, 2019 (2 stars): Sigh. I was rooting for this movie when I started watching it. But the story was verging on absent, and the mythology was general and vapid: bad things happen to bad people, and even the possible twist that everyone might be bad couldn’t save the slow scenes, the barely comprehensible narrative turns, and the lack of strong atmosphere. A lot of the story revolves around a mother failing her children, or supposedly failing her children, but I’ll be darned if I could ever figure out what it was she was supposed to have done. Apparently she became a bad mother right when her husband died, or was being accused of being one from that moment, not that the story ever resolved or even really approached an answer to what had created the problem.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Last Time I Saw These Copies of Thomas Pynchon


These rank among the most life-changing books for me. Now that these copies are falling apart, I wanted to photo them and comment on them before the copies (not the books themselves) exit my life.

I first found out about Thomas Pynchon in a graduate class taught by William Spanos (RIP) on Postmodern Fiction at SUNY-Binghamton. We really did read Gravity’s Rainbow, over at least two weeks if I recall, although I don’t recall, not entirely. Other books we read in that class included Calvino’s On A Winter Night a Traveler, Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and Borges’ Labyrinths. I loved most of the books in that class, but right now I don’t remember the others.

But Pynchon, wow. Gravity’s Rainbow sent me into another universe of possibility entirely. The politics, the open-ended quality, the nearly impossible combination of humor and seriousness, the huge geographical and historical worldview. Not long after, I published my first work of fiction on the graduate level (I had published some stories in undergraduate magazines). It was called “The Last Time I Saw Thomas Pynchon,” a series of vignettes in which I as narrator encountered Pynchon as character in a series of absurd, urban, postpunk environments (I was very much a postpunk at the time) and he told me things I needed to know.

I picked up and soon read V and The Crying of Lot 49 as well. At that time, Pynchon hadn’t published a new novel in more than 15 years, so this was the era when these three books, and the short story collection Slow Learner, were all the available Pynchon fiction there was, the later avalanche still unforeseen. He was sometimes referred to in print as a 60s satirist whose half-earned moment of fame was long gone.

Anyway, I’m wishing these near-pulp editions goodbye. They have long since pulped themselves. I suppose, human or book, sooner or later we all pulp ourselves, although some pulp gets under our skin a lot deeper than others. In fact it’s just as I write this that I remember one scene from my now lost story “The Last Time I Saw Thomas Pynchon”: he as character and me as narrator met at a garbage dump, where he told me that I could learn more about people’s lives by going through their garbage than by looking at the objects they kept in their houses.

To prove his point, here’s some garbage of mine.