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Scary Monsters and Midnight Madness

For many cinephiles, Halloween is a season, not an eve, and it begins today. Also: Wrapping Toronto's Midnight Madness program.
The DailyDracula

Mention October to some and revolution and Eisenstein will spring to mind. To others, it'll be the journal of art criticism and theory (whose latest issue, as it happens, concentrates on film and video). But for many more, it'll be "the arrival of coolth and crispidy after months oppressive heat and intrusive sunshine… the downward spiral of maple leaves from the tree tops, the wind in the willows, the shadow over Innsmouth, the silence of the lambs, the howling in the woods, I love every damned thing about this glorious but all-too-short season!" exclaims Richard Harland Smith at Movie Morlocks. And of course, what he especially loves are "all the shades of Halloween, from the ticky-tack gee-gaws on the shelves at CVS and Rite Aid to the widespread enjoyment of classical music (Camille Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre, Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue), literature (Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, Bram Stoker's Dracula), creaky old spookshows (The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Vampyr, The Old Dark House, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, Mad Love) and freaky old black-and-white cartoons…"

Somehow, over the years, Halloween has come to subsume the entire month of October. Today, Not Coming to a Theater Near You launches its eighth 31 Days of Horror, noting that "our growing archive of horror reviews shouldn't be regarded as an attempt at canonization, but rather one to discern the breadth and variety of one of our favorite genres in an exploratory fashion. This year, as is our custom, we will attempt to incrementally emphasize these two traits." They'll also be featuring two sidebars this year, "Frightening Firsts, a look at respected directors whose careers debuted with a horror movie, and Mexican Horror."

Bill Ryan opens his annual month-long series, The Kind of Face You Slash, with a consideration of Stoker's Dracula and what filmmakers tend to take from it as well as what they leave behind. And Arbogast asks, "Who better than Mr Vincent Price to lead us into 31 Screams 2011?"

Monsters in the Movies

John Landis has a new book, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares, and the Independent's Arifa Akbar asks him to pick out some of the landmark films of the genre.

"If you prefer your gore served up with a heaping helping of campy humor, then the Blu-ray release of The Blood Trilogy will be right up your oddball alley," writes Budd Wilkins in Slant. This trilogy, out from Something Weird, would be comprised of Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen asks Lewis, "Did you consider yourself an artist?" HGL: "Certainly not. Good heavens. That would be the height of arrogance and stupidity. Art is not a factor. I really have some compassion but also a good deal of contempt for people who make this kind of movie and regard themselves as artists. Art is really not even a secondary factor, it's a tertiary factor. Showmanship, now that's a different story."

I've already rounded up reviews of The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) in the entry on this year's Fantastic Fest, but with IFC Films set to release it on Friday, Dave Itzkoff talks with director Tom Six for a backgrounder in the New York Times: "In a tradition of horror films that have been banned in countries around the world, from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the Hostel series, The Human Centipede 2 is fascinated by the contents of the human body and unflinching in its depictions of them. And like A Clockwork Orange, withdrawn from release in Britain by its studio and its director, Stanley Kubrick, amid fears that it was spawning copycat crimes and worries about Kubrick's safety, Mr Six's film is concerned with how on-screen violence can lead to imitations in real life. But most fundamentally The Human Centipede 2 is, like its predecessor, about a man who kidnaps people and stitches them together, mouth to anus."

Meantime, there'll be Halloweenish festivals coming and going throughout the month, but let's go ahead and mention that the Mile High Horror Festival runs in Denver from October 7 through 9. It's also high time to wrap up at least one section of last month's festival in Toronto, Midnight Madness. We already have roundups on Gareth Evans's The Raid here and Adam Wingard's You're Next here; here's some of what's been said about the other films that screened in the program:

"Part of the feisty wave of French extreme horror directors, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo brought their striking debut feature Inside to the festival four years ago, and the film has lingered for its resourcefulness and intensity," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Maury and Bustillo go bigger with Livid, which keeps the action similarly confined to a single setting (mostly), but otherwise expands into the supernatural gothic of a haunted house movie."

"A radically different film than Inside, Livid plays as a sort of giallo-influenced gothic fairytale," suggests Todd Brown at Twitch. "It's a movie of impulses and feelings more than logic, one that operates in a sort of dream state, and one packed to the gills with gorgeous visuals and interesting ideas. Unfortunately it also seems that once the energy had been spent creating and developing those ideas there wasn't quite enough left to properly construct characters or a story that would really drive them home."

In Variety, Rob Nelson finds Livid "so eager to go over the top that, in the end, it doesn't make much sense," but for Nicholas Bell, writing at Ioncinema, "it's a fun, creepy tale that echoes Argento's Suspiria. It also proves that Bustillo and Maury have a predilection for scissors and young brooding women terrorized by creepy, supernatural female forces."

"As early hints give way to irrefutable evidence that evil lurks in the childhood home of the title character in Lovely Molly, a question arises," suggests David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. "Given the recovering junkie's ugly history in that isolated house, which her sister also experienced first-hand and her husband is presumably aware of, why did anyone think it was a good idea for the newly-weds to move in? Probably because if they didn't there would be no movie. If you can ignore that thought, Eduardo Sanchez's return to the territory of The Blair Witch Project is another unsettling slice of gripping first-person horror."

Todd Brown in Twitch: "Sanchez turns it what is arguably the finest film of his career with Lovely Molly, a deeply unsettling character study of a woman slowly coming apart at the seams, unable to shake the belief that she is being haunted — possibly even possessed — by the ghost of her abusive father. Sanchez goes straight to the heart of Molly's secret trauma, tackling the incredibly difficult subject matter head on and playing the consequences of it out in shocking fashion, Molly slow cycling farther and farther out of control until she becomes a threat to all around her."

More from Justin Chang in Variety and Eric Kohn interviews Sanchez for indieWIRE.

"Is it time to start taking Bobcat Goldthwait seriously as a director?" asks Tim Grierson. "That question may seem like a joke, but with his latest film, God Bless America, it's becoming increasingly clear that the former standup comic and Police Academy star is trying to deliver oddly subversive indie films where the broad laughs are on top and the interesting ideas sit underneath. God Bless America isn't a great movie — OK, it's not even a good movie — but it's a genuinely thoughtful one. Very few people would have expected such a thing from the guy responsible for Shakes the Clown."

It's a "candy-colored killing spree by an unlikely pair of moral rebels," according to Michał Oleszczyk at Fandor. "They're mad as hell, they're not going to take it any more, and they're hilariously over-articulate in their non-sexual union. The movie plays almost like an off-beat version of Joel Schumacher's Falling Down — its moral outrage less self-righteous, but just as sharply pointed."

More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing, 8/10), John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), John Fink (Film Stage, B+), Kurt Halfyard (Twitch) and Drew McWeeney (HitFix). Miranda Siegel talks with Goldthwait for Vulture and Jason Guerrasio has five questions for him at Filmmaker.

"There's been a lot of good criticism about action movies lately," notes Matt Singer at IFC. "Matthias Stork and Jim Emerson's 'Chaos Cinema' and 'In the Cut' video essays have got people asking the question: what makes a good action movie? I've just seen the answer; it's a French thriller called Sleepless Night. Without being didactic in any way, it is action movie as criticism of action movies, leading by example in an era of incoherent films with stale aesthetics."

Sleepless Night "stars Euro action hunk Tomer Sisley as Vincent, a crooked Parisian cop who hijacks a big drug deal and makes off with a lucrative tote bag of cocaine, only to have the young son he neglects kidnapped by a local gangster who wants his stash back." Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily: "Already slated for a Hollywood remake (paging Liam Neeson), the film's calling card is its relentless action. It never stops. Director Frédéric Jardin situates everything in a sprawling nightclub that becomes a kind of rat's maze for Vincent, as he tries to rescue his son while being chased by or chasing the mob boss who owns the joint, the drug dealers who bought the cocaine, the good cop who wants to bust him and the even more corrupt cop who wants to kill him, and everyone else he's pissed off, which he manages to do constantly. And, oh yeah, he's slowly bleeding to death from a stab wound suffered in the heist."

"Shot by Eastwood DP Tom Stern, Sleepless Night has a gritty, no-frills quality that is refreshing in an era in which so many genre films are burdened down by gimmicky camera tricks," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. More from John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), Todd Gilchrist (Playlist, B+), Kurt Halfyard (Twitch) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE).

"The debut feature of high power music video director Alexandre Courtes, The Incident unfortunately carries with it all of the weakness — and strengths — stereotypically ascribed to video directors making the step to features," writes Twitch's Todd Brown. "As far as strengths the production design, lighting and atmosphere are all excellent…. As strong as The Incident is on a technical level, however, it stumbles when it comes to story and performance."

"As power is cut off in an ominous concrete insane asylum in the middle of nowhere, the inmates get violent, turning the premises into one big Precinct 13," explains Michał Oleszczyk at Fandor. "Eons away from the political immediacy of such snake-pit classics as Shock Corridor, The Incident presents itself as an existential ordeal, even as it relishes in a campy sense of exaggerated violence turned into vaudeville."

Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope: "Those of us who thoroughly enjoyed Takashi Miike's recent 13 Assassins but were a bit nonplussed by its overall normalcy may well consider Smuggler something of a transmission from an alternate universe, a place where the basic ingredients of a solid-state studio picture really can exist side by side with bugfuck lunacy. [Katsuhito] Ishii has been just on the verge of becoming a major Japanese filmmaker for the last several years; with Smuggler, all the pieces are in place for a complete breakthrough."

"A post-apocalypse survival tale that cares far more about tough-guy posturing than believability or logic, Doug Aarniokoski's The Day sports enough violence and name recognition to stand a chance in theaters but is unlikely to please the genre's most discriminating fans," writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Shot in a palette so drained it's nearly monochrome, the movie follows a quintet of travelers who hole up in an abandoned farmhouse while hunting for food and trying to avoid roving cannibal clans." More from Alissa Simon (Variety).

"The future of British cinema has rapidly become the present, as the promise of [Ben] Wheatley's wild 2010 debut, Down Terrace (a kind of low-rent Sopranos in Brighton) is fully realized in the insane and terrifying Kill List." Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson: "Like Down Terrace, Kill List is a genre mash-up, beginning as a darkly comic kitchen-sink affair in the form of verbose improvisatory domestic scenes: two couples have gathered in the suburbs for dinner, and soon the dinner party veers into the territory of emotional violence."

"The plot weaves unpredictably," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "getting more shocking and tense in its final third, before ending with a scene that… well, I'm still not sure what to think about it. I've read some theories on-line about what the ending literally means, whereas I saw it as more metaphorical, and as such felt it was unearned. Either way, any time a genre movie keeps the audience guessing, has them averting their eyes frequently, and leaves them arguing in the lobby, I'd call that a success. This is one movie people are going to flinching at and talking about for some time to come." Earlier: The September 2 roundup.

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