Tuesday, September 02, 2014
      ( 6:39 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Just look at that. When you start watching a Hayao Miyazaki movie, you see these gorgeous backgrounds and the unique, beautiful animation style and everything else is just gravy. It could maybe even be a bad story, the unique filter of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli would make something trite into something surprising and extraordinary. But last year's The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ), while it's far from Miyazaki's best film, doesn't present a trite tale. It's much too bold, despite a somewhat lukewarm third act. It's about the intrinsic value of beauty and the obsessive nature of artists.

Werner Herzog has a small role in the English language version of the film which is somewhat appropriate as the protagonist, Jiro Horikoshi, who was the real life designer of the Zero fighter plane, is almost like a Herzog protagonist; possessed of an unwavering focus and a poetic sensitivity.

If you're learning Japanese, as I am, one word you'll definitely learn watching the Japanese version of this movie is "美しい", "utsukushii", "beautiful"--Jiro uses the word a lot to describe aircraft designs and dreams. Airplanes are "beautiful dreams" says famed aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni in Jiro's dream--though Caproni says it's actually his dream and in the end settles for saying that it's their shared dream, a rather nice way of describing the shared passion of the engineers.

One flaw in the film is that the tension between Jiro's apparent belief in pacifism and the use of his designs as weapons of war are never really directed confronted. Though the movie begins with a fantastic sequence where Jiro, as a little boy, dreams of flying a plane of his own design and looking up to see the sky slowly filling with demoniac bombs.

The war takes a more peripheral place in the third act which focuses more on Jiro's wife slowly dying from tuberculosis--which did not occur in real life. It was Hayao Miyazaki's mother who had tuberculosis. Much of the Jiro of the film is based on Hayao's father Katsuji Miyazaki who ran a company that made parts for the Zero fighter during World War II. Scenes of Jiro and his wife are about as sentimentalised as one might fear encountering in a work about the artist's mother and father. But even in these scenes, beautiful designs and animation make the film well worth watching.

In light of the fact that his film version of Jiro was based somewhat on his father, it's fascinating that Miyazaki personally asked Hideaki Anno to provide Jiro's voice for the Japanese version. Aside from some scattered cameos, this was Anno's first film as a voice actor. He's a director of both animation and live action films, best known as the primary creative force of the anime studio GAINAX and the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He and Miyazaki are old friends--Anno having animated scenes for Miyazaki's 1984 film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

It makes sense to cast a director and designer as Jiro. Though one is tempted to read more into it than that when considering Shinji, the protagonist of Neon Genesis Evangelion, was psychologically deliberately modelled on clinically depressed Anno and was portrayed as insecure, self-loathing, and tortured by guilt relating to the death and destruction wrote by his role as pilot of a machine of war. Miyazaki's Jiro, on the other hand, is a young man of strange calm and clear-sightedness during catastrophe. One of the best scenes, early in the film, shows Jiro without hesitation carrying a young woman, a stranger, with a broken ankle during an earthquake, all the while assuring the woman and her sister that he'll see them through. There's something rather beautiful about Miyazaki conferring the respect he feels for his father to Anno, who's twenty years younger than Miyazaki. In this, Miyazaki is strangely being for Anno both a comforting authority and an admiring fan. To me, it seems to imply Miyazaki's confidence in the perennial value of art.

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Monday, September 01, 2014
      ( 2:25 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Too often the reward for doing what's right is chaos and death, even if one succeeds. Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame's characters in Fritz Lang's 1953 noir The Big Heat both find this out though they both start out at two different sides of the moral tracks. Even as films noir go, The Big Heat creates an exceptionally sinister and realistic world and is a captivating portrait of brutality and futility.

Debby (Gloria Grahame) is introduced at the beginning of the film but after that we don't see much of her until halfway through. Nevertheless, her character is the more memorable of the two leads--her boyfriend is Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), a gangster and second in command to Lagana (Alexander Scourby), who essentially runs the city. We see that he even has the police commissioner in his pocket. But Debby doesn't really care--guys come by the apartment and talk business while she enjoys being adored.

When Lagana drops by, he walks in on Debby hopping around holding a little bamboo cane in a childish display for the men. Her whole life is like being a three year old at a big family Christmas party. Feeling safe in the vague security that the grownups are keeping things under control with their impenetrable discussions, she's happy to be the superficial diversion. Then she sees Bannion (Glenn Ford) beat up a guy for robbing a woman and her boyfriend at a bar.

She doesn't seem to know why, but she follows Bannion. She goes up to his hotel room and doesn't quite seem to know what to do. She sits on his bed.

Bannion's a recently suspended police detective--they took his badge but not his gun because, as he tells the crooked commissioner, he bought the gun himself. Unlike Debby, Bannion holds himself as the ultimate authority. He enjoys beating up uncooperative witnesses. It's a good thing he has an improbably perfect wife but his M.O. is part of the reason he's living alone in a hotel room by the time Debby meets him.

Debby gives him information to help him in his one man investigation. Then she goes home to Stone who burns off half her face with a pot of coffee for talking to Bannion.

So now she's never going to be the doll again--she got mixed up in the business she'd always avoided understanding and the fruit of knowledge has gotten her expelled her from the paradise of ignorance.

One could say Debby works as a larger commentary on women's liberation, the difficulty of the road faced by women who attempt to transcend their prescribed, objectified role. But considering the parallel in Bannion's story, the idea is bigger than that--it's about the terrible costs of self determination for anyone.

Twitter Sonnet #661

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Reflections see the loneliest selfies.
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Cloudy clock hands envied the scissors once.
No more newsprint for hat lining augments.
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Unlearned lasagne negates its strata.
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Nature encouraged a tuning fork vice.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014
      ( 6:23 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Is this the hair of a rich woman who wears a stupid wig all the time? This is the wig:

Her real hair may be a little grey but she's got volume and she's not balding. There's no reason she should look like a mannequin of a flight attendant from the 60s.

I'm talking about Ellen Hillingso as Charlotte on The Bridge (Broen/Bron), a crime drama that began airing in 2011. I'm four episodes into it. I guess it's what I'm watching now that I'm done with Breaking Bad though I've also been kind of watching through the second season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000--I don't think I've ever watched MST3k completely in sequence. It does help one appreciate the running gags, like the continual impressions of Lloyd Bridges saying, "By this time my lungs were aching for air!" But The Bridge I hadn't seen at all or its American remake--the original series is a Danish and Swedish co-production, this apparently related to the subject matter as the show begins with a corpse cut in half and left by the murderer on the bridge connecting Malmo and Coppenhagen. It turns out what appeared to be one body is halves of two bodies, the top portion belonging to a wealthy politician and the lower belonging to a vagrant.

Charlotte is actually only a minor character--the show centres on Danish police detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and Swedish police detective Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) whose curiously pragmatic behaviour seems to indicate she has Asperger's. She doesn't hold even the slightest grudge and engages in sex as casually as most people buy coffee. She actually reminds me a little of Agent Cooper on the early episodes of Twin Peaks making me wonder if he was meant to have Asperger's at first.

It's an engaging enough series. The killer, who's dubbed by the press a "Truth Terrorist", seems to be making a point about the divide between rich and poor more than about the relationship between Sweden and Denmark. But while a variety of homeless minor characters are established, the show is primarily a procedural so far focusing on the relationship between Martin and Saga as he, a cop who relies on instinct and sensitivity, learns to collaborate with the strictly rational Saga. It's an interesting version of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. Mulder and Scully are characters from a 1990s series called The X-Files about a couple FBI agents investigating paranormal phenomena. It just occurred to me I ought to explain that because in my media communications class a couple days ago the teacher asked everyone in the class to name their favourite television series and when I said, "Twin Peaks" no-one, including the teacher, had heard of it.

Two thirds of the class said Breaking Bad, by the way. There doesn't seem to be anyone who doesn't like that show. Other answers included The Kardashians, various reality shows I never heard of, and one young woman, bless her, said Doctor Who.

So The Bridge sets up these dualities--rich and poor, Denmark and Sweden, logic and emotion. So far none of them have connected meaningfully but maybe they don't need to.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014
      ( 6:03 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I worry what I like about the new Doctor is going to be what turns everyone else against him--I like how quiet he is. I liked Matt Smith, but I really love how Peter Capaldi doesn't spin around all the time and shout a lot. The climax of "Into the Dalek", the new episode, felt almost like it was written for Smith, though. I think if the writers succeed, it'll be when they learn to trust Capaldi more to deliver very much with very little.

He seems older than John Hurt's War Doctor which is of course appropriate. Remembering that he's undergone a regeneration past the limit normally imposed by the Time Lords gives another dimension to the impression that the Doctor seems to be doing an autopsy on himself, or better, like he's the priest at his own funeral.

And I only just now realised that's what his costume looks like--a priest's cassock. Wrestling with the subject of morality in this episode, he almost seems like a Dostoevsky protagonist, Alexei from The Brothers Karamazov. This is what makes "Into the Dalek" more than just a retread of the Ninth Doctor episode "Dalek". Where that Doctor seemed too entrenched in his war perspective to hold a more complex view of a Dalek, the Twelfth can now really examine this part of his personality. I really loved the reference to the Doctor's more callous behaviour in An Earthly Child compared to the first episode with the Daleks. That the Doctor chose to see himself as the opposite of the Daleks, that they crystallised for him his own personality by being so simplistic themselves is a nice starting point for a rumination on what morality means if the epitome of evil isn't quite as "pure" as it would like to be. I could have done without the reference to "divinity", though.

The episode features the Doctor and Clara shrinking to go inside a Dalek, echoing my very least favourite Fourth Doctor story The Invisible Enemy but fortunately not falling into any of its pitfalls. The single biggest problem with "Into the Dalek" is the introduction of a new character, apparently Clara's future boyfriend and fellow school teacher, Danny Pink.

I don't mind the Doctor and Clara not having romance so much as the feeling on the part of the writers or producers that Clara must have a romance with someone. The show got along fine for decades with the Doctor and one companion and no explicit mention of romance. Why introduce a third wheel? That's all Danny's going to be, I can already see it, another Rory.

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Friday, August 29, 2014
      ( 4:53 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

What kind of a man abuses women? That's an important question in Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 film Frenzy and, unfortunately for Jon Finch's character, the police decide he's the kind of man who abuses women and pin on him a series of murders perpetrated by the "Neck Tie Strangler", so called because the victims, invariably women, are invariably discovered with men's neck ties around their throats. It's of course an effectively suspenseful film and darkly funny, the subjects of its humour being those who would try to impose order, by murder or lazy categorisation, on a very messy world.

I sometimes wonder how Alfred Hitchcock felt about critical claims that he was a misogynist. Frenzy may be his cinematic retort and one which shows how neatly the argument fits with two of his preoccupations; his "wrong man" style film and his recurrent, domineering mother figures.

Jean Marsh here plays the secretary of Jon Finch's ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), who runs a dating service. She confidently implicates Finch's character to the police when Brenda's strangled body is discovered with a neck tie. Marsh seems quite certain about what sort of man Finch's character is after she's heard him raise his voice to his ex-wife in the next room--and she prides herself on being an expert when it comes to men's psychology. Even the name of Finch's character, Dick Blaney, seems to condemn him.

He's seen here near a vehicle belonging to the famous British film studio, Rank, which did not produce Frenzy, despite it being beautifully shot in England. Hitchcock seems to have comfortably adapted at this point to the demands in the 1970s for more location shots. There's plenty of footage of Covent Gardens' now vanished produce market and the film opens with a spectacular helicopter shot over the Thames.

Jean Marsh isn't the only two time Doctor Who alum in the film--hiding from the cops, Dick and his girlfriend Babs (Anna Massey) run into Dick's old friend Johnny played by Clive Swift. The effusively affable fellow, the kind of character Swift excels at, convinces the two fugitives to hide in his apartment--all the while the three are shown as tiny, isolated figures from a great height, the vantage point, we soon see, belonging to the wife of Swift's character who doesn't believe in Dick's innocence one bit.

Hetty (Billie Whitelaw) isn't even convinced when another murder occurs while Dick is staying with them. But not every woman is Dick's enemy--he has an ally unknown to him in the wife of the Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) investigating the murders. She insists to her husband that Dick couldn't possibly be guilty. And she seems to have a good intuition--she knows quite well her husband doesn't like her cooking experiments which appear to be discarded fish heads and crab claws in melted butter.

The inspector never once complains so his wife really does have to rely on her instincts to know he hates what she's feeding him for his own good. The scenes of the two, one resolutely bearing up, the other cheerfully serving bizarre dishes just as resolutely, are long and have an effectively subtle humour especially as the scenes are used to divulge a great deal of exposition. Since both characters are in some degree controlling the events of the film, one wonders if the two aren't in some way a rendering of Hitchcock's relationship with his wife and collaborator, Alma.

The irritable and violent Dick is contrasted with his best friend, Bob (Barry Foster), an absurdly amiable fellow seen here getting along with his mother over an absurdly cheerful window box.

The biggest target of Hitchcock's humour is the killer. The neck ties as a phallic symbol seem to underline the killer's relationship with masculinity. Dick overhears a couple aristocratic older gentlemen in a pub teasing a woman about how the victims are raped--so there's a bit of "fun" first. The reality of the sloppily and angrily executed killings, particularly a scene where the killer is forced to hide on a potato truck and wrestle with a corpse for a lapel pin he'd accidentally left on on his victim, reveal this man motivated to dominate women as the pathetic creature he is.

Twitter Sonnet #660

Broken maracas sting across concrete.
Pink and ice washed petals dim with dusk's spring.
Clutching reddened tent curtains cats compete.
With a smashed iPhone the e-mail can't sing.
Unopened mountains maintain the storeroom.
Fish hook raindrops snag on summer snowflakes.
Aimless aphids dance slow under mushroom.
Desolate blankets hold shiitake cakes.
Shaved guitar ghosts drift through the western hall.
Squirrel eaten fruit indicates the truth now.
A space monster hatched in the great red ball.
Apollo burned Excelion's port bow.
Mirror spirals season the cinnamon.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014
      ( 5:34 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

To sleep! perchance to dream:—ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,—
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns,—puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

This famous speech from Hamlet appears in John Ford's 1946 film My Darling Clementine where it is recited partly by Doc Holiday as played by Victor Mature. Despite the way many people regard suicide, like noted meat head Henry Rollins in his recently published blog on the suicide of Robin Williams, Hamlet's soliloquy describes not committing suicide as cowardice, an acceptance of the commands of an exterior morality to prolong mortal suffering. Somewhat of an alternative to suicide, a death wish, is sought by Doc Holiday in popular fictional portrayals of him--it may well have been an aspect of the historical figure's personality given that he did live with tuberculosis. Ford's film is beautifully shot though unfortunately diminished by ham-fisted studio interference.

The title is of course a reference to the well known folk song. But it also refers to a character created for the film named Clementine (Cathy Downs) who is introduced rather late in the film as Holiday's true hearted love he's been avoiding since he became ill. He moves from town to town, involving himself in dangerous gunfights before finally settling in Tombstone where he manages a saloon.

The female lead of the film isn't Clementine but the unfortunately named Chihuahua, a Mexican singer and dancer played by Linda Darnell. She didn't fall for the virtuous young surgeon Holiday at one time was but with the cold, alcoholic gangster. But the film begins with the Earps, Wyatt here played by Henry Fonda.

The film creates new motives for the Earps, establishing them herding cattle westward before running afoul of rustlers who murder the youngest Earp brother and steal the cattle. The eldest Earp is played by Ward Bond who stands out in his supporting role with his booming voice and large frame. It's no wonder he's a recurrent figure in Ford's films, much like Monument Valley which here also makes an appearance.

It's very easy to spot the scenes inserted by the studio when the film switches from Ford's amazing, expressionist dark photography of arid western landscapes to flatly lit studio scenes where people say trite things. The worst is the very ending of the film which I won't--I guess the word is "spoil" but it begs the question of whether you can spoil what's already spoiled.

One probably couldn't ask for a better Wyatt Earp than Henry Fonda. His earnest and sensitive yet calm and watchful performance makes this very simple rendering of the character effective. All he wants is to avenge his brother and to see law and order maintained--despite the fact that he and Holiday immediately strike up a friendship which Ford and the actors convey without giving the motives for it in dialogue, a nicely subtle relationship unusual for the stratified depictions of good and evil typically portrayed at the time.

Mature's performance as Holiday is all right but one senses some vast untapped potential. The role would probably have been better off in the hands of John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart. I wrote about a film called Death Wish a few days ago which really didn't portray a death wish--I gather the novel on which the film is based did. Holiday in this film, who drinks heavily despite the fact that it worsens his condition, and is always ready to draw his pistol against the most dangerous gun fighters he meets, is a more accurate portrayal of a man who's always hoping that the axe will fall soon.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
      ( 12:22 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

It's hard being a teenager when sometimes adults just don't understand there's a huge, acidic pink goo rampaging through town and killing people. 1988's The Blog is a remake of the 1958 film and carries over the theme of alienation between adults and teenagers and raises the stakes, not just in terms of the Blob's deadliness but also in its portrayal of adolescent maladjustment. Primarily, though, its a delightfully surprising horror film.

The film replaces the infamously twenty eight year old Steve McQueen playing a teenager with two guys, Kevin Dillon and Donovan Leitch, in their early twenties. But in any case, they at least look like teenagers. Shawnee Smith as the female lead was a genuine teenager at the time of filming, at least, at eighteen.

The plot only partially hews close to the original, just enough to pleasantly add to shock value, actually, as deviations from the original story often come with examples of vastly improved, and more gruesome, special effects.

Supposedly the original Blob was meant to be a metaphor for the spread of communism, something I didn't at all pick up on while watching the film--the crawling gunk doesn't really resemble communism in theory or practice. In terms of the psychological effect on people in the U.S., it certainly wasn't teenagers trying to warn their tragically deaf elders about the threat. It's fascinating how communism manifests itself in some films of the 1950s because people who were afraid of it generally seemed willing to write about it without knowing anything specific about it. The best example in my mind being Samuel Fuller's Pick Up on South Street where Thelma Ritter gives a lovely soliloquy about how she has enough to worry about working for a living without communism getting in the way.

The 1988 Blob doesn't make this mistake although the political view it does espouse is hardly flawless. But I won't spoil it for you.

Kevin Dillon's character, a misfit biker, doesn't really have an analogue in the original film despite the fact that his biker archetype would be much more at home in the 50s. He actually works pretty well, wielding a few bitter jokes at the expense of the popular kids but not having his head up his ass as lazily written misfit characters often do, allowing him to exhibit compassion for a guy whose arm is being chewed off and even for a cheerleader.

I also should mention the film has a too brief cameo by Jack Nance playing the doctor who had a much larger role in the original film. It's a shame his character wasn't carried over more faithfully but on the whole the 1988 film is much more effective and much more fun.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014
      ( 5:11 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

This is a dragonfly I saw crash landed at the mall about a week ago. Not sure what was wrong with him.

Looking through a bunch of photos on my camera from the past couple weeks, I guess it's been a while since I transferred them to my computer. Here's a lizard hiding behind the sign of the Mormon church.

Probably best not to read into it. Though maybe I should since I just came from mythology class where I watched the video of Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell I'd first seen in high school almost twenty years ago. What struck me this time is how much of a struggle it seemed to be for Campbell not to say he didn't like Christianity much. Maybe he was just being polite to Moyers but his interpretation of the heaven and hell of Christian mythology being metaphors for inner states seemed pretty thin. He was so eager to talk about Buddhism and Hinduism which seemed to fit his conception of a philosophy that embraced nature and the incomprehensible so much better. The problem is the basic premise of the video is a little awkwardly misaligned. Here Joseph Campbell says all religions are telling you the same thing, and there Bill Moyers says, well, what can you do for Christianity then?

For my part, I agree with Campbell that myths, like any stories, have potential to be explored to valuable insight into human beings. But I'm not sure the similarities between all myths of the world are striking enough to regard as a great through-line of human existence. But I don't blame Campbell for that--his attempt to show mythology as a reflection of the human mind seems like it's been hijacked, primarily by Oprah Winfrey, as an argument for the existence of a supernatural world.

I didn't realise the "follow your bliss" line Winfrey always uses came from Campbell until to-day. I wish he hadn't used that word, bliss. "Follow your bliss" could be used to justify just about anything, from heroin abuse to unrestrained materialism.

I'm still at school now, in a little courtyard formed by the art buildings and a couple guys at the table next me sound like they're talking about role playing games, which reminds of this photo from my camera:

Thirty five years, that's my age, meaning Game Towne has been around about as long as I've been alive. It's certainly been around as long as I can remember, somewhat improbably given the fact that it was located in Old Town, a massive tourist attraction which made parking in the vicinity scarce, inhibiting any casual shopping at the place which sold Dungeons and Dragons modules, chess sets, dice, and a variety of other games.

Seems like a lot of nice stores are closing lately. The manga shop in Mission Valley that I've been going to for ten years closed a couple weeks ago and the book shop in Mitsuwa, the Japanese market, closed, though not before holding an 80% off sale. I bought a pile of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei manga. I asked the woman at the register if this was the last Japanese book store in San Diego and she said, "Oh, maybe. Closest is Orange County."

They're turning the part of Mitsuwa that held the bookstore into a tea shop and it's sort of fascinating watching the transition. I'm used to seeing one store in a lot close and then another open in its place a little later. In Mitsuwa, the tea shop appeared one day in the middle of the bookstore as a booth and slowly expanded. Until one day the lights were shut off in the bookstore even while one woman stood back there alone behind the register, still trying to sell the two or three books left on the remaining shelves.

Twitter Sonnet 659

Spiral shrinking web spun sweaters divide.
Pirouetting arachnid dames dive east.
Real cats and animal crackers collide.
Cinnamon and sugar make a good beast.
Quadruped quarantine contained no worm.
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Laundry starches sterilise the soap firm.
The normal old Otter Pop's a goner.
Unpacked chin messages'll take it on.
Time's no enemy to gin soaked anthills.
Names've never done favours for the fawn.
Mola Ram took purple hearts to Goodwills.
Campbell's morality is good serpent.
Repeat masks manifest mice run rampant.

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Monday, August 25, 2014
      ( 1:05 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Round up a bunch of pretty young actors, throw them in a big haunted house, and you have the description of a lot of movies and television shows. It's a cliché I've always been fond of for some reason, though. So despite the cheesy acting, directing, and writing, I enjoyed 1988's Night of the Demons.

Maybe it's just that the star of the film is dressed as Alice. Cathy Podewell plays Judy about as flatly as all the other teenagers who've gathered to party in the abandoned mortuary on Halloween night. They've been invited by misfits Angela (Amelia Kinkade) and Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) and the invitations are accepted on the premise that Angela is goth and therefore is likely to throw the best Halloween party in town.

The group parties to generic fake rock written for the film until the demons lying dormant in the building wake up and one takes possession of Angela. This leads to one of the film's most memorable scenes when the radio starts playing Bauhaus and Angela performs a private dance for Sal (William Gallo).

In spite of the general mediocrity, the lighting is actually pretty good--standard haunted house stuff but just the right amount of over the top.

The kids are picked off one by one based on implicit moral judgements on things they've said or done in the film in the tradition of most horror movies. Nothing is really made of Judy dressing as Alice but I enjoyed shots that quietly suggested scenes from Alice in Wonderland.

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