Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Who Can Kill a Child? (aka Island of the Damned, aka a whole shitload of other titles) (1976)

dir. Narciso Ibanez Serrador


"The world is crazy. In the end, the ones who suffer the most are the children. From war? The children. From famine? The children."
-Camera Shop Clerk

Living in close proximity to the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, I am all too aware of the dangers inherent in the rampant production of children, a phenomenon that has struck many a fair city in this great country. It begins with a few couples moving into an area that they have deemed a neat-o place to raise some young'uns. A few more couples follow suit. The area changes so slowly into a haven for family types that no one notices. A day-care soon sprouts up, pre-existing shops become more children friendly, specialty children shops open up. Before long, a vast army of determined, over-privileged, entitled yuppies hauls its over-privileged, entitled, yuppie spawn through town in an array of high-tech double wide baby carriages. What started as a few people arguing for the right to bring their children into bars, ends in a horrifying blood bath as the very same children they have brought here, overtake their masters and unleash a hellish carnage on the populace. [It's in Revelations, people!] Don't let this happen to you. Stop it before it's too late.

And so continues my tribute to evil killer children movies, a genre that achieved its greatest successes during the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Although long a distinctly American genre, many foreign filmmakers have broached the subject to varying degrees of success. This week I travel all the way across the Atlantic for Narciso Ibanez Serrador's Who Can Kill a Child?, a Spanish take on the subject. Adapted from a novel by Juan Jose Plans, Serrador's film takes its cues from the work of such artists as Alfred Hitchcock and George Romero. With a slow contemplative style, Serrador establishes a distinctive sense of place and characters before introducing the horror and ratcheting up the tension.


British couple Tom (Lewis Fiander) and preggers Evie (Prunella Ransome) travel to the remote Spanish island of Almenzora for a sunny carefree holiday. Although once renowned as a quaint vacation town, it is apparent that something has now gone terribly wrong here. There's a doin's transpiring, consarnit. A few friendly children greet the couple at the coast, but no adults are anywhere to be found. The few shops that Tom and Evie enter appear to have been deserted for at least a week. When they find a local adult, the Brits are informed by him that all the children here went crazy two weeks prior and murdered most of the adult townsfolk. Disturbingly, the children approach the murders with a fervent glee. To them it is a game. They even go so far as to string a man up and use him as a pinata. The blindfolded child swinging at him, uses a scythe instead of a bat to open him up and let free the treats inside to shower on the children below. [Holy Christ on a cracker, that is fucked!] No one has fought back against the children, however, because, as the man says, "Who can kill a child?".

What happens when a loved one becomes alien, becomes a killer? Is it possible to divorce one's feelings from previous objects of love? Who are capable of destroying those whom they have worked so long to protect? Much as in a Romero zombie picture, Serrador's characters constantly struggle with these questions. As viewers we are forced to identify with this struggle. Rather than functioning as a mindless bit of popcorn horror with the standard one-dimensional character body count (not that there's anything wrong with that); Serrador's film asks us to question the horror, thus making the proceedings that much more terrifying.


In the film's most chilling scene, Evie comes to the realization that her unborn child has become possessed by one of the children in town. Writhing in agony, she is helpless as the fetus destroys her from inside the womb. Tom can only watch in horror, as Evie collapses to the floor. [Holy Christ shit, that is fucked.]

Despite its outlandish genre trappings, Who Can Kill a Child? remains rooted in a realistic, almost documentary aesthetic. It takes its time in delivering the genre goods. Indeed, the first twenty minutes or so are devoted to the couple's mainland portion of their holiday. They become acquainted with the local people, customs and festivals before embarking on their fateful journey. Even when the couple enters the island, a large portion of the film is dedicated to their journeys through the deserted town in search of other adults. Although some modern viewers might find this measured meditative pacing boring, the technique works to set a distinctly unnerving tone. When the violence does start, however, Serrador proves a master of suspense. This is the movie that Hitchcock didn't have the balls (or good taste) to make.


Who Can Kill a Child? is not without its faults, however. The opening credits are set against a backdrop of actual footage, from the Holocaust on through the Nigerian Civil War, of people being killed in wars. A narrator mentions that children represent a disturbingly large percentage of war casualties. Throughout the course of the movie, it is made apparent what Serrador is aiming for in this sequence. The eventual rebellion of children against adults, acts as a sort of Karmic retribution for past wrongs done to children. They who for so long had no control over their fates, and suffered the most for the mistakes, crimes of adults have now determined their destiny and are wreaking vengeance on the grown up world. It is an interesting conceit, one that certainly elevates Serrador's work above many of the unthinking peers in this genre. Whereas most of these films are just excuses to show kids doing bad things and getting their inevitable comeuppances, Serrador digs deeper. He at least attempts to broach important issues, an admirable intent. Use of the actual war footage, however, just felt too heavy-handed and crass. It proved a very cheap/questionable way of setting the tone and eliciting a reaction from an audience.


Despite this flaw, there is no denying the power of Serrador's film. True to the era in which it was made, the horror here is unsettling in a way that many modern horror flicks don't approach. In terms of gore and brutality, many horror films nowadays go as far, and sometimes further, than the horror films of the golden age of the seventies. The difference, though, is context. Many of the horror flicks from this era erupted out of a visceral horrified reaction to the Vietnam War and thus acted as an indirect response to the conflict (or direct in the case of this film's use of actual Vietnam footage). Even the most outlandish horror films had something to say. And seeing as these films tended to follow a stripped down realistic aesthetic, they brought the horror home. As my roommate put it so succinctly after watching Who Can Kill a Child?, "That movie is fucked."

[I'm assuming this is the trailer for the German dvd release:]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Moe Is Their Leader

In case you haven't heard the news yet, the Farrelly brothers are making a Three Stooges movie with this cast:

Sean Penn as Larry



Jim Carrey as Curly


and Benicio Del Toro as Moe

Yep. That's something that's happening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bloody Birthday (1981)

dir. Ed Hunt


"Does anybody know what the word murder means?"
-Sheriff James Brody

Hollywood is quite bi-polar when it comes to depictions of children. In the majority of films, childhood innocence/ignorance is lauded, many times to a hilariously unrealistic extent. In many horror films, for instance, it is usually children (and dogs), because of their supposedly pure essence, who can detect evil and see ghosts. Is it any surprise that in such a faith-based country, our films so often idealize the blind unquestioning faith of the child mind, a mind that hasn't been warped by all that foolish book learnin' and skepticism. Too often are representations of childhood idealized and simplified. We project onto movie children, an unrealistic and perverse ideal that perhaps has never existed. The subject of childhood is rarely addressed in a nuanced or realistic manner.

Of course, some movies, possibly as a response to the Disneyfication of children so prevalent in more family oriented fare, have gone in the complete opposite direction. This backlash has resulted in a curious subset of horror films--the killer child movie. Although these movies experienced a heyday during the seventies and eighties, this subgenre began a few decades earlier. It is not surprising that the definitive killer child movie, The Bad Seed, was born in 1956, during the height of the baby boom. The genre that this film begat has fed into a subconscious fear that, despite our belief in children as innocent sources of virtue; they have the potential to be quite remorseless, murderous little shits.

What is responsible for all the violent kids in this horror sub-genre? The explanations vary from movie to movie. As we all know, real life scientific studies have proven that there are three sources of evil children: the ginger kid gene, all those damn violent video games that the kids seem to play nowadays, and that dangblasted rap music, with the hippin' and the hoppin' and the bippin' and the boppin'.


Ed Hunt's Bloody Birthday brings a new theory forward to explain the actions of evil children. Hunt's film theorizes that children born during solar eclipses are the spawn of Satan. Not just any solar eclipse will cause this phenomenon, however. It takes a special kind. As Birthday's protagonist Joyce Russell (Lori Lethin) explains in a convincing, purely scientific based discussion of the important fact-based science of Astrology; a specific solar eclipse in 1970, one in which Saturn was blocked behind the sun and the moon, has been the primary source of evil children. As we all know, Saturn is responsible for the human sensation of emotion. Thus, all children born during this particular eclipse have been deprived of emotions and have proceeded to develop into remorseless killing machines. Duh.

Bloody Birthday's trio of ten year old killers (born during the aforementioned eclipse) consists of the local Sheriff's daughter Debbie Brody (Elizabeth Hoy), Steven Seton (Andy Freeman), and the bespectacled Curtis Taylor (Billy Jacoby, whom you may recognize as the brother of Scott Jacoby, a B-List child actor from the seventies who starred in quite possibly the best made for TV movie of all time, "Bad Ronald"). As is the case with all evil children in this genre, these kids are just a little too perfect. No one would ever suspect them of anything nefarious.


It is astounding the extent to which the adults in this picture are oblivious to the true nature of the youngsters. When Debbie's mother is made aware that her precious daughter keeps a scrapbook celebrating the murders she has taken part in, Mrs. Brody is only too eager to buy li'l Debbie's story that the book belongs to partner in crime Curtis. [Wow, way to throw your accomplice under the bus.] Indeed, in the film's finale, Mrs. Brody proves the epitome of the codependent enabler. After the po po gets wise to the trio's murderin' shenanigans and hauls the two boys to the slammer, Mrs. Brody takes her daughter across country where they start new lives under assumed identities. If her daughter happens to slaughter the occasional trucker outside a roadside motel, well, that's just the price Mrs. Brody will have to pay for some good old fashioned family bonding. You can't keep an eye on children all the time, after all. They're gonna get into trouble. That Debbie, what a scamp. [SPOILER ALERT: YOU JUST READ A MAJOR SPOILER.]

Perhaps Debbie's older sister Beverly (future songstress Julie Brown) would have survived until the end of the film had she followed the clues pointing to her sister's guilt. Instead, she fell for the red herring that was the homecoming queen.

Of course, we never should have expected Beverly to put all the pieces together. As Debbie says of Beverly to her cohorts, "All her brains are in her bra." Despite Debbie's disdain for Beverly's lack of intelligence, however, she is only too eager to charge the neighborhood boys a quarter apiece to come view Beverly's "brains" through a peephole facing Beverly's room.


True to the era in which it was made, this movie is chock full o' women showing off their ta tas. Although usually associated with slasher pictures, gratuitous nudity graced many a movie in every genre during this period. It was a glorious time. [Boobies=awesome.] Going back to these movies always makes me nostalgic for a time in which, not only more nudity was shown on movie screens, but also, more importantly, more nudity from more natural bodies. As with the transition from physical special effects to CG effects, the move from natural to silicone breasts is a trend that has, unfortunately, proven almost irreversible. Both trends represent dishonesty to varying degrees. Just as CG attempts to fool us into believing that the actors actually interact with the various Computer Generated images, so does silicone attempt to fool us into believing that these actresses landed their roles through pure talent. But I digress.

Although not the gore-fest that were some of Birthday's contemporary horror pictures, this film does offer a few choice set-ups. In the film's first murder, for instance, a young couple necks in a cemetery at night (how romantic). Because the lady is afraid that peeping toms might watch them get it on, she convinces her man to find a more secluded area. Luckily for them, they find an open grave in which to fuck. Gee, nothing could ever go wrong here. You'll never guess what happens to them.

Although not quite as great as the seminal The Bad Seed (of course, no killer children movie has ever been as great as this one), Bloody Birthday certainly ranks high on the list. Despite an element of camp, and some unintentional hilarity, this flick does deliver the occasional scare. The three killers are genuinely creepy at times. Hunt scored legitimately decent performances from these child actors, a difficult feat in a regular ass movie, let alone a low budget horror flick. With Bloody Birthday you will believe that children can act.

[The awesome trailer:]


[A pretty neat fan video:]


Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Food of the Gods (1976)

dir. Bert I. Gordon


"It'll be great to be in the country again, and enjoy some of the open spaces that man hasn't screwed up with his technology. My father used to say, 'Morgan, one of these days the earth will get even with man for messing her up with his garbage. Just let man continue to pollute the earth the way he is, and nature will rebel. And it's going to be one hell of a rebellion.' Of course, I never took him seriously."
-Morgan

[Imagine this opening paragraph as spoken by Don LaFontaine] In a world where overworked pro football players need vacations, two sports stars travel to a remote island paradise in search of rest and relaxation. They come here looking for a fun and murder free weekend, but what Morgan and Davis find isn't fun. What they find is danger. Danger in the form of gargantuan killer beasts. What local farm-lady Skinner doesn't realize is that her food, the manna from heaven oozing from the hellish depths beneath her farm-land, is turning all living animals into unstoppable giant murder machines. It's now up to a rag-tag group of survivors: Morgan, Mrs. Skinner, a young man and his pregnant wife, an unsavory businessman and his assistant, and Morgan's PR man to stop these beasts. Stop these beasts before it's too late. Stop them before they eat any more of...The Food of the Gods. The Food of the Gods...From Hell.

Killer animals. Goddamn, it's been too long. As we all know, killer animal movies hold a dear place in my heart. And the only thing better than killer animals is ginormous killer animals. And ginormous killer animals is one thing that Bert I. Gordon's The Food of the Gods does not lack.

Gordon's film was borne of a time when a burgeoning environmental movement was just starting to warn the population of the devastating effects of rampant pollution. Unlike the pansy ass green movement we've got nowadays (one in which people are concerned about global flooding and environmental catastrophes) the proto-environmentalists of the seventies had the balls to tackle the real issues and consequences of environmental rape: giant motherfucking cocksucking killer fucking animals. Back then you coulda got your ass motherfuckin' ended by a six foot cock if you tried to make a fool of mother nature.

[Insert your own "man beats giant cock" joke here. Incidentally, this is the best filmic representation of a giant killer rooster since the Christian themed anti-drug scare movie from 1972 Blood Freak. Don't worry, I will review that movie in due time.]


Although I never read the H. G. Wells novel that this film is based on, I doubt that Wells' book is tinged with the same sort of environmental themes that Gordon's film addresses. [As my grandaddy always used to tell me, "book readin's for sissied-up hippie pussies. If you wanna get your culture on, go to the Broken Household Appliance National Forest down by the Crystal Lake. Pass the scotch."] I would hesitate to call The Food of the Gods a full fledged environmental picture, however. As opposed to a movie like Day of the Animals, the horror here is not a direct result of pollution. No explanation is given as to why the mysterious killer-animal-producing-food oozes up from Mrs. Skinner's farm. The goo, and resulting giant beasts, act more as a form of cosmic mystical karmic retribution--sissied-up hippie pussy shit. Because of such lines as the one quoted at the beginning of this piece, though, it is clear where the filmmakers' sympathies lie. Although they may not have had a firm grasp of the workings of nature or the effects of pollution, they did give it the ol' college try when attacking the subject, thus warning the population in their own charming way. The Food of the Gods is one in a long line of movies that should have ended with an off screen narrator pompously bellowing the line, "You've been warned!"

[Ralph "Mike Hammer" Meeker cowers like a bitch when confronted by oversized plastic wasps.]


The environmental message is not what Gordon's film is remembered for, however. If The Food of the Gods has any sort of legacy, it is as a repository of hilariously archaic special effects. If this film were to be remade (which it no doubt will be someday), state of the art CG effects would be used to render the colossal killer animals. I don't care how lifelike looking CG effects have and will continue to evolve, I will always have a fondness for physical effects. Sure the cheap puppets and green screen work here don't even approach the horror they attempt, but they have a certain charm that the cookie-cutter blandness of CG can't recreate. I also derive a certain amount of pleasure from the fact the actors actually wrestled with actual physical rubber monsters. It lends the proceedings a certain bizarre kind of authenticity. What we see is what the actors actually saw and worked with. And it is evident that all of those involved, particularly Gordon had fun with it. This after all, was Gordon's stock in trade. Something of a B movie legend, Gordon was the master of movies in which things were bigger than they should be (The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, and one of my favorites, Village of the Giants). Every director has to have a niche.

[Mother of mercy, is this the end of Ida Lupino's career?]


More than anything, The Food of the Gods deserves a place in the annals of film history for being a showcase for aging semi-stars. Movie heavy Ralph Meeker plays the aforementioned evil businessman Jack Bensington with delirious glee. Made famous by Kiss Me Deadly, Meeker spent much of the rest of his career working in Television (that is until Tom Verlaine replaced him with Richard Lloyd*). More importantly, The Food of the Gods was aging star/director Ida Lupino's second to last acting gig in a feature film (she played Mrs. Skinner). In her last film, My Boys Are Good Boys, she again worked alongside Ralph Meeker. [Incidentally, I may also cover this movie in a future post. Man, I love dollar store bargain rack dvds.] it is a credit to her professionalism that she tackled her role in this ludicrously laughable movie with the earnest intent of an actor in a high-minded drama. In a career that started with so much promise, both as an actress and a director, Lupino would end it battling huge fucking rats. It is my hope that Meryl Streep will one day end her career in half as awesome a fashion.

*[Wow, this post is chock full o' unnecessarily random references.]

[The Food of the Gods may be responsible for the most unintentionally funny horror trailer of all time:]


Dave's Rating:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Awesome Movie Trailers: Videodrome (1983)

dir. David Cronenberg


When done right, the movie preview is an art-form just as compelling, sometimes even more so, than the film it advertises. Because we are so often inundated with the same ol' generic clip reel/entire fucking plot reveal trailers, people often forget the potential for innovation that these little advertisements have. Case in point: the trailer for David Cronenberg's masterpiece Videodrome.



Containing compelling, if purposefully poorly animated, cartoon images (none of which appear in the film), it has the feel of an early eighties new wave music video. Over dancey electronica, the narrator tells us of a newfangled bio-electronic addiction called videodrome. No explanation is given for this videodrome thingy. No introduction to the story. No introduction to characters. Tantalizingly, though, it does offer us a few fleeting glimpses of two of the leads (James "Motherfuckin'" Woods and Deborah Harry). Abruptly enough, the trailer fades out with a robotic voice repeating the word videodrome.

Although I was too young to have seen this movie, or its trailer, in the theaters (I was three when it was released), I saw the flick many years later on the recommendation of a friend. It wasn't until a few years ago, after I had seen the movie many times, that I saw the trailer online. I was blown away. Had I been old enough at the time, and seen this trailer I most definitely would have been first in line to watch this picture. It is one of the best teasers I have ever seen. Watching this trailer, I would have little clue as to what might be contained in this movie, but I would know one thing. I would have to watch it immediately.

[Here is a more conventional trailer for the film:]

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

dir. Sam Newfield


"Little guys with big guns!"
-The Tagline

Alright, I'm gonna apologize right up front for reviewing a legitimately decent movie last week. That's not what this blog is for. I don't know what happened to me, whether it was a momentary lapse of reason or too much pcp, but I'll try not to do it again (not that I'm making any promises). I guess it goes without saying that I violated a sacred trust with my readers. This blog should be devoted to films filled with gratuitous violence, sex, and/or offensiveness; not well crafted fare with fully developed characters. Because of my quality movie indiscretion, I felt it necessary to cleanse the palette. In doing so, I didn't have to look any further than the "dear God, I can't believe someone actually made this" movie The Terror of Tiny Town. This exploitation (in every sense of the word) movie from the late thirties is truly a feast for the senses. An all midget Western musical, this film exists mostly as a historical curio.

As far as films with all midget casts go, this movie is about as all midgety as they come. Taking place in a fictional western town inhabited by nothing but singing, dancing little people, this film puts The Wizard of Oz to shame (incidentally, many of the actors here would appear the next year in The Wizard of Oz). How was such a large cast of little people assembled? Seeing as this was the thirties, the film's producer, Jed Buell, selected a large collection from his own stable of dwarves. Before people get worked up over the fact that a movie producer owned a collection of little people, it must be remembered that the thirties were different times. What we might scoff at as barbaric, was normal to them. Who are we to judge? Besides, it wasn't like Buell mistreated his chattel. They were let out for daily walks, and they were fed and watered regularly. Furthermore, when an opportunity like The Terror of Tiny Town came along and made Mr. Buell some cash, the little people under contract were rewarded with treats.

Truth be told, The Terror of Tiny Town is quite a conventional Western. It centers around the devious machinations of Bat Haines ('Little Billy' Rhodes), a cattle rustler who is working two feuding families (the Prestons and the Lawsons) against each other. After stealing cattle from the two families, he convinces each of them that the other family is the guilty party. Thrown into the mix is a Romeo and Juliet love story involving Buck (Billy Curtis), the son of the Lawson patriarch, and the niece of Tex Preston, Nancy (Yvonne Moray). The heads of these two clans initially try to put a stop to all these romance shenanigans until a formerly dirty cop (Joseph Herbst) spills the beans, informing these warring families that Haines is indeed the baddie.


Clearly echoing the opening scene of Frankenstein, Newfield opens this film on a theater stage with an introduction by a suit-clad man on the strange proceedings that will follow. For a 1930s audience unaccustomed to seeing little people outside of their natural caged environment, it was necessary to introduce these strange creatures and thus familiarize the audience with them. It was clearly a form of insurance, lest some of the female members with more delicate sensibilities in attendance become overcome with the vapors.

This movie has everything a regular western of the time had, just smaller. Well, that's not entirely true. The people were smaller, and instead of riding horses, they rode Shetland ponies; but other than that, everything else (props, sets, buildings, trees, etc...) was regular ass size. It is astounding that in a town inhabited by nothing but little people, the locals would still construct all the buildings, furniture and whatnot to big people specifications. Apparently, the carpenters in this town worked only in the hopes of tickling the funny bones of any douchey frat-boys who might happen to stroll through town. Frat boys who would take joy in watching small fellas struggle to climb onto a porch to get inside a local saloon, for instance.


The film's director, Sam Newfield, holds the distinction of being, quite possibly, the most prolific director in the history of film. He is known to have directed more than three hundred features. Seeing as an average porn director will make this many features his first year on the job, however, I think it is debatable whether Newfield is in fact the most prolific. Nevertheless, he made a shit ton of pictures. For most of his career, he worked at the legendary B picture studio PRC (home, by the way, to one of my favorite B picture directors, Edgar G. Ulmer). Although The Terror of Tiny Town has become notorious over the years for its political incorrectness, Newfield most likely thought of it as just another job. As stated earlier, he approached it in much the same way he would any other cheapie western. It is actually quite surprising, how infrequently, this film focuses on the size of the actors. It is actually surprisingly free of midget jokes (that is if you don't count the use of unecessarily large sets, of course).

Considering the era in which it was made, The Terror of Tiny Town isn't quite as offensive as it could have been. Not that it was an enlightened picture by any means. The overall tone here is silly, meaning that we aren't meant to take a picture with an all midget cast seriously. The fact that little people are involved in a plot normally reserved for their taller counterparts, is meant to be seen as ridiculous. As was the case with African American actors of the time (such as Stepin Fetchit), however, if little people wanted to work they had no other choice, unfortunately, than to take these demeaning jobs. Thankfully, we live in a much more enlightened time now, when little people can appear in roles of fully realized three dimensional characters rather than serve as the butt of juvenile jokes.

[Here is a clip of the film's intro. It also contains clips from the rest of the film set to the Dead Kennedys cover of the "Rawhide" theme. Damn I love the interweb.]


[When trying to choose a rating for this movie, I felt that none of mine sufficed, so I had to use a new one. I present you with Peter Dinklage's indignation.]
Dave's Rating:

Friday, March 6, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen?

When Zack Snyder was announced as the Watchmen director, I was concerned that the director of two questionable previous features (a mediocre remake of a quintesential horror film, and the world's first homophobic slow-mo gay porn epic), would be adapting for the screen the Citizen Kane of comic books. Although I am not a comic book geek, I do quite admire Alan Moore's novel. And, like many other people, I would like to see it done justice. That being said, although I haven't seen the movie yet, I still hold out hope that, in the very least, it will be an entertaining flick.

One thing is certain, though, I don't think I'll enjoy the movie nearly as much as I enjoy this:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Let the Right One In (2008)

dir. Tomas Alfredson



As most of my readers have probably guessed by now, reviewing current movies ain't exactly my bag. It's not that I don't enjoy new movies, I just don't go to the theater that often. When movies stop costing twelve goddamn dollars I'll reconsider my viewing habits.* It's sad for a movie geek like me to admit this, but I probably go to the theater an average of only six times a year. The movie theater experience is unparalleled and seeing as it will probably go the way the way of the dodo bird, I should take advantage while I can; but, as I said earlier, I'm a broke-ass motherfucker who can't afford to spend twelve goddamn dollars to see a movie. Although I do see a few new movies every year, I never decide to review them for the simple reason that so many other people are already doing so. It would be hard for me to bring anything new to the table. That's why I stick to older Satanic road pictures and animal attack movies. Occasionally, however, a new movie will so astound me that I am compelled to write about it, in spite of the fact that it is well trodden territory. Tomas Alfredson's Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In is one such movie.

I should state right up front that I am not a particular fan of the vampire genre. Although I have always been an immense horror fan, these pictures never did anything for me. I could try to explain what it is about these movies that I don't care for, but to be honest, I really don't know. The few vampire movies that I do love, incidentally, have defied many of the genre trappings (George Romero's Martin comes to mind). Although I can forgive many a mediocre to average slasher or zombie picture, a vampire movie must really exceed the genre expectations for me to take notice. So, although I had heard many great things about Alfredson's picture, I kept putting off seeing it. When I found out that Edgar Wright was a fan, however, I thought it might be worthwhile to shell out my hard earned twelve goddamn dollars. Thankfully, it was money well spent.

More than anything, Let the Right One In is concerned with the horrors of adolescence. Our twelve year old protagonist Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is an awkward social outcast, who spends his time at school evading his brutal bullies. Although he has many revenge fantasies, when confronted with these thugs, he freezes up and takes their abuse. His home life is none better, as he divides his time between two inattentive divorced parents; the father is an alcoholic and the mother is just plain ol' emotionally distant. The majority of his time is spent playing alone in the snow filled yard behind his mother's apartment.

Things get interesting when a couple of strange neighbors, a creepy older man and the "twelve year old" Eli (Lina Leandersson), move into the adjacent apartment. Oskar and Eli soon form a bond as Eli encourages him to stand up to his bullies. Oskar experiences his first love before learning that this girl is a vampire. Although Oskar has had many brutal revenge fantasies, when confronted with the reality of Eli's murders, he is horrified. He soon accepts this reality, however, as she is the only person he has developed any connection to. Oskar and Eli bond over their shared loneliness. Although such a plot could veer so easily towards cheesy melodramatic tripe or wacky, supernatural 80s style teen comedy territory (much as it might in the American remake slated for next year), in Alfredson's hands it is a deeply affecting, sweet, occasionaly humorous, yet horror-filled coming of age story.

It is a testament to director Alfredson's prowess that this supernatural fable feels utterly realistic. Even an outlandishly silly over the top scene involving numerous psychotic cats does not detract from the sincerity of the picture as a whole. Let the Right One In perfectly captures the awkwardness and confusion of this developmental period of adolescence. It is telling that the horror in this film is seldom vampire related, but more about growing up. As is the case with many vampire tales, this film works as a parable for the struggles of Others caught in a society that does not accept them. Although many horror films are sympathetic to the "monsters", rarely has a movie sided so convincingly with them.

This is due in large part to the superb acting by the two leads. Alfredson manages to draw convincing performances from these two non-professionals. In addition to having a knack with actors, Alfredson, it should be noted, is an undeniably visual director. Let the Right One In had enough clever, beautifully composed shots to keep the movie geek in me deeply satisfied. He is particularly adept at filling out the frame, making good use of the widescreen. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, his use of foreground and background action is, at times, downright Wellesian.

Don't get it twisted now; this is still a horror film. Let the Right One In has more than its fair share of gore. Alfredson is most effective, however, with scenes in which the violence is implied, happening just offscreen. The film's deeply cathartic swimming pool climax is one such example. I was floored by this cleverly framed, meticulously paced and executed scene. It is a triumph not only of composition but of sound design. One can imagine the routine nature in which it will be shot in the remake.

As stated before, this film does cover some familiar territory, most notably in the portrayal of a sympathetic monster as victim. Although some of the individual elements of this film may not have been groundbreaking, combined as a whole, they left me feeling refreshed and optimistic about the still untapped potential for this genre. I have not yet seen any of Alfredson's other pictures, but I'll be sure to catch up with his work.

*[I live in New York, the nexus of the Universe, so I don't know if movies are cheaper in the non-essential parts of the country. All I know is that they cost twelve goddamn dollars here. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sip some chai latte, while discussing existentialism, and listening to LCD Soundsystem with your social betters.]

[the trailer:]


Dave's Rating: