Tag Archives: body horror

30 Days of Madness, Day 18 — Eyes Without a Face (1960)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

eyesface4

Eyes Without a Face is easily the most horrific film I’ve yet watched this month simply because it is the only movie so far that I had a truly visceral reaction to. Most of the film plays more on suspense than horror. Director Georges Franju himself even described it as “a quieter mood than horror. . . It’s horror in homeopathic doses.” And for the most part that is true. But there is that scene, that one scene, and if you’ve seen it you know which scene I’m talking about; that one scene that had me holding my hands to my face in horror. (It is also possible that there was some whimpering.)

The story focuses on a girl whose face has been horribly disfigured in a car accident and her neurosurgeon/plastic surgeon/mad scientist father who, to put it lightly, keeps trying to find new faces for her. And that one scene is depicted in excruciating, almost clinical, detail. There are other scenes that horrify as well, to lesser extents. But when Eyes isn’t being utterly horrifying, it really is quite poetic. That’s a rare combination.

One of the character types in the dramatic arts that most infuriates me is that of the father who equates his own personal pride, and need to be in control, with love. One I detest even further is the man who preys upon women. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) is both. Regardless of his motivation, he is a predator (and an abuser of dogs to boot). And his nurse/assistant/henchwoman (Alida Valli) is no less detestable, as she lures beautiful young women to his clutches.

One of the most impressive things about this film is the performace of Edith Scob as Christiane Génessier, the unfortunate victim of both the disfiguring car crash and her domineering, obsessed father. Even spending most of her screen time behind a mask, her emotion comes through so clearly: through her eyes especially, but also through her hands and the way she moves about a room. It’s an astounding performance.

This is a great film. I want to clearly state that before I list my issues with this film.

SPOILERS AHEAD

- The carnie waltz music really is nigh unbearable. And about a half hour into the film, I realized why it had such a familiarity to it: it reminds me of the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s probably not a parallel I should be making, but there it is.

- The two women (the stalker and the stalkee) look so much alike that I actually thought one was the other in their first scene together. Like, they have the same exact eyes. (But with faces.)

- No closure for Jacques in the end. I was really invested in his quest for the truth paying off. I would like to have seen an examination of his reaction to finding Christiane, alive but disfigured. Would he still have loved her? Would he have been able to see past her disfigurement, but not past her involvement in the heinous acts committed by her father on her behalf?

- And now my biggest issue, the one that actually made me angry. These two police officers basically blackmail this poor shoplifter girl into helping them by using her as bait for Dr. Génessier. And then not only do they not keep on eye on her, but they have absolutely no concerns or suspicions when Génessier himself tells them that she simply checked out of his clinic and walked home?

All that said, the very ending of this film was really satisfying.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #389 (out of 3262, a relative 88/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 13 — Xtro (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

xtro

I took several screencaps. I decided this one was the least likely to give anyone nightmares.

Directed, co-written, and scored by Harry Bromley Davenport, who has maybe the most British name of any horror director.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

I remember reading about this film when I was a teenager, in an encyclopedia of movie monsters, if I remember right. I was both intrigued and horrified, and so has this film remained in my mind, a film I’ve long wanted to see yet felt hesitant about seeing. All of a sudden it was not only in the discussion for my horror viewing this month, but free for the viewing on YouTube.

Davenport must have fancied himself something of a John Carpenter. And if so, he’s done Carpenter proud as far as this film’s atmosphere and visual effects go. The effects are astounding–gruesome and bizarre as imagination will allow, but astounding. Scenes are blocked and edited extremely well, and I have to give credit to Davenport, cinematographer John Metcalfe, and editor Nicolas Gaster. They’ve crafted a hell of an alien horror flick.

Unfortunately Davenport’s Carpenter-esque synth-laden musical score is one of the worst I think that I’ve ever heard (the opening riffs sound like something from a Super Mario Bros. game but less nuanced), and the acting is often sub-par. The effects are right up there with Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979 and Carpenter’s The Thing, released just months prior in 1982, but the story isn’t. In fact, I’m still not sure what the story is. A man disappears into a strange light and reappears three years later (and by reappears, I mean, crashes to earth, kills some people, impregnates a woman with a sort of ovipositor, and is then moments later born from that same woman as a full grown man–and yes, it is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a horror flick).

The man finds his wife and son, who take him into their house against the better judgment of the boy’s surrogate father, who is a tool, of course, despite the fact that his misgivings are more than well-founded. Son catches dad eating his pet snake’s eggs and runs away. Dad chases him and injects something into him with his mouth. And that’s when things start to get weird.

About 45 minutes into this, which was already one of the stranger movies I’d seen, things took a really bizarre turn and just kept getting weirder. But this is where my spoilers end.

It can be fascinating to trace a film’s lineage, so to speak. Xtro was so clearly inspired by Alien, yet if you look at the design of that creature in the screencap above, you can see almost a prototype of Ripley’s “baby” from 1997′s Alien: Resurrection. I would not be surprised if Jean-Pierre Jeunet was inspired by Xtro when crafting the third sequel to the movie that inspired Xtro.  And so we are all connected in the great circle of cinema.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1894 (out of 3259, a relative 42/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 10 — May (2002)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

may

Written & directed by Lucky McKee. (And Rian Johnson was one of editors? What?)

“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

Born with a lazy eye, raised by an image-obsessed mother, and best friends with a doll she was never allowed to take out of its glass case, May grew up to be a lonely woman who delights in her job as a veterinary surgeon’s assistant, keeps an apartment full of of dolls, has a penchant for sewing, and fetishizes particular body parts of those around. Her attempts at relationships only drive her further into despair, obsession, and insanity. And if you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you figure out what all those pieces add up to.

Rarely has there been a better match of actor and character than with Angela Bettis and May. She is alternately sympathetic, off-putting, funny, creepy, adorable, terrifying, and tragic, but never seems out of character. Jeremy Sisto plays Adam, her object of obsession, a mechanic with such beautiful hands, May thinks he must be perfect, and soon finds out, of course, that she is wrong. I hated Adam in some scenes and pitied him in others, but again, he was never inconsistent as a character.

The rest of the movie is a little shakier. Even taking into account the increasingly bizarre nature of the film (and giving a pass to May’s conveniently promiscuous lesbian co-worker Polly because I personally just dig Anna Faris in dimwit sex kitten mode), none of the rest of the characters seem real. And several scenarios feel overly contrived, unfortunately including the two instances that finally cause May’s thin-stretched psyche to snap.

Overall, however, I found May to be a fascinating descent into madness, full of clever dialogue and insightful moments, and focusing on what is possibly one of the all-time great horror movie characters.

Final grade: B

My Flickchart ranking: #761 (out of 3256, a relative 77/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 8 — Island of Lost Souls (1932)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

islandlostsouls

 

Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Adapted by Philip Wylie & Waldemar Young from the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

“Do you know what it means to feel like God?” — Dr. Moreau

This was the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, criticized by Wells for focusing more on the horrific aspects of the work than the philosophical aspects. This is one of the Wells novels I have not yet read (though I love The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds) so I can’t comment on the adaptation itself, but I will take the author’s word for it. Indeed, there isn’t much gray area explored when it comes to genetic engineering done of Moreau on his secretive island. He does come off as more of a villainous mad scientist; but oh what a villain!

Let me start with the good here, before I get into my problems with this film. First off, I have seen the 1996 trainwreck of an adaptation that starred Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau. It was one of the most storied troubled film productions in history, and if you’re interested in that sort of thing, may I recommend the wonderful 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. The stories are insane. Brando was clearly insane, or had by that point gotten so high on himself that he shanghaied the production with his antics. Maybe he thought he was the second coming of Charles Laughton. Well, I have seen Island of Lost Souls, and you, Mr. Brando, are no Charles Laughton. Laughton is fantastic as the creepy, obsessed, manipulative doctor. And this film is far superior to what they managed to spit out in 1996.

Other good stuff: Kenton’s direction is pretty solid, and all the technical stuff is solid. It seems the studios just knew how to produce a film in the 30s. The makeup is excellent. And supporting players Arthur Hohl, Leila Hyams, and Bela Lugosi (my second Lugosi performance this month after The Body Snatcher) are all fine. And the ending is truly horrifying. It reminds me of my reaction to the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, which I covered during my 30 Days of Madness project six years ago. Whether its target is deserved or not, mob mentality is terrifying.

Now the not-so-good stuff. The plot feels a bit rushed, and as it centers on the brick wall that is protagonist Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen of Wings fame), a character whose disposition toward his predicament seems to change from scene to scene (and sometimes mid-scene), it also feels like it meanders sometimes. His first night on the island he is so horrified by what he witnesses that he calls Moreau a monster–then just kind of hangs out afterward.

And then there is the “Panther Woman” subplot, where Moreau sends his one female creation, Lota, to Parker to see if she will react toward him with a woman’s emotions rather than an animal’s instincts. I understand what they were going for here, but it really is the weakest part of the entire film, compounded by the fact that each scene focuses on a brick wall and a woman who had never acted before. The scenes are clunky and unbelievable, ethically wishy-washy, and frankly not much more than a gimmick to sell the film. (Also, the Panther Woman reminds me a little too much of a girl I once dated.)

There is a scene in which Parker gives in to his attraction to Lota, but then walks away looking disturbed. She then runs to him and puts her arms around him, and he sees that her hands have animal claws, and is understandably horrified. I feel like they were trying to convey that, despite being in love with his fiancée Ruth, he was momentarily overcome by animal desire. But you know what? Many men wouldn’t lose their self-control so easily. And, dude, before you were horrified by her fingernails, when you were making out with this beast woman, do you realize that your devoted fiancée was moving land and sea to find you? This, of course, is never addressed as a problem.

Ruth, thankfully, is the strongest character in the film, despite screaming like a typical horror movie heroine at a couple points. When Edward doesn’t show up, she doesn’t sit around wringing her hands. She tells off the captain of the ship that marooned Edward on Moreau’s island, probably destroying his career in the process, and then goes herself across the sea to rescue Edward instead of just sending a crew and sitting around fretting about it. When she gets to the island, she shows more backbone in the face of entering scary caves and jungles than the ship captain who is accompanying her. (Though why one woman and one ship captain venture onto a strange and mysterious island to rescue a castaway who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances and bring no crew with them is a question I’d like answered. Oh, right, because it’s in the script.)

Last negative criticism: I have a difficult time with seeing real animals in distress, which happens so often in old monster movies. Seeing tigers being riled into viciousness in a small cage hurts me inside. I am glad, however, that they didn’t do the same to a real gorilla. I’ll take an obvious man in a suit in a case such as this.

I know that all makes it sound like a really disliked this film, but I actually think it’s a decent horror film, and Laughton’s performance plus the makeup of the beast people and the real sense of horror it conveys bring this up to classic status. Final thought: I wonder if director Jonathan Demme was inspired at all by this film. There are several shots where characters are speaking in close-up directly into the camera.

Final grade: B

My Flickchart ranking: #877 (out of 3255, a relative 73/100)