Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Zodiac (2007) ****

R, 157 min.
Director: David Fincher
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith (book)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Chloë Sevigny, Dermot Mulroney, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Philip Baker Hall, Zach Grenier, John Terry, Adam Goldberg, Clea Duvall, James Le Gros, Charles Fleischer, Jimmi Simpson, Patrick Scott Lewis, Pell James, Ciara Hughes, Lee Norris, Ione Skye

David Fincher’s “Zodiac” seems to be the moment in his career when he transcended all that had come before and entered a new era of his work. I don’t know if it’s because everything he’s done since “Zodiac” has been based on a book, or if he just broadened his scope in terms of depth and drama. But, “Zodiac” was certainly the start of a new phase in Fincher’s career.

What makes “Zodiac” such a powerful film is the way it captures how the investigation of the zodiac killer disintegrated after years of mistakes, lack of coordination, and just plain bafflement. It also parallels the obsession that drives a serial murder with those of the cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who was not part of either the law enforcement investigation or the journalistic one, but was responsible for the book upon which the film is based. The dramatic rewards, however, are not what concern me on this Halloween evening. I’m more interested in the horror aspects of the movie.

Fincher had his first great success with the thriller “Seven”, which played more like a horror movie than your standard police procedural. Pretty much every Fincher film has had the atmosphere of a horror film—including his Oscar nominated “The Social Network”. “Zodiac” actually depicted some real life horror scenarios. Of course, much as we know little about the actual Zodiac killer—who murdered at least 5 people in the San Francisco Bay area over the course of five years in the late 60s and early 70s, although he claimed 37 victims—the filmmakers must imagine how the murders actually occurred.

Fincher takes a unique approach to their depiction. He uses four different actors to depict the killer, one for each incident involving Zodiac confirmed by the San Francisco Police Department. Although he uses a different actor for each incident, you never see the killer’s face or any identifying features. He remains faceless throughout these reenactments despite the fact that Graysmith points the finger fairly definitively at one suspect by the end of the film, portrayed by yet another actor. During the murders it’s merely his presence we experience, there is nothing presented to hint at his identity. So, why five different actors?

The answer to that may lie within the scenes themselves, each of which has a slightly different style to it that suggests different story styles. The first murder opens the movie. It is approached in the most horror-like serial killer format. A young couple is in their car at a lover’s lane. A car pulls up behind them with its lights off, and then drives off. Even when the killer is only in his car, he behaves like Michael Myers from John Carpenter’s original “Halloween”. He returns and kills them coldly, without emotion or even any talk. There is no explanation for his action.

For the second murder, we get a very different scenario even though it also involves two lovers. This time we see the killer, he speaks and instead of coldly and silently killing them, he assaults them first. This kill is something more akin to Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” or Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left”. The fact that the male victim survives is also in line with this theory. This time the killer is human. He acts with anger, especially toward the woman. He’s more tangible, more real than during the first murder.

I’ll skip to the fourth incident for my next example. This scene takes place after the killer has established himself as a presence in the media. The public has developed ideas and opinions about him. The way the press has let the killer have a voice has created a legend about him. This would be the only incident depicted in the movie where the killer doesn’t claim a victim. His would be victim is a woman driving at night with her baby. The set up is like one of those classic campfire stories where you’re told about someone driving at night and a car is flashing lights behind them. This parallel reflects the legend that has been built up around the Zodiac killer. By this point he’s as much urban legend as that story. Even the way in which the woman and her baby both survive seems the stuff of urban legend.

Finally, there is the murder of the cab driver. This is the only murder to take place within the city limits of San Francisco. The kill is quick and methodical. It is confirmed as a Zodiac killing because he takes part of the victim’s shirt to prove it was him when he writes into the paper about it. This is the one that is fact driven and it reflects not a horror aesthetic, but as police thriller one. This seems like a murder that might be committed in a film like “Dirty Harry”, which of course was also based on the Zodiac killer and also gets a nod later in Fincher’s film when the lead detective and Graysmith attend a special police screening of the movie before its release.

Fincher is one of those directors who have a distinct style. You can tell it’s a Fincher film after seeing only a few frames. And yet in the film “Zodiac” he clearly uses different styles to explain the different aspects of the Zodiac killings that made it so difficult for the police and newspaper investigators to break the case open.

Read my original review here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Black Sabbath (1963) ***

UR, 92 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato, Anton Chekov (story “The Drop of Water”), F.G. Snyder (story “The Telephone”), Aleksei Tolstoy (novelette “Sem’ya vurdalaka”)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly Monti, Michèle Mercier, Lydia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rica Dialina, Glauco Onorato

The anthology format is one that seems to fit horror better than any other genre. I was quite surprised to find that Italian maestro Mario Bava had directed an entire anthology film. Filmed after Bava had moved into the color film format, it’s a good place to see the roots of the Italian horror movement’s signature look where lighting gels are used heavily to influence the atmosphere and moods of the most tense horror sequences.

Hosted by Boris Karloff, the movie tells three tales from short story sources. Almost as surprising as seeing Boris Karloff in a hosting role is learning that one of the tales is based on a short story by Anton Chekov and another is taken from a novelette by Aleksei Tolstoy. After seeing the movie, I’d be very interested in reading some horror by either of these literary masters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—A Haunted House (2013) *½

R, 86 min.
Director: Michael Tiddes
Writers: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Marlene Forte, David Koechner, Dave Sheridan, Nick Swardson, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly, Cedric the Entertainer, Affion Crockett, J.B. Smoove, Robin Thede, Jordenn Thompson

The art of the spoof is a delicate art indeed. The Wayans family has long been some of the few who could actually pull one off. They know what works and what doesn’t in terms of structure, but the success rate is still very low, even if you know what you’re doing. Marlon Wayans’  “A Haunted House” is a send up of the recent surge in found footage horror movies sparked by the success of the original “Paranormal Activity”.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Signal (2014) ***

PG-13, 97 min.
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank, David Frigerio
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne

The last movie called “The Signal” that I watched for Horrorfest is one of the better zombie movies out there. This “Signal” is a very different one than in that film, however. This time instead of some sort of broadcast signal that turns people into mad savages, this signal is from an IP address used by a hacker, who lures three unsuspecting MIT students out into the American southwestern desert. The hacker’s purpose and identity provide the movie’s twist in a story that isn’t entirely original, but is well told here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Walking Dead, season 4 (2013-2014) ****

TV-MA, 16 45-min. episodes
Developer: Frank Darabont

Directors: Greg Nicotero, Guy Furland, Dan Sackheim, Tricia Brock, David Boyd, Michael Uppendahl, Jeremy Podeswa, Ernest Dickerson, Seith Mann, Julius Ramsay, Michael E. Satrazemis, Michelle Maclaren

Writers: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman (also graphic novels), Tony Moore (graphic novels), Charlie Adlard (graphic novels), Scott M. Gimple, Angela Kang, Matthew Negrete, Channing Powell, Nichole Beattie, Curtis Gwinn, Seth Hoffman,

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohen, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Emily Kinney, Chad L. Coleman, Sonequa Martin-Green, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Alanna Masterson

Guest starring: Melissa Ponzio, Kerry Condon, Kyle Gallner, Vincent Martella, Sunkirsh Bala, Brighton Sharbino, Robin Lord Taylor, David Morrissey, Audrey Marie Anderson, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Meyrick Murphy, Kirk Acevedo, Enver Gjokaj, Kyla Kenedy, Juliana Harkavy, Sherry Richards, Aldis Hodge, Brendan Fobbs, Michael Cudlitz, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeff Kober, Marcus Hester, Denise Crosby, Andrew J. West

What could’ve been the season where “The Walking Dead” jumped the shark, the show runners pulled back on where they were headed and brought the series back to the basics of the zombie genre. Things got heated in season three with the introduction of The Governor, which was an interesting line of exploration but took focus away from what the zombie analogy is really about. Characters skittered on the edge of betraying everything they were about, but season four focused them in a deliberate manner.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ZAM Review—World War Z: Unrated Version (2013) **

This review was originally written for and published in Zombie Apocalypse Monthly.

UR, 122 min.
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, Max Brooks (novel)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kurtesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Matthew Fox, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove

In the year since the theatrical release of Brad Pitt’s big screen adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie apocalypse fictionalized history novel “World War Z”, the general consensus on the film version has been that of disappointment. This is despite the fact that the film grossed over $200 million in the U.S. theatrically after an expensive reshoot of the film’s original ending. In fact, it was more like a reshoot of the entire last act of the film, which was totally rewritten.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) *

R, 86 min.
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Writer: Earl E. Smith
Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Dawn Wells

The original 1976 version of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is so bad I really don’t want to talk about it much. It’s an indie that came out a couple of years before John Carpenter’s original “Halloween”. I mention the Carpenter film because they both focus on serial killers who terrorize a small town. Both killers wear fairly non-descript masks and breathe heavily under them. I don’t recall much about Carpenter’s inspiration for “Halloween”, but I would find it hard to believe that “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t play some part. The killer’s are too similar and the sound effects of each film’s killer sounds as if they came from the same source.