We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
Cody watches horror sweep across Switzerland, Spain, and Norway.
Phenomena, released in the United States under the title Creepers (with several minutes cut out), may not have been the first Dario Argento movie that I saw, but it was the first Argento movie that I really enjoyed. The film pulled me in right away, with its opening shots of a picturesque Switzerland countryside accompanied by a fantastic Goblin-composed score. In this beautiful location, something terrible is about to happen.
After missing a bus, a young girl seeks help at a remote home. Her presence here stirs up something awful, something that has been chained to a wall in the house. This thing soon rips free of its chains, proceeding to attack and decapitate the girl.
Following this brutal opening kill, we're introduced to the film's protagonists - American teenager Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly, who had a huge presence in my childhood due to her role in Labyrinth), who has arrived in Switzerland to attend a school for girls, and iconic actor Donald Pleasence (Halloween, You Only Live Twice) as forensic entomologist John McGregor, who is using his knowledge of insects to help the authorities investigate an eight month spree of murders. Judging by the insects present in the corpses, McGregor can figure out just when the victims were murdered.
Each night Jennifer spends at the school, another student falls prey to a blade-wielding killer, a fact which quickly brings her into contact with McGregor, who realizes that not only is she being targeted by the killer he's trying to stop, she also has some kind of telepathic connection to insects. These two were destined to be pals.
With the help of McGregor and the insect community, Jennifer sets out to solve the mystery... and soon finds herself face-to-face with the murderer.
Phenomena is a very strange film, as Argento movies tend to be, and there are even more strange elements than I've mentioned, like sleepwalking, talk of split personalities, McGregor's nurse chimpanzee, and the suspicion that Jennifer is evil because the devil is "the lord of the flies." But even though there are some dreamlike stretches in this movie, par for the course with Italian-produced genre flicks, things never get too far into ridiculous, dream logic territory. It's interesting; as weird as the insect telepathy aspect is, this movie still manages to make more sense than a lot of Argento's others.
I'm not really a fan of Argento, which sometimes makes me feel bad as a horror fan. He has made movies that are held up as classics of the genre - like Suspiria and Tenebrae - but I could take or leave them, and would prefer to leave them. It feels awkward that I would care so little for his most highly regarded films and enjoy Phenomena, which gets a lot less attention than some of the others, so much more than his "classics". The online bit of trivia that Phenomena is Argento's personal favorite of his own work makes me feel a bit better about it, though.
There's just something about Phenomena that makes it more palatable to me than the average Argento film. It holds my attention, I like the cast, it's beautiful to look at, and the music is awesome. If you're a fan of American slashers who's interested in giving Argento giallos a try, Phenomena is the one I would recommend that you watch.
JULIA'S EYES (2010)
A Spanish film directed by Guillem Morales, Julia's Eyes stars Belén Rueda as the Julia of the title, but in the opening sequence she plays a different character. Julia's blind twin sister Sara. Terrorized by someone lurking in her home, Sara ends up hanging from a noose in the cellar... and that's where she is found when Julia comes to check on her.
Authorities call Sara's death a suicide, possibly over her progressive vision loss, a condition that Julia also has. But her sister doesn't buy it. Sara had hope in her life, she was scheduled to undergo a surgery that might have saved her vision. So Julia takes it upon herself to conduct her own investigation and get to the bottom of what's happening. It's an investigation that leads her to talk with Sara's neighbors, who seem to be a bit odd. It causes her to unearth the fact that Sara had a mysterious boyfriend. It draws the attention of a stalker. And the stress of it all causes her vision to get worse and worse.
When Julia has the surgery that could save her own eyesight, it soon starts to seem like she is being led down the exact same path Sara was. The path that ended with her death.
At 117 minutes, Julia's Eyes is a bit too long and at times feels like it's moving at too slow of a pace, but if you devote the required time and attention to it, you'll find that a very intriguing mystery is subtly unspooling before your eyes.
The film really came alive for me once Julia has the surgery, leaving her with her eyes completely bandaged for two weeks. Blind and vulnerable, staying in her sister's house, Julia now starts to learn exactly what happened to Sara by living it for herself, and this leads the character and viewers into some great psychological thriller territory. As all the pieces began to come together, I went from mild interest to completely enthralled. After a long, deliberate build-up, the last 45 minutes or so of this film are a highly entertaining rollercoaster ride of thrills, twists, and turns.
I wholeheartedly recommend checking this movie out, but if you're squeamish about eyeballs, be prepared to squirm.
DEAD SNOW (2009)
Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola had international breakthrough success with this film, which doesn't exactly have an original premise. The story concerns a group of crass, lascivious college students heading out into the snow-coated, mountainous wilderness to spend their Easter vacation partying in a remote cabin. The good times are interrupted when they find that the cabin is besieged by the walking dead... But these aren't just random zombies, which is part of how the movie garnered so much attention. These are zombies that have waited more than sixty years for their chance to chomp down on some human flesh. Nazi SS soldiers that terrorized the area during World War II, under the command of a Colonel Herzog, until the 3000 locals rose up and drove out the 300 soldiers. Herzog and some of his men escaped into mountains, where they likely froze to death. But now they have been stirred up and returned from the grave.
The film is aware of how unoriginal its set-up is, even commenting on it through the observations of a cinema geek member of the vacationing group. Thankfully, there's not too much of this, because (outside of Scream) it can really grate on my nerves when characters start commenting on events with self-aware movie references. It makes me shake my head hard enough when real people try to say Evil Dead II is a remake of The Evil Dead, I don't need to hear a fictional character tossing out that theory, too.
Dead Snow also gained some extra positivity from the fact that it mixes a good deal of comedy in with the horror action. Evil Dead II and Peter Jackson's Dead-Alive (a.k.a. Brain Dead) are nodded at for a reason; this is Wirkola's homage to that type of horror/comedy. His take on it doesn't work nearly as well for me as Jackson and Sam Raimi's films did, though.
Personally, I really don't get much entertainment out of watching Dead Snow. I don't find the characters interesting, in fact they tend to annoy me, and nothing about the zombie attacks or gore sequences stand out as particularly cool or memorable to me. When I'm supposed to be getting drawn in and having fun, the movie is instead losing my attention. Kudos for the inclusion of a chainsaw, though. A chainsaw is always a bonus.
I had seen Dead Snow once before revisiting it for this past October's SHOCKtober event held by the Final Girl blog, and the only thing I clearly remembered about it was a disgusting sexual scene where a girl seduces the cinema geek in an outhouse just as he has finished taking the Browns to the Super Bowl, and as part of the seduction she sucks on the fingers of his wiping hand. I can't say I enjoyed seeing that scenario play out, but if that sounds like a scene you'd like to see, Dead Snow is the movie for you. I don't find that it offers much more beyond that.
I do, however, seem to be in the minority when it comes to this film. A lot of horror fans do enjoy Dead Snow quite a bit, and Wirkola's direction is impressive enough that it got him into the Hollywood studio system, so if you're a fan of zombie horror/comedies, give it a try.