31 Spooky Movies in October: 2012 Edition, Part 10
26. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (Roger Corman, 1963)
This is a great little Corman thriller about a doctor who creates eye-drops that give him the ability to see the entire light spectrum. Of course, the resulting x-ray vision is rendered in that grand old Corman low-rent psychedelic style. X is more of a sci-fi movie for most of the runtime, but after a while things start to get a wee bit Lovecraftian as the doctor is driven out of his mind by being able to see too much. This leads to an ending that is genuinely startling and caused an audible shout on the author’s part. Fun stuff.
SCORE: 8 queasy close-ups of eyeballs out of 10
27. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)
If you’ve been a faithful reader of this month’s reviews, you’ll know I like long suspense building, creepy atmosphere, and oddball craziness. So of course I would enjoy House of the Devil. Though supposedly conceived as an homage to 80s horror, it seems much more 70s in style to me; lots of zooms, beige colors, and the sometimes dreamy, digressive vibe all tend to remind me of my favs from that era rather than the more colorful but formulaic 80s fare.
The story: a babysitter goes to a creepy house. The inhabitants seem a little off and too eager for her to stay there. Increasingly creepy things happen, and West tightens the suspense almost as well as early Hitchcock. Then all hell breaks loose and we get a wild (if slightly underwhelming) finale.
It’s possible to argue that the movie is just a stylistic exercise, but I don’t totally buy it. There are moments meant explicitly to call attention to themselves as stylistic quirks (the freeze frame credits, the Fixx dance), but they don’t feel like part of a routine so much as just right for the movie. To be honest, I think the “it’s just like an 80s horror movie” spiel is just that: a marketing angle for a movie that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective shot any other way.
The cast all do pretty well; Joceline Donahue looks like she’s auditioning for the first Friday the 13th, Greta Gerwig does her best young Jodi Foster impression, and Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan play themselves. There isn’t really much to these characters beyond your initial impression of them, and definitely no one as engaging or sympathetic as Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers, West’s next film.
In fact, there’s not much more to the movie itself beyond its premise and visual style. West is a director to watch in my book, but House of the Devil doesn’t have particularly high ambitions. There’s just not really content here is what I’m saying, nothing personal or meaningful informing the careful push-ins and shock cuts. The Inkeepers is a much more human and effecting movie, but okay: this one is pretty damn spooky.
SCORE: 9 piles of hair in a bathtub out of 10
28. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985)
Oh hey, here’s a bad one. Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is infamous among fans as the “gay Freddy movie.” Rather than following the dream murder angle of the first film or starting toward the mythology of the rest of the series, here Freddy’s more of a demon who possesses a teenage boy who moves into the house on that titular street.
What makes things interesting is that the kid’s realization that he’s possessed by a killer is played like a kid discovering his sexuality. This is expressed through everything from double entendre (“HE’S INSIDE ME!”) to symbolism (a vision of Freddy stops the kid from fucking his girlfriend!) to explicit plot details (when he kid’s feeling down, he goes to a gay bar and has an interesting experience in a shower). “How d’ya like that, dad?”
All this gay subtext was explicitly intended by the filmmakers, but you have to wonder just how much the producers “got it” and how much was snuck by under their noses. And I’m sure fans of 80s franchise horror weren’t expecting anything like this. So Nightmare 2 has a pleasantly subversive feel; once you get into the right headspace, it’s a movie filled with winks to the queer spectator and countless oily shirtless guys at every opportunity (as my girlfriend asked, why is everyone always so sweaty in this movie?).
Unfortunately, this angle is almost all the movie has going for it. Frankly, it’s boring. We get to watch the characters slowly suss out things we already know from the first movie, the story is dull, and most of the cinematography is 80s average. Plus, the angle of Freddy as possessing demon doesn’t make any sense, either in the context of the series or within the film itself. There is a lot of great practical effects work though, and the end sequence has some great lighting and creepy images (dogs with human faces??) but it just doesn’t make any damn sense without the maybe-too-on-the-nose coming-out allegory.
SCORE: 3 excuses for the sweaty hero to wander around in his underwear out of 10