Monday, 21 October 2013

Progeny (1998) Brian Yuzna

I can draw to mind scarce subjects more fitting for horror than pregnancy. New, pure life within world touched frame, unconditional love, human sharing a space with godhood for a spell. Joyous peak but daunting even at the best of times, and so a wealth of image and ideals ripe for perversion. There have been a few pregnancy horrors down the line, but since the success of Rosemary's Baby a majority concerned with the occult. Which makes some sense, it's almost a complete switcharoo. Me though, I just like science fiction a little more, which is why it pleases me that Progeny is a pretty creditable offering in this field. The story sees Craig and Sherry Burton conceiving after some effort, but soon things start to get a little unusual. See, they figure out the night they actually made it happen, and there's a two hour chunk missing that might have been more than just your run of the mill sex fugue... 

There are two drives here, one conventional and occupying around two thirds of the run time, the latter a little more creative. All the tropes are here, sinister puppeteering, suspicious authorities, weirdness escalating alongside paranoia and a general breakdown. Unfortunately the execution is somewhat rote rather than inspired, failing to maximise potential. A number of the scares are pat and predictable but worse, the film plays the physiological card early but then tries to maintain tension between reality and delusion anyway. Also, the script doesn't give its leads much of a chance to come across as loving and happy at the beginning, so the emotional descent is less pronounced and moving. Things do come together later on and rather improve with the addition of the idea of human intellect grappling with the incomprehensible, the films other drive carrying it through to the end. Depth is added, even dare I say it intelligence, but more importantly things build to a pleasurably tense albeit unlikely finale. But it doesn't fully satisfy, rather than properly entwining the two drives seem more to futilely pull against each other. 

Altogether this is a good watch though. Arnold Vosloo is convincingly edgy and rattled as Craig while Jillian McWhirter makes the best of her wild ride, the two take a little time to really gel together but when they do it makes for some tense viewing. Lindsay Crouse and Wilford Brimley provide effective support, but best is Brad Dourif as a sympathetic oddball, it's the kind of role he could do in his sleep but he brings an A game all the same. The pace is effortless, there's brief nudity, a bit of icky gore and high quality practical effects, particularly in a really pretty splendid nightmarish reveal (Screaming Mad George had a hand), although the computer assisted stuff looks a tad cheesy. So if you enjoy the pregnancy horror subgenre there's no reason not to watch this, even if you find it imperfect as I did you're sure to have something to chew over. Go check it out! 

Mulberry Street (2006) Jim Mickle

The convergence of human and rat is a rather excellent concept that occasionally pops up in genre cinema and literature, and should do more. People don't tend to like to think of themselves analogous to rodents, flea ridden agent of pestilence and biteyness isn't a common aspiration in the same way as bears or sharks or wolverines. But low bound human kind, trapped in cramped, dirty, twisted sprawl, co existing in cities with those of a whole different world, different living in almost every way, well there's something there. Mulberry Street is at its best building this impression, shot close and cluttered, all about sweat and dirt, pores and cracks and hair. A sense of place that comes less from grand establishing shots than a flow and cumulation of images. And people going about their business even as weirdness trickles in and new reports grow ever more sinister, as if not so much deliberately forcing the outside away but simply living apart. There's outright commentary here, after opening shots of rats we see the Statue of Liberty, a little later a public sculpture (one can only hope it is stainless steel) of a rat is glimpsed, the neighbourhood is being redeveloped and some white collar type smiles from posters. One character is a bedridden World War II veteran, another is returning home from her present service. It's not exactly subtle or creative but it complements the mood rather than being forced enough to spoil it. 

As is perhaps inevitable, things go a bit downhill when the excitement really kicks in. The action is shot in the fast and frenzied post 28 Days Later style, ridding the film of much in the way of actual gore or nastiness but even worse, obscuring the mutant effects to the extent that they could almost not even have been there. There are a few appropriately ratty shots and the first attack is quality fun, but in general this is rather more akin to the average infected "zombie" style. A couple of good jolts and a rather bleak tone building to a solid finale, but mostly generic. Solid performances and the tightness of it all keep things relatively compelling though, with Nick Damici deserving of credit for wresting what could have been the most generic of hero by default characters into reasonably affecting territory. So it all comes across a respectable good time, it probably won't set anyone on fire but good stuff for a slow night. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dark Echo (1977) George Robotham

The lone directorial opus of long time stuntman and uncredited walk on player George Robotham, also his only foray into writing and production, Dark Echo is one of those films generally interesting less for what it does but how it does it. The plot is simple but alluring stuff, a picturesque lakeside town is menaced by a bedraggled ghoul, the rather awesomely named Captain Gohr (that's Captain Manfred Gohr!) who has returned after a hundred years to kill the descendants of those who blamed him for a tragic boat wreck. After several deaths, a suave psychic is brought in to investigate, and investigate he does. This is almost all that happens. Where much European horror of the time would have ladled on gore and nudity into a leery gaze at the fractured and secretive realm of small town living, perhaps taking pot shots at war, religion, capitalism or the nuclear family, this opts for an approach rather like that of a 50's monster film. Mature, imaginatively open people pursue a mysterious beast that is known to the audience from the outset, there's a progression of scares into a big shock that establishes the climax, young hedonists are around to drum up the teens who neck at the drive in crowd but ultimately prove their real worth. The monster signifies itself alone (there's a message about vanity but it's hardly sophisticated or insightful), the dangers are simple and direct, no status quo is overthrown. Even the aspects that do seem up to date (nudity from the aforementioned hedonistic youths, the stand out gore gag) don't stick out but appear simply as part of a refined template. It even stays true to the notable flaw of older films with an ending that is somewhat pat and predictable after what has come before, although the revelation of Gohr as a rather good menacingly decrepit and ghastly being impresses more than expected. 

The main difference is that the svelte, usually under 80 minute run times of older fare were no longer so popular, so Dark Echo gives us plenty of filler, what might have been passably exciting at 75 minutes is more of a charming amble at 91. There's a distinct travelogue vibe as our hero is first seen skiing, then is roused from his poolside relaxation, gets to hang out at a local bar where he teaches the keep how to mix a martini, sees local spots of interest and generally lightly takes in the colour without getting too stressed out about the mounting body count. Some may be put off by all this but it actually makes for a rather nice atmosphere, what with a castle, church and its yard with curious triangle headed graves, an ossuary and generally pleasing architecture and furnishings. Plus the cast is generally attractive and charismatic (especially Karin Dor) and there's a pretty spiffing elderly witch with a pet raven. It overall comes across as a curious, eager but inexperienced and stumbling thing, succeeding more often than not but less through skill than commitment. If this were gorier it could have been pretty great instead of an obscurity that only had like, three home video releases before resurfacing in the internet era, but it does alright for what it is. Not something to pursue unless you have to then, but for those who do it ain't too shabby.