Friday, October 28, 2011

Things that Go Gab in the Night

Wise: Happy Halloween, Werth!  

Werth: Boo to you too, Wise.  Any plans for the year's most haunted evening?

Wise: I thought I might curl up at home with a bowl of candy corn and a double feature of scary movies.  

Werth: Vincent Price in House of Wax and Bette Davis in The Nanny?  

Wise: Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth.  

Werth: Heigl is a special kind of terrifying, but when I think of movies that scare me, only one movie is a guaranteed nightmare-causer, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).

Wise: I hope that has nothing to do with my unfortunate, one-time comment about Noxzema and your T-zone. 

Werth: Based on the Stephen King novel, The Shining stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a writer who packs up his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to be the caretaker of a closed-for-the-season hotel in the snowbound Colorado mountains. But the Torrance family is not alone in the Overlook Hotel, and soon the dark spirits that haunt the halls give a whole new meaning to cabin fever. 
The film is full of iconic horror images: REDRUM, Nicholson's face grinning through a hacked-open door, and those god-damned twins.

Wise: I assume you're not referring to the Olsens.

Werth: As with all of his films, Kubrick takes his time. The dread and fear of The Shining builds slowly with long tracking shots that follow Danny on his three-wheeler, holding us spellbound waiting for the horrors waiting around the next corner.
Kubrick uses the Overlook itself to put the audience on edge. The large ballrooms, hallways and rooms feel strangely claustrophobic, the emptiness of a normally bustling place causing an unease that leads to madness. And don't get me started on how uncomfortable the soundtrack makes me.

Wise: Let's not forget Jack O'Nicholson.

Werth: Let's not! Nicholson's angular eyebrows and wicked leer telegraph from the beginning that homicidal tendencies are not buried too deeply beneath his skin. While this makes his transformation less surprising, it is still, nonetheless, horrifying. Young Lloyd is ingenious, playing a kid's role that could be considered grounds for child abuse. 
But my favorite performance is from Duvall. Her bug-eyed awkwardness is perfect as she struggles to save herself and her son from the monster her husband has become—or perhaps always was. Behind the scenes footage shot by Kubrick's wife shows Kubrick assailing poor Duvall about her acting, turning her into a weeping, nerve-wracked mess. Whether Kubrick intended to shape Duvall's perforamnce or was just being an a-hole, in the end, Duvall, pardon the pun, shines.

Wise: Perhaps I'll postpone my Heigl-fest and delve into Francis Ford Coppola's foray into the blood-sucking undead, Bram Stoker's Dracula.  

Werth: Because Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula wouldn't fit on the marquees.

Wise: It was an attempt to bring the character closer to Stoker's original novel and away from the sinister elegance of Bela Lugosi's iconic version from the 1930's.  
Coppola begins the story in the 15th Century with a young and handsome Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman) heading off to defend his castle and his bride from invading forces.  He defeats his enemies, although their treachery has convinced his young wife Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) that he has died in battle and she flings herself from the castle tower.

Werth: Tragically ending her budding medieval shoplifting career.

Wise: Heartbroken, the Count renounces his faith and swears allegiance to the darkness.  Skipping ahead 400 years, the film finds young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) embarking on a business trip to Transylvania, but not before promising to marry his fiancée Mina (also Ryder) immediately upon his return.  
Imprisoning Harker with his three succubus brides, the Count journeys to London where he recognizes Mina as the image of his lost love and hatches a plan to seduce her into his undead existence.  

Werth: That's a lot of plot.   

Wise: And there's a lot more involving Hungarian nuns, a ruined Abby, gypsies, escaped wolves, a nickelodeon theater, grave robbing, stormy sea crossings, and stage coach chases.  

Werth: It's a grab bag of movie clichés.  

Wise: The movie itself is a mélange of styles and images: 19th Century paintings mixed with Byzantine design, classic Hollywood cinematography with 1960's cinema psychedelia, and capped off with a cast list that looks like credits on the best slacker film never made: Ryder, Reeves, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Richard E. Grant, Tom Waits, plus Anthony Hopkins as grizzled vampire hunter Van Helsing.  

Werth: Reality Bites Before Sunrise.  

Wise: Something like that.  It's a weird mix of compelling and preposterous, but filled with definite chills and a few blood-spurting scares.  

Werth: Sounds like someone will be sleeping with a stake and a garlic necklace until Halloween is over.  

Wise: Heck, I'll even pop Katherine Heigl in Killers into the DVD player to keep the undead away until next week's Film Gab.  

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