Saturday, 23 January 2016

Creepy unknown

Here’s an edited version of two reviews originally published in my 'Blood Spectrum' column for BLACK STATIC #2.

Bad places are a staple of genre horror. Essentially, there are two types. Places already known to be domains of evil, visited only for the purposes of investigation, or exorcism by fools or heroes (Legend Of Hell House, Ghostbusters), and places where the forces of darkness lurk unsuspected yet soon to be encountered by protagonists (The Amityville Horror, The Grudge). The first category tends to rely on broadly theatrical effects, while the second delivers suspense with audiences forewarned about a supernatural menace that characters have yet to confront. 

Based on a novel by Kei Oishi, Japanese chiller Apartment 1303 belongs to the latter group. A malevolent spirit haunts a hotel condo. Female residents commit suicide after disturbing events, and several girls exit via the 13th floor balcony. Wholly responsible for the strange death of her abusive mother, the resentful ghost is deficient in redeeming qualities, using her medusa hairdo and brooding expressions to drive the heroine crazy. Director Ataru Oikawa astutely preserves a novelistic approach to exposition here and so, because uncanny imagery and moody atmosphere are more vital to cinematic frights than witty dialogue or memorable characters, the movie plays out its generic narrative with a second-hand checklist of impressionistic scares. This is not a classic but it passes the time.

Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist is now available as a digitally re-mastered 25th anniversary edition. Despite the influence of producer Steven Spielberg on this classic movie, it retains many peculiar characteristics found in the director’s other works. From the sweaty chills and savage humour of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to the childhood problems and domestic strife underpinning his underrated Invaders From Mars remake, and various socio-political anxieties in the pilot episode for TV series Taken, all these disturbing themes indicate that Hooper is one of the few auteurs capable of working on a Spielbergian project without losing his own distinctive vision, most evident here during the weirdly surreal goings-on affecting the Freelings’ household. Hooper takes Spielberg’s spooky plot - inspired by Richard Matheson’s Twilight Zone episode Little Girl Lost, and transforms it into one of the most nightmarish and shockingly visceral confrontations with death (the bathroom mirror shows a rotting face, the suburban garden ejects broken coffins) that fantasy-horror cinema has ever seen. 

In the same issue, I also reviewed:
Hostel: part 2
Bram Stoker’s Dracula

No comments: