Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)
threehalfstar

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)
fourstar

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)
threestar

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

Supergirl (1984)

supergirl_1Starring Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Hart Bochner, Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, Maureen Teefy, Marc McClure, Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, Simon Ward, David Healy

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Expectations: I’m so excited.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


The opening scene of Supergirl tries its best to liken itself to the opening scene of Superman, showing us a strange, alien world inhabited by humanoids much like ourselves. But where that original scene was interesting, the one in Supergirl falls a bit short. It does ostensibly perform the same task, though: setting up the canvas on which the rest of the film will be painted. For Superman, that canvas was grand and heroic, but for Supergirl, it’s campy, over-the-top and very much in the realm of B-Movies. One of my favorite phrases to repeat to myself while watching movies like Superman, Thor or The Avengers is, “This is cosmic done right!” Supergirl is most definitely “cosmic done wrong.” That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of fun, but even by ’80s or B-Movie standards this is pretty lackluster.

Kara Zor-El (AKA Supergirl, AKA Linda Lee) is Superman’s cousin. She lives in a white sparkling place called Argo City, which is basically a chunk of the planet Krypton that survived the destruction of the planet. They don’t really explain it, I don’t really understand it, but that’s what it is. Oh, and apparently it’s under our ocean? That REALLY didn’t make sense to me, because they show Supergirl going through space to get to Earth and then she pops out of a lake on the studio backlot. So I guess that was supposed to be the deep, dark ocean she was going through. It did have a watery look at times. The lake part still doesn’t compute, though, especially given the film’s ending. Maybe they were trying to clumsily remind us of the adage that all streams lead to the ocean? I honestly don’t know. Anyway… Peter O’Toole steals the city’s power source (the Omegahedron!) because he’s a wascaly, wascaly wabbit, but through a bad chain of events Supergirl ends up losing the Omegahedron when it rockets out the city’s paper walls. Uh oh. So Supergirl jumps in the city’s diving pod in order to retrieve the power source, and thus our adventure begins. But, of course, the Omegahedron immediately falls into the hands of our villain, the evil witch Selena (Faye Dunaway), who uses it to quickly gain power and fulfill her dreams of world domination.

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