Quick Takes: The Dead Zone, Rabid, The Brood

dead_zone_xlgThe Dead Zone (1983)
threestar

Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, Jackie Burroughs, Géza Kovács, Roberta Weiss
Directed by David Cronenberg

Having just finished reading the novel, this re-watch of The Dead Zone was definitely a different experience than when I first saw this many years ago. I was struck by how episodic the book is, without any overt attempts to drive home big themes or large-scale payoffs in the third act. It’s a completely different style of writing compared to anything King had published prior, more character-driven and “small” (especially considering it was King’s novel published directly after The Stand). The movie echoes this structure, except it cuts about half of the book and condenses the rest into a very potent, but still weird and not-so-fluid film. Christopher Walken is a perfect choice for King’s everyman Johnny Smith, and the rest of the cast is well chosen, too. I can’t say that Martin Sheen really represents the Greg Stillson that’s present in the novel, but they changed his character some so it’s not hard to roll with it. It is Martin Sheen after all. As a Cronenberg film, it’s missing his unique, almost avant-garde approach to horror, but his cerebral nature fits well with this specific King tale. Definitely recommended, although I think reading the book first will make the movie a richer experience, as you’ll be able to fill in the blanks caused by the shift in medium, as well as spot the subtle details throughout that recall specific moments or scenes of the book not given their full due in the film version.

Rabid POSTERRabid (1977)
AKA Rage
threehalfstar

Starring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy
Directed by David Cronenberg

Rabid, on the other hand, delivers a healthy dose of sick Cronenberg body horror. Rabid opens with a motorcycle accident near a plastic surgery center, and our heroine’s injuries are too much to sustain travel to a hospital more equipped to deal with her issues. No, she’ll have to go into emergency surgery, and since this place is on the cutting edge of plastic surgery, her burns are repaired via skin grafts of morphogenic skin (which can form itself into any type of body tissue, depending on where it’s grafted). Things go awry — oh, do they! — and while Rabid is definitely too abstract and low-budget for many viewers to get behind, I found it to be riveting entertainment. Marilyn Chambers may be known for her pornographic role in Beyond the Green Door, but her turn here as our skin-grafted lead is fantastic. She definitely could have had a fruitful horror career if the fates had aligned. Rabid also features FX work by Joe Blasco, and while there isn’t a ton of it, what’s here is incredibly effective. I’m being vague because it’s really better to just see Cronenberg and Blasco’s creations for yourself and revel in their fucked-up, “I’m never going to forget that” nature. Definitely seek this one out if you think you’ve seen everything a horror movie can deliver.

the-brood-posterThe Brood (1979)
AKA Chromosome 3

fourstar

Starring Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman
Directed by David Cronenberg

The Brood was Cronenberg’s horror follow-up to Rabid (the car movie Fast Company separates them), and it is a film of markedly better quality. Cronenberg’s signature cerebral tone takes center stage right from the opening moments, grabbing hold of your attention in a way that his previous films couldn’t quite manage. Where Shivers and Rabid feel like a good director finding himself in low-budget genre films, The Brood represents the dawn of a fully formed Cronenberg, ready to unleash the full range of his talents on an unsuspecting mainstream audience. The film is a very slow burn during its first half, though, and while it is always interesting I did find myself questioning if it should be classifies as a drama with horror elements instead of straight horror. It was right about at that point in the film when Cronenberg twisted the knife and the film never let up. It’s definitely a horror film! I’m sure some modern audiences would find the premise somewhat laughable or ridiculous, but I found it to be chilling and very psychologically engaging. I’ve slowly warmed up to Cronenberg over the last couple of years, but The Brood firmly cements my place as a big fan. I guarantee you’ve never seen a movie quite like this one!

Quick Takes: Mark of the Devil, Day of Anger, Blind Woman’s Curse

mark_of_devil_poster_01Mark of the Devil [Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält] (1970)
AKA Hexen

threestar

Starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs
Directed by Michael Armstrong

Set in Austria during the 1700s, Mark of the Devil is a witch hunter film that is surprisingly brutal and graphic for 1970. Although, I guess it probably wasn’t released uncut most places back then. Anyway, Mark of the Devil is one of the ancestors of the torture porn genre, but unlike the Saw films and those that followed, I actually enjoyed Mark of the Devil! A lot of that rides on the shoulders of Reggie Nalder, who is exceptional in the role of the town’s crazed witch hunter. It’s ultimately a hard one to recommend, though, as it’s not much more than a torture-rific exploitation movie. What I can recommend is the newly released Arrow Blu-ray/DVD, which is excellent. I love when Blu-rays manage to retain the general look of watching a film projection (DAT GRAIN). Looks like a million witches burning at the stake.

day_of_angerDay of Anger [I giorni dell’ira] (1967)
AKA Blood and Grit, Gunlaw, Days of Wrath

threehalfstar

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Lukas Ammann, Andrea Bosic, Ennio Balbo, José Calvo
Directed by Tonino Valerii

As if you needed any more evidence that Lee Van Cleef is a total badass, Day of Anger presents him in one of his finest roles. He plays the mysterious and ruthless Frank Talby, who rides into the strange town of Clifton and endears himself to a persecuted street cleaner named Scott (Giuliano Gemma). In their first encounter, Talby teaches Scott that he doesn’t necessarily have to accept the lot that life has given him; he can instead create the life he would like to have. This progression of Scott’s character, and his relationship with Talby, are satisfying enough on their own, but Day of Anger also has some incredible scenes that rank among the best the western genre has to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Talby has a duel mid-film that’s just fantastic. Director Tonino Valerii was Sergio Leone’s assistant director before moving on to his own films, and he clearly picked up some tricks. After watching a number of mediocre Spaghetti Westerns over the last few years, Day of Anger is not only one of the best Spaghettis I’ve seen in a while, it’s also one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while. Genre fans should definitely check it out! The new Arrow Blu-ray/DVD looks absolutely fantastic, too!

Blind Woman’s Curse [怪談昇り竜] (1970)
AKA Black Cat’s Revenge, The Tattooed Swordswoman, Strange Tales of Dragon Tattoo

threehalfstar

Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satō, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirō Otsuji, Toru Abe, Tatsumi Hijikata, Yoshi Kato, Yoko Takagi
Directed by Teruo Ishii

If you were to look at Blind Woman’s Curse critically, you could find many faults with the plot. It is a film that mixes multiple genres and styles together, and it’s not necessarily concerned with doing them all justice. But honestly, I only noticed this after the film had long been over, because while I was watching I was just having a blast. It’s one of those rare films that satisfies my love for both B-Movies and classically well-made cinema. All the the trashiness you’d expect from a multi-genre B-Movie is present, but Blind Woman’s Curse is made with much more grace and skill than these B-elements would normally suggest. There are some seriously great shots and camera work here, and they make me very excited to see some more of Ishii’s work. The film also reminded me a lot of the work of Takashi Miike, and I have a strong feeling Ishii was an influence on him. I don’t know if Blind Woman’s Curse has a cult following, but it definitely deserves one and the elements to attract one are surely all here. The availability of the recent Arrow Blu-ray/DVD should help it find more fans, too.

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