Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Horror: It Begins!

The essential Halloween plans are coming together. After this weekend it's going to be time for decorating, carving pumpkins and baking treats. We may be displaced in Texas, and the signs of fall may be sorely lacking around here, but there's no getting around Halloween. It's the most fun thing that happens all year, even here in Houston. This is where all my kid memories of Halloween come from, and if the fact that over 4,000 tickets have now been sold for the zombie walk through downtown is any indication- not to mention that there actually seems to be more than one major zombie walk here- these people know how to get into the spirit of it. 

Notice that there's already someone camped out in line,
two hours before a midnight movie. Does every screening
in L.A. sell out?
We are easing into our horror film series this year. It officially began with friends in Los Angeles, at the Silent Movie Theater, where they're having their own October festival of horror: each night of the month they show a different film, all of which were banned in the U.K. (mostly in the seventies and eighties). The curators have sequenced the films in order of increasingly poor taste; the final selections include I Spit On Your Grave and Cannibal Holocaust. Most of the films in the series are the kind of camp that cluttered the horror shelves at the video store 25 years ago; I particularly remember the box for Visiting Hours, with the image of a hospital building at night, in which the lights in the windows make the image of a skull.

The film we ended up seeing was Dario Argento's Inferno. It was as incoherent as any horror film I've ever seen, and I'm not the world's greatest Argento fan, but for a midnight movie packed with merry strangers it was just about perfect. I'm not sure I would have appreciated it outside of that setting (apart from a particularly outrageous scene involving a sack full of cats).  

More recently at home, I enjoyed The Innkeepers, although not as much as Ti West's previous feature, The House Of the Devil. In HOD, West drove the audience halfway to madness with the fear that comes with anticipation (what is fear but the work of the imagination, and what spurs it like a payoff that could happen at any time?). In The Innkeepers, he has intentions that are slightly different but no less interesting: he wishes here to slowly establish a stage and its characters, and even a feeling of safety and a kind of sweetness, before revealing the menace we know is coming. It reminded me of The Haunting and the original Stepford Wives, which work about the same way, and often make me wonder why more films don't try to do this.

The payoff here, however, feels perfunctory. After all the groundwork, I wish there might have been some ending that wasn't so anonymous with respect to who these characters are. Or perhaps it's simply the case that West, wishfully, left too much up to our imaginations. The ending could have been the perfect time to reveal something, not to complete the puzzle but to give us just enough to think about later, just something to rattle in our heads at bedtime.

This year's winner is out there somewhere, I have no doubt! Onward!

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