Tuesday, June 21, 2011

150 Days of Halloween: A Tale of Two Sisters and Cabin Fever

We return to our 150 day long celebration of Halloween, already in progress. In a way this will also be a celebration of my memories with Pleasant Street Video, they may be leaving, but the movies go on. So lets pop a vitamin D supplement because we never see the sun and talk about the past two days movies.

First off we have A Tale of Two Sisters by Kim Ji-woon, the man responsible for the two highly recommended movies, I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. One day I'll go through all my past posts and make sure all the titles are italicized, but that day is not today.
If its a good Asian horror movie, then you can bet a shitty American remake exists.
A Tale of Two Sisters was an incredible movie experience, and one that will be frustratingly hard to talk about without somehow robbing you of part of what makes it great. With the exception of Martyrs, all of the movies on this list so far have had stories and plots that could be openly discussed and used for context without seriously detracting from the experience. Knowing that The Descent has monsters and group tension doesn't ruin the movie, just like knowing that Stay Alive is a steaming pile won't make it any less stupid and fun to mock. However, to go too deeply into Martyrs and some of the directions that story goes would seriously detract from the experience, those reveals and realizations are integral to the experience. The movie can't toy with you as mercilessly as it does if you know what to look for.

This is more true of A Tale of Two Sisters, by several factors even. It is essential you go into this movie your first time as unaware of the experience as you can. Skip the Wikipedia entry and the IMDB listing, avert your eyes from the DVD cover and read nothing on the streaming media source relating to the movie. Start it cold and fresh, and allow the confusion and anxiety to slowly build inside you. Here is another important note, if you like to watch movies with friends, consider breaking that trend for this one. You don't want someone asking whats going on, or wondering aloud why someone behaves the way they do. This movie will not be giving out answers while you watch it, and the last thing you want is someone whispering questions or guesses and taking you out of the experience.
So much subtle menace throughout this movie.
The experience is everything. You get little to no background with the opening of this movie, characters have complicated and tumultuous histories with one another and you are not privy to them. Not knowing anything that happened in these peoples lives, to make them love and hate the way they do, it drastically colors your perception of each person living in the barren and foreboding home together. This lack of insight into these lives will pull you in and not let you go, if you lapse in attention you might miss a clue or a window into the mysteries of the family.

Its grasp on me being as strong as it was also allowed the horror aspect of the film to more deeply penetrate the experience for me. Most movies give you plenty of back story to work off of, hoping to endear characters to you as efficiently as possible. Likewise they try to integrate the horror aspect with stories told among characters, expendable cast who die before the main cast arrive, flashbacks, glimpses on cameras or televisions. More likely then not, by the twenty minute mark you are aware of the killers existence, or the monster, or the telepathic car tire - and the important event that caused this horror to happen.
I forgot to mention the movie is visually beautiful as well.
You have no such luxuries here. When creepy comes for you here, it comes with no warning or knowledge of why its come. The soundtrack makes excellent use of distortion to pair with the visuals to unnerve you as effectively as possible, and once it happens the first time you just can't relax anymore. You don't know when those moments will return, you don't know what prompts them or what they mean, you are as helpless as the people in the movie.

I know this is all incredibly vague, but I have to be, the mystery of it all is what makes this movie so great. The fear of the unknown and the mounting dread as each event builds on the last is such a wonderful feeling that it would be criminal to deny them. Watch this movie and let it take you for the ride, and when its all over and you finally understand all you have seen, watch it again. I don't even need to tell you to, you just will. You will have a need to see the events of the film transpire as someone privy to the history of the characters, to know why they are the people they are.
Seriously, see this movie.
Many movies proclaim to by psychological horror movies. A Tale of Two Sisters puts most of them to shame, it makes them feel bad for including that psychological tag in its genre listing. Put on headphones, turn off the light, watch it alone, and let it take you. You will be glad you did.

This brings us to the movie I watched today, a movie I have seen many times and never seem to get tired of. Made by the oft maligned Eli Roth, Cabin Fever is often credited for bring the R rating back into popularity after movies like Scream set the trend that horror needs to be PG-13 to be profitable.
I want a skull cabin.
I love Cabin Fever, I have ever since I rented it from the Blockbuster that replaced my childhood indie rental store. I loved it so much I never returned it, they never noticed, so it was clearly fated that I should own it. Since then I have upgraded to a proper special edition DVD release of the movie, because I guess I like shiny holographic slipcovers for my horror movies. Cabin Fever deliberately chooses a common setting, common protagonists, and other trapping for an 80's inspired slasher movie. Unlike your common 80's horror movie, this one doesn't have a killer.

Not in the proper sense of a killer anyway, no mask wearing behemoth wielding a machete to be found, only a disease. This is one of the big reasons I like Cabin Fever as much as I do, it forgoes the seemingly magical killer in the woods with something just as deadly and unpredictable. Fear and paranoia mount, and without a tangible thing to fear, all of that energy turns inward. As the infection makes itself known, lines get drawn in the sand. They isolate one another, either by choice or by force, in desperate attempts to stay alive. This falling apart makes the other element I love all the better, the fact that nothing ever goes right for these people.
Boy meets world, then meets flesh eating bacteria.
The whole movie is a comedy of errors just as much as it is a horror movie. Attempts at salvation are constantly within reach of these characters, but somehow they always manage to do exactly what it takes to ruin it. My personal favorite being when Paul, the primary focus of the movie, manages to find a house with people in it. He excitedly runs up to a window and peers inside, desperate to save himself and his friends. What he sees is a woman, naked, reading a book in bed. Understandably caught off guard by this, he freezes like a deer in headlights, which is when the husband and his shotgun round the corner.

Roth manages to craftily build tension through the movie this way, while at the same time getting some laughs out of us. The cast progressively get sicker, and range out further and further for help that is always snatched away at the last moment, all the while the flesh literally melts off their bones. Lesions grow and weep, skin slides off in wet heaps of red, and you can practically smell the sweat and rot wafting off the sicker members of the group. The R rating is put to good use in the movie with the gore alone, without it the flesh eating virus that rampages through the film would simply fail to be menacing in anyway, and much of the twisted humor of the experience would be lost.
"Those kids need help! SHOOT 'EM!"
Cabin Fever is a love letter to the genre from someone who grew up with the splatter-fests of the 70's and 80's, the setting is a tribute to Evil Dead, the creepy denizens of the backwaters around the cabin are straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in many ways its a road map of my own childhood. Most importantly, rather then just make his own masked killer in the woods, Roth brought something new to the experience without losing those homages. Horror was dead for a few years in the late 80's and early 90's, Scream managed to make it profitable again, but only as a PG-13 venture. Decry him all you want, but with Cabin Fever Roth brought the R rating back, and in many ways revived Horror in America.

We'll be talking about Roth again not too long from now, when Hostel pops up in the schedule. He gets plenty of flak from people opposed to gore and violence in films, but those people aren't his target audience. People who love the low budget madness of Troma, or who count Bad Taste among the best of Peter Jackson's work are the audience. Those of us who wistfully recall the first time they saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Evil Dead understand where Roth is coming from when he makes his movies. In many ways he is like Tarantino, the movies he makes are Frankenstein like monsters of tributes and homages that still manage a unique twist that takes it out of the range of emulation. In much the same way, half of the critics will pan the surface of the movie, while those who praise them do so by expounding upon the details and features that lie beneath the surface.
Wrong Cabin Fever...
This Cabin Fever review certainly got away from me toward the end there. The movie is a tribute to the genre, its funny without sacrificing its tone too much, and overall its a great time. Its fun to watch with friends, and just as fun to watch alone. If you have fellow horror junkies in your life, sit down with a bowl of popcorn and have a good time with this one. Otherwise, crack yourself open a beer and enjoy the show. Be sure to stick around for the credits, or you miss out on the punchline to a joke that gets set-up in the first ten minutes of the movie.

Tomorrow is The Dunwich Horror, the first directly Lovecraft inspired film on the list, but certainly not the last. Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors, and a massive inspiration for my life and art, but sadly his stories have rarely been adapted into anything above a B-grade movie. Our best bet was Guillermo del Toro who was all set to adapt At the Mountains of Madness, so fingers crossed another studio steps in that's willing to invest in a dark, R-rated movie that doesn't have a happy ending.
A great behind the scenes moment here.
If you are curious about past reviews, or about upcoming movies, check out the full 150 Days of Halloween schedule.


  1. Good reviews, I'm going to have to check out that first one. Saw the second already.

  2. cabin fever, what a waste of potential

  3. Can't wait for Netflix to get me Tale of Two Sisters.

  4. That's a very touching kiss on the last screenshot.

  5. I loved Cabin Fever. One of the few movies to make me squeemish.