Saturday, July 9, 2011

150 Days of Halloween: Repulsion, Cold Prey, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I'm gonna stop promising to not fall behind anytime Steam has an event. Its just unrealistic. So many games, prize tickets, sales, excitedly talking about those things, and then the frustratingly persistent life and responsibilities that always intrude. Anyway, we have three movies to talk about today, so lets get these going.

Repulsion is our first Roman Polanski movie on the list, with the next being Rosemary's Baby. I really should put The Tenant on the list to complete his apartment trilogy, but that's something I'll worry about later. Repulsion is about as psychological as a psychological horror movie can get, every detail is intrinsically linked to the mental state of the star. Its really something.
Note, only there is only one of her in the movie.
Repulsion stars a young woman who lives with her sister. She is quite, withdrawn, and prone to staring off into space for spans of time. She shares many characteristics of mine, which isn't very comforting. She lives with her sister, but distrusts and dislikes her sisters boyfriend who is factoring more and more into her life. Likewise she rejects the advances of a would be suitor, seemingly fearful and dismissive of him.

She displays signs of severe anxiety, her spacing out, intense and irrational moments of fear and panic, compulsive tendencies, and mood swings. As her sisters boyfriend becomes more central, the symptoms grow worse, affecting her job and life more and more. It all comes to a head when her sister decides to take a holiday with her boyfriend, leaving our hero all alone. Things immediately start to fall apart.

She always looks so sleepy. Take a nap!
In both real and hallucinatory ways the apartment begins to reflect our protagonists mental health. She leaves food out to rot, she overfills a tub and just leaves it that way, things just begin to pile up. At the same time she begins to see cracks appear in the walls, huge rifts that gape open at her and drive her out of rooms. The walls go soft like clay, and she begins to hear and see someone else in the apartment with her. Soon this imaginary man is attacking her and forcing himself on her, and she slips more and more into her own nightmare.

Eventually, having stopped leaving her home, the outside world begins to intrude in. Unfortunately these people are all male, which does not bode well for anyone. Her persistent admirer kicks the door open, so adamant he is to see her, and demands to talk, basically doing everything wrong that he can around someone breaking under the strains of such severe anxiety. This intrusion severs whatever line she may have had left, and she reacts violently out of panic.

When your safe space is lost, nothing makes sense anymore.
This is a movie about the slow decline, every detail of the movie is designed to draw you into the fear she is drowning in. The apartment mirroring her mental health is an amazing concept and really drags you into the thick of it. Her behavior may be alien to anyone not familiar with forms of anxiety disorders, but the clear visuals of the home, a space meant to be safe, breaking apart clue in anyone watching. Its a fantastic study in psychological horror, our hero is terrorized only by her fears, fears that are deeply rooted in her mind from traumas she likely doesn't even remember. No real outside menace was needed, for our hero an entire gender was out to get her.

As with many of Polanski's movies, its well worth your time to see. Short and sweet, lets keep this ball rolling and hit out snow bound second movie, the Norwegian film Cold Prey.
See, even Ain't It Cool News agrees with me.

Modern American slasher directors should feel a deep shame toward Cold Prey, a slasher film that manages to outshine damn near all the modern attempts at the genre, and even most of the old classics. Our protagonists are not stone stupid like those I lamented in The Strangers. They make a dangerous decision at the onset, to ski on a mountain not owned by a resort, but that's a believable stupid choice to make. Just ask the hundreds of people who die and go missing doing just that every year, why wait in line when you can go out and have an entire mountain to yourself?

Well, this being a horror movie, the lone single character amongst two openly physical couples breaks his leg. If he didn't already have it bad off being the 3rd wheel, he also looks like the Norwegian version of Ron Weasley. The guy has it rough, With night not to far off and the car very much far off, they retreat to an abandoned resort to treat his injury and wait for morning before setting off to find help.
"No one knows were here, what could go wrong?!"
Of course this is the resort where a crazed mountain man is holed up, killing anyone who wanders onto his mountain. Cue the delights of people getting picked off one by one. It takes awhile for our group to figure out whats happening, they are an emotional and hormonal group, so one pair will fight and whoever didn't storm off to join the group is killed. Everyone just assumes they are taking time alone to cool off. The dude who strikes out into the snow to find help? Yeah, hes not going to get very far.

Its all the fun of being the omniscient but impotent viewer. You know whats going down, but the characters don't, so you wait anxiously for the puzzle pieces to fall and everyone to realize they are in a horror movie. You wait for someone to go full douche bag and try to abandon the group and save himself, and the neigh instant karmic downfall. Its nothing super special, you have seen these individual parts before, Cold Prey just happens to do them all very well. So not many points on originality, but plenty of points for execution and style.
The killer is hulking and imposing, and this is his stomping ground, he isn't worried or nervous, he has home-field advantage and has fun with it. Still, rather then make him a living ghost or a friggan ninja, he makes noise when he moves and misses when he swings his pickaxe. Which is fantastic, like I said in The Strangers, if the killers are basically gods then tension just goes out the window. Friday the 13th has this problem sometimes as well, you know the only person who Jason will miss when he swings his machete is the heroine destined to survive the end. The Mountain Man has the imposing figure and silent menace of Jason, but his human tendency to mess up keeps the tension high, any character may manage to get away.

The scares are fun, plenty of obligatory jump scares from silly things, like characters trying to scare one another or the wind slamming doors. The kills are well done, not super imaginative, but this isn't an 80's franchise on its seven billionth iteration. It doesn't need to get silly with its death scenes to be relevant. Its just a well made slasher film set on a cold, snowy, isolated mountain, a setting made for horror. If you enjoy these sorts of movies, then seek it out. Everything about it is solid. Now to jump in the nostalgia wagon and head back to my childhood for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

When kids in elementary school were talking about the latest Disney movie, I was trying to find someone else who saw whatever horror movie I had rented or found in my Grandma's collection and watched with her. TCM was one such VHS I found in her cabinet of horror wonders, and what a find it was.
Its just how they say hello round them parts.
I remember being mesmerized by its depiction of a desolate and inbred spit of arid country somewhere far and away from society. Everyone who wasn't a teen was creepy in someway, and you just knew something was wrong with them. Of course, anyone who WAS a teen was doomed to die, and in very messy ways. It always seemed more real then when Jason or Freddy killed a person, those always seemed cartoony when compared to the dismal colors and dusty world of Leatherface. Also the sounds! The haunting whine and pop of an old flashbulb opens the movie, and that sound really creeped me out as a kid, not the movie itself, just that sound. Incredibly effective at setting the mood, and so simple.

Re-watching it now, what worked still works. The whine and pop of the bulb, briefly illuminating rotting and mutilated bodies is incredibly effective at setting the mood of the film. More so then the still awesome, but super cheesy voice over that comes before it. We don't need some dude telling us everyone dies in the end, let us find that out for ourselves. The creepy people are still damn creepy and do a fine job of coming off as crazy. The rest of the cast ranges from decent to slightly sedated, but not overly distracting thankfully, they are bad but not blindingly terrible.
Its hard to not act the part of, "hung on meat hook," well.
It also suffers from other choices that were common for 70's horror and exploitation films. The camera can sometimes roam, like the cameraman is drunk and suffers from restless leg syndrome. It will also make some super close zooms that are slightly out of focus. Its trying make you feel uneasy, but its mostly just distracting. Likewise some of the cuts can be schizophrenic, angles change on the same scene repeatedly before the scare happens, which again is more confusing then unsettling.

As for Leatherface, well, that's personal opinion on how well he has aged. His face looks more like plastic and rubber then dried faces stitched together now, but his grunting and raspy breathing and lumbers about is still pretty good. You have to love how he waves his chainsaw around like a toy when he chases people, you get the sense he never developed all the way and is just some twisted man child of a cannibalistic butcher. It slides into deep camp often, the decrepit grandfather suckling blood from a finger during the twisted dinner scene being a choice example, but its camp that borders and uncomfortable, so it still mostly works.
His tantrum at the end is great.
Really, if you love 70's horror, then you will still have fun with this. If you don't consider yourself a fan of this particular vein of horror, well then, you should probably steer clear. Me? I was raised on this stuff, and I don't think I can stop loving it.

Whats that? I'm done!? WOO! Run for the hills! Stay tuned for the continuation of my 150 day slide into madness. If you want to see my earlier reviews before my brain started to melt, or want to see where this roller coaster of self abuse is destined to go, then check out The 150 Days of Halloween.


  1. Interesting movie, thanks for the great work!
    I love your blog!

  2. awesome movies, especially "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", I really love the remake from 2003

  3. awesome movie 'chainsaw massacre'

  4. texas chainsaw massacre ruined me for life! saw when i was maybe 11 and never watched another scary movie since

  5. I thought Cold Prey was pretty cool

  6. really good reviews man! Keep up the good work

  7. I swear i've seen Cold Prey, looks so familiar.

  8. The only one I haven't seen in these is Cold Prey, is seems great! :)

  9. Sounds creepy!