Saturday, January 31, 2015

Back in Time - A 1985 Retrospective: Phenomena (Dario Argento)

Originally released in Italy a whole 30 years ago today, Phenomena is generally seen as one of Dario Argento's last great movies (his next film, Opera, being sometimes described as the beginning of the end). It doesn't seem to be as highly regarded as now canonical works such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria (and by extension, the more underrated Inferno) and Tenebre, where Argento was seen to be at the height of his powers. But for me personally, this film still feels very much like a director at his creative peak. Admittedly I am biased as this is my favourite Argento movie but I think it's with good reason, as I'll attempt to illustrate. 

Before we continue, I should also say to anyone who hasn't taken the plunge into this director's work or the wider weird and wonderful world of Italian horror cinema that this is arguably an ideal place to start... in fact, and as I heard someone suggest recently, probably more so than the more lauded Suspiria, which can be a hard sell for some people. And assuming not everyone reading this has seen Phenomena, I'll try my best not to spoil some of the wonderful surprises contained within...

Set in Switzerland, the film opens with a young girl (played by Dario's eldest daughter Fiore) left stranded by a country road, after missing her bus. As she walks off to find assistance, a jaw dropping crane shot begins, the camera climbing over tall trees as the credits roll. As it passes over the tops we see the girl heading towards an isolated house. The accompanying music, beautiful but icy and eerie, imbues the whole landscape with a sense of mystery and potential menace. When she reaches the house, this suggestion practically becomes a promise as we see chains attached to a wall being pulled violently, threatening to come loose. 

Needless to say (and this being the opening, it's not a spoiler), things don't end well for poor Vera Brandt. But about this introductory sequence I'll say no more as you really need to see it for yourself. For me, it's as audacious and spectacular an opening as any of Argento's best and gives a clear indication of the wild ride the viewer is in for.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Year New Year, New York New York - New Year's Eve Double Feature: Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989) & Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990)


Instead of going out and running the gauntlet of drunken masses this New Year's Eve, I elected to stay at home this year... again. But it was with good reason I think as I spent the last hour of the night (and the wee ones of the following morning) engrossed in the double feature I'll be talking about today. Both movies are firm favourites but one in particular was one of the formative genre films while I was growing up and is largely responsible (for better or worse) for the film nut I am today. And which movie is that you ask? It's my favourite to watch on New Year's Eve and the last film I saw during 2014... Ghostbusters II...

While I'll be the first to concede it isn't quite on the level of its predecessor, I've always had a huge amount of love for this sequel, it being the first film I ever saw in a theatre, back when I was 5 years old. I remember having an absolute blast with it, even if it did give me a recurring nightmare concerning the Vigo painting. And the bit where he shoots streams of psychic energy (or whatever it is) into Peter MacNicol's eyes made me jump out of my frickin' skin!

All nostalgia aside, I think there's a case to be made for this being underrated, even 25 years after its release. Admittedly it pretty much follows the exact same plot points as the first film but nonetheless I find it to be as entertaining and engaging as the original. In fact, I'm hard pressed to say which one I prefer personally... but as I've implied earlier, I am hugely biased by my own history with these two.