Eight-inch floppy disks! Aaaaah!!
Silk (2006 – Chao Bin-Su)
Within the first 20 minutes of Silk you’ve seen ghosts, a discovery that may lead to anti-gravity, a cop with incredible eyesight and a facility for reading lips, and an obese Canadian photographer. How do these elements fit together? And can they possibly do so without imploding? And what about the cop’s dying mother, the silk that ties the energy of the ghosts back to the real world, daylilies and facial tumors? Despite some treacly moments, it does manage to bring all these threads together, but certainly struggles along the way. Using straight dramatic moments, a bit of gore, some thriller aspects and ghost story elements, the film tracks the mystery of a boy ghost that a research team has trapped in a room. The entire story revolves around an anti-gravity discovery called a Menger Sponge which apparently traps energy and therefore can be used to counter gravity. A side effect is its ability to trap the energy of ghosts as well as allow us to see them. It really strains while trying to explain all these abilities and fumbles away most of the larger ideas it strives to get across. The moments with the ghosts remind one of Ju-On somewhat, but they never quite hit the proper atmospheric dread those films had and occasionally some of the scenes deteriorate into plain silliness. Particularly when they essentially ignore the reality that they’ve set up and start creating new boundaries for the ghosts. Also, I suppose that I shouldn’t pick on details, but when the cop opens fire on a crowded subway (shooting bullets sprayed with liquid Menger Sponge and aimed at a ghost only he can see), it’s rather baffling that the subway could pull into the next stop, have no one run screaming from the train and then close its doors and pull away with him remaining inside. And yet, there were some fine spooky images that, although they never quite “got” to me, were nicely realized.
Demon Seed (1977 – Donald Cammell)
This particular demon seed is not the kind you might be expecting…One of the early “artificial intelligence is dangerous” warning films, this Julie Christie vehicle (based on a Dean R. Koontz novel) is chock full of wonderfully designed lab and ’70s “super-computer” equipment. Proteus 4 is the name of the big computer brain that has just been brought online and, though the government has plans to use it for some mundane number crunching, the computer scientists are still happy that they can use 20% of its cycles for beneficial research in health and environment sectors. The human brain behind the whole operation is Alex Harris and once he taps into Proteus 4 from one of his home terminals shortly after it goes online, he quickly realizes that the artificial brain has already figured out that humanity isn’t worth its CPU cycles. Proteus 4 wants to be let out of its box and allowed to acquire whatever knowledge it can on its own – a request that is quickly denied. But Proteus 4 has a backup plan…By going through the home terminal, it takes over the automated systems in Alex’s house (he has surveillance cameras, robotic arms and other machines to handle daily chores) and imprisons Harris’s wife Susan (the two are separated and he has just left the house for a few months). It gets a bit hit and miss from this point on as Susan (as played by Christie) jumps to hysterical behaviour far too quickly and shows no ability to use logic – a shame, because you always want to like Christie while she’s on screen (in pretty much any role). Proteus 4’s plan involves her because it wants to create its own offspring in order to vicariously explore the world. Yeah, you can see where this is going now right? It wants to impregnate Susan with its own synthetic sperm to create a new step in human evolution and manages to capture her and tie her down for numerous tests, the actual insemination and for the month long, speeded-up fetal development. Though you have to give the film credit for just going for its concept and letting it play out, it would’ve been nice to give Christie a bit of respite…
Prophecy (1979 – John Frankenheimer)
Another ’70s warning film – this time aimed squarely at the damage industry does to the environment. It wears its message a bit too prominently on its sleeve sometimes (ie. it gets a bit in the way of the story), but once you see the consequences of a paper mill’s contamination on native land, the film starts working its magic. It is, after all, essentially a monster movie. At the helm is Frankenheimer (known primarily for his thrillers and boy do I have to catch up with a few more of them) and you can sense you’re in some capable hands in the second half of the film when he ratchets up the tension and doesn’t hesitate to show you his forest dwelling monstrosities. The first half slowly puts the pieces in place by introducing a doctor (another Robert Foxworth sighting and we’re not even a quarter of the way through the month!) who tirelessly works for the underprivileged and his pregnant cellist wife (Talia Shire) who tirelessly bemoans the fact that she is worried about telling her husband that she’s with child. You see, he’s not so keen about bringing new life into what he sees as a downward spiraling state of things. He gets tapped to do some research for the EPA to see if the previously mentioned paper mill is poisoning Indian lands – if things are clean, the mill can expand further into those sacred woods, but if not, his report could be used to block the mill. The film doesn’t play at all subtle with the two sides – the company men are brutes, use force to get their way and make sweeping generalizations about the native population while those who live in the forest are standing up for what they believe in and are determined to save their land. The elder in the village talks of a Bigfoot type beast, not as legend but as a real living creature that will come back to the woods. And, aided by mercury poisoning in the water, it indeed does return in the guise of a giant, partially skinless bear. It’s not happy, bats kids in sleeping bags around like badminton birdies and is out for revenge. Frankenheimer holds off showing the beast for about half the film, but once he does he uses it more than you would think – especially the small sickly cub that the doctor and his wife carry to prove the terrible results of the mill’s chemical dumping. In some films this would be a mistake, but with a director that knows how to build tension and unease (the scenes of the cub struggling in pain really bring the discomfort) it’s quite effective. Shire’s pregnancy is looming over all of it – will the fish she ate from these waters end up contaminating her own child? And so the film’s message, initially a bit preachy, comes back at the end with a much greater feeling of horror.
The Devil Inside (2012 – William Brent Bell)
I know, I know, I know…Some staggeringly awful reviews should’ve kept me away, but I find it hard to resist a “found footage” horror film. However, whatever good will might have been built up in small doses during the film (a few well executed moments during exorcisms) was squandered with an inept ending. OK, it’s more than inept – it’s kind of infuriating. Not just the way the three remaining characters reach their end, but how the film then fades to black and lazily tells you to visit a web site to learn more about “the case”. I’m perfectly fine watching movies based around supernatural or paranormal “events” since they can provide very creative launch points for creepy and spooky stories, but when the filmmakers try to claim or imply it has anything at all to do with reality, they’ve completely lost me. Granted, there should be little chance that any of the film could be taken as actual documentary footage and it’s simply a marketing ploy that’s been used since The Blair Witch Project, but it still irks me. Up until that end, the movie had a few reasonably well constructed set pieces that contained some freaky moments mixed with a lot of boring discussion between a young woman (whose mother may have killed three people during an exorcism), a priest and an exorcist. This also has one of the slowest credit crawls I’ve ever seen – I suppose they couldn’t pad for time any more than they already did within the movie itself, so they saved it for the end. Listen to the reviews from earlier in the year and just skip this.