Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Toronto After Dark: GRACE

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Let us put the cards down on the table, shall we? Most horror movies these days aim to titillate, not actually scare. When you are cheering for the victims (or the slasher) to be splattered or carved on screen, this is lynch-mob entertainment or vicarious wish-fulfilment. An honest to goodness horror movie, in the humble opinion of this writer, should burrow at a deeply personal, individual level. There is nothing wrong with the former group spectacle (akin to blood-lust for gladiators in the coliseum or even the role modern sports entertainment), it is just not my personal cup of tea. When a movie like Grace comes along and shows how a few very well articulated ideas, specific amplifications of the anxieties of new parents, can really massage its audience with discomfort and bile, you will have to indulge me for getting a little giddy with excitement. The Sundance buzz around this picture, in the wake of a few audience members fainting or rushing for the doors, proudly proclaims to “See it at your own risk.” Believe that film is the real deal. Moms-to-be or folks who have a young one at home in the crib are going to have a more difficult time with Grace than some of the more acknowledged classics of the ‘pregnant-horror’ sub-genre À l’intérieur or Rosemary’s Baby.

Writer-director Paul Solet is content early on in the picture to take precisely aimed satirical strikes at some of the things expecting parents (in the western middle class, but to a degree in any culture) will likely have to deal with at some point. Many ‘older couples,’ as in those getting pregnant into their thirties and beyond, have a rough go at getting pregnant. ‘Mission sex’ centered more around conception than personal intimacy becomes the order of the day. The goal of spawning takes on the guise of a masters thesis. The research around reproducing, the medical and social decisions can be daunting and veer off into obsessive and narcissistic realms. Natural birth or epidural pain killers? Midwife and Doula or Hospital? Breast feeding or baby formula? How far do you want to let the in-laws into the child raising decisions? How do you keep them at arms length if they disagree philosophically. Judgement calls become personal flags of stubborn pride that can alienate friends and family. All the while, images of handsome little infants gleam out from product advertisements in glossy parenting magazines and the overall sales machine of all manner of baby-do-dads. This level of anxiety-joy is much more heightened than say the lucre-circus of marriage due to the biology involved. Biology is one of the great avenues to really going after a horror metaphor; something that David Cronenberg or Shinya Tsukamoto knows a thing or two about, and Grace is certainly gunning to be in that league.

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Bookmarks for August 12th

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What we’ve been reading – August 12th:

  • My Father, The Inglourious Basterd…
    …He belonged to a secret unit made up of refugees from the Nazis. They went on reconnaissance missions in enemy territory; they stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day; they shot at, blew up, captured, and interrogated German soldiers. They didn’t take scalps or carve swastikas into anybody’s forehead.
    Those fanciful elements are present in Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s cartoonish tale of an American death squad made up of Jewish soldiers. Their commander (Brad Pitt) exhorts them to bring him the scalps at least 100 Nazis each. The real story is better.
  • A.O. Scott calls the American Moviegoing Public "Infants"
    One of the key articles on the recent wave of Critics criticizing mainstream audiences for something that has been true for a long time now. It is still strangely condescendnig for Scott who will soon be talking to the masses on the revamped AT THE MOVIES. The Hurt Locker, Funny People, Up and Transformers 2 serve as Scott's key examples of the divide.

    (See also Hitfix's summary below, or Glenn Kenny articulate take, or Roger Ebert's ominous one, or Jeffrey Wells cantankerous one.

  • Why do older movie critics suddenly want everyone off their lawn? – HitFix.com
    A well developed and interesting read on film critics and t he idea that they are out of tuch with the movie going audience. Do critics really hate movie goers?

From Dumplings to Haunted Celluloid; Fruit Chan’s Don’t Look Up Trailer

Don't Look Up Promotional PosterI wasn’t familiar with Fruit Chan until a few years ago when Kurt brought him up in a Cinecast for a top five list about food. I still haven’t seen Dumplings (frankly, I’m a little afraid to) but that passing reference was enough to get my attention when I saw the headline “The Director of Dumplings Sure Loves His Babies”.

Chan has been hard at work on his first English language feature and it’s quite the doozy. A remake of Hideo Nakata’s film, Don’t Look Up was adapted by Hiroshi Takahashi (of Ringu fame) and Brian Cox (a man who has had his fingers in quite the assortment of American remakes of J-Horror). The film centres on a film crew that slowly goes insane when a spirit is released from old celluloid. Sounds weird? It looks even weirder.

I’m not sure how we’re supposed to make out that premise from this trailer but I dare you to try. To me, it looks like a lot of bad acting, a couple of cool effects and a load of others which are almost comedic in their outlandishness. I’m not familiar with Chan’s work so for all I know this horror walking the edge of crazy comedy is right up his alley and this could turn out to be the creepiest thing I’ve seen all year but as it stands, this trailer isn’t selling it as much of a horror film.

The chances of getting the opportunity to see this on the big screen are slim; it looks much too crazy for theatrical release but you never know, maybe someone out there has more guts than brains. Actually, it’s not the first time we’ve seen a baby fly across the floor (thought it looks much cooler here) so who knows, maybe this will have life on the big screen after all. Doubtful but anything is possible.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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Creepy Trailer(s) for Grace

Grace One SheetI love a good horror film but it’s always a struggle to find something new and unexpected and sometimes we (or maybe just I) settle for mediocre fare. Last year I was surprised and impressed by how effective Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (our review) was and it looks like 2009 will have its very own great horror film.

Grace premiered at Sundance a few weeks back and the folks who know horror have nothing but good things to say about Paul Solet’s first full length feature.

Based on his short film from 2006, Grace tells the story of a woman who, after discovering that her baby is dead, chooses to carry it to term. When she finally gives birth, the baby is miraculously alive but has an appetite for human blood (Ooooo! Vampire baby?). Devin Faraci has said that this is body horror “the likes of which we haven’t seen since the heyday of Cronenberg.” Those are some big shoes to fill but I’m hopeful that the movie doesn’t disappoint.

The film has been picked up for distribution by Anchor Bay who have yet to give it an official release date though from the clips I’ve seen and the positive reception, they’d be missing out, not to mention angering horror fans, by simply dumping it on DVD down the road. Here’s hoping we get to see it on the big screen.

The trailer and Sundance teaser are tucked under the seat.

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