Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Only Weakness . . .

       My favorite scene, from my favorite Horror movie:

... and that’s all I got.
H A P P Y    H A L L O W E E N everybody!

Next post -- 11/09/07

Friday, October 26, 2007


       The end of the world has always been a pretty popular subject matter for the movies. Whether it be by ecological devastation, zombie infestation, or just plain, old-fashioned alien invasion, the apocalypse is a sure-fire formula for providing filmmakers with plenty of tense, plot-driven, life-or-death scenarios. Less often is it the starting point for a character-driven piece; one that revolves around the cares, concerns and foibles of a small group of individuals. But that is, I suppose, part of what makes The Signal so unique, and so compelling.

       The film is structured in the form of a triptych. The first third of the story is told from the perspective of Mya, a young woman who is having an affair with Ben; during a clandestine tryst, they contemplate just picking up and leaving Terminus, the city in which they live. Before they can enact their plans, a bizarre event takes place: every television, radio and phone begins to relay an unintelligible transmission -- one that causes anyone who looks at, or listens to it for any length of time to become completely dissociated from reality; often in a way that is extremely dangerous to those around them. The next third of the film is told from the perspective of Mya’s husband, Lewis; he’s on to the fact that his wife is having an affair, and is desperately searching for her. The last third is told from Ben’s perspective, who attempts to rescue the now-abducted Mya -- and who also has to contend with a very dangerous obstacle in the form of Lewis.

       The Signal has been compared to -- or even mistakenly identified as -- a “zombie” movie; but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Those afflicted by the weird transmission are not mindless, and not necessarily enraged; but they are paranoid, confused -- and become increasingly disconnected from reality. It’s one thing to be in a world of mindless automatons who are out to “eat your brains” -- quite another to be in a world full of rational beings who just have no way of discerning reality from paranoid delusion -- and have no inhibitions to stop them from acting upon their impulses. Ostensibly a “Horror” movie -- and the situation in The Signal is indeed horrific -- nonetheless the film doesn’t always play out like one; the entire second act unfolds as a sit-com (a pretty funny one, I might add). In fact, the film's whole approach to its subject matter has a more studied, analytical feel than what you’d expect from a “fright” flick. Overall, The Signal has more in common with the dystopian novels of J.G. Ballard than it does Night of the Living Dead.

       The Signal’s three-distinct-chapter composition came about because each section was written and directed by a separate person. The film was constructed much like a game of Exquisite Corpse -- each succeeding chapter was handed off to the next writer/director, who was free to develop his portion as he saw fit. The changes in style and mood between each section can be a little jarring, but sudden changes in perspective are kinda’ what the film is all about -- I think it works; at least it did for me. The Signal opens in theaters in February of 2008 -- and really, you can put your mind at ease -- I mean, I took a look at it; and it doesn’t seem to have done m∂ any hram.

Some links:

The Signal’s myspace page.

Magnolia Pictures (the U.S. distributer of the film) website regarding the film.

Next post -- 10/31/07 -- H A L L O W E E N

Friday, October 19, 2007


       Movie sequels, as a rule, are never as good as the original films which spawned them -- the exception proving this rule, interestingly enough, happens to be in the Horror genre -- as is the subject of this week’s post; it’s a sequel as well. It’s certainly not a better film than its predecessor; except perhaps in terms of production value and the quality -- and downright inventiveness -- of the make-up effects created for the film. It is, however, being released on DVD just in time for Halloween -- and it does give me an excuse to glob a bit about Frank Henenlotter, a filmmaker whose work I enjoy the heck out of...        so, mehh -- why not write a post about Basket Case 2 ? It’s an entertaining enough little romp.

       Basket Case 2 picks up immediately where the first film left off. Duane and Belial Bradley, the two conjoined twins who were so rudely separated in the first film, are recovering from the injuries they sustained as the result of their... -- uhh, extracurricular activities. They’re rescued -- well kidnapped, really -- by Granny Ruth, a woman whose maternal, nurturing nature compels her to provide care and refuge for “unique individuals” -- “freaks” to you and me -- and so she takes them under her wing. Duane, the normal-looking twin, is easy enough to support; but Belial, his brother -- who sort of looks like a lump of Play-Doh™ with a face and two arms... well something you might refer to as a ‘face’ and ‘two arms’ at any rate -- is another story. Suffice to say, Belial has some major anger-management issues -- and with a couple of reporters hot on the trail of the murderous “Bradley Twins”, it looks like his therapeutic progress is in for a serious setback...

       Frank Henenlotter, the director of Basket Case 2 works out of the NYC area -- and his films are very much the product of “a New York state of mind” -- this isn’t Woody Allen’s New York, or Noah Baumbach’s, or even Martin Scorsese’s, for that matter. It’s the Big Apple of the old 42nd St. -- before its’ Disney-fication, during the hey-day of the independent theater venues -- the Grindhouses. While Tarantino and Rodriguez’s namesake feature was a well-intentioned homage to these types of movies, Henenlotter’s entire oeuvre is a more faithful tribute to this exploitation film tradition. His films don’t always have the ‘tightest’ scripts, but they all juggle humor, horror and a certain amount of titillation in that particular -- and very entertaining -- manner that only exploitation pics can. Basket Case 2 certainly isn’t his best film (that would be Brain Damage, IMHO), but it has alot going for it -- a blackly comic sense of humor; some truly innovative prosthetics (designed by the talented Gabe Bartalos, whose most recent work can be seen in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle); and the just-plain-wrongest sex scene in the history of cinema.

       Basket Case 2 will be released on DVD (in a widescreen special edition) on October 30th -- the day before Halloween. All of Henenlotter’s other films are currently available on DVD, including Basket Case, the very good prequel to Basket Case 2, and Basket Case 3, the very bad -- and thankfully final -- movie in the series. So, why not take a look inside the basket -- what’s inside is really quite surprising.

Some links:

Frank Henenlotter on the IMDb.

An interview with Frank Henenlotter regarding his latest film project.

Next post -- 10/26/07

Friday, October 12, 2007


       I suppose it’s an impetuous statement to make -- some two and a half months before the end of the year -- to say that I’ve already seen the best movie of 2007; but I’m making it, all the same. The film in question has a running time of about seventeen minutes, really only has one main character, no dialogue and oh... -- did I happen to mention? It’s a cartoon. But hasty or not, as of right now, that’s my stand -- I haven’t yet seen; nor do I think I’m likely to see -- a better film this year than Don Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be OK.

       The plot -- or as much as I’m willing to reveal of it here -- is simple and straightforward enough. Bill, an average fellow just trying to live his life, begins to find his everyday tasks and responsibilities more than he can handle. Despite ongoing treatment from his doctor, Bill begins to question his own health and well-being . . . and that’s all you really need to know. As I mentioned, Everything Will Be OK is an animated film, done in Hertzfeldt’s familiar stick-figure renderings; but he’s also incorporated some stylistic enhancements -- the use of masks or mattes within the frame (often three or four onscreen simultaneously); the occasional addition of photographic backgrounds as landscapes; the occasional color wash or glow-illumination effect on an object. The most significant enhancement, though, is this time ‘round Hertzfeldt has made a film that’s more than just smart, funny and snappily-paced (although it’s all those things, as well); he’s made a film that’s genuinely moving.

       I think it can be truthfully said that Don Hertzfeldt’s career is unprecedented within the world of independent film -- certainly within the world of independent animation. Self-taught as an animator, Hertzfeldt’s first short (Ah, L’Amour) was released when he was only 19 and still a student at UC Santa Barbara’s Film program -- he’s still located there, in that same city, despite his relatively close proximity to the “film capital” -- Los Angeles. Hertzfeldt’s later films have gone on to win a slew of awards and accolades -- Rejected was actually nominated for an Academy Award in 2001. Most recently, Everything Will Be OK won the 2007 Jury Award for Best Short Film at the Sundance Film Festival -- the first time an animated film has taken that particular honor. What really makes Hertzfeldt’s career unique is that he seems to produce all his films without recourse to commercial ad work -- the traditional; and frequently thought of as the only way for an independent animator to make a living -- even the iconoclastic Bros. Quay resort to making the occasional commercial to fund their other projects. Hertzfeldt has made his position on commercial ad work very clear -- despite some very lucrative offers, he regards all commercials as “lies” -- and absolutely refuses to do them. Instead, he seems to rely upon revenue from the sale and exhibition of his films to fund his projects -- and creates his works through the time-consuming -- but cost-cutting -- process of hand animation; no computers involved, anywhere in the process, In fact, Hertzfeldt still uses one of the last still-functioning Richardson animation cameras (primarily used for TV cartoons of the 60’s and 70’s -- including the old Peanuts specials) to photograph all his work -- people, let me tell you; it’s the cinematic equivalent of making stained glass.

       Everything Will Be OK is the first part of an intended trilogy. Post-production is well underway for the as-of-yet untitled second part, to be released as a segment within the 2008 edition of The Animation Show -- an annual compilation of animated shorts (in all styles) from around the world that Hertzfeldt and fellow filmmaker Mike Judge put together and distribute. The 2007 edition is still playing here and there, and the 2008 version will start its rounds sometime in late winter or early Spring of this upcoming year. Hertzfeldt’s films are all available through his website; You can order all his previous shorts on a single DVD called Bitter Films, vol 1: 1995-2005; and I’m happy to say that, as of today, Friday Oct. 12th, Everything Will Be OK will also be available through that same site. It’s worth every penny of its $12.00 price-tag. Really.

Some links:

Welcome to the Show, a brief opening intro to The Animation Show.

Intermission in the Third Dimension a brief interlude from The Animation Show.

Finally, End of the Show -- also from The Animation Show.

An interview with Guy Maddin -- which has nothing to do with this week’s entry, but regular readers know that we’re all about Maddin here at Beyond the Ranges . . ..

Next post -- 10/19/07

Friday, October 5, 2007

'Tis the season . . .

       It’s October, and even here in balmy L.A. the nights are getting a bit cooler -- not so much the days, but the nights, yes... With the change of season, comes a whole host of other changes -- the shorts get packed away until next year, jackets get put back on hangers and the A/C finally gets shut off -- and since October is also the month of All Hallows' Eve, the entries you’ll read between now and Halloween will all revolve around Horror movies -- with the exception of next week, I should mention. We kick things off with an assortment of movies (all available on DVD) appropriate for the “Holiday season” -- a selection of films that I hope you’re not overly familiar with; thoughtfully presented early enough in the month that you can pick up whichever one might catch your fancy well before Halloween; at your neighborhood video store; or add it to your Netflix queue; or heck, with any luck, just pluck it from the cut-out bin at Amoeba Records.

       For those who prefer their Horror “old-school”, I really can’t recommend 1935’s MAD LOVE enough. The movie stars Peter Lorre (in a performance that very much inspired this character) as Dr. Gogol; a gifted but “eccentric” surgeon. Mad Love is one of the many film versions -- but not the first -- of that old pot-boiler, “The Hands of Orlac”; a story in which a talented pianist has his injured hands surgically replaced with those of a talented murderer; the hands, of course, have a mind of their own (if I had a nickel for every time this idea was “borrowed” by some TV show or awful direct-to-video thriller...). The film was directed by Oscar winning cinematographer, Karl Freund -- who also developed the 3-camera system of shooting sitcoms for the I Love Lucy show in the early 50’s. Mad Love is the forgotten step-child of 30’s Horror films; Universal dominated that scene with their all-star monster line-up; and while this, an early MGM foray into fright films, is a worthy addition to those classics, it lacks a distinctive “monster” -- and so never quite found the audience that Dracula or Frankenstein did. Mad Love was released on DVD about this time last year with little fanfare -- or notice on part of consumers -- as part of the Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection, as released by Warner Home Video; so look for it under that title.

       Larry Fesseden’s The Last Winter is playing in theaters as you read this; he’s an actor and director who’s made a career out of making modern, “indie” Horror films, and for my money, his HABIT is clearly the best of the bunch. The movie opens by introducing us to Sam (Fessenden), an archetypal, down-on-his-luck, late 90’s slacker type; Sam’s luck seems to turn around when he meets Anna at a costume party -- they immediately hit it off; and she’s smart... mysterious... and sexy as all get-out! The one downside is that Sam is rapidly becoming convinced that she’s a vampire; well, you know what they say: beggars can’t be choosers... Habit certainly isn’t the first time this idea has been done, but rarely has it been executed with so little melodrama -- and certainly no trace of a “camp” sensibility. The film has a matter-of-fact, almost documentary feel that works very much in its favor. "Low-key" isn't a mood that most horror movies opt for -- but that unlikely choice of style just makes this film all the more effective.

       GINGER SNAPS is the movie that Teen Wolf should have been. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are sisters, pariahs at their high school and deep in the throes of that “difficult” period of adolescence -- things actually seem to get better for Ginger after she’s bitten by a very large “dog”. Well, relatively “better” -- if you can ignore the unsightly hair growth and the sudden appearance of a tail, that is. Look out, high school! Ginger may have been ‘goth’ before, but kids, she’s taking it to a whole new level! Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the wild, uncontrolled onset of adolescence seems like such an obvious idea that it’s surprising it took 43 years for this concept to get recycled (you get points if you can name the first -- hint: Ginger Snaps was made in the year 2000; do the math) . What makes Ginger Snaps really worthwhile is its well-written script, solid direction, and the excellent performances by the two leads.

       The popularity of J-Horror here in the States comes as no surprise to me. Coming at a time when American examples of the form are at an all-time creative nadir -- nothing but endless iterations of the “slasher” genre -- J-Horror succeeds by going back to the form’s roots: ghost stories (of which Japan has a very rich tradition) and tales of psychological pathology, a lá Poe (who is very much respected in Japan; so much so, that Japan’s most renowned writer of horror fiction borrowed his nom de plume from him). AUDITION is an example of the latter type of tale, and concerns a widower named Aoyama, who, working as he does in the film industry, decides to hold an “audition” for a prospective new wife. Asami, the woman he picks as his fiance, is beautiful, demure and a talented ballet dancer to boot -- unfortunately, she’s got a few... uhh, skeletons in her closet, so to speak. Unlike some recent J-Horror films that were snapped up for American-ized remakes (The Ring and The Grudge. for example), Audition has resisted being re-imagined as a U.S film; probably because the ideas behind it are just too disturbing; at least they would be -- to the mostly male studio heads who could potentially green-light such a thing. In addition to disturbing ideas, Audition has -- after a deceptively languorous opening 60 minutes or so -- some of the most unsettling execution of said ideas that I’ve ever seen. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking, but not for the squeamish.
       You’ve been warned.

       1961’s THE INNOCENTS is, plain and simple, a pretty-durned good cinematic adaptation of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” -- it is by far the most genteel and mannered of the films featured in this entry -- but compelling all the same. For those unfamiliar with the story, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a 19th century nanny and governess, is given charge over two orphaned children and the expansive manse and grounds upon which they live. A difficult enough task on its own, made more so by Miss Giddens growing concern that the grounds are haunted -- and that the children may be possessed. Quite a few people cite Robert Wise’s The Haunting or Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby as pitch-perfect examples of how to make a horror movie that works by suggestion alone, rather than relying upon excessive violence or gore to generate goose-bumps-- but for my money, The Innocents is at least as effective as either of those. And, ya’ know -- you get to bone up on your Henry James; he’s a rather dry read, if memory serves correctly. At any rate, from the sublime...

       ... to the ridiculous. Frank Henenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER has its share of horrifying moments, I suppose, but as the title would suggest, they’re overshadowed by the humorous ones. The plot -- such as it is: Jeffrey Franken, med school drop-out, decides to “rebuild” his dead girlfriend, Elizabeth, who was accidentally killed by a wayward automated lawnmower (don’t ask ...). Lacking a convenient nearby graveyard, Jeffrey decides to rent some prostitutes for this task, because, really, who’ll miss ’em? He can make Elizabeth better, stronger, .... uhh, well, busty-ier, at any rate. Of course the various spare parts and their respective pimps make things difficult for Jeffrey and Elizabeth, and wacky hi-jinks do, indeed, ensue. Frankenhooker was made by Henenlotter as part of a contractual obligation with the film distributor who was financing his better known Basket Case series. He’s not taking the whole set-up very seriously, and everything that can be played for laughs, is. A good choice for those who don’t like being even a teensy bit scared on Halloween. Frankenhooker was released last year after a long period of being Out-of-Print; it’s available now on DVD in a strikingly good-looking widescreen transfer -- What can I say? it’s reassuring to know that somebody’s preserving the classics...

Next post -- 10/12/07