Friday, May 27, 2016

067. Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon and 068. Creepers

Jump to Creepers (1985)

067. Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon aka House of Madness aka The Mansion of Madness (1973)
Director: Juan López Moctezuma
Writers: Carlos Illescas, Juan López Moctezuma, and Gabriel Weiss based on “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” by Edgar Allen Poe
From: Chilling

A journalist travels to France to document a radical new technique for treating madness. When he arrives at the sanitarium, however, he finds that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Yes, it's the mad dictating to the sane, and there's not much else to say about it. The journalist is taken to the asylum by a friend and, as soon as he's dropped off, their carriage carrying the friend, the friend's cousin, and their bodyguard is attacked by the patients. The friend is tied up, the bodyguard knocked out, and the cousin is chased down and raped.

Yup. We're starting there.

And kind of ending there as well. There isn't any plot to speak of—the first half of the movie is the journalist being shown the grounds and the various examples of madness on display, and the second half is him, briefly, saving the daughter of the real doctor, then both of them being captured and held as the mad doctor's prisoners. In the end, just before the journalist is about to be killed by three people in chicken suits, the real hospital staff breaks free and overpowers the patients.

Yeah. Menaced by people in chicken suits and there's still nothing to say about the film. How do you screw that up?

The movie has inherent tonal problems. It's supposed to be a horror film and is aiming at something surreal and unnerving. From some of the content—the crucified man at the entrance to the titular dungeon quoting Dante, the liturgical dance about the world dying and being born again in the roots of the baobab tree—it's unsurprising to learn that the director worked with Jodorowsky as a producer on Fando and Lis and El Topo. And there are unnerving and evocative visuals at times. All that's undone, though, by a soundtrack that elicits thoughts of a British farce. The music has a trilling goofiness during high-tension moments that make it reek of slapstick. It's so bad a choice that it actually strips the movie of any tension it'd otherwise have.

So definitely not a recommend although, from a glance at Wikipedia, the Poe story that it's based on, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” looks pretty interesting and, to the movie's credit, it seems the movie hit upon the key parts. Fortunately the story, as all of Poe's work, is in the public domain and can be read freely. Unfortunately, the movie, through previously public domain, has been pulled back under control due to GATT. The loss, I'm sure, is deeply felt by us all.

068. Creepers aka Phenomena(1985)
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini
From: Drive-In

Jennifer is sent to a Swiss boarding school where a serial killer is on the prowl. Fortunately, she can communicate psychically with insects and may be the only person who can hunt the killer down.

Oh, how do move on from that plot synopsis? Where else is there to go?

A young girl in the Swiss countryside misses the tour bus that'll take her back to town. She tries to find help in a nearby house, but something chained up in the basement breaks free and decapitates her. Eight months later, her head is found and brought to the attention of the entomologist she was working for, Professor John McGregor (played by Donald Pleasence, Dr. Loomis himself). The lead inspector on the case, Geiger, talks to him briefly and then disappears until the end of the film.

There's more than a bit of, “just forget about that for now,” going on in this picture.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is being brought to the Swiss boarding school she'll be staying at for the next year. Her first night there, she sleepwalks and witnesses the murder of one of her schoolmates. In shock, she wanders into town, gets hit by a car, jumps from the car while the drivers are taking her . . . somewhere (it's not clear if it's the hospital or to kill her), and she's found by the Professor's chimp.

Dr. Loomis consults Lancelot Link
Did I not mention the chimp? There's a chimp. She helps the wheelchair-bound Professor and makes her first appearance wielding a scalpel.

Monkey with a knife. I love this movie.

Chimp takes Jennifer to the Professor, they share their enthusiasm for bugs, and, as things start to escalate, she returns to him for help and advice.

I'll refrain from saying much more except that the film probably has the most hilarious series of escalating “You're not helping” moments in its conclusion that I've ever seen. For a good ten minutes, the movie insists on adding more and more jump scares and twists and I never laughed so hard at such violence in my life.

The movie's not hilariously bad in any way, it just has the strangest logic. I mean, there's a point where Donald Pleasence figures out a way to use bugs and Jennifer's psychic connection with them—which, by the way, is not the centerpiece of the film. Girl with psychic bug powers is the b-plot. Glorious! Anyway, he figures out a way to find the killer's hideout by using bugs and Jennifer's power and sends the girl out on her own.

Apparently in the mid-80's, when you needed to send children somewhere children shouldn't go, you sent Jennifer Connelly. “There's a serial killer murdering young girls just like you, Jenn. Why don't you go check it out?” “David Bowie's all coked up and wearing a codpiece, Jenn. Why don't you go check it out?”

I can't recommend this movie enough. It's so out there, so steeped in its own logic, just grab some friends, some beers, and enjoy the ride. It's so worth it. This was not my first time watching it and it still left me giddy. This version, under the title Creepers is the US cut which has 20 minutes removed. It may be easier to find the full version under it's proper title, Phenomena, but even that may take some digging.

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