Day 13: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Aside from the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and Poltergeist, I’m not particularly well versed on the career of Tobe Hooper. In an effort to dig through the director’s deep cuts, I went for his three-hour, made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.

Which was… probably not the wisest choice.

I like Stephen King—he’s just not the easiest writer to adapt (which is odd considering how basically everything he’s ever written has been adapted to some other medium). In the best King adaptations (which, restricted to horror, is The Shining, Carrie, and The Mist), the filmmakers use King’s stories and characters as a jumping off point for their own vision–it’s when King’s books get used as blueprint when things get dull.

Salem’s Lot is a solid 90 minute film stretched and strained to death over three hours. King’s book is long—but not that long. There was no need to painstakingly recreate King’s material to tell the relatively simple story of a vampire shacking up in a small Maine town and quickly getting to work converting the small town yokels into small town blood-suckers. It’s not surprising that there’s a shorter cut of the film floating around which–supposedly–improves on the tiresome 3 hour version.

Regardless of length, though, Hooper’s direction is flat and lifeless, the performances are unremarkable and nearly all of King’s color feels as washed out as the movie’s brown palate. There are a few inspired scenes—like a young vampire convert floating outside the bedroom window of his terrified older brother—but with three hours to cover, that scene gets repeated—twice—diminishing the effect each time.

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Day 14: Inside (2007)

I was hesitant about Inside—a home invasion story about the theft of a baby through forced cesarean. For one, I haven’t liked any of the so called French New Wave of horror movies I’ve come across. High Tension was promising until its asinine twist ending kicked in, and the much lauded Martyrs left me annoyed, angry and hating French people in general for its cigarette ash philosophizing as rationalization for its brutal premise.

The main reason I avoided Inside, though, was that I really just didn’t want to see a baby get cut out of a woman’s stomach with… just… this gigantic pair of scissors. They are so big, Jesus Christ, it’s… yeesh.

I don’t scare easily, but when you watch a lot of horror movies you quickly find your limits. Turns out one of my limits is torture via huge fucking scissors. That and the Paranormal Activity movies.

But I walked away enraptured by Inside, quickly seeing that my hang ups on avoiding the film were flimsy and wrong-headed. Inside is a film that not only delivers a gauntlet of extreme punishment on both the viewer and the characters, it’s also absolutely soaked with dread. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury wring every ounce of suspense out the film’s small premise, setting a woman whose pregnancy leaves her feeling empty against another who will do absolutely anything for the same blessing.

The narrative may get messy near the end—characters make some choices that no would ever make in a million years ever—but overall Inside is a fantastic piece of horror. Brutal, troubling, terrifying and brilliant.

I still think Martyrs sucks though, so fuck you, France.

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Day 15: One Missed Call (2004)

Holy cow is this movie long.

With One Missed Call, Takashi Miike takes a crack at the—now classic—Japanese ghost story with a modern twist. The film follows a group of college kids who start meeting grisly ends after they get voicemails that fortells their deaths. Miike’s film is crafty and spooky in the sequences when the kids get haunted by their own ring-tones, but it takes a hard dive in the second hour. When the vengeful phone ghost whittles down the cast to its last girl, the film loses narrative focus—first becoming a send-up of cheesy Japanese television, and then veering too closely to The Ring and The Grudge—complete with a long haired ghost girl with chip on her shoulder—to be taken seriously.

I had high hopes for One Missed Call, despite finding Miike’s Audition rather dull, but it seems my hunt for a Japanese horror film that speaks to me continues.