Day 20: I Bury the Living (1958)
This is what happen when at two in the morning you Google the phrase “best horror movies of the 1950s” and then trust the opinion of some guy who was bored enough to write about it on one of those weird e-pinions websites.
This little known thriller is all concept with rather forgettable execution.
I Bury The Living follows a department store manager who’s forced into running a local cemetery. In his office there’s a large map of the graveyard, marked with black and white pins to indicate occupied and unoccupied plots. After a series of unexplained deaths, the new director believes that he can cause the death of anyone in town by switching their pin from white to black on his map.
A bulletin board that kills people is a solid concept for an episode of The Twilight Zone, but hardly meaty enough for feature length. Most of the movie is dedicated to people trying to test the map’s mettle only to have someone end up dead—over and over again. It does pay off near the end, though, when the director realizes that switching in white pins for the black has the reverse effect on the dead.
Saved by some inspired fits of style, I Bury The Living definitely has more flair than your average 50’s horror film, but ultimately it’s a fairly thin piece of work.
Day 21: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
An astounding piece of late 90’s cheese, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a sequel torn apart by an ambitious but inexperienced director and a studio desperate for a sure-fire cash-in.
Made during the 10 minutes when The Blair Witch Project was as big as Star Wars, Amblin Entertainment hired out Paradise Lost director Joe Berlinger to helm its follow-up to Blair Witch. The choice seems like a sure thing—Berlinger made his name chronicling real-life horror deep inside the woods. But, the problem is that documentarians, even a talented one like Berlinger, are not always suited to fiction.
Berlinger’s idea for Blair Witch 2 was an interesting one. Book of Shadows was to be a traditional narrative film that comments on the media firestorm around the first film, one where a group of Blair Witch obsessives head out into the woods for a decadent night of hardcore binge drinking only for something sinister to happen once they’ve blacked out.
What it amounts to, though, is a movie about a bunch of talkative stereotypes who go into the woods and record themselves having pretentious conversations about God and the deceptive nature of film and then cap off the night with an awesome witch orgy.
The studio, of course, just wanted more shaky footage in the forest.
Wary of Berlinger’s different approach to the film, Amblin forced changes on the final edit to include more graphic violence, a mixed up narrative and a greater presence ooky spooky bullshit that makes absolutely zero sense.
The result is a wildly entertaining train wreck. A train wreck full of kids and canisters of flammable gas. Be it Berlinger’s obvious inexperience working with actors or traditional narrative shining through, or Amblin’s lack of vision—absolutely nothing works in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Despite that though, despite the inconsistent characters, the utter lack of suspense and the kind of acting you only see on SYFY at 4:15 in the morning, Book of Shadows is insanely entertaining. It’s a remarkable time capsule of American pop-culture at the end of the 90’s. There’s constant talk of web sites and e-mails, but no real understanding of any of it. It shows a culture in transition–people obsessed with the budding Internet, but still hooked on MTV, landline phones and those portable CD players that you hook up to your car through the headphone jack.
As odd a choice as it is for a horror movie, the extended—and I mean extended—scene of drunkery and binge smoking going on in the film’s first act is something to behold. It’s common for characters in horror movies to get pretty loaded but this lot in Book of Shadows might be the most debaucherous bunch of losers in cinema. They drink and fuck constantly and it is… great? It’s definitely unique.
So even with its laundry list of faults, Book of Shadows is a movie that aims for the sky and misses spectacularly. Some of its ideas are good, but the execution blows up in the filmmakers’ faces like an ACME brand cannon.
And I *JUST* realized that this movie’s lead is the guy from Burn Notice.
Day 22: Mimic (1997)
For being a director of considerable reputation, I’ve never been too hot on Guillermo Del Toro’s work outside of his best film, Pan’s Labyrinth. Mimic is largely what I’ve come to expect from the director—flat characters, mediocre acting and some pretty gnarly monster work.
When a disease that targets children gets carried around New York City though the city’s cockroach population, a scientist cooks up a breed of super-roaches that will kill all of the infected roaches in the city before dying off themselves due to their inability to breed.
But, as we learned in Jurrassic Park—nature finds a way, and before long the city’s sewers are overloaded with super-sized roaches that have learned to mimic humans.