Dreaming in ultraviolet near dark

Watched a few movies over the weekend. I don’t really feel like doing individual reviews of any of them, so here are my thoughts based on a five-star rating system:

Masters of Horror: Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House

Director Stuart Gordon is the only commercial filmmaker to have made a concerted effort to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s eccentric style of horror to the big screen. His greatest success was and remains Re-Animator, which ironically was based on Lovecraft’s novella “Herbert West–Reanimator,” a work that’s one of Lovecraft’s least-regarded (by himself as well as his fans). By making it into a true dark comedy, Gordon actually improved upon the original tale, though I don’t think there’s anything particularly “Lovecraftian” about the end result.

Gordon’s next effort was From Beyond, based on Lovecraft’s story of the same name, which I haven’t seen and therefore won’t comment on. But I have seen Dagon, Gordon’s attempt at adapting one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. To my mind, Gordon makes a painfully crucial error in the film by setting it in a tiny West European fishing village rather than the haunted New England Lovecraft so adored. That said, there’s enough weirdness to make Dagon one of Gordon’s better efforts, but it’s still doesn’t quite capture that true Lovecraftian feel.

Dreams in the Witch House, Gordon’s first contribution to Showtime’s acclaimed Masters of Horror series, is probably the most faithful Lovecraft adaptation I’ve seen to date. It’s based on one of my favorite Lovecraft tales (though it’s not too highly regarded in critical circles), and it features one of his most successful efforts at blending science fiction with supernatural horror.

Miskatonic University grad student Walter Gilman (Ezra Godden) somewhat reluctantly takes a room in an ancient, crumbling boarding house. Aside from the stereotypically fat and unpleasant landlord, Walter’s housemates include creepy old man Masurewicz (Campbell Lane) and single mother Frances Elwood (Chelah Horsdal). The lonely Walter and Frances are soon engaging in some awkward flirting, while Walter begins having some very odd nightmares involving a witch and a rat with a human face.

I was impressed by the acting of Godden and Horsdal. While the other characters are a bit two-dimensional, Walter and Frances are fully realized and behave as believably as one could, given the circumstances. While Frances was “Frank” in the original story (and obviously not a love interest), many of the major plot points are present. The changes made to the story (and I’m not entirely sure what they are, since I haven’t read it in a year or two) are mostly for the better, I think, adding an emotional involvement with the characters that Lovecraft was incapable of doing.

My only disappointment was the conclusion, which gets bogged down in unnecessary exposition and delays the inevitable a bit too long. The film could easily have used the original ending to the story and gotten away with it.

Overall, though, this is probably my favorite film translation of a Lovecraft story so far. Fingers crossed for that Guillermo Del Toro adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, though.

Near Dark

With surprising frequency, I discover the existence of cult movies I wasn’t even aware of. Evil Dead II was one of those, as was Legend and, most recently, Time After Time. While the quality of these discoveries varies, it’s always interesting to run across these nuggets of genre film.

After the punishing disappointment of Time After Time, I didn’t expect much from Near Dark (1987), which seemed very similar The Lost Boys (which had come out a few months earlier). The films have an almost identical plot: a young man gets turned into a vampire against his will and is then shanghaied by the vampire gang into becoming one of them–or else. But where The Lost Boys was played mostly for thrills and laughs, Near Dark adds a certain pathos about the vampire condition that makes it work surprisingly well.

Billed as a “vampire Western,” Near Dark features Heroes’ Adrian Pasdar as Caleb, the aforementioned dupe; Jenny Wright as the sexy vamp fatale who dupes him; Lance Henriksen as the nihilistic leader of the gang; and Bill Paxton as the resident psychotic. (Jennette Goldstein also plays a vampire, which means Near Dark features three Aliens actors just a year after that movie came out.)

The film’s most famous scene is a bloody massacre in a bar, and what makes it effective is the vampires’ truly cold-blooded attitude toward their victims. Unlike many movie vampires of late, these aren’t the flying monsters of Lost Boys or even the feral, animalistic hedonists of the Blade flicks; these are serial killers whose bloodthirst happens to be literal.

Of course, one does have to get past the psychedelic Tangerine Dream soundtrack–is it me, or is that band singularly responsible for making a third of all ’80s films instantly dated?

The last third of Near Dark is the weakest, with a terrible deus ex machina and some unrealistic behavior on the part of the normies, but overall I was surprised by how much I liked this one.

(Oh, and don’t look now, but there’s a remake on the way.)


DG wanted to watch something dumb, so we got it via On Demand. In the past, I’ve been willing to defend director Kurt Wimmer’s previous film, Equilibrium, which gets a bad rap as a Matrix rip-off even though it was filmed at about the same time and stars a better actor.

But I’m not going to defend Ultraviolet. Holy crap, what the heck was that? I mean…I guess I don’t really have anything to say. Just…wow. What a mess.

  1. j_stone_ left a comment on August 28, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    You’re willing to defend Equilibrium? Really?

    ‘Cause holy shit, I thought that movie sucked. And not in comparison to the Matrix (I know we disagree about that movie). Just pure, total, unblemished suck. I’ll give you that it had a better lead actor, but it didn’t help it much.

    The only reason I watched the whole thing was because I was with Professor Mortis and Doctor Kimmenstein, and didn’t want to just go hide in my bedroom.

  2. Hey! This isn’t about Equilibrium. That movie wasn’t 1/10th as painful as Ultraviolet–even though the latter had Milla as eye candy.

    As for Equilibrium, it would be more accurate to say I would defend it against those who say it’s a Matrix rip-off by saying both films managed to suck independent of one another.

    And technically, Equilibrium is an example of Clarke’s Law: “Any movie in which someone’s face or body get sliced, then slowly slides off, sucks.” Other examples include Resident Evil, Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator, and Underworld. I was actually disappointed Ultraviolet didn’t contain such a shot.

  3. What about 300? That was about ninety minutes of heads doing the ‘slow slide’. The ‘slow slide’ is this decade’s ‘slow clap’.

  4. On Near Dark:

    It’s no accident that film featured three Aliens’ alums. ND was directed by Katheryn Bigelow, who at the time was (how should I put this delicately?)… banging James Cameron. My guess is Bigelow got Paxton, Henricksen and Goldstein through a profitable round of pillow talk.

  5. On Hollywood’s treatment of Lovecraft:

    What’s your take on John Carpenter’s ‘In the Mouth of Madness’? I know it’s not based on anything Lovecraft wrote but it certainly seems to play as a tribute to his greatest hits.

  6. @Ed?

    300: Yeah…I wasn’t the biggest fan of 300, but it didn’t suck. I guess I’d say it’s the exception that proves the rule, particularly since, as you say, it’s about two straight hours of that kind stylized violence. Also, I have to be fair: though the rule declares that these movies suck, and they definitely aren’t great films, I did enjoy Resident Evil and, to a lesser degree, Underworld. Of the films, RE definitely had the best slowly-slide-apart sequence (the laser corridor).

    I read somewhere (imdb or Wikipedia, so consider the source) that Henriksen, Goldstein and Paxton each didn’t know the others were auditioning. Once they were all cast, the director added a film marquee with Aliens in the background of one scene. It’s possible that they were all approached for the film separately by Bigelow (or Cameron), of course.

    As for In the Mouth of Madness…it’s a Lovecraft pastiche, rather than a Lovecraft adaptation, but I’d say it’s an honest attempt at capturing that Lovecraftian feel. I still liked Dreams in the Witch House more, though.

  7. Bale and Bean got me to flix Equilibrium and even with their talent, along with Diggs, Watson and Fichtner, it definitely still sucked. Hard.

  8. Kate left a comment on August 29, 2007 at 9:53 am

    I LOVE ME SOME “NEAR DARK.” Yes, the end is dumb, but the cinematography is brilliant. And Adrian Pasdar is so wee and cute! He’s like the good twin to Tom Cruise’s bad/batshit insane twin.

    I do not love “Equilibrium.” That is all.

  9. j_stone_ left a comment on August 29, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    You’re a strange man.

    I’ll grant you that Equilibrium is not a Matrix rip-off. But it still sucks (I happen to love the Matrix, but we know that fight will go nowhere.).

    I happen to back Ed on his belief that 300 also sucks.

  10. I don’t think Ed thinks 300 sucks. He liked it better than I did.

    And have I ever pretended to be anything other than strange?

  11. @JFCC – Not to start a turf war, but I think you liked it more than I did. Here’s a quote from your review:

    “But I kid Frank Miller and Zak Snyder! 300 is an astonishing spectacle.”

    I’m with j_stone. It sucks.

    Or maybe that’s a bit strong. It certainly left me coldly detatched. I saw it once and do not need to see it again (nor the promised 400 that Frank Miller is inexplicably taunting us with).

    I actually think 300 is the poster child for a year of promising genre flicks that actually left me underwhelmed.

    Best movie of the year so far (in my opinion) has to go to Pan’s Labyrinth (although its technically a 2006 release) and Knocked Up.

  12. That line was meant to be a bit facetious–a typical reviewer’s pullquote. 300 was really big among the geeks and I didn’t feel like going to the mat again like I did with The Matrix. I do think 300 is a spectacle…but it was all spectacle and no substance. In my review, I actually wanted to discuss Susan Sontag’s theories about fascist art and how it glamorizes death…but frankly, I’m glad I didn’t go there.

    I’m in complete agreement that Pan’s Labyrinth is the best movie I’ve seen in the last year.

  13. j_stone_ left a comment on August 31, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I have not seen Pan’s Labyrinth, so I cannot comment on it.

    I actually do think 300 sucks. Specificially, I found it BORING. A movie about the Battle of Thermopalaye should be many things, but boring is not one of them.

    It took one of my favorite moments of classical history, and turned into something that made me sleepy. That’s fucking atrocious.

  14. I agree. 300 was pretty dull. And frankly, it wasn’t all that pretty, either—I’ve never liked those murky CGI-generated backgrounds. They always look fake to me.

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