Cabin Fever: A bunch of short movie notes

Cabin Fever: A bunch of short movie notes March 21, 2020

Sea Fever: Basically an Irish version of Underwater–trapped people encounter an unexplained underwater phenomenon which is as deadly as it is extraordinary. I liked it a lot more than Underwater (which I saw on the basis of Kindertrauma’s glowing recommendation). The budget is smaller but the characters struck me as more organically-developed, rather than having the characteristics that they needed in order to hit certain emotional beats–the captains in these two films have essentially the same tragic backstory, and yet I believed it more in Sea Fever because the pacing by which it was revealed felt less calculated. And I doubt it’s coincidence that the women’s costumes here were significantly less revealing and video-game-y. (I will say that the underwater beast in Underwater is fantastic, no shade to that creature.)

I loved this film when I walked out of the theater, and although it shrunk a bit in retrospect, I’d recommend it if you want an encounter with the subaquatic sublime.

Harry and the Hendersons: I remember this as a childhood favorite. It’s a sweet tale of a family who hit a Bigfoot on the road home from a weekend in the woods. “Harry” makes himself at home with them, but humans are hunting him and he’s not really made for the urban environment. There’s some interesting gender stuff: The dad, who works at his own father’s gun dealership, is all camo-sports-masculinity, but turns out to be hiding a talent for tender artistry which the events of the film vindicate. Unfortunately a lot of the acting is shrill. The final image of the other Bigfoots melting out of the woods is truly haunting.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2: I haven’t actually seen Prom Night but afaik you don’t have to. This 1987 slasher sequel is kind of impressively bonkers; somebody cut its brakes. A high schooler of easy virtue scrawls her number in lipstick on the kneeler in the confessional… a possessed teen French kisses her dad… a pregnant girl (and style icon) dies in an apparent suicide. I would not call this a “good” movie but if you like slashers more than I do you may well disagree. It is certainly a lot of whatever it’s trying to be.

Highlights include the ’50s music and the incredibly scary carousel horse. This thing lives in the heroine’s pastel bedroom and at first it is a sweet horse-girl kind of toy but then bUT THEN its eyes redden, its lips curl back, IT HAS VEINS… whoever designed Veiny Horse is a maestro of nightmares. Lisa Schrage and her heart-shaped face are fabulous as the villainous undead prom queen Mary Lou. Think I watched this because of Final Girl’s recommendation.

Dirty Harry: Beautifully-made propaganda for police brutality. Clint Eastwood is not as great as I expected tbh, he does weirdly stilted line readings, although the second time he does the iconic how-many-bullets shtik he really does sell it. A serial killer is on the loose and who’s gonna stop him–the Constitution? The villain is a killer hippie with an actual skewed peace sign on his belt, that’s where we were at as a culture by 1971. So well-directed by Don Siegel but you’ll want a shower when it’s over.

St Elmo’s Fire: I like Joel Schumacher. I like the ’80s. I like seeing actual DC in movies, even when it’s Georgetown. I… really hated this. Rich youths learn that life goes on after graduation. I disliked all the characters and whatever magic John Hughes had, where he could make me root for characters I disliked doing things I detested, this movie hasn’t got. If you think I’m wrong here feel free to tell me, since I hate hating movies and am willing to admit I missed something, but I wanted zero of this. I wanted less than zero!

Stand By Me and River’s Edge: Two films from the same year (1986) about kids/callow teens who find a dead body by the river. In all other respects totally different. SBM is the adult perspective, the voice-over. It’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete etc etc. It’s an autumnal movie and a self-indulgent one, carried by the inherent pathos of its premise (The Last Summer We Were All Together) and the stellar acting. From “The Body,” by Stephen King, and similar to “Low Men in Yellow Coats” in its depiction of the early 1960s as simultaneously nightmare and idyll. So that balance also gives a movie which could have been saccharine a genuine edge and strangeness. How can we remember such a hard and helpless time with so much nostalgia?

River’s Edge is more like “Class of ’84, but with less empathy.” It’s a nihilistic movie about teens without human feelings, surrounded by self-absorbed adults who yell at them for not having human feelings. Keanu Reeves is fantastic as a confused kid with some kind of rudimentary conscience. Again, the acting is quite strong from almost everybody, but maybe the most interesting thing here is the emphasis on what it means to feel deeply. The teens are clearly sort of sociopathic for not feeling more, but the adults are yanked around by their feelings (and their self-images, Dennis Hopper’s sex-doll owner hymning himself as a romantic killer) and so their propaganda for emotionalism is… unpersuasive. Caveat spectator (?), this camera loves to linger on the naked dead girl. (In fact you could summarize the differences between these two movies by saying in Stand By Me the corpse is a clothed boy and we basically don’t see him, whereas in River’s Edge it’s a naked girl and the camera vampirizes every inch.)

Lifeboat: A British ship is destroyed by a German U-Boat during WWII and the survivors clamber, one by one, onto a lifeboat helmed by none other than the great Tallulah Bankhead. I remembered this as being really third-tier Hitchcock but I was wrong. It’s much grimmer than I remembered, with a dead baby in the first 15 minutes and discussion of vigilante execution throughout. It’s also just achingly beautiful in moments–the silhouettes as Joe (Canada Lee) recites the 23rd Psalm are just unforgettable. (An early example of “Open Christianity is fine in the movies when black people do it,” but also, it’s a sublime scene.) Bankhead is phenomenal as a shipwrecked photographer/diva, and her dialogue snaps and purrs with irony and sexuality. A tense, gripping, memorable film.

Night and Fog: Impossible to review this thirty-minute film from 1956 which director Alain Resnais stitched together from photographs of Nazi atrocities and color film of ruined concentration camps. I suppose I’m just telling you that it exists (and is available on Kanopy) in case you decide to watch it. It’s gutting and I am glad I watched it but would be grateful never to revisit it.

Bugsy: Sorry for the sudden tone shift. This quasi-biopic of mobster and Las Vegas visionary Bugsy Siegel is propulsive enough while you’re watching, but I was left wondering what the point was really. Annette Bening is phenomenal as sultry, foul-mouthed femme fatale/corporate lieutenant Virginia Hill. Worth watching for her alone.

Tales from the Golden Age: A series of short parables from 1980s Romania, laced with gallows humor. Bright colors, fear and scheming. I think my favorites were the first and last–preparations for the impending visit of a grand high muckety-muck go awry and leave an entire village’s elite whirling helplessly on a carnival ride; pre-Pascha egg-hoarding leads a sexually-frustrated chicken-truck driver to take what turn out to be seriously unwise risks. In the last fable I especially liked how Communism, Christianity, and marriage appear as mere systems, mere rules, around which the human being squirms, evasive and full of wants. Every communism has a little free-marketeering in the hidden places; every religious festival is also a business opportunity.

…It was an interesting exercise to consider how many of these fables could be made about contemporary America, in a time when stories from (for example) our health-care system increasingly resemble the grim old Soviet jokes Ronald Reagan used to tell. The first two would be the hardest to transplant, “The Legend of the Air Sellers” probably the easiest. The stories based on the overwhelming fear of stepping out of line which characterizes a totalitarian society would have to be turned into cartoon microcosms, where the cowed protagonist feared losing a job rather than getting shot in the back of the head. So that is my defense of capitalism.

Await Further Instructions: Fox News and Brexit are evil. There, now you don’t have to watch this movie. Ahhhhh, remember how I hate hating movies? This 2018 horror flick takes a terrific premise and turns it into a long Facebook comment from your most unreflective progressive friend.

The premise really is great. A white British kid who’s been estranged from his family for years comes home for Christmas with his Indian girlfriend. She hints that she thinks he’s exaggerating the problems in his family. When they’re trapped inside the house by an unknown phenomenon, possibly a terrorist attack or possibly a nonconsensual reality TV show, she learns that he absolutely was not exaggerating. This setup, plus an underlying theme of the difficulty of knowing whom to trust in a dysfunctional family and a world of fake news, would be much more powerful if we ever felt that the protagonists’ choices were actually confusing or difficult. I get that many people’s awful families don’t act in nuanced ways. Lots of people are caricatures of themselves! But this film deploys certainties and cliches (the scene explaining the dad’s nickname “Squelcher” is especially self-parodic) where people from actual dysfunctional families often struggle with genuinely divided loyalties and unwanted similarities to their messed-up parents.

Found this via Final Girl’s list of horror flicks on various streaming services, and while I hated it!, that list is overall quite useful.


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