Friday, 26 April 2019

POSSUM

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND AAARGH GET THAT ******* THING AWAY FROM ME

What's been missing from horror cinema in recent years (decades, even)? Proper horror, I think. Sudden, brilliantly timed Boo! moments and scary faces looming out of the darkness abound, and there's no shortage of severed heads or squirts of blood (even if many of them are realised by cheap CGI), but where are the actual, genuinely upsetting horror movies? Sure, they can be scary, creepy, jumpy and/or yucky while they're on, but very few of them stay with you long after the end credits and a return to daylight. There have only been a couple of films in the last ten years that had me sleeping with the lights on, but that wonderfully elusive feel and stench of nightmare and fear for one's own soul and mind.... it just doesn't seem to happen.

Possum comes as close as anything in the last ten, twenty years: a strange artefact that seems to have fallen through time from an alternative 1970s with that clammy sense of dread and terror about it. In the sense that it has any plot at all beyond a framework for the visuals, it (possibly) concerns disgraced children's entertainer and puppeteer Philip who returns to his childhood home and his abusive Uncle Maurice, a filthy, repulsive Albert Steptoe of a man. Philip always carries a holdall with him that contains (or does it?) Possum, his old puppet that might actually have a mind of its own. Meanwhile a local schoolboy has gone missing....

Much of Possum takes place in a deserted British countryside of abandoned barracks and lonely marshlands in which Philip (possibly) wants to destroy Possum or (possibly) is in thrall to him/it in the manner of a hundred horror stories about puppeteers or ventriloquists and their dummies. Every so often he opens the bag (or it opens itself) and a hideous leg arcs out of it - or is everything in his mind? There's actually little doubt that most of the film is taking place within his mind and even Maurice might well be a memory or a figment of his imagination (the two men are the only significant speaking characters in the whole film).

Not that it matters. Possum is less a story than a mood: it has the look and feel of forgotten late seventies TV, or the Scarfolk posters and blogs. The production design is immaculate, the photography is beautiful (another reminder that even the finest digital is no real match for well-utilised film stock), and the Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack, a mixture of miserable, seemingly real solo instruments and dark ambient textures, ramps up the off-kilter horror of the desolate, deserted locations. And Possum itself is genuinely terrifying in a primal "I don't care what it is or why it is, just get it out of my sight" kind of a way. It's maybe not a film to love, and fans of strong and coherent narrative will probably hate it, but it's certainly a film to admire for its atmosphere and almost Lynchian head-trip oddness and I wouldn't be averse to seeing it again. Just keep that beast thing well away from me.

****

Sunday, 7 April 2019

CHRISTINE

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, AND NOT JUST THE ONES ON THE CAR

So my occasional rewatches of movies I last saw in the wrong ratio on knackered VHS a third of a century ago has landed me with this fusion of no less than Stephen King and John Carpenter. My lists tell me that I gave it one star back then and my general memories were that I really didn't care for it: had I misjudged it? Was it genuinely that awful? Surely there must be something in there, even if it's the Carpenter/Howarth score (which on this occasion has to share space with a vintage jukebox selection) or some decent death scenes?

No, I hadn't misjudged it. Christine is genuinely that awful. The music is in that lovely pulsing synth Halloween/Fog style but it's far from their best (admittedly it has to share the film with a selection of vintage jukebox songs) and even the much deserved kills aren't particularly interesting. Christine itself/herself is a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury which for no apparent reason starts killing people (beginning with a poor sap on the production line) and also has the power to rebuild itself when it's been reduced to scrap. Bespectacled, bullied loser Arnie (Keith Gordon) buys the wreck and almost instantly transforms into the coolest kid, dating the hottest chick and now driving the sharpest car. But can his few remaining friends break the anti-Herbie's spell over him before she kills any more innocent people?

It's a surprisingly mean-spirited film, with a surprising level of strong language shoehorned in (they should have called it My Mother****er The Car) and a trio of antisocial punks so hateful that you actively want them to die. Which wouldn't be so bad if the good guys were any compensation: the romantic leads are wet as fish and Arnie's too-quick transformation from hapless dweeb to cold-hearted, possessed sociopath means he merely goes from one shade of uninteresting to another. It has little of anything you'd normally associate with Carpenter: with none of the yucky surreal horror of The Thing, none of the cozy, comfortable chills of The Fog, none of the humour of Escape From New York, none of the fun of Big Trouble In Little China and none of the scares of Halloween, it's really got very little going for it except for isolated moments: Harry Dean Stanton's nice turn as a cop, Christine screaming down the highway on fire. And obviously it looks better on a shiny new Blu than it did on a battered rental videotape.

King adaptations have always been a roll of the dice: for every Misery or Dolores Claiborne there's a Graveyard Shift or Cat's Eye and Christine has always been in the latter category. I wanted to like it (obviously - why rewatch it otherwise?) but it's too long, has no characters worth following and is still difficult to enjoy or to find more than small nuggets of interest.

*