Demons, Lilya 4-Ever, Psych-Out, Carnival of Souls

More stuff I can only mention in passing:

Demons--didn't read the credits carefully enough; turned out this was only produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava. It's a real mess, even by the standards of Italian horror, which isn't famous for watertight, logical plotting. The demons--mainly zombies that move faster and snarl louder--have the kind of makeup the lazier and less imaginative kids in kindergarden do with hands and fingers, mainly gross-out goo and bubbly stuff coming out of odd orifices. Most of its good ideas are stolen from Romero, which I wouldn't mind, only they could at least have done Romero the honor of doing something decent with what they'd stolen. I returned Demons 2 unwatched, first time I ever done so to a Netflix DVD, solely because of the sheer awfulness of this picture.

Lilya 4-Ever is the kind of film where the director thinks a shaky hand-held camera denotes gritty realism and jump-cuts denote a restless, ultramodern sensibility. It's the story of a girl abandoned by her mother and gradually ground into the dirt, a classic plotline for the likes of Lars Von Trier; it differs from Von Trier in that the script is actually solid--the heroine's fall is carefully plotted out and persuasively executed, you don't see the filmmaker cheat on details just so he can go straight to the sadism and cruelty; the suffering is honestly earned (or at least as honestly as I can see). Maybe the only thing unconvincing about it is the relationship between girl and her mother; if the mother is such a bitch towards the girl all the time, something suggested by the way she treats and talks to her daughter and by hints dropped by an equally unsympathetic aunt, then the girl should be tougher, more independent, more prepared to be left to herself. Good film; I only wish the director didn't feel the need to make his film look so damned fashionable.

Psych-Out was on the flip side of DVD of The Trip, and I assumed it to be yet another Corman quickie, but it turned out to have been directed by Richard Rush, with Laszlo Kovacs as cinematographer. It was a chance to see the difference between a brilliant producer and cunning director like Corman and a real filmmaking talent like Rush; the imagery is more fluid, the colors (thanks to Kovacs) brighter, more intense. Kovacs notes in the 'making-of' documentary the use of racking focus, to link together a series of images in a single shot--you see this in the scene where a long string of beads is taken up and tangled over the furniture, stairway, everything--hallucinatory imagery with only a minimum of special effects.

Finally saw Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls, and I think I need to revise my list of all-time favorite horror films (not immediately; have to mull this over a bit). Part of what makes Harvey's film so great is that he takes even his neophyte ineptness (he's done many instructional films, apparently, but this is his one and only feature) and makes it part of the film's unsettling atmosphere. It's as if god were telling you a story and getting it wrong somehow--as if he were suffering from memory lapses or schizophrenia, and it was affecting his sense of and narrative. There's also the suggestion that the heroine, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligloss, in her first ever film performance, so strong you wish she made a career out of it (she made only one other film afterwards)) is having trouble waking up from a fevered dream, is confusing her waking life with that of a dream--something we all might have felt at one time or another, when we've been up all night or have slept too long.

The Saltair Amusement Park is a tremendous location, all those enormous, empty buildings made lonelier and more depressing by the fact that they were designed for the delight of huge crowds. The finale is perhaps one of the most memorable horror fantasias I've ever seen, about as close to the experience of a nightmare as anything I can remember.

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