Halloween 2017 Part 2: Movie Marathon
This is the second part of my Halloween special! For Part 1, go over here.
I may not do much when it's Halloween, but at least I can do one thing every year without making much effort: a solo movie marathon. When you love horror media and movies, October is your time to shine. Hours of terrifying narratives, whether with friends or alone, is a satisfying way to get into the spooky spirit. "But isn't watching horror movies by yourself a lonely act?" TBH I'm pretty used to it now. Most of my friends either a) aren't available to watch with me or b) cannot stomach horror. So it's the one thing I learned to enjoy alone. Shall friends willingly join me, I'm more than happy to invite them in my viewing.
This year, I don't have a specific theme in mind. But a summary of what I watched: a Korean thriller-horror, a J-horror documentary, an American anthology, and a vividly shot Takashi Miike slasher. They were in my horror queue so Halloween was the perfect time to check them off! Warning: spoilers might pop up during my mini-reviews, so skip some of the last paragraphs!
February 29 (2006)
Summary: In this 2009 K-horror film, a woman named Ji-yeon narrates her experience working as a tollgate ticket girl at a toll cursed with murder every February 29. She also has to deal with her doppelganger who's been following her around her home. When her colleague is murdered on the cursed day, she asks two detectives for help and they investigate the matter.
The premise of February 29 movie had potential. Keyword: had. They could've played around with the time it takes, since leap years come and go quickly. The jump scares are only a little predictable, but I was still jumpy after they were shown. Some details were not explained at all. For instance, was the escaped prisoner a ghost or was she burned alive? Then, what the hell was the purpose of the doppelganger? All she did was wear the same clothes Ji-yeon wore. We don't know what its motives were. And speaking of motives, what was the escaped prisoner's motive? We never get a Hollywood-level psychological analysis of her, and why she goes back to that tollgate every four years.
Occult [オカルト] (2009)
Summary: After attempts of murder at a resort have been caught on camera, a team of documentary filmmakers investigate the incident. One by one, they researched each individual caught on camera sans the killer, who jumped into the ocean and disappeared. One of the victims, a Tokyo drifter named Eno, reveals that the killer stabbed him with an intricate marking and has witnessed unusual sightings ever since. The filmmakers get to the bottom of the scenario to unravel the marking and the grand scheme of things... Only for them to uncover a radical attack that they become unwillingly part of.
Occult is a spiritual successor to Noroi: The Curse (2005), also created by Kôji Shiraishi. Both films are creepy documentaries about unexplained supernatural phenomena. While Noroi dealt with spirits and demons, Occult was a Lovecraftian mystery set in Tokyo. The plot was easier to follow here than in Noroi, although that may be due to the focus on one character among a sea of supporting players. The slow pacing of events helped me immerse in the buildup, but the movie peaked at the grand reveal. After we know of Eno's plans, the film still goes slowly, as if there's much more mystery to be revealed. By then, we already saw creatures through the filmmaker's eyes. Do we really need that kind of pacing after a big wham?
The Theatre Bizzare (2011)
Summary: A girl named Enola Penny is intrigued by the mysterious theater across the street–the Grand Guignol. She pays a visit and a couple of puppets entertain her as they introduce each feature. Her encounter with them is a meta short film itself... And as we progress to another film, you'll see where her fate is going.
I guess I was expecting too much out of this film. The Theatre Bizarre sounded like a lavish setup for a fun horror ride, but that was a little too much. The cinematography is pretty eh, and that's like a big deal to me because visuals are the first thing that catches my eye during movies. But after reading articles about the film, I guess they were going for the B-film, sexually charged nature of Guignol shows. Most of the shorts have them. I'll give two sentence reviews of each short so we'd cut to the chase.
Mother of Toads: It started off interesting but got predictable with the cheating subplot and the fate of the American couple. Also, that was some lazy excuse to add nudity to the story.
I Love You: I Love You screamed more erotica thriller / drama than horror. The payoff is predictable, but kudos to the actors for pulling this off.
Wet Dreams: Wet Dreams is Inception as an NC-17 rated exploitation film where the cheating husband has constant dreams of being castrated. It mostly relies on the shock factor, given how predictable the plot goes.
The Accident: This screamed more of drama, and I actually skipped this part. Yawn.
Vision Stains: Like Wet Dreams, Vision Stains relies on the shock factor because of how weak its story is. There's nudity (but not as sexual), and scream-worthy, prolonged imagery of syringes plunged in yes.
Sweets: My favorite among the batch, Sweets is a bizarre take on a breakup gone horribly wrong. Black comedy and food fetish go hand in hand with the surrealism that will leave you a Park Chan Wook feeling.
Lesson of the Evil 悪の教典 (2012)
Summary: At surface, Seiji Hasumi is the dream sensei. Charming, charismatic, and intelligent, the students look up to him. When problems arise in the school, he offers unorthodox and brutal advice to keep the order. Little do they know of past, his true nature, and his real methods of solving problems.
Lesson of the Evil is probably my favorite Takashi Miike film, though I have only seen three of his works so far. The English translation of the title is off sounding, but that's just a minor complaint. The ending seemed all over the place, just like Hasumi in the school. (But I'm not saying more than that lol.) Story wise, the way the film transitioned from each subplot is quite a mess. First there's the school portrayed with normal problems such as cheating and sexual harassment. Then we're followed with Hasumi's treatment of the problems and the reveal of his personality. Then there's the drama between other teachers, parents, and students.... Until we reach the grand blow.
Think of Hideaki Ito's Hasumi as the Asian answer to Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman–he has it all save for his sanity. The school's fair setup provided a very camp but colorful backdrop for the carnage in the end. Lesson of the Evil is probably the most visually appealing work of Takashi Miike's that I've seen. Had I watched this on a regular day, I'd say the film is mediocre. But on a Halloween night with three "carry-na-lang" quality films, Lesson of the Evil was, as Hasumi said, "magnificent".
PS. I just found out this movie has a predecessor with the same title but has "Prologue" in it. I can't find a subbed copy, but here's the prologue on YouTube. It's not as pretty as the successor, but if my Japanese were better, I'd give this a go.