Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dr. AC's Rec of the Week (F)

Hello, you panting purveyors of freakish, fantasmagoric and flesh-eating film fare! Welcome back to the Dr.'s office. Time again to deepen our palate's and test our nerves against the fiercely unique and hauntingly different - are you up for the challenge?

This week's double feature is another combo of nutty and nihilistic, cornball and clinically caustic. Because such is the varied menu of the genre, and what we love about it. Something for everyone. This F's for you...

Frogs (1972)
From American International’s executive-producing team of Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson comes this highly entertaining low-budget schlockfest, raiding the entire reptile house (in addition to the titular croakers) to provide the creepy crawly chills. Riding on the earth-friendly movement of the early 70’s, screenwriters Robert Blees and Robert Hutchison whip up a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale of embittered critters living around grouchy millionaire Ray Milland’s pesticide-ridden swampy island estate. When a rugged environmentalist photographer (Sam Elliot, in a rare bare-upper-lipped film appearance) shows up during Milland’s annual Fourth of July family celebration, the stage is set for a muggy, buggy good time. While watching the various obnoxious guests besieged by frogs, snakes, geckos, gators, spiders, turtles, leeches, (and in one side-splitting sequence, killer moss) is certainly the film’s raison d’etre, there is equal joy to be gained from the sultry soap opera scenarios and robust scenery chewing. Former Oscar-winner Milland’s obvious bitterness at having sunk to this cheese suits his cantankerous character brilliantly (1972 was big for Ray and AIP, with The Thing with Two Heads released the same year.) And imagining director George McCowan’s expression when handed the impossible task of making docile amphibians appear menacing is as hilarious as the end result. Resorting to frequent close-ups of flicking tongues and frogs hopping across lawns, the word “horror” doesn’t exactly leap to mind. Grand, goofy fun.

Funny Games (1997)
Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke (Benny’s Video, The Piano Teacher, Cache) is not interested in pandering to audiences, especially not those glutted on bloodshed and slavering for more. Yet, in his astonishing self-reflexive meditation on onscreen violence and the fans of such fare (i.e, us), he walks the tightrope between catering to our baser desires while simultaneously implicating us in the crimes carried out in the film. As we observe two young men (Arno Frisch, Frank Giering) insinuate themselves into a vacationing family’s lives, growing increasingly violent and demeaning, Haneke challenges us either to walk out or to admit to ourselves that we want to see these “innocent” people hurt, to see them tortured and humiliated; otherwise, why do we stay to watch? There are numerous bravura cinematic techniques executed to keep the viewer as off balance as the onscreen characters (that I will not divulge in order to preserve their power) and as the final credits rolled, I was breathless with admiration for Haneke’s audacious filmmaking skills combined with a feeling of having been beaten soundly around the mind and soul. Haneke's scene-for-scene 2008 English language remake featuring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt is fine for those who don't like subtitles, but for my money, this is the one to see. Highly Recommended.

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