Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Son of Halloween Movie Picks: Two Black Masques

Here we are another day closer to Halloween, with two more movie selections for the big night from a pair of very fine writers:

Laird Barron (author of Occultation) on AUDITION (1999): Audition is a masterpiece of psychosexual horror by director Takashi Miike, Japan's answer to John Carpenter. The story concerns Shigeharu Aoyama, a widower executive, who is petitioned by his son to move on, after several years of grieving, and find a new love. Middle-aged Shigeharu has no stomach for the singles scene, but a friend who works as a producer comes up with a brilliant solution: hold an audition for the role of a wife in a nonexistent film with Shigeharu choosing a prospective mate from among the finalists. No tedious cat and mouse dating games necessary. The scheme works all too well. Before long, he focuses upon a particular woman, Asami. Shy, wounded, utterly desirable.

And, of course, things go to hell in a hand basket in a plot redolent with Hitchcockian suspense and powered by a Grand Guignol sensibility -- all of this gorgeously photographed by Hideo Yamamoto.

Since its arrival in 1999, much has been made of the film's graphic violence. While Audition does indeed contain memorably gory scenes, the shocks are amplified by Miike's lens and evocative performances by Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina. We are invested in Shigeharu's search to replace his dead wife, a quest that is by turns vaguely creepy and quixotic. We are also deeply invested in discovering the secrets of the beautiful and melancholy Asami. The horror that results from their union would be far less compelling were it not for the fact that by the time this slow-burning Audition approaches its unholy climax, we empathize with these flawed, yet ultimately sympathetic characters. I guarantee most of you, jaded genre aficionados or not, will view the final scenes from between your fingers.

That's a rare feat for a horror film -- to depict men and women of real flesh, real blood.

Allyson Bird (author of Wine and Rank Poison and co-editor of Never Again) on THE WICKER MAN (1973): Whilst I was watching Mark Gatiss' History of Horror he talked about the sub-genre of "folk horror" set in the quite British countryside and mentioned Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) made by Tigon British Film Productions and Witchfinder General (1968), another Tigon film. The original The Wicker Man (1973) from British Lion Films belongs with them, too.

The Wicker Man is set on the Summer Isles where the inhabitants are pagans, much to the horror of the devout Christian Police Sergeant Howie who has arrived to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. He soon encounters the pagan rituals in the day to day life of the people. They worship the sun and indulge in the hedonistic pursuit of sex and the fertility rituals encouraged by the school mistress Miss Rose and Lord Summerisle. The preparations for the spring equinox, May Day, are going on all over the isle. There is a wonderful "innocence" and mischief about the people in their day to day lives... only the outsider (Howie) can never be a part of their world. His strict beliefs and "purity" are both a burden/curse and a blessing to him.

In contrast, the villagers in Blood on Satan's Claw work to bring the evil to those that are of their own village. In the latter you have the suggestion of the girl becoming one with the devil or becoming the other. Also, in Blood on Satan's Claw we have chilling music by Marc Wilkinson in which we find no consolation.

In The Wicker Man there is an affinity with nature and animals, and the accompanying music reflects that in "The Maypole Song," influenced by an earlier piece called "The Rattlin' Bog." Paul Giovanni is the musical director and he makes the film all the more memorable with his choice of music. We have the circle of life and death.

In the woods there grew a tree
And a fine fine tree was he

And on that tree there was a limb
And on that limb there was a branch
And on that branch there was a nest
And in that nest there was an egg
And in that egg there was a bird
And from that bird a feather came
And of that feather was
A bed

And on that bed there was a girl
And on that girl there was a man
And from that man there was a seed
And from that seed there was a boy
And from that boy there was a man
And for that man there was a grave
From that grave there grew
A tree

We are led to join in with the villagers in their celebration of life. They and we want to have the joy of living to the full... on earth, and not in heaven. Howie is a sterile shell of a man whom we are led to have no empathy for except perhaps towards the end of the film. Before that he puts on the mask of a fool and becomes one. We would rather stand beside the children who wear their animal masks and join in their procession (a much happier one than in Blood on Satan's Claw) and celebrate the coming of spring than ally ourselves with poor Howie.

I've just remembered that Howie meets up with Dr. Hawthorn in front of his surgery. Hawthorn is the symbol of fertility, and the druids used it to bless and curse. This is one doctor who cannot cure what ails Howie. Did I see hawthorn branches covering the semi-naked bodies in the graveyard in Blood on Satan's Claw... of course I did.

Norm here again, with a reminder to return tomorrow, when we'll feature two more fine writers, two more great movies... and two full posts. Be sure to check them out.