Friday, November 16, 2007

Films seen lately: Mesa of Lost Women, Eaten Alive, Near Dark

Should do everything when they first come to mind. I meant to write something about two rather forgotten horror films when I saw them at a small horror film festival, but that was already over a week ago and I'm not as enthusiastic about this as I once was. Here goes nevertheless.

Tobe Hooper has made one of the best horror movies ever: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its reputation has been very, very low, especially in Finland where it almost by itself caused one of the most strict censorship systems on VHS videos and video markets. Massacre however is quite an intelligent movie - you might see it as an ironic take on family comedy (as Robin Wood has done), with touches of absurd humour here and there. People don't normally understand me when I say that I think Massacre is a comedy, but look at it closely - there's even slapstick (Leatherface moves like a cartoon character, the mummified grandfather with his hammer). If you can - the movie is also filled with terror and hysteria, so it's pretty difficult to sit through.

Eaten Alive was Hooper's second film after Massacre and it's downright comedy. The absurdist elements are magnified by using a very theater-like set-up and very artificial lighting and colours. Neville Brand (who's simply brilliant in this) and others use very exaggerated movements and facial expressions and no one talks normally - they mumble, scream, yell, shout, babble. The plot is simple: Neville Brand is a motel owner who kills the people who get lost in his motel. There's a great scene in the beginning which shows the banality of the killer in his everyday life: Brand is sitting on a crumpled chair, reading some newspaper clips and trying several eyeglasses on - they are presumably his victims'. There is a United States of America flag on the wall and seemingly a Nazi flag, with a swastika on it, on another chair. Boring country music is on the radio all through the film, which makes an annoying soundtrack - but the disgust is also quite fulfilling, given what the movie is after.

So, Eaten Alive is one of the post-Psycho films based on the case of Ed Gein. There's lots of violence and splatter and some of it is stupefyingly absurd. This is as close to the world of Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett as American horror film is most likely to get. (With the possible exception of David Lynch, but he's too conscious of this to be wholly satisfactory.)

After Eaten Alive I saw Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) that's been called one of the best horror films of its decade. I won't dispute that, since the eighties weren't actually a very good decade for horror films, at least in the US. This one, too, is too much style and not much substance - compared to Near Dark, Hooper's film is full of sociological wit.

Near Dark comes quite close to being a Western film (why hasn't Bigelow made a bona fide Western, by the way? her sensibilities should make a very good Western with lots of action) in its depiction of Texas and its bunch of vampires who look like rock stars on a one-year heroin gig. The film is mean, but there are also scenes of love and warmth. I just didn't get into the film very deep. Maybe that wasn't meant to be and it was meant to be looked at from a distance. This could also apply to Bigelow's other films. They all look like there's something in there, but in the final analysis there's... well, maybe nothing. This doesn't really apply to her Weight of Water that received pretty bad press, but I thought it was a very good and very insightful essay about womanhood.

Now, something completely different: Mesa of Lost Women. This one I saw on VHS - a friend of mine had taped it for me from a channel that I cannot access (meaning Ylen digikanava). It seems that this movie - or at least something that resembles a movie - was made from using two different unfinished films and adding a voice-over narration to explain things. The narration however explains nothing and the preachy voice makes you want to leave the room. There's also horrible guitar music that's on all the fucking time! Impossibly bad and stupid, but somehow fascinating. Check out the comments on IMDb, some of them are quite funny in their own right.


Unknown said...

Didn't Allan Nixon, one of the stars of Mesa of Lost Women also write some pb original crime novels?

Juri said...

If he's the same guy as this one:

NIXON, ALLAN (1918-1995); see house pseudonym Don Romano; Ref: CA. (chron.)
_Garrity (NEL, 1970, pb) See: Get Garrity (Avon 1969).
*Get Garrity (Avon, 1969, pb) [*Tony Garrity] British title: Garrity. NEL pb, 1970.
*Go for Garrity (Avon, 1970, pb) [*Tony Garrity]
*Good Night, Garrity (Avon, 1969, pb) [*Tony Garrity; *@Los Angeles, CA] NEL pb, 1971.
_Operation Cocaine [as by Don Romano] See entry under Don Romano.
_Operation Hit Man [as by Don Romano] See entry under Don Romano.
_Operation Porno [as by Don Romano] See entry under Don Romano.
*The Scavengers (Avon, 1969, pb) NEL pb, 1970.

The Don Romano books are as follows:

ROMANO, DON; house pseudonym (chron.)
*Operation Cocaine [by Allan Nixon & Robert Turner] (Pyramid, 1974, pb) [*Mafia series]
*Operation Hijack [by Paul Eiden] (Pyramid, 1974, pb) [*Mafia series]
*Operation Hit Man [by Allan Nixon & Robert Turner] (Pyramid, 1974, pb) [*Mafia series]
*Operation Loan Shark [by Paul Eiden] (Pyramid, 1974, pb) [*Mafia series]
*Operation Porno [by Allan Nixon & Robert Turner] (Pyramid, 1973, pb) [*Mafia series]

According to the IMDB, the years are the same, so it's perfectly sane to suggest he was the same guy. Fascinating!

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