#82 - Tomcat Angels
1937 - 2009
Hey there, cine-buddies! This week’s Electric Theatre is one of the more psychotronic installments in quite some time. So buckle up and hold on tight, you’re in for a wild week at the movies!
NOW IN THEATRES
Drag Me To Hell
When it was announced that Sam Raimi would finally be making his long-awaited return to horror, I was genuinely surprised to realize how long it’s been since he’s directed anything in the genre. For all their horrific trappings, movies like Darkman, Army Of Darkness and The Gift aren’t exactly horror movies. And while he’s been involved as a producer on a number of horror projects, very, very few of them have done the genre any favors. So while I was hopeful and excited, I still had plenty of reason to worry. After all this time, does Raimi still have it in him to make a down-and-dirty, who-cares-if-it-makes-sense-as-long-as-it’s-scary horror picture? Boy, does he ever.
Like most good horror flicks, the premise here is clean and simple. Alison Lohman stars as a loan officer at a bank who denies a mortgage extension to an elderly, phlegmatic, one-eyed gypsy lady (Lorna Raver, acting like a juiced-up version of Maria Ouspenskaya in The Wolf Man). As anyone whose read Thinner can tell you, never cross a gypsy. Lohman soon finds herself the unhappy recipient of a curse that dooms her to three days of visions, phantom sounds and psychological torture, culminating in a one-way ticket to the land of fire ‘n’ brimstone. Bad luck indeed.
From here on in, Raimi puts the pedal to the metal and throws everything he can think of at both Lohman and the audience. You name it…possessed talking goats, regurgitated kitty cats, flying eyeballs and enough blood and ooze to make you completely forget you’re watching a PG-13 movie. Drag Me To Hell feels like a movie that could have been made between Darkman and Army Of Darkness and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. Raimi’s direction has the energy and enthusiasm of someone twenty years younger and very much in love with the possibilities of moviemaking. Lohman is eminently likable and sympathetic as the unfortunate victim. She also gamely takes nearly as much abuse as Bruce Campbell did back in the Evil Dead days. Let there be no doubt that Raimi still knows how to stage a gag, in every sense of the word.
To be fair, Drag Me To Hell doesn’t reach the same heights of greatness as the Evil Dead pictures. Hardly any horror movies do. But for an hour and a half, I sat with a big, stupid grin on my face, allowing Sam Raimi to play me like a piano and loving every second of it. This is the most purely entertaining horror movie since Slither. Best of all, Raimi shows us all how it’s done without resorting to a remake, video game or comic adaptation or sequel. As always, he did it his way. (* * * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
This week’s Tales From The Queue entry is an object lesson in the importance of not judging a book by its cover. Knowing that the 1963 Japanese film Matango is better known in this country by the luridly awful title Attack Of The Mushroom People and was directed by the great Ishirô Honda, the man responsible for most of your favorite kaiju (giant monster) movies including the original Gojira, perhaps one can be forgiven for having a preconceived idea what the movie will be like. Whatever you’re thinking, you’re probably wrong. Matango is a much different and much better movie than I’m betting you think it is.
An odd assortment of wealthy tourists, including an industrialist, a writer, a singer, a professor and his clerk, embark on a pleasure cruise that turns into a nightmare when they run headlong into a storm. Their yacht in ruins, they drift for days before stumbling upon a mysterious, fog-enshrouded island. They explore the place and discover that it’s teeming with wild mushrooms. They don’t dare eat them when they find a derelict oceanography vessel, completely abandoned and covered in mold. Turns out that the scientists on board were studying the native mushrooms, called Matango, when they all died (or vanished). After awhile, however, some of the starving castaways succumb to temptation and begin to snarf down the ‘shrooms, with horrific results.
I was surprised that Matango is much more of a tense psychological thriller than its American title would lead you to believe. The vast majority of the movie is about the increasing tensions between the group, with more desperate power plays and infighting than on any given season of Survivor. Honda was a master filmmaker and he skillfully and believably uses class tension and sexual tension to drive the castaways into paranoid isolation. Yes, there are mushroom people and you’ll either find them ridiculous or strangely creepy. Personally, I’ve loved Japanese horror and sci-fi flicks ever since I could say the name Godzilla, so I delighted in the trippy, ambulatory fungi. The movie reaches its climax a bit too quickly but the final scene is impressively downbeat and bizarre.
Although there are plenty of Japanese horror and sci-fi pictures from the 60s aimed at juvenile audiences, Matango is a decidedly more grown-up affair. It’s a tense, weird, underrated movie that deserves another look, especially from fans of vintage Japanese cinema. (* * *)
Thanks to Jay Kranz for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, if you’ve got a buried cinematic treasure in your vault, drop me a line and spread the word. It doesn’t even have to feature psychotropic man-eating fungi, although it doesn’t hurt.