Chicago International Film Festival #3

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The H.P. Lovecraft Society has come up with what may be the best approach, by creating films based on Lovecraft stories in the cinematic style of the period of the story. 

 

 


Kaidan Horror Classics: The Whistler
H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, but translating his work to film has proved challenging. The H.P. Lovecraft Society has come up with what may be the best approach, by creating films based on Lovecraft stories in the cinematic style of the period of the story. Their latest effort, The Whisperer in Darkness (based on Lovecraft’s story of the same name), is modeled on the classic horror films of the 1930s, with a dash of 1950s creature features thrown in as well. The resulting film provides a good reflection of Lovecraft’s obsessions while affording contemporary audiences some good old-fashioned midnight movie fun.
The story revolves around the investigations of Miskatonic University Professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), who ventures to the Vermont farm of Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch) to check out reports that pre-human creatures known as the Mi-Go are still dwelling in the surrounding hills. This entirely preposterous premise works because director Sean Branney and his cast sell it with absolute sincerity: you won’t find a trace of postmodern irony in this film, just lots of Strickfadian electronics, stage smoke and canted camera angles. Even when the story ventures into Ed Wood territory, no one cracks a smirk and, because they remain so resolutely in the spirit of Lovecraft’s mythos, you will find yourself buying into to it as well.
Kaidan: Horror Classics is a compilation of four films by four directors, all produced by NHK enterprises. If you’re a fan of J-Horror this set is definitely worth checking out, although in fairness I should point out that these films are more “terror” than “horror,” at least by the definition provided by the genre master Stephen King: “Terror is something that lives in the head, while horror is a more visceral reaction.” There’s a minimum of splatter in these films, in other words, but a maximum of psychological tension.
The Arm, directed by Ochiai Masayuki, takes a stylized approach to a story of sexual obsession and guilt, adapted from a short story by Nobel Prize winner Kawabata Yasunari. A man borrows a woman’s arm for the night and takes it to bed with him, while on the same evening he is haunted by a recurring vision of a mysterious woman in an old-fashioned car. The Whistler, directed by Tsukamato Shinya, adapts a short story by Dazai Osamu about the intense emotions felt by two sisters. The younger is a terminally-ill teenager while the older is charged with caring for her, and a mysterious bundle of love letters becomes the focus of their thwarted feelings and resentments. The Nose, directed by Lee Sang-il, is set in the Heian period and is adapted from a short story by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. The central character is a monk with a facial deformity (an extremely long nose) which draws so much comment that he gives up his position in Kyoto and becomes an itinerant beggar who wears a mask and rings an alms bell like a leper. The ugliness of people’s reaction to his appearance, and his imperfect response to them, play a crucial role in the story. The Days After, directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu and adapted from two short stories by Murou Saisei, deals with the grief of a young couple whose son has died. When another boy mysteriously appears, they’re not sure if he is a reincarnation of their son or merely another child, and the uncertainty begins to drive a wedge between them.
If you thought the O-Ren Ishii sequence in Kill Bill was the best part of the movie, you’ll definitely want to check out Smuggler, directed by Katsuhito Ishii, who worked as a character designer on Tarantino’s film. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Shohei Manabe, Smuggler tells the story of former actor and present-day slacker Kinute (Satoshi Tsumabuki), whose gambling debts lead him to work as a “smuggler,” meaning a person who disposes of corpses for the mob.
Chinese/Japanese tensions are at the center of the plot, as two rival gangs have it out in a most bloody fashion. Smuggler goes much further in the stylized violence department than Tarantino has ever dared, and yet it retains its sense of humanity to deliver what is ultimately a coming-of-age tale. The film is populated with a comforting set of character types (the blustering boss, the eccentric mobster) and is extremely genre-aware, sending up conventions of the gangster splatter flick while also fulfilling them. It’s both terrifying and hilarious, like a thrill ride that provides you with some good scares but always deposits you safely back in your own world when the running time is up. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

 

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