the devil made me do it: night of the living dead & the exorcist

Horror movies–particularly of the supernatural variety–are perpetual favorites around my household, but during the Halloween season we tend to watch even more of them.  As a child and teenager, I cut my teeth on the genre.  I loved fantasy, science fiction, and Westerns too, but it was horror that I connected with the strongest.  What that says about me psychologically, well… don’t tell me what you think.  It’ll just make me morbidly self-conscious.

The horror genre–more so than any other kind of movie, I think–tends to get judged by its worst examples.  You mention that you love horror and immediately most people think slasher killers, serial killers, and so-called torture porn.  You mention that you love supernatural fiction or movies, those same people are likely to nod their heads in solidarity when Repulsion, The Shining, and Black Sunday are named.  That’s not to say that I’m not up for a great knife-wielding maniac picture like Psycho, Blood and Black Lace, or Tenebrae, but my taste runs more toward the weird, surreal, and unnerving than say, The Human Colostomy Bag or whatever gag-inducing picture is driving the kids wild these days.

This season we’ve been revisiting horror classics, movies we saw too many times earlier in our lives but haven’t viewed in ten years or so.  Stuff like George A. Romero’s highly influential Night of the Living Dead and the equally trendsetting William Friedkin picture The Exorcist.

There’s no need to say much more about them.  They’re true classics that have weathered the years and passing trends well.  They’re scary, beautifully crafted in their own distinctive ways, and they linger in the imagination long after they end.  They may not be my personal favorites, but there’s no arguing their mythic stature as the luxury models of the field and I do love them.

Below are two videos I put together.  The Night of the Living Dead score is famously swiped from various music library sources.  The music suite from The Exorcist is Lalo Schifrin’s rejected score.  It’s great, but you can also hear why Friedkin went with using work from modern composers George Crumb and Krzystof Penderecki instead.  Make sure to watch them with the lights out and in HD for the best picture quality.

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look upon the ruins: throne of blood (1957)

Released in 1957, just three years after Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is not like any Shakespeare adaptation you’ve ever seen.  Dislocated from its traditional Scottish setting, the play is reconfigured into a Japanese historical context that, oddly enough, feels like a perfect fit.  Ambition, murder, obsession, madness, human frailty, otherworldly terror, and tragedy do not abide by cultural or geographical borders.  Kurosawa’s artistic gamble is one of the director’s most brilliant creations and one of his most visually haunting as well.  As Stephen Prince points out in his essential book on the filmmaker, The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, Kurosawa didn’t simply adapt the play.  He reconfigured it into a proper Japanese and specifically Buddhist context, ridding the film of the play’s introspective moments and giving this more muscular adaptation a circular framework that imposes a supernatural nihilism drawing from the Noh theater traditions that a samurai warrior, such as Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), would have been familiar with.  Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai, who worked together a number of times, also give the film a bold, haunting look that will linger in your memory for some time.  Images of gnarled tree branches and wild thickets clot the frame on several occasions, reminding us that Washizu’s fate is immovable, resistant to Western ideas of free will.  Washizu is doomed from the opening moments, locked within the circular Hell of his life, and the film is appropriately structured to reflect this idea of cosmic fatalism, a theme that Kurosawa explored in a number of his films.

The video below is an experiment and something that turned out better than I expected, so I uploaded it.  I’m sure I’ll improve over time (because I’m going to do more of ’em) and perhaps even one day figure out how to make the pictures move.  But for now, think of this as my version of a Fotonovel.