sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2011-05-01 03:04 am

What's to tell? The house tried to kill me. It almost succeeded

1. For about twelve hours more, B. is visiting. We did not manage to see much more than fifteen minutes of the MFA, although I was able to show him the glazed-tile lion from the Ištar Gate of Babylon, but we had dinner at Mulan (whole cuttlefish!) and then he showed me Pulse (Kairo, 2001). I understand it invented much of the visual vocabulary of J-horror, but it didn't register to me as a horror film so much as an extended meditation on alienation and loneliness so terrible that it becomes apocalyptic; I wasn't sure if it was meant to frighten or simply to explore that sense of exhaustion and isolation which extends even to the landscape of Tokyo. Streets are deserted, classes half-attended, apartments furnished even more randomly and anonymously than the student usual; the lighting is the washed-out overcast that eats shadows off the pavement or the last flat glare before sunset, or it's fluorescents and that hollow, too-bright look electric light gets too late at night, too long alone with your computer, dialing up, trying to connect. The characters don't converse, they talk into the air that sometimes contains someone else. Would you like to meet a ghost? You are living among them already. I wonder if it's actually a film about depression, cleverly disguised. In the face of desolation, do you choose to die? Do you fall into ashes of yourself, a motionless half-life belonging to no world? Do you keep going anyway, into the unknown? Have I done the right thing? And the ocean stretches away to all sides. So I didn't find that the film scared me, although there were sequences I found beautifully eerie; I do think it deals with terrifying things. If his films are all this intelligent, I'll watch more by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

2. On the horror front, though: don't ever watch Lassie Come Home (1943) in the same twenty-four hours as The Legend of Hell House (1973).

I watched the latter two nights ago on the recommendation of [livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust; I quite liked it. I don't know how it compares to The Haunting (1963) or the original novel by Richard Matheson, but I found it a very effective cranking-up of genuine weirdness and interpersonal paranoia that never does tip over into the stupid, meanwhile needling at the limits of sex and gore as they could be portrayed onscreen. Four investigators are sent to the Belasco House, the so-called "Mount Everest of haunted houses," abandoned in 1929 after the disappearance of its ill-reputed, millionaire owner and the grotesque deaths of all twenty-seven of his guests at the time. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) is the designated leader, a physicist who believes that ghosts are nothing more than residual electromagnetic energy and has been building the machine to prove it; he is accompanied by his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) and assigned a mental medium, Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), who despite her youth is reckoned the best in her field. And then we get Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who in 1953, at age fifteen, was the only survivor of the last attempt to explore or exorcise Hell House. Well, survivor if your criteria are limited to breathing, walking around, and being able to speak in complete sentences. Barrett refers to him, by introduction, as a "mental wreck." He doesn't look you in the eye, or he looks too long. He says very little, invariably as though he knows you'll be sorry you asked. He's snapped off somewhere inside himself, that long-ago morning when he crawled out of Hell House but never really left it; he was a precocious physical medium, but he hasn't shown that talent for years and no one knows if it's because he can't or he won't. But he knows the house, so he's indispensable . . . It's an odd, brave part for a former child actor—and though I had seen Roddy McDowall as an adult, I still wouldn't have guessed from sweet, obstinate Huw Morgan that he could grow up into lanky, lantern-faced Fischer, holding himself in so tightly behind his glasses that are both shields and blinders, all hunched shoulders and fists in his pockets and that curious light, almost toneless voice, as if there really is nothing left in him but the kind of terror that is so profound, it might as well be dispassion. And what the film ultimately comes down to is a battle of neuroses between Fischer and what might be the spirit of Emeric Belasco; and while of course you root for Fischer, that he should finally exorcise himself along with this house that has been his hell for more than half his life, you really are expecting him to blink first.

And so if you see Roddy McDowall the next night in a heartwarming children's movie, you look at that still-faunlike face, more like eleven than fourteen, with only that broad mouth and a bit of the eyebrows to show you the lines it'll draw down into—which, because it's the same actor, is how you must imagine Ben Fischer when he was brought to the Belasco House for the first time—and you think, kid, if you knew what you had waiting . . .

3. Rabbit, rabbit. Happy Beltane. Send poems to Strange Horizons.
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2011-05-01 11:36 pm (UTC)(link)
I haven't seen The Legend of Hell House in many years; now I want to watch it again. Roddy McDowall has been a huge favorite of mine since I was a Planet of the Apes-watching kid.
Edited 2011-05-01 23:37 (UTC)
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2011-05-02 05:18 am (UTC)(link)
I imprinted hard on McDowall's ape characters (those movies had only just finished coming out when I was a kid, and I watched the short-lived TV show when it aired), but I think McDowall also guest-starred on a ton of late '60s/early '70s TV shows I happened to see. Shows like Love American Style--I remember nothing about his appearance, just that he was on the show and I saw it many years ago!

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 05:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I wrote a horrifying cycle of poetry from the POV of his Apes movies character Casesar once, when I was sixteen or so. Like you do.
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2011-05-06 06:23 pm (UTC)(link)
That is awesome.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 09:51 pm (UTC)(link)
You wouldn't think so if you read it.;)
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2011-05-06 10:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Cornelius is my favorite, but I do love Caesar too! :-)

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 09:54 pm (UTC)(link)
One of them made it into my first poetry chapbook, Bent Under Night. It's called "An Address To Past Masters". Very Gwendolyn MacEwen, if I dare say so myself.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 05:31 pm (UTC)(link)
The spectre of damaged, damaged former child prodigy Fischer is the germ of Carraclough Devize, for me, though by "Pen Umbra" she'd also become a creepy mash-up between various bipolar friends of mine and any given Caitlin character. I loved him so much! He was my go-to woobie for years, I think.;)

And yes, seeing How Green Was My Valley that quick after Hell House must've shook some foundations. He was a pretty guy, in his time--very untouched. While Fischer has been touched plenty, and not by angels.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 09:57 pm (UTC)(link)
Pretty well, as I recall. There are sections of Hell House from Fischer's POV, which are very interesting to read--he's imminently practical, self-contained and bent on self-preservation. At one point he remembers having very deliberately committed fraud and made sure he was caught at it, so he'd be discredited and left the fuck alone. But once he's in the house again, it starts to work on him until he just can't NOT see the things it springs on him, even before he takes his shields down.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-07 08:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Hmmm. I enjoyed it, but it is very...direct and kind of porny/rapey, as you may recall from my Fearzone.com review, so YMMV. I like the movie a lot better in terms of ambiguity and the Florence Tanner characterization; in the book she's older, a sexy earth-mother figure whose religiosity always rings a bit hollow. OTOH, getting the full back-story on Just What Happened during Hell House's latter days provides some queasy thrills.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 05:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, and Kairo! You saw Kairo!

It really IS mainly about loneliness--the loneliness of the crowd. HOw being part of the collective just doesn't work, pretty much for anybody, but there's always this awful fear that there's nothing outside it. And then that gets translated into "normal" fear of death and dissolution, or lack thereof. Of there never being an end. The Japanese are really good at that, or at least K. Kurosawa is.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2011-05-06 09:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Of his later works, I really liked--and own--Retribution. It's got this female ghost that comes flying in at you on an angle whenever you're not looking, like a scarf on the wind, except screaming. And a city that's being slowly submerged, I forget why. Plus, haunted mental hospital!