[Early Review] Greta (2018)

Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Screenplay: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan

98 mins. Rated R for some violence and disturbing images.

 

I was told by a pretty reputable colleague who had caught Greta at TIFF last year that I needed to see it when it hit theaters, and earlier this week, I was given that opportunity. I didn’t realize that the film was directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Byzantium) until the credits started to roll, which raised my expectations considerably, but I did not expect the seasoned director to turn in something quite like Greta.

When Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Suspiria) finds a purse left behind on the subway, she makes a point to do the right thing and drop it off with its owner, a woman named Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert, Elle, Eva). Upon meeting the older widow, Frances begins a friendship with her until she discovers that Greta has a number of secrets. She’s a very lonely woman and Frances isn’t able to cut ties with her very easily. As the cat-and-mouse game spirals out of control, Frances finds that Greta isn’t ready to let go.

Let me be clear: Greta is a little cheesy. There are elements of it that fall into cliché. After leaving the film, I began to think more about the nature of the characters and I found a couple of plot holes I couldn’t wrap my head around. But all that didn’t really matter to me. The film sets out to tell a creepy stalker thriller, and it succeeds.

Director Jordan propels himself out of these problems by keeping the runtime as tight as possible. There’s only a moment or two toward the end of the film where the pacing struggles, but there’s no time to think as he rockets the narrative forward.

He’s also placed confidence in his leads. Moretz and Huppert are on fire as they match wits onscreen. Huppert’s Greta turns from a sweet older woman into a mild annoyance before evolving into a menacing terror. Seriously, I had my hands shaking during some of the more intense and tightly plotted scenes. Jordan’s film oozes with tension in large part to Huppert’s performance.

Greta’s filled out nicely with solid performances from Maika Monroe (It Follows, Tau) as Frances’s friend Erica, a woman who is a bit more focused on fun than fear, Colm Feore (Chicago, TV’s The Umbrella Academy) as Frances’s father, who is attempting to rebuild a relationship with his daughter after the loss of his wife, and especially the terrific turn from Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, Black ’47) as the private investigator who is hired to find out more. It’s amazing how much Rea can do with so little screentime.

Greta is pure cheese at times, but I didn’t mind it because I was so entranced and tense during my experience in the theater. The trailers give away a bit too much but overall, this is a very fun and creepy stalker thriller that kept my nerves tight the entire time. I highly recommend seeing this one in the theater this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 6 – Shock Treatment (1981)

 

Director: Jim Sharman

Cast: Jessica Harper, Cliff DeYoung, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray, Barry Humphries

Screenplay: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman

94 mins. Rated PG.

 

Okay, so technically, I’m not sure you can call Shock Treatment a horror film. But it is a little unnerving, and I do always watch it in October right after Rocky Horror Picture Show, so screw you, I’m doing it.

Newlyweds Janet (Jessica Harper, Suspiria, Minority Report) and Brad (Cliff DeYoung, Flight of the Navigator, Wild) are not in a great place in their relationship. Janet yearns for freedom and excitement and Brad is, well, boring, and in the town of Denton, where all the townspeople gather to watch TV shows on a giant set all hours of the day, boring is a death sentence. Brad is imprisoned on the reality soap Dentonvale, where hosts Dr. Cosmo (Richard O’Brien, Dark City, The Stolen) and Nation (Patricia Quinn, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, The Lords of Salem) McKinley seek to help fix the nervous wreck. All the while, Janet is being seduced by her newfound stardom and the attention of the rich fast food mogul Farley Flavors who wishes to take Janet for his very own.

Shock Treatment is…weird. Even by Rocky Horror standards. Rather than make a straight sequel to RHPS, director Jim Sharman (The Night, The Prowler, Summer of Secrets) elected to create a wholly new musical alongside original scribe Richard O’Brien. And while I would have preferred a more traditional sequel, this follow-up does have its own merits.

First of all, I need to address that Shock Treatment actually has its own underground fan base, comparatively-sized to its predecessor, and they live for the film. Many of the elements of the satirical story do mirror events currently going on in present day America. Our addiction to likes, shares, and reality TV is something that Shock Treatment does a tremendous job playing to. And many, but not all, of the songs are quite catchy in their own way.

Overall, this film does meander quite a bit without finding footing. Characters and plotlines are introduced without much care, but the themes stand tall enough not to take away. I was also disappointed by the recasting of Brad and Janet, as I feel their chemistry wasn’t strong enough to reflect the strain on their marriage. They seem at times to really hate one another, and that doesn’t work.

Shock Treatment is a rarity in the business, a film that is indescribably strange but pulls you in very capably. I always enjoy watching it, but it is flawed indeed and I personally find it to be a step down from Rocky Horror Picture Show. But that’s just me? So which fan club are you in?

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 16 – Demons (1985)

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Director: Lamberto Bava

Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny

Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini

88 mins. Not Rated.

 

After yesterday, I think it’s time to return to the world of Dario Argento with a film he helped produce and write: Demons from director Lamberto Bava (Macabre, Delirium).

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Student Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) receives free tickets to a screening at the Metropol cinema. She and her friend Kathy arrive to a crowded theater along with many other theatergoers. One of the other women arriving at the cinema scratches her face with a strange and unusual mask in the lobby. As the film begins playing, the woman’s scratch turns her into a horrific and monstrous demon, and she escapes into the theater, murdering others and turning them into demons as well. Cheryl and another man at the theater, George (Urbano Barberini, Casino Royale, Opera), are forced to defend themselves as the oncoming onslaught of creatures threaten to rip them apart and send the Earth into an unholy apocalypse.

This is another foray into Italian horror from the legendary Dario Argento, who put a lot of work into creating Demons. The screenplay, which he contributed to, creates a strange and mysterious mythology which drew me in as I put the pieces together.

I also want to talk about the incredibly fun heavy metal soundtrack with music from Billy Idol, Motley Crue, Rick Springfield, and Saxon. I have no idea how the music worked its way into the movie, but it does create a unique tone for the film that is unexpectedly more fun.

Now, I still don’t like the ADR voice work here. I understand it is the way that Italian horror cinema was back then, but it did pull me out this time, whereas it didn’t completely pull me out of Suspiria. I think that’s the big difference between two film: the directors. Argento’s directing of Suspiria was cold and calculated, and each drop of blood meant something. Bava (who is the son of Mario Bava, director of Twitch of the Death Nerve) doesn’t have the same experience to keep his film higher-brow, and it shows as the movie devolves into an epic splatter-fest.

I also would’ve cut out the punks driving around for half the movie and then joining the carnage. It doesn’t add anything to the movie and just pulls you out. It’s more fun to not know what’s happening in the outside world.

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Demons has some great elements, and a lot of it worked for me, but there were definite mistakes made by an inexperienced director. Thankfully, Lamberto Bava was tutored by Argento, which elevates certain elements of the film. I think that Demons is a great starter course for these kinds of film, so check it out if you can find it. I had a lot of fun, and I think that’s what the film wants.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 8 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Screenplay: George A. Romero

127 mins. Not Rated.

 

I still remember watching Dawn of the Dead for the first time. I had come across a copy at a Best Buy and spent a lot more than I should for it. I barely got it home and immediately popped it in. It was very different than my mind had expected. I hadn’t expected horror to be so artful.

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The world is ending. The dead are rising up and attacking the living. As the news station WGON is running out of steam, Stephen (David Emge, Hellmaster, Basket Case 2) and Francine (Gaylen Ross, Creepshow, Madman) escape in the station’s helicopter alongside SWAT officers Roger (Scott H. Reiniger, Knightriders, The Other Victim) and Peter (Ken Foree, The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem). When the four arrive at an abandoned mall, they set up shop and create a life for themselves as the dead lurk outside, constantly trying to break in.

Fun fact: Filming at Monroeville Mall took place overnight when the mall closed and ran from 10:00pm to 6:00am. It would have been longer but at 6:00am the Muzak would come on and nobody knew how to turn it off.

The story of Dawn of the Dead‘s production is actually almost as good as the movie itself. But the movie. This movie is amazing. It took several viewings for me to see Romero’s comic-book influences, which becomes evident with the director’s stylish flourishes, dry comedy, and vibrant blood.

The performances of the four leads need to be good enough to maintain this film’s through-line and they do. Each character is developed through their decisions, and George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half) offers up some social commentary among the gore.

Unintentionally, Dawn of the Dead also features a tremendously strange and memorable score due to Goblin and Dario Argento (see yesterday’s Suspiria). It was through the partnership of Romero and Argento that both careers at the top of the genre for so long.

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Dawn of the Dead is horror at its best. Each part of his Living Dead series has its own unique style and characters and Dawn of the Dead is one of the best (even if I prefer the far more depressing Day of the Dead). A great follow-up to Night of the Living Dead, there are parts of this sequel in just about every zombie story to come after, but rarely is it done this well.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 7 – Suspiria (1977)

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Director: Dario Argento

Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi, Dario Argento

Screenplay: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi

92 mins. Rated R.

 

As you go through life, you always hear about the different films you need to see. For me, Suspiria is definitely one of those films. Everyone who knows me knows about my love of horror, and yet, famed director Dario Argento (Phenomena, Dracula 3D) always slipped by me. Until Now. This year, I decided it was time to discover Argento. So I picked his most famous film.

 

Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, TV’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Minority Report) a ballet student from America, has arrived in Germany to develop her talents at the famous Tanz Dance Academy. But just as Suzy shows, another student, Pat, is fleeing for her life. Pat escapes to a friend’s home, explaining that something horrible is going on at Tanz before a mystical force preys on her. Suzy too begins to discover that there is indeed something very strange going on, and as she succumbs to fainting spells and horrific visions, it is clear that something evil is after her.

The most powerful element of Suspiria is its beauty, and I’m not just referring to its lead. This is an elegant film with stunning use of primary colors, giving the movie a unreal and nightmarish feel, like a child’s bad dream. The dreamlike quality is furthered by the childish dialogue of its main characters.

I can’t say that the visuals are the only great element at play here. There is a terrific score from progressive rock band Goblin. This is music that is often imitated but rarely equaled in a horror film.

Jessica Harper leads the cast fine, though the practice of dubbing in Italian horror back in the 70s causes a bit of difficulty in really conveying emotion throughout. She is matched by Joan Bennett (TV’s Dark Shadows, Father’s Little Dividend) and Alida Valli (The Third Man, Eyes Without a Face) as Madame Blanc and her instructor Miss Tanner, respectively.

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Suspiria is well-acted, beautifully shot, and viscerally audible. The film, based on a lie by Dario’s lady-friend and co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi, has aged very well. The first film in what Argento refers to as his “Three Mothers” Trilogy, it was followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears, and I can’t wait to get to more from this legendary filmmaker.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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