Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Demonic December Quick Picks and Pans

Viy (1967) Based on a Russian folk tale, Viy is filled with visual surprises, getting crazier as it goes along. Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov), a young layabout monk, spends the night in the house of an old woman. When she attempts to fly away with him in tow, she reveals her true nature as a witch. He reacts violently, leaving her dying in a field. But she has one more trick before she expires, appearing as a young woman (Natalya Varley). When Khoma returns to his rectory, he’s called upon to hold a three-day prayer vigil over the same woman, who turns out to be a farmer’s daughter. Over the next few days, Khoma reluctantly endeavors to keep evil spirits at bay and contend with a corpse that won’t remain still. Despite its acclaim, Viy isn’t available in Region 1 DVD, but you can catch it on YouTube while it lasts.

Rating: ****. Available on YouTube and Region 2 DVD

Woochi: The Demon Slayer (2009) This charming Korean action fantasy with liberal doses of comedy overstays its welcome by about a half hour, but it’s still fun. The story jumps back and forth 500 years between the past and present, as the roguish Taoist monk Jeon Woo-chi (Dong-Won Gang) pursues a group of demons. He’s accompanied by a bumbling sidekick who sometimes appears as a dog or horse, while pursuing a magic flute and bronze sword. Of course, there’s still room for a time-spanning romance while battling the forces of darkness. Although the CGI effects might not be the most polished, they do the trick, and add a rough charm to the film. Worth a look.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu

Krampus (2015) Expectations were high, watching Michael Dougherty’s follow-up to his brilliant feature film debut, Trick ‘r Treat. While there are glimmers of that film in Krampus, it never quite reaches the heights of its spiritual cousin. A yuppie family hosts their redneck relatives for the holidays, with predictable results. After a snowstorm and subsequent blackout, they’re forced to band together in order to survive the night against the titular Christmas demon and his minions. Krampus starts out strong, with a fun opening sequence involving all sorts of Black Friday-type mayhem. The first half takes the time to establish the characters, with some amusing interplay, and there’s a cool animated sequence concerning Krampus, but the film loses its way by the second half. A string of action sequences overwhelm much of the dialogue, stunting any further character development. Krampus has its moments of terror and comedy, and certainly deserves a watch, but it had the potential to be so much better.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Mystics in Bali (1981) Don’t let the terrible dubbing and iffy acting dissuade you from checking out this little oddity from Indonesia, which examines the occult from a unique perspective. Cathy (Ilona Agathe Bastian), An American writer living in Indonesia, wants a taste of black magic, so she persuades her friend Mahendra (Yos Santo) to introduce her to a powerful witch with a thirst for blood. Before long the witch has Cathy under her spell, and employs the hapless writer to carry out her own nefarious plans. While under the evil shaman’s spell, Cathy’s head (with dangling internal organs) detaches from her body and floats around the countryside to wreak havoc. Mystics in Bali doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s interesting to see another culture’s take on the old “curiosity killed the cat” theme.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Amazon Instant

Phoonk (2008) After Rajiv (Sudeep), a manager of a construction firm, fires an employee and his wife (Kenny Desai and Ashwini Kalsekar) for shady business practices, odd things start to happen. The ex-employees vow revenge, targeting Rajiv’s daughter, who becomes possessed by evil forces. Now it’s a struggle between the unbelieving Rajiv and his devout wife, as they try to make sense out of the strange occurrences. Phoonk isn’t very scary, missing some obvious opportunities for chills, but works better as a family drama with some unique problems thrown in the mix.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Mother of Tears (2007) Dario Argento ends his Three Mothers trilogy, not with a bang but a whimper (with apologies to T.S. Eliot). Following the law of diminishing returns, the first film, Suspiria (1977), was a genre classic; the second, Inferno (1980), while a notch below its predecessor, was a stylish continuation of the story, and added to the mythos. The lackluster third entry throws out everything that worked so well in the previous two installments, substituting copious amounts of gore, jump scares and T&A for suspense and atmosphere. Set in Rome, the film stars Argento’s daughter, Asia, as Sarah Mandy, an art student. She does little to sell the gravity of her character’s situation with her wooden performance. By the time the film reached her climactic confrontation with the remaining witch, I didn’t care. You probably won’t either. For completists only.

Rating: *½. Available on DVD

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