Monday, October 31, 2011

October Challenge: Spielberg Film Fest

Steven Spielberg is one of the best, if not the best director of the modern age. Say what you like about some of his movies, there is no doubt that he can do horror and suspense. I decided to end my October Horror Challenge with some really, really good movies. So this weekend I did some ones I have seen before.
There is different kind of horror here, and I'll go as far as to say was invented by Spielberg; the Suburban Horror film.  Look at his movies, Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and ET. He took something so innocuous and innocent made it the stage for aliens and ghosts.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The movie that made Spielberg a household name.  If you ever read "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan he points out that while reports of ghosts, demons and angels have declined, reports of of alien abductions have risen.  Close Encounters captures this like no other film.  Here the aliens end up being benevolent there is no indication in the film till the end that this has to be the case.

Richard Dreyfus' descent into madness is key to this movie; the fear, uncertainty and doubt. We even have a final girl, in the form of Dreyfus.
I chose this movie because I had just picked it up on Blu-Ray and it holds up really, really well.  Even the bits that are dated seem fine and there is not a lot of those.  This movie could be released today and have just as much impact.
Though I wonder if these days the aliens might appear different, or if the inside of the spaceship might change.  Between this movie and now there is a whole lot of "Alien" culture that has happened.

Tally, 28 movies, 24 new

Poltergeist (1982)
While watching all the haunted house movies at the start of this challenge I kept thinking back to Poltergeist as the best haunted house movie ever. So I re-watched it over the weekend.  Man does it hold up really, really well. The pacing of the movie is perfect, the characters are interesting and the scares are top notch.  It is everything promised in CEot3K and more.  The family setting is perfect really, better than that of Close Encounters. While the events in CE destroy the family, the events in Poltergeist bring them together. One of the iconic scenes is Jobeth Williams kissing Craig T. Nelson in front of the closet before she goes in.  It works so well because Speilberg wrote the screenplay and he got a horror director, Tobe Hooper, to do the directing.  Everything you would want in a horror movie is here, save for gore and nudity.  But hey, the suspense and atmosphere of this film more than makes up for any perceived lacking.  In fact I'll set any scene of buckets of blood up against Carol Anne talking to the "TV People" and having a conversation with them where she tells them all sorts of things like her age. The movie really is a masterpiece.

And let us not forget the "Poltergeist Curse".

Tally, 29 movies, 24 new

Jaws (1975)
There are only a handful of movies that have ever scared me a on a deep, primal level.  The Exorcist is one and Jaws is another.  I am not alone in this.  Jaws has so deeply influenced our pop culture that people will regularly throw out "We'er gonna need a bigger boat.", watch "Shark week" on Discovery Channel and then there is the music.  The score of Jaws competes with the score of the Exorcist as the most easily recognized horror movie score.  Even the mere start of the "duh-dum, duh-dum, dum, dum oh wee-ooo!" and people know it.  Even if they have never seen the movie.  Again we take something familiar and safe, a day out on the beach, and turn it into a literal blood bath.
Like the first two this film is very nearly perfect in every respect.  Ok, so, some the things the shark does are a bit much, but it is still a shark and not a ghost or alien.
Roy Scheider, like Craig T. Nelson and Dreyfus of a later film, has tyified the role of the "Speilberg Dad". A role, oddly enough, missing from his Magnum Opus, E.T.  The Speilberg Dad though is strong, loves his family and is ready to do battle with the monsters, even if he has no idea what he is doing at all.  Dreyfus in CE is the dad that fails, but Scheider here and Nelson in Poltergeist are cut from the same cloth.
Like Poltergeist lets pretend the sequels don't exist ok?

Tally, 30 movies, 24 new

Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park combines everything from the previous movies into a new experience.  This is an age old tale of science and man's hubris gone wrong. Filled with the cutting edge tech of the day and all the right buzz words and pop-cultural refs, Jurassic Park could have been a much lesser movie in the hands of anyone else.  But instead we get Micheal Crichton's book as viewed through the eyes of Speilberg.   I mean even look at that movie poster, very subtle in the same ways that the Jaws one is.

In this movie we treated to breath taking views and wonders. Then the "screaming and blood" starts.
So much of this movie is right that it is easy to ignore what it gets wrong (those are Velociraptors, it should be called Cretaceous Park...), but none of that matters when there is a T-Rex chasing after you.

I can remember back in college my wife (then my girlfriend) had just finished reading this book and she was going on and on about how great of a movie it would make.  She was right.

Tally 31 movies, 24 new.

That is the final review for this Challenge!
I watched more new movies this year than last year and that was my personal goal.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff. I'm a big Spielberg fan myself.
I consider Jurassic Park the last great genre film released in complete secrecy before the internet went mainstream and ruined the surprise of going to the movies. You didnt see one shot of those dinos leaked, unless they wanted them leaked.

Laura said...

Jaws is one of my all-time favorites. It's certainly my favorite Spielberg movie. Bruce's first "real" entrance (sampling some chum Brody's just thrown overboard) is perhaps the best entrance of any character, shark or no shark, ever.