Friday, May 16, 2008

Post Mortem

I've decided to try something new this week, I call it the Post Mortem. Instead of reviewing a film in it's entirety I figure I'll cut to the chase and review the juicy bits, the death scenes. As well it should be said that this review is focused on victims and not the final fate of the primary antagonist, monster, etc.

I figure a death scene is comprised of five main components; first and foremost the manner of death, the effect it has on the story and plot, the appearance and direction of the scene, the overall mood of the scene, and lastly the acting.

Here is how I will go about assessing the scenes.
Each of these categories will receive a score on a scale of 0-5

Manner of Death: How did the Character Die? Was it interesting? Creative? Well suited to the story? Otherwise satisfying or disturbing to the audience?

Effect on Story: Did the character's death forward the plot of the film in any significant or meaningful way? Did it provide tension, character motivation, a sense of impending doom or vulnerability to the other characters? This is the only Category that will be ranked on it's relation to the rest of the film and not it's individual merits.

Appearance and/or Visual Direction: Quite simply that. did the scene look good or was it goofy? Was the amount of blood and gore suitable for not only the manner of death, but was it suitable for the overall film, was it "over the top"? Did the director make good or poor choices in the scene's execution (excuse the pun)?

Mood: Related to appearance and direction, this category however is not so much about the visuals as the feelings imparted on the audience. Did the director provide a setting and and overall feeling that let a distinct and desired impression on the audience? Was it creepy, suspenseful, or scary?

Acting: This one kind of goes without saying. Did the actor or actress make the scene believable? Did they transmit their feelings to the viewer? Quite simply, was the acting good, decent or poor?

So for my inaugural Post Mortem I have selected a film which runs the whole gambit;

Post Mortem: American Werewolf in London
Body count: 10 werewolf victims, 6 Nazi monster victims, numerous traffic fatalities.

Jack's demise
Manner: Attacked and mauled by a Werewolf on the Moors of England. Being mauled by a werewolf in a werewolf film may seem predictable so some, but that's what I expect and want to see in such a film. Perhaps falling and impaling himself would have been less predictable, but far less satisfying. Full marks for being mauled by a werewolf.
5/5 (excellent)

Effect: Jack's animated corpse/ghost/embodiment of David's psychosis what have you is integral to the plot of the story.

Appearance/direction: This scene was shot beautifully wispy mist on the dark moors, only being able to see a few meters (yards) before darkness complete immerses the viewer, especially in a darkened theatre. the amount of gore in this scene was not over the top but rather very much what one would expect from a mauling of a large animal.

Mood: The lead up with the monster circling them, the suspense of the howling in the distance, fact they failed to heed the villagers' warnings. Led you to know something ad was indeed going to happen, and even then the attack comes out of nowhere as a surprise. I have to admit this could well be the best death scene in horror movie history.

Jack's struggle beneath the beast while screaming for help was fantastic, and really the most brutal mauling in the film. But I have to admit the line where he screams "It's killing me!", although I can't say that the line was out of place, it stood out and was a bit redundant. For that it gets a point against it. (that and it helps establish I'm not a pushover on my ratings, I'm actually a tough marker)
4.5/5 (very good)

Overall with a total of 24.5/25 this scene gets an A+. So the bar is set, for my money this is possibly one of the greatest scenes in Horror history.

OK this was a weird side trip that really was Landis on a tangent. And I loved it. Grind House Exploitation written all over it. Pointless but fun.

Manner: Deformed mutants in Nazi uniforms but in to the family home and kill everyone. I know there are people who hate this scene, but you have to give it credit. In a film where people are getting chewed to bits by werewolves, this scene is unique and unexpected.

Effect: OK for those of you who hate this scene, you'll like this score. As it has NOTHING to do with the film or his fears of turning into a werewolf, nor move the plot along in any manner whatsoever I gotta' be firm. but I'm giving it a single point as it does shake the audience up and that was it's sole purpose.

Appearance: OK this is a hard one. Do I rank it based on the fact it was Nazi monsters in immovable rubber masks with bullets flying everywhere and bodies flying away like cartoons, or as ...well it had Nazi monsters in immovable rubber masks with bullets flying everywhere and bodies flying away like in cartoons? In other words was it supposed to be this bad? Well I think it was. If it was a whole movie of this stuff it would be one thing, but as a dream sequence it's quite another.

Mood: Well it definitely served the purpose it was meant for, shock and surprise.

Acting: Even if it was meant to be a bad dream the acting was still pretty poor. More grind house feel IMO, but still pretty bad.

Overall this scene really doesn't benefit from my analysis one way or another. Viewers really need to form their own opinions on this one. But as this is my duty here is the final mark; 16.5/25, 66%, C

First Victims:
Manner: Again shredded by a werewolf in an setting fully appropriate to the film gets high marks. The actual attack does not vary much from the initial attack on Jack and David, and in fact runs the same pretty much through the entire film. So for this fact it was good but not excellent.
4/5 (good)

Effect: Well a werewolf movie without people being eviscerated would be pretty boring, so this scene is a necessity for the story, but does not advance plot or character motivation. That this is David's first kill it gets a bonus to make it a bit better than average.
3.5/5 (better than average)

Appearance/direction: Care free couple on a night out visiting. Dark night on the edge of a park setting looks good, but really not much else as the actual blood letting happens off screen. I do have to say that Landis I feel made the right decision to leave most of the maulings off screen after giving us a very powerful visual in the first attack on the moors. The fact we later see the results in part with a mutilated and severed arm is a powerful and graphic image only upping in the audiences imagination what went on after the cut.

Mood: Well really not much of a set up. Victims step out of a cab and whammo they're eaten by a werewolf. In the context of the film, not every scene needs to be powerful but on it's own merits, which this is all about it's just not there.
2/5 (fair)

Acting: This one is almost not applicable, but I will rate it on it's lead-up and there it is completely average at best. In fact really it seemed they had a few before going out (perhaps based on the couple we later see whom they were going to visit, that is quite understandable). Regardless I'm giving them a hard score.
2.5 (below average)

Overall 15.5/25 This scene comes in at 62% which gets it a passable C-.

Homeless Guys:
Manner: Same as before. Although personally I've always hated the drunks and the homeless hanging out along the paths by the river in Calgary, pissing under the bridges, etc. I always though a large carnivore lurking the banks would be a nice addition and there would be no shortage of prey (yeah so know you get that I'm really not such a nice and charitable guy), so this scene works for me.

Without the benefit of being David's first kill this is another monster killing people scene. Hay that's a big part of monster movies, I get that, but that doesn't make it any better than average.
3/5 (average)

Appearance: I really liked the look of this scene and the set up with the dog. Much better than the previous scene with the socialites. But again a cut away left entirely to our imagination and without follow up. Again works in the context of the larger film but really hurts the scene on an individual ranking system.

Mood: Better mood and lead-up for certain. Again too bad there's no payoff.
3.5/5 (above average)

Acting: All said I like these three I thought they played it pretty well.
4/5 (good)

Overall, for a scene without out payoff perhaps I'm being a bit generous. 17.5/25 is a 70%, B-

Manner: You got it folks another off screen cut-away werewolf mauling.

Effect: The third in a series of brutal slayings on the night. So really nothing new here for effect either. Really if this scene wasn't the best of the trio it would crater pretty hard in this category. It was a good decision to save the best of the three for last.

Appearance: This scene is completely out of place being in a subway, but the fact it's late at night and the subway is otherwise deserted, it's creepy in itself. So this setting does indeed work.
The scene plays a lot longer than the previous ones and the character is actively pursued and stalked in bright light which is quite powerful. Perhaps it is the fact we are all used to busy places like this that it's emptiness is unsettling to us. The stalking and the desperate escape could be from a mugger or a rapist, whatever and it would play the same. Very real and personal to the audience. Landis made great choices in shooting this scene the way he did. Some great shots, especially the overhead shot at the escalator where we actually get a pretty good view of the creature for the first time.

Mood:You knew this guy was a gonner, but the desperation of the scene was all there.

Acting: Following up on the Appearance and the Mood, if the acting failed here, if the victim didn't seem sincerely shocked and terrified it would have fallen flat. I have to give this one top marks.

Overall this was a great scene, cut-away or not. 22/25, 88% or A

Theatre Usher and Manager: OK there's two killings here, but they're so intertwined I'm lumping them together.
Manner: More monster mayhem, and cut-away killings. (if you haven't caught on most of the gore in this film isn't actually filmed while people are being butchered, but in eviscerated body parts and decomposing ghosts. But that's OK there's still plenty of gore to go around.)
The fact the usher is killed immediately after being transfixed, watching David turn into a werewolf in a porno theatre definitely has to get some bonus points in the manner category.

Effect: Well this is the beginning of the climax of the movie, so I suppose I could rank the deaths on that. More to the fact he is right down town in Picadilly Circus when he turns and kills these two than the murders themselves. By this they are more significant to the progress of the story than many of the previous deaths.

Appearance: Not much to be said for appearance here, it's in a darkened porno theatre. The werewolf discovered ingesting the corpse of one of the men was nice and juicy however.

Mood: Not much for mood either.

Acting: The usher watching him turn into a wolf was rather amusing, when you keep in mind this guy has probably thought to this point he'd seen everything one could in a smut shack. And the manager showed suitable emotion, but nothing here moved me to score them above average.

Overall: Well it is what it is, 16.5/25, %66, C

Picadilly Cop:
Manner: The first to be visibly decapitated by the werewolf, infact this is the first on screen mauling sing the intro.

Effect: None really just creating havoc on the streets. After all at least one person had to get shredded in that crowd.

Appearance: Even though this was the first on screen werewolf killing since Jack's death it really kind of fell flat visually. Perhaps it was for the best that the rest of the murders were cut-away.

Mood: The public curiosity followed by panic and the screaming cops were good. More action than moody however.

Acting: Lets scream as wolf grabs at your neck and then we cut to see your head bounce off the hood of a car. Nope not much acting.

Overall a terribly weak scene but it gets quickly absorbed in the ensuing confusion and we look past it. This is fortunate, as otherwise it would be a big downer on a pretty solid monster flick with respectable death scenes. 13.5/25, 54%, D

There you have it. Feel free to nominate another film or even a scene and we'll put the 'scope to it.
Gary Macabre

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