The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

26 05 2010

Metropolis (1927) is probably the most well-known silent-era German expressionist film, closely followed by Nosferatu (1922). But pre-dating both yet just as influential is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920): everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Edward Scissorhands (1990) can be in some way traced back to this important work, but so can A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Sixth Sense (1999) as well.

This is one of the first bona fide horror films and the first to employ a twist-ending. More importantly, it was the first film to place a real narrative in a very unreal-looking world. The sets are truly staggering, looking like reality as seen in a fun-house mirror. Nothing exists at right-angles, with walls lurching in on the characters and trees almost seeming to grasp at passers-by (cue Snow White). Even makeup is, at times, heavily stylised, with flat-white faces and dark, ominous eyes marking-out one character in particular (cue Edward Scissorhands). The world as we know it has been twisted, distorted, up-ended in a nightmarish landscape that threatens with its stark, foreboding design.
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Tetsuo: The Iron Man

18 05 2010

Some films are safely quirky, such as Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. Some films are odd or slightly disturbing, such as Brazil. Then there’s the nightmarish territory of Eraserhead, Videodrome and Tetsuo: the Iron Man, where plausibility gives way to perverse streams of consciousness.

So let’s get the David Lynch and David Cronenberg comparisons out of the way. Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: the Iron Man shares a stark, black-and-white surrealist aesthetic with Lynch’s earlier work, as well as the body-horror theme that pervades every film of Cronenberg’s. But Tsukamoto’s approach is rooted more deeply in the cyberpunk genre, where technology consumes, devours and dehumanises, and his hyper-kinetic editing gives a whole different tone to this tale of man versus machine.

The plot is hard to describe without sounding insane. In short, a man runs into a metal fetishist with his car, and soon he himself begins transforming into a man-machine hybrid. But that’s only the start…
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

30 01 2008

The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetI was probably about four years old when my grandfather first told me the legend of Sweeney Todd, the crazed barber who slit his patrons’ throats before having their flesh baked into delicious meat pies. The tale, while more than likely apocryphal, touches on several fears close to most people’s hearts, not the least of which is unwittingly eating a fellow human being (and worse still, actually enjoying it).

Todd’s story was adapted countless times over the last couple of centuries, but the most notable in recent times was the 1979 Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, itself based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. The play and musical added greater depth to the story by transforming it into a macabre tale of tragedy and revenge, and now director Tim Burton has adapted the musical into a Hollywood film.

Sweeney Todd (Burton-favourite Johnny Depp) was once Benjamin Barker, a meek and mild barber living in London with a beautiful wife and child. But when the slimy Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) coverts Barker’s wife, he frames the barber and has him transported to Australia; now, 15 years later, Barker returns to London as Todd, a man devoured by thoughts of revenge.
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