THE RAPTURE (1991)
Mimi Rogers is a marvel in this shockingly underseen drama about Sharon, a call center operator in Los Angeles who finds herself on the receiving end of a greater calling in life. Sharon's arc is one of the most fascinating and unsettling I've seen in some time, dropping her "hedonist" lifestyle for Christ's undying love... and perhaps the end of times. God and director Michael Tolkin don't let you off easy. Clever, bleak and challenging, it's rich material that seeks to rattle believers and non-believers alike, building to a climax that leaves viewers in their own conflicted purgatory. I have newfound belief in its creator, and Rogers is an absolute revelation. As for God... we'll talk when the time is nigh.
MOST UNEXPECTED ENDING:
NEXT OF KIN (1982)
For the majority of its runtime, Next of Kin builds a stylish, encompassing mood... and a notably sluggish pace. I kept waiting for the real horror to unfold. When it did, I wasn't prepared. And I'm not talking about "the reveal" which, to be honest, is a muddled memory at best. But the climax shifts gears so miraculously into a scene straight from Italian horror that I was totally smitten. Our lead girl finally fends of the psychopaths as the camera suddenly seems to unhinge, turning the film's slowly revealed setting into one grand setpiece like the lost scene of a Dario Argento film. It also conjures Picnic at Hanging Rock with its stark Aussie setting, actor John Jarratt on the sidelines, and stunner aerial shot of one survivor's screams of hysteria. It's all too brief but remarkable. And the film continues to go off from there to another explosive finale spurred by the careful construction of a sugarcube tower. Succumb to the slow build and STAY for the spectacle.
BEST BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR:
I'd stopped and looked into the well of Jean Rollin once before. I didn't look deep... but then neither did his films. The clips I'd seen had acting more wooden than a stake and seemingly less of a point. I trusted the atrocious DVD artwork to accentuate his sole worth being in red corn syrup and sapphic lust... Then, in the depths of boredom, I took a second look. And somehow... I found myself falling into it. The somnambulant poetry of it all. I was seeped into the atmosphere and... by god the ATMOSPHERE!
I drank the water, kids... And then I got DRUNK.
With its own languorous mood and melancholy, Rollin's worth is far from the tit-centric Troma flicks I'd been dreading. Time, plague and parasite feed on the supple flesh of female. An erotic meld of sex and death, philosophical and existential meditation, and some pretty shocking bits of horror. The production value is surprisingly solid, given the macabre ambiance of the many real world Gothic locales. Castles and cemeteries so grim and so perfect, they immediately transport and transfix you. Like Mario Bava on micro budgets, it's horror by way of hypnosis.
For those like I who cried, "Don't drink the WATER!" ... I offer two recommendations. The Grapes of Death and The Iron Rose are two solid examples of Rollin's worthwhile visionary. Both lack in his "trademark" lesbian bloodsucking in lieu of more abstract tales of terror. The Grapes of Death is a fresh take on the zombie formula following an infection as it spreads through a remote village, leaving its townsfolk still aware of their own vile actions as they ravage and dismember. It's slow burning yet still packs a memorably grisly punch. The Iron Rose is an altogether different sort of horror film, following of a couple's odd overnight dance with death in an unforgettable cemetery setting. It's all but a foggy fever dream you can't help but get lost in. There IS a sense of storytelling amidst all the lurid shlock, and a stirring sense of surrealism Rollin is able to capture time and again. And, yeah, some hot and bloody girl-on-girl action, too.
(Also for the curious: Lips of Blood, Requiem for a Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, Fascination)
More 2012 favorites to come...