Monday, June 6, 2011

Science Fiction Wrapped In Horror Clothing

It’s not entirely uncommon for horror movies to switch back and forth between genres because it happens all the time. For example: I found that the original My Bloody Valentine bounces between a slasher flick and a high school drama, but many times the switch is unnoticeable. It’s different when a horror movie combines genres into one because, like any other slasher movie, it’s essentially a horror movie with teen drama thrown in. There are, however, exceptions to good genre switching and one of them is a movie called Monster Dog with Alice Cooper. We’re not here to talk about that, we are here to discuss possibly one of the better “horror” flicks that swaps back and forth. It does it gracefully and I’m willing to say that it is one of the most underrated genre switching movies that I’ve seen. I am talking about a film called Nightwish about a group of parapsychology students are end having to face their worst fears while trying to survive from their crazy professor.

So why does it succeed in being a multi-genre flick? Well, because it starts off as being somewhat on par with A Nightmare On Elm Street (and possibly Inception for those who haven’t moved on from that movie) in that it deals with psychology pertaining to dreams. Like a sci-fi film ripped straight from the late 70’s and early 80’s, one of the main characters wakes up in a tub filled with water with wires attached to her head as if she was being reborn. However, just seconds before her awakening she was being chased, during her prom, by a deranged man who killed and ate her schoolmates. From slasher to pseudo-science-fiction is a big leap or to put it more boldly: from a Wes Craven film to a Stanley Kubrick film. As the scene progresses we find out the device she is attached to can monitor and project dreams as movies on to a computer monitor. I can’t help but compare it to Minority Report but since the movie came out years beforehand, I can’t really go that route. I also doubt Spielberg even saw Nightwish.

Then, after we really get into the plot we actually discover that the professor has tricked his students into performing some kind of bizarre demented Satanic ritual so that they could summon a being into their world. What this has to do with parapsychology, I have no idea. Now the movie turns into some kind of satanic flick that would feel at home in the 1970’s and 60’s. It’s a throwback of sorts because like all demonic possession movies they characters sit around in a circle and allow the being to enter their realm. The first time this happens the being takes the forum of a weird green worm but the second time, it’s more along the lines of Wicker Man or even Rosemary’s Baby. The professor shackles his students to the basement framework with a five-pointed star in the center so that he could summon the unnamed/mysterious being once again. At this point I felt like the film was actually about demonic possession and I accepted it because it fit with the professor’s crazy attitude. However, the movie turns into something completely different near the climax.

When it comes to demonic possession and cults, it’s only natural for the cult to devote some time into torturing or roughing up their victims so I wasn’t surprised when the professor’s meathead assistant decides to torture the students. I felt it was a modern interpretation of exploitation films before modern interpretation even existed. Essentially, it was an Eli Roth film before Eli Roth was even known. By this point it still felt like a horror movie but just dealing with demons and possession. However, one crucial bit of dialogue that the professor says gives leeway for a drastic genre switch. See, during their five-pointed start summoning, the students and the professor actually succeed in brining the being into their world but it comes with a price; the demon will stop at nothing to make it’s beckoners turn against each other… even if it means causing hallucinations/delusions. One of them then begins to hallucinate the body of a dead man who reveals the professor’s true identity. Turns out that may be an alien sent to experiment on the student but is our heroine really hallucinating. We are suddenly swung back into that science fiction genre.

What goes from a story of demonic possession has now suddenly transformed back into science fiction, this time, instead of dealing with mind manipulation and dreaming it deals with the existence of aliens and cloning. I don’t want to spoil the ending but I will say that it feels like Inception in that you don’t really know what is real and what is a dream and even more so, there seems to be a direct homage to The Wizard of Oz as well. To most people it may seem like they were cheaply switching genres because the director/writers didn’t know what their movie was. I disagree. I believe that they made a science fiction film that was disgusted and played off as a horror movie. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Some have compared it to Altered States and that it is a sci-fi horror film and I agree to a point but I am leaning on the idea that it’s more sci-fi than horror. I think the ending perfectly clears things up.

On another note, Brian Thompson of the X-Files fame (he played an alien bounty hunter in the series) is in this film as our heroine’s lunk-head boyfriend. It’s strange that an actor who has been in sci-fi films throughout his entire career is in this as well. Not that I’m alluding to anything. I also find this scene where our heroine is battling monstrous glowing tentacles is very similar to an X-Files episode involving tentacles that grab people.



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