Saturday, October 31, 2015

Detroit Gloom & Doom for a Happy Halloween

On my first flight to Detroit years ago, I marveled at the skyline. Who knows what could have been had the city further pursued its Olympic aspirations.

A standout structure on the lakefront -- John Portman's GM Renaissance Center -- gleamed even from 5,000 feet, just as it appeared in the film "Presumed Innocent."

After driving through central Motown en route to the fabulous Art Institute -- and realizing more than 1,000 area buildings now stand abandoned -- later bird's eye views yielded "urban graveyard" notions, with each rotting high rise resembling a tombstone for Detroit's heyday. 

Not a great fate for Michigan's largest city (predicted by Michael Moore in his debut "Roger & Me"). 

As you might suspect from the hit film references above, Detroit is the backdrop for many memorable movies. And since last Halloween, two films emerged as future horror classics that double for preserving snapshots of Detroit's plight.

If you're in the mood for a creepy and intellectual vampire feature, check out the clever "Only Lovers Left Alive" with Tilda Swinton as a Tangier-based blood sucker whose centuries-long marriage is enduring change. 

Her husband (Tom Hiddleston) resides in one of Detroit's abandoned mansions (there are thousands of derelict properties from which to choose) writing music inspired by contemporary rockers and memories of hanging out with Schubert. 

At night they Skype about many cerebral subjects before hitting their respective towns in search of an untainted hemoglobin fix. By day, they wring their hands over the world's dwindling supply of plague-free "pure" blood aptly nicknamed "the good stuff."

With Hiddleston in a personal funk, Swinton travels to Michigan to provide moral support. Her younger, free-spirited sister (played by Mia Wasikowska) also arrives on the scene, but quickly reveals her careless ways with a twentysomething victim and the elder couple's expensive supply of rare, clean blood. 

Mortified, Swinton and Hiddleston must work quickly to right the vampire ship before their coven is outed by nosy neighbors and local law enforcement.

I enjoyed the sophisticated banter that foreshadows human fate (for Detroit residents and worldwide). It's a sad future infusing a few lines of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner").

Hiddleston's vintage Jaguar (powered by unknown inventions of the couple's old pal, Nikola Tesla) and John Hurt's cameo as a vampire author Christopher Marlowe also elevate the highbrow environs.

Their body disposal method in an abandoned warehouse is super creepy. Savor and enjoy!

Another outstanding film casting a spooky spotlight on Detroit: "It Follows." What a scary treat!

I first learned of "It Follows" during three March 2015 segments on NPR. This is one film you may not wish to watch alone. More than once I was yelling at the screen "look out!" and "run, dummy!" just like when Jamie Lee Curtis ran for the closet in "Halloween" of 1978 (still terrifying!).

Opening in modern Michigan suburbs, "It Follows" introduces a wide-eyed college virgin, Jay (Maika Monroe) living the dream and considering her first sexual encounters with new beau, Hugh (Jake Weary) a heartthrob who recently transferred from a school a few towns away. 

Upon consummating their relationship in the back seat of Hugh's 1970's Detroit-built sedan, Jay is shocked to find herself knocked out by chloroform only to awaken underwear-clad and tied to a wheelchair inside an abandoned warehouse (the same as in "Only Lovers Left Alive," I wonder). 

Hugh informs her that through their tryst Jay inherited a new best friend "It" which is going to slowly stalk her until she passes the fuck buddy torch to another person.

"It" will follow her and hang around like a bad suit, addiction or lingering STD until "It" kills catches her.

And if Jay is caught and killed by "It" then It" returns, in reverse order, to torment those who previously encountered "It" following them. Get the picture?

Hugh punctuates these instructions by introducing "It" in the form of an expressionless nude female advancing on their warehouse perch. "It" can take the form of a stranger or a close friend -- that's what makes "It" clever.

Hugh drops Jay on her front lawn, leaving her terrified and bewildered as her younger siblings and neighbors watch. The teens (sans Hugh) then embark on solving the many problems "It" brings to their lives. 

This scene provides a peek at "It" appearing for the first time since the warehouse.

I haven't seen too many films this year that made such an impression.

Through its simplicity sans gore, car chases, or many special effects, "It Follows" is terrifying, mostly for letting the viewer's imagination fill in the blanks on what "It" might be or represent (many a spoiler-filled fan theory are now posted online). 

The script weaves in several literary greatest hits, and there's some excellent camera and lighting work. As in "Only Lovers Left Alive," decaying Detroit provides the unsettling backdrop in top form. 

Like peer classics "Halloween," "The Shining" and "Psycho," the film "It Follows" includes an outstanding soundtrack that makes the movie with musical effects inspiring hair stand at attention on one's neck and arms. 

The composer, Disasterpeace, built on notes from several horror genre favorites listed above, and I also picked up on possible inspiration he found from Tangerine Dream's work for "Risky Business" as well as Brad Fiedel's compositions for "The Terminator" or "Fright Night." There's even tonal reference to "Danse Macabre" and Trent Rezor/Atticus Ross' Oscar-winning score for "The Social Network."

Happy Halloween!

Images via IMDB

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