One of the greatest directors of all time, Francis Ford Coppola has never quite recaptured the magic touch he had in the 1970s, when he produced one masterpiece after another (“The Godfather”, “The Conversation”, “The Godfather: Part II” and “Apocalypse Now”). His output in the '80s and '90s was spotty at best. In recent years, he's reemerged with personal art films: “Youth Without Youth”, “Tetro” and his latest, “Twixt”. These movies are weak in the story department, but they're worth seeing because they showcase Coppola's glorious visual style.
Made more than two years ago and barely released in theaters, “Twixt” (Coppola's first horror movie since “Bram Stoker's Dracula”) finds the director in a macabre mood. It's about a writer named Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), “the bargain basement Stephen King,” who arrives in a small town to promote his new book, “Witch Hunter”. The early parts of the film establish an inviting, woodsy atmosphere, but scenes with the local sheriff (Bruce Dern) who tries to partner up with Baltimore on a writing project are marred by awkward dialogue.
The movie comes to life when the writer falls asleep. In his dreams, Baltimore meets a young ghost named V (Elle Fanning). Sporting white pancake makeup, smeared red eyeliner and a mouthful of shiny braces, she's one of the most visually arresting ghosts I've seen in years. The dream scenes have a muted, slightly bluish color palette, but occasionally Coppola will let certain colors stand out, like when blood is spilled. Baltimore also meets Edgar Allan Poe, who carries an otherworldly lantern and who last appears as a giant face on the moon. The dreams in “Twixt” rival “Dracula” with their lush, almost romantic horror imagery.
The movie is based on a dream Coppola had in 2009. He's said in interviews he woke up before he could find out how the story ended, but that's just as well. The movie goes out on a high note, as Baltimore's real life and dream life start to come together in satisfying ways. For all its faults, “Twixt” is undeniably a personal film. The movie is ultimately about Baltimore making peace with not being there when his young daughter died in a boating accident. Coppola's son, Gian-Carlo, died in a speedboat accident in 1986.
The newly released DVD includes a making-of documentary shot by Coppola's granddaughter, Gia. It confirms early reports that certain scenes were shot in 3D. For some reason, the movie is only available in 2D on DVD and Blu-ray, even though 3D movies are regularly released on home video these days.
“Twixt” is just one new offering for horror fans. James Wan's “The Conjuring” has been scaring up quite a bit of business at the box office in recent weeks, drawing an “A-” Cinemascore grade from audiences, which is rare for a horror movie. The high marks are well earned. The movie tells a story similar to Wan's previous horror outing, “Insidious”, except this one purports to be true. In the early 1970s, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move with their five daughters into a country house in Rhode Island. Little do they know the house is haunted by a witch who committed suicide on the premises. We're relieved when husband-and-wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) show up to do some paranormal investigating. Thanks to some very convincing and powerful performances (especially by Taylor and Farmiga), the movie builds to a surprisingly emotional climax. Unlike in most horror movies, we actually care about the characters. The director avoids cheap scares and nails period details, using “Time of the Season” by the Zombies to great effect on the soundtrack. At 36, Wan has delivered a masterful piece of direction.
Page 2 of 2 - For the adventurous, I recommend Peter Strickland's “Berberian Sound Studio”, which pays homage to Italian horror movies (or “giallo” movies) of the 1970s. It stars the wonderful British actor Toby Jones as a quiet sound effects man named Gilderoy, who travels to Italy to work on his first horror movie. We never see the gory images Gilderoy is exposed to; instead, the film is entirely about the behind-the-scenes mechanics of making a movie, showing us, for instance, how smashing vegetables can work great for adding sound effects to a murder scene. The movie is worth seeing just for Jones' darkly hilarious performance as the in-over-his-head Gilderoy, and the way the movie mimics the style of giallo films will make viewers eager to seek out classics like “Torso” and “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”, provided they have the stomach for such things.
“The Conjuring” is now playing in area theaters. “Berberian Sound Studio” is available now through September 5 on Movies on Demand; you can watch it if you have Cox Advanced TV Service.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He lives in Wichita.