Summer of Horror 2017: Part 6 Train to Busan, Suspiria, The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Train to Busan

I wrote in my The Girl With All the Gifts review that the zombie genre still had a bit of juice left in it even after roughly a decade of being milked to within an inch of its afterlife. I was surprised that any originality could still be found in that set of tropes, but I think what’s more surprising about Train to Busan is that it doesn’t actually do anything that original at all, yet still manages to be a compelling and effective zombie movie.

This is a Korean film revolving around a semi-absent workaholic father and his very young daughter being caught in the midst of a full blown zombie apocalypse while riding the bullet train. One can’t help but draw mental comparisons to Snowpiercer – at least I couldn’t. And I emphasize the youth of the daughter character for a reason – she seems to be about 10, or younger – and that’s rather unusual for this kind of movie. Children in peril isn’t uncommon in zombie films, but they tend to skew towards the teenage side. Putting a girl this young in the bite range of a zombie horde is nerve-wracking, doubly so because the father character starts out so bumbling and hapless.

The zombies in question are “modern” variety, Romero type, fast-running, instant-turning zombies so the situation escalates extremely quickly. The train setting is unique, as is the fact that we never actually see a zombie being killed (there are no guns in the movie at all), but apart from that, this uses the zombie framework to tell a pretty resonant story about parenthood. Korean horror films are kind of known for messing with tone, utilizing out of place slapstick and such, but Train to Busan shows more restraint. It is, ultimately, just a well-made and emotionally affecting horror movie. Worth the stream while it’s still on Netflix.

Suspiria

I love the feeling of knocking out some of these older essentials that have been lingering around on my Summer of Horror watch lists year after year, ever destined to be bumped. Suspiria was surprisingly hard to track down – the reason for said repeated bumping. I never saw copies on DVD at my normal used horror movie treasure trove, Zia Records, and couldn’t find a reasonable digital rental until just last month, Amazon mercifully added it to Prime Video. Save!

Suspiria is known for its otherworldly colored lighting, fire engine red paint-like blood, closeup stabbing violence, and eerie music from awesomely-named band The Goblins. Not as well-known: The story. It’s essentially some nonsense about a witches coven operating out of a ballet school, masquerading as a fairly “traditional” slasher movie. A term I use ironically, as Halloween was still a year away from christening “slasher” as a sub-genre of its own.

For 1977, this movie goes at a brisk pace. Like any legitimate slasher flick, there’s a shocking stalk-and-murder scene in the first 15 minutes; a remarkably terrifying and effective sequence that would go like gangbusters playing in the background of a Halloween party. The level of gore overall is extreme for the era. You get stark closeups of a heart being stabbed through a gaping chest wound, throats being slowly cut, and a character falling into a nest of razor wire, beating Saw to the punch by a few decades. That famous lighting scheme – neon reds, greens and blues – bring an unsettling effect to the otherwise staid, stuffy dance academy setting. And that music! Exorcist-inspired tubular bells overlaid with sinister whispering – also good Halloween party atmosphere.

This is one every self-respecting horror fan should have in their repertoire. Check it out, Amazon Prime members, while it’s still there for free. Or just pay for it; it’s worth the money.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Boy, what a movie to end a Summer of Horror on.

I don’t usually employ the word “spooky” to describe anything without adding a dash of condescension, but The Autopsy of Jane Doe is indeed a spooky af movie. If you’ll excuse the pun this is a movie that gets way, way under your skin.

Mortuaries are creepy in the best of times. Imagine being stuck in one in the middle of the night, during a violent thunderstorm, in the company of a bunch of grisly murdered corpses and one eerily perfect mystery body. That’s the situation father-son coroner team Tommy and Austin find themselves in, and as they literally peel back the layers on the titular Jane Doe, each discovery makes less sense than the last. The skin has nary a scratch or blemish on it, yet the lungs are scorched by fire, the heart tissue is scarred up, there are strange objects in the stomach, and so forth. It all adds up to an ominous mystery, until the storm knocks out the primary power and downs a tree in front of the only emergency exit, trapping the two main characters inside. That’s when the shit hits the fan.

Here I will cautiously back away from further plot description. In fact, I recommend against even viewing the trailer, as I think it gives too much away about the specific spookiness therein. Just know that there’s much more than a psychological thriller at play here. Suspense is ratcheted up to unbearable levels, utilizing several agonizing silent scenes of characters slowly peering into small openings to investigate the creepy noises on the other side. A small bell introduced in the first act becomes ominous as all get out.

I’ve read other critics praising the “performance” of Olwen Kelly as Jane Doe, and I use the quotations because while there is a good degree of difficulty in laying perfectly still on camera, never betraying a twitch or a breath, I’d consider this more stunt work than acting. But her look is perfect – beautiful but a little odd, and the many closeups of her still face give you impression that she’ll spring to life at any moment. The film manages to conjure extremely subtle hints of emotion and motive in that dead face, but I’d consider that more a triumph of editing, makeup, and photography than acting.

It may not look it, but The Autopsy of Jane Doe is 100% classical, mystery-horror all the way down to the dark and stormy night. And yes, it is very, very scary. Not one to be missed.

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