Tag Archives: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Fright Club: Best (Worst?) Hotels in Horror Movies

You check in. You assume the best. You’d never think, as you doze off in total helplessness, that maybe the last guest is still lingering in spirit, or was fed to gators, or that the hotel itself may be the doorway to hell.

In all likelihood the worst thing you’ll bring home with you is bedbugs, but I’ll take the gators.

For this episode we’re joined by our dear friend Jamie Ray from the Fave Five from Fans podcast and, at his behest, we will run through horror cinema’s best – or worst? – hotels.

Listed below are our five favorites, but honorable mentions go to Eaten Alive‘s Starlite Hotel, Basket Case‘s Hotel Broslin, Hotel Quickie from Killer Condoms and Slausen’s Oasis from Tourist Trap.

5. Motel Hello (Motel Hell, 1980)

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters, so swingers looking for a cheap motel in which to swing – be warned! Fifties heartthrob Rory Calhoun plays Farmer Vincent, who, along with his sister Ida (a super creepy Nancy Parsons) rid the world of human filth while serving the righteous some tasty viddles. Just don’t look under those wiggling, gurgling sacks out behind the butcherin’ barn!

Motel Hell is a deeply disturbed, inspired little low budget jewel. A dark comedy, the film nonetheless offers some unsettling images, not to mention sounds. Sure, less admiring eyes may see only that super-cheese director Kevin Connor teamed up with Parsons and Calhoun – as well as Elaine Joyce and John Ratzenberger – for a quick buck. But in reality, they teamed up to create one of the best bad horror films ever made.

4. White Lovers’ Inn (The Happiness of the Katakuris, 2001)

Guests rarely come and a strange fate awaits them.

Takashi Miike is an extremely prolific director. He makes a lot of musical films, a lot of kids’ movies, a lot of horror movies, and then this – a mashup of all of those things. Like Sound of Music with a tremendous body count.

The Katakuris just want to run a rustic mountain inn. They’re not murderers. They’re lovely – well, they’re losers, but they’re not bad people. Buying this piece of property did nothing to correct their luck, either because, my God, their guests do die.

You might call this a dark comedy if it weren’t so very brightly lit. It’s absurd, farcical, gruesome but sweet. There’s a lot of singing, some animation, a volcano, a bit of mystery, more singing, one death by sumo smothering, and love.

3. Hotel Ostend (Daughters of Darkness, 1971)

Seduction, homoeroticism, drowsy lustfulness – this one has it all.

Countess Bathory – history’s female version of Dracula – checks into an all-but-abandoned seaside hotel. The only other guests, besides the Countess’s lover, Ilona, is a honeymooning couple.

Effortlessly aristocratic, Delphine Seyrig brings a tender coyness, a sadness to the infamous role of Bathory. Seyrig’s performance lends the villain a tragic loveliness that makes her the most endearing figure in the film. Everybody else feels mildly unpleasant, a sinister bunch who seem to be hiding things. The husband, in particular, is a suspicious figure, and a bit peculiar. Kind of a dick, really – and Bathory, for one, has no time for dicks.

Caring less for the victims than for the predator – not because she’s innocent or good, but because her weary elegance makes her seem vulnerable – gives the film a nice added dimension.

The accents are absurd. The outfits are glorious. The performances are compellingly, perversely good, and the shots are gorgeous. Indulge yourself.

2. Bates Motel (Psycho, 1960)

It doesn’t look like much, but the old Bates place used to be something before the new highway. Now it’s really just Norman, some dusty bungalows, that ice machine, swamp out back, some stuffed birds and, of course, Mother.

Anthony Perkins was the picture of vulnerability in Hitchcock’s horror classic, but the motel itself is also about as benign as a spot can be. Hardly the downcast, shadowy, menacing lodging you think of today when you think of low-rent motels. It’s bright, clean and empty. Lonesome, but hardly frightening. Just like Norman.

1. The Overlook Hotel (The Shining, 1980)

You know who you probably shouldn’t hire to look after your hotel?
Jack Nicholson.

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrance’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.

Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

Fright Club: Best Horror Musicals

We’re on a music kick. Last week we looked at the best rock star horror movies, so it seemed only natural to move on to the best horror musicals this week. At our house, this particular sub-genre might serves as a kind of bridge between the two of us, since Hope generally hates musicals while George appreciates them. And though it is true that Hope can find some love in her heart for a musical with a side of bloodletting, it turns out that George only likes actually good musicals. Which is to say, they disagree a bit on this list.

Hear the full disagreement, er, podcast HERE.

5. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Dude, 1974 must have been nuts. Brian De Palma’s first and only musical is a Phantom of the Opera/Faust/The Picture of Dorian Gray mash up (with some Frankenstein, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and more than a little Rocky Horror thrown in for good measure). That’s a heady mix, and while the film was nominated for an Oscar for its music, it isn’t exactly the classic you might expect.

A campy skewering of the soulless music industry, Phantom sees tiny Seventies staple Paul Williams as the Satan-esque Swan, a music executive with a contract for you to sign. Poor Winslow (William Finley) is just as wide-eyed about his music as all those would-be starlets are about their chances for fame and fortune in this evil world of pop super stardom.

Like many horror musicals, the film works best as a comedy, but Finley’s garish visage once he makes his transformation from idealistic musician to mutilated Phantom is pretty horrifically effective. The film as a whole is a hot Seventies mess, but that’s kind of the joy of it, really.

4. House (Hausu) (1977)

If Takashi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris were to marry Pee-wee’s Playhouse, this would be their offspring.

A spoof of sorts, Hausu tells the story of six uniform-clad high school girls named Gorgeous, Fantasy, Sweet, Melody, Kung Fu, and Mac. The nomenclature alone should clue you in on the film’s lunacy. The giggling sextet spend spring break at an aunt’s spooky house – or, in fact, a cheaply made set of an aunt’s spooky house. Not a single thing that follows makes sense, nor is it really meant to.

Expect puppets, random musical sequences, remarkably bad backdrops, slapstick humor, and an amazingly sunny disposition given the sheer volume of human dismemberment. The trippy nonsense wears a bit thin eventually. Luckily director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film clocks in at under 90 minutes, so the screen goes dark before the novelty wears off.

3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Here’s a bizarre idea for a musical: The barber upstairs kills his clients and the baker downstairs uses the bodies in her meat pies. Odd for a Broadway musical, yes, but for a Tim Burton film? That sounds a little more natural.

Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a full-on musical – Burton’s first – and every inch a stage play reproduction. For many films, this would be a criticism, but Burton’s knack for dark artificiality serves the project beautifully, and he achieves the perfect Dickensian Goth tone. His production is very stagy and theatrical, but never veers from his distinct, ghoulish visual flair.

As in most of Burton’s best efforts, Sweeney Todd stars Johnny Depp in the title role. Depp is unmistakably fantastic – consumed, morose, twisted with vengeance – and he’s in fine voice, to boot.

The supporting cast boasts a liltingly nefarious performance by Alan Rickman. As the judge whose sent an innocent Todd off in shackles, raped his wife, then took custody of his daughter, whom he leeringly admires, Rickman is wonderful as always. His duet with Depp on “Pretty Women” is the film’s real musical gem.

With Burton’s help, Depp found another dark, bizarre anti-hero to showcase his considerable talent. With Depp’s help, Burton gorgeously, grotesquely realized another macabre fantasy.

2. The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Takashi Miike is an extremely prolific director. He makes a lot of musical films, a lot of kids’ movies, a lot of horror movies, and then this – a mashup of all of those things. Like Sound of Music with a tremendous body count.

The Katakuris just want to run a rustic mountain inn. They’re not murderers. They’re lovely – well, they’re losers, but they’re not bad people. Buying this piece of property did nothing to correct their luck, either because, my God, their guests do die.

You might call this a dark comedy if it weren’t so very brightly lit. It’s absurd, farcical, gruesome but sweet. There’s a lot of singing, some animation, a volcano, a bit of mystery, more singing, one death by sumo smothering, and love. It sounds weird, truly, but when it comes to weird, Miike is just getting started.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDfMXwRapNc

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Surely you expected no other atop this list because, honestly, nothing else comes close. The most iconic of all horror musicals, The Rocky Horror Picture Show boasts the best soundtrack, the best performances, the best mad scientist, and quite possibly the most fun there is to be had (legally) at the movies.

I’m afraid you’ve touched on a rather tender subject there.

Tim Curry is utter perfection as Frank-N-Furter (A Scientist). The entire balance of the cast is also amazing, but no matter how many times you watch Curry step out of that elevator, abuse his servants, or seduce his houseguests, it never gets old.

Creator Richard O’Brien’s raucous, once controversial film about a sweet transvestite, a slut, an asshole, and a couple of domestics who sing, time warp, throw rice, animate monsters, swap partners, and finally put on a show is still as much fun as it ever was.

Once a subversive take on the classic musicals and sci-fi films of the 30s and 40s, Rocky Horror is now a high-camp icon of its own.





Fright Club: Top 5 Takashi Miike Films

When we decided to start devoting entire podcasts to individual filmmakers, Takashi Miike was an obvious choice. He’s made 86 movies (and counting), so we knew it wouldn’t be too tough to find 5 really good ones. His imagination is like no other and his films push the envelope in terms of violence, subversive imagery, surreal storytelling, and violence. (Yes, we said that twice. He’s really, really good with violence.)

In fact, it was hard to narrow it down and even harder to leave some of his non-horror masterpieces, like 13 Assassins, off the list. Still, we did it. Here we give you Takashi Miike’s 5 best horror movies.

5. Three…Extremes (2004)

Miike directed one of the three shorts in this collection, a tidy little freakshow called “Box.”

Part of the reason it made this list is that the full film, including Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings” and the great Chan-wook Park’s “Cut,” is among the very best short compilation films you’ll find. Each short is so peculiar and original that your interest never wanes.

Miike’s component tells the story of a haunted, damaged woman. Her waking reality and dreams of the horror from her past weave together so that neither she nor the viewer is ever certain which is which. Sexual repression, incestuous undertones, dreamy colors, bodily contortions, and a dizzying, overlapping storyline mark this as a very Miike work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rIz7WEKGTs

4. Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Miike is an extremely prolific director. He makes a lot of musical films, a lot of kids’ movies, a lot of horror movies, and then this – a mashup of all of those things. Like Sound of Music with a tremendous body count.

The Katakuris just want to run a rustic mountain inn. They’re not murderers. They’re lovely – well, they’re losers, but they’re not bad people. Buying this piece of property did nothing to correct their luck, either because, my God, their guests do die.

You might call this a dark comedy if it weren’t so very brightly lit. It’s absurd, farcical, gruesome but sweet. There’s a lot of singing, some animation, a volcano, a bit of mystery, more singing, one death by sumo smothering, and love. It sounds weird, truly, but when it comes to weird, Miike is just getting started.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDfMXwRapNc

3. Gozu (2003)

This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.

Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses him and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.

Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penZT2N2xDw

2. Ichi the Killer (2001)

Not everyone considers Ichi the Killer an outright horror film. IMDB classifies it as action/comedy/crime, and while it certainly contains all three of those elements, for sheer carnage, not to mention torture, we have to tack on the horror label as well.

Dubious henchmen with a secret weapon – a childlike perv they’ve programmed to kill at their bidding – start a yakuza war by throwing misleading information about the disappearance of one mob boss. He’s being tracked by his really, really, super loyal second in command, Kakihara. (That’s the guy with the incredibly cool/freaky split face from the DVD cover.)

Kakihara’s boss is dead, but he believes he may be kidnapped. He starts kidnapping those who might be to blame, torturing them pretty outlandishly. It’s kind of his art – Kakihara likes to give and receive punishment. Ichi likes to masturbate while others suffer. He comes to consider himself a kind of superhero. Kakihara believes he may be a superhero and really, really wants Ichi to beat him up or die trying.

The childlike Ichi misunderstands everything, and you long for his redemption and happiness, but Miike pulls that rug out from under you because, basically, every person in this film is seriously deranged.

1. Audition (1999)

Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.

Unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror.

Miike punctuates the film midway with one of the most effective startles in modern horror, and then picks up pace, building grisly momentum toward a perversely uncomfortable climax. By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry.

Keep an eye on the burlap sack.