Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #5: Coppola's TWIXT

And now we come to Twixt... like, Twix, the candy bar?  First this guy does a movie called Tetris (scuse me, Tetro) and now it's about fuckin candy?  Sheesh, come on, Coppola, get it together!

Anyway, this movie... is this even a movie?  According to its history, this is actually an experiment much moreso than something that was conceived as a traditional film; Coppola wanted to make it almost like a Choose Your Own Horror type of scenario, where he would show the film and personally select scenes to play based on what the audience wanted to see happen next.  He had to drop the idea because not simply that it was too ambitious (it was), but that the story wasn't nearly that complicated.

I get the impetus though - this is a film that takes in large part in the realm of dreams, specifically those of two-bit, second-rate Stephen King type Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer, not completely disinterested here it seems), as he is trying to find a good story for his next book while on a tour in a small town.  Maybe having a narrative that changes based on audience's taste could be a captivating way to gain interest that wouldn't come in other ways; for a horror film, you sometimes wonder, what if YOU choose to make the person go into that room or not interact with that ghost, or just run away and get the cops, etc.  With Twixt the problem is... should you even care enough to push a button to make things go different?

What happens, however, seems like Twixt puts together all of the scenarios that Coppola had in mind into one narrative.  This would go a ways to explain why the film has a second ending; we think the movie is over, or at a point where it's like "Oh shit!" and it's actually, truly, scary and bloody and the intensity gets ratcheted up to the kind of point one saw in the best of his 92 Dracula... but then the scene cuts to that moment where a writer turns in this story we've just heard as his new book(!)  Uh, que?  There are other times this feels apparent, but none more than that, which is a shame since the gotcha takes away from the brightest horror-movie spot of the thing.

I do think Coppola was trying, just not always in the best possible ways; due to a low budget he uses green screen often during the dream sequences (many, if not almost all of them, featuring Ben Chaplin as Edgar Allan Poe, not a bad Poe but a little dull).  It looked and felt like Sin City but just cheaper, without any real edge or reason for this to be green screened.  Part of the problem is that there are plenty of good actual, real backgrounds that Coppola and company use, so that when they revert to this other way of showing their actors in these backdrops, it's not very convincing.

I've read people online saying this movie is a mess.  It's not that it's hard to follow, and I think Coppola still has a good through-line in Twixt, as it's really about dealing with the loss of a girl (Baltimore's own daughter as well as the Elle Fanning character, who we see eventually was part of this cultish gang of teenagers). 
I think what people responded to was that it's tonally all over the place; at certain points, the movie is quite funny, as when Kilmer is trying to write just one line to start his book, inspired by Sheriff Bobby LaGrange's "The Vampire Executions" (Bruce Dern really does bring it and is my favorite of the cast, by the way), and does voices and imitations like Marlon Brando ("straight razor" makes for a self-homage), and a black basketball player (hey, why not).  There's also a funny scene involving a Ouija board and how this is supposed to lead to the clues of what happened to the dead girl in the morgue with a stake in her heart.

However, the movie will then become dreary, mostly with Poe comes around, and it tries to add some gloom and doom, like with the pivotal story of the reverend (or was it a priest, or a bishop, I forget who) and how he killed his flock of children over... lemons(?)  It also doesn't help that, again, the green screen makes this all look amateurish at certain points; it's interesting to note that Coppola (on the DVD documentary) took time to light the sets and make sure actors were in the proper moods and mind-sets for scenes.  But all to what end?  Is this all a meta-commentary for Coppola about the troubles of independent productions?  Is it an homage to the silly Corman films that he cut his teeth on in the early 60's?  And what's up with the split-screen scenes that don't really need to be split-screen (it looks kind of awkward the way it's all shot)?

To Coppola and company's credit, there are some chilling images and moments of mystery - a scene at a clocktower carries some strange tension - and the ending (before the final scene) is kind of spectacular.  It's just that Twixt doesn't add up to what it is trying to go for, which is.... a bizarre melting pot of motifs and moons and big, scary houses and buildings and goth-teen vampire gangs led by people with a name like "Flamingo".  So it's a mixed bag, to put it kindly.

PS: One more nice thing, that's Tom Waits as the narrator.  Wish there was more of him doing it in the story.

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