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DVD Review: Night Watch

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Previously on Zombos Closet of Horror:

When last we left the mansion residents, Steve Brown, stalwart and sometimes annoying UPS associate, had discovered that the large bite holes appearing in the closet and pantry were due to an incursion of the 8th dimension (see previous posts). And you thought UPS just delivered packages? Burning questions remain. Where is Pretorious the groundskeeper? Where is the exterminator? Where is the review for Night Watch? We now continue our regularly scheduled blog adventures in the 8th dimension to answer these questions, and more!

ChapTer TwO: Attack of the Shudderites!

"Come again?" said Zombos.

"It was Dr. Lizardo who first discovered the 8th dimension," Steve Brown repeated.

"Didn't I see him on TV?" I asked.

"You're thinking of Mr. Wizard."

"I liked Mr. Wizard," said Zombos.

"Lizardo is a world-renowned scientist," said Steve Brown.

"So is Mr. Wizard," said Zombos.

Glenor Glenda interrupted our important discussion. "You said to remind you that you needed to get out a movie review today," she told me.

Just then, I saw a pair of eyes peering at us from the edge of the hole in the pantry. Two lidless large eyes, just resting by themselves on the edge of the hole. I was dumbfounded. I directed Steve Brown's and Zombos' attention to them with a pointing finger. As we stared at them, they unblinkingly stared back, then slowly separated, traveled the circumference of the large bite hole in opposite directions, then reunited on the opposite side of the hole.

"Yes," said Steve Brown, "definitely Shudderites. That's one of their pets. It's called a Helob. Spiderlike-dog thingy. Kind of playful, really. Hate to be petted, though. Bet he's been the one chewing on your house."

"Shudderites?" I asked.

Steve Brown explained. "They live in the 8th dimension. Nasty bunch of natives. Very opinionated. Must be bash-time."

"What's bash-time?" I asked.

"All the clans get together once a year in a potlatch ceremony in honor of old-time horror movies, and to worship their god, the Ackermonster. They despise the new horror stuff. Due to an old gypsy's curse, the poor bastards and their descendants are forever stuck in the past. They're doomed to perpetually relive it, and revel in Universal Studios Classic Monsters, and B-Movies from the '50s and '60s. They wouldn't be half-bad if they didn't roast non-believers alive during the bash. They usually only pop into this dimension in search of non-believers, for their sacrifices. They can smell them a dimension or two away."

"Well, I for one love the old-time classics. Give me a Bela or Boris over Englund or Combs any day." said Zombos in a loud voice.

"Say," said Steve Brown, looking at me, "you do all those reviews for new horror movies, right? Boy, some of the clunkers you reviewed lately would definitely cause them to…"

"Well!" I said, "you gentlemen certainly have your work cut out for you." I hurried off to complete my review of the Night Watch DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.

I am thrilled to say that Night Watch is not a clunker. It happens to be a whirlwind of effects, characters, and story that definitely puts Russian horror on the genre map. While the filmed story is different from the novel in some important respects, creating a bit of a muddle for viewers who have not read it (myself included), the film still presents an entertainingly novel, fast-paced, and strong first entry in the Night Watch trilogy. Trilogies seem to be all the rage these days; what, with Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, and Spiderman, you would think there must be some mystical box-office association with the number three.

The DVD contains quite a few important extras. Aside from the English and Russian widescreen formats, and a sneak peak of the upcoming sequels, the director's commentaries for the extended roof scene and the film itself provide essential insight into his directorial process. The director, Timor Bekmambetov, mentions that the film is done for Russian audiences, which explains the more melodramatic and flowery-mouth approach to mis-en-scene and dialog. But it is these same Russian nuances, composed alongside the standard but well-executed horror trappings, CGI, and gore effects, that give this film's quirky, good versus evil story a fun, very watchable spin for any audience.

We start with the fight between good and evil — light and dark — as they each battle for foothold on a narrow bridge. It is soon realized that neither can win. So a truce, of sorts, has them divvying mankind's fate into having good rule by day, and evil rule by night. Jump ahead a few centuries, and we are brought to Moscow, where Anton, our soon to be strong-willed but hapless hero, pays a visit to a witch in order to harm his ex-girlfriend, and keep her from having someone else's child.

It only takes a short time before the witch is subdued, rather suddenly and chaotically, by the good forces for engaging in, well, witchy kinds of things, and Anton learns that he is a seer (in the international film version), and a Light Other, which means a good guy. It seems the Dark Others are vampires and other nasty things that go bump in the night, and the Light Others are shape-shifters and magic wielders, who try to constrain the Dark Others as much as possible from doing harm. Thus it has been for centuries: both sides fighting each other to maintain a balance. For those of my readers that work in a corporate office, just substitute "boss" for the Dark Others, and you will understand the whole concept perfectly.

From the opening salvo with Anton, the witch, and the forces of light shapeshifters, it's a wild ride. Anton's entry into the light and dark world will leave your head swirling, but stay with it and all will be revealed in time. Night Watch is a kinetic film that relies on visualizations first, done in fast cuts, speeded-up and slowed-down action, and jerky frames 'spliced' with CGI, pausing just a little to explain what's going on before plunging you into another whirlwind of visualizations. But the visualizations are superb, and show lots of creativity and skill for a limited budget production.

And then there is the Gloom. The Gloom is the twilight state where the natural and supernatural converge. In the film, Mr. Bekmambetov heralds its onset by swirling mosquitoes, which he says remind him of vampires, but, unlike the novel, he does not focus on the Gloom much. One fast and furious scene, in an old Russian barbershop, has Anton fighting a vampire who pops in and out of the Gloom to attack him, otherwise remaining invisible. The bloody and gorific fight is a special effects treat that ends with a snap, crackle, and pop.

Other memorable touches include a yellow maintenance truck (think Ectomobile from Ghostbusters), commonly known to the Russian audience as a very slow moving vehicle, that is poked fun of in the film by adding rocket jets to have it speeding madly through the Moscow streets; and then there is the owl. The owl is a stuffed bird brought to life to help protect Anton, now that he's gone and killed a vampire. The Dark forces will not forgive him for that. No sooner does the owl follow him home, then it turns into Olga, in a flurry of feathers and goo (hmmm…looking very much like the Chinese food variation of goo — yuck!). Being forced into the owl shape is her punishment, but we do not learn for what. The owl can stand for either good or evil in Russian folktales.

Did I forget to mention the Vortex of Damnation Curse? There is that, too. Aside from Anton's issues with vampires, there's this woman that happens to be cursed, and about to bring down the apocalypse (oops!), so that the forces of light and dark can do battle again. The reason for why this woman is cursed can almost be taken as a joke by American audiences. I say almost because, when you think about it, the reason for why she is cursed, and why Anton is unwittingly causing bad things to happen, and why evil is gaining more of a foothold, is due to bad decisions that were made by these characters when they had more control over their destiny. And their destiny is intertwined with everyone else's.

The crux of this film is that each person must make a conscious decision to join the light or the darkness, and their decisions shape events. In American horror films, characters are usually put into situations beyond their control, then they make bad decisions that make the matter worse — usually terminally worse. So instead of a taste of Hamlet in our horror, we prefer hamburger with lots of onions and bloody red ketchup. We don't want to savor the bun, or it's relation to the burger, we just want to eat it.

Night Watch savors it's moral story, and adds a dash of Shakespearean angst to provide a wonderful and colorful tale of fantasy, horror, and all the choices made by its characters that can lead to either the Light or Dark path. The Russian sensibility of horror in this film is summed up best by this dialog between two characters:

"Damn!"

"Careful what you say. Damn is more than just a word."

I look forward to seeing the second film, Day Watch, in the trilogy, and more horror films from Russia.

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About ILoz Zoc

  • http://www.genericmugwump.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Please do let me know if you run into Peter Weller sometime soon, I haven’t seen him in a while.

    Anyway, good stuff as always, your posts always put me in the mood for a good dose of 80s horror – and I did come across Ghoulies 2 in a VHS-frenzy earlier. As for Nightwatch, tis great fun and an entertaining couple of hours.

  • http://zomboscloset.blogspot.com Iloz Zoc

    Ah, the 80s. I was flipping the dial last night and came across Chuck Russell’s The Blob. The gore effects hold up gruesomely well. Hmmm…now that you mentioned Buckaroo himself, I smell a new plot twist coming…Weller was super in that role.

    I must see Ghoulies 2. Anything that revolves around a carnival or sideshow always catches my eye.

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.genericmugwump.com/ Aaron Fleming

    The Blob remake was great, gimme that over McQueen anytime. And every possible opportunity for making reference to Buckaroo Banzai should be clenched with all one’s might, that’s my view.

    Ghoulies 2 is great, but to be honest it pales in comparison to Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies go to College. Now, that is one of the best comedy horrors ever made!

  • http://zomboscloset.blogspot.com Iloz Zoc

    Okay, I’m sold. I now have 2 Ghoulies movies to catch up on. So many movies, so little time. Damn.