Friday, September 7, 2012

Matango


  Just as unfair as it is to call Galaxy of Terror an Alien knock-off, it's doubly unfair to stick Matango with the tons of cheesy late night, rubber-suit, monster flicks. In fact, it's frickin criminal.  It's such a shame because, despite some very very dated effects, Matango manages to be an effectively creepy, surprisingly atmospheric, and downright unnerving character drama.  It's one of those movies that can't be done justice by summing it up by the description on the back of the DVD case. It's so much more than it's ever been given credit for.  Wish more old monster flicks were this good.

  It starts off simply enough with an unassuming and happy-go-lucky yacht trip. A bunch of big city folks trying to 'get away from it all' out at sea. However, their fun is sorely spoiled when they get caught up in some truly nasty ass weather.  It knocks their yacht for a loop and sends them drifting off directionless towards this unknown little island. On the island, it's your typical struggle for food and basic necessities, but they find another wrecked ship and despite a mysterious air about it, they decide to hole up there for the meantime.  From the reading of the eerie log book to them exploring the wrecked ship, all of it is incredibly eerie. I vastly underestimated this movie, even after reading stellar reviews on imdb. It's actually a pretty decent horror flick that manages to be scary without any gore or anything like that.

  The characters aren't always so easy to figure out. Unfortunately, many horror movies telegraphs who the heroes are RIGHT away, which I think robs the film of tension because we don't get to see these characters actually develop under pressure and insane stress.  Obviously there's the one who cracks under said pressure, there's the turncoat, there's the damsel in distress, the femme fatale, and plenty more archetypes that are pretty much essential to horror movies.

  But Matango allows you to guess which ones are which as you watch the slow and subtle, and especially unnerving transformation of these innocent vacationers into backstabbing and vicious people who are perhaps even more scary than the creatures who lurk in the jungle.
My predictions were in fact all wrong. Which was a pleasant surprise. I like movies that keep me guessing and unravel the story before you in a clever and well timed manner. Matango does just this.

  Also worth mentioning is the atmosphere and the sets. The jungle is dense and thick with all kinds of odd growth, most notably, obviously, are the mushrooms.  It looks like a lot of care and attention to detail went into making the jungle almost a character all it's own. Also theres this dense fog through a good portion of the movie which only amps up the mysterious nature of the island. Its a terrifying experience that deals more with human nature and heavy themes like betrayal and seduction rather than just a slasher flick on an island.

The movie is actually alot more intelligent that it might seem at first glance.  If you can immerse yourself in the story, and suspend disbelief with the rubber suited mushroom people, who are actually still really well done for 1963, then I URGE you to see this movie.  It's a template for how to create tension and suspense without heavily relying on tired old cliches like modern horror movies do. It feels fresh. And considering it's from 1963... that's a massive compliment.

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