Monday, June 29, 2009

Analyze This

The common wisdom concerning the penultimate scene of Psycho (1960) has always been that the speech delivered by actor Simon Oakland - in which his psychiatrist character explains in exacting detail why Norman Bates has been committing murder while dressed as his dead mother - is a tedious attempt at summation as Oakland is given the thankless task of walking us through Norman's twisted mind, dryly explaining the craziness we've just witnessed. But while this scene is usually singled out as a misstep, a speech that could've used some judicious editing and still conveyed the necessary info, I feel like there was an underlying method to Hitchcock's madness.

Every time I've watched Psycho, I've always felt that Hitchcock wanted this scene with the psychiatrist to work on two levels. One, I think he felt that a large part of the audience would really need an explanation and that he was obliged to include this scene for the sake of clarity. Even though what we see transpire in the fruit cellar is enough to roughly put it all together, a more deliberate connecting of the dots had to be there. But I also feel that while Hitchcock knew he had to include that scene, he purposely portrayed the psychiatrist as a windbag - knowing that he would let the air out of everything that was said with the coda that followed with Norman alone in his cell. Oakland plays the psychiatrist as a self-satisfied blowhard who likes the sound of his own voice. He's smug, he's comfortable playing to an audience. After talking to Norman - or specifically, to Mother - he's got the whole story. His explanation is all about demystifying what we've just seen. He takes all the mystery out of it.

But then Hitchcock pulls the rug from under that speech by bringing us back to Norman and letting us hear his thoughts as Mother. While everything that the psychiatrist says about Norman - about his crimes, about his split personality - may be true, the last scene with Norman shows just how empty those words are. Hitchcock could've let the audience off the hook with Oakland's explanation and left the film at that. That would've been the conventional choice. Vera Miles and John Gavin could've walked out of the police station with matching sad faces as soon as Oakland finished talking with a big 'The End' title imposed over them - Janet Leigh may be gone but hey, at least normality is restored. But for Hitchcock to go back to Norman instead and let Mother's thoughts be the film's final words (courtesy of actress Virgina Gregg) is a brilliant undercutting of Oakland's speech. By doing this, Hitchcock is able to have his cake and eat it too. Yes, he gives the audience the explanation but then he shows how bullshit it is to believe we can understand a person as disturbed as Norman.

What's always made my skin crawl the most about Psycho was imagining what Norman's victims saw in the last moments of their lives. To know that these people suffered a death that was inexplicable to them - to see who was attacking them, to be able to recognize Norman (even though in the shower scene we only see Mother in silhouette, I always felt that Marion could see Norman's face just as well as Arbogast clearly does) but to have no way of comprehending why Norman was dressed the way he was or why he was out to slaughter them - was an idea that burrowed into my brain. And when Hitchcock returns to Norman after the psychiatrist has had his say, he is putting a fine point on the idea we are eternally vulnerable to the madness of others. This is what Hitchcock wants to leave us with, not Oakland's hollow explanation. The psychiatrist can dissemble Norman's mental state with practiced professional acumen now that Norman is in custody but the truth is, if this psychiatrist had gone to the Bates Motel a day earlier, he would've stood face to face with Norman and not perceived his insanity.

By knee-capping the psychiatrist's speech, Hitchcock obliterates any comfort those words might've offered, allowing Psycho to endure as the ultimate public service announcement for watching your ass at all times.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Blood Work

I don't begrudge anyone who's a fan of that Twilight stuff but it sure isn't for me and even though the HBO show True Blood has gotten some acclaim, I just can't shake my disdain towards love stories about vampires. Ever since I was a kid and I saw Frank Langella's face on the poster for the 1979 Dracula remake and wondered how in the world a guy who looked that lame was supposed to be scary, I've known that sexy, seductive vampires are generally not my thing. Even the best Dracula's, like Lee, Lugosi and Jourdan, were just pretty boys to me. Barlow from Salem's Lot - now that was a vampire.

So imagine how my face lit up with boyish excitement at the promising trailer for Daybreakers - a film that looks to be the vampire apocalypse movie that Blade III (2005) should've been (about damn time!). I couldn't make it all the way through the Spierig Brother's first film, Undead (2003), but Daybreakers looks like a Variety Pack of awesome. Sam Neill looks rocking as a vampire as does William Defoe as a Whistler-esque vampire hunter. Even if this turns out to be total trash, it'll be my kind of trash. If they can make so much trash for other people, they better keep making it for me, too.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maybe Showers Remind Me Of Psycho Too Much

Among Michael Jackson's long list of professional accomplishments, it's understandable that his gig singing background vocals on Rockwell's 1984 hit "Somebody's Watching Me" may be all but totally forgotten (it's no "We Are The World," after all). However, while this wasn't a Jackson song (long before 1984, it would've been impossible for Jackson to sing a song that describes himself as "an average man with an average life" - although as the son of Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr., Rockwell was stretching it himself) its lines about paranoia and invasion of privacy seem prescient towards Jackson's increasingly fame-addled life.

What's more, the creepy video that accompanied "Somebody's Watching Me" remains a horror highlight of early MTV. Despite being made with a clearly low budget (it utilizes cardboard gravestones that Ed Wood would've admired), and despite its tongue-in-cheek chills (beware the mailman!), it's also sprinkled with some inventively eerie imagery (I love the dancing figure in a black hat and shroud that spins and twirls outside Rockwell's shower curtain), and surreal surprises that wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch film (what's the dilly yo with the armadillo?) that suggest an affinity for the horror genre on the part of the director. While "Somebody's Watching Me" was only a footnote in Jackson's career, it's easy to imagine that he often had to ask himself "why do I always feel like I'm in The Twilight Zone?"

The Funk of 40,000 Years

It's been awhile since a celebrity death has left me feeling shell-shocked but the sudden passing of Michael Jackson at age 50 has certainly done it. While almost every article commemorating his death will be obliged to mention how his bizarre personal behavior had nearly eclipsed his talent, it's only because its true. Besides being a blazing, one-of-a-kind talent, he was also a blazing, one-of-a-kind oddity. Before sexual accusations permanently tainted his image, Jackson was just a wealthy flake ("Wacko-Jacko") with a passion for chimpanzees, plastic surgery and, allegedly, the Elephant Man's bones (strictly a tabloid rumor). But what horror fans will remember Jackson for, aside from penning the title ballad for the killer rat classic Ben (1972), is the John Landis-directed music video Thriller.

For many fans born in the early '80s, Thriller was their introduction to horror. And what was cool about Thriller was that it was something even a confirmed horror junkie could enjoy. After all, there was a Forry Ackerman cameo, Vincent Price's rap and closing cackle, and FX God Rick Baker delivered feature film-caliber goods with some of his most memorable creations. The were-cat that Michael turns into is simply awesome (I love it when he knocks a tree over with a swipe of his hand!) and while everyone remembers the dancing zombies, what I loved as a kid was the brief moment where Michael and Ola Ray are surrounded by the undead and Landis pans over to a zombie oozing blood out of its mouth. That, to me, made Thriller a real horror movie - that, and the title card that stated that Thriller didn't endorse Michael's belief in the occult. When you have to put something like that in front of a movie, well, it makes it seem like it's The Exorcist or something.

Call it a long form music video, call it a mini-film, Thriller deserves to be remembered as one of the most influential horror movies of the '80s. And best of all, it's one that will likely be immune to a remake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Inspecting The Box

Having picked up writer/director Richard Kelly's The Box and shaken it, via the new trailer online now, I'm anxious to rip it open. I haven't read the 1970 Richard Matheson short story "Button, Button" that this is based on or seen the previous adaptation (directed by The Changeling's Peter Medak), which aired as an episode of the '80s Twilight Zone revival, but I like what I see here. Although it's set in the '70s, it doesn't look like Kelly is exploiting the decade for its kitschy, camp aspects. I'm not sure why Kelly determined that The Box ought to be a period piece but given the elements of paranoia and conspiracy seen here, maybe he believed this story naturally fit in the decade that put paranoia on the map with films like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men. Whatever the case, it looks like The Box stands a good chance of being an ideal match with Kelly's idiosyncratic style and a mainstream thriller.

On a separate note, I find it funny that the distinctive Saw music appears in this trailer given that The Box is due in theaters the week after the latest Saw installment (VI for those who've lost count). I've heard the Saw music used in other trailers (like Valkyrie) but in this case, with The Box infringing on Saw's turf ("If it's Halloween, it must be Saw!"), it seems like a deliberate thrown down on the part of the marketing people. If that's so, I'm all for it. Anything that takes the Halloween season back from the Saw films is good with me - if there were a button to push to make that happen, consider it pushed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mother Mania

Even though Father's Day has just passed us by, it's Charles Kaufman's Mother's Day (1980) that's jumped into my thoughts lately. My pal Matt at Paracinema recently posted a write-up on the satirical slasher and a remake is currently in the works (natch!), courtesy of Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, and IV). But while I'm no fan of Kaufman's film - it's shoddy, mean-spirited, and only sporadically funny - what I have absolutely loved about Mother's Day from the start is its incredible poster. As a kid, when I first saw this poster reproduced in a newspaper advertisement (which in smudgy black and white newsprint only made it look cooler), at the height of the slasher fad, I was in thrall with its ghastliness. Even with as many outstanding posters as the early '80s boasted (hello, Happy Birthday to Me!), Mother's Day knocked everything else on its ass.

I mean, the poster for Maniac (1980), with a psycho brandishing a knife in one hand and a bloody scalp in the other, is pretty astonishing in its nastiness but for me, that's all that poster is - just bluntly unpleasant. Mother's Day, though, is different. There's a EC Comics-style jolliness to it (beginning with its nod to Whistler's Mother), coupled with a hardcore slasher attitude. Every element of this poster is macabre - the decapitated head in the gift box, the grinning Mother with her half-skull face - but what makes this poster a win is the two cretins lurking in the background (known as Ike and Addley in the movie), with their knife, bloody axe, and creepy apparel.

Up front the image of the mother displaying her 'gift' sells Mother's Day with a ghoulish wink, a sight that wouldn't have been out of place on a poster for an Amicus anthology. But behind that, Ike and Addley are all business - pimping the more sordid, threatening horror of the '80s. Ike and Addley are the kind of authentically skeevy-looking degenerates that haven't been seen in horror movies since about 1983 or so. Sure, you'll see some impressively deformed inbred hillbillies now and then (as in 2003's Wrong Turn) but those are clearly the fantastical creation of make-up maestros whereas Ike and Addley were in the tradition of Ed Neal's Hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw Massacre - characters portrayed by actors who were able to inhabit their parts with such uncomfortable reality (sans make-up, it seemed) that it looked like they had been cast in mid-crime, rather than from an audition - and the artist's rendering of Ike and Addley on the poster for Mother's Day does these despicable boys full justice. In a world of PG-13 remakes, and a world in which even horror movie posters are about showing off its most photogenic cast members rather than showing anyone who might make your skin crawl, you'll never see a pair of psychos like Ike and Addley again. Hell, even Robert Silverman's sweaty, suspicious school gardener from the original Prom Night wouldn't make it into a movie - even unattractive red herrings are forbidden.

I don't spend much time lamenting how the genre has changed and pining away for the way things used to be because honestly, there's still a lot out there that I like. But whenever I look at that Mother's Day poster, I have to admit that something's been lost along the way. Even today's most balls-out films aren't sold with true exploitation posters anymore. The horror genre has shed the tawdriness that it used to own so proudly, and that's a mother-lovin' shame.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Hot Creepers!"

I was just watching Psycho again today for the first time in many years and while most of it was as familiar to me as the back of my hand, one bit jumped out as though I was hearing it for the first time. When Marion Crane is driving to her new life and is imagining the various reactions that her theft of $40,000 dollars belonging to raffish oil man Tom Cassidy will cause, the phrase that she imagines Cassidy blurting out is "Hot Creepers!" How I ever forgot this, I have no idea because 'Hot Creepers' is perhaps the funniest shit ever. This very blogspot would probably be named 'Hot Creepers', in fact, had I properly earmarked those words. Although I've never heard it spoken elsewhere, I find it funny that in my many viewings of Psycho over the years that this is the first time that it struck me as being a nutty expression. While she was on her way to finding out what crazy was all about, it's clear that Marion was already a little bent herself.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Revisiting Friday the 13th '09

You would think that after years of the series' various producers doing everything they could to keep Jason out of his wheelhouse - sending him to Manhattan, into space, pitting him against Freddy, etc. - that returning to basics with a reboot would be an automatic win. But when the Friday the 13th remake was released in theaters back in February, reaction among the fans was largely hostile and now its on DVD, ready to be re-evaluated. Did the filmmakers fumble the machete or were fans' expectations just set too high? A little bit of both, I believe.

When it comes to Friday the 13th, getting back to basics isn't quite as easy as it sounds. After all, a true remake of the original Friday would've had to have told Pamela Voorhees' story, not Jason's. And while that may be where the series started, the perception among moviegoers is that Friday the 13th is all about Jason. Jason's mother is just a footnote in the series and no one wants to see a whole movie about a footnote. The approach that Platinum Dunes took - to riff on Fridays 1-4 - was definitely the wiser strategy. But even then, the problem becomes one of coping with Jason' half-baked mythology. The Friday movies stepped ass-backwards from one sequel to the next into making Jason an icon and so trying to re-introduce Jason and also stick to the lore of the series is trickier than it sounds.

The biggest problem is that as a character, Jason makes no sense. Did he drown in Crystal Lake as a child or did he survive? Is he just a deranged backwoods maniac or is he supernatural? These are questions that you kind of need to know the answers to before making a reboot of the series but they're not easy questions to address because any answer is going to lead to a nonsensical story. If he's supernatural, the origins of that have to be explained. If Jason survived his drowning, why did he not reunite with his mother before she took revenge for his death? If there's an answer for that, we've never heard it. The "he survived" option is what PD went with, though, as when the remake opens we see a flashback to the young Jason witnessing his mother's death at the hands of the Final Girl who survived Pamela Voorhees' wrath. Even though that's more or less what the original series had always asked us to accept, it was easier back in the day to just go from Mrs. Voorhees being killed in the original to Jason coming back to avenge her in Part 2 with no explanation attached. But as fans never bothered much with the logic behind that, it seems wrong to fault PD's remake for sticking to the same story that fans have been ok with for almost thirty years.

Then there's the introduction to the iconic hockey mask, which was a completely casual moment in the original series as Jason appropriated the mask from a victim in Part 3 but yet the expectation for this remake was that there had to be a better discovery of the mask than "he just finds it". I disagree - I think any explanation would've inevitably been silly or obnoxious. The trend I most hate in modern movies - modern genre movies especially - is the drive to over-explain everything. While the hockey mask could've been given a slightly more ingenious intro, I'm ok with how it was handled. And for attentive viewers, there's a brief glimpse of sporting trophies in Jason's bedroom - hockey and archery trophies, specifically - that give a hint as to why Jason would be drawn to donning the mask (and the archery trophy explains his new-found handiness with a bow and arrow - a skill that drew criticism among fans, although given Jason's aptitude for all sorts of weapons, I don't know why mastering a bow and arrow should be considered beyond his abilities).

The remake took the most heat for introducing new elements to the series that seemed to be a sign of the new film's producers and screenwriters not "getting" Jason. Why does Jason now utilize a series of underground tunnels to get around and why is he holding a prisoner for weeks on end? I agree that these are curious choices but given the kind of foolishness the series has been party to for years, I don't think the remake over stepped itself too much. I prefer the "no tunnels, no prisoners" Jason but that said, I felt like this was still Jason (it helps that Derek Mears is the best Jason performer since The Final Chapter's Ted White). The tunnels are justifiable as a way of Jason being able to move from place to place without drawing attention to himself and as for taking a prisoner, well, as a reboot maybe this is how he learned that there's no room for sentimentality when you're a murdering maniac - it only throws you off your game.

As for the kills, I think there's more good moments here than its been given credit for. As a fan, I like that there's a mix of styles - there's the over-the-top kills, the slow and nasty kills, and the out-of-nowhere kills. That, to me, shows an awareness of the series. But I also think that director Marcus Nispel dropped the ball in staging several kills that should've been crowd-pleasers but yet fall totally flat (like the death of the cop) because what's happening isn't filmed to its best advantage - the angles are wrong, the lighting is too dark, etc. But while Friday '09 could've been more rousing in this area, I felt like it didn't embarrass itself either. I mean, I don't know what your standards are but for me, any Friday that has a chick burned to death in a sleeping bag suspended over a campfire, that has a topless chick hiding in the water under a dock get impaled by a machete through the top of her head and then be lifted out of the water to gratuitously show the audience her breasts one last time before prying the character off the machete blade, and that has a dude get an axe in the back and then has Jason flip the suffering dude over, driving the axe up through his chest to complete the kill, can hold its head up in the company of the other Fridays. That's just how I roll.

Is there room for improvement in the sequel? Oh yeah, plenty. Should the people at Platinum Dunes be the ones to make those improvements? That's questionable. But next to the other entries in the series, Friday '09 seemed better than most to me. I understand that this might not have been the remake that some fans wanted to see but there's a feel to that first film - in its pacing, its acting, its cinematography - that the other Fridays were never able to get back to. There's something elusive about the original and trying to understand it is like trying to touch your own reflection on a lake - it just shimmers and separates. For its part, the remake is content to just splash around.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coming Soon

I have a huge affection for horror films involving movie theaters - whether it's just one scene as in The Blob (1958, 1988), He Knows You're Alone (1980), Deadly Eyes (1982), Gremlins (1984), and House of Wax (2005) - or an entire film, as in Demons (1985), Anguish (1987), or Popcorn (1991). Whether it be slashers, zombies, demons, or monsters that are loose in the theater - I'm always ready to see some terror in the aisles. Given that, the Thai film Coming Soon - about a projectionist who bootlegs a cursed horror film - has immediately shot to the top of my must-see list. I just wish it was actually coming to a theater near me instead of likely going direct-to-DVD in the US.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hellish Thoughts

As Sam Raimi's highly-touted Drag Me To Hell fades from movie theaters after three weeks in release, the question some are asking is why wasn't this wasn't a bigger hit. It's done well, sure, but not the kind of business that some had expected it to. After all, Drag rode into theaters on a near-unanimous wave of praise from both fans who had seen the film in its several showing at film festivals as well as from critics (it's listed at 93% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). And yet it's done moderate business, at best - far less even than some other recent horror offerings that lack the same kind of pedigree. But while it doesn't seem right that a film as shoddy and graceless as The Unborn should out-perform Drag Me To Hell at the box office, all things considered it really shouldn't have been such a shock.

First of all, the timing of Drag's release was terrible. Even though horror in the summer isn't as iffy a proposition as some make it out to be, it's still not smart to open opposite the new Pixar film. That's a good way to get crushed right there. But the real problem is that when it comes to horror, Raimi's sensibilities are still too quirky for general audiences to roll with. What's seen as hilarious to Raimi fans just plays as corny to most people with the negative comments I heard about Drag being almost exclusively along the lines of "I couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be funny or scary!" Scream-type irony is pretty easy to recognize but Drag's brand of splatstick, veering wildly from gross-out gags to serious character moments, is more problematic. A movie like The Uninvited may be completely bland but it isn't confusing to anyone and some people do appreciate that - they don't have to wonder if they 'got' it.

Of course, you'd think that the people who supposedly "get" Raimi - you know, horror fans - would've been out in full force to support Drag and ensure that Raimi's return to the genre cleaned up at the box office. But if you're waiting for horror fans to make a movie into a blockbuster, good luck with that. Whenever a film comes out that you might think would galvanize horror fans to show their support, it doesn't. Where were the fans at when Land of the Dead came out, or Grindhouse, or The Mist? No matter what you might think of those films, horror fans ought to have been storming the gates to check them out on opening weekend. Apparently, though, horror fans were feeling apathetic about the prospects of a new George Romero zombie film, a double-feature of exploitation films from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodrigeuz, and the long awaited adaptation of one of Stephen King's most popular novellas. I mean, even the fucking shitty Shutter remake made more than these films - so clearly catering to what horror fans say they want is a losing game.

Thankfully, even if Raimi's return to horror wasn't seen as an event outside of his fanbase, it didn't tank, either. And the fact that Raimi spent some of his Spider-Man clout adding one more cult favorite to his resume is damned cool.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sittin' Pretty

My buddy Matt House (look for his writing over at Paracinema) used the above title as a caption to this photo of yours truly on his Facebook page and it made me laugh enough that I had to use it here. Sitting pretty, indeed! This is me rudely hogging floor space, oblivious to the walking needs of others, as I look for Cinefantastique back issues earlier today at the Monster Mania event in Cromwell, CT. Had a great time (clearly!) and was pleased to see how terrific legendary cool cat John Saxon still looks at age 73.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fear Lives On Shutter Island

Unless there's a lot of release date shuffles in the coming months, this October is slated to be especially horror-heavy with the remake of House on Sorority Row, the horror-comedy Zombieland, the Stepfather remake, the Richard Matheson adaptation The Box, and the inevitable Saw VI all coming to theaters. But the films that are likely to be the scariest that month are two that will not be sold as horror, the Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road - which is already giving me nightmares - and the adaptation of Dennis Lehane's thriller Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese.

Shutter Island has been off the radar of most of the horror press until now but with the release of the first trailer, a lot more notice will be paid to it as the trailer makes Shutter Island look like irresistible pulp fun. You have an isolated island-set insane asylum, a missing patient (a murderess, no less) with a secret, and a conspiracy involving the asylum staff that threatens to engulf an unwitting federal marshall (Leonardo DiCaprio). Based on the high-pitched Gothic feel to this trailer, Scorsese was clearly having a ball with this material and Shutter Island looks set to trump anything from the straight-up horror camp this October.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Ball Is Back!

In an unexpected bit of good news, the lone Region 1 holdout among the Phantasm series, 1988's Phantasm II, is finally coming to DVD in the US on September 15th courtesy of Universal. This'll hit stores on the same day as a slew of other Universal horror titles, including back catalog classics from John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but the arrival of Phantasm II eclipses everything. Until now I've held off buying any of the other three Phantasms until I knew that II would be available on disc because the Phantasm saga isn't a saga without its best entry.

With the deep pockets of Universal backing him, writer/director Don Coscarelli didn't squander the opportunity to go bigger and better on this follow-up. The new spheres, with more accessories than a Swiss Army Knife from Hell, were great and the array of new mayhem they were able to inflict was bad-ass. And even though Coscarelli ran into problems with the MPAA, I still feel that he was able to get away with a lot. The scene where a sphere burrows through the body of one of the Tall Man's lackeys remains one of my favorite splatter moments of the '80s, as does the Tall Man's oozing 'demise' as acid is pumped into his body.

With its action taking place in cemeteries, funeral homes and mortuaries, there was a grand ghoulishness to Phantasm II that I loved. That summer I wanted to be riding along in that black '71 Hemicuda with Reggie and Mike, tracking the Tall Man from one ravaged small town to the next, prowling among the crypts and graves that his minions had raided. I was never one for role-playing games but by God, if they had ever come out with one for Phantasm I would've been the biggest dork for it.

By rights, Phantasm II should've been Coscarelli's graduation to the big leagues and vaulted the Phantasm series to the forefront of horror franchises instead of being consigned to the graveyard of cinematic duds. How audiences didn't respond to this, I don't know. Maybe it was too confounding, or too corny, for most people. I loved it unabashedly, though. In every regard it struck me as cool. For me, it was a sequel just as successful as Aliens or Evil Dead II. When it comes to Phantasm II being more widely regarded as one of the best of the '80s, though, maybe this DVD release will finally get the ball off the ground.

Friday, June 5, 2009

By Plane, By Car, By Bike, Bye Bye!

The trailer for Final Destination 4 - aka The Final Destination - has already been online for awhile now but I didn't want it to go by unmentioned here. Original franchises are few and far between these days with studios turning to remakes and reboots of past classics to interest movie goers rather than sequels - the exceptions of the current decade being the Saw series and the Final Destination films (with Hostel's would-be franchise status stalling out with Part II). But while the Saw series has done little to interest me, my affection for the Grand Guignol-meets-Looney Tunes antics of the Final Destination films knows no bounds.

For me, FD is the perfect horror series. They're live-action splatter cartoons, void of pretense but with just enough slickness via their studio backing to be spectacular. And I love that with every FD film, things essentially start at square one. There's no baggage to carry from film to film and that's how it should be. The more the Halloween series became burdened by the convoluted Strode family lineage and by the Cult of the Thorn, the shittier it got (and then it got even worse). And look at where Saw series has ended up with its endless flashbacks - and flashbacks within flashbacks - involving so many characters you have to be Jigsaw himself at this point to comprehend what you're watching. With FD, however, there's no on-going characters to remember - none that matter, at least - no lingering plot threads, and most importantly, there's no villain to run into the ground.

By refusing to personify Death, the makers of the Final Destination series have given fans the peace of mind of knowing that every character's final exit won't be followed by a lame pun or bon mot. Death also doesn't care about anyone's life choices so there's no chiding his/her/its victims with insipid moral lessons. Whether you're a junkie or a schoolteacher - or both - it doesn't matter. And because Death is an invisible, indefinable force, FD fans will never have a shit backstory shoveled to them about Death's white trash's upbringing, thereby spoiling Death's mystique for all future sequels. And for all this, I'd like to tell the FD producers "thanks".

While some jackasses like to whine that no FD sequel has bothered to expand on the series' mythology, that's exactly why the series is still worth a damn. There's no story to advance, it's just the same story every time. The appeal of the series is in its Omen-esque set-pieces. And unlike the Omen series, the FD films don't have to carry the Bible on their back the whole time. There's no prophecies to avert or fulfill, just the hand of Death. And personally, that's more likely to make me nervous. With The Omen, as long as you don't get too nosy about the Anti-Christ, chances are you'll be fine. But with the FD films, we're all on an equal playing field. Death overrides all beliefs or superstitions. It's not about whether you're on the side of God or the Devil and there's no Book of Revelations to keep you forewarned. It's not even like a Friday the 13th movie where Jason is pissed you're smoking dope in his woods and he feels that he owes you a machete in the head. It's just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's about surviving a car crash but then the air bag deploys and rams your head through a steel pipe.

That, to me, is scarier than any horror villain. Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers are all make-believe boogeymen. And depending on your faith, you can say the same about the forces of Hell. But you can't be a skeptic about Death itself. That shit is real. Having each FD protagonist experience precognitive visions is as much fantasy as these films need. And really, I'd argue that they don't even need that.

For now, based on this trailer, it looks like FD hasn't lost a step. I imagine it'll be tough for the next FD to top the excitement of a 3-D entry but the thing about Death is that it comes back stronger every time.

The Final Destination trailer in HD

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Somebody's Throwing A Party For The Top Ten

If this news doesn't pan out, so be it - but I hope it turns out to be legit. Over at Bloody Disgusting, they're reporting that Lionsgate is planning a 3-D remake of 1981's Happy Birthday to Me. Apparently the studio was so pleased by the box office performance of My Bloody Valentine 3-D that rather than pursue a sequel to that hit, they'll be remaking another classic '80s slasher film instead. While I don't see why they can't do both - remake HBTM and do a MBV 3-D sequel - if forced to settle for just one, I'm more predisposed to seeing a new HBTM.

Telling one of the most outrageous slasher stories of the early '80s, HBTM is pure bliss. Starring Little House on the Prarie's Melissa Sue Anderson as Virginia, a member of Crawford Academy's elite 'Top Ten', HBTM is a mystery that gives logic and reason and run for their money. When a killer begins stalking Virgina's exclusive social circle, and the Top Ten is quickly narrowed down to the Top Half Dozen and counting, the question HBTM asks is - who has it out for Crawford Academy's most popular students? Even Virginia herself is a suspect and with her birthday coming up, it looks like there may be no one left to celebrate it with her.

Anyone who's seen HBTM knows how daffy its concluding twist is. Awesomely daffy, yes - but daffy nonetheless. I really can't see a remake being able to sell the same ending today (not with its Scooby-Doo style mask peel-away - you might as well have the killer revealed as a robot). I just hope that Lionsgate can rope in a writer and director as enthusiastic and genre-savvy as MBV 3-D's Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier. I recently re-watched MBV 3-D on DVD with my wife and even on a second viewing and in mere 2-D, I still found it to be a satisfying slasher film. It was clearly the product of people who are slasher fans themselves and it exhibits a natural affinity for the genre. If a HBTM remake can be helmed by similarly knowledgeable team, I'm alright by that.

And really - wasn't the famous shish-ka-bob scene totally made for 3-D? The original poster can be used completely as is - just slap a "3-D" on it. My only worry is that seeing that scene in 3-D, my thought won't be one of terror or revulsion but extreme hunger. Honestly, you can't suspend a shish-ka-bob in the air in front of me, larger than life, and not have me think of how delicious it looks - even if it's causing someone's gruesome death.

But no matter how this remake turns out, seeing HBTM in 3-D is secondary to me - what I really want to is for a remake to instigate a DVD re-release of the original HBTM. The previous HBTM DVD from Columbia was an infamous botch job, replacing the theatrical score with an alternate disco-tinged score by the original composers that ran roughshod over the moody piano and string music that fans were familiar with. I found it unwatchable in that state and I hope a remake would drive Lionsgate to give the original the DVD release it deserves, just as they did with My Bloody Valentine. If so, that'd be the best present - birthday or otherwise - that this HBTM fan could hope for.