Monday, August 31, 2009

Five Ways To Save Halloween

With the latest exploits of Michael Myers coming in a disappointing third at the box office this weekend behind the second week of Inglourious Basterds and the debut of competing horror franchise Final Destination's latest installment (in 3-D!), it should be a time for the Weinstein Co. to reassess where one of horror's most enduring series now stands in the cultural zeitgeist.

However, that hoped-for period of reflection isn't going to happen as its already been announced that Halloween 3-D is on deck for an August 2010 release! Still, as August is a year away and - other than the fact that it's going to be in 3-D - we have no inkling as to the direction of this new Halloween, I'm going to toss out a few helpful suggestions. Of course, my frankly awesome plan for Halloween II already fell on deaf ears but as a fan I still feel duty-bound to put my two cents in on the future of Halloween. If these five issues are addressed, the next Halloween might not be so painful to endure.

5) No More 'Name' Writer/Directors

The problem with hiring someone who's a superstar in their own right like Rob Zombie is that it becomes about selling their name and their brand, not the series itself. Whether you liked Zombie's take on Halloween or not, I think it ultimately was a bad move to let Zombie reinvent the franchise. It reminds me of when Marvel Comics was in a desperate situation in the late '90s and they licenced out some of their most iconic titles, like Fantastic Four and Captain America, to the founders of Image Comics in the hopes that guys like Rob Liefeld would revive interest in these characters and bring in a big haul of cash. In the short term that worked on a financial level, but the actual product was poor and putting flashy 'name' creators on these books did more harm than good. With their next choice of a Halloween director, I hope the Weinsteins will go with someone who's just a solid director. I'd love to have, say, Wrong Turn's Rob Schmidt tackle this. Or My Bloody Valentine 3-D's Patrick Lussier. Those are the kind of directors who would do a bang-up job with Halloween, I think.

4) Reboot Everything

Seeing the series pick up from where Zombie left off is a dismal proposition. He painted the series into a corner that's not going to be easy or fun to get out of. You don't have to call the next film a remake and you don't have to do an origin story again but pretending that the two Zombie films didn't happen is going to be the best move, I think. I mean, Zombie didn't even set up an interesting mythology to carry on from. What was up with the hallucinations and visions and the psychic link between Laurie and Michael? As terrible as it was, I'd rather see the Cult of the Thorn brought back.

3) Recast Everything

Whoever takes on this next installment might as well reboot everything because they're sure as hell going to have to recast everything. I'm sure that Zombie's cast isn't going to be eager to carry on without him so no Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie, no Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett, no Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis (if that character can even be brought back). While some might balk at this, I think the majority of fans and movie-goers will be glad for a chance to start over and not question how it's accomplished. The idea of rebooting Halloween from square one wasn't bad in itself, it just needed to be handled with more reverence to the original series.

2) Bring Back The Suspense

If Halloween is known for one thing, it's for its classic suspense. Now, no one besides Carpenter has worked that angle as well but the better entries in the series - the original Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and Halloween: H20 - did well by trying to follow in his footsteps. I know that some people think that brutality is where it's at with horror now but I disagree. That works for some films but I think Halloween should stick to a more classic style. Brutal isn't scary - is there a single person who found Zombie's Halloween II to be the least bit frightening? Anyone? I doubt it. A return to stalk n' slash suspense where we have real build-ups to the kills (the depth of vision that 3-D provides would be perfect for the kind of visuals that Carpenter had in the original where you'd have a character in the foreground and Michael looming in the distance behind them), real jump scares, and real terror is what's going to work for Halloween. Look at how well The Strangers (2008) did and that film was a complete Halloween homage. Come to think of it - get Strangers writer/director Bryan Bertino to do the new Halloween. That'd be perfect!

1) Bring Back The Boogeyman

Turning Michael Myers into a kid from a dysfunctional home was a losing move from the get-go, making him into just a dime-a-dozen psycho. The next Halloween needs to reestablish Michael Myers as The Boogeyman. Bring that implacable sense of mystery back to the character. And his look needs to be repaired, too. Get that decaying shit off Michael's face and get him back in the white mask, for crying out loud, and not looking like a hobo that slept in a dumpster. That smooth, white, emotionless mask is what's classic about Michael. If you're not going to go with that, why bother?

Zombie's reinvention of Michael reminds me of the long development process the Superman movie suffered in the '90s. You'd keep hearing that the producers were questioning why Superman needed a cape, why the costume had to be red and blue, why he needed to fly, why have an 'S' on his chest, and so on - all that kind of bullshit. Then there's the Godzilla remake from '98 where suddenly the iconic look of that character that the fans loved for decades and that everyone around the world recognized was shit-canned because some geniuses thought they had a better idea. Studios should learn that when they have a classic character, they need to embrace the fact that these characters have their following for a reason. When you whittle away what the fans love about these characters, you've got nothing left.

Some might say "oh, come on - we've seen it so many times, what's new about it?" But the whole point of sequels is that audiences want to revisit characters that they love (or formulas that they love - witness the ongoing success of the Final Destination films). When I went to see a new Dirty Harry movie in the '80s like Sudden Impact or The Dead Pool, it was never about - "Man, I wonder how Harry's going to react to crime this time around?" No, you're going for that familiarity - that's why sequels work. And even with the new Batman films, Nolan and co. have succeeded by embracing the core elements of that character - portraying Batman as the Dark Knight - not getting away from them. The same with the new Bond films, which have returned to the tougher Bond of the novels and the Sean Connery films. Getting back to basics works and it can work for Halloween, too.

Will any of these things come to pass in the new Halloween? I hope so. While the series is a little long in the tooth, I don't think that it's played out. It just needs to be handled with more care. Halloween is a classic brand that audiences want to support. The Weinstein Co. just needs to realize that on Halloween, everyone deserves one good scare. And if you give it to them, they'll keep coming back for more.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Halloween II (2009)

After having some time to mull over Rob Zombie's Halloween II, in which the masked Michael Myers sports a look that my wife describes as being like a baked potato, I'm still of the mind that it was terrible. Which, in itself, isn't such a big deal. I mean, sitting through lousy movies is par for the course for any dedicated horror fan. But in regards to Halloween II, I can't help feeling annoyed with Rob Zombie. I mean, I believe the guy could make much better films if he wasn't so apparently in love with his own shit. On the one hand, you can't fault someone for being pleased with their own work but on the other hand, from reading his comments in interviews - in which he frequently describes his movies as "awesome" - I think a healthier regard for his own shortcomings wouldn't hurt.

Directing from someone else's script might be a good step - or at least to work with a co-writer who could shape his ideas, spot for obvious gaffes, and work on consistent characterizations. Take Zombie's handling of Annie (Danielle Harris) in Halloween II, for instance. Here's a character that survived an attack by a homicidal behemoth - a homicidal behemoth who is believed to be dead but technically is still at large. Given this, does her father take preventive action and move out of town? No, he and Annie stay put. Ok, that's fine. Dumb, but fine. But to have Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) feel as though Annie might be in some kind of danger again - Michael Myers-type danger - and just send one dipshit cop to watch over her? That's ridiculous. Why wouldn't this character err on the side of caution and send half the force to his house? Or why not go himself? Better yet, why not bring Annie to the station and keep her under real protection? Zombie could still have Michael get to Annie eventually, but just not make it so easy in a way that makes these characters seem foolish and unbelievable.

If nothing else, you would think that as a lawman, Brackett would keep a firearm or two in his house and that he'd make sure that Annie and Laurie knew how to use them in case any kind of attack - either by Michael Myers or from anyone else - were to go down again. Annie is short of five feet - you'd think that Brackett would make damn sure this tiny girl would have a chance to defend herself against a bigger, stronger adversary. If Michael came after Annie alone again, why not have her be ready to fight back and not just whimper, scream, and run? It does a disservice to the character and it defies all logic as well. Zombie has a habit, though, of portraying his villains (or more likely what he sees as his film's heroes) as all-powerful and their victims to be incapable of scoring any kind of win against them and his treatment of Annie is indicative of that.

I suspect that Zombie doesn't want to give any credence to any characters in his films other than to his monsters and anti-social deviants for fear of appearing as though he might have some allegiance to the everyday, normal world. Throughout his filmography, Zombie has seemed almost pathologically afraid of showing any kind of empathy or understanding of everyday life. A lot of what good horror is about, however, is showing the invasion of chaos into order. But as Zombie has no patience for order, when chaos enters his character's universe it's hard to notice or care. Halloween II is the most extreme example of this so far, in that every character is damaged goods - or at least Zombie wants them to look that way. The two residences that we see in the film - Brackett's house and the apartment of Laurie's work buddies - are art-directed to look as inviting as a serial killer's lair (Laurie even has a poster of Charles Manson over her bed).

I know that Zombie wants us to see that Laurie, Annie, and Brackett have been changed by the experience of the last Halloween but if you look at the actual survivors of violent crimes, often times you see people who became stronger by their traumatic experience, not weaker. It's a cliche to say that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger but it is often true. There's the famous case of the Central Park Jogger, who was beaten, raped, and left for dead in an 1989 attack. This woman struggled with her recovery - both physically and emotionally - but has gone on to became a motivational speaker for victims of violent crime. In Zombie's case, I think in revisiting his Halloween characters, it was easier for him to take the route of saying "Great, now I have an excuse to make my characters fucked-up! I can do 'fucked-up' in my sleep!" And in doing that, I think Zombie reveals his insecurities and limitations as an artist.

If Zombie were ever to remake The Exorcist, I imagine that he'd make Regan into a tattooed, pierced goth chick before she ever got possessed because otherwise he wouldn't be able to 'relate' to her. Or that he'd begrudgingly make her normal but be happy when he could finally get to the possession because only then would she become 'interesting.' Zombie's films aren't the work of someone exorcising their inner demons, they're the work of someone not wanting to suffer any damage to their street cred - and that to me is the sign of someone who's transparently afraid of showing weakness in front of his crowd. These movies are not the work of an outlaw, but rather the work of someone who doesn't want to get caught shopping at JC Penny. Zombie's brand of bad-ass is a cosmetic affectation more than a deeply felt personal statement and that's why his movies don't have any real bite to them.

It's like a college chick who works at Target with a dyed-black mohawk, eybrow ring and tattoo sleeve. She's making a statement but that statement is "I need everyone to know I'm different. Really different. And edgy, too." And what I'm saying is "That may be true but you'd better off trying to surprise people instead. And by the way, don't put the kitty litter on top of my powered donuts."

Click over to Shock Till You Drop for my Halloween II review.

Friday, August 28, 2009

At Least He's Done With Halloween

After watching Rob Zombie's Halloween II, and reading comments online from people who found it to be 'bad-ass,' I have to wonder if Zombie could rape and kill the entire families of these fans before they'd have to say - begrudgingly! - that maybe everything RZ does isn't above reproach. I mean, I would think that Halloween II would give them ample cause to question the man's genius - and in some cases, hopefully this will come to pass - but in general, I expect that RZ's fanbase will have his back once again.

In the meantime, though, the rest of us have to discuss the fact that Zombie has no idea how to make a movie. Apparently The Devil's Rejects (2005) was a total fluke, because Zombie is one for four so far. I'll even give his first Halloween a half point because it had its moments. But come on, the man's track record is getting more sorry with each movie.

Zombie is clearly shrewd as hell on a business level - how he rallies his fans is genius (he could even give Sarah Palin pointers). But as a filmmaker? He's got a good handle on visuals, yes - even if they're employed to scattershot effect. But the rest of what goes into making a movie - like an understanding of storytelling, for one? Zombie hasn't mastered that skill at all - and really, he doesn't seem motivated to try. He seems to go from scene to scene on pure instinct with no regard for what came before or what's coming after.

And while he describes himself as a horror fan in interviews, he hasn't shown any talent yet for creating tension or suspense. If anything, based on his films to date, he seems to regard horror fans as easily pleased idiots who can't discern quality from shit. And boy, I think he may have called that one!

It's a crime that someone with so much leverage to make genre movies is so incapable making good ones. It's also a crime that someone who is so ingratiating in interviews and so enthusiastic about his work can't translate that personal vibe onto the screen. Zombie is an apparently nice guy who happens to make movies that are - at best - contemptuous of their audience. With all the profanity spoken by his characters, the biggest 'fuck you' of all are the films themselves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Year's Best Poster

Ti West's '80s-set shocker House of the Devil (which makes its video on demand debut on October 1st and plays in limited theaters on October 30th) has gotten a lot of advance raves and while I'm taking those early reviews with a grain of salt (West's 2005 killer bat film The Roost also earned accolades while it was on the festival circuit but I found it to be unwatchable), I have to say what a huge fan I am of its poster - a pitch-perfect throwback to the poster art of the early '80s. If House of the Devil shows the same uncanny fidelity to '80s horror as its poster does, it's going to be a party and a half.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More Of The Night HE Came Home

With the original Halloween (1978) now over thirty years old and with seven sequels, a remake and a sequel to that remake in its wake, it's hard to remember a time when Halloween was just a film and not a franchise. It's also hard to remember a time when a Halloween sequel was the cause of real anticipation, rather than skepticism, among fans. But in 1981, there was plenty of excitement to go around over the idea that the story of Halloween would continue. At least I know that excitement was the mood among the kids in my neighborhood (most of whom, like myself, hadn't yet seen the original) - I can't speak for the adult world of 1981. The tagline for Halloween II was perfect, promising fans "More of the night HE came home." Even though three years had passed in the real world since John Carpenter's film had altered the course of modern horror, Halloween II was going to pick up the story just after the Shape's body vanished at the conclusion of Halloween. Now that sounded like a hot plan.

Initial story concepts for Halloween II had involved Final Girl Laurie Strode fending off a new attack by Michael Myers in a high rise apartment years after the events of Halloween but the choice to make Halloween II a seamless continuation of the events of Halloween proved to be a wise decision. First time feature director Rick Rosenthal was assigned the thankless task of following in Carpenter's footsteps (Rosenthal was hand-picked for the job by Carpenter based on the strength of a short Rosenthal had directed called Toyer) while Carpenter and Halloween producer Debra Hill co-wrote Halloween II's screenplay, with a story that featuring heroine Laurie Strode doped-up on meds and going into a second round with Michael Myers (now played by veteran stuntman Dick Warlock rather than Nick Castle) in the largely empty halls of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.

The members of the original cast who's characters had survived the first film loyally returned to their roles with Jamie Lee Curtis now a full-fledged Scream Queen sharing top billing with Donald Pleasence and Charles Cyphers and Nancy Stephens returning in smaller appearances as Sheriff Brackett and Nurse Marion Chambers respectively (Stephens would go on to marry director Rosenthal) - and even Nancy Loomis (today known as Nancy Kyes) came back to appear in one shot of the late Annie Brackett lying on a gurney. But even with so much returning talent in front of and behind the camera (the indispensible Dean Cundey encored as cinematographer), Halloween II was mostly greeted as a letdown from the original. Because, well, it was. Carpenter famously - or infamously - stepped in after Rosenthal handed in his director's cut and filmed some graphic new footage meant to help the film compete with the kind of explicit horror films that had come into vogue since the release of Friday the 13th (1980). Rosenthal denounced these changes as tampering with his vision but without the kind of virtuoso suspense of the original, Halloween II clearly needed something to boost its chances with increasingly jaded audiences. The result was that Halloween II became something that Halloween hadn't been - a splatter movie. Today that doesn't seem like such a big deal but at the time, it was taken by some as a betrayal of Halloween's much-admired aesthetics.

More controversial than the added gore - and arguably more damaging in the long run for the series - was the unexpected plot development that Laurie and Michael were actually siblings. Even though this has been a part of the Halloween mythology for so long that most fans don't think twice about it, for those old enough to remember when the only Halloween movie in town was Halloween, I think there's almost universal agreement that having Michael and Laurie turn out to be brother and sister was a creative fuck-up on Carpenter and Hill's part. It was a lazy move, cribbed from the playbook of a soap opera, and it immediately took away a good deal of the original's mystique.

A large part of what was scary about Halloween was that Michael was an implacable boogeyman, stalking and slaughtering girls who had done nothing to invite his wrath. To find out that Laurie was really his sister was just lame - lame, I tell you! - and the series has had to deal with that misstep ever since. If Rob Zombie could've accomplished one great thing with his 2007 reboot, it would've been to finally free the series of that baggage. Of course, it reappeared right there in the first film - Zombie couldn't even put that shit off until the sequel! Now here we are with the new Halloween II bearing the tagline "Family Is Forever."

But it all started back in 1981. In a Halloween II flashback Laurie visits Michael in Smith's Grove Sanitarium when they were kids and in one of the new scenes cut into the TV airing of the original Halloween prior to Halloween II's theatrical release, Loomis finds the word 'Sister' scrawled on the door in Michael's abandoned cell. Despite delivering a crippling kidney punch to the series, however, there's still plenty to enjoy in OSHII (old-school Halloween II, natch!).

The film's single best asset, of course, is the returning Donald Pleasence as Michael's ever-batty nemesis. In fact, Pleasence remained the best thing about all the Michael-themed sequels until his death in 1995. In Halloween II, Pleasence puts the Loomis persona back on like a glove and his portrayal of Loomis as a twitchy, belligerent nut is endless fun. Loomis is the indefatigable Van Helsing of slasher cinema and it's the ongoing duel between him and Michael (with all his shouting about the inhuman, evil nature of Michael, Loomis is ironically the best press agent a boogeyman ever had!) that made the Halloween series distinct from its competition.

Sadly, Jamie Lee Curtis doesn't fare so well in her return performance as Laurie Strode. Whether Curtis didn't feel the same enthusiasm for the part as she did in the first film or the fact that Laurie had little else to do in this film other than lie in a hospital bed, Curtis' performance isn't nearly as strong this time around. What's worse is that what we do see of Laurie seems contradictory to - or at least inconsistent with - the character as established in the first film. When Laurie reacts to the attention of Lance Guest as Jimmy, the smitten EMS, it's with a visible confidence that doesn't seem at all like the same painfully shy wallflower we knew Laurie to be in Halloween where she was beside herself at the idea that dreamy Ben Tramer might know she liked him (in a nice touch, Carpenter and Hill have the Tramer character killed off in a traffic accident, briefly mistaken for Michael). The Laurie in Halloween II seems too much like a Laurie who's gotten three years older between films, not the mere three hours older that's she meant to be (on a side note, the real life time gap makes for an amusing moment as Loomis is reacquainted with Nurse Chambers - even though in terms of the story he was just with her hours ago, he has to take a moment to 'recognize' who she is for the benefit of those viewers who might not remember such a minor character from the original).

Whatever faults Halloween II may have, though, they're all but forgiven with the film's fiery finale. Carpenter and Hill meant to end the story here and it shows. The conclusion of this movie - where Loomis and Michael suffer a mutual immolation - remains an awesome sight. There's been plenty of scenes in movies over the years where stuntmen are burning from head to toe but this is the best of the bunch to my eyes. Maybe because usually when you see these kind of fire gags, the stuntman is always - understandably - flailing around. Whether it be the Thing in both the original and the remake, or Freddy Krueger in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, you always see characters on fire acting like people are supposed to act when they're on fire. They're panicking, running - doing everything they can to stop the fucking flames. But in Halloween II, to see Michael still doing the classic Michael Myers walk while enveloped in a full body burn - and having strolled out of a raging inferno in the first place - well, it's a sight that continues to impress. I don't know if Dick Warlock did that specific stunt himself but whoever did it really earned their paycheck that day. I've got to hand it to anyone who can stand there lit up like a roman candle.

While Rosenthal returned to the series to zero acclaim with the maligned Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Halloween II remains one of the most popular of the sequels. It may be a flawed film but in that its story is so linked to the original, it's hard to disregard it - and unlike any of the series' entries that followed, Carpenter and Hill's participation lends it the stamp of the genuine article. Had they known where their boogeyman would go, though, perhaps they would've concluded Halloween II with Loomis riding on a nuke a la Slim Pickens on his way to obliterate Michael along with the rest of Haddonfield.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

When I first saw the trailers for Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Inglourious Basterds, I had to roll my eyes just a little. Not due to any lack of enthusiasm for seeing the film or because any of the clips looked bad. Instead, it was a reaction to the marketing hyperbole used to sell it - "You haven't seen WWII until you've seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino." I just thought that was a move bound to create expectations that the film likely couldn't live up to. After all, what could Tarantino really do that no other WWII film has done?

Having now seen Inglourious Basterds, it turns out I was both right and wrong in being concerned about how this movie was sold. I was right in the sense that I believe most people are going to go into this expecting that WWII "as seen through the eyes of Tarantino" is going to mean that this is going to be more outrageously violent than any other WWII film. And as a large part of the trailers have played up the deeds of the Basterds themselves, that's probably a fair expectation. But that's an expectation this movie does not even come close to fulfilling. Yes, there's shootings, scalpings, and bludgeonings - but nothing overly graphic and what violence there is comprises very little of the film's two and a half hour running time. So I think Dimension unfairly created a situation where most viewers are going to walk out feeling cheated, and that does a disservice to this movie.

Where I was wrong, though, is that Inglourious Basterds really is different than any other WWII movie. I realize now that it isn't hyperbole to say we haven't seen WWII until we've seen it through the eyes of Tarantino - it's a fact. To call this 'revisionist history' doesn't cover it. We've seen movies about plots to kill Hitler before (like the recent Valkyrie) and we've seen movies that reveal unknown aspects of the war - but even when these movies were fictitious, they always fit their stories around the facts. No one has ever felt that they had the license to change history - until now.

While it doesn't become apparent until Inglourious Basterds' climax just how loose with the true story of WWII that Tarantino is really playing, when it does, it feels like a liberating experience. To see a film about history where the writer/director doesn't feel a responsibility to tell it like it was, but instead how he imagines it to be is - I believe - unprecedented. Sure, filmmakers have taken a liberties with history and historical figures before but usually it's in the guise of science fiction or comedy. And even then, it's usually with one eye on leaving the facts intact. You know, the assassination of JFK was averted by time travellers - but because it created a disturbance in the future, they have to make sure history plays out as it was originally meant to. And even though Bill and Ted might meet Abraham Lincoln, we know that the Great Emancipator will still die at his appointed hour in Ford's Theater.

With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino rewrites WWII according to his imagination. If you want history, you can find it in a book, or on the History Channel. This is a movie, not a documentary. Tarantino doesn't have to apologize for getting history wrong because this isn't history. This movie can cross any line that Tarantino sees fit to cross. And for the most part, Tarantino isn't telling us anything that seems outright implausible. We might know that the Basterds themselves never existed and that there was never a Nazi propaganda film called Nation's Pride and that Hitler never attended its premiere, but Tarantino isn't deliberately upsetting any apple carts. He's telling the story that he wants to tell, with the characters he wants to tell it with - he just doesn't feel the need for history to force an ending on him. There's a great exploitation film in WWII and Tarantino's going to write it the way he sees it.

I don't know if Tarantino's going to win back a big audience with Inglourious Basterds - I suspect he won't. But I do think he'll win back fans who were unhappy with Death Proof and even Kill Bill. If nothing else, there should be total agreement that Inglourious Basterds is home to some of Tarantino's best characters - in particular SS officer Hans Landa, aka 'The Jew Hunter'. As played by Christoph Waltz, Landa is one of the all-time great movie characters - a movie villain that feels instantly classic. After Inglourious Basterds' opening scene, you will fear for anyone that crosses Landa's path. Not because of any violence the character inflicts but because nothing escapes his laser-like attention. In another film, this character would be a hero - a detective whose skills and powers of perception are unparalleled. But because Landa's gifts are at the service of Hitler's Third Reich, he's a figure of evil. Landa is an amazing creation and although Tarantino has always promised his fans sequels or spin-offs involving characters from Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds is the first time I really wanted Tarantino to continue telling further stories with his characters.

And if that never comes to pass, well, maybe that's for the best. When it comes to sequels, history tells us that what was glorious once is often inglorious the next. And that's a history lesson even Tarantino may not be able to rewrite to his satisfaction.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A House Is Not A Funeral Home

In the late '70s and early '80s, the Great White North exported a number of home-grown horror films that went on to become fan favorites. Besides the early work of David Cronenberg, films such as Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Curtains (1983) all hailed from Canada. But despite those impressive titles, not everything from Canada in those days was so golden. Consider the case of 1980's long-forgotten Funeral Home.

Written by Ida Nelson and produced and directed by William Fruet (who also directed 1976's Death Weekend and went on to be prolific in genre TV, with credits including episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater, Friday the 13th: The Series, Goosebumps, and Poltergeist: The Legacy), Funeral Home is what some might call a slow burner. Others might call it uneventful to the point of absurdity. As Funeral Home begins, 16-year-old Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) is arriving at her grandmother's rural home to spend the summer. Heather's grandfather passed away some time ago and to make ends meet, her grandmother Maude (played by veteran character actress Kay Hawtrey) has had to covert her house to a 'tourist home'. 'Tourist Home' isn't a term I'm familiar with but it clearly must be Canadian for 'bed and breakfast' because that's what Heather's grandmother has. This tourist home has a grisly past, however, as it previously was a funeral home. And although it looks as though the town this home occupies is as nothing as a town can get, Maude practically has to turn away business. If Norman Bates had as much luck attracting guests he could've afforded to buy his mother something nice!

Before long, we know that Heather is going to have a mystery to solve while she's on her summer vacation. There's strange noises coming from the cellar and as she investigates, she hears her grandmother talking to someone else - in a room that Maude keeps padlocked. And from her new townie boyfriend Rick (Dean Garbett, in his one and only film appearance), Heather learns that her grandfather was not a kindly figure. In fact, he was something of a hair trigger psycho. And Heather isn't the only one with a mystery to solve. You see, Rick's brother Joe (Alf Humphreys, who played the incorrigible practical joker 'Howard' in My Bloody Valentine) is the newest deputy in the town of Northampton and he thinks there's something to the string of missing person cases that are tied to the town - the latest of which is a real estate developer whose Porsche has been found stashed under a haystack. The sheriff insists that nothing criminal is going on in these cases - people run off to start new lives all the time! - and he instructs Joe to turn a blind eye to them. But Joe cares about being a good cop, even if no one else on the Northampton PD does.

From Funeral Home's poster - which depicts a group of zombie-like figures standing in a cemetery outside the funeral home (looking similar to the poster used ten years later for the remake of Night of the Living Dead), along with the tagline "some thing never rest in peace" - the expectation is that this is going to be a zombie movie. But that is not the case. I guess whoever marketed Funeral Home thought they'd be better off trying to entice people with a zombie movie than a movie about a girl hearing voices in her grandmother's cellar. And I'll admit - they made the right call. Something sinister, though, is going on and Heather needs to find out what it is. And with the latest guests to her grandmother's home being the latest names on Joe Yates' missing persons files, it seems like whoever - or whatever - is in Maude Chalmers' cellar is finding its way out at night. Is Heather's grandfather still alive? Or is Maude's handyman Sam (Les Rubie, in a full retard performance that makes Robert Silverman in Prom Night look like the Will Hunting of Hamilton High) acting on his own disturbed impulses?

Whatever the case, someone driving a pick-up truck pushed an obnoxious travelling salesman and his mistress in their car over a quarry cliff. And someone disposed of an old man asking too many questions about his missing wife. And if Heather keeps venturing into the cellar, she might be the next one to disappear.

When Fruet finally does put all his cards on the table, the resolution to Funeral Home's mystery will likely be a shock to no one. No one except me, that is. I have to admit that I got totally sandbagged by the end of this movie, which is hilarious because even the least genre-savvy viewer will see the conclusion coming from a mile away! But having been eleven when I first saw this on HBO, I'm willing to cut myself some slack. And I think the reveal is actually well done, regardless of whether one anticipates it or not. As the curious Heather, Donaldson isn't much of a scream queen (even though she went on to a mini-run of horror film roles in Happy Birthday to Me, Deadly Eyes, and Curtains) but she's likable enough - and what's especially appealing about her from the vantage point of 2009 is how much like a regular person Donaldson looks like. This is the kind of normal teenage girl that you'd never see in today's Megan Fox world. When she strips down at one point to a one-piece bathing suit, it's amazing what a completely untitillating moment it is. Even though she's a cute girl and she's supposed to be seen as a regular bathing beauty - her boyfriend is so impressed by her bod, in fact, that he snaps a picture of her to put up in his school locker! - from our current standards of what hot is, Donaldson might as well be Mindy Cohn from The Facts of Life. But I think that's something in Funeral Home's favor - I like that everyone that we see in this movie, down to the last extra, looks ordinary in a way that you never see in contemporary movies. Even for 1980, though, it has to be said that Fruet and co. really went the extra mile to get some unglamourous faces. Even the one character that's supposed to be an all-out sex pot - Peggy Mahon as 'Florie', the salesman's mistress - would need to put a bag over her head before seducing a fat guy with a taco.

The standout character in Funeral Home - and the character that makes the movie for me - is Joe Yates. Alf Humphreys does a nice job with this character - and, as written by Nelson, Joe is a surprisingly complex figure. This is what usually would be a role like David Arquette's Deputy Dewey in the Scream films - a step away from Barney Fife, basically. Or else he'd be the cop who keeps poking into something suspicious and pays for it - like Richard Farnsworth in Misery (1990), a character set up to be an obvious victim. But Joe is neither of those things - he's something of an anomaly among horror movie cops. He's ambitious and inquisitive but not in an obnoxious, blatantly career-minded way. He just wants to do his job as well as his big city counterparts. Even though he's set-up early on as someone who can't get any respect in town because the adults of Northampton have known him all his life (like a kid, he even gets told to keep his hat off the counter of the local diner), Joe slowly emerges as an assertive, capable cop - and nobody's fool.

Even though he falls ass-backwards into the solution to his missing persons cases, Joe's in the right place to claim that win because he doesn't give up on his investigation. Some viewers might not make it to the end themselves as Funeral Home's old-fashioned approach can be a challenge to endure. But for patient fans, Funeral Home isn't such a dead place to visit. Even though it's easy to see why this movie didn't set the world on fire, with his nicely atmospheric handling of the material, it's also easy to see why this wasn't the last nail in William Fruet's directorial coffin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thank You!

I just wanted to take a moment to send out a couple of belated 'thank yous' to the kind givers of this blogspot's latest online honors. First, my buddy Matt at Chuck Norris Ate My Baby generously sent an award my way proclaiming Dinner with Max Jenke to be 'A Great Read'. And Eric, of the esteemed Film Father, sent me an 'Honest Scrap' Award (defined as being 'bestowed upon a fellow blogger whose blog content or design is, in the giver’s opinion, brilliant' - woo!). My thanks to both of these great bloggers for taking the time to single me out for some attention. As part of accepting the Honest Scrap Award, I'm supposed to share 10 facts about myself, which shouldn't be hard to do but yet somehow, it is.

Here goes:

10. I like to read when I eat - even if it's something I've already read.

9. I wrote a letter to ABC in 1982 asking them to keep Darkroom on the air. The fact that it failed to make a difference has kept me from taking on any further political action in my life.

8. I think that Godzilla should never lose. Period.

7. I have never owned a home video game system.

6. Favorite fast food: Taco Bell Crunchwrap.

5. I once fabricated a book report. In 7th grade, I 'reviewed' a non-existent sci-fi novel (that I called Galactic Journey) and I got an A -.

4. I avoid driving on the highway - even when doing so makes travelling inconvenient.

3. My first Halloween costume was Spider-Man.

2. I like to have ice cream in a dish, rather than in a cone.

1. I still think Kool Moe Dee won the rap war in his feud with L.L. Cool J.

Although I'm supposed to pass on these awards to other deserving blogs, so many blogs that I read have all received these same awards. So instead, I'd like to cite the most recent additions to the Side Menu - ten excellent blogs I should've discovered earlier, but didn't:

'70s Child

Freddy in Space

Lazy Eye Theater

The Lightning Bug's Lair

Made For TV Mayhem

McBeardo's Midnight Movie Mayhem

Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur

Planet of Terror

Quiet Cool

Tower Farm Reviews

As KMD would say, they make other blogs look crazy weak!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The 20 Best Horror Films 1989-2009

Over at Entertainment Weekly's site, critic Owen Gleiberman has ranked what he considers to be the 20 Best Horror Films of the last twenty years and just thinking about what films that list can't include makes me feel more than a little old. When I was in my teens, a list of the best horror films of the last twenty years would've included the original Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, The Exorcist, Halloween, Alien, and, well - you get the picture. Back then, listing the Top 20 Horror Movies of recent vintage was a no-brainer. But the past twenty years? That's more of a challenge. Despite his picks being greeted with plenty of outrage by horror fans (then again, what isn't greeted with outrage by horror fans?), I don't feel that Gleiberman's list is so bad - it's just very heavy on 'pop' fare, like Shaun of the Dead (2003) and Drag Me To Hell (2009). And he also fudges the twenty year timeline with the inclusion of Ringu (1998).

For the record, here's his picks:

20. Dead-Alive (1992)

19. Darkman (1990)

18. Event Horizon (1997)

17. The Kingdom (1994)

16. The Descent (2005)

15. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

14. Hostel Part II (2007)

13. Misery (1990)

12. From Hell (2001)

11. Planet Terror (2007)

10. Ringu (1998)

9. Alien 3 (1992)

8. Drag Me To Hell (2009)

7. The Sixth Sense (2009)

6. What Lies Beneath (2000)

5. 28 Weeks Later (2007)

4. Scream (1996)

3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

1. Audition (1999)

There's a lot of titles on that list that I wouldn't go for myself - at least not for the top 20 - but personally I think it's interesting to see what recent horror movies someone who isn't necessarily a fan considers to be the 'best' (Darkman? What Lies Beneath? Sure, why not?). Others, though, apparently feel otherwise - they're a little beside themselves over what is or isn't on this list. If any group of fans likes to take things personally, it's horror fans. Most of the time, that's a positive, other times not so much. In looking at how some readers have fumed on EW's site, I see that some people never fail to lose their shit if a film doesn't conform to their definition of what horror is ("This list is a JOKE! The Sixth Sense is a supernatural thriller - NOT HORROR! Learn something about movies, OK?!") or if - god forbid! - a movie be included that didn't personally scare them. Given all that, I still felt motivated to take my own shot at a top twenty. In putting this together, I debated including titles that were obviously important, popular or influential but that I didn't personally care for. And in the end, I opted to not bother. I don't discount the importance of films like Hostel, Scream, or Saw - or Twilight, for that matter - and in most cases, I also like those movies. But I just happen to like the 20 films on this list more.

Here's my Top 20:

20. Candyman (1992)

Still the best adaptation of a Clive Barker story to date. Director Bernard Rose (Paperhouse) delivered a real stand-out film here. Why he didn't continue to build a bigger body of work in the genre is a mystery as he clearly had a killer instinct for it - not just in knowing how to shock an audience, but in being sensitive to the deeper mythological potential of horror (the imagery in this film is wonderful - from the use of graffiti to the swarms of bees). Although Tony Todd as the Candyman may look like a typical slasher villain with his blood-encrusted hook, he's really a cursed, romantic soul (who will just happen to gut you). And Virginia Madsen as graduate student Helen Lyle is one of the bravest of doomed horror heroines (you sure wouldn't catch me crawling into a bonfire).

19. Exorcist III (1990)

After watching this at a matinee showing the first day it came out, I walked out into the mid-afternoon sun feeling that I had watched the first really serious horror movie in far too long (remember that Exorcist III came out the same summer that lighter offerings like the 'thrill-omedy' Arachnophobia was released). That feeling was not shared by my fellow moviegoers, however, who were grousing on the way out about how lame the movie was but even in the middle of the day, I was chilled by it (is the hallway murder the greatest 'jump' scare ever?) and I'm glad to see that over the years, Exorcist III's reputation has steadily grown (and it's still influencing other films - there's a shot of an old woman crawling across a ceiling in the upcoming film Legion - ironically the original title of Blatty's novel - that's straight out of this film). I wish William Peter Blatty would direct more movies because, well, I think he's pretty great at it. With this and The Ninth Configuration (1980), he's two for two in my book.

18. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

When this came out, I thought it could've been just a little better than it was. After all, for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to team up on a vampire film - that had to be a classic, not just a fun movie. But thirteen years later, the fun of FDTD does feel pretty classic. This is just a good time - and it's so much better than Tarantino and Rodriguez's later collaboration, the double-feature Grindhouse (2007). In its own way, this is a double-feature of it own with a crime film and a monster movie split down the middle. Some of the lines here are cornier than I care for and some of the effects come off better than others but it's rowdy, raucous, eager to please, and it has no less than Harvey Keitel, Fred Williamson, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Tom Savini as vampires - not just vampires but unholy, hell-spawned bloodsuckers - and how awesome is that? Oh, and Salma Heyek as Santanico Pandemonium is not too shabby, either.

17. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

In some ways, Carpenter stepped out of his comfort zone with In the Mouth of Madness' warped-reality narrative. But that the end of the world should come in the form of slimy tentacles and rubber monster suits appears to have been too good a joke for Carpenter to pass on telling. There might be better horror films than In the Mouth of Madness out there but none of them have Frances Bay (Blue Velvet) as a creepy hotel inn-keeper with a naked old man inexplicably handcuffed to her ankle. And none of them have Julia Carmen (Fright Night 2) doing a kind of 'crab-walk' that out-Exorcist's The Exorcist. Oh, and none have the classic line "every species can smell its own extinction", which has been burned into my brain since I saw this in 1994. For all that and more - "Did I ever tell you my favorite color is blue?" - In the Mouth of Madness swallows its competition.

16. Safe (1995)

Watching how Julianne Moore's character in Safe becomes progressively more unable to deal with even the most casual contact with her environment for fear of acerbating her phantom illnesses is genuinely hard to watch without feeling your inner hypochondriac start to hyperventilate.

15. Silent Hill (2006)

I always hear a lot of disparaging talk about this Christophe Gans-directed movie and for the life of me, I just don't get it. I'm not familiar with the video game this is based on but I love the images in this film. Even if the film is flawed, it shows you things you just can't see anywhere else - ghastly, horrible things - and that, to me, is something worth celebrating. Just look at that picture above - no other horror movie has got that in it. While most films would be lucky to have one memorable monster to their credit, it seems there's no end to the bizarre apparitions that call Silent Hill home.

14. Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Director Adrian Lyne made a brilliant choice to reimagine the demons that torment Vietnam vet Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) from the traditional notion of horned devils as described in Bruce Joel Rubin's script to figures of twisted, morphing, vibrating flesh (inspired by the paintings of Francis Bacon). Even almost twenty years later, we're still seeing new movies employing Jacob Ladder's disturbing 'vibrating' head effect. As a fan, I hope that someday a longer, alternate cut of this film - with the excised footage of Jacob receiving a 'cure' for his visions and the reappearance of Elizabeth Pena's character at the end - will emerge but even if that never comes to pass, Jacob's Ladder remains a cinematic puzzle that can leave your heart in pieces.

13. The Ring (2002)
I know it's heresay to say so, but I prefer the US remake to Hideo Nakata's 1998 original. Nakata's film is obviously fantastic but I liked Gore Verbinski's take on the material much better. I think a lot of it comes down to preferring Naomi Watts' character to that of Nanako Matsushima's character in Ringu. It's likely due to cultural differences between East and West but I thought Watts played a much stronger woman and the bond between her and her son was more affecting than that seen in Ringu. Outside of that, I thought Verbinski proved to have a great handle on the horror genre. He showed a natural instinct towards making this film visually striking while still keeping it about the characters and the story, and of how to amp up the scares of the original without - to my mind, at least - making them cheesy. I also liked how this really grabbed the imagination of the American public. While I don't think the public is always 'right', I do think that when so many people respond so genuinely to a movie that there must be something there worth noticing. At the very least, The Ring scared the shit out of a lot of people and that counts for something. Oh, and the horse taking a dive off the ferry - God, what a sight!

12. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

I would've bet money that a remake of Romero's zombie classic would've been an easy film to hate on and an impossible one to love but yet I think director Zack Synder nailed this movie. You could debate the differences between the two films but why bother - both are great in their own ways. In regards to Synder's film - I can't help but get off on what a bad-ass zombie movie this is. This is the kind of full-out zombie apocalypse that I always wanted to see on screen and this delivered on that and then some.

11. American Psycho (2000)

Almost ten years since its release, this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel is still something of an underappreciated item. While I think some viewers felt gypped by the suggestion at the end that Bateman's crimes were only in his imagination, I feel that what the ending implies is that the killings were all real but yet when evidence of his crimes was inevitably discovered by others at Paul Allen's apartment building, it was disposed of by the building's management rather than risk a scandal and investigation (after all, it'd make it difficult to entice high paying tenants if the building gained a sordid reputation). And when Bateman’s lawyer claims that Paul Allen couldn’t be dead because he had lunch with him twice recently, it continues the film’s running joke about how none of these people are able to discern one from the other – the implication being that he must’ve had lunch with someone he only assumed to be Paul Allen. The hell that Bateman finds himself in at the end is a hell of total isolation in which even his most atrocious acts mean nothing in a world too self-absorbed and driven to be troubled by monsters.

10. Inside (2007)

Back in the day, films like Alien and The Exorcist had people fainting in the aisles. You don't hear much of that happening these days, sadly - except at film festivals, it seems, where the audiences are probably not too seasoned when it comes to horror films. But if this had gotten a wide release, I guarantee it would've made those kind of headlines.

9. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

It was tough trying to decide which David Lynch film of the last twenty years fucked me up the most. This, Lost Highway (1997) or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). This won, obviously - but it was neck and neck to the end. Cinching the win for Mulholland Dr. is that this is the only time I had to flee to the lobby during a movie. For those who've seen Mulholland Dr., it was the scene in the alley at the back of the diner that did it - when that derelict suddenly comes around the corner and the sound drops out of the movie, I seriously had to get out of the theater for a moment. I still haven't seen Lynch's most recent film, Island Empire (2006), by the way. I have it on DVD but I'm just too scared to watch it. Even though it's been eight years since Mulholland Dr., I still can't go back to Lynch. If I do, I know that eventually he's going to really hurt me.

8. Se7en (1995)

When talking about why Se7en is so great, everyone always talks about David Fincher's direction (after all, this is the film that cleared his name after the - unfair, I believe - debacle of Alien 3) and Andrew Kevin Walker's darker-than-dark script, but I'd just like to give a shout-out to Rob Bottin's underappreciated FX work in this. Bottin's '80s work in films like The Thing, Legend, and Robocop is always cited as being classic, which it is, but his work in Se7en is right up there with his best stuff. I can only imagine how Fincher's eyes must've lit up when Bottin showed him the animatronic puppet for the sloth victim - at least I hope that was an animatronic puppet. If it was make-up on an actor, then damn - Bottin's even more of a genius than I thought.

7. Irreversible (2002)

Director John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) was described at the time of its release as being "too bloody for the art crowd but too arty for the blood crowd" - or something along those lines - but here is where the art house really meets the grindhouse. This Gasper Noe film that tells the story of a man out to avenge the rape of his girlfriend (a crime that unfolds in real time, over the course of nine agonizing minutes) is beautifully made but almost impossible to watch. In telling its story in reverse chronological order, the film has an almost transcendent effect. Its final images remind me - of all things - of the 'stargate' sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

6. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

A lot of people would say that Peter Jackson made the best splatter movie of the last twenty years with Dead-Alive (1992) but they'd be wrong. In fact, he didn't even make the second best splatter movie - that honor belongs to Sylvester Stallone with Rambo (2008). Beating all comers is Mel Gibson with his Biblical bloodbath (and he didn't do so badly with his 2006 Mayan bloodbath Apocalypto, either). It might strike some as sacrelige to put this on a list of horror movies but this is the Cannibal Holocaust (1980) of Jesus movies. On top of the on-stop torture of Christ (a character so abused that by the end they have to replace actor Jim Caviezel with an animatronmic puppet - how horror movie is that?), the recurring images of the devil are every bit as disturbing as those of the glimpses of Captain Howdy in The Exorcist.

5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Every mention of this film seems to come with an acknowledgement that it isn't for everyone. But while this will always remain a divisive film, I love it and will never hesitiate to say how badly it scared me. This is as pure as horror gets. I think it's the closest horror has ever gotten - or ever will get - to being about fear itself.

4. Let The Right One In (2009)
Just when I thought I'd rather vomit out my entire intestinal tract rather than watch another vampire movie, along comes one of the best ever made. I second every bit of praise that's been directed towards this movie.

3. Audition (1999)

Rather than discuss this Takashi Miike movie - the Asian answer to Fatal Attraction (1987) - I think a transcript of my reactions during the final twenty minutes should do it: "No, no, no, no, no.....ohmygod....ah,ah,ahhhh....FUCK! FUCK! Nooooooooo!!! AAAAAAAA!!! Mommmeeeee!!!" Cue whimpering and...done.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1992)

Yeah, it swept the Oscars. Yeah, it's become a part of the cultural vocabularly - in other words, this is an easy movie to take for granted. It's sure not a movie a fan would pull out to prove their deep knowledge of the genre. But you know why almost everyone on the planet knows about Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal 'the Cannibal' Lecter? Because this movie is frigging great - it deserves all the acclaim it's gotten. If Jaws (1975) was the 'A' version of the B-monster movies of the '50s like Creature from the Black Lagoon (producer Jack Harris once called Jaws "The Blob with fins"), then Silence of the Lambs feels like the 'A' version of the kind of gritty psycho fare of the '70s like Deranged or Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

1. The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont's long-awaited Stephen King adaptation got a mostly hasty brush-off by fans and critics when it was released in 2007 but The Mist has been on my mind lately. Watching footage on the news over the last few months of the tea baggers, 'birthers', and health care protestors bringing their vitrol to the streets and town halls of the country, I can't help but think of the character of Mrs. Carmody, as played here by Marcia Gay Hardy. When The Mist was released one of the biggest criticisms towards it was that Darabont had made Carmody's religious zealot into an unfair caricature and that the film's portrayal of how some of the townspeople were so quick to be mobilized to her bloodthirsty cause was unrealistic.

But looking at the public displays of white hot rage and hysteria of many people in our country, right now, is scarily like looking at Mrs. Carmody and her followers. This isn't about how people are being portrayed or demonized by the media, it's how they're actually acting and the things that they're actually saying - on camera for the world to see. To say that people wouldn't or couldn't react as violently to the situation in The Mist as some of the character here do is a case of wishful thinking. When the world stops making sense to some people, they lose it. The idea of responding with rational action goes off the table quickly and The Mist nails that. As its tagline stated, "fear changes everything".

As for the controversial ending, some have criticized it for being too bleak, or for making Thomas Jane act in a way that his character shouldn't have, but I disagree. A lot of people confuse the fact that as viewers we have an omniscent perspective on the story that the characters themselves don't. I think that Darabont does everything he can to sell us on the idea that hope has bottomed out by the end of The Mist. The world is gone. Gone like the generator in The Thing gone. Given all that these characters have witnessed and with the suggestion of even greater horrors awaiting them, it's not so unbelievable that Jane's father would take the action that he did.

And although the subsequent restoration of normalcy is cited as proof that Jane's dad was a fool for, um, jumping the gun, I think the suggestion is there that it was potentially the "blood sacrifice" that brought the world back. Had Jane and his son sat in that car for another day, or another week, the mist might've remained around them but it's only after Jane pulls the trigger that it clears and the world returns. Was it just shit luck, was it fate, or was Mrs. Carmody right all along? Whatever the case, I think Darabont gives the viewer more to consider than just a cynical twist.

Oh yeah, and The Mist also looks terrific in black and white. That's good enough for #1 for me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

They Shoot Angels, Don't They?

I hadn't been paying any attention at all to the upcoming film Legion (due in theaters January 2010) - about the efforts of the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) as he tries to spare humanity from God's retribution - but now that I know from this Comic-Con footage that's been newly released (see below) that when I see Legion, I'll be smoking The Terminator, The Prophecy, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, and Exorcist III in a B-movie crack pipe, I'm so in.

Based on some of the comments I've read online about this footage, some people are put off by how generic and derivative it looks. Boy, do I feel sorry for those people. Why are so many people who are obstinately fans of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi so churlish when faced with entertainment of potentially great magnitude? I don't get it. Since when did goofy, over-the-top nonsense stop being seen as a good time? Seriously, you're going to watch this footage (beware of spoilers, by the way) and say "meh"? God help you!

Call me easily excited but whenever angels open fire on each other, I'm there. When one heavenly body blows a hole in another heavenly body, it's awesome.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Horror Canon: 35 Horror Films You MUST See

If you're a horror fan, a question that's usually asked by non-fans is: "what's wrong with you?" But a more friendly question that you also sometimes hear is: "what should I watch?" It's easy to forget that not everyone has already seen the same classics that you have. And with almost 80 years of genre cinema to explore, the uninitiated could use a suggestion or two on what to see first. Luckily, Brian Solomon (aka B-Sol) of the esteemed The Vault of Horror, has put the collective minds of the best horror bloggers to work - a group who he dubs "the Cyber-Horror Elite" - at assembling a list that could stand as "The Horror Canon". Each member had to compile a list of ten films and then the final list would be tallied from everyone's individual picks. It's not easy to choose just ten films but if I didn't comply, I'd be kicked out of the Cyber-Horror Elite and that means I'd stop getting the perks of membership - like 5% discount at all Arby's restaurants (except in Ohio) - so I had to step up and do it.

For the record, my picks were:

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

2. Freaks (1932)

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

4. The Exorcist (1973)

5. Halloween (1978)

6. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

7. The Thing (1982)

8. The Brood (1979)

9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

10. Audition (1999)

I don't quite stand by my list as I forgot to include the one film that I believe no list of great horror films should be without. But that's the kind of gaffe that happens when you're in a rush, right? If I had to correct my mistake, Freaks - as great as it is - would have to go to make room for Psycho (1960). Or maybe The Brood would be better left off instead - but then I don't think any list of indispensable horror should be Cronenberg-free. Other than needing to place Psycho somewhere, though, I think the list is pretty sound.

The full Horror Canon list of 35 films is now up at The Vault of Horror, and it's a pretty interesting one. Lists like this aren't so much interesting to me for what classics make it onto them, but for the newer films that do. It's a given that films like Frankenstein, Psycho, and Night of the Living Dead will be included in any "must-see" list of horror classics but I like to see what new films fans consider to be worthy of that company - even if I don't necessarily agree. Some are obvious, like Saw (2004) - other are a complete WTF, like Orphan (2009). I loved Orphan but a film that's still playing in theaters shouldn't be on a list of the Horror Canon (ranking above Jaws and The Evil Dead, no less!). If any film that recent was going to make it, it should've been Drag Me To Hell. Still, it's nice to see some excitement out there for the latest genre offerings.

As for what didn't make the list that really should've - the omission of Carnival of Souls (1962) jumps out at me, as does the absence of Carrie (1976). I mean, come on - it's not a true list of the Horror Canon without Carrie! And no An American Werewolf in London (1981), either? And not a single David Cronenberg film? And I'm not seeing Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) on here - what gives? But of course this is what happens when people vote separately. I'm sure if all these horror-savvy people were brought together to pass choices between each other and refine the list, it would look very different and be much more definitive. But these lists are just meant to be fun, to be enjoyed, and to spark debate. And this definitely does that - and then some!

Although I believe we all made a terrible mistake by not including Popcorn (1992):

What were we thinking?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Once Upon A Midnight Dreary

Here's a high concept for you: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" meets Se7en. That's how director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) is describing his latest project. Written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston, The Raven is a fictitious (natch!) account of the mysterious last five days of Poe's life in which the tormented author becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer who's committing murders based on his writings. This is so awesomely cheesy (and so reminiscent of Argento's Poe-tacular Two Evil Eyes segment "The Black Cat", which I love), that I need to see this movie NOW. I can already imagine The Raven's grisly highlights: a murder by pendulum blade; someone with their heart removed; a death at the hands of an orangutan; and several premature burials, of course - including at least one victim sealed behind a wall.

And let me just say now that I'm seriously hoping that someone during the course of the film will be pecked to death by a raven. Even though that's not something that's found anywhere in Poe's writing, I believe in this case that the filmmakers ought to be encouraged to take some much-needed artistic liberty. I mean, as Bart Simpson pointed out in the first Treehouse of Horrors, the poem "The Raven" is pretty tame ("You know what would've been scarier than nothing? ANYTHING!"). That raven has got to do a lot more than sit on a pallid bust of Pallas to impress the Saw generation, you know? Oh, and please - can at one of the murder sites there be the word "Nevermore" scrawled in blood on the wall?

God, I'm so excited for this! As far as I'm concerned, The Raven has all the tell-tale signs of excellence. It's already beguiled my sad soul into smiling.